The Sky’s the Limit: Reflections on The Sky Festival, Part 3

posted the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2014
Our coverage of the 2012 Sky Festival concludes with musings from other members of the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2014, who experienced this intense two-week period of rehearsal and performance for the first time. The festival brings together A.C.T. students, staff, and faculty in the high-speed creation of inventive new work. For many students, the festival also offered an opportunity to delve into something new, as they stepped into roles as writer and director.
L to R: Cloud Tectonics director Jeffrey Crockett with Blair
Busbee and Aaron Moreland. Photo by Kevin Berne.
L to R: The Owl and the Pussycat directors Omozé Idehenre and
Lateefah Holder. Photo by Kevin Berne.
Blair Busbee
Performer, Cloud Tectonics and No Man's Island

I was once in an acting class where I had to practice juggling for the first 15 minutes of every class. The first day, I failed. Miserably. I took my frustration out on the balls, and I pounded them each into a brick wall. The second day, I practiced with only two balls. I was a bit more successful, but I still clenched my jaw whenever a ball went THUD onto the floor. Eventually, as classes continued, I learned how to juggle. I learned patience by taking the process one step at a time, and I learned a lesson in the importance of focus.
I've actually thought about juggling a lot since I started rehearsals for José Rivera's Cloud Tectonics. It takes an immense amount of focus to juggle all of the facets of my character, Celestina del Sol. She's hitch-hiking. She's pregnant. Her only food is soggy saltine crackers. She's alone in the world, carrying all of her possessions in a black plastic bag—oh, and she can bend time. So, yeah . . . there's a lot to juggle in this play.
I'm having a blast, and I'm growing with each rehearsal—taking little leaps of faith, which is all I can ask of myself, I guess.
Lateefah Holder
Director, The Owl and the Pussycat, and performer, Black Maria

Woooo. Whoever said that directing was an easy job was really not telling the truth. Directing is tough. I only have a cast of two, and they are counting on me to tell them where to move around, scene by scene, from point A to Z, in a way that makes them look glorious! No pressure, though. (Yeah, right.)
I have to be honest with you, though. When I was first asked to direct this piece as my second Sky Festival assignment, I was a little unsure of myself and whether or not I would be able to pull it off. My mind was racing as I tried to wrap my head around a script that not only had I never heard of before, but then after reading it, realized I was not quite connected to, either.
BUT! I have to say I've come a long way with this dysfunctional-yet-cute romantic comedy. Once I was able to discover the heart and soul of the piece, I felt as if I had tapped into the work and it finally settled with me. THANK GOD! Also, not to forget that I had the pleasure of working with two extremely hardworking and talented fellow students who truly made the world come alive for me. (I love them. They are fabulous!)
Researching the '60s and all of its glorious fashion and music really put me in the perfect frame of mind for this work. I'd say that The Owl and the Pussycat is like a Glee mash-up of Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and Venus in Fur! So, if you're interested in a very messy, yet highly dysfunctional, rollercoaster ride of a show, with some damn good classic '60s jams, then come see The Owl and the Pussycat!
Lisa Kitchens
Assistant Director, Noncents, and performer, Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness!

Since coming to A.C.T., I have heard nothing but fabulous things about the Sky Festival! And since I arrived, I have been itching with anticipation to get started. Knowing that students were given the opportunity to produce, write, direct, and act in projects of their choosing for an audience of fellow supportive, creative students and professional artists, seemed to be not only unique but also incredibly relevant, as so many young theater artists moving to cities are being called to do just that. This festival has been so full of enthusiasm and heart since it started two weeks ago, that I am beyond thrilled to see all of the projects!
I have been lucky enough to participate in two student-produced works—one being an original and the other being student-directed. Both experiences are completely different and equally rewarding. Working on a new work is always exciting—seeing it transform and grow into a fully fleshed-out piece is a huge learning experience. My classmate, Elyse Price, invited me to work on her original work, Noncents, as assistant director. I had participated in a reading of her play last semester, so it is a privilege to be a part of this developmental process. We started the first week by doing some intense table work. Questions, dialogue, research, rewrites, and, of course, reading—all came together to further develop this wonderful play. During the second week, when we got on our feet, the play took off—and it was truly thrilling to watch. Her piece has come such a long way since its beginnings last semester. I speak for myself and the others involved when I say sharing this will be a pleasure.
The other piece I am working on is second-year student Rebekah Brockman's Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness! by Anthony Nielson. Rebekah proposed the project and is also directing it. This play requires such energy and imagination—every moment is a blast! This piece has also been quite challenging. This particular style of comedy requires larger-than-life physiques while also being extremely connected to the emotional lives of the characters. And let me tell you, being a pockmarked girl with a sister who ruins everything and whose pimples are actually pearls and is dumped by her true love for an oyster is not easy! Rebekah has also incorporated mask work (she made all six masks!), puppetry, music, and comedy to create this delightfully poignant piece that is sure to surprise audiences.
Aaron Moreland
Performer, Black Maria and Cloud Tectonics

My name's Aaron, and for the past two weeks, the following has been my mantra: Tight. Bright. Light. Sounds weird, I know, but let me explain. Right now I am nearing the end of my first Sky Festival at A.C.T. Over two weeks, I will have collaborated with folks from all over the Conservatory and put up not one, but two shows. Sounds stressful, I know, but it's way more fun than stressful, believe me. I've gotten to work on two shows that are awesome, each in their own way. Black Maria, a film noir piece written in pure poetry (no dialogue), and Cloud Tectonics, a play about love in and out of time (deep, right?). At first I was beyond stressed and nervous: how was I gonna finish these projects? But then I remembered that little mantra, something I found as an undergrad that's almost grown to be a way of life here at A.C.T. So here's an explanation of this little philosophy:
No, you don't have a lot of time. But that's cool, because you're in grad school, so you'll never have enough time. So what can you control? You can control your preparation. Working as hard as you can to keep everything around you tight and organized, to keep things in arms reach for easy access. It's okay if you don't remember everything, as long as you have it written down to remind you. Sooner or later, it'll all become second nature and you will remember it. Also, keeping it tight means making things simple for yourself: what can happen right now that will make my life so much easier? What can I cut out? What proverbial fat can I trim? This is essential for quick deadlines, like the ones in The Sky Festival.
ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING!!! You gotta stay positive in this. I know there always seem to be 20 million reasons to get upset, but get this: things are easier with a smile. Be hopeful, for Pete's sake!! No one expects you to create The Iron Lady in two weeks! Once I remembered that I really started having fun.
Why so serious? Just have some freaking fun. That's it.
York Walker
Performer, Black Maria and Better Angels

The Sky Festival is a great way to come back to school after the winter break. Everyone is refreshed, well rested, and ready to work again. I am currently working on a project entitled Black Maria (sounds like pariah).
Black Maria, directed by Stephen Buescher, is adapted from the book of poetry by Kevin Young. The piece follows two lovers as they battle their demons and circumstances to be together. The poems are written in the film noir style, so we are creating that same world for the stage. Rehearsing for this project has been wonderful since day one. Stephen creates a rehearsal room that encourages collaboration and the spirit of playfulness. We have such a good time in rehearsal that the time flies by. It feels like two minutes, and then it's time for it to end. The other actors in the company are also very giving of themselves. Each of us brings our ideas and knowledge to each of the scenes we are working on. There was a day when one of my characters was smoking a cigar, and I was smoking it as if it were a cigarette. One of my castmates said, "You can't smoke a cigar like that. You would have been dead a long time ago." I had no idea what I was doing! I am an asthmatic and have never even touched a cigar, let alone smoked one. It was great to know that I could count on my castmates to correct me if there was something that wasn't authentic onstage. It's good to know that your cast will have your back and not let you go out onstage looking crazy.
Light has been a big part of our rehearsal process. Film noir has a very specific lighting style. It plays a lot with shadows and lighting only sections of a space, instead of the entire thing. We play around with flashlights, lamps, and clip lights to create the noir atmosphere. The show doesn't have a big budget, so all of the lighting is done with ordinary things. It's so interesting to me what you can do with something as simple as a flashlight and muslin screen. It's like being a kid creating a completely different world with just your imagination and a few toys.

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