By Dara Silverman

Breakaway / Breakdown

     Our show last Friday at the Ursuline Centre was homey and sweet. Lots of our new friends and the people we had met in Great Falls during our time there showed up, and afterwards we went out on the town to celebrate — our first real night off. It was a weird and magical night.

The next day we had vague plans to be out the door by 5pm. But after a morning of sleeping late, followed by a series of errands, sorting, cleaning, organizing and packing, we finally rolled out of the Ursuline Centre parking lot at 10pm! Success! We achieved the only hard goal we had set for the day — to leave the Ursuline Centre with all our personal belongings, food and the play stuff, packed onto our bikes. That we only got five miles outside of town is inconsequential. Our first night was spent at a historical marker by the side of the road, with the glow of the city of Great Falls still on the horizon.

Our next few days proved to be more successful. We moved well together as a group and worked to improve our systems and rhythms. Even when putting over fifty miles on the bike, we still had time for breaks to rest, eat, swim, practice music and talk to people. It was looking like we mostly had the hang of this bike touring theatre thing.

Then, at about 5pm on our third day out, we turned off the main road to head toward a campsite and the road turned to gravel. As we came up over a hill, the line of packed dirt I had been following turned to a puddle of gravel and my bike slid out from under me. I landed hard on my knee. The wound was nasty. Sam helped me dress it and luckily, just when it seemed there was no choice but for me to get back on my bike, bloody knee and all, a truck drove by. Paul, the driver, took me to the campsite at my request, but it quickly became clear that I was going to need more serious medical attention. Paul called Search and Rescue, and a county ambulance appeared almost immediately on the site to pick me up. The ambulance transported me and Lelia (who I had asked to come with me) to Havre, while the rest of the group stayed back. After a hospital visit in Havre, a ride from a friend of a friend to the hospital in Great Falls, (thanks Christa!) lots of pain meds, a late night surgery and mixed predictions, my knee was stabilized, and Lelia and I made our way back to The Ursuline Centre, for me to begin the long recuperation process.

    Meanwhile, with our estranged Rascals a two-day bike ride away in Havre, we made the regrettable decision to cancel our  Havre show. I heard Havre still managed to show the Rascals a good time and that people were extremely sympathetic to our situation. The Rascals were still able to volunteer and meet the people of Havre at the Fourth of July event, handing out food watching their firework spectacular.

Lelia and I knew we couldn’t stay separated for long. With our next show in Lewistown less than a week away, and a play we still wanted to keep working on, we had to get back. We made the decision to rent a car, and while in the past I have been adamantly against Agile Rascal having a support vehicle of any kind, this time there was no debate. And because we can return it at any time, in any big city, I’ll have time to ease back into biking (and biking long distance, and biking with weight) at a rate that’s comfortable for me.

    It’s funny, in the past month and a half, we’ve talked a lot the tension between individualism and collectivism. This theme has woven itself into our conversations about the history of Montana, its people and culture, and our own personal experiences, and naturally these observations have made their way into our play as well. And while there are many things that each of us could say about what this tension means to us, I can only speak for myself.

Since this accident, I’ve been thinking a lot about the contrast between how I imagined this trip and how it’s turning out.   I had pictured myself as independent and free on my bike, and collective and communal off the bike. But as a veteran bike tourist and one of the older members of the troupe, I had always pictured myself in the role of the caretaker-offering sage advice and emotional support, carrying extra weight on my bike and picking up the slack. I realize now that in many ways, between the caretaker and the receiver, this is actually the easier role in the relationship.

     Suddenly I am on the other end of this relationship, and all at once this collectivism thing doesn’t seem so easy. I am completely dependent on the group for everything —driving me around, carrying my belongings, even tying my shoe. Being in a position where I am forced to accept help, make concessions, be the slowest and the most delicate, I find myself wondering — how does one do this with grace?

We reunited here in Lewistown, after the rest of the crew hauled asphalt for 175 miles over three days. It’s a rare luxury, but we have a couple of days here in Lewistown to tinker with the play in preparation for our show on Tuesday. It was really sweet to be back together. This group just moves and communicates and takes care of one another really well.

As we rehearsed today, it was nice to dive back into the play, which had been so eclipsed by the week’s drama. We were still here, in this space together, and now we get to dig a little deeper, tweak and finesse things. Lewistown seems like a really nice place to be for a couple of days.

Greetings from Great Falls, Montana!

 

It’s been two weeks since the last of our crew touched down in Great Falls, Montana. Nestled between the dramatic mountains to the west and the meditative rolling prairie to the east, Great Falls is the perfect home base for our Montana adventure.

 

The Ursuline Center, with its massive brick turrets rising over the manicured lawns and boxy houses of Great Falls, might seem an unlikely place for a bicycle touring theatre troupe to take up residence. But the inside of the old Catholic school house is full of memorable characters, creaky wood, homey couches in calico and plaid prints, and maybe even a ghost. You can feel the weight of history in every floral print nook, and it feels like some long lost memory. The only problem is that if you leave your notebook up in your bedroom, you have to race up and down four flights of steps, while everyone waits for you in the rehearsal space.

 

For the first few days, all we did was envision how we wanted the project to look and feel. We scribbled in our notebooks, marked up butcher paper and scrutinized our answers. It was important to observe when we were all on the same page and and when there were discrepancies so we could establish a set of agreements, or a framework, on how to cook, create, communicate, ride, document and live with one another.

 

At the end our first weekend together, we all hunkered down with a stash of art supplies and made our “life maps.” A life map is a visual depiction of one’s life up until the present. There’s no correct way to do it, and it was revealing in and of itself just to see how people approached the task.

Finally, with our framework hashed out, we began our scheduled days:

At breakfast we do a daily check-in about the current condition of our bodies, minds and spirits, and then it’s off to the rehearsal space for workshops. Jackie leads the first hour with Viewpoints – a technique she learned while training with CITI Company of New York. We are learning a common language with which to compose for the stage, develop a soft-focus awareness of the space and people around us and learn to respond kinesthetically to each other’s actions. Next, Sam leads us through a form of training developed by his professor, Michael Lugering, called “The Expressive Actor.” Through it, we develop a deeper awareness of tendencies in the body and voice, so we can play with and manipulate them. For our final morning workshop, Jaren, our resident composer, has been training our voices and ears to recognize the finer nuances of sound. He has been meticulously creating harmonies for all of our voices so they blend beautifully together.

 

After a quick lunch, it’s back to the rehearsal space for a production workshop with Sarah, our costume and prop genius. Here we explore the physical aspects of the play – what innovative ways can you use a tent? A sleeping pad? A spare tube? Discovering ways we can manipulate our gear helps us think about how we can creatively use it in the play. Then we move on to devising, led by me – Dara. The process of honing in on the plot and story of the play is kind of like reading a Ouiji board. From brainstorms to scene generation, to improvs, we have to keep moving to new exercises to keep digging deeper and circling in. In truth, five weeks isn’t much time to write a brand new play, so we have to keep rigorously pursuing the story. So far we’ve settled on a premise, created some really dynamic characters, and have a slew of images and ideas we’d like to see if we can incorporate, but we haven’t quite figured out where the play is going or what it needs us to communicate just yet.

 

After dinner, for the first week, evenings were spent sharing our life maps. While we had only allotted a half hour per person, the truth is, it takes a long time to share your life story! That first week we were all up too late, exhausted but affectionate, building intimacy and trust with one another.

This past weekend, we did our first overnight trip to the Lewis and Clark National Forest, just forty miles south of Great Falls. For some of us, this was our first time riding our bikes fully loaded, testing our camping gear, and getting a taste of bike touring. And because it wouldn’t be a bike tour without plenty of shenanigans, naturally we had our fair share – brisk headwinds, hauling our bikes up steep mountain passes on chunky gravel paths, a busted stem on a bicycle. Those of us from the 2015 tour quickly remembered how patience gets shortened when the body is tested.

But this time around, we are prepared for it.

 

This whole past year we have been reimagining Agile Rascal – we decided to focus on a single state, decided to create collaboratively in the state prior to the tour, gathered our crew of amazingly talented people and made a route that was still rigorous but allowed more space for rest and recuperation. We updated our website, replaced stolen bicycles, found people to support us financially, and dreamed of what it would be like when we all arrived in this place. Now that we’re here, it’s so relieving to say that all the work and foresight is paying off.

But we aren’t out of the woods yet. As we pin down our play, we’re ramping up our schedule, adding evening rehearsals and stretching our workday from nine o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night.

Again, that lack of sleep, the physical exertion, the battle over creative differences, will all take their toll. But I’m hopeful that the foundation of camaraderie and trust that we have built and continue to build will carry us through these challenging next few weeks, onto our bikes and out into the landscapes of Montana, still on good terms and still excited to share this thing we are making together.