Week 20: Salsa for Shawn
(For a better viewing experience click on the HQ button once the video starts. Everything is more fun in full-screen mode…)
[A huge thank you to Amaya Alonso-Halifax and also to Capoeira Arts, in Berkeley. Amaya is a wonderful teacher, and the studio was a dream.]
I’m not going to lie, I think I was afraid of this one. Part of me was afraid that I couldn’t pull this one off, or that I might offend someone. Not helping matters was the fact that I shot a MOUNTAIN of footage for this one, somewhere around 2.5 hours, which may not sound like much, but that’s more than I’ve shot for any other episode. This was a documentary-style episode, and this is one of those ones where it really was very much like a real documentary; everything was improvised, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. The result was a giant mess o’ footage. I actually shot this episode almost a month ago, but the increasing demands of rehearsals for The Farm made it so there was just no way I could devote the time required to do a decent cut of this episode, so I kept putting it off.
The way this episode came about was through a chance instant-message conversation with my friend Amaya, who is a real-life samba/salsa teacher (and highly trained/regarded actress). I was mulling over some ideas for a 50in50 episode and she said that she could get me access to her capoeira/dance studio, if that could be of use to me. That opened a flood-gate of new concepts. I quickly started gravitating toward the idea of dance-lessons.
Now, here’s a little insight into the way my mind works in creating these episodes. I notice that I gravitate toward putting obstacles in front of my characters. For example, in Al Griffin Goes Outside, I started with the concept of someone who is extremely agoraphobic, then asked myself where the last place in the world he would want to be was. Times Square. So I created circumstances so that he HAD to go there. Same sort of thing for Brett Dempsey Isn’t Drunk, and The Reverend. So, for this one, I had the idea of samba lessons (since that’s what Amaya usually teaches, though we ended up going with salsa because I couldn’t learn samba quickly enough), and so I started looking for an obstacle for my character. That’s where the idea to make him armless came from. That in turn led to the question: how did he become armless? I decided I wanted him to be born that way, so I started doing research, which is when I learned about phocomelia.
Shooting this episode was a challenge. In Forrest Gump, after “Lieutenant Dan” lost his legs, the special effects team wrapped his legs in green-screen material, and everything is taken care of digitally. No big surprise here, I do not have such technology at my ready disposal, so I was forced to go with the more archaic method of keeping my arms in my shirt. Being a pretty broad-shouldered guy, with my arms filling in the space around my hips, I looked much like a two-dimensional rectangle with a tiny head on top (sort of Spongebob-ish). That was no good. So, I added a pillow to give me a bit of a belly, which made me slightly more 3D. This is where the idea came for him to be taking up dance to get back into shape. One thing informs another, and so on, and really, that’s how characters are created.
It was really important to me to not go for any obvious jokes… or really any jokes at all. My goal was to create as full a character as possible, and then have Amaya teach me a dance lesson, and have both of us play it for real. In the end, after four weeks of hemming and hawing, I think I actually like this episode a lot.
It feels good to be back at the 50in50 grindstone. I definitely felt like I had some rust to scrape off this week, but the gears are turning now, and I’ve got some ideas that I’m really excited about for the coming weeks. Hope you come back next Friday, and every Friday.
Brent Rose 8.14.09 4.40am
P.S. If you live in the Bay Area, the play I’m in is now up and running, and I hope you’ll come check it out. It’s called The Farm (a new adaptation of Animal Farm), and it runs until Sept. 13th.