Director's Notes, Part Four: In Performance, Grieve Honors Loss and Celebrates Creation

Director's Notes documents, from planning to performance, the challenges of local artist Katie Toohil as she mounted an original, independent theatrical dance production.

The last two weeks of Grieve was one of the most intense times in my entire life. There remained so much to complete and I can't say I didn't doubt that it would all get done. So many loose ends needed tying -- could we fumble our way through the knots?

One of the biggest challenges was, due to extenuating circumstances, having to train a new dancer in several pieces in the final two weeks. Thankfully, he was a total champ, picking up the work quickly and working outside of rehearsal diligently to ensure he knew the choreography.

There were a couple pieces that needed completing in the final two weeks, which was terrifying to me. The dancers dug their heels in and we cranked out the remaining choreography with little time to spare. Once we got into the Oak Cliff Cultural Center, it became a game of tweaking. One piece of choreography needed moving upstage so there was enough room. Another required the cast to get in reeeeaaaally close to each other so as to not run over the audience. I made a mental note to remind the audience to keep all limbs inside their vehicles so no one lost a body part to a flailing dancer.

Then, before I knew it -- and before, it seemed, like I had a chance to breathe -- opening night was here! People lined up in the vestibule outside the performance space and peeked in at us curiously. My heart was racing a thousand miles a minute. Whether I was ready for it or not, people were about to see this labor of love, this piece of our collective hearts. We were about to be exposed and raw in front of a room of 70 people.

One of the hardest things about the performance was the fact that the space was so intimate. The audience was seated literally at the edge of the staging area. The lights could not be dimmed and daylight flooded in through the giant windows. There was no sense of being "blinded by the (stage) lights" -- you could see every individual in the audience clearly. It felt appropriate to me, in the same way you cannot avoid your grief when it is all-consuming. It's right there in your face and it won't let you go.

The shows passed by in a blur of motion, a whirl of limbs, a shattering of applause that jolted me out of the ether and back into my body. Before I knew it, the final show was over and we were breaking down the space for the very last time. It was incredibly surreal. In four performances of forty-five minutes a piece, we had shared what had been in motion since April. It was amazing how quickly it came and how quickly it was over. We had shared our stories and it felt incredibly satisfying.

I learned so much in this process. Some choices I made really worked. Others didn't, and were duly noted. It was such an incredible learning experience for how to proceed in future projects. I learned a lot about managing human adults, each with lives and jobs and families. I learned a great deal about my movement style and discovered many areas in which I hope to improve. I learned that nearly everyone you meet holds some kind of grief that should be respected and honored with tenderness. I learned that the people in the cast were not only brilliant dancers but amazing humans. I learned that there is a community desire for more works of this nature.

The support from the community was simply amazing. We wound up raising over $1500 for The Servers Well -- not bad for a show put together entirely on what people were willing to donate. It made me feel a deep joy that we were all able to take our pain and use it for good.

I hope that if my dad is watching me from somewhere, as though Earth is just a grand reality show, that I made him proud. "That's my girl," he'd chuckle while shaking his head.

Thank you all for taking this journey with all of us.

Video by Jack B. Fletcher III

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