Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Summer of 2011: Being an Intern with Treehouse Shakers, by Joey West

For the past two months Treehouse Shakers has delighted in having Joey West, a graduate student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, serve as our intern. Lucky for us he has been attending our development rehearsals with Hatched, and shares his experiences below. We hope he will return and work with us once he graduates. -Mara

I arrived in New York City on June 4th after finishing my third year at Minnesota State University, Mankato to begin my internship with Treehouse Shakers. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was ready to learn what it takes to run a professional company in New York City.

Soon after I arrived I was invited to attend a birthday party for Mara’s daughter. While there I felt I had entered an incredible world of highly intelligent and wonderfully talented artists.  It was as if I had returned to The Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts in the UK, only this time the artists I was socializing with were a little older, wiser, and each had learned how to forge their own paths in order to create art.

While attending Southern Virginia University as an undergraduate, one of my acting teachers shared this thought; within every single human being is a desire to create. During our life, some of us tend to lose sight of this insatiable desire.  We finish school, take whatever job that comes our way, and pay our bills. Eventually, during the daily monotony that becomes our lives, we unknowingly lose our passion. I didn’t want this to happen to me. I didn't want to wake up in twenty years and think, “Where am I?” The birthday party for Mara’s daughter taught me that it may be difficult to live the dream, but it is possible.  You can even have a family, and you don’t need to choose between the two.  You simply have to decide what you want, and then go for it.  Trust yourself and live passionately.
Joey as Eddie in Rocky Horror Show Minnesota State University
Joey in You Can't Take It With You Western Wyoming  College Theater
A few days before the birthday party, I had an evening free.  Since I’m currently residing in Forest Hills, only twenty minutes by subway from Times Square, I decided to check out the biggest musical scene in America. I bought a ticket to see a Tony Award winning musical (the show will remain nameless).  I was so excited, I arrived promptly at the theater, and as the house lights were dimming, I was full of anticipation. Unfortunately by the close of the opening number, I was already sorely disappointed.  The singing and music may have been well executed, but as a cohesive unit, the show just didn’t work. The contrasting musical styles within the show didn't blend, the dancing lacked precision, and the set, although massive, was most unimpressive.  I’m a graduate student, and an intern, so I don’t have much money, but I shelled out over a good seventy buckaroos to see a musical that was at best mediocre. As I was leaving the theater, I was deeply saddened. I kept thinking is this really all there is? Where’s the passion? These thoughts kept churning around in my head during the birthday party.

After the birthday party, having met all these incredible artists who have worked in the experimental scene, including Off-Broadway, I decided to attend the matinee Off-Broadway performance of The Fantasticks, one of the longest running musicals in the history of musical theatre. One of my first theatrical memories was from the Fantasticks. When I was five my dad took me to a rehearsal in Wyoming.  He was playing El Gallo and I was mesmerized as soon as he began singing, “Try to Remember.” The Off-Broadway theatre that houses the NYC production is small; alongside the stage is a piano, a string bass, a large trunk, a few boxes, chairs and a canvas curtain on which the title of the show is painted.  It is by far the simplest set I’ve ever seen for a musical.  During the overture, the cast came out and greeted the audience, creating an intimate experience between the audience members and performers.  I sat in my seat and when El Gallo began singing the song, “Try to Remember” I was profoundly moved.  From that very first moment, the cast had me. I’ve been thinking about that performance ever since.  

After the performance Off-Broadway, I was so excited to return to Mara and discuss with her ideas that came to me during and after the show.  The technical elements of the Treehouse Shakers baby drama, Hatched are simple. Being able to observe and take notes for the initial development period for Hatched has caused me to ponder the ideas of story creation through the rehearsal process.  Setting up a scenario or a framework for improvisation, and then allowing your company the freedom to explore and create within this framework, has been an incredible learning experience.  The creative environment has allowed every company member the freedom to speak and to contribute in a collaborative creation.  The guidance that Mara has provided has been interesting to watch. 
Treehouse Shakers' Sarah Young & Amber Ford "Improvising a Calf" during Hatched development rehearsal.
During the first rehearsal Mara sat the cast down and showed them pictures of the sketched puppets and pulled out stuffed animals who would stand in for the puppets during development.  Mara shared the story of the baby chick Hatch, and then shared a DVD of a company in Canada that is making experimental, site specific works for young audiences.  It gave the entire cast several images to ponder over the next few weeks.  Mara wasn’t just talking about what she envisioned this show to be, she showed something that added inspiration.  This creative process has never felt like a dictator saying to their underlings, "This is what I want, now go and do exactly what you’ve been told!"

I took a 6-week class in narrative improvisation from a good friend and mentor in the UK. The wisdom I learned during the class, Mara is doing with this show.  The framework in which the story is being created is through plot and narrative storytelling.  The inciting incident leads to the rising and falling of action, which leads to the climax, then the resolution denouement.  The initial rehearsals for Hatched have been exploring the inciting incident and the rising and falling of action.  Even before the performers enter, the show begins with the audience setting the stage.  Everyone, including the audience members, are an integral part of the show.  The entrance of the Rooster, followed by the birth of Hatch and then Hatch’s interaction with all the farm animals, is just so exciting and dynamic. Every moment is explored through the skeletal framework of a story, creating layers that enhance the story.  This creative collaboration has been amazing for me to watch. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

As an intern for Treehouse Shakers I’ve learned so much about how to make your dreams become reality.  This organization started when two friends came together to create a theatre/dance company that worked in a style that they created and played to their individual strengths.  I was able to learn how to fund a company, donor cultivation, research and write grants.  I learned how one manages a board of directors, and how they function with the artistic company. I created a mailing list of  preschools in and around New York City to increase the target audience for Hatched. I was also able to be on the cutting edge of a baby drama in this country, to see how it is created, and how to market it.  I’ve been able to meet and work with some of the most creative and talented individuals I have ever known.  The strength of Treehouse Shakers lies in its company members and their unity.  It has been an amazing summer, and I can’t wait to return and work with Treehouse Shakers again.  

Joey 4th of July in NYC