Ben Phillips is a recent graduate of the School of Drama (BA ’13). He is one of the founding members of Seattle’s newest theatre company, The Horse in Motion. Their inaugural production, ‘Attempts on Her Life‘ by Martin Crimp, opens this week.
In an underground art gallery of mysterious objects and a clump of writhing human bodies, three art critics take in the scene. “Where are the boundaries?” one asks.
This question, in many ways, has pervaded the process of putting up Attempts on Her Life from the very beginning. Our company has investigated the boundaries between types of theatre, between types of art, between ideas, and between people. Many of us recently crossed over the boundary from college to post-graduate life, and that experience has informed our journey as well. Our process started back in September when a group of us came together to work on Martin Crimp’s play, Attempts on Her Life, a collection of 17 seemingly unconnected scenes in which a mysterious woman named Anne is discussed, labeled, objectified, and constantly reinvented. Crimp wrote in no characters, no setting, and no plot. The possibilities with this play seemed endless and exciting, and I jumped into the project with enthusiasm and a little trepidation about what I’d gotten myself into.
Recently graduated from the UW School of Drama, and making our way in Seattle’s professional theatre community, the play seemed like a perfect opportunity for many of us to come together with our peers and spend time creating. We gathered together a small ensemble and began meeting once a week throughout the fall; creating compositions and explorations inspired by the text. As we navigated the boundaries of inspiration and possibility, a vision emerged for an immersive, promenade piece of theatre that would bring Crimp’s script to life along with his many unanswered questions about identity, violence, gender, and community.
Our UW educations gave us not only the tools to tackle such weighty subjects, but also instilled in us the curiosity to want to approach them at all. As we moved into December, we added more people to our ensemble and shifted from physical and idea-based work back to the text that lay before us. We investigated the boundaries in language and concept, unpacked the historical context, and brainstormed how the intellectual ideas on the page could be realized in a live theatrical setting.
The impetus that first led a few of us to get together to read this play soon turned organically into the founding of a theatre company that typified the aspirations of our group. Discussing together the elements that were important to us in a theatre company was unexpectedly informative for all of us. Having distilled our many hopes, goals, and stipulations down to a succinct mission statement, we then sought to create a suitable name. After much discussion and exploration, we landed on The Horse in Motion (a reference to the first moving picture of 1872 and the attempt by its creator to prove that for a moment while galloping, a horse is completely airborne). Harnessing both the innovative and pioneering sprit of the film’s creator, and the dynamic image of a galloping horse suspended for a moment in mid-air, our company was born. We returned to our work on the show with a renewed sense of purpose and direction, and a new sense of responsibility. We had crossed the boundary of doing this for our own enjoyment alone. Now we were making a play to be shared and we had work to do.
As we entered into our period of regular rehearsals for the show, we were aided by the diverse experiences of our company members, combined with our common training from the School of Drama. This solid foundation was evident as we approached the work with a diligence and passion that combined the intellectual and the physical. It was evident in our commitment to represent many kinds of diversity onstage, to do and say something of consequence with our play, and to synthesize our knowledge of history, analysis, and technique in a collaborative, ensemble setting.
For so many of us, college was an incredible time where we could get together with our peers and create. Too often this laboratory mentality is abandoned upon graduation – for professional theatre on a strict time frame, for “real” jobs, for other pursuits. But The Horse in Motion was formed as a way to bring that spirit of collaboration and creativity into our post-graduate lives. Learned and refined within the walls of Hutchinson Hall and the confines of the University, there is no reason it has to stay there. And in our production, this spirit of unfettered creative possibility and entrepreneurial passion is alive and well.
Theatre is a journey, and we have certainly gone on one over the last five months as we have gotten this play to where it is now. But rather than just invite the audience to our destination, we are inviting them to come with us on a journey of their own: from room to room in University Heights, up and down stairs, and into this bizarre world we have created. With this show, even more than most, the missing element at this point is the audience, and we can’t wait to share with you what we have been working on!
‘Attempts on Her Life’ runs April 12-27 at University Heights. Tickets & info at thehorseinmotion.org.