About Andromeda

I am currently developing a one-woman show about Andromeda (the character and the constellation), Vera Rubin, dark matter, and me. It will contain original material, some bits of clowning (perhaps) and a couple of puppets. This is a blog about my process as I use performance as a research practice.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pierre's Parentheses

Pierre's Parentheses

Most days of the workshop included a parentheses in the mid-morning.  These activities were instructed by Pierre and consisted predominantly of tricks that we could put into our proverbial clown bags (hats?), to incorporate into our improvisations, our more rehearsed performances, and (presumably) our work beyond the workshop.

The tricks are standard.  Pierre emphasizes the importance of articulation of action.  He demonstrated this by breaking up the somersault into thirteen steps, but the extension of this articulation is to link the action to the (always flopping) task of the clown.  But, the first step of the baby clown is to simply articulate the steps, and so there is always time to practice these basic clown skills.  The same concept applies to our other parentheses of throwing an imaginary object in the air, double takes, delayed reactions, and an infinite number of hat tricks!

I was struck by how much clowning/performance and physics actually do have to do with one another.  OKOK.  I could have a one-track mind.  I could also have been misinterpreting Pierre's French.  But this is  not the first time that master teachers of physical theatre have made such connections.  I remember Daniel Stein at the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre reiterating to us, "If it's true in the physical world, it's probably also true in the metaphysical world, and vice versa."  And, to stretch my memory/imagination even further, I remember my high school physics teacher delivering a performance not unlike one of Pierre's parentheses this August.

It must be said that Pierre likes to talk.  His stories form the actual parentheses around the activity of the day.  And many of the parentheses have to do with the manipulation of space and time (which is, of course, what good theatre does anyway).  And physics is largely about the behavior of bodies in space and time.

I slipped on my own spacetime continuum, from Locarno in August 2012 to New Hampshire in 1996(? whenever it was that I would have been taking physics).  As Pierre threw his imaginary ball into the air and instructed us that it is the clown's purpose to facilitate the audience's imagination of that ball through space, I remembered an almost identical moment in which my high school physics teacher, Mr. Lorenz, also threw an imaginary ball in the air for our physics lecture on gravity.

Pierre threw his ball into the air and described the experience of a student's reverie, imagining the ball soaring through clouds as the student became a bird in flight in a a clown performance that expanded space and time through his commitment to the image.

Mr. Lorenz threw his (imaginary) ball into the air and became that student lost in reverie before our class.  The lecture was about gravity, and Mr. Lorenz committed to the imagination of a ball travelling through the universe without the gravity of Earth's atmosphere keeping it in place.  He threw the ball up and watched it travel past the moon, out of the solar system, through outer space, to the other side of the universe.

Pierre's parentheses was meant to tell us that it is our job, as clowns, to remind the audience of the things that we throw out and up in performance.  To keep all of our narrative, mimetic, and physical balls in the air and present in the mind of the audience.  I think Mr. Lorenz's ball is still in the air, in my imagination, even as I write this blog.

Today is Astronomy Day!

No, really, it is!

So, if you are interested in exploring the universe via photographs taken by the SLOOH Space Camera will be streaming photos of cool photographs taken by all kinds of telescopes all over the world all day long!

If you are interested in this kind of astronomical performance, you should check out:


Orionid Meteor Shower image

Work In Progress

Hello Pittsburgh!  And blogosphere!

Last night I shared a little bit of 'In the Still of the Night:  Andromeda's Dark Stuff' at the University of Pittsburgh's Women's Studies Program 40th Anniversary Celebration.http://www.wstudies.pitt.edu/events/womens-studies-program-40th-anniversary-celebration It was wonderful to perform in the company of other fabulous poets and performers!

This work-in-progress sharing was a great way for me to get the text of Vera/Andromeda up and in front of an audience.  It gave me an opportunity to start to try to put my money where my mouth is in terms of playing with some of the tools introduced in the Pierre Byland workshop this summer.  The blog entries that follow are an attempt at this synthesis.

For this performance, the text that had a lot of ideas for running around, pushing chalkboards all over the place, whooshing sugar shakers, and new constellations emerging on the stage floor, was distilled into props on a table and a fancy new bucket communication system.  It looked something like this:

Rehearsal at home

Of course, it was more exciting with me animating stuff, I hope.

SO.  The 45 pages of a play that I had before going to the Byland workshop is new getting chopped, literally, into tiny pieces as it transforms to text for a performance score as I continue to develop the piece.  That process looks something like this:

Cut and paste

It was nice to get a first ten minutes moving in front of an audience.  I am looking forward to the next steps!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Warming up the Space

Of the workshop, not of outer space...  Maybe inner space...  Dark and bright...

The workshop took place in Locarno, Switzerland, at a school connected to a church in the Citta Vecchia district.  The part of the church that had been a cloister for nuns has now been transformed into a school, but it retains a bit of its history, which added to the atmosphere and expectations of Byland's work.


We began each day with rhythm and movement with Oliviero in the palestra.  It was a great open space that allowed the 35 participants of the workshop to explore different beats, relationships, music, and instruments!


Oliviero's approach to rhythm instruction for actors is exciting and unique.  He draws from a wide range of music and pedagogy, always with the goal of encouraging each actor to feel rhythm in his or her own body.  Although many of the rhythms he incorporates are commonly associated with dances such as rhumba, salsa, samba, etc... he applies these beats to classical and jazz music so that students can hear that rhythm is not limited to one or two kinds of music.  Then, the actorly extension of this is to move away from the music altogether, so that the actor becomes free to discover the rhythm of the space, the rhythm of a moment, the rhythm of a character.  He is wonderful at encouraging intensity of movement in the space, emphasizing intensity of action over performance of a character or a situation.

Oliviero's warm ups gave a nice balance to the work that Pierre did in his late morning 'Parentheses' (more on that later...) and also in the afternoon improvisations.

The first week we spent largely inside the palestra for our parentheses and our improvisations.  But as our work progressed, we were encouraged to explore the space outside:

The grande courtyard

The piccolo courtyard

Indoor/outdoor hallways

And other spaces

As we progressed, we moved outside and were encouraged not only to play with the architecture, but to increase our level commitment to the level of the space which was, at times, stupefying and awe inspiring.  Hopefully our work/play pointed in that direction as well.

A note from halfway through the first week

We are now several days into the workshop with Pierre Byland and Oliviero Giovannoni.  The theme of the workshop is 'Homo Stupidens'.  The goal is to become more stupid every day than we were the previous day.  As an academic, I have been hitting a mental block each time I try to write about this work from an objective point of view.  As a creator of a solo show about dark matter, I have no problems with accepting my own stupidity, but I am having some problems translating that stupidity to the stage.  How to let myself be stupid seems to be the performance challenge, and it it the best challenge that I could find for this piece, and for my development as a performer.  

The first day was dedicated to a clown turn.  We warmed up in the morning with Oliviero and also with Pierre.  Once we returned after lunch, everyone pulled out their costumes and chose one for themselves.  The goal was to dress as a part of yourself, but the part of yourself that dresses without thinking too much.  Or, a running theme that Pierre developed over the course of the workshop, to dress as your mother told you to dress for Sunday.  Keep it simple, with not too many themes expressed in the costume.

I ended up going with a flashy gold and silver pants outfit with a jacket, a purse, a glowing ball that lit up, fancy shoes and a bracelet.  

We weren't given any direction for the first turn except that the theme is to make the audience laugh.  I realize now that the theme was deliberately misguiding.  And, I've done similar exercises in the past:  Be Funny or Die, in which you are on stage with only yourself and a couple of props and the goal is to make the audience to laugh.  Before, the audience had been armed with tennis balls that they were allowed to use to punish you until you made them laugh.  This was much more gentle (no tennis balls were thrown as ammunition during Pierre's workshop).  I kind of missed them, though.  My turn was not very funny, I was extremely nervous, and committed to playing with themes of dark matter at every chance.  I decided that the ball in my pocket should be a Higgs particle.  It kind of flopped.  But I was in good company.  

I had a long way to go.

Friday, August 24, 2012

This is a very quick update to let you know that I can sort of add photos now.  I've updated a couple of the previous blogs.  Please have a look!

Working on getting some photo documentation of the clown class as well, but I haven't been able to time taking pictures of myself while in nose. 

In (very)brief, this workshop has been an amazing pedagogical tool for me to get some playful acting feet back underneath me.  Pierre is an excellent teacher who makes clowning not as scary as it could otherwise be.  I've been refining the art of letting myself 'do nothing' which is a very hard thing to do!

Right now, the only thing I need to do is brush my teeth and head to the palestra where my Glockenspiel is waiting!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Amateur Astronomy

This is a short blog for me to brag just a little bit about my progress as an amateur astronomer.
Since beginning this performance project about Vera Rubin and the celestial bodies of the Andromeda constellation and M31, I decided that it would probably be a good idea to learn something about astronomy.  I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about dark matter, Higgs Boson, and Vera's biography, but for some reason it has been basic star gazing that has presented one of the biggest challenges for me. 

For as long as I can remember, the only constellation I've been able to see has been the Big Dipper, which rises early and doesn't have a lot of other stars interfering with its shape.  (It also looks like a ladle, so that also helps).  Other than finding shooting stars, that's been the limit of my personal astronomical observations skills.

This summer, I have been attending star parties hosted by the Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh to help with my developing stargazing skills.  They are great people, generous, they bring their own telescopes and share their knowledge about astronomy.  They have been so helpful because, a) they force me to stay awake and looking UP later than usual and b) they teach me where to look!

For those of you who aren't familiar with Pittsburgh, it's not the ideal place to look at the sky.  It's practically as grey and overcast as Seattle, so stargazing in this area is an act of extreme optimism.  I have attended parties on nights when really  not much happens.  Usually, we look at the moon through some of the big telescopes at the observatory near Deer Lakes park, an impressive sight.  After a while, the telescopes change positions and we look at Saturn.  The first time I looked at Saturn through a telescope I thought it was fake.  It looked so perfect on such a cloudy night that I thought someone had put a plastic icon of Saturn in the telescope.  But it wasn't a joke - it was the real deal!

The last time I went, I brought a children's book about constellations to help, along with the guided tour of the sky led by the president of the organization.  I learned to find the constellation of Andromeda by looking for the house of Cepheus.  Nearby, lives Pegasus.  And Andromeda is on one of the legs of Pegasus.

Why all of this excitement about the Pittsburgh Amateur Astronomers Association while I'm in Switzerland clowning (I promise, blogs about the clown experience are coming)?  Because....  Sunday night, after our first autocours (homework performance) there was a little party, followed by an excursion to the beach of the river.  We got there after the Big Dipper had just about disappeared behind the alps.  So I looked at the stars above me and there was the house of Cepheus.  Right next to that was Pegasus, and there was Andromeda, right where she should be.  Really, this was the first time I had successfully identified any constellation on my own, and it was even the one I've been looking for!

I caught a glimmer of a flickering star in the constellation, which I think is M31, the Andromeda Nebula, but I need to double check my sources...  Why M31?  Because that was the galaxy that Vera was watching when she observed evidence of dark matter.

Monday, August 20, 2012

In Search of Galileo Galilei

Before I even arrived in Switzerland for the clown workshop, I was on another hunt:  the hunt for Galileo Galilei!  If, indeed, it is "1610 all over again," then I needed to find the source (and also enjoy a delightful vacation in the south of Italy with some old friends). 

My teacher Paolo Palmieri, a Galileo expert, recommended that in addition to the searching for Galileo in Florence at the Museo Galileo is, I should also look for signs of Galileo in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. 

I arrived in Milan on Tuesday night, had a risotto, and tried to get some sleep for my long day in search of Galileo.  I woke up early and caught the 7:20 train to Florence from Milan.  The website for the Museo Galileo (http://www.museogalileo.it/en/index.html) informed me that it would be an easy walk to the museum from the train station.  I walked, but I didn't find the museum.  I did, however, see…

The Duomo

Ponta Vecchia

A trace of Andromeda...
And another famous Italian scientist…

Leonardo Da Vinci


....or at least in 'impersonation.'

It was too fast, but not a wasted trip to Florence.
I got back on the train.  Next stop, Rome!
I arrived in Rome at about 1:00.  The church was supposed to be just a few blocks from the Roma Termini, so I was pretty sure that I'd have enough time to see the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and also have a little pasta for lunch.  I walked to the church, although I wasn't a hundred percent sure that it was the right place. 
I went in, and thought that it might be the right place, since there were a lot of posters that seemed to be insisting that Galileo's ideas about astronomy were not, in fact, in opposition to church doctrine in 1610.  It seemed a little forced, but I also interpreted it as a sign that my hunt was successful so far.  I was, after all, searching for a fresco by Cigoli, a friend of Galileo's, who was the first to depict the moon in painting after observing it through Galileo's telescope.  My professor had warned me that the painting would be very high up, in the left nave, and that it might be difficult to see the details.

I went in.  There was a fresco near the ceiling, showing the Virgin Mary on what might have been the moon, but it was so far away that I couldn't honestly tell whether or not that was the moon in the fresco.  It also seemed to be in need of repair, which I thought was strange since there was supposed to have been a festival in honor of a miraculous snow in AD 358 just a few days earlier.  I took a picture anyway:

You can imagine it...

I left the church feeling a little uneasy.  So many things fit.  Still, Neither was I sure about that moon nor was there any indication that this nave had been dedicated to Pope Paul V, as my professor had informed me it would be.  I looked back at the church.

And realized that I was at the Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli,  NOT the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.  Could there be two churches dedicated to Santa Maria within walking distance of the Roma Termini Stazione?  The answer to this question is, yes.  It's Rome. 

I skipped my pasta, consulted my map, turned down the Via Gioberti, and dashed into the Basilica.  There, indeed, in the left nave of the cathedral, dedicated to Pope Paul V, was a beautiful fresco of the Virgin Mary standing on the moon.  I don't have any pictures because there were no photos allowed in this church.  It still was very far away, but the moon was absolutely luminescent, and indoubtedly the moon.

I made it back to the Termini in time to catch my 3:00 train to Naples, where I found my friend via pure telepathy while looking for a bottle of water – it was HOT that day.  Together, we took yet another train south to meet up with the rest of the gang.  We were welcomed with local vino bianco, polenta picante, a delicious parmagiana, and a good night's sleep.

*I have a lot of photo documentation for this entry, but something is going on with my computer that won't allow me to upload photos onto some sites.  I'll edit it later.  Please stay tuned!

Friday, August 17, 2012

In the beginning

It's been a while since I set up a blog, and I'm having problems finding the permanent introduction button, so please consider this at the top of the page, even as it slowly drifts down the page with the accumulation of what I hope will be interesting (if not important) observations on the state of dark matter, clowning, and performance.

In 1965, Vera Rubin discovered Dark Matter through the art of astronomical observation, an endeavor that has endured since human beings first looked up at the stars.  In 1610, Galileo Galilei discovered the telescope, an instrument that radically altered our terrestrial view of the universe and our very human understanding of our very small role in it.  As Richard Panek states in the introduction to his recent book, The 4% Universe, with recent experiments and discoveries in particle physics (the most recent being CERN's recent announcement of the discovery of the Higgs Boson), "It's 1610 all over again."  As current technologies in theoretical (turned practical) physics allow scientists to experiment with tinier and tinier particles, the picture of the universe becomes more and more strange.  Just as Copernicus's crystalline spheres of the heavens were smashed by the information made available through Galileo's telescope, so might our vision of a three-dimensional universe be radically altered as scientists are forced to consider the implications of quantum mechanics as they become realities in our scientific thought processes:  11-dimensional space, a multiverse, a cyclical time (and more) may be more than plot elements on your favorite science fiction television programs.

My present project revolves not necessarily around the universe-shattering discoveries made at CERN, Fermilab, ALMA, and other high-tech physics and astronomy research facilities.  Rather, I return to the art of observation.  A performance artist and puppeteer, not an astronomer, I rely on those scientific observations to inform and fine-tune my own observational instruments as I delve into the territory of astronomy, particle physics, myth, and myself.  What do dark matter and dark energy mean in my own life?  If these unknowables comprise 96% of the universe, does they also make up 96% of me?  If that is the case, what parts of me are dark and what parts of me are bright?  What is this force and what do I do with it?  What is it doing to me? 

This blog is an online journal of my creation process.  To date, I have already begun this journey of performance and/of physics.  I begin again in Switzerland, not at the world-famous CERN, but at a clown workshop in Verscio, Switzerland, taught by master teacher Pierre Byland.  Before coming to the workshop, I have some ideas, questions, characters, and a lot of writing.  It is my hope that the clown will become 21st century machine through which I might train my own art of observati