By Judy Tate, Founding Artistic Director
The first day of Stargate I brought in a coiled spring. I had one guy hold it on one side of the circle and I stretched it out toward the other. They noticed the tension the spring had by being pulled tight. When I asked them what the natural thing for the spring to do was, they said “coil back up” which is exactly right. I then asked them to imagine that one end of the spring held their “vision”– in this case the final performed play. The other end of the spring represented their current reality—nothing written, nothing to perform. I explained that the tension between those two things was structural. Most people can’t tolerate the structural tension that is created by the discrepancy between what they want and their current reality. When they can’t tolerate it they often let go of their vision, the tension resolves and “whew”, they feel better. But they don’t get what they want. What artists know, I explained, is that because the nature of a spring is to coil back up, if they hold their vision, current reality will tend to resolve in favor of what they want.
The final week of Stargate is alive with creative tension derived from the discrepancy between our current reality and our vision. The final week is about discovering new stuff in scenes we thought we knew and sometimes about trying to learn the scene, period. The final week is a guy finding out that reading over something isn’t actually committing it to memory and realizing that “we’re actually going to be onstage in 48 hours”! It’s a giant push to get every guy over the finish line, even when they’re nervous, shaky on their lines, or experiencing wild and swinging emotions that they can’t rightly name. The final week is about rehearsing, memorizing, understanding scenes, hand holding, incentivizing, cajoling, and a hundred other things. It’s about looking at each guy and trying to figure out exactly what to say to him that will encourage him to come back the next day. Stage fright is a powerful force. And it can take all the strength a kid can muster to show up.
The final week has the charge and excitement of guerilla theatre. This week it’s been all hands on deck. We all have a lot of theatre friends and asked a few of them to come in and give individual help to guys who are willing to come before rehearsal. The guys welcome these virtual strangers as if they’ve known them for years. It’s moving to see their openness.
Off the adult volunteers go with their charges to all corners of the theatre: the lobby, the patron’s lounge, up on the stairs behind coat check, in the front vestibule. The “coaches” run lines, work scenes, rehearse monologues and help them break down the material and do all the things a professional actor would be able to accomplish at home between rehearsals. By the final week, we’ve not only asked them to rehearse, we’ve had to teach them how to rehearse. Not just asked them to learn lines, but taught them how to learn lines.
While that goes on going on I have my laptop set up in the dressing room as a music studio to record a song on Garage Band that will be inserted into the show. My partner, Steve, may be rustling up a prop or checking over costume choices. Our manager, Wade, might be painting a piece of scenery and our Company Manager might be sending a dozen texts, making calls to employers, parole officers, agencies, etc. trying to keep up with an often transient cast.
I think back to the beginning of this whole process when there was nothing written, nothing made. We were stretching that spring from one side of our circle to the other. The distance from our current reality to our vision—the play, seemed so far away. But now we are so close. The tension is palpable, but slowly our reality is moving and tomorrow it will meet our vision.
[You can watch the August 19 evening performance of 5 Minutes to Midnight live via Facebook. Log into your Facebook page and go to MTC’s Facebook page. The performance will begin at 7:10pm EDT.]