Anatomy of a Work of Art in Progress: Shifting Perspectives… A Director’s View

Shifting perspectives a bit… Michelle here, Director of the Work of Art in Progress.

So, one afternoon last week, I’m watching the first video cut from Steven — and I’m feeling the story, we’re carrying it through. On screen, Ted makes me laugh, brings me to tears, enlarges my heart… he draws me in, it’s just him and me. I’m Audience Member Number One, first focus group member, and my feedback is in: we haven’t finished editing yet, but it’s there. It’s working. I’m with him.

And then… I take off my Audience Member goggles, moving on to other Director Duties, and I’m struck by something.

I’ve been pulling photos for social media posts, and there’s a striking contrast here. On video, I was right there with Ted, feeling it with him, just him and me — as the Very Special Audience Member.

But looking through these pictures as Director, I’ve zoomed out from the video frame. There in the frame of a photo, is Steven, the videographer, with Ted.

— “Hey!” says the Very Special Audience Member who thought Ted was talking to them directly. “There’s someone else here! What’s he doing here?!”

— “Yep,” says the Director. “You’re still Very Special, but well… there’s a little more to the picture.”

 

      

The person looking through the camera — ie, your eyes, Dear Audience — is Steven Stauffer.

And just behind Steven as we film, I’m there too, watching both the screen (your view), and Steven’s dance. It’s a beautiful dance to behold… up then down, tilting to one side, leaning in, backing up. Ted leads, Steven follows.

And Steven isn’t just dancing with Ted; he’s dancing while carrying 5000 pounds of something called a “camera” (okay, it might only be 12 pounds, but you try carrying 12 pounds on your shoulder, holding it steady, while you do a graceful dance following the actor’s lead for 12 hours a day 4 days in a row…) as if it’s part of Steven’s own body.

I love this part of being a director — watching the meta-performance that the audience can’t see. It’s like a superpower — I can see through layers. I can see outside the frame.

Side Note (Side Notes are kind of like Rabbit Trails): When we get this pandemic under control and I can teach movement classes again, maybe I’ll suggest the students can get extra credit by learning videography. Or the whole course could be substituted by learning videography. Just follow Steven around for a while, do what he does, and I’ll give you full credit for the course. Balance, grace, flexibility, responsiveness, strength, endurance…you have to have it all in order to do the job.

Anyway. That’s Steven. Dancing.

On camera, you see Ted running up and down a bunch of stairs. Zoom out, and you see Steven running up and down behind him. Running up and down stairs HOLDING A CAMERA ON HIS SHOULDER, I might add.

   

On camera, you see Ted talking to you, his Very Special Confidante. Zoom out, and you see Steven walking backwards, through a basement cluttered with tripping hazards.

Zoom out a bit more and you see me behind Steven, following his moves (who is following Ted’s moves). We’re all dancing. Ted leads, we follow. He’s the star, after all.

Of course, we lead Ted too. In good dancing, you might not be able to tell who’s leading and who’s following.

I’m watching over Steven’s shoulder so I can see the frame, or stepping to the side so I can see Ted in 3D. I’m moving a bucket out of the way as Steven backs up, so Ted can keep walking and talking to you, his Favorite Person.

Zoom out some more and you see Jacob.

Jacob leaning in with the boom mic so he can get the right sound. Jacob in the back of the house making the lights shift at just the right moment. Jacob hidden under the sound board so he can monitor the audio, but stay out of your sight as Ted moves through the space.

Invisible.

Zoom out and you also see Jerry catching a door when it swings so it doesn’t bang behind Ted after he’s gone through it; or reading lines into Ted’s earpiece from the other room, so Ted has a real person to talk to in this scene.

Later, Ted’s son Derek is recording the missing dialogue over the phone and we all crack up.

Side Note… We thought it was a great take until Jacob, on sound, diplomatically said, “Okay, let’s do it one more time and, uh… can we laugh a little quieter this time?”

We’re all there. We just have to be quiet. And invisible. More superpowers!

I whisk a hat out of the frame, or hand Ted a jacket. Jerry throws a prop into the frame so it lands in Ted’s hands. If we do our jobs well, you will hardly notice we’re there. Magic!

What you see on screen looks like an empty theatre (poor Ted, all alone…). The reality is that in between takes there are a slew of coats, water bottles, backpacks, and notebooks we move from one corner of the theatre to another as Ted takes you, Best Friend, on a walk that looks so easy, so graceful.

It’s just you and him. All he can see is You.

You see Ted crossing a dark street and entering a bar alone.

I see Steven in front of him, walking backwards. I’m behind Steven so I can watch what he’s filming; I’m also walking backwards. When we get to the street, I step away so Jerry and I can make sure cars stop as Ted crosses “alone.”

Then I run to catch back up with Steven and Ted, while Jacob and Jerry hide behind a sign, on headphones so they can track the sound.

You won’t know we’re here.

   

Ted walks slowly, easily, while we all scurry in the background. He’s the host, he keeps you engaged. We’re the catering, we make sure the food is on the table and tastefully arranged by the time you arrive.

You won’t see the kitchen mess, but as a director I kind of love seeing it… the mess, backstage, choreography… the way the magic happens.

If we’re seen, we break the magic.

Unless it’s at just the right moment… I do love crew cameos. You might catch a grumpy stagehand in the shadows, waving Character Ted off to the bar; an impatient stagehand pushing Character Ted onstage; a sound op saluting as Character Ted leaves for a break.

Ted the Actor is used to having all those people there, just out of your sight, supporting him.

Ted the Character makes you feel like he only sees You, even though you’re not there in the moment.

(Do you have superpowers too, oh Honored Audience Member, the One and Only? How do you make us believe in you as we create this film… believing you will appear, believing you will listen, believing you will care?)

The magic of theatre and film is that there is always more happening than you can see. We are in the space with Ted at every moment. Cheering him on between takes, laughing, brainstorming, problem-solving… the room holds confusion, rising tension, inspiration,  exhaustion, delight….

Ted carries our presence into the shots. On camera, you see one person, as if he’s alone. But he wasn’t.

Solo shows are never solo.

There are five of us in the room, breathing together, moving together, dancing together. Ted is with you, and we’re all there with Ted, and with you, too — You, the Audience of Our Dreams, our VIP Guest, the Reason We’re Here.

Invisible (if we’ve done our jobs right). Bringing our superpowers. Making the magic happen.

 

There are five people in this room, and a lot of hidden coats, water bottles, coffee cups, clipboards, and backpacks… We’re doing it for You. Our Beloved Audience. (Well, and also for the Magic.)

 

— Michelle

 

(All 📷  📷  📷  by Michelle Milne)

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