So, the thing about a solo show is that there’s really only ever one person on stage. In this case, it’s me. I peel my face away from the white plaster wall and slide over to my computer. I stop recording, and the new video bounces into the timeline on the bottom of my screen alongside eight others that look just the same. For the past 2 hours I’ve been working and reworking a section I call the “Make Out With The Wall” section. I’m trying to hit the right balance of sexy, heartfelt, strange, and funny—but it’s proving difficult to find that sweet spot with my face pressed so tight against the wall.
Earlier, I tried humping. I thought a vigorous, dry hump with my hips might be just the right addition to smashing my face back and forth against the wall. But instead of erotic, it just felt vulgar. So I tried to abstract and “clown-ify” it a bit with a full body shake. That was hard to make believable. I took out the body movement and went just for an impassioned face smear/make out sesh with the wall. But that became kind of a character commentary, reading more as “poor misguided soul” than “passionate romantic moment”. Then I tried a slow and sensuous lean-in, focusing on the approach instead of the outcome. I liked the effect of stripping it back to just the lean, but now I’m trying to figure out the timing for the rest of my body. After my face makes contact, how long does it take for my hand to find the wall? My hips? And what happens then? It’s hard to reach an apex of passion, and then make it all fall apart organically.
I watch the most recent take, paying extra attention to my hands. I like the timing—clearly motivated, sensuous and feeling—but the positioning is awkward. I’ve managed to establish the wall as a person now (which I like), using my eyes to trace “their” form as I slowly lean in for the “kiss”. But if the wall-person remains in the same place, then my hand has just gone straight to their crotch. It feels a little gropey for a first kiss, which is really what this is.
I’ll run this section a couple more times today, but the real test will come when I get it in front of someone else. One of the absolute highlights of this process so far has been inviting friends, family, and colleagues into my rehearsals to get their eyes and feedback on the work. Sometimes all they do is watch. My mom is really good at this—watching quietly from the side with this kind of full-body attention that feels like a warm bath. I can tell she’s really paying attention because she’ll shift every so often, mouth moving softly, or hands fluttering like she’s trying out hand gestures, making sense of something invisible but material in the air in front of her. When she’s in the room, I find myself paying attention to my movements with a subtlety somehow far more nuanced than any I reach on my own.
My sister always looks very serious. I set her up on Facetime, leaning my phone by the window so she can watch from her hotel room in some small French town where she’s on tour with her circus company. As she watches, her eyebrow furrow, a look of intense concentration casting her entire face down. The moment I finish, her face swoops upwards as if thrown into the air by some invisible geyser. She gives detailed, precise notes, pregnant with a belief in the potential for this work to become something good. Really good. Her faith is contagious.
I’ve had colleagues learn sections of the material and do it alongside me. Afterwards, we compare notes on what we each felt in our bodies and try it anew, giddy with the collaborative experimentation. I’ve tried talking-based sections with no words, full body choreography with just my face, and movement sections with only sound. I’ve performed entire portions with a bag on my head, just to see what my body’s actually doing when my face can’t get involved. Once I tried to run the whole thing with my eyes closed, but stopped when I got so absorbed in how things felt I couldn’t bring myself to keep plowing forward. That gave me some good information—I had been so focused on building the conceptual arc of the show that I’d forgotten to build in landing pads that would allow me to slow down and feel what I was doing—where I was coming from and where I was going to.
When I invite friends into the studio, I do my best to not offer too many disclaimers or over-explain. Sometimes (like the day I tried the “Make Out With The Wall” wall section in front of someone for the first time), the effort of not explaining what I’m trying to do feels almost physical. See, what I mean to be doing here… or How I imagine this section eventually working… I want to say. I have a plan! My vision isn’t crazy! Believe me! It’s gonna be good!
In these moments, the vulnerability of sharing something so clearly created only by me can feel like one of those “Oh My God I’m Naked” dreams. It’s like I’m on stage and the rest of the world is watching me air out my deepest emotional questions, my most burning and intimate struggles. Do they realize this is just me processing my own shit? I wonder as I waltz around in off-time rhythms, making strange sounds and doing ridiculous dance moves.
Overall though, I think it’s starting to work. The show opens in 2.5 weeks, and little by little, it’s starting to feel real. Every time I run it, I learn something new. For example, just yesterday I discovered that if I slow down the approach to the “Slippery Hands” section, then a part I previously thought of as a transition suddenly blooms into an entire section of its own—it turns out the Self Help Guru has a story or two of her own to tell! With each run, my British accent drifts less and less Australian, and my invisible lover stays more and more solid while I water the dying grass. Mostly, I’m learning how to try, and try again, and then ask for help and try some more.
This show has been an incredible labor of love, and I would really love to share it with you! Come check it out, December 1-4 at NOHSpace in San Francisco. Details below. I hope to see you there!
December 1-4, 2022, Thu & Fri @ 7:30pm // Sat @ 4pm & 7:30pm // Sun @ 4pm
Tickets: $15-50 (NOTAFLF) https://weareallfriends.bpt.me/
This preview piece was also featured on national dance blog, "Life As A Modern Dancer": https://blog.lifeasamoderndancer.com/2022/11/we-are-all-friends-in-the-studio.html