Florida Update: Swamp Trompin', Hard Goings and Triumphant Perseverance
Greetings from Florida!
Would you believe that from the moment we convened two months ago until now, there has been no time to sit down and send out an update?
In the Everglades we worked from 9am to 10pm most days (bookended by a six mile bike ride to and from our campsite) improvising, creating scenes, doing research, exploring the landscape and having conversations (with a talking stick!) to tease out the world of the play. We needed to find the story that would ask the questions that kept emerging in our creative explorations—questions that revolved around: the effects of humans on the natural landscape, the imaginative world of plants and animals, the tourism and entertainment industries, mourning and death.
Our time in the Everglades was so special, in some ways, made more special by the government shutdown, which cleared the place out and allowed the volunteers to step in and help us with our research and creative inquiry.
Some favorite things about the Everglades included:
KENDRICK – The cypress domes
ASHLEY - Listening to distant bats in the lab
DARA – learning about the plants and animals – personal favorite: strangler figs
MIGUEL – meeting the rangers and volunteers and learning about their work
JOEL – watching the moon change position on our nightly bike rides
MICHAEL – biking by the birds every morning
JACKIE - creating compositions outside in the grass in our bare feet
JENNY - not being able to see outside at night without a flashlight
At the end of our time there, we were covered in bug bites and sleep deprived, but in our hands we held the rough draft of a script that we were all glowingly proud of. Sure there were confusing bits, and admittedly the ending was still rough, but the heart was there. And at our staged reading in the Long Pine Key Campground, the audience reacted to that heart enthusiastically.
Our play, Good Time Pedalers’ Preservation Carnival, tells the story of a bike-touring theater company that travels a future Florida landscape teeming with alligators, mosquitos, and sawgrass (very meta!). The “carnival” they bring glorifies America’s former “Age of Abundance” and offers a distraction from the battle against the elements that Florida living has become.
But after the “pedalers” lose Nonna Harmonia, their founder and matriarch, they question whether to continue in the name of tradition, or to evolve their show to respond to the changing needs of the world they find themselves in.
After our residency, we pedaled up to Miami to spend a week staging the show and working the bugs out before our premiere at the AIRIE fundraiser at the Kampong Botanical Gardens. (Fun fact: we premiered our show a mile from where Waiting for Godot had its US premiere 63 years ago) All week long we rehearsed at the Kampong, as well as in parks, parking lots and driveways. Lines got rewritten, cues were determined and moments were clarified. Knowing we were only performing the first half of the show at the fundraiser meant we could really focus on that portion, and for the event, we confidently presented the first thirty minutes. The feedback from patrons at the fundraiser was overwhelmingly positive, and for a brief moment we revelled in the knowledge that our show was a real crowd-pleaser.
But only three days later we had to stage the full version in Ft. Lauderdale, and though it probably comes as a surprise to no one, it turns out it’s very hard to finish staging a play when you are biking over fifty miles a day through dense city traffic, carrying over 150 pounds on your bicycle. As we pedaled from city to city, I found myself wondering how we had gotten ourselves into this mess. Wasn’t this our third tour?
But the truth is that each Agile Rascal tour has been its own unique beast, with its own set of creative and logistical challenges. Our first coast-to-coast tour taught us to scale down, in terms of mileage and weight, and to prioritize community and communication. For our second tour through Montana, we utilized what we already carried to make our props and set, and made sure to focus as much on our internal dynamics as our creative process. But with our systems in place for traveling, creating and communicating, I guess we got ambitious again. We wanted this next play to have it all—set and props, lighting, musical numbers, dance sequences. And all of that ambition translated very literally to time and weight.
The first few weeks of this tour were, well, they were really hard. Our trailers caught the Florida headwinds like a sail and the spontaneous thunderstorms left us scrambling to stuff our gear in trash bags by the side of the road. While many Floridians have offered some of the most heartwarming hospitality we’ve ever received, others have thrown trash at us and yelled that they “hope we die” (okay that just happened once, but jeez!) And to make matters worse, the play still wasn’t even finished!
Up the east coast of Florida, we could be found, well after midnight, in parking lots and playgrounds, trying to figure out an ending that would satisfy the themes and ideas we were so committed to. For our first few performances we were sleep deprived, under-rehearsed and a bit shaky on the ending. Suddenly that beautiful, funny and strange play we had created together and shared in the Everglades and the Kampong seemed to have disappeared into the Florida haze.
Fortunately, the systems for caring for each other that we had created so intentionally remained intact, and we managed, somewhat miraculously to hold each other through this very rough patch. And as our thighs got stronger, so did our performances. We stayed with it, listening to feedback, adding clarification where it was needed, and scratching away at that damn ending. By our Orlando show there were a whole bunch of line changes, and we had cracked the final scene (partially from inspiration we found at Universal Studios!)
Since that time, our show has only gotten better, and the standing ovation we received in Gainesville came as such sweet relief. It was an indication that the beautiful show we suspected that we had was back, or rather, had never really left us.
We only have a few weeks left in the tour and are only now able to catch our breath a bit. The past few months have been an entire universe unto itself. And as much as we planned for this project to be manageable — with the play finished in residency, the mileage bearable and the weather balmy, sometimes things don’t go as planned, and our expectations have to change and evolve. Agile Rascal can’t be about performing a highly polished play right out the gate, at least, not this time around. It has to be about something else. Maybe it’s about asking the impossible of ourselves, sometimes falling short, but giving everything we’ve got anyway. This project and the play we’ve created has demanded that we evolve both our expectations of ourselves as well as the play itself to match changing needs. It’s not that unlike the situation our characters find themselves in.
I guess sometimes art imitates life. And sometimes life imitates art, imitates life, imitates art, imitates life….on bikes!
Dara and The Agile Rascals