Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Professional Training Company has always been fueled by an adventurous spirit of curiosity and experimentation, and this season, we’ve taken the deep dive into digital production. Nine months of learning how to create, produce, and share digital work will culminate in the release of The Professional Training Company Projects, a collection of wildly imaginative short pieces that illuminate the many ways we interpret and communicate with the world around us through our senses. In the final days of filming and editing the projects, Marketing Apprentice Lucy Leggett connected with Acting Apprentice Brittany “BeeBee” Patillo and Directing Apprentice Reed Flores to discuss the process.
Lucy Leggett: Can you talk about your roles in creating The Professional Training Company Projects?
Brittany “BeeBee” Patillo: The actors were responsible for writing, filming, and editing our pieces, in addition to performing them. And some of us have never done that. I have never done that. So, the process was challenging, but it was worthwhile. The projects are such a wide spectrum of art, and it’s so beautiful to see what everybody created.
Reed Flores: I think it’s fair to say you directed your pieces as well. Charlie Linton and Alina Whatley, the dramaturgs, and I—I'll call myself the directing consultant—offered feedback and advice throughout the entire process: the first draft of the script, the storyboard, and then drafts of the footage. We went through maybe three drafts.
BP: Some people went through three drafts. I went through at least seven. (Laughs.)
RF: BeeBee developed her piece from this amazing journal entry. When we started, she was like, “I’ve never done this before”—but then BeeBee read us her journal entry, and we said, “This is phenomenal!” From then on, we knew BeeBee would do fine. And that was kind of how the process unfolded for all the acting apprentices. They all found their way. I think their work comes from a personal place, and that’s beautiful. There are also short ensemble pieces in the compiled videos, and Charlie, Alina, and I led the devising process for those pieces. Like BeeBee said, it’s a spectrum of art.
LL:Because of the pandemic, we’ve been working remotely for the entire apprenticeship. What was it like to create art while following social distancing safety measures?
BP: I tested positive for COVID in the middle of the apprenticeship, so then I was really stuck in my room. It was frustrating. I had a creative block. But that’s when I started going through my journal, and I realized, not only are we in the middle of a pandemic, but we’re also in the middle of these uprisings and people are waking up. I wanted to build on that. I think if there is something good to come out of this pandemic, it’s that it made people sit down and pay attention. The uprisings are not new. We’ve been saying Black Lives Matter for years. So, I feel like it’s my responsibility to raise my voice and use my platform to talk about these issues.
RF: I started working with Actors Theatre on a workshop of Now Becomes Then in May, the same week that George Floyd was murdered. So, we get in the Zoom room and we’re like, “How do we even make theatre right now? What is the point?” And on that day, we decided we were just going to talk to each other and connect, and that provided a little bit of comfort. So, I would say sometimes making art was comforting, and sometimes it was maddening. Like when BeeBee had COVID, I remember thinking “Yo...can we take a minute to not do anything and just ride this out?” But that’s what making theatre is like, right? You go through the bad parts of what’s happening, and you make something out of it. We also learned how to make art in a new way. I have to remind myself that making art over Zoom is not the norm. But we devised ensemble pieces over Zoom! Usually, devising is super physical. How do you do that when you can’t see someone’s body and everyone’s on mute? We made it happen.
LL: Tell me more about the ensemble component. You mentioned devising, which is a process where the entire creative team develops a show collaboratively, often through improvisation. What was it like to collaborate on the ensemble pieces, when everyone was spread out across the country and using this new virtual platform?
RF: The impetus for the ensemble work was, “How do we make space for the actors to collaborate outside of their individual projects?” To create that part of the project, we worked with Amy Mihyang Ginther, a certified teacher of Tectonic Theater Project’s methodology, called “Moment Work.” Amy taught us how to build a story using elements like gesture, rhythm, color, architecture, etc. So, we would improvise these “moments” collaboratively and then refine them. Sometimes collaborating is the most fun thing you can do. And then sometimes it’s like this democratic process where we go down these rabbit holes, trying to be accommodating and collaborative but also trying to refine our artistic point of view. Ultimately, I always felt good about what we left with at the end of the rehearsal.
BP: I never realized all the things that you can do through a computer screen! When we were creating the ensemble pieces, Amy told us, “Don’t do a lot of talking—just do it.” And so we discovered some moments by happenstance. We’d say, “Oh, let’s try this.” We’d try it, maybe adjust some things, and then it came together. In the end, I think we created something very beautiful.
LL:How has this process stretched you as an artist?
BP: It’s made me think outside the box and has given me a new understanding of what theatre can be. Because art comes in all different shapes, sizes, and forms, and it could be broadcast across all different types of mediums and platforms. And even though I sometimes thought, “Oh, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never written. I’ve never edited.” This process built up my confidence because I did write, and I did edit. It’s made me both grateful for the tools that I already had and optimistic about what’s to come, because I’ve gained new tools throughout this process.
So yes, as an artist it has stretched me in a number of ways, but on another level, I think it taught me a lot about grace. I’ve learned to not only give other people grace but give myself grace. Sometimes it’s like, “Life is happening right now, and I can’t meet the deadline.” Or, “Another Black person just got killed on TV and I don’t feel like creating today.” It’s okay to be in that space. Actors Theatre has never dealt with a pandemic, just like I’ve never dealt with a pandemic. Ain’t nobody ever dealt with this! And throughout this whole process, this community was really good about extending grace to one another.
RF: I have an answer that comes in two parts. Firstly, it’s stretched me in terms of empathy. I think directors are trained to be attuned to what’s happening with our actors, to see how they’re feeling in each moment. But in a virtual landscape, when we turn off the screen, I have no idea how BeeBee’s doing. I have no idea how any of the actors are doing. Virtual communication doesn’t really convey how anyone’s feeling. Because when we’re not feeling okay, we don't tend to put that in an email. So, it was a whole lot of practicing empathy.
And secondly, it stretched me creatively. I would watch these amazing artists come in and bring their tools to the table, and I would think, “Oh man. That’s good. I’m taking that.” Every one of these artists brought in something so unique. And when there’s that kind of resourcefulness in all of the actors and creative team, there’s just so much more for me to work with. I’m just so lucky to have learned from all these artists in the nine months that we have had together.