Earlier this year I performed in a parody of Chekhov’s The Seagull, opposite Jason Bohon, Artistic Director of 3 Sticks. Jason was a blast to work with - one of those types where you can sometimes barely look at him ‘cause he’ll crack you up onstage. With that history, and with remembrances of Mythed, 3 Sticks’ MN debut three years ago, catching The Gypsy and the General was a no-brainer. And it was simple and breathtaking, with rich, gorgeous soundcapes. It was, to put it plainly, wonderful. Being the swashbuckling darling that he is, Jason agreed to subject himself to my Green Room questions. Behold:
3 Sticks has established itself as one of the finest physical theater companies in the Twin Cities, yet there are still relatively few local theater companies that place such an emphasis on physicality; and relatively few local dance companies that place such an emphasis on narrative. Do you feel a certain responsibility to fill this niche (and subsequent pressure to do it well), or do you find your uniqueness freeing? JB: I don't think that we feel a responsibility to fill a niche, BUT I do think we challenge ourselves to do it well. Even when we get positive feedback, we are constantly looking for criticism that will help us make the work better. It's part of the LISPA training that will haunt us until the day we die. No matter how well received the work might be, there is always room for improvement. That's also interesting that you mentioned physicality and narrative in your question, because our 3 Sticks' cornerstones are: narrative, physicality, and music. In each production, we look for new ways to use these 3 cornerstone when creating a piece of theatre.
What is your favorite element of creating new work? What is the most challenging? JB: My favorite part of creating new work is reaching out and working with new artists in the Twin Cities. While we have core company members who usually work on all of the projects, we also feel it's important to throw new faces and talents into the mix. It allows us to be challenged in new ways as well as add new perspectives to the work we do. In hindsight, that is also what is the most challenging, because every group of artists collaborates in a different way. So the challenge is to figure out how you can be most productive and creative with this new group of artists. Sometimes artists just don't see eye to eye and that's where auditions are crucial. Most of the time, it's not about talent, but about how well the person gets along with the group. Can the artist make proposals? Can they accept proposals? Can they work with a group or do they always try to stand out as the star?
You trained at the London International School of Performing Arts with a focus on the teachings of Jacques Lecoq – besides developing new works, how do you keep your education in practice? JB: The training at LISPA was all about finding new ways to create work, so each and every time we develop a show, we are keeping our education in practice. But, the pedagogy is also about learning to shake things up and throw things off balance, so I think we do this by involving new artists in the work we do. Bringing people with different perspectives, not just their particular training, but cultural perspectives, artistic, social, political, blah blah blah adds the right seasonings to the pot. If you always use salt and pepper, then the food will always taste the same. Wow! That was kind of profound...
Why Minneapolis? JB: Why not? Minneapolis rocks!
In The Gypsy and the General, it seems like your props/set was compiled via a trip to the Ax-Man – a surplus store where they themselves describe it as a "delightful haven" of excess goods. Often on the cheap. And often totally unpredictable. Because your props are so artfully integrated into the story, yet absolutely essential to the stage-picture, it begs the question: what came first - the story, or the props? JB: I wish I had kept a journal about this process, because it was all happening at the same time. As we were improvising and discovering where this story was taking us, it became clear that we would need some props and objects to help us out. We knew we would need objects that would help us create images with different levels. The barrel became one of the first proposals, with the idea that everything could fit inside the barrel for traveling. We also had access to these long pieces of fabric that we acquired back in 2006 for the St Paul Winter Carnival production of F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE ICE PALACE. For that production, they were individual long strips dyed in blues and thrown over the balconies of the Landmark Center to create the images of the classic ice palaces of the 1920's. We dyed these white and sewed them together to create the fabric used in the production. We also needed some poles for height (ship mast, mountain, tent poles, walking sticks) and the pvc pipe came along. The projector was a later addition to add to the atmosphere and help us create the hot air balloon. Since the show would be touring to the Kansas City Fringe Festival and the Edmonton Fringe Festival, we would need minimal props and costumes to fit in a minivan with 5 performers, but these "touring restrictions" actually benefited the production in the long run, because we had to be very creative and really specific with the objects that were chosen.
How does music make its way into your productions? Does the Musical Director join in the discovery/creation/rehearsal process from the start – or does he join in later, after the show arc is relatively established? And where did you find this guy – he's excellent! JB: In the formative years of 3 Sticks theatre company, back in London, we knew that music would always play an integral part in all of our productions. Many of the founders of the company have a background in music, as composers, musicians, or singers, and we wanted to make music a priority in our work. We were amazed to discover Andrew Lynch when we came to Minneapolis in 2005. Our first production after MYTHED in 2005 was F.Scott Fitzgerald's THE ICE PALACE and we wanted to adapt it with five 1920's jazz musicians as story tellers. We put out an ad looking for jazz musicians and Andrew Lynch answered. In addition to putting out a few solo albums, Andrew has studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston and runs his own band- Andrew Lynch Band. Since that discovery, Andrew Lynch has served as Music Director on every 3 Sticks production since. He's a musical genius who can play just about every instrument known to man. If he doesn't play it, he learns it! Last fall we did MELANCHOLY PLAY, by Sarah Ruhl, at the Bryant Lake Bowl, which calls for a live cellist on stage. As an amazing guitarist, Lynch found a cello and learned to play for our production. There is no musical obstacle the Andrew Lynch can't overcome.
We integrate the music into the production almost immediately. Lynch improvises with various instruments during the acting improvisations. Sometimes the music inspires the work, sometimes the work inspires the music. He is also incredibly flexible, which is crucial when you work in this way, because as the story changes and evolves, sometimes you have to eliminate beautiful songs and compositions that simply don't fit the piece. Our favorite GYPSY AND THE GENERAL song, "I Can See The Road Ahead" was cut from the show simply because it no longer served the story.
If you could have your work presented anywhere, without question, where would it be? JB: Funny you should ask. We have always been passionate about the performance space at Theatre de la Jeune Lune. It is beautiful, classic, epic, and full of such powerful creative energy. We were astounded to get the Jeune Lune space, especially since it wasn't even one of our venue choices. Originally, our 2008 production was going to be a one-man show (because core company members would be performing away for the summer), but when we discovered that our assigned performance space would be Theatre de la Jeune Lune, we knew we'd need to do something large, epic, and full of the same imaginative, creative, and magical energy that infuses the productions of the Jeune Lune company. As a result, core company members changed their summer plans for the opportunity to perform in the amazing space of Theatre de la Jeune Lune.
We are also passionate about the space at The Southern Theater. We have done a number of Fringe showcases and fundraisers (Five Fifths of Oz) at the Southern Theater and find the space to be full of the same abundantly creative energy. We hope to one day present at The Southern Theater.
What are your hopes for the future of 3 Sticks? JB: Originally founded in London in 2005, we had members from Japan, Switzerland, Wales, Ireland, England, and the United States. 3 Sticks eventually planted it's roots in Minneapolis, where 2 of the 3 founders, Jason Bohon and Katie Melby, chose to make their home. In the past, company members living abroad have traveled to the States to create work. It made the most sense since Minneapolis is a relatively easy and cheap place to produce, create, and rehearse work. However, we are interested in continuing those international collaborations by traveling abroad to work with those colleagues. We are currently planning some traveling in the 2009 to collaborate with European, Asian, and New York-based colleagues. Hopefully we will have a chance to present our work in the Twin Cities, and we are already planning to return to the 2009 Minnesota Fringe Festival. My hope is that 3 Sticks will reunite with some of it's founding company members to create newly inspired work.
Anything else you'd like to share (besides show pimpage)? JB: Not that I can think of right now because I want to get this email finished and sent to you before I lose my pirated internet connection from Sebastian Joes!