I love the theatre—lobby, house, backstage, on the stage—it does not matter. I have clocked time there since before I could walk. Friday night I had the chance to be there again at the small and mighty Paramount in Rutland, Vermont. A quirky and entertaining NYC-based company called Bedlam was reading a new play by one Tony Award winning Steven Sater (Spring Awakening), called New York Animals. And if you have never heard of nor seen this fantastic little company, drop what you are doing right this second and find them. This event was an exceptionally good call by Handsome Chef Boyfriend, who heard this broadcast on VPR and suggested it.
This time the audience sat on the stage with the actors; it had been converted into a black box mini-theatre for this interesting run-through ahead of the play’s opening in NYC later this fall. We were all up in their business during the show, a small but enthusiastic audience, at times moving our feet out of the way of the action unfolding practically in our laps. A company member stood by to prompt forgotten lines; it was a rough cut to be sure, but in a beautiful venue on a delicious summer night in Vermont.
House lights came up for intermission, a chance to examine the theatre more closely. It reminds me so much of this other small theatre in Knoxville; I’m guessing they must be roughly the same vintage, although the Paramount is smaller. It’s pretty; sometimes I think Vermont is underserved and a little forgotten when it comes to performing arts. I’m glad the Paramount is not too far from home.
When it comes to performance, I know the play’s the thing, and all. But I have always loved the process more. For me, the same is true of classical ballet. The final year in the life of my small ballet school in Knoxville, Tennessee, before I knew its doors were closing for good, my student population at last had exposure to the stage, an important milestone in the life of any young dancer. We mounted a lecture demonstration at the Knoxville Museum of Art, showing the progression of training from the lowest to the highest levels at the school.
The young enrollees demonstrated movement vocabulary in a way I hoped made sense to the audience, who were shown not individual choreographed pieces prepared a level at a time “recital” style, but individual movements as they are taught to children over a period of years, in a natural progression. It was my intention to demonstrate how we get from point A to point B, in a careful age-appropriate way that made sense. I used the Guggenheim’s Works & Process series as a model, and judging from the standing-room-only crowd and surprise visit by local news media, we were successful. I think people are naturally curious about how things work.
Friday night was all about process. After the play we had a chance to give the company feedback—to ask questions, comment about character development that seemed confusing, say what we liked and didn’t. Steven Sater himself came up from NYC to talk to us directly, and even asked us questions while he made notes. He was erudite and funny, gave us a glimpse of how this particular play came to be, explained how he has been writing music for it in collaboration with Burt Bacharach, and told us among other things how he thought the music would ultimately fit into the script.
People in attendance made some good points and a few good suggestions. One man in particular wanted to know whether the play—New York Animals—was written expressly for New Yorkers, as he had grown up in the city and retired to Vermont. Without blinking an eye, Steven Sater quipped, Well I heard the show did very well in Vermont.
Yes, it did.
Vermont has plenty of endearing qualities. One is that it tends to attract talented people out of the city and into the beautiful countryside in the summertime, as it does this particular company each year. I love seeing the ballet in big venues in big cities; ditto the theatre. There is no substitute for that experience.
But I am just as happy—maybe even happier—to watch the process unfold right in my own back yard.
Photos belong to the author and to Knoxville Ballet School; it ain’t nice to steal, so don’t do it.
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