Backlot Tour: The Impostors Retreat
Collect twelve artistically inclined individuals and drop them in a cabin in the woods for the weekend. What happens? Here are the possibilities undoubtedly coming to mind:
a) A collaborative masterpiece is birthed, forever attached to its conception in a secluded and rustic setting by its starving-artist creators.
b) A lot of impassioned arguing.
c) Nothing but drinking.
e) Someone dies! Who is The Murderer?
f) A lot of impassioned crying.
g) Your usual camp-gathering shindigs (i.e., hiking, bonfires, ghost stories, arts and crafts, etc.) only with very childish adults.
h) A collaborative masterpiece of a musical album is produced under an obscure record label and name, forever attached to its conception in a secluded and rustic setting by its starving-artist creators. This enchanting album will prove to be a point of comparison for indie music writers for years to come.
i) Big orgy.
If you picked g), CONGRATULATIONS! You guessed correctly! Be smug, but don’t spend it all in one place. (Partial points if you guessed the one about drinking, or if you guessed the one about the orgy—the sexual tension was PALPABLE.)
In all seriousness, The Impostors Retreat provided a junction for our age-old curiosities and fresher questions to intersect. When I use the word childish, I don’t mean so much that we behaved immaturely (though games like the eloquently-named “What is in my Butt?” remain as uproarious as they were about sixteen years ago.) More so, I mean that part of the purpose of this retreat was to reconcile our inner children with our adult selves. Our Mission—read up on the previous blog post for details, if you haven’t already—informs this purpose. As a company, we strive to tell stories in a refreshing and universally relative way. In order to kickstart conversations and strategize the stories we plan on telling, we did just that: we told each other stories.
You’ve reached the nitty gritty turning point; I’m about to give you the Inside Scoop on all the doings of this legendary gathering. Blessed as I was to be in attendance, I have firsthand insight on every juicy detail. For the sake of expediency and your fluctuating interest, I’ll stick to the details that are most relevant to your Impostors reading experience.
Arts & Crafts
We kicked off our weekend by getting our hands dirty. Well, first we engaged in everyone’s favorite emotional roller coaster activity, Highs and Lows. Laughs were had, tears were spilled, our bond began strengthening into that of an octopus’s tentacles (I’ve heard those are pretty strong.) Artistic Director Stefan Roseen dealt us each a mini notebook adorned with a hand-painted feline—a nifty and functional souvenir to fill with ideas spawned over the course of the retreat. Then we dug into the brushes and paints Stefan had laid out.
Our objective was to illustrate something that symbolized our favorite tale from childhood. Nothing explicit or too obvious—just an abstract image that came to mind when we thought of the story. In and of themselves, our tiny square canvas gallery made for quite the compelling collection. A wide range of colors and stroke patterns were used, as well as varying levels of artistic ability (as I recall, my own painting was but a smudge of muddy hues.) Each canvas shared a common element, though: each made us itch to find out the story behind the rendered illustration. And find out, we did! The next morning, we gathered in a circle to share our artworks’ backstories, which were as varied as the pieces themselves. From familiar and meaningful classics in folklore to more obscure narratives, from Sondheim to something about a Brothers Grimm sausage, we covered a lot of ground.
As we were full of bacon and energy, we embarked upon a spontaneous hike. Actually, there was nothing spontaneous about this hike; it was on the itinerary. But the spirit of spontaneity was still very much alive as we girded our loins for a brisk constitutional with NATURE. We brought along our mini canvases and a handful of us selected ones at random. We teamed up with the owner of our selected piece for a jaunt and discussed how we could mesh our two stories. Trippy crossover ideas ensued! Special shout-outs go to Little Red Riding Hood/The Twelve Dancing Princesses (enhanced themes of males preying on young females) and Pinocchio/The Little Mermaid (studies on the nature of voicelessness and lack of personal ownership.) If these ideas appeal to you in any way, we’d be happy to hear from you! If they completely disgust you, at least you had a visceral reaction.
Reader, it may or may not be news to you that theatre folk love to play games. Believe it or not, playing interactive games serves several integral purposes for theatre artists. Games strengthen ensembles and warm performers up; they improve concentration and exercise vocal muscles. Since we were primarily interested in ensemble building, we played a variety of games that focused on making one another feel ridiculous. As previously mentioned, “What is in my Butt?” is, indeed, the title of one such game. Rhythm and rhyming are key factors. You can fill in the blanks from there. And before our aforementioned hike, we played a rousing game of trivia to test our ~Fairytale Knowledge~ and smashed water balloons on our heads each time we answered a question incorrectly. Impostors Mallory Swisher and Allison Grischow proved themselves reigning champions, so we rewarded them by launching the remaining water balloons at them.
We also indulged in some improv, a pastime and passion for many of us in the company. Our objectives in the improvisational exercises were to bond as well as create—we used themes from one of our works-in-progress as a springboard for the action. Discoveries were MADE. Walls were torn DOWN. An imaginary gun was DRAWN. Literary Director Michael Mead’s neighbors witnessed it all and overheard a few choice expletives. Let’s hope he and his family are still invited over to Labor Day cookouts.
In order to test the strength and commitment of each Impostor, Stefan Roseen made us all hold our breath underwater for an unspecified amount of time. The first Impostor to pass out and require medical attention was the first to be removed from the company. Just joshing. We actually just played in the lake a lot; no creative goals were sought, other than a mental break and maybe a light tan.
In a moment of spirited spontaneity, Impostors Keaton Stewart and Ali McLaughlin read and enacted Keaton’s chosen fairytale, “Heckedy Peg.” All you need to know is that it was a heckedy time.
My personal favorite part of the retreat was telling stories around the campfire. This wasn’t just any story sesh’—this was Story Sesh 2.0. Stefan Roseen brought along a little basket that he put together. (When he packed this basket, those of us carpooling with him were like, “Stefan, what even is that? It’s taking up room, why did you pack this? Why is there a cloth covering what’s inside of it...?” And he would just laugh really creepily and not fill us in.) In the basket was a bizarre assortment of items, such as a piece of rope, a bundle of sticks, a piece of notebook paper covered in satanic- looking scrawls, and a jar of blood (explaining the creepy laughter.) Stefan insists this blood was some makeshift, possibly edible concoction he whipped up, but the verdict is still out on that. Using these items, we told a daisy-chain of a story—an Impostor would volunteer to take the basket, remove an item, and continue the story where the last Impostor had left off, incorporating the new item they had selected. Our story was a continuation of “The Wendigo,” a chilling tale about a real Native American legend. The version we read appeared in Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which, if you haven’t already read, you should most definitely check out. The illustrations alone haunted my childhood. Another fun fact: the Wendigo, which can be best described as a cannibalistic forest demon, is specific to the Great Lakes region. Next time you’re out in the woods at night...be on the defense. Just saying.
We ended our weekend by narrowing down our first three seasons; we were all business on that bright Sunday morn’. Each of us contributed a synopsis of the material we’re writing and we discussed, compared, contrasted, and generally waxed philosophical about each one until we came to some conclusions. Sad though it was to pack up and haul home, we were exhausted by all of the creative energy we expelled and the ideas we forged.
We are so anxious to share our work with you! The Impostors Theatre Company is full of dedicated workers and exciting new visions. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse into our process, silly though it may be. Be on the lookout for our next Backlot Tour—we will retreat again in springtime!