Final Getty Villa Diary - Reflections on a 2 week investigative process

Gian-Murray Gianino's picture

This diary entry has taken me a few days to get out for various reasons but I think, beneficially, has allowed me some time to process some of my thoughts.

Our final day at the Getty Villa began with an early meeting regarding Saratoga and then our ritual drive through Topanga Canyon to the Villa. For whatever reason, every time I’m at the Getty Villa, something in my body is challenged - last time it was my knee and this go around it happened to be my back. Time marches on, apparently. I lead training a bit gingerly that morning but with a big emotion that was a reflection of the circumstance of our final day there. A final day to train - move, speak, explore - in the black box theatre and surrounding spaces that have given me so much over the last few years now. Anne watches, of course, and Ralph and Anna Woo join us and watch as well which, actually, means something. As has been noted in the diaries before me there is a love affair happening between these two organizations and it is certainly well matched.
We convened in the green room and began our final day of discussion. At the top of the day I was itching with excitement for this conversation. What would happen? Would we passionately agree? Angrily disagree? Spontaneously combust? Would the Getty staff finally drop the hammer and tell us we weren’t talented or trained enough and the deal was off? I’m joking but there was a sense that anything could happen and, I believe, that was a sensual response to the wide and differing landscapes of these three incredible plays. The Persians, The Bacchae, Ion… how does one chose? In the room was the company, Anna and Ralph - all our other fabulous curatorial/dramaturgical collaborators were off to other ventures. I helped start the conversation with a random and perhaps unfeasible costume idea that I had the day before. In thinking of how cold it had been inside some of the rooms at the Getty I thought about how going outside into the sun on a break was like defrosting. That brought me to an image of the chorus in The Persians coming out onto the stage dressed in costumes of ice. Real ice. Throughout the play the ice would melt and reveal more and more of the live, breathing bodies underneath. I guess the ancient quality of the text brought me to thinking of glaciers and the old things that are constantly discovered in them. As I said, random, but a visual of something that interested me anyhow.
The conversation ran around and around with so many interesting ideas and opinions. We found a fluid back and forth that gave each play its due. What was constant at every moment was an absolute engagement and passion for what we were discussing - the various benefits and possible pitfalls of each play and how each might fit in with the DNA of both SITI and the Getty. I was worried that I wouldn’t remember everything that had been said so I recorded almost all of it on my phone (this is definitely the case - I listened to the first half of it this morning and it is a fascinating piece of documentation). Here are a few important points without trying to make up the mind of the reader or tip my own hand: 
  1. Anne said she was “jazzersized” (her words, not mine… but meaning “jazzed”) about this idea of the chorus being the primary focus, concentration or character of the production. This was a concept that tickled all the Getty crew as it is such a central tenet of the early plays but one that isn’t always given really particular consideration. 
  2. How do we find the most appropriate and magical translation/adaptation of whichever play we chose? The staff seemed open to the possibility of a commission for a new version which would be incredible. 
  3. Ken and certain others felt that Ion hadn’t been given a fair shake both because of the highly adapted and contemporary version that we read first and the more staid or “clunky” version that we read on our second pass.
  4. It would be absolutely amazing if the entire company could be in the production (J. Ed’s incredible idea).
  5. Anna Woo was, perhaps, singular in her wish to see a comedy (The Frogs?) or something with humor in it (Ion?) as a change of pace. She thinks concernedly on the security guards.
  6. Is The Persians too close to Trojan Women? Can Aeschylus be done two summers in a row (Prometheus Bound is being done this summer). Is the company’s history and intense relationship with The Bacchae a hindrance?
  7. Ralph held our feet to the fire (damn you Ralph!) and made each of us express which way we were leaning. He also went on to say that we shouldn’t fret too much as we could always come back and do another one of course. Side note: I have this recorded on tape! He can’t go back on his word!  We love Ralph! Yay!
  8. Okay, I’ll spill it a little here - it seems that The Persians and The Bacchae are battling it out for first place. “How now Aristophanes?” methinks.
Ultimately we came to an agreement that we would have a choice by the end of June. This would give a chance for the rest of the company to express their feelings and for us who were there to attempt in person to relay to those who weren’t what we had learned. We had a pretty firm idea of what was on the table and where our interests lay and it was all incredibly positive. Anna had brought delicious cupcakes and beverages (one guess: it’s got a Bush at the start and an ills at the end and an m in the middle) to toast the ending of a hard wrought and brilliant two weeks.
That night I spent the night at a friend’s house in Venice to have dinner with him and his girlfriend and have a simpler journey to LAX in the morning. They went to bed before I did (he’s trying to learn all of Two Gentlemen of Verona in a week for a coming engagement) and I had a chance to process what I and the company perhaps had just been through. I’m sure some of what went through my head was interesting. I’m sure some of what did was just the silliness of a Dionysian wine-infused giddiness. What really stuck with me, however, was this - how fucking lucky I am. I’m not sure how often one gets in a lifetime to take two weeks to chew on these types of meaty classic plays - the origins of western theatre - surrounded by people of incredible intellects and passion. How often does one get to sit in a room and read aloud any of these plays to an interested audience? I feel as if I have been working my whole life towards the moment of even engaging with these plays and I feel as if the hard work is starting to pay off. Brain and body working towards a sound. A sound that might start this play. Whichever one it may be.