On the verge of his graduation from
UM, Music major and philosophy student Charlie Conway reflected on his time and
work with UM Theatre as he prepared to open his 3rd original performance piece
at the university. Conway also performed in UM Theatre productions of THE
AMERICAN CLOCK and THE NORMAL HEART; created the sound score and played multiple
instruments for THE SERPENT; played guitar for GODSPELL; and was co-sound
designer and stage manager/assistant director on MOLLY SWEENEY (while also
taking a variety of acting and academic theatre classes).
Tell me about your academic major at UM. I have always been a
kind of resistant student. In studying theater, I felt like I was really
studying sociology. In studying philosophy, I felt like I was studying theater.
I am a music major at the University of Montevallo and I
have never known what music is. That is, I can't remember the last time I felt
comfortable distinguishing a structuralist binary of music and not-music. And
yet, I imagine that the world consists of music schools and music classes
wherein the hinge question requires the determining of the nature of just that
binary. In that sense, I have been willfully, often compulsively naïve.
My official major has been Music and I've learned an
incredible amount from this. The faculty of the UM Music Department is honestly
first-rate, each teacher an impressive practitioner of that which s/he teaches.
What made you get involved in the theatre program at UM? I came
to Montevallo with a preconception of what theater as an institution is, an
institution made up of all the mediocre shows I'd seen in my youth and all
the performance philosophies inherent in those shows. Given my limited
experiences with theater proper, which I forlornly compared to my limited
experience with contemporary art and my reading knowledge of contemporary
classical music, I then viewed theater as a primarily historical practice--the
embodied conservation of archaic locution strategies and the canonized gestures
that substantiate the transaction for the everyday audience: "I asked for
theater and I got it. They talked and sounded like theater." Theater has not
been able to benefit from the gallery system of institutionalized contemporary
art--if it experiments, its witnesses are often small in number and can never
reproduce the work for others.
Seeing new forms at UM has helped me cope with the sadness of theater's
difficulties. My preconceived notions disappeared, for example, when I, as a
freshman, saw both Lips Together, Teeth Apart and Three Sisters. These still
feel vivid to me.
What have been your most memorable experiences with UM Theatre? For
some, the most important aspect of the UM Theatre experience will inevitably be
the important routines and precedents established for the future: this is how I
audition, this is how I find my action in a scene, this is how I get through
cue-to-cue, etc. For me, the most important, memorable experiences have involved
images of the will. The first example of this occurred for me with our
production of The Serpent in 2003, directed by Dr. Callaghan. The Serpent is a
strange show in the typical educational theater context because the script for
such a show tangles itself with the archives of the first performers and first
performances of the show. Our combined will to find a way to embody both
the haunting archive as well as the context of the now taught me more than any
historical lecture could hope to cover.
Later, doing my first independent piece with Steven Latham really knocked me
out. It took a kind of struggling will for us to see it through. We certainly
had our concessions: we were given a stage and lighting. These were major. But
an independent show is somewhat different from any show corralled in by the
total officiality of a department. One feels far more alone. One feels the
contours of one's own will and one must revise any collapsible aspects of one's
will into the world.
A few years after this I took the Documentary Theater course with Dr.
Callaghan and the Mask Work course with Vladimir Rovinsky. Documentary Theater
opened me to the possibilities of the world as script. Where isn't there
material? What cannot be manipulated, as we learn every day from news media?
This class unhinged my reliance on the centrality of the paper text.
A quilt can be a script, as can an interview, a gesture recorded at a party,
the cadence of an upstairs neighbor's footsteps as he enters drunk at night.
Vladimir's Mask Work class got me seeing faces everywhere. How to stand
behind these faces? How to move? There is no neutral body. A class with Vladimir
ensures this realization. Both classes involve a will to be with the world--to
not hide in a theater nor to hide in one's own body, behind one's own face, as
if anyone had but one face anyhow.
The last experience I'll mention is the most recent: stage managing &
assistant directing Molly Sweeney. The process was very smooth and relaxed and
everyone involved operated at a high level of focus and ambition. But again:
relaxed. I detected less worry during this process than in any other show I've
been part of. There I saw a will to allow--a will to let the show live, to coax
it out rather than to kill it by forcing it into a preconceived notion. This, I
think, will follow me from here on out.
Can you discuss your past original pieces? What led to your decision to
create new work while still a student? I have always considered the
independent works I've done to be lattices between the various entrances I've
found into the world: sociology, philosophy, art, communication theory, critical
theory. Initially, I have tended to be led into a piece by the ignition I
receive upon meeting the right collaborator. I need someone to talk to. I need a
conversationalist with which to manipulate information. I need someone else who
is willing to go somewhere difficult and tread water there for a while.
Much of your work seems to be influenced by contemporary theory from a
variety of disciplines--how did that evolve during your time at UM? The
Serpent certainly bloomed my connection to avant-garde theater. Before my
involvement with theater as such, I'd long been obsessed with the experimental
in music. Theater itself led to a more intensive focus for me with
experiments in behavior. But the point to move past is the desire to re-present
the canon of avant-garde techniques. For me, to experiment means to risk--more
importantly, it means to actively 'not know'. The Greeks referred to a state
like this as aporia. To be unfounded, unsure. To unlearn. And the more various
UM experiences have led me to a mystery, the more I myself have been willing to
un-know and to share this view through a glass darkly.
As you near graduation, what's in your future? In November I move to
New York City where I plan to live for a while and experience as much of
the face-to-face with other people as possible. I intend to apply to NYU for
Performance Studies for Fall 2009 and would like to add Linguistics Studies to
this further along. In addition to these things, I have five different
sociological/theatrical pieces I am planning which will involve lots of
intensive research in various communities in NYC.
What were the origins of THE PRIVATE BODY? Is there anything you would
like to say about the piece prior to performances next week? THE PRIVATE
BODY began in my mind during the MOLLY SWEENEY process. I began to think about
the idea of facing the unknown. That was all I had at that point--which turned
into a desire to deliver some monologues. Over time, I erased myself more
and more. As I progressively researched the ideas of contemporary post-dramatic
and post-choreographic theory, I began to see more and more what might be
possible, what might stick to these walls. I became less and less interested in
myself, more and more involved in the lives of others and the life of the
Reynolds Building. I saw two performances in Ohio--both of a production by
Societas Raffaello Sanzio called Hey Girl! Castellucci, the director,
rehearses very little. He also doesn't centralize a text nor an actor as the
vertebrae of the work. He attempts to listen and unleash the icon from wherever
it might spout out. The first performance was merely interesting to me--the
second moved me greatly.
I don't want to predict or predetermine what the audience should experience
for this show. This is the risk of interest: I'm actually very interested in how
an audience member feels, not merely in whether or not she felt what I intended
to send. My intentions have yet to be revealed to me. That will be up to anyone
who sees the show.
What would you say to a prospective theatre student about the program at
UM? Thanks! Do independent shows. Get involved in something where you
have no safety nets. Take great risks. Embarrass yourself. Read Bonnie
Marranca's essay, "Theater and the University at the End of the Twentieth
Century." Allow for yourself the possibility of theater being more than any of
the clever definitions like "an actor and an empty space." What space is empty?
Who isn't acting? Consider theater for audiences not usually attended to: deaf
communities, for instance. Consider 'experimental' not a fashion statement but a
desire to try something or to get rid of something else. And the last thing,
which I've thought about so much lately: If theater, a community art, forces you
into the anti-social, reconsider theater. As I work on a piece and I find that I
have no time for anyone outside the piece, I ask myself how social my art really