Collective Face Theatre Ensemble opens their second season in residence at Savannah State University with an exploration of postmodern theater.
When preparing for the new season, Collective Face artistic director David I.L. Poole wanted to cull together a string of plays around the theme of "Ruptured Romance." He had never produced a Charles Mee play and after a read of “Big Love,” found the theme fit rather nicely.
“I read the script and fell in love with it and how socially/politically relevant and rock ’n’ roll this play is for right now,” Poole said. “I can’t believe that this play was written 20 years ago and it’s still relevant for what is going on in the world right now.”
Mee’s (re)making project, of which “Big Love” is a part, is an exploration of theater arts through the primary directive of “there is no such thing as an original play.” Most of the script treatments Mee writes are based on Greek plays, and updated for modern society. He then publishes them online for free use. In a letter about the project, Mee encourages theater players to rewrite the works, change them, and make them their own.
“We did not change a lot of text — it’s interpretive,” Poole said. “It will be different than what anyone else would do with this play. We did not change his words, because I felt his words were phenomenal. So why mess with it? I think it was great the way it is.”
“Big Love” is a reimagining of Aeschylus’ “The Suppliants.” It is the story of 50 sisters who flee to Italy from Greece to avoid marrying 50 cousins. Themes of misogyny, feminism, domestic violence, refugee rights, gender politics and love pepper the comedic play.
“This play deals with love,” Poole said. “It deals with all kinds of shapes and sizes and how big and small love can be. It fits perfectly in with ‘Ruptured Romances’ because it is about contracts and litigation about pre-arranged marriages. What does that mean? What is love? Is it really about love, a marriage contract? Or is it just about the fact that we’re men and women and we’re predestined to be with each other and decided to make a pact?”
When approaching how to stage the play, Poole recalled his Viewpoints training in undergraduate school and thought that particular style of actor training would work well with Mee’s script. Viewpoints, originally developed for dancers by choreographer Mary Overlie, works around concepts of movement and gestures.
Directors Anne Bogart and Tina Landau took Overlie’s concepts and applied them to actors. Working mostly out of the infamous Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, Bogart and Landau developed the mnemonic SYSTEMS, through the Viewpoint foundation. Space, shape, time, emotion, movement, and story are the key points on which directors build exercises for their actors.
“There are certain keys that open to the Chuck Mee world and one of those keys is that it’s non-linear,” Poole said. “Actor training, most of the time it’s Stanislavski training, emotions and thing. In this play world, we’re telling them not to do that, throw it away. Throw that subtle and internal feelings away. This is not how this is. It hearkens onto a Greek play. Greek plays wear their emotions on their sleeves.”
Poole built source work for his actors, which includes mostly improvisational work. Those exercises were later turned into the blocking of the play.
“Viewpoints and Chuck Mee go together like peanut butter and jelly,” Poole said. “This process, we did not go into the text and blocking the show until two weeks into the rehearsal process. We would come to rehearsal and I would say, OK, let’s do a Viewpoints on this. We would do two or three. It was team building or Viewpoints exercise to get those keys into Chuck Mee world.
“This play allows for, it’s like a canvas that has gessoed. It’s not just the canvas. You’re not having to build a whole frame and staple the canvas on and gesso it. This play is a canvas that has been gessoed.”
IF YOU GO
What: Collective Face Theatre Ensemble presents “Big Love”
When: 8 p.m. Sept 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22; 3 p.m. Sept. 9, 16, 23
Where: Kennedy Fine Arts Auditorium, Savannah State University, 3219 College St.
Cost: $25; $20 seniors, students, active military; $5 SSU students and faculty
Info/tickets: collectiveface.org, brownpapertickets.com