Thirty-plus participants sit in a circle as the lights dimmed. Six actors enter from either side of the room. They carry candles and softly sing a Polish lullaby about lighting a spark, telling a story. They gather in the center of the circle, the song ends, the candles blown out. There is a brief total darkness and then a warm welcome to the group.
Thus began Hook & Eye’s second of three “Instant Play Labs”—a unique combination of solemn and quirky that set the tone for the evening and for the group. Monday marks the halfway point to the creation of an original full-length play born of traditional playwriting and improvisation.
“We’re just playing,” prompted core company member, Chad Lindsey, to the small groups tasked to read, rehearse, and perform six short plays, encouraging them to be free and take risks. Though this wasn’t new direction for the groups. Most of them were repeat participants from the first lab. They listened carefully, but knew what they were there to do and were eager to get to it.
Lindsey, 37, has a deceptively boyish and effervescent demeanor that belies the seriousness with which he approaches his work. Hook & Eye’s goals are nothing if not serious. Ultimately, they will shape and solidify material generated in their three labs into a full-length scripted production. Challenging the traditional idea of a solitary playwright working alone, Hook & Eye focuses on the process of collaboration. They are there to create.
Their mission statement, “Our task is original work, Our Process is consistently redefined, It’s go time” was on full display Monday night as the group workshopped six short plays, adding, changing, and improvising along the way.
Monday’s lab was comprised of core company members with record attendance of close to 40 additional participants. There were actors, musicians (with instruments ready to go), and directors. They ranged in age from twenties to eighties. All were asked to adopt a variety of roles and perform or direct as needed throughout the night.
Inspired by the “&” of their logo, writers wrote 5-minute plays on the theme of “and” and submitted them in advance of Monday’s lab. After a brief physical warm up, several improv games inspired by the night’s theme, and a follow-up discussion of the night’s theme and goals, six short plays were chosen and cast on the spot. Groups had an hour to rehearse. With no time to waste, they were up on their feet working quickly. Promptly after an hour, final work was presented, followed by a closing group discussion.
Monday’s lab operated under the expectation of the unexpected, for while focused on short- and long-term goals, improvisation is the heart of Hook & Eye’s work. Though participants had scripts to work with and a director to shape each piece, all were encouraged to make changes, add lines, or reinterpret or reassign stage directions, in order to generate and create new ideas.
Chosen playwrights knew in advance to Monday’s lab that their scripts could possibly be altered in any number of ways and gamely handed their work over to be changed, adlibbed or scored by musicians who improvised musical scores on the spot for each piece.
Hook & Eye achieves this rare kind of creative fluidity because their participants are “multidisciplinary,” asserts core member Emily Kunkel, herself a classically trained actor, equally comfortable with Shakespeare or sketch comedy. Actors are also writers, writers are also directors, and directors might be asked to be in a piece—even the company photographer put down his camera and joined in the opening improv warm-up.
Kristen Duffy, a second-time participant, acted in the first lab, but supervised the food and wine station this time around. “I guess I am an actor/production assistant,” says Duffy while slicing homemade bread. “I help with whatever needs to be done for their events. I knew there would be a free-spirited vibe to the evening, that I might need to help out in ways I hadn’t anticipated.”
Hook & Eye has weekly company meetings and plans to have their third Instant Lab installment in the coming months, planning for their summer retreat to put it all together in a long-form, scripted, performance piece. They don’t know exactly what their end result will be, but sometimes the important thing is not where you end up, but how you get there.