La MaMa Blogs: 6 Questions: Gavin Price

Thursday, April 17, 2014

6 Questions: Gavin Price

Gavin Price of St. Fortune Productions is directing the revival of Tom Murrin's COCKSTRONG for The Tom Murrin Full Moon Performance Festival.  Gavin took time out (during tech!!) to answer 6 Questions for La MaMa Blogs:

1. What did you know about Tom Murrin prior to directing COCKSTRONG?
I knew that he was a staple of the downtown theater scene. I knew he had influenced the people who have influenced my work as a theater-maker the most. I also had the incredible opportunity to see him perform within a month or two of his passing, at Dixon Place. We happened to perform in the same Little Theater night. Eliza Bent and I performed two monologues by Sibyl Kempson, and he closed the night with a ring of mind-bendingly obtuse props surrounding him. That was my first encounter with his work, and I was immediately awe-struck. Sibyl hinted at who he was, and later, when the producers asked Saint Fortune to do one of his shows, we did a lot of research on his life, work and his place in the world of performance. I found his MTV commercial spots. The man was on MTV when I was being born.

2. How is this production going to differ from the original production? 
We got a TON of information about the original production from Michael Arian, who was in the touring production, and a staple of the Play-House of the Ridiculous. When we would come in to rehearse at La MaMa, Michael was there at the front desk, requiring us to listen to his stories about what the original performances were like. He gave us some tremendous insights that seemed to coagulate so many of the loose ends in the surreal comic script. At first, we were flabbergasted to hear that there was so much music, and we wondered, did they just write songs in between the scenes? Michael sang us a number of songs every night, and we scratched our heads in bewilderment as to the mystery of these songs. A part of the way through the process, we discovered that we didn't have the full version of the script. What we had been working with was an original draft that Tom had given to John Vaccaro, with only the Prologue, Six Tableau, and Epilogue with four songs. We were rehearsing a play with four songs. Then, we discovered the performance version of the script. With... Seventeen songs. We immediately did a reading of the new script, and all of the narrative pieces fell together. The music of the original production, though totally undocumented, was written by John Vaccaro, Ralph Czitron and the Silver Apples. The Silver Apples were a really experimental kind of minimalist synthesizer-based band. Michael indicated that the production which toured in Europe in 1971 was very simple in it's instrumentation and composition, but we all love writing music. We wanted to make it weird and synthesizer-y, but inevitably, since the play charts the course of this concept of the death of heteronormativity, we wanted to really push the musical-theater-ness, and so ended up trying to write a lot of "show stopping" numbers. The instrumentation is still minimal, but the choruses are pretty hefty. In terms of the staging, I think we do the Theatre of the Ridiculous justice, while also keeping our own voice of controlled chaos alive.

3. What have you learned from directing this production? 
I've learned quite a bit about diving into work that is not from within Saint Fortune. We are a group of devisers, performers and writers, and so most of our work comes from within. We usually have the room to play with the text, change it, make it fit to what we find in the room. We had to cater to Tom's voice in this, which was thrilling, but also frustrating in the rehearsal room. People wanted to change stuff, but we had to be pretty diligent about keeping the voice of the page alive and as the source of our inspiration. It was an exciting balancing act, to dive into an outside voice, working as an ensemble like that. There was a ton of push and pull, but we came out with a stronger sense of what our performance voice is, which actually really lines up with Tom's early writing.

4. When did you know you wanted a career in the arts? 
In the Sixth grade, I was playing baseball, football, basketball, and I even wrestled. And was pretty chubby. And the worst athlete on all of those teams. One day after school, I was walking past the cafeteria, I heard a huge clatter, and peeked in. I saw my closest friends running around crazily, and no one was stopping them. In fact, there was a teacher who was goading them to continue, a coach of silliness of sorts. I peeked my head in, And Big George and Little George both ran at me and dragged me into a warm-up circle. It was then that I discovered that there is method to madness. I had found my passion in the arts. Later, in college, I had my mind on diplomacy (but was still doing every single theater production), and was majoring in International Relations. Nevertheless, I failed about a third of my politics courses, missing assignments because of rehearsals, and writing essays citing sources and opinions that would never be seen in a million years in the course syllabi. The teachers didn't like me, and I hated the ideas of so many of the political philosophers we read. I came to the realization, perhaps nudged by a little instance of academic probation, that diplomacy will never be achieved through politics, but through the arts. Once that landed, I knew there was no going back. 

5. Who or what inspires you? 
My parents inspire me probably the most. They are the most positive people I had ever known. We never had cable, so I was forced from early childhood to sit on the floor with a heap of action figures and create narratives out of the air. It was a tremendous developmental force. They come to every piece I do. Also, the Saint Fortune collective inspires me greatly. We may be the most existentially wrought people you've met, but within those crises, a creative energy arises that is unlike anything I've ever known, and when the group gets together to work on something, it's as if the entire Amazon rainforest of noises, wetness and trees being cut down is shot through a canon of laughter and yelling over one another. Finally, I've worked recently a lot with Elevator Repair Service, and their work inspires me to achieve the same level of focused technique, collaboration and expression. Every time I'm in the room working with them, there's a voice in the back of my head that screams "these people are masters."

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you? 
Our show at La MaMa is our biggest production yet. It is an incredible opportunity. I have to thank Scott Adkins and Erin Courtney for letting us into their home to perform a crazy Saint Fortune piece a few years ago, and seeing the parallel between our work and Tom Murrin's voice. I had no idea he was one of the first La MaMa playwrights. For Saint Fortune, it is a huge stepping stone. We are a young company, still finding our voice, still testing out and coagulating our methods, but this show is an incredible light in the very frustrating and garbled world of New York performance. Personally, I am so proud to represent Tom's work on the stage where he began his career. Stepping into La MaMa is truly a spiritual experience. So many historical figures have passed through, it seems to me like a rite of passage. I will hold my head a little higher knowing that we have now had the opportunity to share the space with people devoted to creating uncompromising art in New York around the world.

La MaMa presents
Tom Murrin's
Directed by Gavin Price

Starring: John Gasper, Natalie Mack, Michael Wiener, David J Goldberg, David French, Jack Frederick, Kristina Tortoriello, Samantha Seerman, and Danny Carroll

April 17 - 19, 2014

Thursday, Friday- 7:30pm,
Saturday- 2:00pm and 7:30pm

Tickets: $20 Adults; $15 Students/Seniors; a limited number of $10 tickets are available, in advance only, as part of La MaMa's 10@$10 ticketing initiative.  10@$10  tickets not available day of show.

La MaMa First Floor Theatre
74 East 4th Street
(between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003

For tickets and info: CLICK HERE 

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