Musings on Project Claytie

by Rebecca Jackson

For my final afternoon in NYC, I met with Claytie Mason, the writer and director of the emerging play “The Big White Door,” a play about children dealing with life threatening illness. I enjoyed sharing a quiet moment with her in contrast to the intensity and concentration required earlier in the week.

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Claytie and I met 5 years ago at The Vine Conference. I remember telling her I love collaborating with other artistic disciplines. She said, “Well actually, there is a ballad about two sisters and a fiddle, ‘The Wind and Rain,’ that I’ve wanted to develop into a play…” A partnership was forged. Last year I introduced her to Danielle and Tiffany, and it was through Claytie’s work with hospice that we had the opportunity to perform for some of the patients last fall in NYC.

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When you meet Claytie, you are immediately captured by her gentle and compassionate spirit and also to her thoughtful approach and pursuit of beautiful art. Her approach is foreign to the training I’ve received as a classical musician but I have found it so valuable in expanding my scope. She pushes her artists to play, to search, to develop, to be open to the unknown, to be ok without every detail being explained. This feeling of suspension allows for artistic freedom and exploration – the trust leads to creations only possible through encouraged spontaneity.

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“The Big White Door” has three main components – (1) the music, (2) scenes in a children’s hospital which included bluebirds, monsters, animals, and an acrobat, and (3) a narrator reading the stories about kids, family members, and caretakers impacted by life threatening illness. With miraculous patience, Claytie was able to herd half a dozen child actors ranging in ages from 6-12, all while directing Sound Impact, stage management, lighting, adult actors, floating animals, lanterns, and serving as narrator in the play.

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What a treat to learn and be challenged in the universe of acting. Tiffany was featured playing Penderecki to amplify a monster scene. Danielle used her cello to call to one of the boys and he eventually wrapped himself around her end pin as she played Song of the Birds. I became monster when I entered a hospital scene confronting 6 year old Molly, eventually sitting next to her to improvise a melody as she lay in my lap. During rehearsal, the image that came to mind as everyone scurried around was an octopus with 157 tentacles. So many moving parts with the potential of getting tangled up and turned around!

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Claytie brought everyone together for a pre-show ritual – she labeled an electric candle for all sixteen of us. As we each held our candle, she had us meditate on one kind thought about ourselves, one kind thought about our character, and one hope for the performance. Then together we turned on our candles and put them into a box where they stayed the entire show.

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The performances were magic. As people entered the 15th floor room in Riverside Church, they were instructed to silently enjoy the musical meditation. Danielle, Tiffany, and I played trios as the sun set over the picturesque backdrop. The entire team worked together and created an experience that had many, including me, fighting back tears.

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What a special collaboration! There is still much to process emotionally and mentally but we believe this work needs to be shared. Claytie hopes to take “The Big White Door” into many hospitals and communities, to provide a space for meditation and healing, and to open up the conversation about issues that are often avoided because they are so difficult. We, Sound Impact, hope to share in this journey.

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Meet Playwright Claytie Mason!

 

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Claytie Mason is a playwright/director and co-founder of Nebunele Theatre, an award winning ensemble theatre company based in Seattle, WA. Before moving to New York, Claytie worked with Nebunele for several years as a writer, performer, mask maker and director. Their masked production, The Secret Ruths of Island House, won ‘Best New Play’ at both the San Francisco and Boulder, Colorado fringe festivals, and went on to perform at the Vine Conference in San Diego, CA.Claytie was an artist in residence with EXIT Theatre in San Francisco and she has twice headlined San Francisco’s DIVAfest, a festival celebrating women artists, writers, and poets. Her work has been lauded by the SF Chronicle as “..an engrossing exercise in theatrical simplicity” and “..almost heartbreaking in it’s sympathetic and curiously affirmative humanity.” As a playwright, Claytie has been produced in San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Nevada City, Boulder, and New York. 

 

Claytie is currently finishing her MFA in playwriting at Columbia University, with a focus in Narrative Medicine, examining stories around aging, illness and identity. She received the Arts Outreach Fellowship from Columbia last year in order to create Portraits From The Amsterdam House, a program bringing grad students from Columbia’s MFA program together with residents of the Amsterdam Nursing Home to write and perform life stories. 

 

Claytie’s work values and investigates presence, seeking unconventional interpretations of play making in the interest of bringing people into the room, together, more. Her stage has range, from a park at sunrise to the private rooms of a nursing home. She often works with musicians, visual artists, dancers and actors in collaborative process, believing there is hardly a richer and more complex intimacy than not making art alone. Though her work usually explores serious subject matter, she is mostly interested in cultivating a given moment mindfully, artfully, playfully.

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Sound Impact Co-Founder Rebecca Jackson during the 2010 production of Claytie Mason’s “The Wind and the Rain”

 

Sound Impact is honored to collaborate with Claytie Mason for “Ruminations on The Big White Door” 

April 16 & 17, 2014 7:30pm

Riverside Church, New York City