Sunday, November 11, 2012

'Gilgamesh' in Production

We have been rehearsing 'Gilgamesh' for three weeks now. In some ways, it is a simple production; in others, the most complex I've undertaken.

Unlike any previous play I've directed, 'Gilgamesh' is woven into the fabric of my students' ongoing academic work and their daily schedule. This is one of the great assets of working at a school like Summers-Knoll, where our objective is to make the experience of learning as authentic as possible. Authentic experiences are more inspiring, more durable, and deeper than conventional seat-work study, though that aspect plays a crucial role in skill development.

To this end, we embrace project-based learning, theme-based learning, and public exhibitions.

Project-based learning requires students to organize their work around deliverable, integrated, and interest-driven plans. A solid project has greater value, develops skills, requires collaboration and support, and pays off with a demonstration or clear product. 'Gilgamesh' achieves all of these, in addition to deepening everyone's understanding of the fall's primary theme, Ancient Civilizations.

Its value is in the entertainment and education it provides its audience, the academic knowledge it promotes regarding early civilizations and universal themes (love and loss in particular), and the deep and challenging experiences its actors and crew must undertake. It develops a multitude of skills, but I will highlight one, articulated by Isobel Roosevelt, who plays Gilgamesh's mother, Ninsun: empathy. Isobel pointed out that acting requires you to get into the skin of another person, to understand her on a deep level. As a history teacher, I always held that history and literature teach empathy above all else--an understanding of why people make the decisions they do. Isobel emphasized the degree to which this happens in theater.

The collaboration required in a production is unrivalled. To that end, I want to thank the many faculty and families who have stepped in: Tracy Gallup and Val Tibbs-Wynne, designing art and backdrops with their students; Eileen Weiser, who, with Robbin Hitchins' help, is masterminding a massive costuming job; Brian Lillie, who is filming three sequences that will be shown during the performance; Cara Talaska and Adam Riccinto, who are combining forces to develop the music score, both live and recorded; Dennis Bowman, who has volunteered to be our master carpenter; Chris Barbeau, who is both choreographing our combat dances and overseeing the lighting of the production; George Albercook, who is developing our special effects (like a bowl of water that spontaneously begins to steam).

Joanna Hastings, Matt Berg, and Karen Bayoneto are continuing my education in the culture of Summers-Knoll, consistently raising the questions that need to be answered, often answering them before they even rise to my attention. Chris Swinko, Mark Benglian, Jason DePasquale, and Shan Cook have been flexible with their schedules and thoughtful in helping me organize a rehearsal schedule for no fewer than 36 students--about 42% of the SK student body. Joanna Hastings has been a theatrical colleague of mine for years, and we've been talking about 'Gilgamesh' since the summer.

You can see that this is a community-wide experience. There's still room for more help, of course--especially with costuming. Please let me know if you're interested in pitching in.

Let's hope the pay-off will be worthwhile. I have high hopes indeed.

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