The Carmen Effect.
“I really do believe that if you don’t challenge yourself and risk failing, that it’s not interesting.” – Julie Taymor
During this pause in the action as we eagerly await confirmation on our second venue for Much Ado About Nothing, it seems like a good time to talk about the person that started all this. It happens to be her birthday!
If circumstances were not as they are, I would never attempt something like what I am now attempting with Much Ado. I am not formally trained in theatre. I acted in some bad high school productions and then abandoned theatre for film school in college. I got back into theatre after college, but really only as a producer and occasional writer. I have only previously directed a handful of bad short films, and a couple of short plays. I have never directed a full-length play before, much less Shakespeare. So who the hell am I to do this show? I have to admit, it feels a bit audacious.
It’s that audacity that I am going to call “The Carmen Effect.”
When Carmen-maria Mandley began Bare Theatre, it was not even conceived of as a company. She simply got it in her head to do a play and she did it. She dreamed and then found people who could help her make those dreams reality. It didn’t matter whether she could or could not do the things that she had in mind, she just inspired people and they all somehow made it happen. Whether it was to drive a police car onstage, bury an actor in sand, or enclose the entire theatre space in bed sheets – these things just happened. It didn’t matter that there was no budget. It just happened.
Carmen and I were working together at an art gallery when I first met her. In conversation, I told her I was an electronic musician, and I let her listen to a CD I had made. Not too long after that, she asked me to compose the music for Titus Andronicus. It didn’t matter that I had never composed a score before, and it didn’t matter that I only had about six weeks to write and produce the score.
That experience changed my life.
It was immediately after Titus that Bare Theatre was producing full seasons, and Carmen asked me to be the company composer. For a few years, I was producing two or three albums’ worth of music every year. Not only that, but I learned a tremendous amount from her. I learned about her process, her directing style, her choices, how she worked with actors. I learned a ton about Shakespeare, which I had previously always thought of as “overdone” (believe me, I have been born again!). I also learned about commedia and clowning, which has now become a real passion.
The Carmen Effect was already influencing others in the company. We brought in guest directors, several of whom had not directed a full-length or Shakespeare before, and they did so brilliantly. Each of them had what could be considered crazy ideas, but we as a company went with it, and it always managed to work.
It wasn’t just with directors, however. The Carmen Effect is perhaps most striking when she takes a person, young or old, male or female, who has no real acting experience or training, and she manages to extract a performance full of honesty and intensity that they were not even aware they had in them.
It has only recently occurred to me that we all have at least in some way learned from Carmen that we could do crazy things if we believed in them. This is a notion that is lost to much of our modern world, where issues like war or the economy tend to bring reality home in a big way.
There was a long period of time in my life where I would have said “Direct!?! Shakespeare!?! I’m not qualified to do that!!!” Perhaps I am not.
However, I now realize that even though I did not get a degree in theatre or study at a prestigious school, I have had seven years of training with a brilliant director and the talented directors, actors and crew she brought together. I would like to think I’ve gleaned something, even a few small droplets of knowledge, from her experience with Shakespeare & Company, Cirque du Soleil, Dell’Arte, The Nickel Shakespeare Girls, and the multitude of life experiences she has had. It is The Carmen Effect that makes me confident in what we are doing, despite the challenges.
After all, it’s the challenge and the risk of failing that somehow makes it all worthwhile. Right, Carmen?
By the way, there is also a Heather Effect. More on that later.