After their critically acclaimed production of Wendy Wasserstein’s Third, South Pasadena Theatre Workshop is back with an original play by Sally Smythe. It’s called Esprit de Corps, the French term meaning group spirit or camaraderie. Smythe hopes you will recognize this connection in the course of the play. “We are calling this a theatrical experiment” explains Smythe, “whereby we mean to express that we are still learning what the play wants to become.”
Esprit de Corps is an ensemble piece and features actors with a strong movement background. The play, set in hard times in an unspecified location, concerns itself with a community that gathers to create theatrical movement pieces in hard times. There are issues of initiation, the sacrifices involved in creating art, the resistance, and ultimately the surrender that feeds their creativity. Much of the choreography is being created in real time with a sense of kinesthetic awareness.
Smythe and director, Sydney Walsh, wanted to develop a container in which the characters in the play transition from their everyday life into the world of compositional movement. They employ some of the disciplines from Viewpoints, a movement coming out of the modern dance community and further developed by Tina Landau and Ann Bogart, as well as other creative disciplines to achieve a sense of esprit de corps within the group.
Smythe says of Walsh “I am grateful for her relentless spirit and support in bringing this piece to life.” In December, when meeting about what plays they were considering, Walsh read what Sally had been working on and said, “this is what we should be doing.” The two met twice a week and Smythe says that Walsh more or less dramaturged the project and helped her realize the potential of the play.” I would write madly and bring her scenes” she says, “Sydney was very much part of the birthing process of the play.”
The play has gone through many transitions through the months and more changes came as the cast came into play. At one point two whole characters were eliminated. “The process has been so extraordinary for me” says Smythe, “the play itself taught me what it needed to be.” She says there was only one way for her to learn if this was a decent play or not and it wasn’t to get a bunch of advice from other people. “It’s from working with actors, where I began. Seeing what we can make together.”
And then, because of equity contracts, things were suddenly on a very specific time schedule in terms of the run of the show. If she were to do this again, she would like to develop the play over a longer period of time including the casting because as Smythe explains, “with new material that’s nascent, you may think you want a character of a certain kind in the beginning but it evolves based on the actor’s energy and how you shape that to fit the play.” She goes on to say, “we have a wonderful group of actors, a gifted cast who have contributed so much to the process. Our stage manager takes such great care of us and our designers have created out of simple means such abundance and sanctuary.”
And as the play is about to be seen by audiences for the first time, Smythe says simply, “we hope you will lend us your imagination and generosity as we present our humble offering.”
Esprit de Corps is written by Sally Smythe, directed by Sydney Walsh and stars Shayne Anderson, Areg Barsegian, Clay Wilcox, Nathan Pierce, Melissa Randal, Sally Smythe, and Alexa Yeames.
This weekend of preview performances Friday, Saturday & Sunday are all “Pay What You Will”. Play officially opens June 15 and plays through July 9.
South Pasadena Theatre Workshop is located at 1507 El Centro. Convenient parking in front of and across from the theater. Showtimes Thursdays & Fridays 8pm, Saturdays & Sundays 5pm
Tickets $20, Students $15. 626-644-3654 http://southpasadenatheatreworkshop.com/