Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dainty Cadaver Director Postmortem: Jordana Williams

Thank you to one and all who attended Piper McKenzie’s Dainty Cadaver! As you may have seen if you attended or read about it on Facebook or whatever, the entire project was a smashing success. However, if you were following this blog, you realize that I didn’t profile the directors of the three teams’ projects. The truth is that their contributions to the project were immense – there wouldn’t have been performances without them, after all – and I wanted to profile them AFTER their work was finished, when they’d had a moment to reflect on the process and the final results.

First up is Jordana Williams, who did wonderful work on Team A’s script, which was eventually called Soul Piper. Jordana is one of the minds behind Gideon Productions, and I actually first saw (and was knocked to the floor by) her work on Mac Rogers’ amazing play Viral. I’ve since gone on to admire her work in two very different Mac-penned Saturday Night Saloon pieces, Mother Sacramento and Control Room. Take it away, Jordana!


What projects have you worked on in the past that have prepared you for the speed and strangeness of the Dainty Cadaver process?
The 24-Hour Plays and the Vampire Cowboys' Saturday Night Saloon were the best prep for the speed. I've certainly done projects of comparable strangeness, but having the tone and circumstances change midstream was a new challenge.

You all found amazing casts who seemed game for anything and completely keyed into the concept behind the project. What’s the secret?
I guess the secret is sticking around long enough that you know enough amazing actors never to have to work with anyone jerky. I've also learned not to try too hard to talk anybody into doing a project. If someone begins a process grudgingly, that can really bring things down for everyone. Not that people don't come around sometimes, but you can't count on it.

What was the biggest surprise you encountered when reading the script for the first time?
How much sense it made overall. I was expecting way worse!

What was the biggest challenge you faced when you actually started to stage the plays?
Hmm... probably "A PARASITE emerges from DOCTOR FLETCHER’s face. "

Did you go into the process with any sort of overarching interpretation of what the story and action of the play were about, or did you just let the chips fall where they would?
I think I went in with a pretty strong sense of who the characters were and what many of the moments should be, but not much else. There were some thematic through-lines and a bunch of things that almost added up but not quite. Usually I'm pretty rigorous about creating a consistent world that coheres to its own internal logic, but for this project I got kind of jazzed about abandoning those concerns and seeing what the process became in their absence. Basically, in my mind, these characters existed in a world where the ground shifted beneath them on occasion, forcing them to rediscover their footing, reset their expectations and, in some cases, totally redefine themselves. The real trick was how quickly and completely the actors could immerse themselves in the various new paradigms, and I was knocked out by their facility and commitment.

On a similar note, how aware were you of the individual voices of the writers while you were directing – did knowledge that the script was penned by six different writers affect the staging and performance style?
Team A's writers made some valiant attempts to continue with what they were given, so the transitions were often less abrupt than they might have been. In a couple of cases, it seemed more like a writer's voice took over midway through their scene, which was neat. Having six different writers primarily affected the staging and performance style in that it felt like a permission slip to mix things up a bit – to go whole hog with a style element for a while and then abandon it entirely a few pages later, which felt kind of transgressive and really fun.

If you received the unlikely news that we’d be bringing your Dainty Cadaver script to Broadway or BAM, what would be the biggest budget item you’d want to spring for?
I actually really dug the low-fi nature of the production, because this process felt very much about showing the seams. I went kind of purposefully crappy with a bunch of the props and effects - even more so than was necessitated by time and budgetary limits - because it felt right. I wanted to see how truthfully and powerfully we could play these moments when, for instance, you've got a guy talking to a bright green sock puppet inches from his face.

On the other hand, it would be really frickin' cool to have the entire set transform into a full-on spaceship for the last 15 minutes of the play.

Which dead or super-famous playwright would you most like to include in a future Dainty Cadaver?
Maurice Maeterlinck (that one's for Mac).

What changes or innovations would you suggest for future iterations of the Dainty Cadaver? Do you think the writers or directors should be given any additional kind of formal restraint?
I was really kind of blown away by how well it worked.

What’s next on the docket for you?
We're making some decisions about what to do in the next few months and starting development of Mac Rogers' alien invasion trilogy, The Honeycomb. But I'm also going to take a little time off. My house is a damn mess and my kids are covered in something sticky.

Anything you want to add that wasn’t accounted for in these questions?
Oh, I feel like I've blathered on plenty. But I really am grateful that you guys brought me on to direct one of these crazy plays. It was a ridiculous amount of fun and I actually learned a lot too!

No comments:

Post a Comment