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As an Artistic Associate at Triad Stage, a regional equity theater in Greensboro, North Carolina, I have been given an opportunity to serve as a co-dramaturge for Preston Lane's world premiere play entitled Common Enemy. As an artist and co-dramaturge, being able to participate actively in the meticulous research and creative process of developing a new play will be ground-breaking. Although similar to a classroom environment in terms of the level of excellence in research required of me, this experience, I anticipate will go beyond lectures, quizzes, and tests. Instead, the experience should present an extension of a professional-grade classroom through observations and application.
Classroom experiences are integral to developing the paradigm for artistic excellence to prosper. In a playwriting classroom, for example, students are taught the skill of developing intriguing characters necessary to write a play. Likewise, students are taught the necessity of collaboration. More importantly, in undergraduate and graduate playwriting classes across the nation, students learn about the tediously rewarding process associated with rewrites during a rehearsal process. Unfortunately, the process is spoken about in theory rather than practiced.
Using the rehearsal hall as an observatory, I will have the opportunity to witness a successful playwright and founding Artistic Director of Triad Stage create. The pages that follow will chronicle my experiences capturing the rehearsal and performance process.
"Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way" - Booker T. Washington
In speaking to Cassandra Lowe Williams before the start of Common Enemy rehearsals, I unabashedly and with some authority referred to Preston Lane's new work as Uncommon Enemy. Ms. Cassandra, a frequent actress at Triad Stage and recently contracted actress in Common Enemy, politely corrected me.
I was aghast! How could I misquote the title of the Artistic Director's new play? I vowed never to make this mistake again. Nevertheless, even after being corrected, in the early weeks leading up to the first Common Enemy rehearsal, I kept inadvertently misquoting the title.
It was not until I remembered Booker T. Washington's quote, "Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way," that I understood the subconscious root of my error.
Common Enemy tackles the familiar themes of honesty, censorship, betrayal and community. Similar to Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, August Wilson's Radio Golf, Bertolt Brecht's The Life of Galileo, and the Biblical character of Jesus of Nazareth, Common Enemy addresses universal themes in an uncommon way. Hence, I associated the idea of creativity and Booker T. Washington's definition of excellence with Preston's Common Enemy. Once I clearly understood why I habitually made the title error, I was able to rectify it.
In chronicling my journey as a co-dramaturge, the positive feeling associated with the subconscious meaning of Uncommon Enemy has remained. Through my journey in rehearsals, I anticipate I will witness a common process completed in an uncommon way.
Some Thoughts on Common Enemy by Founding Artistic Director, Writer and Director of Common Enemy, Preston Lane - Originally published in Triad Stage's Common Enemy program notes- Provided courtesy of Triad Stage.
1: First of all I want to go on the record that I love both college basketball and free speech. I’m a Carolina blue, card-carrying member of the ACLU. I cannot imagine not rooting for the Tarheels any more than I could imagine not supporting the right to freedom of expression. I am so extreme in my support of free speech that I even support the right of Duke fans to gloat over their last national championship.
2: Loving collaboration as I do, I believe it takes a village to inspire a play. Common Enemy started when Joey Collins, a frequent Triad Stage actor, heard me speak about another Appalachian mythological play I was writing and suggested he’d like to see me
attempt something modern and political. Or maybe it started when former Board Chair Alan Tutterow said he wished I’d update Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People to present day Greensboro. It might have started when Peter Alexander, Dean of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance and I talked about producing Bertolt Brecht's A Life of Galileo as part of UNCG’s “Globe and Cosmos” year-long conversation about Shakespeare and Galileo. Or perhaps it started when current Board Chair Kathy Manning asked why there are so few plays set in the contemporary South. All four contributed greatly to the impulse to write this play. I dedicate it to them – if they don’t object.
3: In the past 14 seasons, Triad Stage has returned to several key playwrights. Tennessee Williams, of course. Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, Beth Henley and William Inge have all made more than one appearance on our stage. And Henrik Ibsen. The 19th century contrarian from Norway is the second most produced playwright in the world after Shakespeare, but wildly misinterpreted because of a book written by George Bernard Shaw which tried to make Ibsen into a Fabian socialist who wrote neat little plays with convenient morals promoting a particular political viewpoint. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ibsen said: “The only revolution that counts is a revolution of the human spirit.” Dr. Stockman, in The Enemy of the People, one of Ibsen’s greatest characters, is either a brave individual fighting for truth and liberty or a monomaniac egotist determined to destroy himself and his family. Whether one agrees with him or not, he is committed to his fight. And it is the fight that matters. Ibsen once wrote: “One of the qualities of liberty is that, as long as it is being fought for, it keeps getting stronger. But the man who stops in the middle of the fight and says, ‘I have it,’ only shows by doing so that he has lost it completely.”
Bertolt Brecht, Ibsen didn’t see replacing right wing authority with left wing authority as a solution. He saw all authority as antithetical to the natural impulse for human freedom. As a result, Ibsen and other great philosophical anarchist writers like Eugene O’Neill don’t offer up a solution for our political entrapment. Their only job is to remind us that we are entrapped.
4: Contrary to Shaw’s portrait, Ibsen refused liberal/conservative labels and went his own confounding way. Like a character in one of his plays, he stood alone — always expanding liberty by the bold act of fighting for it. He was a philosophical anarchist and as such he threw words instead of bombs. Unlike Marxist playwright
5: In our very highly polarized two party system of FOX and MSNBC, there isn’t much room for people who argue that neither side actually gets it right. But what if Ibsen and O’Neill were actually onto something? Such anarchic thinking radically re-imagines what we mean by political theater. All theater, some say, is political. After all, politics comes from the Greek words for “the affairs of the city” and theater engages with citizens of a city every time it is performed. But usually when we say political theater what we really mean is partisan theater, the kinds of plays that present a problem in the first scene and by the final curtain have suggested a solution. I don’t much care for these partisan dramas. My ideal political theater doesn’t tell us what to think; it asks us to examine why we think what we think we think.
My ideal political theater doesn’t tell us what to think; it asks us to examine why we think what we think we think.
6: Taylor Branch in his explosive essay “The Shame of College Sports” in The Atlantic pits tradition against ethics in battle over the role of academic athletics. From players on food stamps to athletic departments run amok, from multi-million dollar merchandising deals to indentured servitude, Branch explores an obviously broken system. But tradition dies hard, and those who raise their voices against the business deals or the academic scandals often find themselves very much alone. And I don’t know how I feel about all of it. Like I said, I love college basketball and I love free speech. When I find my values in conflict, the energy of that turmoil make me question those values and my questioning compels me to begin to write.
7: The first United States whistle-blowers were Samuel Shaw and Richard Marven – U.S. Naval officers who exposed the torture of British prisoners of war. When they were sued for libel, the Continental Congress unanimously passed a whistle-blowers defense act. This is important not only because it was the first example of US whistle-blowing, but also because it was probably the last time congress acted unanimously to support anything controversial. Whistle-blowers provoke extreme reactions. Wise and ethical people disagree about whether such exposing of secrets and uncovering of inconvenient truths is civil disobedience or illegal action. Shaw and Marven were the first, but certainly not the last to unsettle the status quo. Herbert Yardley, Smedley Butler, Peter Buxton, Daniel Ellsberg, Frank Serpico, Karen Silkwood, Nancy Olivieri, Karen Kwiatkowski, Coleen Rowley, Sherron Watkins, Cynthia Cooper, Joseph C. Wilson, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are just some of the names of individuals who have blown the whistle in the US. Most learned the hard way the truth of Ibsen’s wise advice: “You shouldn’t wear your best trousers when you go out
to fight for freedom and for truth.”
8: Hawboro is a town not far from here. As the name suggests, it is perched on the banks of the Haw River. The Haw powered the first textile mills opened by a man named Edward Blessings. Mr. Blessings built the town and opened Zebulon College in 1893. Some of you may remember that a young man from the mountains found his way to Hawboro in a play called Providence Gap. And most of you are well aware that Hawboro doesn’t actually exist. Like Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County and Harington’s Stay More, Arkansas, it’s a created place for the telling of tales. But like most things fictional it is very much based in reality. You can find bits and pieces of it in the mill cities of the central Piedmont. And a word of advice: Links BBQ serves Lexington style with a prize winning secret sauce, but if you plan to visit town on a Sunday, pack a picnic, because they close up from Saturday supper till Monday lunch.
9: I started this play as a writer with questions, as a director I discovered more questions. The actors and designers asked even more questions. In a minute, you’ll watch the play. Please don’t look for answers. I hope you embrace the questions. I hope they provoke discussion, debate and dialogue long after you leave the theater.
Common Enemy is a play that challenges the integrity and authority of the majority. On the surface, Zebulon College, (set on a fabricated campus in the fictional town of Hawboro, North Carolina) exemplifies a campus of higher learning that equally values education, research, athletics, and community. An up-and-coming basketball powerhouse, Zebulon College is on their way to achieving national recognition.
Common Enemy examines what could happen to the waning illusion of a thriving, campuses' academic reputation. More importantly, it examines what could happen to a minority population passionate about truth-telling despite the impending repercussions.
Read more via the Triad Stage blog entry entitled "Visceral, Powerful, Uncomfortable and Modern" written by Megan Mabry, Triad Stage's Marketing and Social Media Manager.
"Taking one thing with another, there is an excellent spirit of toleration in the town -- an admirable municipal spirit. And it all springs from the fact of our having a great common interest to unite us-- an interest that is equally high degree the concern of every right-minded citizen" (An Enemy of the People, Act I).
RICKY: "And we are strong. Strong against our common enemy." (Common Enemy, Act 1)
Today (May 12, 2015) is the first day of rehearsal for the world premiere play, Common Enemy, written by Preston Lane.
At Triad Stage, Preston Lane (Founding Artistic Director) and Richard Whittington (Managing Director), have an empowering tradition of inviting staff, board members, and community members to the first rehearsal. This invitation, complete with an informal "meet and greet," gives the actors, board members, and community members an in-depth look at the collaborative processes of the director and designers.
A clean, creative, funny and engaging PowerPoint presentation, passionately narrated by Preston Lane, provided visual affirmations while simultaneously creating collective excitement.
During the first presentation, Preston spoke candidly of his playwrighting processes and influences. Through his script, he most wanted the play Common Enemy to create an interactive dialogue. He also stated, most emphatically, that he did not want the play to preach or to provide a moral message. Instead, he would rather his work challenge, inspire and incite dialogue.
As the rehearsal process continues, Common Enemy may invoke alliances, empathy, and challenge society's idea of a "common enemy." As Preston Lane declared openly, he is not a fan of plays that asks questions while seeking to passive-aggressively spoon-feed the answers. Hence, audiences can be certain subliminally inserted cookie-cutter messages will not be interposed. Instead, audiences will be asked to use their skills of critical analysis to arrive at their individual conclusions.
I am not certain why I thought I could successfully capture the elusive and temporal process of rehearsals. As I sat physically and mentally taking notes, I realized the rehearsal space was sacred. In the sacred space, each story shared by the actors and director were given in confidence.
In the rehearsal hall, individual experiences were protected. Not only were the shared conversations relevant, they also served to inform the given circumstances of the script while affirming the actors' experiences. Moreover, they served to nurture, develop, and support community.
Each participant actively shared information and asked questions. The dialogue was familiar and felt "safe", even though many of the actors met for the first time mere hours before. In this process in which transgressive communication thrived, the director was courteous, giving, inclusive, and engaging.
The additional research requested during the first rehearsal session was extensive, yet proved communally rewarding.
Questions asked during the table work discussion sessions ranged from "What does an Athletic Director do" to "What is the population of Zebulon", a fictional college, referenced in the script.
At this moment, I understood the dual purpose of table work in the professional setting. In Mr. Lane's first rehearsal, the purpose of the table work sessions were not only to disseminate pertinent information, it was also to begin establishing the community. In the rehearsal process, Preston was relaxed, yet vulnerable. As the director, Preston was open to the possibilities of invoking passion while being informed by the experiences of others. Likewise, he was open to the possibility of developing a creative community.
After observing a previous rehearsal process with Mr. Lane, my understanding of the necessity of his process was strengthened. As I observed the first rehearsal sessions, I discovered how truly valuable each participant was to Preston and the development of the rehearsal space.
Is there an expert in the rehearsal space?
Before the rehearsal process officially began, Preston had several design meetings with the technical staff and production team members. During the individual and group meetings, he discussed his directorial concept and encouraged others in the space to collaborate. During the design process, I witnessed preliminary designs for the costumes, set, props, lighting, projections, and sound designs discussed. As a result, during the first rehearsal sessions, Preston was able to present a set model and preliminary sketches of costumes for Triad staff and friends to view. Most memorable, on the first day of rehearsal, he was able to allow the cast, crew, and board members to hear the original school song composed and written specifically for the play.
To visually and aurally create the world of Common Enemy, Preston had a plethora of group and individual meetings with designers and production staff members. In essence, one could claim Mr. Lane was an expert in terms of building a blueprint for the cast and crew to follow. Nevertheless, Mr. Lane did not hold his preparation to high-esteem. Ironically, in the conversations actors had with Mr. Lane during the table work sessions, the actors were unaware of the hours of discussions Preston previously had with designers. As I observed Mr. Lane converse with actors, he did not reveal the depth of his research nor did he dictate how he wanted the world to unfold. Instead, he asked questions, listened to others, and presented informative commentary at integral parts of the conversation.
It is no wonder actors and designers enjoy working with Mr. Lane. Not only is he an informed and creative director, he also understands collaboration and collective ownership are the keys to establishing an effective rehearsal environment.
New Resources to Peruse (discussed in the table work sessions):
Schooled: the Price of College Sports -- documentary about the history of sports. Interweaves interviews with variant persons in the field from basketball players, coaches, counselors and more.
Link to the necessary resource articles discovered during the first rehearsal.
Serving as Preston Lane's dramaturge is an exciting exercise. As the playwright, he intuitively knows the play more than anyone involved in the process. Hence, as a co-dramaturge, my objective was to know the written play as well as the director. In preparation, I re-read An Enemy of the People. Additionally, I read Bretch's The Life of Galileo and bell hooks Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. I also read some relevant past and current articles before and during the rehearsal process.
As a dramaturge, I did not vocally share my research during rehearsal if not invited. Instead, I saw my role as a fulcrum; as a beam planted to hold up a building in case of unanticipated stress. In essence, I saw my duty similar to an emergency worker; I completed the necessary research and was on call to relay it if needed.
There is an online dramaturgical website created for each Triad Stage production. The website, intended for audience members and actors alike, typically features glossary terms, articles, videos, and additional resources.
It is important to note the dramaturgy for Common Enemy was a collaborative effort. The inserted link below will take you to a dramaturgical website for Common Enemy created by fellow Artistic Associate and co-dramaturge for Common Enemy, Bryan Conger.
Bryan Conger, fellow dramaturge, completed the glossary and NCAA terms listed in the link above.
Conversely, Tamera N. Izlar created the Storify pages entitled "NCAA Basketball Stories of Sanctions, Cheating, and Enforcement" and "bell hooks." Additionally, T. Izlar also created the bell hooks analecta and PowerPoint resource.
Assistant Director, Katie Chidester, located and posted a resource for a bell hooks Tumblr site.
In the first day of rehearsal, although conversations focused on vocabulary, history, demographics, and character analysis, conversations exposed the cast's unique viewpoints on education, family, tradition, and basketball.
As Mr. Lane intended, the play served as a device to incite informed correspondence. These informed discussions resulted in intimately shared narratives in which I am unfortunately unable to share. In beginning the observation process, I took for granted the wealth of intimate information frequently shared in a rehearsal space. As the rehearsal space is sacred, there is a universal unspoken rule that states verbalized proclamations in rehearsal "stays in rehearsal". Omitting information is not a desire for collective censorship. Instead, it is a celebration of who has the authority and right to tell a story. As I have learned, there is a special gift given to artists who can watch a genuinely collaborative rehearsal process unfold.
To aid to the transformative power of information given in rehearsal, I compiled a "storify" of resources explored through the collective conversations. The sheer number of additional resources is not perplexing. Rather, it is empowering.
During the first rehearsal session for each play at Triad Stage, staff, board members, and advisory council members are invited to attend the first reading.
In addition to the Production Manager (Liza Vest), it was great to see Richard Whittington, the Co-Founder and Managing Director at Triad Stage, in attendance.
This decidedly silent gesture spoke volumes to the collaborative spirit at Triad Stage. Although not required, staff members sat during the first reading and listened. More importantly, as a representation of Preston's strength in writing, Richard Whittington continued the conversation verbally and in writing after the reading concluded.
In an edited email message dated May 12, 2015, Rich Whittington wrote several Triad Staff members:
One of the things that struck me after the reading today is the idea of creating fictional character profiles for each of the characters that we can use to introduce the audience to the play. ...I’m thinking something along the lines of sharing their driving motivation,...and perhaps an iconic quote from the play that illustrates their position.
- THE CHANCELLOR: Bonnie Lee Abernathy Dreams of putting Zebulon College on the map by taking the basketball team to the big dance in NCAA Division 1 and isn’t going to let anyone get in the way. “One has such hope for one’s students, those bright young minds, so filled with promise. But – but alas – some are easily swayed by the persuasions of our political extremes. The middle road is the road for us, straight and steady, narrow.”
- THE LOCAL EDITOR Vinnie Wilson: The Zebulon athletics scandal is “the scoop” of a lifetime for the local newspaper editor, but can her journalistic principles hold up in the face of public pressure? “I’m a journalist because I want to make a difference, to report on things that no one else has the courage to, to hold the powerful accountable for their misdeeds. But no one reads newspapers anymore, and the news channels are just opinions and posturing and – I don’t know – the powerful are just too powerful, and no one cares.” Etc.
It would be great if we could also get “character” head-shots, but that would be closer to tech I imagine. I am excited about the possibilities COMMON ENEMY is offering us... We’ll continue brainstorming, but I’d like to explore these “character profiles” more.
In looking at Rich's note, it is great to see the collaboration, support, and tangible creative ideas issued by the Managing Director during the rehearsal process. A strong play can serve as a catalyst for discussion and community engagement. Likewise, the support from staff is integral to the mission, development, and creative implementation at Triad Stage.
Once Preston approved and provided greater insight, Megan Mabry, the Marketing and Social Media Manager at Triad Stage, met with Bluezoom (a marketing firm and partner of Triad Stage). The resulting prototype listed Preston Lane (not pictured in the prototype) as a forward for Zebulon College's 2015 season.
Update: From first rehearsals to the stage, read an update from Rich Whittington posted on the Triad Stage blog June 8, 2015.
The rehearsal began with Preston Lane checking in with the cast. He discussed thoughts or new discoveries that surfaced in-between the 14 hours and 30 minutes time period between the first rehearsal and the second meeting.
The actors were eager to share how their individual and collective consciousness were impacted by breaking news stories. Their informed commentary served to validate the urgency and timeliness of Lane's script. For example, Mike Tourek spoke of a news article he read recently in which a basketball program's ability to recruit was diminished.
Similarly, other actors were curious about the origin of basketball and the dynamics of collegiate systems in higher education. Likewise, to critically examine how the tenure-track system at Zebulon College worked, Julie Robles wanted to explore how the tenure process works at colleges and universities.
It is improbable to capture the wealth of information that laid the groundwork to inform creative choices. As I attempt to summarize through writing, the enlightened conversations are diminished.
Discussions of Censoring Books:
PRESTON LANE: People are repeatedly trying to censure books. The books that get banned are amazing... "The Giving Tree."
CASSANDRA LOWE WILLIAMS: That is also how you get children to read books- to tell them it is banned.
2nd Rehearsal of Common Enemy at Triad Stage
Embedded in the dialogue in Preston Lane's play are examples of censorship throughout the United States. In the table work sessions, Preston gave an in-depth commentary on each censorship instance explored in the play. Below are some of the examples he referenced in the script.
House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
A spirited debate in which the school board, parents, and educators are divided by using House of the Spirits as required reading. Detractors state numerous "sexual scenes" as evidence of "pornography" which should not not be used to educate developing minds.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man was banned in libraries in Randolph County when a parent of an eleventh-grade student raised objections. Ten days later, after significant media attention, the school board voted 6-1 to rescind the ban.
Almost Maine - by John Cariani
A North Carolina principal banned a student production of John Cariani's "Almost Maine" citing a "sexually explicit" gay scene that does not align with "the school's mission or educational objectives".
From an actor's perspective, although not expounded upon in the play's dialogue, independently and collectively understanding the censorship examples referenced in the script will validate and inform the characters' commentary. Information also empowers the actors to live truthfully in imagined circumstances (a concept coined by famed theatre actor and director, Constantin Sergeyevich Stanislavsky).
Exercise of Inclusion:
Throughout the second rehearsal process, to give line updates and share pertinent information, Preston would interject at key points in the narratives. These interjections were not unwelcome, quite the contrary; they were desired and expected.
Mr. Lane's intentions are what make him a brilliantly gifted collaborator. Although he is well-read, disciplined, and creative, he genuinely desires to hear from other voices in the rehearsal hall. Not only does he listen to other perspectives, his presence encourages and validates unique voices. Hence, Mr. Lanes's interjections gave opportunity for the actors' voice to add to the creative process tapestry. In essence, the groundwork necessary to tackle the demands of staging was actively being built.
The Power of Interjections:
Interjections can be transformative. In one interjection during rehearsal, Preston clarified the timeline of events and strengthened the given circumstances of the play. For example, in the script, there is the dialogue between the instructor (Dr. Patrick Lee) and the students (Elizabeth and Collins) during a class. During the collective process of interjection during the rehearsal process, Dr. Lee learned he was teaching an upper-class seminar course. Most importantly, the actors portraying students discovered that they were members of a transgressive learning environment. This necessary process of unifying the characters' given circumstances can be equally as powerful in the rehearsal setting as it would be in subsequent performance settings.
"Henrik Ibsen was ultimately a contrarian. -- He writes a play like A Doll's House, which is about a woman who leaves when a marriage is destroyed within. And then, he would write the reverse of that, Ghosts, which is about a woman who doesn't leave. (And then) Enemy of the People, about a man who tries to do good by telling the truth. And then he wrote The Wild Duck, which is about a man who destroys everyone by telling the truth. So he would sort of look at both sides of an issue." - Preston Lane
PRESTON LANE: "Censorship is in the eye of the beholder."
Rehearsal #2 Table Work Session
In the 1st Rehearsal Draft of Common Enemy, Collin McCabe, a Student President not afraid to support his viewpoints verbally states:
Maybe the idea of censorship is nothing more than an attempt to subvert democratic principles. After all, the foundation of democracy is majority rule, right? So, if the majority decides it is good for society to prevent certain actions or words or images, who is to say that society is wrong. Galileo wasn't stopped permanently, he was just momentarily challenged. Maybe society wasn't ready to shift their ways of viewing the universe when Galileo came along and told them to. Maybe the Church protected society from an idea until they were actually ready to accept it. Besides, what if Galileo had been wrong? (beat) We wouldn't be talking about him in class. And we'd probably all be praising the Pope for protecting the world from a massive scientific fraud.
Common Enemy, Act 1
During the intimate table work sessions, Preston mentioned that he had a conversation with someone recently that argued that,"Censorship was a failed experiment of the enlightenment. There is some speech that must be prohibited." Hence, in Collin's argument above, Preston stated (during conversations in the second day of rehearsal) that Collin is presenting "the idea that the majority should be able to dictate what is permissible."
He further elaborated:
PRESTON LANE: "Freedom of speech is an American revolutionary idea of freedom. ...Majority shifts. You never know when you are going to be on the other end of censorship... It is very easy to go from disliking someone's politics to disliking the person."
In Mr. Preston Lane's view, Henrik Ibsen worked throughout his career to dissect and investigate opposite viewpoints. Similarly and conversely, I would surmise that Preston's work in Common Enemy is to scrutinize and investigate opposite ends of a coin within the same play.
After being outside of the rehearsal setting for six days attending meetings and working on upcoming Triad Stage projects, it was refreshing to return to the rehearsal hall.
Per my observations, the atmosphere evolved greatly since the first read-through and subsequent table work sessions.
In the Sloan rehearsal hall, there were work tables populated with computers, scripts, binders and water bottles. In the space, each person had an assigned seat while meticulously attending to their assigned duties. The space was tense with the aftermath of "process." As a result, a level of trust established in the rehearsal process was palpable.
In Preston's direction and communication style, there is a shared burden of invoking creativity and developing character. Hence, the space is comfortable, collaborative, and open. In retrospect, Preston may well be called a "transgressive director." He is inclusive, yet also knows the direction, pressure points, and frequency in which to steer his team. There is never a moment where a person feels the director is incompetent. Likewise, there is never a time when an actor feels as if their voices do not matter.
Upon my return, there was a discernible level of comfort detected in the communicative efforts exhibited between the director and the actors. The rehearsal hall was jovial; underneath the humorous banter was a paradigm in which insightful commentary led to a plethora of discoveries.
Putting Preston's process as a playwright and director into words is difficult.
As I observed three separate blocking processes during the span of one day, Preston's directing style was similar, yet varying.
Sometimes, Preston was on his feet referencing the ground plan while communicating blocking notes to actors.
Recurrently, Preston sat in his director's chair and keenly observed the action unfold.
Other times, he was in the center of the action hands waving as he communicated to the actors.
Consistently, he asked questions while engaging actors in conversation.
Sometimes he was jovial.
At intervals, he challenged actors to look deeper into the text.
PRESTON Working with Actors:
-(In the scene) "when do you piece together (the character of) Ester Steeds?"
-"...which is why I think the stakes are high for you there. Can you emphasize the 'hate' in the 'I hate' Brecht moment?"
PRESTON on Blocking:
- "I think towards the end you can also get away from the chair a little bit."
- "Let's see what happens, just out of curiosity, if we..."
- "I'm not sure that I would go toward him (on that line)."
PRESTON on Playwriting:
- "I like this... 'the strongest one, the bravest one, will always be alone' ... The phrase is 'stand'... let's leave it 'stand' for now and we can change it if we have to.
Today in rehearsal, I had an opportunity to witness the re-writing processes. After Preston had begun the rehearsal with engaging and inclusive conversation, he reviewed several pages with the company. Afterwards, Preston took a moment to speak with the cast, ask questions, and give commentary.
To work the material in the current rehearsal session, Preston took a short break to complete re-writes. After verbally giving the script updates to the company, Preston printed the updates and distributed them among the stage management team.
After the changes were given and read aloud in rehearsal, Preston asked in his usual collaborative manner, "How's that everybody?"
The actors, thankful for an opportunity to provide feedback, gave affirmative comments. Afterwards, Preston proceeded to give more updates and directorial commentary. The process was fluid, and the updates served to clarify intentions. This working paradigm continued throughout the rehearsal process.
PRESTON: I want to add a line... "this is going to make her even more of a coward"... "And what Zebulon did was wrong, but..."
Common Enemy has "lots of overlapping rhythms, you know, where one scene catapults into the next." - Emily Mails, Resident Stage Manager
From Preston's directing work I have witnessed (Member of the Wedding and Abundance), one of the key components of his stage direction are smooth, creative, and seamless transitions.
One of the perks of working in a professional theater is the available resources. As an expected component of the rehearsal process, Preston has personnel on hand to move the set/scenery beginning on the first day of the rehearsal process.
Today in rehearsal (May 22, 2015), during the initial blocking sessions, Preston was able to stage the transitions early on.
The Secret Behind Preston's Staging of Transitions
- Transitions are not separate entities from the action of the play. Quite the contrary; transitions are an integral part of establishing the world of the play.
- Transitions control a play's rhythm.
- Transitions advance the plot.
- Transitions directs the subtle and overt emotional undercurrents.
As a practice, Preston works to integrate the transitions into the fabric of the play's rhythm.
Note to the Aspiring Director
Unfortunately, observing Preston's work as a vehicle to mimic his directing style will not be a useful practice for an up-and-coming director. Like many expert directors, Preston's aesthetic style is rooted in his experiences.
No one, and I mean NO ONE, will ever direct a play like another director. This is a good thing. Yes, fellow directors may succeed in capturing another director's directorial tone. Nevertheless, another director could not create a work from beginning to end like another.
Could you read every book, article, song lyric, or poem another director has ever read? Could you take every class another director has ever taken? Could you establish every relationship a director has ever developed? Could you laugh, cry, and mourn away another director has?
It is not possible. Another director would not have the same memories, family relations, moral code, collaboration focus, joys, fears, and sense of humor in which to draw. Each actor, director, technician, and stage manager have different experiences. I believe this is good; this is why variant directors can direct the same play, and the final product will be unique.
What Preston does is honor variant perspectives while staying true to his directorial concept. As well-read as Preston Lane is, he is genuinely inspired by others. He is courteous; he is knowledgeable; he is collaborative; he is generous.
To direct like Preston, you must read avidly, live life fully, appreciate other voices and fight to uncover your independent voice. Hence, being in the rehearsal hall with Preston motivates all to find, cherish, and share their individual and collective voices. Every creative artist should aspire to build from their personal experiences; every creative artist should aspire to be themselves.
Jim Wren (Fight Choreographer) came to rehearsal today to work with the actors. He watched the current blocking patterns, checked-in with Preston, and began to work with the actors.
During rehearsal, he tried a plethora of options while constantly checking in with the actors and director throughout.
Being permitted to have the rehearsal in the performance space was instrumental for the actors to clarify timing, placement, and movement restrictions.
Common Enemy's Scenic Design is by Fred Kinney. The Costume Design is by Miwa Ishii. The Lighting Design is by Xavier Pierce. The Sound Design is by Phillip Owen. The Projection Design is by Nicholas Hussong.
Other collaborators included Denise Gabriel (Movement Coach) and Christine Morris (Voice/Dialect Coach).
On May 31st, during a scheduled Common Enemy rehearsal, one of the actresses, due to no fault of her own, was unable to attend the rehearsal. If it were a typical rehearsal session, in her absence, stage management would have read the actresses lines or scheduled different scenes to work instead.
Today, however, was the designer's run. A designer's run is an opportunity for the costume, scenic, prop, sound, projections, and lighting designers to watch the final rehearsal in preparation for the first technical rehearsal. Technical rehearsals are where the performance cues for the run of the show are written. Hence, the designers being provided the opportunity to view the blocking patterns of all of the actor's in the play was essential. When the stage manager asked me to step in temporarily to read the lines, I obliged.
Being thrust into a pre-production atmosphere with well-rehearsed professional actors was a whirlwind. Their expertise in the handling of the language in the script made everything real. As a stand-in, I felt catapulted into an alternative universe where people were adamantly fighting for their college campus to survive. In the moment, although I have read the play numerous times, I did not know how the story would end. Onstage, I had to fight for my agenda; onstage, it felt as if the story was unfolding for the very first time. In retrospect, I am reminded of how audiences can become invested in the world of a play. I cannot wait to discover how this commitment and explosive energy from the cast members will benefit audiences attending the show for the first time.
Everyone in the company knew I was a stand-in and were gracious. The stage manager provided a cheat sheet for me to assist with blocking. Similarly, the assistant stage managers answered questions for me backstage and provided the necessary props during the scenes for the design staff to track. Likewise, the actors were gracious and walked me through the blocking patterns.
Although the given circumstances of the rehearsal were not desired, being able to read Preston Lane's words aloud in context with other actors provided prevalent discoveries about the text. First off, the script was multifaceted and open to variant readings. Reading a character in a world-premiere play reaffirmed how great a writer Preston is. From the vantage point of the other actors, I found myself immersed in the action. I understood each character's objective; likewise, the experience gave me firsthand knowledge of how mentally and physically demanding the acting process is.
The experience was helpful in providing the best seat in the house in terms of the process. Nevertheless, I can speak for all when I say we will all be happy when the original actress returns.
Five things I learned and rediscovered:
1. The Common Enemy actors were focused backstage. They were reviewing their lines and waiting in the wings for their cue lines. Sitting in the house, I was not privy to the actors' process backstage. Being behind-the-scenes and seeing the inner-workings of the professional actors playground, I was inspired. As a result, I ended up with one of the best seats in the house.
2. The stage manager is always three steps in front. The stage manager, Emily Mails, proved she is the ultimate problem-solver. Without fail, she foresees difficulties and solves challenges before they become problems.
3. The Assistant stage managers were professional, knowledgeable, and generous. The ASM's were successful multitaskers. It seemed the Assistant stage managers were everywhere; they were always moving, yet never seemed rushed or confused. As a temporary stand-in, the ASM's were able to answer the questions I had while fulfilling their assigned duties.
4. A director's energy is tangible. Missing an actress during a final rehearsal, regardless of the circumstances, can be disappointing for a director. Regardless of his concerns, during the technical rehearsal session, Preston's energy was reassuring, positive, and munificent.
5. The cameras do not exist. As an observer, the presence of the camera operators in rehearsals recording every moment was intriguing. In capturing critical angles and moments, they were intrusive and ever present. I wondered how actors felt with the cameras constantly thrust in their faces during rehearsals every day. Did they feel violated? Did the presence of the cameras detract from the actors' objectives? As a stand-in, I can attest to the fact the cameras do not exist. I did not notice the cameras; instead, I discovered the presence of the actors onstage with me. Onstage, you are caught in your character's world, your fight, your truth. You are fighting for the other players to see your viewpoint, to understand. Onstage, you want to convert others to a more focused frame of thought.
The tech process adds interesting layers to the rehearsal process. During technical rehearsals, Preston's work with actors to achieve their objectives and solidify their line memorization subsided. Instead, the performance space became the playground for the designers to insert their creativity, collaborate, and build upon their expertise.
Triad Stage's technical process for Common Enemy involved over seventy hours of rehearsal time. The designers would watch the actors complete their blocking and dialogue. The stage manager would call "hold" at the end of the scene. Then Preston and the designers would layer in the technical elements based off of the scene they had just watched. Thus creating cues which were then recorded into the stage manager's prompt book and the technical software. Certain sequences would be repeated to achieve the best timing for a cue until the actors and the technical elements were unified.
As the designers worked to perfect technical elements, Preston would also shift blocking patterns, discuss props, and give actors notes. The desired result is one in which the technical elements and artistic choices work together seamlessly.
Noted for being an imaginative director, Preston implemented several creative choices during rehearsals.
Preston explored each new idea with a question.
1. What if the basketball was able to fall through the hoop on its own?
2. What if, in Act II, we had an operational game clock under the live video feed?
3. What if a basketball fell through the hoop at the end of Act II, then disappeared?
As Preston asked questions, Chris Simpson, Triad Stage's technical director, found ways to make each idea a reality.
Preston and actor's notes
Preston's style of directing is to work sequences during rehearsals. Once previews began, typically Preston would meet with the cast as a group and give notes before working acting and technical notes.
Excerpt from Preston's notes from previews:
Don't rely on the camera to work for you. Likewise, do not rely on the mikes to carry the projection for you. Continue to push through and articulate.
In the montage, we need to make sure that we really hit the plot points. Don't allow on the sound or the lights to show that we have shifted, "shift." Grab the scene. -
We cannot ever allow the show to become "comfortable." Keep playing through the moments.
One of Triad Stage's Core Values is collaboration. During "Technically Talking," I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with members of the design team. Read below to gain greater insight about their process.
Costume Designer Miwa Ishii stated, "Every element of the costumes from the socks a character wears to the bag they carry has been approved."
In watching Miwa's process, it was inspiring to see her research integrated into the costume pieces worn by the characters. Her creativity, collaborative work, and attention to detail helped develop the world of Hawboro, North Carolina. Working meticulously to integrate a complimentary color palette for Common Enemy, Miwa's costume choices made the characters and the action of the play seem realistic.
The lighting designer, Xavier Pierce, was able to capture the emotional journey of the characters. Similarly, he captured the heightened atmosphere of the pep rally and ball game sequences. Equally as important, Xavier was able to illuminate the multiple locations the play demanded.
When asked during Technically Talking how he tackled the design process of Common Enemy, Xavier stated, "You create a language and people believe it." He also said that he used white light to reveal the characters' truth and to keep everybody honest. When the characters created ripples in the lives of other people, the lighting intensity, focal point, and duration shifted.
When asked about his choice to light the audience during the play, Xavier stated, "My stance is we (the audience) are all a part of the game."
"You create a language and people believe it." Xavier Pierce.
There are 15 characters written in the script. As the characters privacy becomes invaded, the camera operators become more prominent. In viewing the play, the projection design became the 16th character. The projection design incorporated, live video feed, still photos, and video recordings.
The live video feed and the images projected throughout the performance were an integral part of the storytelling. As the emotional intensity of the play increased, the audience was able to see the location graphics clash visually against the action in the foreground. Projection designer Nicholas Hussong utilized a plethora of digital devices including spinning graphics and still photos. In the design process, Nick also worked with the director and camera operators to finalized camera angles and develop variant perspectives for audiences to view.
Every element onstage must be in or from the same world. In speaking with Phillip Owen, the sound designer for Common Enemy, he said, "We discovered that if we are going to amplify the image, we must amplify the sound as well." He also commented on the natural artistic partnership with the sound design and the projected video aesthetics.
Aside from the projected video sequences, microphones were used in Common Enemy to mimic everyday life. For example, the news reporter's microphone (used by several actors during the duration of the play) is live. Additionally, during the pep rally sequence near the top of Act I, the character Bonnie Lee is miked with an effect added to sound like she is in a gymnasium.
Fred Kinney's set reminded me that the play uses basketball as a catalyst for discussion, yet it is about so much more. His set was functional, simple and yet complex. The creative way Fred inserted the basketball hoop, scoreboards, and Zebra logos on the downstage floor and upstage wall truly set the atmosphere. Looking at the upholstered Zebulon chairs and the Blessings Dome abbreviations etched on the table used in the play spoke to the specificity of the design.
At Technically Talking, Fred Kinney spoke about the collaborative process of working with Preston. "I always wanted to place the play's action on a basketball court. During the first design meeting, I was going to wait before saying anything. Then, Preston said,'What happens if we place the play on a basketball court?'
The sound-scape of Common Enemy consisted of Zebulon cheers, an original Alma Mater, original guitar melodies, and amplified voices. With the sound-scape framework as the nucleus, the ambiance of Hawboro, North Carolina was strategically introduced.
In watching Phillip Owen (the sound designer, choral director and composer) work in technical rehearsals, I was always introduced to something new.
The Zebulon chants and Alma Mater were arranged and pre-recorded. Although the actors cheered during the pep rally scenes, a great deal of the background sounds heard in the play featured voices from the cast, crew, and Triad Stage staff. The North Carolina Theatre Conference staff also joined in on the pre-recorded pep rally fun!
The bookend original guitar motifs strategically inserted at the beginning and ending of the play captured the thematic context of the play. In speaking with Phillip Owen about the guitar motif during Technically Talking, he stated, "The guitar motif was selected to contrast against the big band and hip hop basketball theme. When I first read the play, I realized the basketball game was only on the surface... the guitar sounds intended to capture the deeper emotional complexities of the play by speaking to the southern sensibilities of the characters."
"There is no problem that is insurmountable in the theatre. You just find a different solution." - Preston Lane
Previews are an opportunity to workshop the production with audiences.
Triad Stage embraces previews as an opportunity to integrate the final element required to create and produce live theatre. In the pre-show announcement of each preview performance, patrons are invited to provide feedback from their show experiences. An insert is provided in each program for the patron to fill with their comments. After each preview performance, the comment cards are read by the director and shared with the design team. As indicated in Triad Stage's communication with preview audiences, a number of the suggestions are implemented.
Triad Stage is one of the theatre companies that are pushing the envelope in innovative ways to tell a story. In the 14-season history at Triad Stage, Common Enemy is the first production that used a live video feed set-up. Liza Vest (Triad Stage's Production Manager), stated the new technology actively challenges theatre companies across the country.
During previews, the greatest challenge the production team experienced was learning how to solve the live video feed difficulty. From inserting a "capture card" to prevent the video playback delay to purchasing backup batteries, the production team had several breakout meetings to troubleshoot the issues.
On the final preview before opening night, camera operators received new HDMI cameras! With the new cameras, the projected live video feed was clearer, and the delay difficulty was resolved. The new challenge, however, was understanding the new parameters of the wireless transmission systems.
During the final rehearsal before opening night, the production team shifted several camera sequences in order to accommodate the Wi-fi system's parameters. Instead of going out into the lobby to record the final sequence as a close-up as previously blocked, the camera operator (Nolan Morganstern) stayed just inside of the theatre doors. The required long-shot actually made the final sequence even more isolating for the protagonist.
- Some Challenges
-The Wi-fi signal was not strong enough for the cameras to access consistently.
- In the play, there is pre-recorded video feed that is required to advance the action. Early in the tech and preview process, the video file was too large to load and play when necessary.
- The live video-feed playback that mirrored the actors onstage was on a noticeable delay. Hence, the live actors and the projected images were not synchronized.
- The projected live video-feed was not clear; the picture was out of focus or blurry.
- Of the two cameras onstage, inevitably one camera would stop working. Hence, scenes in which two video played simultaneously were noticeable.
Preston the Problem-solver
With each new challenge, Preston provided strong leadership in troubleshooting. He was appreciative, encouraging, and true to his artistic integrity. Although he rehearsed alternative blocking to cover the possibilities of the cameras not working as rehearsed, he was also quite passionate about making certain the audience could view the show as written and as directed.
Preview Audience Experiences
As the audience watched previews amidst the technology concerns, they were caught up in the acting, writing, and storytelling. The comment cards from audiences were overwhelmingly positive.
The cast and crew have worked tirelessly to share a story with audiences. The technical challenges have been resolved. The tech process and the work of the director have concluded. As I look at the faces of the director, actors, stage management, camera operators, design team, and production team members, I am honored to have witnessed the process of collaborative master storytellers.
The staff at Triad Stage were personally and creatively invested in telling a world premiere story. Over 60 individuals, working above and beyond the call of duty, collaborated to move Common Enemy from the page to the stage. The Artistic, Administrative, Development, Marketing & Communications, Audience Services, and Production teams at Triad Stage collaboratively helped make Common Enemy possible.
In the world-premiere play Common Enemy written and directed by Preston Lane, (Co-Founder of Triad Stage), Professor Lee instructs his class to read Henrik Ibsen's play An Enemy of the People. As students prepare to exit the classroom, Professor Lee tells the class to expect a pop-quiz over the material.
To mimic a student in Mr. Lee's classroom, read An Enemy of the People and take the quiz below! ...Or, to learn what it is like for the student(s) in the play who did not complete their homework, take the quiz below before reading the play!
1. Click to take a Pop Quiz of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. You can also copy and paste the link below directly into your browser.
Answer attempts and responses are anonymous. Enjoy!
2. View an analecta of bell hooks' book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Note: The purpose of this analecta is to provide a working paradigm for Dr. Patrick Lee's teaching pedagogy. Note: Dr. Lee is the protagonist in Preston Lane's world-premiere play "Common Enemy."
3. Peruse Common Enemy's production program
As the cast and crew collectively worked on Preston Lane's world-premiere play Common Enemy, news stories were published daily which blatantly supported the thematic messages of Preston Lane's Common Enemy. Throughout the span of rehearsals, these published stories served to feature the relevance and highlight the urgency of the subject matter Preston Lane tackled.
Below are some examples of the stories published. Watch Common Enemy at Triad Stage to learn how the stories below are relevant.
1. Remarks by the First Lady at Tuskegee University Commencement Address May 9, 2015 The White House Office of the First Lady for immediate release. 12:30 P.M. CDT
2. 'White Helmets' bring civilian aid to Syria's conflict Updated 8:45 AM ET, Mon May 25, 2015 CNN
3. Why is the U.S. bringing down the hammer on FIFA? Updated 0455 GMT (1155 HKT) May 28, 2015 CNN
4. Periscope: Four ways it's shaking up media, CNN, Updated 9:15 AM ET, Tue May 26, 2015
"And rights issues aren't the only legal and ethical problem live-streaming apps are facing. What happens if a whistleblower decides to secretly broadcast a board meeting, for example? Or, on a more basic level, can you get in trouble for Periscoping as you walk down the street?"
Click the link above to read the full article.
5. UNC Board of Governors moves to discontinue, consolidate 46 degree programs (list included) The progressive pulse blog, Tue May 26, 2015
6. Why Indian-Americans win spelling bees: P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E CNN Updated 12:51 PM ET, Sat May 30, 2015
7. Teacher who read homoerotic Ginsberg poem in class resigns CNN Updated 5:06 PM ET, Sat May 30, 2015
8. Muslim chaplain claims discrimination on United flight CNN Updated 7:58 AM ET, Sun May 31, 2015
9. Video link of Omar Currie, an Orange County teacher who spoke out on controversy over gay fable News & Observer, accessed May 31, 2015
10. Your face is secretly being used against you CNN, accessed June 18, 2015.
"Bi" is the root word of ambiguity... that's real ambiguity: the equal balance between two choices.
I say in class all the time, "There's not a right answer. You have to figure it out for yourself. And you test out choices until the right one works.
This is all more fun than is allowed by law. Let's play one of those theatre games ... Zip, Zop...
Let's get this staged before I add anymore madness.
I don't know if we need a re-write; we need to update the punctuation.
* Quotes were captured and collected in the Common Enemy rehearsal sessions by Tamera Izlar (Artistic Associate) and Katie Chidester (Assistant Director).
1. Triad Stage examines college basketball in "Common Enemy" News and Record Posted: Thursday, May 28, 2015 5:00 am
2. Triad Stage, UNCG Theatre, Team for 'Common Enemy' UNCG Now
Posted: Thursday, June 04, 2015
3. Through 6/28: Shattering Common Enemy Is Hot Triad Classical Voice of North Carolina Posted: June 13, 2015
Editors: Jessie Alexander, Jamie Izlar, Undrail Izlar, Ainsley Johnston, and Justin Nichols
Special thanks to:
Preston Lane, Richard Whittington, Ellis Anderson, Jason Bogden, Katie Chidester, Bryan Conger, Eric Hart, Fred Kinney, Megan Mabry, Jennifer Mann, Joe Rollins, BlueZoom, VanderVeen Photographers, Triad Stage, and the cast and crew of Common Enemy