Susan Shields is the co-conceiver with Heather McDonald and the choreographer for the Theater of the First Amendment’s production of STAY, which begins performances tomorrow Thursday, November 10, 2011 at Lansburgh Theatre.
What made you decide to work together?
We met through a colleague at GMU who thought we’d enjoy one another as people and as artists. We were sort of surprised we’d not met sooner, and it was fantastic to meet a professor in another department and feel such connection. It was quite an instant attraction.
What made you think of the word “STAY” and how does it influence the piece?
The word “STAY” for me, came from my son. When he was about 8 I was putting him to bed one night, and as I got ready to leave he said, “Stay!” I had an incredible moment of gratitude. I felt so fortunate to have a son who trusted I would stay, and I felt thankful for my health and well being – that I was able to “Stay.” It seemed a moment of true presence and love, and it stuck with me.
Tell us a little bit about the process from the beginning up until now.
The process of creating STAY has been completely exciting, energizing and terrifying – as these things usually are. I have had a huge learning curve dealing with the theater culture. There are so many interesting things – the process the actors go through, the storytelling Heather is able to consider from so many perspectives, and more than ever, listening to intuition and realizing it often come with the biggest pay off. We have also had more time than I am used to having when I create a dance – this has allowed for many layers to unfold.
What can we expect to see in this production at The Lansburgh that we have not seen before?
At the Lansburgh I hope you will see, or rather feel, something quite personal. Our job isn’t to tell our stories on stage, as I am guessing not too many people would be excited hearing about the sad things that Susan Shields and Heather McDonald experienced and how we survived. If we have done our job right, my hope is that the audience will bring their personal stories to this piece and these stories. If we have captured a good balance of dialogue, dancing, SLAM, music and lighting, the atmosphere should help people be transported into their own stories. I hope that happens.
What has this process been like for you – merging dance and theater and artists from both disciplines?
To have actors in the room who are willing and able to move is wonderful. I must say that there are moments when actors are dancing – telling story through movement only. I applaud and love them for that because that is a very vulnerable place to be for them – no words, only their bodies. They are some of my favorite moments.
Can you share a personal anecdote from this process?
There are many stories, but one of my favorites was very early on in the process. We were all still trying to figure out how to make this piece happen. I, in my choreographer head, asked actor Michael Willis to just walk a circle (this is a common way to begin something in dance), and he immediately said, “Why?” “Why would I do that?” Who am I when I am walking this circle?” I was confused and speechless—I wanted movement to be the impetus for the scene, he wanted character….it has now become a wonderful joke between us, and I think we found a pretty good result!
Kelly Thomas is Theater of the First Amendment’s Company Manager.