It is always a delicious curiosity when Pig Iron Theatre Co. brings in outside collaborators. For Welcome to Yuba City, movement giant/clown icon Giovanni Fusetti was a welcome mentor. Geoff Sobelle, Trey Lyford and Quinn Bauriedel first worked with Giovanni while making machines machines machines machines machines machines machines in 2007. "He came in as a clown teacher and helped us get started making that show," says Bauriedel. "Pig Iron had never done such a workshop all together, so I think it will serve us beyond this particular creation. His eye on physical work is brilliant and he left a huge imprint on this piece, whether or not the characters we developed with him are in the final work or not. In many ways, he brought us back to a familiar place but one that we hadn't nurtured for a while."
So how does co-artistic director Bauriedel choose newcomers? "We basically are looking for creators who push what we already know, who are willing to dive into our process, who fill a void in the current company somehow and who have a unique artistic voice in their own right."That'd be Charlotte Ford — creator-performer-producer of Live Arts 2008's Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl and an actress with 1812 Productions (Cherry Bomb), Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental (Flamingo/Winnebago) and Theatre Exile (Red Light Winter, Mr. Marmalade). "Charlotte has been steadily making her own work for a while now, and she seemed absolutely perfect for this creation," says Bauriedel.
We picked Ford's brain during a mid-August rehearsal on improv playwriting and being the new kid on the block.
City Paper: What level of improvisational largesse do you need to operate with to pull off Yuba?
Charlotte Ford: At this point, we're still generating and improvising almost constantly. These improvisations are guided — as in, "a scene between Ronnie and Teddy about aliens" — but very little is scripted. It will be soon. The dances and fight scenes aren't improvisatory — we create them and then insert them into structured improvisations. So, a typical rehearsal this week might involve Quinn giving us an order of 12 scenes of character combinations and themes. We then put it on its feet and see what works and what fails. It's collaborative, on-your-feet playwriting. I love it.
CP: I witnessed a few interactions — one where you're fighting with Dito, another where you're taking part in a group murder ballad. What's the character-vs.-archetype thing going on?
CF: We're creating intertwining stories, and some of our characters are archetypes — like the cowboys — and some are individual characters born from costumes (i.e., a pair of glasses or high heels creating a physical mask which we then amplify). Right now, I'm playing Priscilla, a legally blind cowgirl; Ronnie, a cashier with a mean streak and an underbite; and Sharon, a shit-kicking, mulleted divorcée doomed to an eternal lovers' spat.
CP: What's so different about working with Pig Iron as opposed to 1812 or Theatre Exile?
CF: I enjoy both creating a play from scratch and working from a script — the traditional regional theater model. In an actor-devised play like Yuba City or Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl, we work collaboratively to build a play from scratch. We are authors and actors. It's an incredibly intellectually satisfying process, and it's tailor-made. You're expressing your own voice as opposed to that of a playwright, and you can flesh out an idea that you're passionate about. Cherry Bomb was more collaborative than, say Red Light Winter, since Jen Childs wrote and directed it. Jen workshopped Cherry Bomb with the cast, and James Sugg composed and arranged the music to suit the odd edges of each of our voices, so as actors we had some input into the creation of our characters. I love acting, writing, structuring, directing, designing — and creating my own work allows me to inhabit each of those roles, as opposed to only acting. But sometimes, especially after creating your own show, it's a relief to show up, be an actor and go home after eight hours. Both experiences enrich each other.
CP: Got any last words regarding Yuba? Are these guys tough on the new kid?
CF: I'm having a blast. Quinn allows us an incredible amount of freedom and input, and we basically show up and play hard all day. I do wish we had air conditioning, especially while lindy-hopping in head-to-toe polyester during a heat wave, but that is my sole complaint.