BWW Blog: Alyssa Sileo - Building A Show: ACTing Out at Gloucester County SURE Conference and my Playwriting Debut
On July 15th, 2016, I began writing the first piece of the first theatre project that would be performed outside my head. It wasn't until August 23rd that I decided to chronicle the building of what would become State Your Case.
My school's social advocacy theatre troupe, ACTing Out, performs at several events throughout the school year, including the Freshmen Meet and Greet and the Out Of The Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk. We intend to use theatre, especially monologue and song performances, to bring light to social issues and constructs. So ACTing Out is the GCIT version of what I intend to do with my career.
Every year, GCIT participates in the Gloucester County S.U.R.E. Conference, which is a gathering of Students United For Respect and Equality. ACTing Out always presents a show that connects to the year's theme. 2017's is United We Stand.
At the end of sophomore year, I was asked to write a piece for my troupe to perform at the event. What resulted was a montage of monologues and song covers that all attempted to state someone's case, without interruption or hesitation. My pAl Kelly was my partner in this process, and I knew this was going to be a behemoth to take on. With Kelly by my side, the scariness of mounting your own show was a lot more artful.
In the hours after we became debuts of our chosen craft for the rest of our lives, I pulled Kell aside to the lockers. I plopped on the floor, and made her stand in the exact spot she stood in on June 2nd when she first asked me about doing this show. I "infiltrated her email inbox for the last time" (that's a lie) with a Google Doc of "THE AO SHOW CHRONICLES." Here is the timeline and some excerpts from them. There's some random dates that were unchronicled but still remembered, because I remember most everything.
7/15: Wrote Trophy, which would end up being the fourth piece of State Your Case.
7/20: Discussed two songs that we wanted featured in the piece -- "Going To Georgia" by The Mountain Goats and "Rambling Man" by Laura Marling.
"Going to Georgia" was swapped for another Mountain Goats "Sax Rohmer #1" which is so brilliantly performed by my best friend Dylan. His rendition is something Kell and I talk about a lot. But "Rambling Man" always remained in SYC, performed by sweetheart Sarah. Laura Marling is something I've forced onto Kelly because I desperately need someone to geek out with. Happy to say Kelly has taken on Laura.
8/23 4:25pm: "So at this point I have two pieces done for the show done (done is a weird word, I'm sure they'll go through tweaks and revisions...Last night I finished Audition at 11:52pm. I'm glad I still knew how to smile after it, writing that was heavyyyy.
Shared it with you and you seemed to like it. So that was lit.
...Like everything is combusting? All of my projects are happening at once?"
This piece was AUDITION, the second-to-last monologue of State Your Case, the only one that doesn't end too happily. It's about how crippling perfectionism can be, especially for a performer.
8/24 10:03pm: "Frosh meet and greet was today so that was magnificent. I feel good things for ACTing Out this year...Right now I need some groundingggg and Ayoshow is gonna take me there.
...I'm writing another piece. It's going to bring up loss. So this is not inspired by a moment of loss but rather a moment of celebration (LOL predictable.) ...On the way home from karate last Monday I was singing in the car with my dad at the drive-in bank and I thought it was extremely prolific. He always talks about the music golden age of the eighties.
So I spent so much time writing this chronicle that I've barely got to it."
This piece would become GOLDEN AGE, which is something I know will be one of the favorite things I've ever written ever. Kelly would come to perform this piece in the third set of the show.
9/2 1:09am: "I finished the third piece (and I think I have a title now??)
The title I thought of that night was not my final title. Lesson: your show will take a while to become a human.
"...And I'm feeling incredible and ready for lots of iced tea....The album I talk about often in this piece is what I listened to while writing this. But I have a love for music, music history, my state, my state's history, and the way they all combusted in something called the 1980's, and IDK why it isn't in our history books.
I was facetiming Dylan about The Laramie Project Project. LOL, we're gonna ask you and Kayla about that tomorrow.
I said "Sorry, I have to go write something I've been neglecting, and he was like, "Ooh, can you tell me about it," and I'm like, "No.
I'm going to share the doc with your email. Sorry it's 1:15am."
9/11 10:16am: "Last night of course I couldn't sleep and then I was like LOLOL SURE SHOW...then I thought of "I Remember Her" by Ingrid Michaelson and I imagined us doing that acapella and the I cried a little bit.*
The acapella didn't happen due to time constraints. But two amazing members of AO sang the song as solos. Lesson: the flow is real.
"I am making a little list of what I think the show looks like now."
9/13 7:12pm: "Happy birthday! I hope your seventeen is full of ice cream."
9/21 10:07pm: "Today I thought of something that can possibly be the first thing...I've been thinking a lot about math lately.
There should be another synonym for excited."
The piece would turn into FINALS, which is about a dyscalculic kid telling their teacher that they want their first passing grade in math.
9/24 2:02pm: "We spoke with the whole crew about the show and shared some of the visions...
And then I was in JC Penney's and I said to myself "The title of the AYO show is State Your Case..." That's the lifeline of these pieces....they're all situational and there's a solid reason why each person is revealing this part of themselves.
This triologue in the show...I want it to be a slurs triologue. The day before Easter Break last year I got extremely upset when someone in class used the phrase "that's so gay." That phrase is so terrible because it forwards homophobia...Slurs are the most easily preventable kind of violence and I literally want to dedicate my life to ridding them.
I am literally so ready to put these pieces in your hand and have you work your magic."
This piece would become BESIDES, a "quadologue" in which four students present reasoning to the school board why the school's policy on hateful language should be stronger.
9/27 8:19pm: "We got an email yesterday about meeting with the higher ups about SURE and I screamed aloud.
That's all I wanted to say."
These meetings were monthly pilgrimages to the county's teacher's association building in which we planned the event, workshops, and helped make S.U.R.E. happen. Pretty much every car ride home from the meeting, I had some revelation about life as I rambled on to Kelly.
10/17 9:45pm: "This is not about AO but I'm in the Philly Thanksgiving Day Parade and you don't know about it."
10/30 3:16pm: "It's an incredibly feel-around challenge to have to get these endings. I'm writing the ending of Shut Up and Dance and I really enjoy where it sits."
This piece would become SHUT UP AND DANCE, which is the dearest thing I ever wrote. I performed it at S.U.R.E.
11/12 4:59pm: "STATE YOUR CASE IS BEING FINISHED TONIGHT"
State Your Case was NOT finished that night. Lesson: your cast will not allow you to finish your show until the very moment it is ACTUALLY finished.
11/14, an ungodly unknown hour: "So I'm on homecoming court and my hands are swollen from the cold and here is the blurb I wrote in my own dramaturgy packet for SYC. This makes defines why SYC is United We Stand.
The goal of State Your Case is to present that any affliction or disadvantage gives us the freedom to speak candidly and hopefully about our responses. It is only with recognition of these difficulties and our own power that we debunk the supposed limitations. The unfortunate and the fortunate may exist at the same time, and we can function with any quality of ourselves, as long as we are aware that we don't ignore it.
In this show, we see fourteen different ways someone could State Their Case."
12/14: I went to my first SURE meeting.
12/20 9:34pm: "Editing is so much when you're done the whole show. I LOVE HAVING A CAST SHOW."
This night was the most fun SYC hours I had. Wawa slushies and Google docs chatbox make Editing time something grand. It helped me fall in love with the show. The day before, on my way to show choir rehearsal and with Kelly on the phone, we cast the show.
12/26 10:42pm: "I felt my phone buzz when my inbox got the email that the list was up and dear goodness, I have never been more in sync in my LIFE."
That day, we posted the cast list of State Your Case.
1/22 3:08pm: We timelined our rehearsal process--biweekly lunch meetings to run through all of the pieces with some afterschool days.
2/22: Had our last S.U.R.E. meeting before the actual thing
3/12 9:20pm: "We wrote a transitions and props list an assigned others to the piece. I'm going to be floating in space this week. What is State Your Case?
This is just a blip in time. We are just a little blip in time. Biology is just a little blip in time. But Laura's new album? Laura's new album is forever."
3/14 9:12am: "OH MY GOD, SNOW YOUR CASE."
We had a snow day that day and it was two days until the conference so we have a Skype Your Case meeting.
3/15 8:45pm: "So this is what it feels like when you last rehearsal happens before you become a debut:
You feel your piece talking to you like friends and you hear them in your head and they just kinda sit there and smile at you.
And I think how I've found best friends in these page. ..It's like sending a kid off the college. Honest to God. Because it's not ready but it's going and it paid good money (my nine months of time) to happen. Therefore it's happening and we're gonna have shirts and drawstring bags for it.
It's like, you spend so much time raising it, and no matter what it's done to you, and what struggle its put your through, darnit if still don't love it anyway."
We had our final rehearsal for SYC that night.
3/16 7:20am, the morning of the event: "When I woke up I just told myself to lay back down and think about how for the first time I made something spanning a couple months. And whatever incarnation it's in, it's happening. Like...the idea that the crawl becomes a day like this?
...This is the last AO Chronicle. Ideally I plan to pull you over to the spot in the drama lockers, towards the front, and I'll probably plop on the ground because I was sitting on the ground fixing my shoe when you first suggested this to me at 9am on June 2nd and I'm gonna give you these chronicles."
Tennessee Williams used to write letters to artists about a play he was writing. I didn't know that he did this until after I started the chronicles. This is something I want to do for every artist I work with. We cannot make it through beastly creations without the belief and smiles and midnight text-responses of others. Here's to all the creative partners of the world--you make art happen. You keep art moving from brains to paper to eyes, ears, and voices.
A show is built over months and months and hours and Google Docs of rewrites. State Your Case took nine months to speak a word. You have to believe in a piece even when it doesn't seem to believe in you. That's the truest love I've felt for anything--the kind that persists among the months of question marks. That's how I know, sincerely, that writing theatre is the path I've chosen.
Thank you Kelly, for speaking my language! Thank you to Ms. Lynch-Walsh for allowing S.U.R.E. Conference to be my first receptacle for my synesthete ramblings. Thank you to S.U.R.E. Conference for hosting an event for the advocates, and thank you to ACTing Out for being the first voices I heard my words in.