Megan Quinn: From dramaturg to dancer

megphotoLast year, when Gina and RealLivePeople made The Jobs Project. I served as the dramaturg (the role Jenna now plays). This year, I am performing in Would I Lie to You? Creative adviser versus performer: there are some obvious differences between these two roles. As a dramaturg, I attended rehearsals sitting down with my notebook. I took notes, made observations, and served as a sounding board for Gina. As a dancer, I attend rehearsals to rehearse. I learn and practice material, engaging in the physicality of lying. There are obvious constants as well: same dance company, still run by Gina and still in a dance studio, most often the Latvian society. But the way I enter and experience rehearsals is very different.

When I was a dramaturg I saw my role as keeping an eye on the overall structure and consistency of the piece. I made connections between various sections, I noticed how details applied to the theme (the many faces of jobs) and I helped Gina plan the arc of the piece from beginning to end. This year, as a performer, I am focused on the details and my contribution to the work. I am constantly asking myself how I am able to support the theme of lying, through movement and personal narrative. The difference is a bit like moving from seeing the forest to focusing on the trees. As a dramaturg, I worked hard on observing the information and physicality presented by the dancers. It was important to relate to the work, so that I had valuable insights. But the focus was on seeing others. As a dancer, I need to put myself in the work. The focus is on what I can contribute, physically and creatively.

Gina does ask her dancers to be mentally and creatively involved and so in that way, there is not a solid line between performer and creative contributor. In both roles, I need to find and use the best way for my strengths to be present and useful. But as a dramaturg, I used strength of observing, connecting and articulating, and as a dancer I now am trying to use the strength of being open to share and create, applying both my personality and dance technique to the work.

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Atypical Day

By Sara Nye, Dancer

There is a piece of the Jobs Project that, in rehearsal, we call the Typical Day section. It is an amalgamation of many different interviewees describing snatches of their ‘typical day.’ Thus far we have approached this section choreographically by creating a tight improv structure that governs our movement choices and involves the handful of us taking turns and moving only when a new person in the sound score speaks. We are slowly becoming accustomed to hearing various interviewees talk about what a typical day in their work life entails. We are learning not only what they say but how they say it and matching our movement to their vocal inflections. We try to anticipate when the score will shift to a new speaker. I find this task very satisfying, as it organizes the dancers in a clear way and I love following patterns in dance, both as a watcher and practitioner.

I have begun thinking more about how this section relates to my working life because, in a recent rehearsal, Gina asked us to incorporate movement grounded in tasks from our own jobs. I struggled to find something ‘typical’ because each of my work days is different from the others. This fact will not ultimately matter for the execution of this task: I can choose any work task from any of my jobs and it will work in the context of the piece, but that initial struggle opened up a line of thought that would not stop pestering me. Surely no one has two work days that are exactly the same? There are similarities, but no one does the exact same thing every day. Then I thought, let me think outside the workplace – is there any one thing that I have done every single day for, say, a year?

Bike. No, not when I’m travelling, or when my bike is in the shop. Check my email. No, thank God. Talk to my husband. No, I think there have been small trips we’ve taken apart where we didn’t talk every day. Leave my apartment. No, there have been days where I’ve stayed home. More basic. Eat. Yes – here we go. I have eaten something every day. Walk. Yes, I have walked around my home, at the very least. Breathe, smell, see, sleep. Yes, I am lucky enough to have done all of these things every day. But if I dial back my personal history further, even some of these go away. When I was a baby, I did not walk. When I was in college, there were days I did not sleep.

My journey down this rabbit hole of technicality is mostly an interesting thought experiment I created for my own enjoyment, but it helped me see the Typical Day section, and also my own work days, in a new light. Because compared to what I just learned about myself, most of my days are actually atypical, no matter how typical they seem. Every day is unique. Kind of a refreshing thought.

From real time to real world, setting improvised material

By Gina Hoch-Stall, Choreographer

For those of you who do not read and memorize every word on this blog, let me bring you up to speed. My dance company, RealLivePeople(in)Motion, is currently in rehearsals for two upcoming shows: the first is a collaboration with Tongue and Groove Spontaneous Theater that will be entirely improvised, the second is a brand new piece exploring jobs, identity and what it means to go to work–the choreography in this piece will be set.

Photo by Craig Harris, Dancers Gina Hoch-Stall and Adams Berzins

Photo by Craig Harris, Dancers Gina Hoch-Stall and Adams Berzins

I love working in these two mediums: real-time versus set choreography. The juxtaposition allows me to see the strengths in each. I relish the immediacy, surprise and serendipity that come from doing all improvised work; however I also love the clarity of movement and concept that come from setting a piece and rehearsing it to perfection. Luckily I have dancers who can do both. In fact we build a lot of our movement through structured improvisatory exercises.

Back in October when we were first starting our work on ‘The Jobs Project’ we were in pure try-anything-to-see-if-it-works mode. Any movement idea we could think of we played out: we matched snatches of choreography with text and tried a lot of very silly and overly literal ideas. Most of these things were not ‘set material’ but rather improvisatory structures, built quickly to see what did and did not work.

Returning to the process after a brief winter holiday we began to take stock of what we had made. We had two rehearsals to run through all of the material with the fresh eyes of our dramaturg, composer and artist. They were enthusiastic and hopeful but I found myself getting more and more frustrated.

While I love watching (and participating) in the improvised creations in our rehearsals for PIFA, I was no longer interested in watching bare bones outlines of ‘sections that will be’ in our Jobs Project rehearsals. I was ready to flesh them out and see if they had enough substance to stand up to the editing process. So that’s what we’ve been doing.

In the past month we’ve taken three sections from gestation to birth and now we are figuring out what they’ll become when they grow up. The process is challenging for the dancers and myself. While we each have different levels of comfort in improvisation I think we all enjoy the freedom to make mistakes without being held accountable. Once material is set and codified that freedom no longer exists. There is now a right answer, a specific relationship and a clear tone–not that everything won’t change a million times over, but in the moment, the most recent version is final.

I have been told that I am bit of a control-freak (I prefer ‘pragmatic leader’) but whatever you call it, I love the feeling of completing almost as much as I love the creating. And no matter how exciting it is to improvise, I am not sure that I will ever completely abandon set work. I love the ability to build a piece one idea at a time and to be able to return to completed sections knowing that they will exist in roughly the same form that we left them, living in the bodies of the dancers (and often on camera). Perhaps it is the extremes that I enjoy, I don’t know. But right now I am quite excited to be doing both.

If you want to see examples of both types of work in motion, check out our video of “The Third Shift” at the Arden Theater. The first half of the video is all structured improvisation while the second half (duet with Sara and I) is completely set. See which you prefer…

We do not create dance in a vacuum, a reflection on open rehearsals

By Sara Nye, Dancer

“It can be to easy to overlook the incredible investment of ideas, time, attention,
creativity, and revision that goes into creating something new, especially when
we’re watching a performance as an audience member. With RealLivePeople(in)
Motion’s current work-in-progress, not only did a number of us have the opportunity
to contribute our stories to the foundation of this work, but Gina invited us to come
to a rehearsal—to observe and participate. I loved the way Gina and the dancers
included us in movement, exploration, and feedback. Watching the dancers
communicate the daily work lives that we had communicated through our spoken
and written words with their bodies provided a glimpse into the unfolding evolution
of a work in progress. Participating in RLPiM’s rehearsal has also made me more
conscious of how we use our whole selves in our work—bodies as well as minds.”

-Beth, Interviewee

Beth and Alya have jobs. They have jobs that are different from ours. They have
jobs that are different from each other’s. Beth works in career services at Penn. Alya
is a freelance photographer/stylist. Our director Gina interviewed Beth and Alya
about their jobs for our upcoming project, and then they came to one of our open
rehearsals. And from this separateness came harmony.

It was so energizing for me to read Beth’s response to being in an open rehearsal of
ours, because it confirmed something I’ve been pondering – when I share something
of myself with you, it affects you. You think about it after the fact. It does not exist in
a vacuum.

I have always been fascinated by the work that people do. I am obsessed with how
people make money, how they make it work, and what those choices do to their daily
lives. But I also want to know if other people ever wonder what I do and how I do
it. I think many of us wonder whether what we do matters. Now I have confirmation
from Beth that when she came to our place of work, participated, and observed,
she left with neurons firing. She wondered about our work afterwards. She thought
about the time it takes to explore a movement idea, change the rules, and try again.
And I love that she is now thinking about how her body works while at work. It’s true
– no matter what a job is, it requires movement of the entire being, body and mind
working in tandem.

Beth and Alya were such giving participants in rehearsal. Their movement
contributions as well as their feedback were honest, and I felt them becoming
invested in the progress we were making that day. And they should feel invested. In
this project, we dancers and our ideas do not exist in a vacuum. We have reached
out into the community, and now the community is reaching back.

Rehearsal Update: The Jobs Project

By Gina Hoch-Stall, Choreographer

Rehearsing can be such a private experience. It is possible to get together at a set time and location, warm-up and make dances without ever connecting to the outside world and I don’t like it. I would rather have interaction with the people we hope will be coming to our shows and watching the work down-the-line; almost like dance company market-research.

With that in mind we’ve been having open rehearsals for our new evening-length work, “The Jobs Project” and we’ve gotten some excellent feedback–and movement ideas. We’ve also made some brand new material that I’d like to share with those of you who couldn’t stop by and see it in person.

Disclaimer: Molly and David will want me to tell you that this is REHEARSAL FOOTAGE which means that it is a work-in-progress and not all clean, polished and sparkly yet.

Why jobs?

By Gina Hoch-Stall, choreographer

In the past few weeks I have often been asked why jobs and work are the inspiration for the company’s newest evening length dance. Here is my answer:

Because I believe that we often define people by their work. We categorize, label, stereotype and organize them in this way. We have all been victims and perpetrators of this type of sorting and I wanted to know, is it true? Does your work say something about who you are?

I am also curious about what different types of work sound like, look like; how people feel about what they do and what it means to them. This project is one way to learn about the human experience and it is something that I, never having had a ‘proper job’ with a salary and benefits, am not sure that I completely understand. It is also incredibly timely as ideas about work and jobs are currently changing dramatically.

I am choosing to make a dance because I love making dances; I love working with my dancers and performing. But I also think dance is a great medium for fully embodying what work looks like, showing passion/drive or casual precision. It is helpful for perceiving process and problem-solving and for tackling issues from multiple sides: telling a story, asking a question, and digging into all of the physical stuff in between.

However, I don’t want to overlook the reality that many people do not consider dancing or creating dances a job. Not because we do not work hard but because we are paid poorly or not at all.  We have no benefits, no retirement, no stability—and almost all of us have to retain other jobs to support our dance life. It is possible that this particular reality of a dancer’s life gives me a skewed perspective on the working world but I have also found that people’s reactions to my career and employment say a lot about what they believe work is about: passion, money, relationships, boredom. I am still figuring out how to incorporate my own experiences, as well as the dancers’, into the work but I’m sure I will find a way.

A quick introduction to ‘The Jobs Project’

By Gina Hoch-Stall, choreographer

I don’t feel like I have ever had a ‘real job.’ I worked in an office once in high school; but my jobs since have been far from stationary, generally hourly and have not included healthcare or a 401k. I have chosen the topic of jobs as the inspiration for the company’s new work because I am interested in finding new answers to these questions:

-What is a job?

-What does it look like?

-How does a person’s work affect his or her identity?

Rather than making a piece of art that focuses solely on my experiences I wanted to gather stories and information from other working Philadelphians. In seeking out these workers I attempted to find a range in age, gender, education, and type of work. I met my interviewees through my dancers, through my own work as a fitness instructor and sometimes on the street. So far I have conducted 20 interviews and counting. The dancers and I have also traveled to the workplaces of a few of our interviewees to capture their physical work on video for movement inspiration.

Ilan Isakov, the composer and sound designer for this project, and I have now been transcribing these interviews and mining them for ideas and inspiration. Beginning in September the dancers and I will come together in the studio to start playing with the data from the interviews and the video footage, exploring the answers to those three questions through phrase-work, gestures and partnering.

In the coming months we will be opening our rehearsals to the interviewees as well as the general public. We are inviting you to come and see what our ‘work’ looks and feels like: all rehearsals offer opportunities for participation. If all goes as planned we may even be bringing some of the Philadelphia workers we’ve interviewed onto the stage with us next May when we will premier the work at the Latvian Society of Philadlephia.

In the meantime we are listening, writing, moving, trying and failing. Working, in our own way, to suss out what is interesting and necessary to address about jobs, work and our individual identities.

We’ll keep you posted right here.