Stephen Anunson: we are learning a new language together.

“Although this is WET’s first video project of this magnitude, it is refreshing to work with artists who are willing to apply their craft into a new medium. By combining theatre, film, and dance, we are learning a new language together.”

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In conversation with Maggie L. Rogers, Artistic Director and director of The Doll Pit, Stephen Anunson discusses his roles as Editor and  Director of Photography on THE DOLL PIT, working with Cherdonna, and the intersection between film and theatre.

Maggie L. Rogers: Stephen! Thank you so much for sitting down with me to talk about the wild and wacky The Doll Pit! To start, what projects have you and Jody worked on together? 

Stephen Anunson: I collaborated with Jody first in her show Kissing Like Babies. I played the trombone as part of the toy marching band that accompanied the show. I loved the process.Jody had the band as part of a residency and it was my first opportunity to see how Jody worked collaboratively with others. Later, I worked with Jody again documenting some of her shows and then creating a video installation for the 2nd iteration of her show DITCH. We also worked together to create a digital presentation of DITCH when it no longer became possible to do live shows.

MR: I also worked on those shows with you! 

SA: Yes! And I recently collaborated with you on a short dance film directed by Alyza DelPan-Monley. I worked as the cinematographer and editor.

MR: What are you most excited about in this process? 

SA: I am excited to collaborate with artists that come from different backgrounds. The film world can get a bit stale with people over fixating on gear and tech. I’ve always gravitated towards artists who are more focused on concept, honoring the process and allowing the story to lead. Although this is WET’s first video project of this magnitude, it is refreshing to work with artist’s who are willing to apply their craft into a new medium. By combining theatre, film and dance, we are learning a new language together. 

MR: In theatre once a show is rehearsed, the performers continue to perform the show for weeks and the rest of the creative team steps away. How is film different in this way and as Director of Photography and Editor, what does this process look like during and after filming?

SA: In theatre, there is very much a feeling that the piece is alive and can change and grow until the very last performance. The tech is built and usually set by the time of the show. In film, a lot of the tech happens on the day of the performance. And whatever you capture on that day, lives on forever as the final piece. If a camera stops functioning, you have to stop production and find a solution.  In this way, we become more dependent on the tools for telling the story.  As a cinematographer, there is pressure to support the story in the best way possible. The image produced begins with the cinematographers approach and knowledge of how it might all work together. Every choice is front and center.

MR: What about as an editor?

SA: But then, as an editor you know you can hide things. If a performance doesn’t work for any reason, often as an editor you can fix things in post production whether it’s hiding something, changing the structure or deleting something that doesn’t work. A lot of the story is told through the choices made in editing. 

MR: Absolutely. So what do you think about Cherdonna’s performance style will transfer well to film?

SA: Cherdonna is an immersive character.  She is known for using her body, the space around her and the people observing to create an entire world.  Although the rules of theatre and cinema are different, I think that this immersive quality will serve well in creating a piece of cinema.  

MR: Can you talk about the style in which the film is made? Cherdonna and Jody get to be on screen together for the first time ever! 

SA: The style of this film I think will change throughout. Sometimes a dance film.  Sometimes theatre on film. Sometimes a cinematic experience.  We are experimenting with overlaying images to show space from two worlds as one. And, for the first time, Cherdonna will interact on screen with herself out of drag as Jody. The process of translating Cherdonna to cinema will be interesting. Some of the filming will need to be incredibly controlled in order to facilitate the overlay format in a way that feels believable and some of the filming will be more improvisational in order to help maintain some of the energy of live performing. We are finding a balance.