Catching the Tail of Mr. Burns: an Interview with Director Yury Urnov

Russian director Yury Urnov is directing Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns: a Post Electric Play for the Wilma. We were first introduced to Yury through Woolly Mammoth Theatre in DC, where he is a company member, and his astonishing production of Guillermo Calderon’s play Kiss (which Yury directed again this summer in Siberia). Since that time, Yury has led several sessions with the Wilma’s HotHouse company. We’re delighted to finally have his work on our stage. Wilma Dramaturg Walter Bilderback interviewed Yury on September 29, near the end of the first week of rehearsals for Mr. Burns. They discussed Yury’s concept for the play, the need for art, and the importance of acting companies, among other topics. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Continue reading “Catching the Tail of Mr. Burns: an Interview with Director Yury Urnov”

HotHouse Intensive: Reflection

Temple University Musical Theater BFA student José Raúl Mangual took part in a HotHouse Intensive this winter.  He documented the experience through daily reflections and photos to share as blog posts as we prepare for the Summer Intensive.

Application in Performance

I first allowed myself to “sit back” and observe whether I would notice any of the training from the HotHouse intensive arise in performance. I had already built an accessibility to the extremes of my vocal register over the course of the rehearsal process. But, post-intensive, I could not help further nuancing vocal placement by specifying its accompanying physical resonance in my body. Whether the changes made would resonate (comprehensively, not physically) with audience members was uncertain to me, but I am certain it more deeply colored my interactions with Mercutio’s world.

I felt more interior stirrings: stirrings to throttle Romeo, to massage him, to swipe at Benvolio, to smooth my clothing and therefore regain my appearance of composure, and on to increasingly higher degrees of specificity from the inside out. Instead of theorizing actions and obstacles and deliberation of tactics on a sheet of paper or in front of a computerscreen, I was came upon the answers to questions I’d sought before from simply interacting with my fellow actors and the world around me through my ever-malleable text, on my feet and in my body and voice, clothed in the newfound flexibility discovered in the HotHouse intensive.

I found that, in Mercutio’s pursuits and given his circumstances, my body frequented certain resonances. Frequenting these resonances resulted in more consistent colors of response to obstacles, which refined the types of responses accessible to me in Mercutio’s body, mind, and voice! Even if I made no “decisions” about who Mercutio “was”, a character would be created for me through my living in this new acting appendages – which had always been there, but had new levels of familiarity and thorough exercise.

Insistence: Live

After almost two years of struggling everyday with the same vice, I happily share that I have insisted beyond the point of everyday struggle to something less frequent than the majority of a week, with the frequency still decreasing. I believe the efficiency of my fight had something to do with the physical outlet of my insistence – even more specifically, its role in a community. I had physical evidence of the effect of fighting an urge and surrendering to something greater than myself. In the large scale-model, my community is simply this world and the role I intend to play in it. I carry the concept of insistence with me everyday and am continually excited by its multifaceted application.

Click here to read about José Raúl Mangual

Read the first HotHouse Intensive blog

HotHouse Intensive: A New Breath

Temple University Musical Theater BFA student José Raúl Mangual took part in a HotHouse Intensive this winter.  He documented the experience through daily reflections and photos that will be shared as blog posts as we prepare for the Summer Intensive.

HotHouse Intensive Day 6 (3/7/18)

I felt like today’s class was the first that I saw, without seeking, the parallels between exercises. (AKA: I feel familiar enough to explore the method in solitude now, as wished on Day 1 of Week 1!)

We saw how a new breath is a new idea through an exercise in which a two-person scene (from Passage, the Wilma’s recent world premiere) was read by two actors surrounded by a multitude of chairs, the seats facing inward. The nature of the exercise revealed just how employable punctuation and phrasing can be in the pursuit of an objective or, more generally, in the exchange of ideas with another actor. Often overlooked, the text of a theatrical work can be seen as a diverse, often character-specific terrain which informs what steps, leaps, halts, retractions, etc. we can make towards or away from what we want. If the punctuation/phrasing of the “terrain” is potholes, canyons, slopes, ice, etc., we learned in this exercise that breath often precedes, and arguably should always precede, an action: a skip across the pothole, a leap across the canyon, etc.

I have heard this concept of breath being a new idea before. It was noted in the beginning process of learning to speak Shakespeare, for example. The breath is a revving-up to drive the energy through to the end of the line, where it must, in addition to every word along the way, land with deliberate intention. I’ve seen the undeniable value of apportioning breath this way in my work on Romeo and Juliet as well as in Acting 3, (Temple’s Shakespeare-centric acting class) but the validity of this conceptual understanding of breath was proven to me in new fullness today. It was as if the breath is inhaling the information given to me and allowing it to chemically react with the inside of my body, progressing to exhale a new chemical, which is then inhaled by my partner, and thus a cycle is born.

HotHouse Intensive Day 7 (3/8/18)

Today’s class left me feeling confident in yesterday’s discovery. This work is full of information and freedom I have yet to find elsewhere. I am a thorough (the good side of slow [right?]) worker as it is, so having time in this expanse of exercises to breathe and introspect is enough to keep me entertained for a good, long while. I found that, if I relax and allow my body to breathe into the triangle, it will. I also found that my stress or withdrawal from the group and into myself can result in gripping the muscles in my lower back slightly, but enough that I cut off the opportunity for my breath to extend to my lower back and the perineum.

We also played with an exercise drawing from Cicely Berry’s methods, which was a glamorous wealth of experience and experimentation. Each member of the group acted like “ghosts”. We were voices inside the monologist’s mind, to me presenting an opportunity for each actor role, both monologist and ghosts, to be approaching the line being spoken from the received intention of the prior spoken line’s/words’/word’s intention. In the role of “ghost”, as I see it after today’s experimentation, every individual actor can “agree” or “disagree” with the perceived intention of the current line’s delivery.

To me, to “agree” is to:

  • Emphasize the monologist’s delivery of the approved word or phrase by bolstering* facets of it (such as an electric voiced s [z], the rhythm of a delivery, the received feeling of the word, others)
  • Say nothing (subtext being something of: this sounds good; keep going)

And to “disagree” is to:

  • Deliver the disagreed delivery in a way you see as preferable

HotHouse Intensive Day 8 (3/9/18)

Today’s exercises all left me feeling like we were a family of uninhibited children!

We returned to the exercise of resonating into our hands. This time, I was able to engage in such pure experimentation that I forgot I’d ever had trouble in my introduction to the exercise. The shifting of my shapes originated from my torso, initiated by the triangle from which our breath originates in the corporal sequence. Warping the positioning of my torso, specifically my diaphragm, opened me up to different sounds and, in tandem, different stirrings of emotion. In one position, I began to laugh as deeply as I used to in middle school, my eyes welling and my smile unbreakable. In another, I felt awareness spring up from my feet, as if I’d opened the door to the fight-or-flight response. I happened upon an especially fun asymmetry with my upper back hunched and my voice gurgling in a which created the image in my mind of myself as a sort of humanoid sea monster.

(José Raúl Mangual)

One exercise in particular felt totally free: we took turns being held by the rest of our ensemble, carried around in everyone else’s hands with our eyes closed, able to experience a unique form of play in which we were completely dependent upon the ensemble to control our corporal experience. There was a personally hilarious moment for myself when, floating above the floor (a given in this exercise) and spinning in a fetal-esque position, I could not shake the image in my mind’s eye of myself as a spinning cheesecurl, complete with flecks of flavoring dust. Some would call my experience nonsensical, but it only served to free my mind to experience a form of unbridled imagination I could not possibly hope to experience on my own two feet.

Read the first HotHouse Intensive blog

HotHouse Intensive: Meeting Myself

Temple University Musical Theater BFA student José Raúl Mangual took part in a HotHouse Intensive this winter. He documented the experience through daily reflections and photos that will be shared as blog posts as we prepare for the Summer Intensive.

HotHouse Intensive Day 5 (3/6/18)


Today’s corporal sequence felt like a (welcome) scale model of a “real”-world battle: a constant, inner battle between corporal and mental/goal-oriented desire.

Our breaths as an ensemble seem to strive to follow a consistent tempo regardless of the nature of the movement being executed. In a pedestrian scenario, some movements warrant quicker breath than others post-execution: generally, a person would agree that squatting until your butt touches the floor exerts more energy than moving your head 90° to the right. After the more exhausting segments in the sequence, of which I consistently have three, I find my breath to be shallower and faster than the tempo of the collective ensemble.

Today, I found myself enforcing Justin’s teaching that we must surrender to the ensemble in those moments…for all of a few breaths. I know how to alleviate the shallow breaths as they come: we make sure our eyes stay open in soft focus, we insist upon the collective tempo, inhale and exhale from the triangle, project our breath to the rest of the ensemble, collect energy from the earth, and more; but it seems my twenty years’ muscle memory prevents my brain from taking over my body and allowing the changes to come through.

(José Raúl Mangual)

I did implement the tactics to remain with the ensemble, and they did seem to be successful! Still, the unfamiliarity felt scary enough to somehow make quitting more attractive. In a way, it felt like one of those all-too-familiar moments of panic where the comfortable, familiar option is chosen over the foreign but measured one. The quote, “If you’re afraid to dive, then dive afraid.” (-Lisa Nichols) comes to mind.

In retrospect, I believe this is the “meeting oneself” which has previously been discussed by Justin. I am stunned by what I perceive as its parallel nature to what I do when I “meet myself” in my day-to-day life! In both instances, I know the result I wish to change; I know what it can do for me: the value of the desired result, and I know the nominal (titular) steps I need to take. However, when it comes down to total implementation, I consistently fall short: I have been engaged in an inner battle with my relationship to food. Some, myself included, would categorize my behaviors as symptomatic of dysmorphic or eating disorders, though I have never received an official diagnosis. I have wanted to make “the change” for over a year and a half, as my fight to repair my relationship to food has consumed much of my attention and energy

I know the steps I need (want) to take, the changes I want to make, to fluctuating levels of specificity:

  • Cut the junk food
  • Eat more greens
  • Exercise often (dance, run, gym)

And yet, when I’m at the fork in the road, I consistently choose the path I know to be dark and winding.

Today’s moments of shallow breath leave me with odd hope. If I have an improved understanding of the components of a “failure,” I theorize “success” is that much easier to bring about. I intend to use this theory in my daily battle with this vice and other vices which have lain dormant but quiet bubbling.

(José Raúl Mangual)

I had a similar experience in a ballet class last school year. When balancing at the barre, I would take so long finnicking with the minute placement of my foot, the activation of my muscles but the relaxation in my bones, and my center of gravity, and the ease of my fingers and the wing of my foot and the turnout in both legs and more, that I would not permit myself to take my hand off the barre and simply work on balancing when the time came. Once class, my ballet professor pointed this out to me. At risk of seeming hyperbolic, I say I heard truth twofold in her note.

I realized my muscular inefficiency was being practiced in my life, in my decision-making. In general, my attention had become hyperfixative on minutia, little imperfections I rightfully wanted to fix but capitalized to the point of their eclipsing the simultaneous truth that I was not at all far from the goals they were blocking.

At that time, I wanted to clean my room. My clothes were scattered throughout the room. I had books, papers, and writing utensils in places I’d never settled to read, write, or draw. When I would muster the energy to commit to cleaning my room, I would find thirty minutes had passed with me still organizing the same top surface of my dresser drawers I began those thirty minutes focusing on, unable to graduate to the next section of my room until everything reflected the ideal configuration in my mind’s eye. Yet, in the grand scheme of my room, the mess was comprised of no more than some clothing, books, papers, and writing utensils.

Read the first HotHouse Intensive blog

HotHouse Intensive: Resonating with the Ensemble

Temple University Musical Theater BFA student José Raúl Mangual took part in a HotHouse Intensive this winter.  He documented the experience through daily reflections and photos to share as blog posts as we prepare for the Summer Intensive.

HotHouse Intensive Day 3 (3/1/18)

Today’s personally most captivating exercise was one in which four pairs: eight people, four and four on opposite sides, faced each other with evenly distributed space between each other. Based on my experience, (the exercises are wonderful in that there are multiple lessons to be learned, which makes post-discussion an especially fruitful experience) I would call this exercise one of projecting resonance.

Facing my partner, who also sat cross-legged across the room short-ways (I estimate eight to ten feet between us), my instructions were to vibrate his chest by resonating from my chest. Same with mouth to mouth and then head to head. I noted:

  • It was easier to resonate from a body part when I sent jolts of energy from it, similar to the pulse/punch of yesterday’s exercise.
  • The power of my deciding to resonate his body was enough. Beyond the doubt and the unfamiliarity of the exercise, I believe we are still animal enough to break our conditioned pedestrian-ism.
  • As time went on, the color scheme with in which I saw my partner began to change to one of dichromatic spectrums of blues and oranges. The texture I saw him in changed as well, similar to depictions of “tripping” in visual art.

HotHouse Intensive Day 4 (3/2/18)

Today, the end of Week One, we ended with the entire corporal sequence, beginning to end, with Justin only cuing via…well, I realize now that I don’t know the name for the cue-sound Justin makes. It seems to be initiated by a pulse of his diaphragm.

(José Raúl Mangual)

There were three total moments where I became so out of breath that I begin to consider whether I might pass out! It is worth noting, though, I never felt unsafe. No one held my mouth closed or reprimanded me. After fighting with everything I could, short of losing consciousness, I took a catch-breath or returned to my natural breathing pattern in those moments, rejoining the ensemble at my earliest possible breath. Justin said this might happen and that it was O.K.

I think it is important to note that, in moments I began to lose my breath with the group, closing my eyes only furthered my distance and weakened my relaxation. In today’s practice, I learned that investing my focus in the people around me – the soft focus/focus blur I’d discussed – gave me less to initiate, which seemed to use up less oxygen, which allowed me to breathe longer, which allowed me to longer stay with the ensemble’s communal breath, which allotted me more time to explore the breath in my body. Paradoxically, connecting with the ensemble allowed me to connect with myself.

Read the first HotHouse Intensive blog

HotHouse Intensive: Finding Voice

Temple University Musical Theater BFA student José Raúl Mangual took part in a HotHouse Intensive this winter.  He documented the experience through daily reflections and photos that will be shared as blog posts as we prepare for the Summer Intensive.

HotHouse Intensive Day 2 (2/28/18)

After today’s lunch break, Justin and Blanka talked to us about the training’s potential and design to release sounds which can be described as “primitive.”  They also spoke of the possibility for the training to unlock memories, both from our own lives and the lives of others. A sense of doubt came over me in regard to the idea of these discoveries.

When I say I became doubtful of this potential, I refer to what I understand to be doubt from the ego: I immediately felt doubtful of “my ability” to “do” the training “well enough” to procure such a result. This was not to me a doubt of the process, but a doubt of the self. Regardless, I assured myself (insisted) I could at least experiment with the exercises, in full dedication to abiding by the processes outlined for us.

(José Raúl Mangual)

After the above discussion, Blanka had us resonate (via phonation) into our cupped hands. Upon a few moments of experimenting with her demonstration of the exercise, Blanka directed us to experiment with asymmetry, noting the security of an symmetrical stance with evenly distributed weight. I believe my asymmetries were too external, too forced. There came a moment where I did settle into my body and allow the asymmetries and weight imbalances to arise instead of be produced, but I focused too much on being “correct” as opposed to doing what I would and permitting that to be enough for discovery to occur- more on this later.

The first exercise in this intensive to fully astound me was a focus on resonance: Everyone gets a partner. The vocalizer stands in front of the other partner, and the partner places their hands on various spots throughout the body: head, neck, torso, face, etc. The goal is to send vibrations to the hand of the partner, wherever it is placed. I felt inaccessibility to only one spot, and that was my stomach area, around and below the belly button. My partner’s hand had gone through chest, head, upper back, and areas in between with minimal difficulty in adapting to vibrate her hand.

When it came to that area below my belly button, the best I could do was create as low-frequency a note I could on an “ah” vowel. At the lowest, I was vibrating around an inch or two below my sternum. The method that worked for me to vibrate that area of the torso was to pulse out sound in short, forced pulses in a way that felt like I had a child punching the walls of my stomach from the inside. With this, I could feel my vibration lowering in my body. I kept the punches, feeling progress, until the sound began to almost split in two – maybe it was quickly vibrating in between two, low pitches. Insisting upon lowering my vibration further so that I could complete the objective of resonating into my partner’s hand, I felt stirring at several points in my body, over the course of a short several seconds.

It felt as though I had some fluttering originate in my spine behind my belly button. That fluttering quickly traveled up my spine to my head, and then back down to the area behind the belly button and even lower, so that I was now teetering on vibrating my partner’s hand. My pitch lowered, as if to mirror the now extreme depth of vibration in my body. I could feel the tingling activation between my eyes which arises when I am close to crying. I realized I was going to cry. In retrospect, I wonder if that sensation of something traveling up my spine was my mind beginning to interject in the release of emotion, at which point I decided to permit myself to release, hence the feeling of traveling down and even lower. I believe I had to allow myself to open up (insist) in order to vibrate my partner’s hand, previously unaware I was locked or guarded in such a way. After I became able to vibrate my partner’s hand, tears began to form in my eyes. I was now able to maintain the vibration into her hand physically, but my voice developed a new freedom. With every punch into her hand, my voice rose in pitch while still somehow faithful to such a low physical vibration. The tears started to fall, and I went from crying to sobbing to what I would imagine is the equivalent of keening. My mind jumped to two particular images, each pertaining to the same aspect of trauma/extreme sadness in my life, but I cannot say for sure whether this was in tandem with the emotional release, or whether this was my mind trying to tie an experience to the physical sensations I was experiencing in order to justify them.

Justin Jain, HotHouse Company member and Intensive Co-Instructor (José Raúl Mangual)

I didn’t know until both weeks of the intensive had passed, but this was a moment in which I met myself and insisted upon further discovery. It proves that these discoveries are innate within us. Much like the deconstructive process of the work in the HotHouse, these exercises all can be seen as a way of stripping the layers: years of resistance and socially forged armor to free the unique animal in each of us. If any human commits to the exercises shared in this HotHouse intensive, there will be moments of discovery of the self.

The reason I have been dappling “insistence” throughout certain moments is because it was a concept introduced to us by Justin and revisited by both Justin and Blanka, and it is present often throughout the process of education (therefore, the process of life, no?). This concept is multifaceted in its meaning and application to so high a degree that it alone can be justified as an entire ideology. Opportunities for insistence are present in nearly every moment of growth, as well as their inverse: moments of resistance- insistence upon safety. To insist is to fight for, but the concept of insistence seems to be most fruitful when applied to moments of inner resistance. If you begin to resist, choose to insist.

A beauty of insistence in relation to the corporal sequence is its physical practice of a physical/mental/spiritual concept. If we insist upon surrendering to the ensemble during a moment of laborious, even scary lack of breath, we can practice reproducing that physical battle in our minds in a moment of resistance of a vice whose “victory” over us we believe would be detrimental, regressive.

Read the first HotHouse Intensive blog


HotHouse Intensive: Corporal Sequence

The HotHouse Intensive is a deep dive into the acting methodologies of Blanka Zizka and the Wilma HotHouse Company.  HotHouse practice is grounded in the Method of Theodoros Terzopoulos and focuses on fostering embodied acting through exercises that draw actors out of their heads and into their bodies.  For information on our Summer Intensive, click here.

Temple University Musical Theater BFA student José Raúl Mangual took part in a HotHouse Intensive this winter. He documented the experience through daily reflections and photos that will be shared as blog posts as we prepare for the Summer Intensive.

HotHouse Intensive Day 1 (2/27/18)

First day!

“We just had our introduction to the Corporal Sequence. I feel…eager to learn and explore the method…once I am familiar, of course.”

We started the day with the Corporal Sequence. Justin Jain, HotHouse ensemble member, co-instructor for this intensive and leader of this exercise has trained in Greece with Theodoros Terzopoulos himself. The sequence begins with all members of the ensemble standing in a circle with individual feet together and parallel, knees bent, and hands across the diaphragm: back of hands facing the circle and thumbs touching, bridging the belly button and forming a downward-pointing triangle. Our breath was to be sent to that triangle on every inhale, and every exhale originated from that same space.

I must note the novelty (relative to American culture) and intrigue of, as an approximation of Justin’s words, “allowing breath to fill down past the belly button into the perineum, genitals, anus.” I see the Corporal Sequence as a biome of discovery, at risk of sounding extravagant. The movements are varying degrees of natural, ranging from seemingly primordial human to contemporary human movement.

Blanka Zizka and HotHouse Intensive students (José Raúl Mangual)

One of the primary focuses of the practice includes connecting to the ensemble. Instead of trying to understand how I would connect to the ensemble, I decided (- insisted, as I would later come to understand -) upon simply moving in tandem with the ensemble. The manifestation of this insistence was connecting via soft focus – a focus-blur, like a camera, as if looking either very close to my face or very far away. (I speak conceptually; I am uncertain as to which, if either.) From this experience onward, (except for moments of insecurity where I would question the validity of this discovery) I knew I was connected to the ensemble. Not everyone was connected to each other, with varying degrees of “disconnection”, and in these moments I defaulted to either defer to Justin, co-leader of the intensive and unspoken “leader” of the corporal sequence, (one goal of the training is to breathe, move, start, and stop across the ensemble as one entity) or to enter a milieu between the tempo extremes. These adaptations to the “imperfections” of the ensemble arose subconsciously, out of pure necessity for and insistence upon uniformity of tempo.

I ended the first day feeling lighter on my feet and longer in my spine; unencumbered. From a physical diagnostic, I imagine the feeling came from:

  • Breathing in a manner more conducive to oxygenation
  • Focused, intensive release of unnecessary muscular tension
  • Focus on efficiency of movement (muscular activation)

Click here to read more about José Raúl Mangual

Explore and be a part of the Wilma’s HotHouse Summer Intensive this June.


Oct 16                                                                                                     

Kinderhook Farm, NY.
“Are you here for the tour?” asks a man in overalls. “Yes, is the tour happening?” “It’s happening if you want it to happen,” he says, and walks off.                                                                                                Another woman walks up, and as it happens, she is the shepherdess. For most of the next two hours, there is no one on the tour except for my partner and me. It is blissfully useful. I learn about orphan sheep. She curls her finger into a tongue, to demonstrate the difference between how cows eat grass and how sheep chomp. I ask her bizarre questions and she recommends a movie.

Oct 17

Philadelphia, PA.
10 am – 3pm. Observing the Hothouse. Yury Urnov is leading the room. They are doing relatively straightforward text analysis on a decidedly unstraightforward play about hacktivism. I think: hell yes hacktivism, hell yes, anarchy, hell yes, Wilma. The play, for me, does a brilliant job at highlighting the aggression behind internet humor and memes. It’s a window into disaffected emotional chaos when it is directionless, and how it gathers incredible force when it takes on targets. I think about what it says about me, that I am drawn to that playfully destabilizing energy. Rage is powerful. Collective rage even more so. Collective Rage is also the title of a play by Jen Silverman. In the elevator, people talk about that play.

I also think, f**k… The Internet Is Serious Business and Dionysus Was A Very Nice Man are similarly structured titles.

New York, NY.                                                                                              6:30pm. I am at a fancy party. I found out a couple hours ago that I won an award. Now the award is being announced at the fancy party.

Oct 22

New York, NY.                                                                                              8:30am. Heavy rain. I am getting drenched at this Megabus stop.

Philadelphia, PA.                                                                                               11:30 am – 5:10pm. At an Academic Conference in a UPenn Library.           It is called Timescales: Ecological Temporalities Across Disciplines.            I wish they’d called it something more rocknroll, like                    Collective Academic Rage: Climate Change Is Beyond Real (If You’re Poor) I am there with Pig Iron, as a collaborator on their music-theater project, A Period of Animate Existence.

I find the conference comforting, especially on the heels of the presidential debates. Even though I’m looking at charts of catastrophe, I am relieved just to hear people define their terms and organize their discourse. I make a note to self, to read Dale Jamieson.

We are reminded, in concluding remarks from Paul Saint-Amour, to think of climate change as a condition, rather than a problem. Let’s take our time developing our thoughts, he urges, because this particular condition demands a deeper engagement than panic.

6 pm. Dinner with Walter. Walter has just come from leading a discussion about climate change at The Wilma. Talking with Walter is also comforting.

7:50 pm. Ten-minute nap in my audience seat.

8 pm. When The Rain Stops Falling, at the Wilma. It’s stunning. They’ve carved out a dark dreamspace. I feel the plot working on me, the slow ritual movements working on me.

Oct 23

Philadelphia, PA.
8:50 am. I realize I am collecting a lot of memories at this Megabus stop.

New York, NY.                                                                                                    11:30 am. Wildlife sighting! It’s the elegant crested tinamou. Ok I’m lying, it was an author, I spotted an author: Rebecca Solnit. My primary hobby these days is reading essays by Rebecca Solnit. She ducks into a clothing store. I follow. I observe her over a stack of sweaters. Have I correctly identified her? I’m not sure. “Excuse me, are you Rebecca?” The condition of admiration also demands a deeper engagement than panic. But I stumble over the few words I can muster. How do you casually say to someone:

“Thank you! I know you don’t know who I am, but I think you’re one of the great thinkers of our age. I am blown away by the breadth and depth and style of your work, by your redefinition of non-fiction, by your bravery, by your honesty. You have gifted me a framework for thinking about activism and optimism that keeps me going. Your words have been a significant wedge for me against despair.”

I am overwhelmed. I say something like: “I’m Kate Tarker, I’m a playwright, I love your work, thank you… for your optimism, I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry.”

Total failure of speech. Who wrote me?

I buy two articles of clothing.

Oct 24
New York, NY.
Drinking coffee. Writing.



June 2, 2016
Pale sun

“Hungarian folkdance is very sexy and dangerous,” says Blanka.

I have been thinking about feet lately.

Now I am observing Csaba Horvath’s feet. He has launched right into the dance steps, without preamble. He calls it “a kind of tap dance.” It goes: One and two and three three three. Tap and tap and foot hits calf.

In short order, the company of Wilma HotHouse actors becomes a footloose Hungarian village, inhabiting the world of Blood Wedding. This is a Monday, and like most Mondays, the HotHouse has gathered to host guest artists and try out new ideas from practitioners who delve into the physical. Csaba will be working with them all week. No one really knew what he was going to do. “ We have no idea what he is going to do,” says Blanka, happily, in her introduction. It is a testament to the courage and trust in this community that everyone jumps right in, regardless.

There is downward and upward force to the movement. Strength is culled from the ground.

Someone told me Csaba Horvath used to terrorize students at A.R.T. so I was expecting a temperamental beast. In actuality, he has jetlag, a quiet sense of humor, and a gentle but focused monk-like demeanor. He is in an all gray outfit, with overly long, loose dance pants that were either mosquito bitten into frayed ends or destroyed by regular devotions of stomping.

It would be such a thrill to put a whole village onstage. To have them dance like that. If I weren’t a playwright I’d want to be a dancer. Or a journalist. Or a painter. Theater is of course, all of those professions. I watch the actors, jot down potential constellations for casting. I think about diversity and pairings. I ponder economics. I wonder if I could sneak some village dance scenes into my play. Could the Wilma afford that? Would the play ever get produced elsewhere? I have no conclusions.

Except for maybe this one: No shoes. No shoes for actors.

You know how we live in a culture where clothing and behavior is gendered, and women have been assigned high heels? I lament this. Choice here is a joke. Yes, standing on tiptoe can be fun – I have enjoyed starry nights in college, wearing heels while riding my trusty bicycle. Hard femme. Stilts are also nice, have you tried stilts? I just ask: what happens when you mistake the costume for your self?

Heels are still an expectation. Women were turned away at Cannes when they didn’t wear heels. At the cinema, a woman in heels tried to outrun a dinosaur.

Being grounded. Having both feet on the ground. If someone wanted to maim female power I can’t think of a better way than by expecting we all stand on tiptoe and balance on a stick. Perhaps we could strap dead fish to our feet. Perhaps that would be worse. But no, dead fish are cool and soft.

I’ve seen several folk dances now that make use of bare, stomping feet as a way of awakening lower body energy and strength. I surmise: Rooted feet -> stronger awareness of one’s own needs -> greater assertiveness -> less self-objectification -> listening to your body -> better female orgasms -> happier village all around.


Stomp stomp stomp.

Cobblers, feel free to come up with new options for fancy female footwear, and I’ll scheme about how to sneak some dancing into my play.

I wish I could come down for HotHouse every week.

HotHouse Blood Wedding workshop, with Csaba Horvath, 2016.
HotHouse Blood Wedding workshop, with Csaba Horvath, 2016.