Creative and Breathless // by Scott Rink
In his pandemic life, absent from his art, choreographer Scott Rink reckons with the past 18 months.
[In 2018, Transport Group produced the world premiere musical RENASCENCE. RENASCENCE tells the story of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay’s childhood through young adulthood when she burst on to the literary scene at the age of 20 with her epic poem “Renascence.” The production featured music by Carmel Dean and a book by Dick Scanlan, with lyrics provided by Millay’s poetry. Known for its length (214 lines divided into 20 stanzas) as well as its lyrical power, “Renascence” served as the finale of the production, sung by the entire cast and lasting twenty minutes total. Scott Rink served as the show’s choreographer, culminating in staging this monumental finale.]
One of the most profound experiences I have had as a choreographer was being asked to stage the poem “Renascence.” Composer Carmel Dean set this epic poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay to the most glorious music. Transport Group produced a workshop and later a production of the show (also called Renascence) around the writing of this poem. With a book written by Dick Scanlan and directed by Dick and Jack Cummings III (Transport Group Artistic Director), this was something I had never encountered in my career: something truly epic.
At the meet and greet, Jack and Dick had a casual approach; indicating that a workshop was just trying out ideas, experimenting—which, having worked with Jack over many years, was code for: we’re staging the entire show in two weeks. The mornings were spent on the show proper and after lunch I would work my way through “Renascence.” When working with actors I like to give pet names to moments within a number so that everyone knows where we are going to start—sort of like a bookmark or a dog ear. Being so vast, I had no clear way to start in “Renascence” until after multiple listenings, one moment stood apart. It was a third of the way in and that moment I nicknamed “Mikaela’s Place” after Mikaela Bennett who would sing this particular moment. And so, I built the rest of “Renascence” working sometimes backwards, sometimes forwards from that moment. Aided by dramaturge, Dr. Stephanie Prugh, and the most amazing cast you can EVER imagine, we found our way through this epic poem about art, beauty, death, and rebirth.
Prior to the pandemic, I was working on my own creative project. I had produced the sound score and audio for the new work and was beginning to workshop movement ideas when the pandemic hit. So, I put that project away on a shelf not knowing when or if I would return. I pushed my creative soul down deep into my body and just went into survival mode.
I got job at a vegan bakery, was furloughed one week later. I got a job at a liquor store (essential worker). I was brought back to the bakery after lockdown but let go a week later (really?). My partner, Michael, who works in retail management lost his job as his company was restructuring and closed his location. He got rehired at a different store in the company which meant us relocating from Seattle to Miami (moving 4,000 miles during a pandemic? Sure.). We soon found a place in South Miami, so I quit the liquor store and we moved. In Miami, I got a job in retail and thought I was doing okay until I lost that job. Jesus. Christ.
Out of work but sensing we needed a break, Michael suggested we take a short trip to Ft. Lauderdale. While having lunch there with friends of his, one of the guests, knowing I was a choreographer, asked how the pandemic had affected me. I said that I was working on something new when the pandemic interrupted the process midstream. He asked what I was working on, and I had to stop after one sentence because I began to weep so uncontrollably that it took me minutes to recover.
In “Renascence,” Millay had buried herself in the earth but then is reborn after feeling the rain coming down. The rain for me were those tears I shed that day, reawakening my soul. I had buried my soul for the last two years.
Till at my throat a strangling sob
Caught fiercely, and a great heart-throb
Sent instant tears into my eyes
After the lunch, as we were saying our goodbyes, the guest who had asked about the new work said, “I hope this all turns around for you because I really want to see it.”
I had buried any creative self, thinking that if I just didn’t think about it, it would go away. But it all just came out.
Then the rage.
Millay had someone who believed in her and supported her vision as a writer and her name was Caroline B. Dow. I am grateful to have a Caroline B. Dow in my life, too. A true angel. While wishing each other Happy New Year recently, I told her about my uncontrollable reaction that day in Ft. Lauderdale. She said, without missing a beat, “Then you must finish this project. I want to bring this into the world, and you are the only one who can do it.”
Late in “Renascence,” towards the end, I gave a nickname to yet another moment. I nicknamed this moment “My Favorite Place.” And in “Renascence” that place is:
I breathed my soul back into me.
During the pandemic, I have had thoughts of whether my creative life in the theatre is all behind me.
I have been weeping those same tears while writing this essay.
Because I know that I will be finishing this new work.
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