I do not consider myself a performer.  My longest experience as a performer was a choreographed swing dance lasting no longer than four minutes in my senior year of high school.  When I signed up for the Marlon Barrios residency workshop I was under the impression that I would be learning to use a new type of software, Max 6, capable of creating an interaction between performers and technology.  Instead I spent well over ten hours rolling around the floor of B188.

The goal for the Barrios performance was to create a mash-up of  technology and human motion and interaction.  This mash-up would hopefully lead to a greater overall narrative composed of several abstract individual narratives.  As we began to delve into this mash-up Marlon developed several scores, or general outlines for the action of the performance.  These scores became the focus of rehearsals during which we moved to the influence of sound, music, impulse, and the actions of others.  One score specified that whenever someone said “Change!” we performers could choose to obey the order and begin a drastically different physical action.  A call for change could be made by anyone and at any time someone felt that a change needed to take place in the room.  Other scores included playing or changing music, copying motions from online videos, and reading text from a website.  All of the scores could be used as inspiration for each of our next movements.  We rehearsed for two full days, yet even with the scores in place an entire hour of improvising seemed formidable.

The final performance consisted of about a dozen dancers, myself included, improvising in a space with chairs, projected video portraits, music, streaming videos, text sampling, and variable lighting.  Performers and the audience alike had control over these sources of influence, and the audience was allowed to physically interact with the dancers.  Several audience members became active participants, mingling and improvising with the dancers.  Range was important; all actions were rated on a scale of one to ten as a reference to intensity.  We chose our intensity, but we varied that intensity to create contrast within our own performance while at the same time creating contrast within the performance as a whole.  Although the performance was a mash-up, we hoped to allow each participant to have their moment in the limelight- a moment to move in a distinct way or to react to a score.  During these moments the rest of us backed off, still improvising but not drawing the main focus.  These highlighted moments were accomplished without direction and at random times, just as planned.  Our connection, established through comfort and rehearsals, was close enough that this was possible; to improvise and still follow the scores without a director or choreographer.  Even down to the last moment of the performance this connection was felt hanging in the air.  When I called the end, I slipped my hand over the projector and I knew that the time was proper to conclude the performance.  Even the audience could feel this connection, as I slipped my hand over the projector an audience member turned off the lights, as if on cue.

Many of the principles used in this performance can be directly applied to theatrical design.  Each field of design has to contribute something to the show, just as the various scores affected the dance.  Each department has a purpose, a part of the design concept that it must embody in order to take the pressure off of the other aspects of the performance.  A costume must say something about an actor so that actor is free to explore, in depth, the other aspects of their character.  Similar to our use of range, the design of a scenic environment should be literal enough that the actors can work in the space and the audience gets a clear understanding of the environment, but not so literal as to take away from the action.  Marlon stressed that if we ever lost inspiration or felt out of place, we should bring our intensity back to zero and just be still until we regained ourselves.  In design this translates to using the text.  When hitting a block, returning to the text can be just the right thing to get past the block, to move forward and notice something new and crucial.

I learned several things applicable to the design process during this workshop.  I learned to let go with a design, to not worry about the judgment that could be passed.  If I wanted to move a certain way I did, and worried about whether the decision was right or wrong only after I started the motion.  If the motion felt wrong I scrapped or modified it to something more fitting.  Thinking in this manner, I can openly create a design based off of my first impressions and then worry about tweaking later.  Another thing that I learned came out of a problem I encountered on the second day of the workshop.  I was having more trouble on the finding of inspiration for movement.  One of the dancers mentioned to the group that when he uses a prop he treats the prop as more important than himself, so as not to get caught up in the operation of the prop and lose his focus.  I translated that theory into my motion, feeling as though every impulsive action that came over me was the most important thing in the world.  If nothing was more important than that motion I had no choice but to act on it.  This lifted my self-limitation and opened me to new ideas and actions.  This type of creativity, taking an impulse and riding it to completion, is a principle I will embody in my design work to prevent myself from over-thinking.  It will also give me a baseline, an initial impression to which I can return when I hit a block.

Had I known prior to it what the Marlon Barrios workshop would actually entail I never would have signed up.  Although I did not learn the new software, I took the following away from the workshop: while a design concept is structured the design inspiration is not, nor does inspiration come from long hours of contemplation.  Design inspiration comes to the designer as impulses from the experience of reading the text.  This is a valuable perspective that I will use to approach my future design work.  I also learned that I can perform.  At this point I need a comfortable setting and to be surrounded by fellow performers who have earned my trust.  Not that I now consider myself a performer, but I would be interested in exploring this new-found practice.  Looking back on the performance I am very glad I participated for the full workshop, as I gained insight, extended my comfort zone, and truly enjoyed myself in the process.