To round out our Season 167 blog posts, today we read about what it's like to choreograph a Mask & Bauble musical. Ashanee Kottage (SFS '22), the choreographer and intimacy director for our musical "Hello Again" by Michael John LaChiusa, shares what her experiences with choreography and intimacy directing were like and what the jobs entail, something she hopes will inspire others to apply to choreograph musicals in the future.
After working on Nomadic shows as a freshman in the Fall and Winter, Mask & Bauble was a club I wanted to get involved with but didn’t know how. I couldn’t sing (this is not humility, I am genuinely so bad) and as an English Literature student in school I was exhausted with classics. However, I loved to dance and my entryway was evident when there was a vacancy to choreograph the musical Hello Again. This is often a position that is elusive, mysterious, and intimidating to most so I’m going to take this opportunity to br-br-break it down.
Due to the nature of the show my position entailed dance and intimacy choreography (‘directing’ staged foreplay, sex, etc.). I was privileged to work with a D-Staff (Gabe (director), Harry (producer), and Claire (stage manager), Nicole and Sasha (music directors), Bryce (technical director)) and mentor (JT) and assistant (Cristin) that helped and guided me through the whole process (yes that’s a lot of people and they were all crucial).
I would start by listening to the song/read through with the script beside me and annotating what each character in the scene would be feeling, what the context of the scene was, etc. I would also attend character work rehearsals to help with this contextualization. Then, I would watch YouTube videos of similar styles and performances and note down routines and steps I would try emulate or add to and create a rough sketch of the choreography in my head or beside the lines on the script (i.e at 2:34 of Zei Gezent, Fiona twirls twice, Colum slides, copy YoutTube video 1 from 2:45-2:50 at “I got a little time..”). I would then go into Poulton (oh the hours I’ve spent in here) play the song and attempt my sketch. JT and Cristin would often be around to help with feedback, ideas, and filling in the blanks my experience was too saturated to extract from.
I would take a video of me performing the choreography, send it to the D-Staff group chat and get Gabe’s approval. Our discussions typically entailed conversations such as ‘I think she would be less loose with her hips at this point because she’s not as enthusiastic yet, what do you think?’ ‘Do you think they should be dancing fast or slow here, what’s the mood you want?’ This discourse was vital to reconciling my choreography with the artistic vision for the show.
Collaboration is what makes the process so fun and the actors play a vital role here. Depending on the comfort level, flexibility, and innovative contributions of the performers, the choreography always evolves so at the end it’s a product of the ideas of everyone in the room.
The development doesn’t end here.
At production staff meetings music directors may comment that they don’t think the speed of the movement is compatible with the pitch the actors have to reach at this point, the TD or set designer may advice that the space is too limited to do a flip the so we may want to avoid it, and the costume designer may express concerns about flexibility in the costume piece in a certain scene.
Intimacy choreography was a similar process with the exception of what happens before and during the first rehearsal. With the guidance of JT I learned: how to translate real life intimacy to symbolic gestures on stage, how to sensitively engage in conversation with each performer about their level of comfort with their body and other’s bodies, and how to check-in with actors after the choreography is taught. We practiced exercises and warm-ups to help actors feel comfortable both with their own bodies and scene partners before we directed these scenes and made sure the minimal number of people were in the room during the first direction.
This was the most challenging part of the process for me. With a cast of 10 unique people with varying comfort levels and experiences in performance I attempted to standardize my process and I’m yet to evaluate whether this approach was helpful. I also struggled to distinguish different degrees and types of comfort that performers would have on stage, and found it difficult to reconcile performer autonomy in these scenes with mine and Gabe’s vision. However, it was a fantastic experience to learn how to go about such a unique form of direction given that it is vital to many to have the personal conversations and clarity of direction beforehand to prevent emotional and physical triggers and discomfort on stage and off stage in relation to intimacy. I hope to learn from my shortcomings and the feedback of actors and the D-Staff to grow in this position in the future.
Choreography is physically and emotionally taxing but exceedingly rewarding. It is fun, keeps you fit (at least before tech week when you’re just sitting and telling Fiona to squat lower as you eat your cheeseburger), and a brilliant way to get involved if you don’t feel comfortable performing in a musical, so if you love to dance, SIGN UP TO DO IT!
Maggie Cammaroto (COL '22), one of the cast members of our winter co-production Speech & Debate with the Theater & Performance Studies Program, shared her experiences of working on this process and about the world happening behind the very curtain of the performances!
The theatre community celebrated Speech & Debate’s closing two weeks ago. As a member of the cast, I not only said goodbye to performing with the legend herself Cristin Crowley (but the plot continues...come see nomadicTheatre's spring production of Quake), I also don’t get to see two of my best friends everyday anymore. Maddie Warner, Nia Jordan, and I made up Speech & Debate’s ensemble. We each played one of the parents but also an assortment of other characters, from an interpretive dance representation of a Grindr chat to a voice that blurts bathing suit area jokes. Because our characters were rather minor compared to the full-on, full-nude roles of Howie, Diwata, and Solomon, we spent a lot of time backstage. I loved our time back there for many a reason. For one, I got all my homework done. Great success. But more importantly, I got to know my fellow ensemble members very well. We shared memes and cute dog videos c o n s t a n t l y. Nia got me to maybe/probably join her service fraternity next semester. Maddie took me on as her assistant for stage designing Mask & Bauble's spring musical Hello, Again (come see that, too). I got to sit Nia’s boyfriend down and ask him what his intentions were with my daughter. We dubbed ourselves first the Blue Man Group, then the Powerpuff Girls (I’m Buttercup, obviously), and finally “squad & fam”, the current name of our group chat. We got so close, we were practically a single person. During transitions, we were told to move as a unit to shift set pieces. When we first tried this two months ago, we wondered how this was ever going to look good. But by tech, we could sense each other’s vibrations and moved perfectly in sync. People kept asking me “HOW DO YOU MOVE SO IN SYNC?!” and I always said “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” because that’s important but then I told them that friendship is a hell of a thing.
I loved working with every person in the Speech & Debate process, but my Blue Men will always have a special place in my heart. I never would have guessed that by the end of this show I would miss these girls as much as I do. We’re an unlikely bunch, but for some reason we work, like the Breakfast Club! It goes to show that not being in the spotlight all the time is really a blessing. It gives you the opportunity to make priceless friendships like no other. And that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
With 2018 concluding today, take a moment to read some of the projects and reflections of our Executive Producer Cameron Bell (COL '19) from the past year and what to look forward to for 2019:
As we all find ourselves basking in the thoughtful afterglow of another holiday season, I’ve been thinking a lot about how grateful I am for my Mask & Bauble family. So, I was thrilled to be asked to share some of my reflections on our final Mask & Bloggle(!) post of 2018. This year, like any other year, was a long one, but I’ll try to keep things short so you can go back to your scrolling.
I started this year in an appropriately hectic state: I was a producer heading straight into tech week for Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, our co-production with Nomadic. Then before I knew it, February was upon us, and I was utterly honored to be elected as the following season’s Executive Producer. EP was a role I had idolized since my freshman year, and with a recent co-production and a year of experience on the Executive Board under my belt, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. But is that literally ever the case? No!!!
From elections we headed straight into season planning, where I along with members of Boards 166 and 167 put together a lineup of shows that are grounded in M&B’s core identity of student written works, classics, and musicals while incorporating new and innovative features informed by our modern context. We started with our annual Donn B. Murphy One Acts Festival featuring Four Lemons and a Funeral by Allison Lane and Hazel & Stanley by Timmy Sutton. While DBMOAF isn’t normally the season’s first mainstage, we decided to open with it this year in the hopes of making it our principle community-building show. Additionally, in Hazel & Stanley we incorporated projections in Stage III to an unprecedented extent. We continued to challenge ourselves (and our tech directors, bless them) by staging A Midsummer Night’s Dream(modernized to Washington DC, 1968) in the round - a feat which hasn’t been attempted for an M&B mainstage in almost 10 years.
On a more personal note, my term as EP so far has been comprised of some of the most rewarding, challenging, and humbling experiences of my life. I’ve watched directing staffs, designers, their assistants, and actors share in successes that have even gone on to inspire and invigorate others watching them. I’ve seen new members, some freshmen, some not, come out of their shells and become part of our community. I’ve survived some late nights during tech weeks in Poulton, and sometimes I wasn’t the last one out the door. I’ve learned from mistakes, and worked towards preserving and passing down those lessons to future leadership. Most importantly, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a part of such a large and longstanding community on Georgetown’s campus. Some of my favorite moments this past year came out of interacting with our alums. Even though many of them graduated from Georgetown before I set foot on campus (or some before I was even born!), it’s so awesome to share an instant connection with them through M&B. I’ve had so much fun hearing their stories, watching their performances around DC, and even engaging in conversations about how we can expand and strengthen our alumni network and make it more accessible for both current members and alums (check out www.georgetowntheatrealliance.com for more on that!).
Looking ahead, we’re well underway on Speech & Debate, our co-production with the Department of Performing Arts; with it, we’re excited to show audiences a script previously unseen on Georgetown’s campus aided by the notable technical resources and expertise we’ve gotten from working with the Department of Performing Arts. Finally, in April, we’ll show our musical, Hello Again; also a new script to Georgetown and one that we hope will inspire conversations around sexuality that are largely avoided or ignored. It’s hard to believe the season is halfway over already, but I’m so excited for what’s in store over the next few months!
My 2018 was a year full of theater, music, and gratitude thanks to Mask & Bauble. I couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come as we continue Season 167 and start looking towards the future (Season 168 and beyond!) as we head into 2019.
In the spirit of the holidays and with Thanksgiving having just passed, actor Kate Oelkers (COL '21), who played Lysander in this year's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, wrote a Shakespearean sonnet reflecting on how grateful her time on the process was.
The Bard wrote many sonnets in his time.
They bring to mind emotions that ring true.
Through regulated meter, verse, and rhyme,
His poetry does sometimes make me blue.
But what else puts me in a state like this?
The end of Mask and Bauble’s autumn play
Turned life itself into a dark abyss.
Yet those dear bonds we formed will surely stay.
So here’s to each of you--cast, crew, and more.
I thank you for your kindness, love, and joy.
To fairies, boi scouts, and the lovers four,
To C, C, J, and E, who sips on soy.
Please don’t think that my gratitude is dumb.
I’ve one more thing to say, which is: Flor Trum!
Our two playwrights for this year's DBMOAF, Allison Lane (COL '19), author of Four Lemons And a Funeral, and Timmy Sutton (COL '20), author of Hazel & Stanley, shared some reflections on the process of writing these two scripts and what it meant to bring them to life.
Writing my play and letting it breathe…
Getting selected for DBMOAF this year was one of the most wonderfully exciting things I have ever experienced. It was exhilarating and validating and felt kind of like drinking ten caffeinated coffees. Or twenty.
But it was also terrifying. And nerve-wracking and scary and kind of impossible. Here’s a play that I never expected to be selected, actually BEING SELECTED. Now, my friends and classmates and mentors might come and see my words spread out on a stage, totally vulnerable and ready for scrutiny. I wondered for weeks after being chosen if this was something I could handle. I asked myself, should I respectfully remove my play from the season and ask them to pick something else? I didn’t think I was ready. But something inside of me told me to wait it out, to be patient, and to hold my breath just a little bit longer. So I did. And it ended up being one of the most rewarding choices I have ever made.
As the playwright, I was fairly distanced from the actual process of creating the world of the play. I came to a few rehearsals and answered some of the cast and directing staff’s questions, but that was about it. Sitting in the audience as a spectator the night of the show was not only terrifying because I didn’t know what to expect, but also because I was second-guessing every word I wrote and every stage direction and every name and even the title. What if it all went horribly wrong?
But it didn’t.
An amazing cast and phenomenal directing staff put together a show that let my words and the message of my play be heard, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I am so proud to have my play beside one of the most incredible stories I have ever seen, Hazel and Stanley, as well as the beautiful poetry of Corpus. I am so glad that I allowed my play to breathe in the hands of my talented peers, and I am so happy that I was able to see my words (my very own words!) become a reality.
The weird thing about junior high is literally everything about junior high. Every hallway is both cavernous and suffocating, every seat too small and too large, every moment terrible, and, I mean, mostly terrible. For the sake of honesty, I will say that I actually had a largely Good Junior High Experience™. My teachers liked me, I had a solid group of friends, and was heavily involved with math team, so I was pretty much killing it. But it was still what junior high is for everyone, which is to say the type of thing that makes you feel like you’re shrinking despite your body physically exploding. Living inside a contradiction is difficult for everyone, no matter how adept they are at traversing it.
When I was in junior high, I liked a girl. Her name was a very good name, but not one I’m going to write here, so we will just call her S. I liked S very much, so, naturally, I never spoke to her at all. And I liked S so very much and spoke to her so very little that I started writing poetry just to deal with that emotional dissonance. This poetry was, of course, very bad, but also indescribably necessary, as most bad poetry is.
So without getting into the nitty-gritty of all the non-details of my non-relationship, platonic or otherwise, with S, essentially from the time I was a seventh grader to when I was moving away at the end of my sophomore year of high school, I only liked one girl and basically never spoke to her. And on the last day of sophomore year, less than 48 hours away from driving across Texas and towards Arizona, I slipped a poem I had written into the back cover of S’s yearbook. The poem was, of course, very bad, but I only barely knew that then and it was all so important and I had to so SOMETHING.
And I guess the point of all of this is just to say that S could have torn me to shreds. She could have taken that poem and laughed at me and told all of her friends what a horrible dufus I was, but she didn’t. She was abundantly kind. She got my phone number from a mutual friend and texted me some very nice things that I don’t remember the words of now, but I do remember the feeling – relief and warmth and every muscle in my body smiling at once.
I have been carried by the kindness of friends and strangers all the way to where I’m standing. Even more relevant, my writing has been carried by the generosity of those reading it. S could have stopped me in my tracks, but because of some extreme benevolence inside of her, I’m here and I write poems everyday, and I wrote a play, and that play is being produced, and everything is different than it would be just because of her overwhelming and unearned kindness toward me, in a time where kindness is kind of hard to come by. And I am all gratitude. And I am just a river of thank yous to everyone who has reached out a hand to me and said “it is ok to keep going.” So thank you. So thank you.
So thank you, for getting me here.