by Voltaire Wade-Greene
If you asked me what I thought my experience was going to be before we started the process for When Change Comes for Mark Stuart Dance Theatre and compared it to what it is now I would tell you that it’s the same as comparing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Star Wars. Sure, it’s fun to replay that Saturday morning from your childhood where you enjoy a huge bowl of cereal while enjoying the “turtles In a half shell” theme song, knowing that our mutated friends are going to save the day and come out on top!
The same could be said about most rehearsal processes. In the usual rehearsal environment, you come in to a studio to warm up and stretch so you don’t pull that hammy. You might even do a few sit ups and pushups to burn that dinner last night followed by dessert or a few drinks. The rehearsal hour begins and you’re learning choreography and spacing. Once it’s all done, there are adjustments made followed by the usual “run it agains” until everything is clean, clear and our heroes have saved the day from Shredder and his sidekicks Bebop and Rocksteady.
Not here. Like Star Wars, there is a “force-like” energy present. The moment you walk into the space you feel something different. Usually the room has mood lighting accompanied by ethereal instrumental music. The room is highlighted by beautiful plants that the amazing Jaime Verazin (IG: @broadwaybotanist) picked for the space. My favorite part is the very center of the room. There lies a poster of When Change Comes with a plant on the left of it, a harmony block and a series of Post-it notes with goals and words of affirmation on them surrounding the poster. This is known as our Trust Circle. Think of it like a Jedi training ground. Of course without the lightsabers, sweet flips and everyone’s favorite green guy, Yoda. It’s a designated space that allows us to let our guard down to talk about difficult situations and realities in search of the best way to tell these stories. Which is altogether something entirely new for any rehearsal I’ve been part of.
As performers, we rarely get an opportunity to be in a show that touches on social issues that affect us daily. The refreshing aspect about this is the approach we are taking and I am excited to share that with people. It’s not your typical dance show. Sure, there are steps and sequences with a few ball changes and jazz hands, but the story is the driver of the show. If the narrative progresses, so does the movement! It’s all about energy. The approach to telling each act is unique because it avoids that “beating the dead horse” analogy that we all fear. As collaborators, we have the opportunity to pull from our own experiences and let them out on stage. Choreographer Mark Stuart, like Yoda, has a unique way of guiding the narrative by asking us non-leading, neutral questions like; what can do? How can we help? What would we do next? How do we stand in front of a complete stranger and just see them for who they are?
One great lesson from this experience so far is the simple act of “having a conversation." It sounds easy, but to be truly present with someone with an opposite opinion or life experience is tough. This is where the Trust Circle becomes our Jedi training ground. Can we have a conversation where instead of trying to prove a point, we just listen? It hasn’t been easy and we’re continuing the talks. I really hope folks come out to see the show and stay for the talkbacks. This is a new element, for me, where our job as performers is to open the door for conversation. Can we defeat the dark side that is hate and ignorance and continue to fight for the good of the galaxy? No one knows how the story will play out and maybe we’re not as cool as the Jedis. What if we’re the rebels that help Skywalker blow up the Death Star? We could be that beacon of light that continues to drive hope among the discouraged.