Tell me everything

Do tell: The CCP cast explores with the audience that secrets are not just heavy things. Photo by Doc Klein
Do tell: The CCP cast explores with the audience that secrets are not just heavy things. Photo by Doc Klein

“You know, I don’t have any secrets,” Fiora Lizak says when asked about her role in Secrets: Freeing the Hidden Story, Community Choreography Project’s latest production,. A smile slowly spreads across her face and she bursts out laughing.

CCP artistic director Barrie Barton knows the challenges of getting people to openly admit or discuss, let alone artistically express, topics that are often embarrassing. But after spending six months exploring creative release while developing the performance, she's sometimes astonished by the cast members' transformations. “I’ve seen people become more free with who they are, because they unburden themselves with what they are holding on to,” Barton says.

She first met with the cast of 19 local performers, many of whom are new to the stage, last fall. During a four-week performance workshop, participants used movement and staging to help gain confidence and comfort. “We started by tapping into childhood secrets, the ones that aren’t so heavy,” Barton says. She references a little girl mistaking a bottle of Ex-Lax for chocolates, a little boy who thought his Winnie the Pooh bear was alive and he was Christopher Robin, and several instances of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” After Barton built the group’s comfort level, they slowly made their way into the darker secrets, she says.

Barton is quick to point out that secrets are not always negative. “The word 'secret' has a lot of weight to it, but the goal of this show is to explore with the audience that secrets are not just the heavy things, or the things we don’t want to share; it’s the silly things, too.” Whether it’s laughter or sadness, she says emotion is often experienced on both sides of the curtain.

The first CCP production was in 2006, and subsequent shows have dealt with emotional and somewhat taboo topics   hence the tagline “Real Life. Real Stories. Real People.”

Secrets is the organization’s fifth show, and is being produced with support from the Asheville Area Arts Council and Art in the Park. This production, Barton says, “really covers the vast human spectrum of what it means to be alive.” She explains that the script addresses the humanistic need to feel like we’re not alone in withholding information from the outside world, while also offering a therapeutic (and voyeuristic) perspective into strangers' lives. Typically, Barton says, the audience will quickly realize they can closely identify with many of the performers’ stories. In fact, the audience is where many of the CCP cast members originate.

Lizak attended the 2009 performance, Knock! Knock!, and immediately knew she wanted to participate. Secrets will be her second time collaborating with Barton and CCP, with her only prior stage experience being an eighth grade ballet class. A former Jehovah’s Witness until her mid-30s, Lizak has found that performing with the group has given her an outlet to channel her emotional energy. “At first, the subject of secrets made me a little concerned, but my experience with the last performance, the friendships and the ability to dance out your story is so inspiring. Barrie really gives structure to this stuff that’s coming out of me,” she says.

Secrets combines movement theater and comedy acts with a spoken-word performance by local poet Griffin Payne and short film vignettes featuring local film artist Erika Czerwinski and filmmaker and photographer David Huff. “We’re not reinventing the secrets, these are universal themes that everyone deals with, just portrayed in different ways,” says Maureen Simon, who is participating in the CCP for the third time.

With a master's degree in arts and education and several years of experience teaching dance in Buncombe County Schools, Barton pulls from her experience to lead the cast in acting, dancing and speaking out their feelings. “I’m really in awe of Barrie’s capacity to choreograph amateurs, yet still allow free expression. I’m excited to release my inner star,” says first-time cast-member Kathy Edwards.

As the cast starts preparing for what will be one of their final rehearsals before the debut evening, it’s clear that they are no longer amateurs. Over the past six months, these 19 people have collaborated, formed emotional bonds, and cultivated an entire performance based on only their collective experiences and feelings.

— Sharon Bell is a social media manager at Make Me Social

what: Community Choreography Projects presents Secrets: Freeing the Hidden Story
where: Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place. Tickets are $18, available at Malaprop’s Bookstore, Diana Wortham Theatre and other locations. See http://www.dwtheatre.com for more.
when: Thursday, June 20, through Saturday, June 22. All shows at 7:30 p.m.

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