features + interviews

Positation in Action: Director Erin Ortman’s Multi-Year Journey with the Arabian Nights

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One Thousand Nights and One Day rehearsal, Erin Ortman, associate director Mia Crivello, and associate choreographer Taylor McMahon. Photo by Chris Milligan.

[article originally published in HowlRound, May 2, 2018.]

Several coincidences align to admit me to design meetings, workshop readings, and rehearsal rooms for One Thousand Nights and One Day[OTNAOD], a musical based on Jason Grote’s play 1001, produced by Prospect Theater Company. Love for the people involved, the creative magic in rehearsal rooms, and the opportunity to spend time with the enchanting director Erin Ortman inspired me accept her invitation to observe her directorial philosophy in action.

We first met when I attended a Lark Roundtable reading of Caridad Svich’s play Fuel in September 2017. I was equally fascinated by Svich’s new play and by her director. Ortman set the terms, made space for creativity, and allowed everyone to be creative in a limited amount of time. Her skills and energy in the room left an impression.

We met in early October 2017 over coffee and pastries and soon hit upon the subject of her next project—a full production of a new musical already several years in development by Jason Grote and Marisa Michelson. I’d long loved Grote’s work as a dramatist and Michelson’s Eastern-influenced, ensemble-based musical explorations in Tamar of the River. I was curious about this collaboration. When Ortman named William Ball and his concept of “positation” as a core influence in her directing philosophy, I shouted in recognition and surprise—I’ve long been fascinated by Ball’s 1984 book A Sense of Direction: Some Observations on the Art of Directing. I wanted to know more about how all these pieces connected.

I began to observe the OTNAOD process with a December 2017 read-through, and attended workshops, readings, design confabs, the first rehearsal, and an early tech session over the following months. As expected, I was fascinated by Michelson’s approach to choral work, Grote’s dramatic influences, the movement team’s ideas, and the blend of design with storytelling.

I soon realized that Ortman’s directing process combined how she lived her life with how she created art collaboratively. What began as a meeting with a new friend ended as an opportunity to unpack a creative process with joy at its center.

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