One of the important aspects of tackling 44 Plays for 44 Presidents from the producing/directing side is to know that it was borne of The Neo-Futurist aesthetic and was heavily influenced by the structure and pacing of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.
Every writer was familiar with that medium, and we all understood at the outset that part of our writing challenge was to create 44 (at the time 43) distinct plays that were short yet complete. Individual pieces that could stand alone but were more powerful as a cohesive collection of snapshots that, strung together, created a powerful collage of presidential history in the U.S.
With that in mind, we also sought to balance a myriad of components along the full scope of the play as a whole, so that each individual piece (i.e., presidential playlet, scene, or snapshot) did not mimic any other. Hence, we’ve got some pieces that happen in a matter of seconds and some that last closer to 4 minutes. Tone, pacing, imagery, language, and genre all shift throughout in order to create the effect of a roller coaster ride through history without a funhouse with a wicked sense of humor.
Hence, we have not only a lot of movement incorporated into the show, but also several full-on dance numbers that benefit from dedicated and thoughtful choreography. I’ve choreographed the show more than once: the original Neo production and its many iterations throughout touring, the Lake Forest College production of 44 Plays that was the first to kick of our Festival, the upcoming Neo-Futurist production, and even the upcoming Florida School of the Arts production.
In some cases, I’ve stolen from the work I’ve done before, but some of the plays have changed or evolved (such as Garfield), and every time I approach the show anew, it’s an opportunity to think about how to improve on what’s come before, and how to integrate the particular strengths, styles, and creative instincts of each group of performers/directors/designers.
I think one of the key challenges from a choreography standpoint is to decide whether you want to honor the time period of the scene within which the dance falls, or to throw historical accuracy out the window and go with an entirely anachronistic approach. Or perhaps even try to blend the two.
In essence, the full-on dances that come up include:
- Polk (1845-1849)
- Garfield (1881)
- Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897)
And there is additional movement in Harrison, Taylor, Buchanan, Roosevelt (Teddy and FDR), Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush (Sr.), and Obama!
Whatever approach you end up taking, I think the most important piece of advice I could offer would be to honor the original aesthetic of the show and the underlying conceit (e.g., everything is interconnected yet incredibly distinct). Push the movement throughout to be as varied as the rest of the play as a whole so that the audience experience remains one of fascination and intentional bombardment. Consider each scene a play unto itself, which ultimately means you’re doing a lot of work – but getting an incredible chance to stretch your creative muscles and play with multiple styles and genres of dance. (Pretty fun if you ask me.)
By the end of the Neo show, I’ll have tried both the historically accurate approach and the anachronistic/go-for-the-emotion approach. I think there’s merit in both – and as others tackle the movement and dance in the show, I’d be super curious to hear your thoughts on how you decided to design your work!