I’ll admit it: I walked out of Seven Steps to Success at NextFest thinking I hadn’t “gotten” it. But, re-reading the performance’s description, it totally delivered what it said it would. It IS “two actors, one ladder and a world of playful possibilities.” It DOES “pull apart what a ladder is and can be.” In its meandering way, Seven Steps to Success embodies the wisdom that, no matter what we’re told – seriously, Google “seven steps to success” and you’ll find 29 million takes on the idea – there’s no one path to success, just as there’s no one definition of success.
Initially, I was looking forward to seeing what Director Nikki Shaffeeullah would bring to this performance, having recently seen her previous work in (Un)Earthed and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. I was not disappointed. Nikki’s involvement as both a creator and the director speaks to her incredible versatility. In particular, I was impressed with the way this show’s multiple moving parts flowed seamlessly.
It is a struggle to do justice in reviewing a non-linear, non-narrative show, so I’ll break down a few of the elements I particularly enjoyed. The use of the ladder was phenomenal – despite the talent of performers Ben Gorodetsky and Mat Simpson, I’d say the real star of the show was the ladder – or rather, how the ladder was used. From being personified, to being the frame of an unconventional love scene, to being used as a gun, the creators of this show turned everything I think and know about ladders upside down. Including doing everything my father told me NOT to do on a ladder (don’t worry, he won’t be stopping by to give a safety lecture). Every piece of the performance really played into the concept of turning what we think a ladder is on its head – including the key role the lighting design ( by Kiidra Duhault) and sound design (by Syd Gross) played in transforming the barren stage into at least 10 different settings. If for no other reason, I’d attend the show again to study how the play used the technical elements to create the play’s myriad backdrops for Simpson and Gorodetsky’s vignettes.
The vignette format was interesting – coming from performers with backgrounds in improv, the format accomplished what it was supposed to – providing many different scenarios for us to process, laugh at, and reflect on. If the vignettes had been a bit longer, giving me the time and space to better reflect on what was being said through the performance, it would have had more meaning to me. Silence on stage, while scary, can also create some of the most powerful moments for the audience members. Pauses between words can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Pausing – or hesitating – before an action can convey a much richer meaning than dialogue in the same space. Taking a moment to stare into the audience can create a deeper connection between the audience, a character, and the circumstances being portrayed. Just because this piece is based in vignettes, doesn’t mean that expanding the time and space of the performance wouldn’t be appropriate. But maybe that’s not what the performance was accomplishing – after all, I was engaged, I laughed, and I witnessed touching moments within each vignette. And isn’t that the key goal of any performance?
Seven Steps to Success has two remaining performances as part of NextFest 2013:
- June 13 at 7:00 pm
- June 16 at 4:00 pm
– Jenna Marynowski