The Mead Hall and The Chapel
For We Players, Place performs as a character. Locations have distinct energies, personalities and even desires. In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, King Hrothgar’s great hall of Herot functions as an important cultural institution that provides light and warmth, food and drink – a place for singing, story-telling and safety. The mead-hall served as a place of refuge within a dangerous and precarious external world – a world continuously threatened by attack of neighboring peoples and wild beasts of the great northern forests. The mead-hall was also a place of community, where traditions were preserved and loyalty was rewarded. This is where legends were created and perpetuated, reputations were built, fame broadcast, and history written through the telling of it. By extension, we imagine the WWII era chapel at Fort Mason Center – a place of quiet for private contemplation as well as a community gathering place – as the hall of Herot. Herot, like the chapel, is a sanctuary, a refuge for the tired and a place for rituals that support community.
Artistic risk often comes in the form of working with new materials, unfamiliar tools, and experimenting with new techniques. HEROMONSTER is a very different type of project for We Players. Unlike our hallmark large-scale, site-integrated theatre projects, which employ somewhere between 30 and 60 performers, artisans, and stage crew, this project features only three performers: two actors and a musician. This is part of a larger experiment for We Players, an exploration in balancing the massive scale of our signature works with projects smaller in scope, though still rich with poetic imagery and inspired by classical texts of epic dimension. We aim to build powerful theatrical events that are more flexible than our large scale works, and can be adapted to a variety of spaces, including indoor environments.
With HEROMONSTER, we began with the actor/creator’s version of a blank canvas – a studio with four white walls and open floor, which we (Nathaniel Justiniano and I) promptly covered with images, phrases, an avalanche of ideas scrawled on giant pieces of paper.
(Music Director Charlie Gurke joins a rehearsal at Montalvo)
The studio space we inhabited for the month of August was generously provided by the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga. The month-long immersion into the themes and imagery of heroism and monstrosity yielded the first version of HEROMONSTER, which we are currently performing in private homes throughout the greater Bay Area (ranging from San Jose to San Anselmo, with multiple stops in SF and the East Bay) while simultaneously continuing the development process while in residency at the Fort Mason Center Chapel. In this way, we learn by doing. New insights from each living room performance, and the charged conversations with audiences afterwards, inform and fuel rehearsals as we develop the show for the October performances in the Chapel.
This production is part of an even larger exploration and development process for We Players. Subsequent phases of this work will include collaborations with the renowned dance theatre company inkBoat and masters in the avant-garde music scene, the Rova saxophone quartet. Throughout, multiple translations of the ancient anglo-saxon poem Beowulf serve as a jumping off point, igniting inspiration and helping to inform our understanding of heroes and monsters, where they come from, and where and how they currently live among us all.
A Postscript: It is my honor and pleasure to collaborate with Nathaniel Justiniano and Charlie Gurke on the creation of this piece. Natty has worked with We Players as an actor since 2012, when he captivated audiences as Zeus on the Mount Olympus of Angel Island. Charlie Gurke has served as We Players’ Music Director since 2010, and written award-winning original scores for all of our site-integrated productions since Hamlet on Alcatraz. We are also graced with the musical talents of Steve Adams, who alternates performances with Charlie Gurke. Endless thanks to the ever-gracious Lauren Chavez, our producer and compass, the steadfast and insightful Britt Lauer, assistant producer, and Rowan Beasley, our intern from London, who shines her big green eyes, is quietly curious and attentive, and helps us remain calm.
Together, along with you, we strive to shine light into the darker shadows of ourselves.
Journey with us into the darkness.