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2017 Summer INTENSIVE: Ayun Halliday

This past June TMT hosted its 4th Summer Institute Intensive: a jam-packed week of exploration by our brilliant and bold fellows. We asked each of our five to reflect, in whatever format they wished, on their day of leading the Institute and what’s next in their journey through the year. CHECK OUT OUR NEXT ENTRY BELOW!

BY AYUN HALLIDAY
There’s one big lacuna in my DIY theater career – the technical aspect. Anything that can’t be faked with papier-mâché and cut up thrift store finds fills me with fear. Fudging’s a thing I do well. Tech – it’s either right or wrong. What if I push a button and nothing happens? I’d love join the happy practitioners aboard the multimedia performance train, but having always copped to cluelessness, I have known how to go about it (without throwing the entire production’s budget at someone who’s not myself).

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of projections into my work. I realise that I’m creating a lot of stress for myself by doing this, when I can barely trust myself to power on the projector. The anxiety it produces is somewhat reminiscent of elementary school gym class, when those of us who’d suffered the humiliation of being picked last were subjected to an undodge-able volley of hard flung rubber balls. The fate of the easy out.

(Perhaps this is not such a problem in the upper echelons of commercial theater, but, honestly, those realms are no concern of mine.)

Last year I took a field production class at the Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s Firehouse location – it was cheap and very close to my then-new East Harlem home and it seemed like the kind of thing it might behoove a low budget theatermaker who’s attracted to using projections in her work. My husband seized on my enthusiasm, loading me up with various gadgets meant to turn my ageing iPhone into a film camera. (Maybe I’d make the next Tangerine or at least shoot and edit the projections for my next work.) These thoughtful and intimidating gifts were immediately stashed away in a drawer to await the day when I would awaken as a completely different person … a transformation that seemed even unlikelier than Gregor Samsa’s.

The Target Margin Theater Institute exists to spur its Fellows to explore uncharacteristic territory. I batted around various elaborate, lofty ideas whose execution filled me with dread before realising that I could use my assigned day of our second intensive to fly in the face of my technical phobia. So I rented a warehouse in Bushwick, along with several thousand dollars worth of lights, cables, and sound equipment and… Just kidding.

I told the Fellows to meet me on the Harlem Meer and took what might strike others as an extremely baby step. I unhusked all the equipment Greg had given me and resolved to follow them around the Meer, discreetly documenting whatever arose from the various data collecting assignments I had given them. I stopped at regular intervals to swap out equipment, and back up footage on external drives.

But first we watched the 1Second A Day video I’ve been working on since January 1 of this year. The Meer figures prominently in it, as do the Institute’s first intensive week and rehearsals for a work-in-progress showing of Institute Fellow CB Goodman’s “How to Kill an Elephant”. Wait, does anyone think a compilation video of a year’s worth of video clips sounds like pretty advanced stuff? Nope, it’s an app – one of the few I know how to use. My goal for the day was to approach unfamiliar technology with the mindless ease of a 15-year-old testing out a new app. To not cover my head and cower as the ball flies toward it.

I have to laugh when I look at the results. My Steadicam caught Brian Lawlor discreetly loitering behind other park goers to capture their dialogue and Aaron Minerbrook taking a census of rocks. Somehow Moe Yousuf, surveying various dog breeds, appears more than anyone, the defacto star of the footage I may well edit one of these days, or at least move confidently from hard drive to hard drive, in a dry run for an upcoming theatrical piece that I just know will feature a lot of original video. (Or maybe it will be the next Tangerine)

At my behest, the fellows strolled through the Conservatory Garden, reading the inscriptions on the memorial benches. They ate tacos from the cart in front of the supermarket, and dutifully posed in front of a pair of street art angel wings beneath the Metro North tracks. They chopped up plastic cowboys and other pinatã chum to create miniature installations between the gnarled roots of garbage-y urban trees. They visited Hot Bread Kitchen for pay-what-you-want end-of-the-day bread. All things I know how to do very well, a roving cousin of some of the ramshackle, not-exactly-improvised-but-close entertainments I was put on this earth to create.

This time, however, I cast myself as the techie, though the underside of my chin did get a cameo whenever the Steadicam barrel rolled in gleeful recognition that its owner is one of those dippy creative types, unlikely to have read the manual. Guilty.

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Ayun Halliday is a performer, playwright, and author of seven books, including “No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late” and the graphic novel, “Peanut.” As a member of the Neo-Futurists from 1989-1998, she wrote, directed and performed in over 500 short plays and several full-length solo performances. Recent plays include The Mermaid’s Legs, Fawnbook and Zamboni Godot.

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