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Student Blog: Pittsburgh Playhouse's Dance Nation: Warming Up

The Pittsburgh Playhouse has begun rehearsals for their upcoming, virtually-filmed production of Clare Barron’s Dance Nation. And I, Mary Felix, am the dramaturg!

Student Blog: Pittsburgh Playhouse's Dance Nation: Warming Up

The Pittsburgh Playhouse has begun rehearsals for their upcoming, virtually-filmed production of Clare Barron's Dance Nation. And, I, Mary Felix, am the dramaturg! For this production I not only wanted to be a dramaturg for Dance Nation but also for this particular performance, documenting and writing about the process of creating this show during a global pandemic. And, so, we begin: Warming Up.

Auditions for this production were submitted virtually in December while casting concluded by January. Rehearsals began at the beginning of March, while filming will occur in April with a final video release from April 28-May 2, 2021.

Dance Nation is about an army of pre-teens on a competitive dance team. Yet, dancing is not the only topic, as themes of female sexuality, adolescence, and ambition are explored. Sticking true to Clare Barron's imagination, the cast is actually intended to be a group of women, women who embody the spirit of pre-teens, who "haunt" the dancers. Both the casting and script shape this production into a mature masterpiece.

Under the direction of Kelly Trumbull, this production of Dance Nation is placed in the present, during a time of COVID-19. Masks are worn. Social-distancing is always maintained. Furthermore, the cast of Dance Nation will perform one showing of the play that will be recorded. Then, the film will be converted into a video of theatre performance.

Rehearsals for this production occur typically Tuesday-Sunday...in person! Yes, the cast, stage manager, and director are permitted to rehearse in person. However, the university of Point Park limits the rehearsal spaces to twelve individuals. For the rest of the team, typically, they are placed in a room across the hall where they watch a projection of the live rehearsal. Of course, this is not ideal but for the time we live, it's what is necessary.

As stated before, rehearsals began at the beginning of March. Yet, already, the majority of blocking and choreography is completed! A typical rehearsal begins with a cast check-in, read-through of that day's scene, an etude exercise, blocking, and then run-throughs. Etude exercises refer to an active analysis acting technique that Kelly often utilizes during her rehearsals. In very simplified terms, etudes in this sense refer to improvisation of a scene's circumstances. For more information about etudes, check out this helpful read.

The most memorable of the play's most recent rehearsals have been choreography for the "Sailors" routine and character Ashlee's monologue.

The choreography of Dance Nation is not meant to be pretty or breathing-taking. Instead, the choreography reflects the expansive, explorative nature of the dance team, exploring their youth as they verge adolescence. Knowing that the casting of Dance Nation is limitless, factors such as dancing abilities are not meant to prohibit the cast from performing these dance routines. The "Sailors" routine in particular calls for, you guessed it, sailor costumes, sharp movements, expressive faces, and, in this setting, social-distancing. Having the cast maintain distance between themselves while also simultaneously moving to various positions has been an added factor to the choreography. Choreography was one of Kelly's first rehearsals for the cast, as she wanted time for the performers to grow accustomed to the routines.

Other rehearsals included various character development tools, which was the case for character Ashlee, in this production played by Emily Botnen. In Dance Nation, Ashlee is noted as a fierce, bold dancer, one who undoubtedly questions her place in this society. The character is iconically known for having a five-page long monologue, starting with the classic, "I think I might be frickin' gorgeous" line. Through etude work and discussion, the idea of sexism's effects on success appeared through this revolutionary rehearsal. With Kelly's suggestion of throwing yourself into the work yet following the direction of the playwright, Emily is on her way to one memorable, exhilarating Ashlee!

All in all, the Pittsburgh Playhouse's production of Clare Barron's Dance Nation is off to a great start! For more of this production's work, check out my dramaturg hub.
For more information about tickets for the Pittsburgh Playhouse's Dance Nation, use this link!


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From This Author Student Blogger: Mary Felix