For detailed descriptions of the techniques in green, see METHOD

The process of working on Of Little Women began with girl talk. Iris Rose had spent nearly
twenty years re-reading Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel for girls and poring over its details
of 19th century life. Iris gathered together her three closest 20th century female friends (and
fellow performers) to engage in a discussion on selected topics, most of them suggested by
the book. However, one was included simply because it was an important part of girl talk:
menstruation. That subject was understandably absent from Alcott’s 1868 book; not until
Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in 1970, more than a hundred years
later, did it appear in a book intended for girls.

Iris, Kim X Knowlton, Maggie Siena, and Melanie Monios spent the earliest rehearsals seated
around Iris’ dining room table while a small tape deck recorded their spontaneous
conversations on subjects ranging from beauty to housework to God, each of which
became a section of PART ONE. These tapes became the basis for much of the written text
for those sections. Iris transcribed the tapes (on her electric typewriter – a slow process) and
printed out transcripts. For each section, the four women chose the lines they thought best
represented their characters: Iris chose for Meg, the traditional older sister looking for a
husband; Kim for Jo, the independent free spirit; Maggie for Beth, the shy and devoted sister;
and Melanie for Amy, the socially adept artist. Iris created the script by choosing the most
interesting of the selected lines and giving them an order. She then made “inflection tapes”
by editing the original tapes (using pause/record on a dual cassette deck) to match the
script. Each performer received a copy of the inflection tape and used it as a guide in
imitating exactly the original inflection used by the speaker in the spontaneous discussion.
They marked their scripts accordingly, almost like musical notation – underlining for
emphasis, inserting pauses, marking with up and down arrows to indicate rising and falling
inflections, and adding notes like “musically” or “all run together.”
Periods script with inflection notation

It was decided that when the audience entered, they would see the four sisters doing
ordinary tasks, so each performer chose one to reflect her character’s personality: for Meg,
knitting; for Jo, writing in a journal; for Beth, preparing food for others to eat; and for Amy,
cutting out pictures for a collage. These tasks became the default for each performer
throughout PART ONE – the thing to which they returned whenever they were not doing
something else specific. The movement in the first section, Housework, consisted entirely of
these tasks and the dialogue was entirely based on the inflection tapes, thereby establishing
the basic visual and vocal template of which the other sections of PART ONE would be either
copies or variations.

The second section, Sisters, for instance, began with the physical tasks from the first section,
but they were occasionally punctuated with quick, sisterly Emblems like Tag-a-long, Sister As
Doll and Shared History. Also, the dialogue was not taken directly from the original
discussion. Instead, it grew out of a Jam based on ideas about sisterhood that had come
from the discussion, one step removed from the source. Iris then edited the Jam into a script,
which was more associative and less naturalistic than Housework as a result of the
processing. Sisters script

The next section, Beauty, was transcribed from the discussion on that topic, but the effort to
capture the inflections was gradually replaced half-way through the section as the women
began to perform individual Frankensteins all based on the same word: Beauty. In creating
the Frankensteins, they took turns supplying the walks, gestures, and faces for each other.
However, instead of the word or phrase that the voice component of a Frankenstein usually
included, the speaker created a vocal style embodying the idea of Beauty, which she then
used while speaking her lines.

The section about Periods returned to the style of the first section: default tasks and
transcribed dialogue with original inflections. However, the section after that, Christmas, was
the first to completely depart from the template established in Housework. This subject was
included because in Little Women it is Christmas both when the novel begins and when the
girls’ father returns from the war. The script grew out of lists of things the participants
associated with their own Christmas memories – Mistletoe, Eggnog, Fake Snow, Burl Ives,
Santa-on-an-Electric-Razor, Rustling Paper – which they then turned into Emblems that
included humorous spoken phrases (“Ho-ho-ho, I just SOUND like Daddy”). The movements
and phrases were then processed through improvisations in which two or more Emblems
were performed at the same time, with the performers gradually blending parts of different
ones together. Favorite phrases and movements from the resulting mash-ups were
organized into a random, wacky portrait of the holiday.
Christmas script and choreography

Cleaning, the most popular section of the show and one that was independently performed
many times in multiple venues and situations, used the basic transcribed dialogue and
inflection tape model, but the actions were Walter Kendall Fives for cleaning activities such
as Washing Dishes, Cleaning the Bathtub, and Clearing the Table. Each performer had her
own list of actions, which she performed repeatedly throughout the section, though with four
different attitudes, drawn from the discussions: in the first part as a Religious Rite, then Self-
Assuredly, Sentimentally, and finally Thoroughly. The only time the performers were not
executing their specific routines was in a unison section to which they all contributed some
of their own actions. The group performed this collection of actions as one, attempting to
speak and move in sync – using the inflection tape, of course, as a guide. Cleaning script

For Role Models, each performer made a list of the people who had most influenced her. For
the most essential role model on the list, a Frankenstein was created. However, in a major
break from Frankenstein/Watchface protocol, the performer herself created all four parts of
the Frankenstein, since she was the only one who really knew the person being represented
and why he or she was so important in her life. For the other important people on the list, she
created Emblems. The four sets of influences were choreographed in an overlapping
mélange.

For Men, the source discussions were used to create a script with two parallel sets of voices:
the live performers speaking their lines according to the inflection tape, as usual, and a pre-
recorded counterpoint on tape. Since the source tapes were recorded under less than ideal
circumstances, the tape version heard was also a re-creation, rather than edited from the
original. For movement, the sisters returned to their default tasks.

In Little Women, each of the sisters has her own chapter, of which she is the primary focus.
Their titles were references to specific chapters from John Bunyan’s 17th-century allegory
Pilgrim’s Progress, which we are told the girls read and acted out as small children – “Beth
Finds the Palace Beautiful”, “Amy’s Valley of Humiliation”, “Jo Meets Apollyon”, and “Meg
Goes to Vanity Fair.” In each, the sister must face and overcome a moral challenge. Of
Little Women
’s section called Pilgrims was created by a completely different method from
the others in Part One. Each performer wrote a true confession of a moral challenge she had
faced, which Iris edited down, removing all specific detail, to create a generic outline of the
story. In performance, this condensed confession played on an audiotape in the author’s
voice, while the same performer executed a series of Walter Kendall Fives based on actions
in her character’s Pilgrim’s Progress-themed chapter in Little Women. As each solo was
performed, the other three women sat at the kitchen table, heads bowed and hands folded,
quietly whispering other true, but brief, transgressions they had committed that related to the
main confession. Pilgrims script

The final section of PART ONE, God, returned to the vocal and movement template of
Housework, but the subject was religious beliefs.

PART TWO
was the inverse of PART ONE. Whereas in the first half the performers wore their
own everyday clothes, in the second half they wore costumes meant to suggest garments of
the 19th century (but allowing for the necessary freedom of movement). In the first half,
much of the vocal performance was meant to suggest natural speech and the content was
based on informal discussions, but the second half was declaimed in a theatrical manner
and the language was poetic. And in the first half, the movement was often “pedestrian” or
“quotidian” – ordinary and rooted in the mundane kitchen setting (though with many
interludes of abstract movement) – but in the second half, the movement was mostly
abstract with no contextual setting at all, merely performed in front of a rose-printed red
curtain behind a row of footlights. The more visually old-fashioned, historical portion of the
show was actually the more adventurous in terms of movement and content.

For PART TWO, Iris chose one word to represent each sister, boiling her character in the novel
down to its minimal essence. The choice of words was partly inspired by a gift that one of
the cast members received from a friend, a book report and reading list from an elementary
school girl’s notebook. The list had titles, authors, and a brief notation about each book the
girl had read that year. She summarized Little Women with this succinct description: “Meg
get married, Bith (sic) dies, Jo Amy Meg Bith.” The book report, of course, was about Little
Women
and ended with the review “P.S. This is one of the best books in the world!”
Therefore, Meg’s defining word, (as even a child could tell you), was marriage, and Beth’s
was death. For Jo, Iris chose work, and for Amy, art.

Each performer wrote a poem based purely on her own thoughts on the word, not on its
meaning to her character or its context in the novel, so the result combined the personal and
modern with the timeless and universal. These became the texts for individual character
sections for each sister. In addition to writing her poem, each one also directed her own
section. She broke down the text into its constituent elements and assigned movement
creation tasks to the other performers after choosing the most suitable techniques from those
they had learned working on House of Jahnke (and for Melanie, also 1984). Once the
movements were created, each woman used them to create the choreography for her
section. Her choice of music was restricted to pieces performed by a single instrument and
written before 1870, the period of the novel. The music selected:

Meg: Marriage – Trois Versets du Te Deum by Pierre Attaignant
Jo: Work – The Boys of Ballisodare/The Butterfly (Traditional)
Jo and Laurie – Prelude No. 12, G Sharp Minor by Frédéric Chopin
The War – The Union by Richard Bales
Amy and Laurie – Prelude No. 23, F Major by Frédéric Chopin
Beth: Death – Fantasia No. 8, E Minor, First Movement: Largo by Georg Telemann
Amy: Art – Concerts a Deux Violes Esgales, Concert No. 27: Bourrasque by Monsieur de
Saint-Colombe

The four sections named for the sisters and their key words – Meg: Marriage, Jo: Work, Beth:
Death,
and Amy: Art – made up most of PART TWO. In each, the performer representing the
sister being profiled did nearly all of the speaking and often moved in counterpoint to the other
three women who served as a kind of chorus.

Meg: Marriage’s structure was dictated by the structure of the piece of music that Iris chose
to accompany the movements: Pierre Attaignant’s Trois Versets du Te Deum. The piece,
played on a pipe organ, had three modes – quick, loud, and bombastic (A), soft, thoughtful,
and brief (B), and longer, complex, and lyrical (C). In the A sections, with the commanding
music that made full use of the pipe organ’s power, Iris exclaimed her words, projecting over
the loud music. Her A movements were Frankensteins, the densest and most dramatic
movement technique in the Watchface toolbox. In the quiet, brief B sections, she spoke
softly and her poses were static. The longer C sections included multiple Emblems and
looked at complicated issues raised by the idea of marrying. Throughout, the other three
women’s choreography was composed of movements collected from a Bodies In Space
based on a list of free-associated images inspired by weddings and marriage. Like Iris,
during the static B sections, the others held their poses until the music paused, signaling the
start of the next section. Meg: Marriage script

For the first part of Jo: Work, all four of the women created Walter Kendall Fives for household
tasks from the 19th century, in contrast to the Cleaning section in PART ONE, which showed
Walter Kendall Fives for modern household tasks. Other parts were composed of Emblems
for aspects of work like Regeneration, Determination, and Balance, sometimes performed in
unison, sometimes in circular patterns like 19th century dances, set to the traditional fiddle
tunes The Boys of Ballisodare and The Butterfly. Jo: Work script

For Beth: Death, Maggie researched different aspects of the subject and used her findings to
create six subsections. For her music she chose the haunting first movement of Telemann’s
Fantasia No. 8 in E Minor. Except where noted below, most of the movements for this section
came from a Bodies In Space inspired by Maggie’s findings. In the first subsection, “The
Journey,” she used images collected from a variety of cultural beliefs surrounding death,
turned into Emblems (examples: Cerberus, the dog who guards Hades; St. Peter at the pearly
gates). Brief Emblems were also used by both Maggie and the chorus for the activities the
dead are presumed to participate in: “I give prophecy, I fight, feast, haunt, wait, burn, I
return.”

The “Euphemisms” subsection was based on lies people tell to children about death, sharply
contrasted in a coda of harsh, irreverent synonyms for death: “bit it/kicked it/cashed it in.”
The third, “The Plain Truth”, was a factual, scientific but poetic declaration that, in a manner
of speaking, we are always dying, which Maggie spoke simply without much movement.

Another source for Maggie’s writing was Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying; the
doctor’s five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) were
represented in “The Stages.” Maggie performed Emblems based on the stages, while the
other three performers took turns “dying” and catching each other in the background.

The subsection “Left Behind” was about grief and customs to cope with it. Each of the three
backup performers had her own Frankenstein based on reactions to the death of a loved
one – Melanie: “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me.”; Iris: “It feels as
if my hands are gone.”; Kim: “I remember.” The final subsection, “When She Died”, was
about the moment of death and those left behind. The three other sisters encircled Maggie
in an embrace, then slid down her body until they created a circle on the floor, which
Maggie escaped in a single step. Beth: Death script

Amy: Art was composed entirely of movements from a Bodies In Space. The text reflected
Melanie’s ideas on art and her personal relationship to art-making. Amy: Art script

After Meg and Jo but before Beth and Amy, there were three wordless sections. Two of them
were about Little Women’s principal male character Laurie’s relationships to Jo and Amy.
The movements for these very brief sections were mime-like actions showing the progression
of each relationship. In the Jo section, Melanie wore a straw hat and false mustache to
represent Laurie, and in the Amy section, Kim wore the hat and mustache.

In the novel, the story takes place against the backdrop of the Civil War, yet the war is never
seen directly. To fill in that missing piece, between the two Laurie scenes there was a brief
section consisting of Emblems representing the aspects of the war that were missing from the
Little Women version: Prostitutes, Broken Men, Profiteers, etc.

In preparing for the movement-heavy PART TWO, the cast researched the methods of
François Delsarte, the 19th century acting teacher who created a system of
correspondences between human emotions and specific parts of the body. His Applied
Aesthetics program was never published within his lifetime but was carried on by his
students, including Steele MacKaye, an American who brought the principles to America.
In the late 19th century, an adulterated version of Delsarte’s teachings became enormously
popular in America and particularly influential in the world of dance. Delsarte diagram

Delsarte divided most things into threes, beginning with the primary categories of the
physical, mental, and spiritual. According to Delsarte, the artist had three objectives – to
move, to interest, and to persuade – and these were accomplished through three means –
language, thought, and gesture (the last being the greatest of the three). He analyzed
hundreds of human gestures, in life and in art, and divided them into systems, generally
based on three’s. For example: a hand lifted with all the fingers strongly extended =
Exasperation; a hand lifted but with fingers only normally extended = Exaltation; a hand lifted
with fingers contracted to the second joint = Retraction. He had similar analyses for closed
hands, hanging hands, arrangements of the legs, attitudes of the head, and many more,
corresponding to nearly every emotion that could be represented on stage. Although the
Of Little Women performers did not master Delsarte’s method, they did learn some of his
principles and used them – loosely, as inspiration – when fulfilling their movement
assignments.