For the month of MARCH

Fuerzabruta: Look Up

A Theasy Interview with Cast Members

Daniel Case and Jeslyn Kelly

Kitty Lindsay: How would you describe Fuerzabruta for someone who hasn’t seen it before?

Daniel Case: Well, I guess I would say its experimental physical theater which incorporates elements of circus to a degree, but it’s more for the people who haven’t studied theater history. 

KL: What are your backgrounds as performers?

DC: I have some experience within the [circus] realm. I was an actor with a lot of physical background. I studied a lot of dance and some circus skills…[I studied] arts as well…so, I had a little aerial, physical theater experience. But what we do here, it’s kind of its own thing.

Jeslyn Kelly: I grew up dancing and then I got into musical theater around ten or eleven and that kind of kept going. Once I went to college, at Vassar, the departments were all split so there was a dance department and a music department and an acting department; I chose dance and kind of just stuck with that, but I got really into more theatrical dance and storytelling dance which kind of naturally brought me to circus with some influence from friends who were also in the circus world. I was never an acrobat, I was more of an athlete and a dancer. Then after school, I was dancing for a while and I came to New York from California; there were a lot of calls for theatrical dancing and there were a lot of people I knew who were doing more storytelling and experiential dance than just pure ballet or jazz or tap. Then I saw De La Guarda [the precursor to Fuerzabruta] and I thought, okay, well my background is pretty suited to at least try to learn, you know, the flying and things like that.

KL: Do you feel in rehearsing for the show that the directors really took into account the diverse backgrounds of the cast? Was it a collaborative effort putting the show together? 

DC: [Creator Diqui James] works in that way where he gives people direction and lets them sort of find their way so no one has to do everything the same exact way. We actually learned the show and then he changed it a little bit from the original Argentinean cast who toured [with it] - they never did the show for a long stretch like the way we do it - but we had done De La Guarda with [James] before so when they were going to set the show in New York, they called us and had us come in and we had an intensive workshop and there were changes made to the show. He gives direction but leaves a lot of openness to however you find your way through it, which is really freeing. We rotate roles - we don’t do the same thing each night. Even just night to night, the way I do one role and the way another guy does the same thing, it’s a different experience and it’s amazing for us; it’s great that we have a lot of freedom and variation.

JK: I think that’s why we can do it for as long as we’ve been doing it.

DC: It’s more like we’re doing company work in a way than just doing a show, which is a blessing. 

JC: Something that I love about this company that I’ve never experienced anywhere else is that I really feel like the company was designed and kind of chosen, not necessarily for the way that maybe you’re cast for other shows, which is "okay, you’ve picked up the choreography immediately, we know you can learn fast or you look the part." I feel like for this group of people and the group of Argentineans who created the show and the other companies that perform it everywhere else...the company is so strong because of the diversity, because not everyone comes from the same background as far as training goes, but also as far as life experience goes. We’ve all come from very different places and there are a lot of really big, bold personalities. I think that that is what really carries the show as much as the choreography or the music or the different pieces. 

DC: I’d also say in the audition process, which is interesting because I acted as Captain for a long time so I went through the audition process on the other side, [a big goal] is just seeing who people are. I mean what we do in the show is sort of putting you [the cast] under physical duress and that’s sort of what we want to see - basically who are you stripped down when we’re looking at you and seeing where you fit in the show and who are you in this experience. And that’s when you see someone and you’re, like, yes, you draw me in for inexplicable reasons...

JK: ...and it’s not the person who can dance the best or who’s the most comfortable in the harness. It’s, like, oh wow, they’re tired and that’s really fun to watch because of what they’re doing with that or they messed up and that’s really cool to see how they handled it.

KL: Do you find cast turnover is very high or do performers tend to stay with Fuerzabruta?

DC: It’s not a high turnover because, I mean, the people love the show, but we’ve had people who, fortunately I think for the show, we have it so that they’ll let us take leaves of absence and come back so we have a good deal of subs and people who can come in for extended stretches of time. But people really enjoy doing the show and they can take other opportunities and return because it’s a job they enjoy.

KL: Is it safe to say then it’s very much a family atmosphere among the cast? There seems to be a certain amount of trust involved.

JK: It really is - and I know this sounds trite - but it really is like my brothers and sisters in this building for better or for worse. I feel like the people in this show have seen me at my best and at my worst and because a lot of us have had the chance to work together in other experiences - a lot of us met each other during De La Guarda or even before that - we’ve been through a lot together and so we do trust [one another]. I think the nature of the show is such that it draws people who - the cast and the crew, pretty much everyone involved in the day to day runnings of the show  -we really do have to trust each other and I think we are drawn to this because we like that kind of passion...that kind of, you know, all or nothing spirit. We get here an hour and a half before our show starts everyday and that’s kind of unheard of for a regular long running show in New York. [Usually] you get a half hour call but we have a meeting everyday and we discuss anything that is new or different and we discuss things artistically. We warm up together and we have a lot that we go through together.

DC: I think it’s a family. I think we’ve sort of realized, through the course of working on De La Guarda and outside projects, it's sort of this tribal family to a degree. Especially the way that De La Guarda worked with even higher stakes, that you really had to put the trust of your physical well-being in the hands of the riggers, the climbers and your fellow performers. [It was] always exhilarating and fun - exciting and [you] came out invigorated, but each night was definitely the possibility of physical damage and so just year in, year out, you got to know people in a certain way in this sort of experience and this sort of show.

JK: It’s great too, because a lot of us have been doing this for a while and it is the same show, you know, we’re doing kind of the same pieces each night but it never feels the same and it's because we do have the freedom built into the show where we get to look at each other and we get to surprise each other. If somebody’s having a bad day, you can do your part to helping them get up or if you’re the one who’s low you can totally be brought out of it by something someone else in the cast or crew does. It's really kind of amazing.

KL: How do you prepare individually as performers, vocally, mentally and physically? 

JK: I think we all kind of have a different thing. I guess it depends also on what you're doing in the show that night. For me, it kind of happens like right when the music starts - when I go upstairs and I’m in whatever place I’m in - and it's really enough time to just kind of hone in. The music brings you right there and the audience kind of hushes. We do a lot in our physical warm-up to just make sure our joints are ready, our muscles are ready and our voices are ready and then, the emotional readiness for me, anyway, comes just right almost at curtain time.

DC: Yeah, I mean, we have this group warm-up, but there’s a lot of just contact and paying attention to each other. It varies per show to a degree. [For example] There’s one male role which is, sort of, the central, core figure and that [preparation] will be different emotionally. I definitely think about that and what journey I’m going to take throughout everything else and then at the top of the show, you have time when you’re basically secluded in place, prepared, where you can just find your emotional space and be ready to go.

KL: The show is somewhat abstract. As actors, how do you go about creating your characters? How do you build them and flesh them out?

DC: [The character of] Corridor is the main runner in the show and we were given a lot of direction, but [we] make our own choices. Whenever he [James] gets asked, “What’s the meaning of the show?” He always says, “There is no meaning,” but we all know full well that there is meaning, but he just doesn’t want to limit that for everyone. So he’ll say, “You’re a man walking who has to make a decision. It's life and death, what your decision has to be, and there’s a point when you make that decision and you step through the door.” It’s sort of like that. On a nightly basis, I’ll make a decision about choices, but you don’t try and control it too much, which is amazing and a blessing. 

KL: Dangers of the show? How do you deal with technical elements of the show?

DC: We have a lot of...almost machinery in this show which becomes another element. The obstacles are different than with De La Guarda. Its more mechanical and there are times when suddenly when you’re confronted with a change in the show, essentially, like the treadmill stops and you’re left standing there, but the fascinating thing about that is you’re open and present and this show is…It’s a very Zen show. To just be alive and open to the moment and awake and if you are and aren’t in control of feeling like “Well, that’s not what’s supposed to happen.” If you’re available, you will have a real response and eventually, like if there’s a problem technically, they’re going to work it out and we’ll be able to move forward. It kind of gets our attention and keeps us alive.

JK: The potential for danger in here, you know pretty much the whole time the show is running, but I think we all feel everyone is at the top of their game and so, you’re in good hands and you’re willing to take the risks that you need to take because you know that other people are there and they have your back. You know with this machinery [there are things] that could possibly go wrong, and there are so many eyes watching it. I think that’s part of the excitement of doing it, but there’s also a huge trust that everything is really the way it's supposed to be.

KL: What do you think is the universal appeal of Fuerzabruta?

DC: I think one of the things that makes live theater special and different from film or TV - which has sort of taken over realism and naturalism - but what live theater can give you that nothing else can is visceral response to something happening in your presence. So, the same way you go to a boxing match, if you’re sitting there, it’s nothing like just seeing it on TV. Just being in the presence of this kinetic action, this has a sense of that...wild, chaotic, physical things happening immediately in your presence. You’re standing very close to everything, we move around, the action comes through you and it’s a bit like an energy ritual each night. Its more of a ride than something you view. We have a lot of people who come again and again because its an experience and they have a different experience each time they come and also, because it’s so open to interpretation, the way you go to a museum and you can return to a painting and see something new each time. It’s what you bring and how you’re projecting what you feel. It's one of the reasons we try not to fill in all the blanks too much. Everyone can watch the show and feel like, “this is my life.”

JK: I remember something I felt the first time I saw De La Guarda which is the first time I had an experience with that kind of theater and now, what I recognize in the audience is’re not allowed to really be invisible or passive. You are part of the room. You’re a part of the energy in the room and I know that that is something Diqui really goes for and what he creates. I just think that it's such a universally relatable experience because there are so many different moments where you’re seeing people being people and it's not some big, fancy, difficult thing that you have to train from the time you’re two years old to do. It’s more like you see people dancing a street dance that everyone in Argentina does, everyone from a two year old who just can walk to an eighty-five year old man with a cane. They all do this dance that we do in the show or, you know, we’re playing like children or singing or whatever it is that’s happening - running - they’re all very pedestrian things that people can hold on to and there’s a lot of space to open your heart when you’re in the audience. You’re kind of invited to just let it all in and see what happens. Take the ride.