Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kaci vs. Kaci or How This Show Came To Fruition

Me in my cheer uniform.
We are currently at 220 days into training for this show.
That's 7 months, 1 week, and 1 day.
How has it been lately?

I see my own progress pop up in a noticeable way here and there. For instance, I have these... protruding muscles in my legs. Like, rocks these muscles have become. Never in my life have my legs taken this shape. My abs are tight. I've got some "guns" (small, but legit). Yeah, I like that. I can jump higher. I have more control over my limbs when moving. I have more endurance. I can go harder for longer. I can do the splits, though I can't yet fully touch the ground. I can kick high. I have more body awareness, I know when I finish a move or jump what I did wrong.

That's a lot of good stuff, right? But then why, oh why do my shortcomings still haunt me? Lately I have been so damn worried about looking stupid and clumsy when it comes to executing choreographed dance moves - and this show has a LOT of them.

Things I know about myself:
I am a hard worker.
I am very self-motivated.
I take direction easily.

Things I've been told in the past by others:
"You've got two left feet." - Dance teacher
"You don't know how to move your body." - Dance teacher
"Theater won't get you anywhere...stick to your visual art work." - Peer

Let me back up...
I took several dance classes when I was a kid. Jazz and ballet at a studio when I was 9, Hip-Hop when I was 13, and Jazz, Ballet and Tap in high school when I was 14 and 15. I also took visual art and theater classes. I like them all. While I was probably at average or above-average for my age in art and theater, I was definitely close to the bottom of the barrel in dance. I was in the middle or back during the recitals. I knew enough to know what that meant about my skills. I really loved dancing, and I figured I would get better in time, so I kept pursuing it.
Dancing in an improv show.

When I was at the Westwood High School Fine Arts Academy I finally gave up on my thoughts of being a dancer in any serious capacity. I was asthmatic (still am, but now I have it under control) and I didn't have much body awareness. If I had hips I didn't know how to move them. I had a well-meaning dance teacher who was the sort that shouted back-handed compliments at me in front of the rest of the class from across the room.

"Hey everyone, look at Kaci, when this girl came in here she didn't know her right foot from her left, but now she just successfully executed a double pirouette!"

Somehow this was much more discouraging than encouraging. I didn't know that I looked so clumsy when I first came to the class. I practiced at home and ultimately no one noticed. I was always off-rhythm and I hated feeling stupid when I was trying so hard to pay attention and do well. Meanwhile, I was getting a fair amount of positive feedback in my art and theater classes, so I dropped dance entirely for another theater class.

When I was a sophomore I was invited to the Senior Prom. On the dance floor, I just let loose since I was around my friends. Soon enough they were complimenting me, dancing with me. I didn't feel stupid at all. Over the years I grew to enjoy dancing freestyle at parties and clubs, completely sober with a goal to keep moving and try new things with movement. At weddings and such, after tearin' up the dance floor to some top 40s hits, people often ask me if I'm a dancer, which feels like an incredible compliment. I say no, because I'm not. I enjoy moving and dancing like no one is watching. Dancing to set choreography?
It was safe to say at that point that it terrified me.

So how did I come to the place where I am producing and creating a show that requires LOTS of choreographed movement and dance? I've tried to to trace my thought process back to the very seed of the idea...

I got an incredible jolt of inspiration when I saw this K-Pop video by Girls Generation in 2009:

I became completely obsessed with it. Their matching outfits. Their simple yet complex dance pieces. There's NINE of them out there! Nine! Singing and dancing and being so adorable it seems impossible.

One of my close creative partners, Curtis Luciani, who I have a duo improv troupe with (The Amazon and The Milksop) also found Girls Generation interesting. Probably not to the same level as me, but he was on-board for an idea we came up with together after talking at length about the k-pop group. We created an 5 woman/1 man improv show that featured fully choreographed dance pieces called Girl Embassy World Team. GEWT debuted in Spring of 2010 and lasted until Fall of 2011.
All 5 performers created a character from a different country and the show featured their "in-concert" dances and "comedy skits" and then an improvised sitcom-like episode of their adventures backstage and on the road.

You can check out a video of a Girl Embassy World Team show here: http://vimeo.com/21056385

Girl Embassy World Team performing at The Ladies Are Funny Fest in 2011

We had rehearsals for both the dance and improv components, and while the dance aspects of the show took up a lot of our time, it was also one of the most rewarding aspects of our work together for me. Performing and creating GEWT was one of the first times I had focused on a predominantly female project, and I really enjoyed it. After our last performance, at The Out of Bounds Comedy Festival in 2011, a talented performer friend of mine named Katie Hartman from the NYC sketch group Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting commented on how she enjoyed our show but thought we were perhaps overexerting ourselves trying to improvise a new sitcom plot in 10 minutes in every 25-min show we performed. She wondered, since we created the characters and memorized the dances...why didn't we just use our improv to create a loose script to work off of? Then we could have more fun.

The show had always had improv in it, so I wasn't sure how to procede with the information. But it got me thinking...why did every theatrical project I had created in recent memory HAVE to have an improv component? Could improv be used to create a script, and then used again to freshen up dialog?

The very next month at was at the Vermont Studio Center for a month-long painting residency. While I was there I had a lot of alone time working in my studio to think. I began to listen to podcasts and audiobooks to occupy my mind while my hands were busy working. I stumbled upon an Improv Resource Center podcast about The New Colony, a theater company in Chicago that uses improv to develop scripted plays.

It was fascinating and very inspiring. As an actor I am comfortable with improvised, scripted, stage, and film work. I try to see lots of theater here in Austin and sometimes it is hit or miss. Even when a piece of scripted work is a hit, it often sounds...stilted to me. Sometimes if it's stylized I really like that, but if it's a modern piece and the dialog sounds a little fake, pre-planned, all of that - I realize all too quickly the conceit of the situation and I can't enjoy the work as much. Improv, on the other hand, often sounds very natural. But, improvising a brand new play is no piece of cake. I do it all the time with my troupe Parallelogramophonograph, but it's taken us a long time to get to a place of consistency and confidence.

Halyn tumbling for ACF at competition
I had had it in my mind for some time that I wanted to create a full production, with lots of my talented female actor friends, and I wanted it to be about cheerleading. I thought at first it might be improvised, but improvising a new plot around choreographed cheers might be a bit complicated. After hearing about The New Colony's process, I thought, maybe this is the perfect marriage of those two things - improvised theatre and scripted theatre!

I knew my good friend Halyn Erickson had cheered in the past and coached others in cheerleading, so I asked for her opinion. Soon, we were brainstorming if it were possible for an adult woman like myself to learn how to actually cheer like they do at the All-Star Cheer gyms around the country. Could I learn how to jump, base stunts, and do cheer dance? She was fairly confident that with enough time, I could.

In December of 2011 I went looking for a venue to stage my production. My idea of a production, anyway, because it was nothing more than a fun dream at that point. I was on a waiting list to rent a couple of weekends at The Salvage Vanguard Theater for 7 months. In the meantime I began putting feelers out to people about the project. Amy Gentry agreed to be my writing parter. My husband Roy was interested in directing the piece. Halyn was on-board for acting and coaching. As soon as I was presented with our current dates (May 30th-June 9th), I said YES and we got the ball rolling.

So now I'm practicing our cheer dance, a lot. I'm learning choreographed dances that will be high-energy transitions between scenes. Some days I think I suck and other days I think I'm doing pretty well. There are these little voices inside of me that rear their ugly heads every once in awhile, "You have two left feet." "You don't know how to move your body."

Those voices are momentum killers.
Those voices don't know what I am capable of.
The thing is...I don't even really know what I am capable of. This training has proven that ten times over.

This is my life and I'm going to do what I want. Plain and simple.

I've got 37 days of training left until the show opens. Let's do this!

Friday, April 19, 2013

So many things! Kickstarter! Promo photos! Website!

Hey everyone!

We are really ramping things up here. In addition to our usual workouts we've been adding dance practices with different choreographers (shout out to Amanda Butterfield and Cortney DeAngelo for their awesome work!) into the mix, as well as additional cheer practice.

We're several weeks into acting rehearsals and have 12 days until we're all supposed to be off-book (no scripts in hand for rehearsals).

We recently launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to raise $5,500 worth of starter funds. Our Kickstarter has tons of great backer rewards, and you can even pre-buy tickets to the show via your donation! Please help us reach our goal!

We also have a brand new website: http://www.austincheershow.com 
And Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/austincheershow

You might notice that we're looking a little snazzier lately. That's thanks to Jon Bolden, local photographer and designer who took our promotional photos for us last Saturday morning.

Here is a small sampling of his photos, and you can see a lot more on the website and Facebook page!