DC, for some months now I have attempted to ferret out your production soul. Those who know me will recall that my R&D is extensive. I've met with just about everyone key who is representative of the film spectrum. The mid-Atlantic region is dryer than it was a couple of years ago when I first started investigating locations and building the framework for Artemis.
When I left the DC area for LA, I was young enough and busy enough working professionally on and behind camera that I never really had a chance or need to get a feel for the city, what production happened here or the theater and performance scene. The masters, technique and set experience I experienced in LA trumped much of what is available here, where the main industry is politics. Yes, for months I have been looking for something masterful and unique to this region.
It was finally and very recently that in the theater and performance scene (which has a few gems) that I discovered something genuine and cinematic that additionally suited and challenged my imagination.
Synetic Theater invited me to train with them over the course of 14 days, so for the past two weeks I joined in their intensive training at their rehearsal space, which is more a gym than a stage.
Theirs is a physical theater company. Regionally they are well known for their incredible wordless Shakespeare performances and for dark, dramatic, athletic adaptations of such classics as Dracula and Dante's Inferno.
My minimum goal and expectation in working out with Synetic was simply to learn something different. ...I also understood that the way they train was likely to kick my ass. I've been needing a challenge lately. Wish granted, and how!
Let me see if I can step outside of my performer's context to describe the skills included, layman-style. Beyond being able to handle classical stage acting, you have to have some of this flavor: Move, trick and pantomine like a Jabbawockee, twist your face into cartoon characters like Jim Carrey, dance technical (which had me wonderfully frustrated enough to lament not having taken ballet classes in the past) and improv movement and character. Synetic's pictures break forth from blank space, and in sequence melt in and out to form stories, much as pictures and story break forth and transition from simple sand here:
It's like a theatrical performance style of Kseniya Simonova famous sand drawing. Using actors. ...Or a high art manifestation of some of the best visual performance techniques you've seen trickle down to ABDC or Gaga vids. Try moving fluid from a handstand into a controlled worm and making it look effortless. Yep it's cool. ABDC crews perform levels of spectacle like that, and beyond. But you know when it's cooler? In context of a narrative and character. Like, say, The Metamorphosis. This shit is upper level. And the potential is stunning. I find it far more meaningful and impressive, because it's sans product placement gimmick and lazy scripts or reality game show spectacle. DC this is happening in your city and its timeless narratives, tricked-out classic stagecraft and international influences gone American and mod belong to you: The local supporters of this company, which is currently celebrating it's 10-year-anniversary season starting with a peformance of King Arthur.
From the perspective of a performer who has now had the rad opportunity to have trained with some of the company and choreographer/founder Irina Tsikurishvili, I have to say that back in the times of famous theater actors, Irina would have been a household stage name. She's a force of nature. In time, at least regionally, I would expect (and hope) that Irina and Paata Tsikurishvili will become widely known in performance circles for a specific mastery in the Synetic technique they've developed, and performance students will seek them much as I immediately sought out The Atlantic and The Groundlings.
The trailer from their latest show, performed at The Kennedy Center:
Theater has had a tough time marketing against a landscape of audiences trained by billions of studio marketing dollars to recognize and worship the cookie-cutter strategy of big budget movie trailers and posters. Something is lost in translation, as too much of the population does not have the context of having attended stage plays. For those who have, the same ol' musicals saturate the space with familiar performances. On the online side, if Synetic had a cross-platform new media strategy, they would be famous on The Internets and would likely redefine the way theater companies engage their audiences and raise the bar for what counts as an "OMG WOW!" performance clip gone viral. I think they're in a unique position to do so, but really what theater has the bandwidth for that? It's a shame.
You know that the business ethic of a production also concerns me and is something I investigate. Beyond the creative side, I like what I see so far in terms of the way they do business. They're invested in their creative members and the community, and they have smart partnerships with certain stages and local business districts (The Kennedy Center, The Shakespeare Theater, Crystal City etc.) vs maintaining one venue. In addition to their dramatic main stage shows, they craft comedic, imaginative children's shows at their Synetic Family Theater in Arlington and other family venues.
For actors, I looked it up and periodically they do offer classes, although I don't know if Irina teaches any of them at this point. Regardless, senior company members are terrific and you need some time with them before she steps in simply in order to be able to keep up with, and make the most of, her instruction. They have loads of Synetic technique expertise to offer, so if you are an actor with a dance/atheletic background (you need to be fit and have some muscle memory going already), then seek them out: Mixing the two will likely satisfy something for you as it did for me in terms of drawing all of your skills together in service of narrative.
My face was often skewed in concentration, I sweated more than I have all year and at times the intense conditioning left me feeling murderous ("one more eight count?! FU!"): my quads screamed. I learned neat tricks like how to moonwalk on any surface (and how to go from said handstand into the worm), and practiced skills as diverse as stage combat and (more frustrating for me) leaps. I was an evil spirit, I was seaweed, I was... a street lamp. Most importantly and excitingly, there were some new approaches to physical acting and stage picture that I hadn't been exposed to before. This is useful to me in considering AAE and beyond: Anything that grabs me I ingest and consider adapting to our filmic endeavors, and it's probably obvious to you by now, lovely reader, that I was impressed by the people I worked with. The timing and discovery for this was perfect and overall I had a such a fantastic time for hours and hours day after day that I hardly know what to do with myself now that training concluded Sunday evening.
Artistically, I haven't seen anything like Synetic in the show biz/arts cities in which I've studied (LA and London). While many separate skills including and beyond acting I've accomplished with masters in those places (the gymnastics coach I work out with in LA is world class, for example) there is no other place I could have experienced this particular signature technique.
If you live in the Washington DC metro area or are coming to visit, then go to a Synetic show! The fantastic, dramatic, immagintive style should appeal to you Wingmen and I do believe the unexpected storytelling will delight and blow your mind, and have you thinking differently about storytelling and theater. Procure individual show tickets or subscribe to the full season.
Synetic is a non-profit company, so if you've been looking to make a tax-deductible donation, then I recommend becoming involved with their work in that way. For those of you who are microdonators, why not try a small amount? They are like-minded to our endeavors here and I'll vouch that they work harder than any theater company around, and will make you proud. Go here.