Part of the fascination of starting a new project with Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar is getting to know the wealth of wonderful, surprising, seemingly disparate source materials, (for one, you can see an early film adaptation from 1939) and then watching them slowly weaving things together, placing elements next to or on top of one another, and seeing an internal logic begin to emerge within the structure of the piece. This is my fourth time working with them, and it is every bit as mysterious and magical. I find myself saying, over and over again, how do they find this stuff? They are impeccable researchers, hunter-gatherers, fact-finders, story-builders.
A question I’m asked pretty regularly about this pair is what it’s like working with them. Though a truly collaborative partnership, they are richly varied as individuals, and seeing them as one super-person can be reductive. Both of them bring such different and unique histories and aesthetic preferences to their creative process, and so it is misleading, or simplistic, to always say “they,” however convenient. Indulge me in this: when I say “they,” it is important to note that in my mind, I see this as representing “he is, and she is, so they are…” It is a brilliant pairing, with both of them using different means but arriving at the same ends, each with his and her own intensely singular point of view.
One of the particularly splendid ways in which Annie-B and Paul construct their shows is with the integration of design elements from the very start of the rehearsal process. When a moment on stage calls for some special kind of theatrical framing or reinforcement, sound and video are called upon immediately. Tei Blow, our genius sound designer, and Jeff Larson, a Bessie Award-winning collaborator in video design with Parson and Lazar’s own company, Big Dance Theater, are always in the room, working in real time. Having worked mostly from a dance or dance-theater background myself, this seemed unusual or even remarkable when I first met them, but it is a given for Annie-B and Paul’s way of working. A given that nonetheless, in my experience, many other companies in their own attempts at multimedia work mistakenly don’t acknowledge as absolutely necessary. It is also an important aesthetic distinction that is rich with possibility. Working in this way, sound and video, both hugely impactful elements in the audience’s sensorial encounter with the work, are deeply engaged with the performance at all times, purposefully in tandem with or in opposition to the flow of action in order to heighten or create tension, to disturb. It is one of my favorite things about working with Annie-B and Paul; the value they place on the aural and visual experience is absolute. The work is richly multi-genre in a way that feels really quite unique. Few directors can claim this level of commitment to the truly interdisciplinary.