Scratchland# at Yale Drama
As part of the Windham Campbell 2014 Festival I had a workshop and presentaiton of Scratchland# on Thursday 18 September at the Iseman Theatre in New Haven. For the preceding month I’d been talking with Yale Drama via email and phone. They were open to a range of option and formats, and happy for me to use the time and resources pretty much however I wished. I narrowed it down to 2 possiblities: a showcase-type reading of an already produced play, or a workshop and presentation of a script in progress. I went for the latter. Opportunities to hear your words in the mouths of actors, in a theatre, before an audience, are extraordinarily valuable—and rare. And of course I was curious to see how an American director and actors might work on the piece, and what they might make of it.
I’ve written about Scratchland# in earlier posts, so I’m not going to revisit it here—except to say that it is modular, its lines are unattributed and it is very much a composition for voices both live and recorded. Because it’s not obviously about characters with objectives and delineated arcs, because it’s not obviously plot-driven, because it’s not obvious storytelling—Australian theatre’s buzzword du jour—I suspect it’s outside the ken of a lot of script-readers, who probably find it difficult to grasp, and struggle to imagine the translation from page to performance. Yet I know from past experience, that once you put this kind of work into the space and into the hands of actors and other key collaborators, its theatricality sings—sometimes literally.
Margot Bordelon was a great director for Scratchland#. She teased out thematic and narrative connections with a light touch, embraced contradiction, and let loose ends hang loose. And she brought sound designer and composer Palmer Hefferan into the collaboration, which made explicit the importance of sound and music to Scratchland#. The actors were open to experimentation and brought precision and humour and insight to the work. And you’d probably expect this of New York actors, but they also really got its jazz-like structure.
After the Brisbane reading—which also had a very on-side director and actors—I’d been thinking of Scratchland# as a work for a gallery space or a more immersive performance context … but after the workshop and presentation at Yale Drama, I reconsidered that. In New Haven we presented it with the 5 actors at mics, part voice play, part perormance text, part oratorio. During the post-presentation discussion an audience member said Scratchland# reminded him of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. Wow, that’s hugely flattering because Under Milk Wood is one of my all time favourite works. Anyway, thanks to the whole Yale Drama experience, I’ve decided to take Scratchland# more in the oratorio direction. And expand the part of the crow—a lot of people’s favourite voice/character.