As part of the ongoing campus initiative Global Urban Humanities: Engaging the Humanities and Environmental Design, the Arts Research Center is co-sponsoring the upcoming symposium Reimagining the Urban: Bay Area Connections Across the Arts and Public Space. Participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Ava Roy, Founding Artistic Director of We Players.
In my experience, one of the most unique and profound joys of working site-specifically is developing an intimate relationship with the elemental forces of the environment. While striving to build a coherent world and intricate structure (and to clearly tell the story of the play), within the sweeping scale of massive outdoor sites is challenging enough. The challenge is intensified by the completely unpredictable atmospheric input – while rehearsing and performing, we find ourselves in searing heat or bone-chilling damp cold, we face blasts of powerful winds off the Pacific, we are in turns shrouded in fog, then squinting into blazing sun… These contributions from the environment are as uncontrollable as they are magnificent. A sudden shaft of sunlight provides a natural spotlight on Hamlet as he expounds on how to catch the conscience of the King from behind a fence on Alcatraz, an eagle soars above Zeus’ head as he heckles the mortals from his perch at the top of Mount Olympus (or the old rock quarry on Angel Island as the case may be), a swirl of thick fog tumbles into the fortress as Macbeth receives his crown, an ominous yet fitting portent. In less sublime alignment, a helicopter churns overhead as an intimate soliloquy is shared with the audience, or the abundant wind may carry the actors voices in precisely the wrong direction. I believe that these surprise contributions from the environment serve to heighten our awareness that what we are experiencing is a precious, unrepeatable moment in time. That this event is alive and breathing and truly dynamic. These surprise encounters with nature – within the ordered structure of the play – can help us to drop into a heightened state of awareness and appreciation for the moment. When we practice this through our engagement with the arts, we might become more facile at expanding our awareness and savoring the minute moments of beauty in our day to day lives. We might become more adept at recognizing how even in our dense, fast-paced urban landscape, nature is ever-present and is inviting us into a state of wonder. While we cannot control the elements, we can predict certain things and invite these forces into our practice of developing site- integrated art. We should consider carefully the time of day, the time of year. What is happening in the physical environment in the season we are producing the work? What plants are blooming? What phase is the moon in? What’s happening in the energetic environment? If it’s spring time, how does the story draw on the energy of new life? If in the autumn, how does the story connect to the darkening of the light, the transition from harvest to dormancy? With We Players’ current production of Macbeth at Fort Point, the show begins when it is still day. Dusk settles as the new King takes the throne and we feel the increasing weight of darkness. As the moral and psychological standing of the main characters frays and falls apart, the blanket of night falls heavily upon us. We descend into darkness both literally and figuratively. The sun takes a bow.