IMAGINE READYING yourself for a trip to sunny Florida -- packing your bags, studying your maps and buying your tickets -- only to wake and discover you have arrived in rugged Montana instead. The place is beautiful on its own terms, but not at all where you thought you were headed. That's roughly how Sam Elmore must have felt as he prepared "Sinking Up," an evening of short plays and improvisational movement, for this week's opening.

Elmore embarked on his journey nearly a year ago. After directing a multimedia take on Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin's "Savage/Love," he seized on the idea of creating an original piece with his Middlebury College teacher-collaborator Peter Schmitz, as a means of continuing his creative exploration. "It came from me having had a few experiences where I was able to play around with the idea of the combination of text and movement -- getting closer and closer to fully realizing what was in my head," Elmore says. "Then it was just a matter of what to do with the idea that it's the two of us -- two men -- performing. Where do we go from there?"

Elmore thought he'd found the solution: "The whole thing for me was celebrating male relationships -- celebrating those relationships in my life that have helped me out and kept me above water." But when he solicited scripts from playwrights Paul Donnelly, Andy Mitton, Chris Stezin and Dana Yeaton, he found that his affirming approach to male relationships wasn't universal. "Ultimately, what the playwrights brought was the conflict, the drama," he says. "But I don't think we lost it being a celebration, it's just a totally different avenue to take."

Such equanimity did not come easily. As he and Schmitz rehearsed the project in Vermont, Elmore sometimes found it hard to let go of his preconceptions. "There was one scene [a decidedly unsentimental father/son reunion] that I was misreading and fighting for the first month," he admits. Says Schmitz of the evening's other father/son scene: "When we first read it, it seemed like it was heading toward this absurdist cartoon. But now, with this director, it's taken another little twist. The lines of what I thought were humor were not so much about that."

Elmore and Schmitz credit director David Snider, a late addition to the project, with helping to draw out the actual, rather than expected, themes of the evening. "We've found the biggest breakthroughs and the most fun when we really let [the scenes] be their own voice," Elmore says. "Then, in return, all of a sudden it's like, 'Oh! That's how this serves the evening.' "

The year-long journey of "Sinking Up" has delivered Elmore to an unexpected destination. He is hopeful, however, that it is finally the right place.

Peter Schmitz, left, and Sam Elmore had to give in to what the writers wrote instead of their own ideas in "Sinking Up."