April 5, 2018

For our next segment on the process of creating Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge in the UMass Department of Theater, I have interviewed Gaven Trinidad – an MFA candidate in dramaturgy. Gaven is the dramaturg and choreographer for this production. Just like Jen, Christina, and Tamara, Gaven is working on The Lily’s Revenge for his thesis.

It is rare that four graduate students participate in the same thesis project. Though they each have a separate focus – directing, dramaturgy, lighting, costuming – they are all collaborating on what has been and will still prove to be a very challenging production. The Lily’s Revenge is a four-hour long performance with five acts that are located in separate spaces. There is singing, dancing, and heightened language that transitions genres, exploding the heteronormative narrative of the traditional play.

In the next few weeks, I will be posting two more interviews with the graduate students who are focusing on The Lily’s Revenge. An article posted previously highlight’s the director, Jen Onopa, and provides background information on Taylor Mac and plot information on the show. Please tune in throughout the next couple of weeks for details on Christina Beam and Tamara Harris’s work!

Gaven Trinidad uses his work to create a sense of community

Dramaturg and choreographer
Gaven D. Trinidad poses with
assistant dramaturg and
choreographer Afrikah Smith
at the start of Lily's Revenge

Gaven Trinidad is a third-year graduate student studying dramaturgy in the UMass Department of Theater. For The Lily’s Revenge, Gaven expanded his duties and is also the choreographer for the production. Gaven was introduced to this particular production by director and fellow graduate student Jen Onopa, but was familiar with Taylor Mac’s other plays. For his thesis, Gaven said, “I wanted to do a piece that was taking a chance and making risks on our stages here at UMass, and something that would make me happy, so I happily joined Jen in proposing this piece.” Gaven believed that The Lily’s Revenge would be a true “test of what [he] learned and created the past two and a half years.”

“As someone who identifies as queer POC” (person of color) Gaven is so thrilled to be a part of a show with “so much queer content”; The Lily’s Revenge is “so unapologetically wacky and out of this world.” He hopes that the sense of community that is fostered through this theatrical experience will resonate with the audience, particularly for the LGBTQ community.

When he wears his dramaturgical hat, Gaven is focused on creating a sense of community within the cast so far in the rehearsal process. “Jen builds community naturally” just like “queer theater builds community,” so Gaven said his partnership in rehearsals with Jen is very conducive to an inclusive learning environment. He and Jen have worked together before and he is so happy to be collaborating with Jen again.

Gaven’s role as the dramaturg gives him the responsibility of educating the cast on the many historic references and difficult scenes throughout the show. Gaven has chosen to avoid lecturing to present this information, and instead hosts small embodiment exercises to increase familiarity with issues and sensitivity to difficult concepts and other cast members.

An example of one of Gaven’s hands-on dramaturgy sessions came about two weeks into the rehearsal process. Gaven split the thirty person cast into groups of three and gave them each a term from his research about The Lily’s Revenge for them to research as a group. Some of these words were “gender,” “Noh theater,” and “drag performance.” He then gave the groups about thirty minutes to devise performances of their research on these key words, encouraging them to find ways to use any special talents that they have (i.e. playing musical instruments, juggling, or flag spinning). Therefore, instead of lecturing the definitions of these themes and genres found within Taylor Mac’s piece, Gaven gave the cast a chance to do their own research and embody the concepts, just like they will do in the performance.

This philosophy carries over to his work as the choreographer for The Lily’s Revenge. This past summer, Gaven worked as an engagement/archives intern under the mentorship of Norton Owen for the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, so he is very excited to be combining his talents for dramaturgy and dance once again. Though much of the dance in the show is specifically choreographed by Gaven and his assistant choreographer, Afrikah Smith (also his assistant dramaturg), the movement for the Flower Girls is devised with the performers. Gaven sits with the Flower Girls and asks about what sort of emotions come up for them if put in the scenarios from the show. For instance, Gaven asked, “what are some emotions that come up for you when you think of a partner cheating on you?”. The actors all gave their suggestions and then were each asked to come up with three dance moves that embodied those emotions. Gaven then pieced that devised physicality together into dances that were more accessible to the performers and more relatable for the audience.

Though Gaven has found devising work with the cast incredibly rewarding, some of his favorite moments in the process so far have been spent with the other thesis candidates. He said he loves “the tiny moments when we get together and on the spot trouble-shoot maybe something we didn’t foresee. It’s a test of what we’ve learned the past two and a half years and also the relationship that we’ve all created and the language that we’ve all created together as collaborators.” Furthermore, Gaven has been so thankful for the “willingness” of everyone involved – graduate students, faculty, undergraduate students – “to try new things.” And that is why UMass is the “first university to take up this [show].”

UMass can be the site of the university premier of The Lily’s Revenge “because of the social justice aspect of education in the department.” Gaven said he knows of no other department that is so immersed in interdisciplinary theater. “Our approach in creating theater and our willingness to learn and to inspire students with involvement in social justice has really given our students the capability to understand the context of the piece and the compassion and courage to do it.”

Because The Lily’s Revenge is such a challenging show technically and conceptually, Gaven is curious about how technical rehearsals will go for this show. The cast and production team will be involved in sometimes over twelve-hour long rehearsals from Wednesday, April 11th until the Thursday before the show opens, April 19th. In these technical rehearsals, lighting, sound, costumes, and all other technical elements are added and the transitions from one setting to the next are mapped out. In these final rehearsals, everyone is working so hard on the production, that Gaven said he is currently most nervous about finding ways to “promote self-care” among actors especially so that they “don’t burn out” during the run of a four hour long, physically, vocally, and mentally exhausting show.

The Lily’s Revenge is Gaven’s largest theatrical undertaking so far in his career, as it is for much of our production team and cast, and he cannot wait until it all comes together in performance.