After a decade of working in duo and solo mode, a couple weeks ago I joined up with YFX Physical Theatre in Saginaw, MI and jumped back into the world of ensemble work. It's a different dynamic, with so many more sources of creative input gathered in one room. And YFX – which stands for Young Phoenix, but with an 'F' – represents a particularly broad range of personalities and experiences.
For instance, meet the director Todd Farley. Like me, he graduated from Marcel Marceau's school in Paris. In fact, I learned from one of his students so I'm calling him my mime grandpa. He's a seasoned performer/director who ran a mime ministry for a couple decades before publicly coming out and now he pastors a congregation in Saginaw while also running YFX.
At the other end of the spectrum is Ben, an eager college freshman, actor and musician who is greener than Kermit the Frog. This is his first experience in a professional setting.
The bios of the YFX cast read like an artistic version of the Power Rangers. There is Stephanie the ballerina, Elizabeth the hula hooper, Joshua the wisecracker, Torri the puppeteer, Taylor the opera singer, Kirsten the mime/juggler, Adriel the acrobat/dancer, Todd the mime, and Ben the boy band heartthrob.
Liz the Hula Hooper struts her stuff
As you can imagine, this creates an exciting and somewhat chaotic environment. There's never any lack of ideas. It also means that collectively we have the expertise to do pretty much anything we want. Aerials? We have that. Swan Lake? We have that. Unicorn farting a rainbow? We have that. Personally, I am loving all this energy, and the challenging process of turning it into presentable theatre.
A larger group also requires greater coordination than working solo or duo. You can still have “let's just try and see what happens” rehearsals, but you need to be organized in order to channel all that creative energy toward a common goal. Working solo I only need to deal with my own vision and my own distractions. And working with larger group requires setting expectations and rules early and clearly – especially when you have such vastly different levels of experience. With two people, you can just deal with issues as they come up. Leaving the basics unclear in a group is a recipe for conflict. Fortunately we have no obnoxious diva personalities in YFX, but we are all human beings, each bringing our own individual quirks, baggage, talents and strengths to the group. The beauty of the ensemble is that if you can hit that sweet spot where your differences create an open, trusting environment rather than tension, where conflict is creative rather than destructive, then the sum becomes exponentially greater than the parts. And I'm re-discovering how exhilarating it is to be a part of that phenomenon.