Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Genet is Clever

It is often said that male writers can't write for women, or can't write for women well. There are many reasons why this sort of statement is false, but rather than go on a tirade about gender, intelligence, and truths of the human condition, I will simply present a section of text by the brilliant Jean Genet in The Screens. This is right at the beginning of Scene 12.
_______________________________________
KADIDJA: Without women what would you be? A spot of sperm on your father's pants that three flies would have drunk up.

THE DIGNITARY: Go away Kadidja. This isn't the day.

KADIDJA: It is! They accuse us and threaten us, and you want us to be prudent. And docile. And humble. And submissive. And ladylike. And honey-tongued. And sweet as pie. And silk veil. And fine cigarette. And nice kiss and soft-spoken. And gentle dust on their red pumps!

THE DIGNITARY: Kadidja, it's a matter of general security. Go away.
________________________________________

If this exchange doesn't clearly illustrate the long fought battle for escape from patriarchal power, i don't know what does.



and also...his beautiful and raw description of art functioning for society in scene 17 brings to mind volumes of conversation.
________________________________________
THE ACADEMICIAN: What will they build on? I observed them carefully throughout my stay. Their only memories are of poverty and humiliation . . . Yes, what will they do? Can an art be born for the purpose of enshrining so many facts which they themsleves would like to forget? And if there's no art, there's no culture. Are they therefore doomed to decay? And there they go nailing the cage . . .
________________________________________

What is fabulous about this is that it is used ironically; the Academician, and his colonialist compadres The Banker, Sir Harold, Mrs Blanensee, are all looking down upon the native Algerians from their position of power. And yet Genet's argument throughout the play, that this dirty mess is precisely what the matter of art must be, rings through.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Review: Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! - Sadler's Wells Theatre

How do I even begin to describe this? Bourne's imagination is unparalleled, taking the well-known story of the Nutcracker, and twisting out a playful perspective. The nods to classical ballet throughout were wonderful, with little details such as the bratty brother/sister's exaggerated toe-first turned out walk, to the arabian dancer's final pose, however Bourne twists these and "shakes them up" for the audience. As well, his references to pop-culture were overflowing; one couldn't help but think of Marilyn Monroe's rendition of Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend when watching the young heroine with her nutcracker and gaggle of topless men, or of boy bands when watching his russian dancers. What I found most remarkable about this was his ability to push the boundaries, to squeeze out the underlying themes in the story and magnify them for us to see, while still creating a story that was extremely watchable and enjoyable.

With some trepidation, I took my 7 year old daughter and husband to this show. My daughter has seen quite a bit of ballet for her age, but never The Nutcracker, despite being very familiar with the story and Tchaikovsky's score. My husband has seen only a little ballet, and again, never a Nutcracker. Both loved it! They had a lot of fun with the story, and the fabulous set and lighting design had an impact on the audience, even from up in the second circle.

I am SO unendingly happy to have been able to see this show, and share it with my family. More Bourne for all!!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Reflections - The Audience

I have been spending quite a lot of time thinking about the audience. Clearly, without the audience, we really can't have theatre. Until there are people out there, taking in your words and gestures, everything is just a rehearsal. The give and take between performers and between performer-audience are what make live theatre unique and enjoyable; the sense of risk that something could go wrong, the sense of profound connection with those around you. Increasingly among the avant-garde (and even in the mainstream) there has been a push to involve the audience in new ways. Immersive theatre experiences, although still relatively un-common in Winnipeg, are de rigeur here in London. Even companies as "mainstream" as Headlong, producing with the National Theatre, try to take steps at making the experience in some way interactive for the audience.

Our presentations at RADA played with this to varying degrees. Some groups had the audience sitting on the floor, some had them sampling treats, while still others had them participatinig in the violence against a character, pouring food and liquid over an actor bound to a chair. With each of these experiences, I questioned several things:
- when did this work for me as an audience member?
- when it did work, what was it about this that worked?
- when it didn't work, why not?
- regardless of efficacy, what was this doing to the audience member? And did the group creating the piece seem to know or intend this impact?

I spent likely an equal amount of time watching the audience as I did the production. How were they reacting? What were they happily taking on, compared to what got their backs up or made them uncomfortable?

What I found (almost overwhelmingly) was that when these moments of audience participation worked best, they felt like there was no other way to do it. I could not, as an audience member, think of another way for the message or the scene to be conveyed. The times when it didn't work were times when it didn't feel necessary, where the action felt as if it wasn't done for the sake of the production, but just for the sake of it. Indulgence, at times.

Oddly, some moments which, if described, would feel gratuitous, were just fine - they worked. While conversely others which may sound like they would be ok simply felt over the top. What it comes down to is intention and thought; has the company really thought through what they are doing, why they are doing it - can they justify the choice artistically and as it relates to the text. The times when this didn't seem possible, did not resonate.

Simultaneously, I have been been performing in an immersive theatre event called You Me Bum Bum Train. I can't reveal many details, other than that it is an opportunity for the audience member to be the focus of the show, experiencing various things from the absurt, to the unusual, to the mundane. I have been in a couple different scenes now, and had a chance over my several nights performing to gauge the various reactions people have to the different kinds of scenes. It is really fascinating to watch people who really buy into this audience power, and those who really shut down...along with all gradients in between. I actually admitted to a fellow cast-mate this week that if I just heard about it, I probably wouldn't want to go see this kind of show. Even going to the audition I was nervous, thinking about the awful kinds of audience participation I have seen over the years. But this specific production gives such ultimate care to the emotional ride of the passenger - in fact they call the performance a ride - each scene, and the succession of them, is carefully crafted to take a person through the highs and lows of human experience, but with a sense of safety that allows them to play.

I have, despite my initial worries, ultimate respect for the creators (Kate & Morgan) of this amazing experience, and only hope I can one day create something as truly special and experiential as they have.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Portfolio

Here, as promised, are photos of the portfolio I have created for the Autumn Term at RADA, primarily focused on The Duchess of Malfi. The assignment itself is really rather vague; create a portfolio tracking your response to the course. Scene study specifically, but it should also include references to research and to the other parts of the course. I decided that creating a director's notebook was my way in. I don't know if this is "right" or if it has worked, but I am pretty proud of what I have created, the ideas that have come out of it. And I now, more than ever, want to produce this play!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Closing Time

My posting has slowed down significantly as classes wind down and assignments pile up. Our performances of interpretations of our Scene Study plays happened this week. First, on Monday, the Measure for Measure group presented their piece. I was really impressed by the way they merged all 8 scenes, individually conceptualized or devised, into a single evening response to the play. Some scenes worked better than others, but on the whole it was a highly enjoyable evening, presented by some talented individuals. I particularly liked the scene that turned one of the early scenes into a brothel; I have felt this seedy underbelly, the netherworld in this play, but so often people producing it are scared to "dirty up" Shakespeare. Kudos to my classmates for letting the Bard get messy!

Tuesday (yesterday) was our performance of responses to The Duchess of Malfi. Our class functioned a little differently, creating 3 separate short pieces on our own themes. I really loved seeing what the other two groups brought out in the text, looking at politics and power, and the other at game playing and fate. Our group's focus on women and power was successful, I think. I have a brief audience-video that I will post a link to shortly. Not the greatest vid, but a sense of what we did with the text, interspersing other plays that lend themselves to this theme. In many cases the text of those plays was undistinguishable from Webster's text; several audience members commented to us that our piece really affected them, made them think about violence and power, and how women even today are subjected to these injustices, these violations.

Elsewhere on my plate has been the portfolio process. I have used this blog as a starting point to create my written response to the course. It is finished!! I will be posting photos of the final creation tomorrow, before I hand it in.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Decisions

We have had to submit our choices for approaches groups for next term. I had initially wanted voice, but in my email told our course leaders I would be ok with Laban too. I was really torn on this decision. On one hand, I find LABAN and historical dance to be extremely interesting...but with so much history in dance related forms, and being known already as a "movement" person back home, I worried that this wouldn't open up any new doors like voice would. I also liked the idea of creating a voice project, what this might entail. And not to mention, I really love voice work in general. So as I expected may happen, I was put in Laban. And at first I was a little upset...but now have realized that it is going to be immense fun, and I will learn things I haven't seen before, particularly the historical social dance. And my ever-practical brain has recalled that it will give me some ground on which to look for work with theatre companies choreographing historical dance, such as RMTC or the Opera. So I am now feeling good about these things.

Our second approaches choice was between directing and playwriting. I immediately chose directing, mirroring my choice of Scene Study directing, because I do not in any way fancy myself a playwright. The numbers were really lopsided, so some of us who were doing scene study directing too were asked to consider switching. I gave this some serious thought...was I willing to risk an entire module in something that I don't think I am capable of doing with any success? Again, I sat to re-evaluate. I have devised/created work, and choreographed with success, and this too is playwriting. Perhaps I can approach playwriting from this perspective, and hone my voice as a creator, not just as a director. And who knows, maybe I will find I can actually write things. I think back to undergrad and our Style & Genre class, where Per had us write our own monologues...in fact, that didn't go too badly. And it is important to do things that take you outside your comfort zone as an artist; that is how we grow.

So next term I will be doing Directing Scene Study (major module), Laban, Playwriting, and Birkbeck Scene study (major module, audience perspective). I have opted out of the producing course; again here, this would be nice to have, but I don't fancy myself a producer, it is too far removed from creation itself.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Some Business With A Camel

This was our final approaches class for the Autumn term....true evidence that time is rapidly slipping by. Our group began in Acting Space with Sue, our course leader, who asked us to respond both to Brian's class and the Barbican Hamlet in some way. Some pairs chose just to talk about their experience, some chose a demonstration. We chose to create a scene which demonstrated our experience of Brian's approach, while commenting on Hamlet and what challenged us in the production. This was met with success. It was really great to watch and listen to everyone talking about their individual experiences in this way.

Next we went to dramaturgy in which Paul Sirrett answered our questions/led a discussion first about working as a dramaturg, and then about working as/being a playwright. This was a really great discussion, and a reminder that even those who work and whom some may deem have "made it" have the same insecurities, need to push forward, and effort to make/find work that those of us starting out do.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

In Earnest

Today was my daughter's school christmas concert. Unlike schools in Canada, the Christmas concert in this English school was during the day only, with performances in the morning and afternoon. There were no stage lights, no fancy party dresses, and a conspicuously religious story behind the play set up to allow all the classrooms to sing a song; while the first bits of the show celebrated santa, presents, christmas dinner, the tree as the "star" of Christmas, the coda to the piece was to really celebrate the Star of Bethlehem as the star of Christmas, sneaking in the reminder of the religious basis for this holiday (for some, of course). This in itself was odd..in Canada, at least in public schools, religion has been outlawed since my years in primary school. If I recall correctly, the Lord's prayer and bible reading in class were made contraband in around my Grade 2 or 3 year.

What stood out even more, though, as I sit pondering creation, development, art.....was the effort and honesty of these students as they stood modestly on a low stage, with little costume and no light, in front of their adoring parents and the parents of their peers. Each child, even those terrified by standing in front of the crowd, had a look of extreme earnest pride as they sang their song, smiling with extreme joy. It was a gentle reminder of what little we need to make magic for those watching.

Keep it simple.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Crisis of Faith

It is crunch time. So naturally, it is also the time when any other part of the universe (mainly transport) that can mess around with me does its best to make things difficult. Today, it was the return of the kid's flu, meaning that I was stranded at home when I should have been rehearsing and attending Scene Study for our impending Malfi presentation (one week today!!!!!! aaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!).

AND screw this. i wrote the whole blog post, and then blogger ATE IT. example of the above happening.

What you missed: me musing about the presentation, positive feedback that makes me uneasy and think I'm not pushing far enough, details about portfolio and essay status.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Review - Hamlet, Schaubune Berlin @ Barbican

There is so much to say about this production. I had high hopes, having read at length about Thomas Ostermeier's work, and his penchant for tearing apart then sewing back together canonical texts. This afternoon was in no way a disappointment. His vision of the Danish castle as a gauche, messy, single room was pitch perfect; the set was at once beautiful and ugly, with gold chain curtains and flashy lights, actors in tuxedos juxtaposed against dirt covering the first quarter of the stage, and an increasing amount of mess (literally garbage!) littering the stage as the play went on. The actors, too, began beautiful and we saw them fall apart. Images of consumption were highlighted quite forcibly, with not only the actors being consumed (by guilt, by revenge, etc) but many scenes of actual consumption of water, beer, milk, liquid that looks like blood. The very first introduction to Horatio was with him sitting at the table, eating voraciously, with food all over his face. This symbolic representation of the characters' devolution was quite stunning.

The performances were remarkable: Hamlet (Lars Eidinger) was not the beautiful, brooding Danish prince we have come to expect, but rather a spoiled, overweight, moody brat, forcing his video camera into the faces of his family (and at times even the audience). Gertrude and Ophelia were played by the completely fabulous Judith Rosmair, who played the two women differently and yet the same, characterizing the echoes of these two women so central to Hamlet's life in one another. Her physical work both in the transitions from Gertrude to Ophelia and back, and more specifically in Ophelia's madness was completely transfixing; I couldn't stop watching her remarkable and specific movements and vocalizations. The other four (that's right, only 4) actors were fabulous as well, playing Laertes/Rosencrantz in the same actor and Horatio/Guildenstern as one, along with an actor for Polonius and one for Claudius.

What I found most fabulous was the self-awareness of the production, finding moments to highlight Hamlet's jester-like qualities, coming out to the audience, turning the play into a black comedy. And it did not feel in any way incorrect...it was all those things that flash through your mind reading the play, brought brilliantly to light.

Fabulous. I must try to visit Schaubune when I go to Berlin...and hopefully manage to catch their Measure for Measure in Paris. More!! I want more!!!!!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Ghosts

Classes Friday were good, and I got lots of essay-related work done, which is rather necessary at this point. Also rather necessary was some time of relief and relaxation; this was handily filled by a chance to see Plastikman Live 1.5 at the 02 Brixton Academy. Now this might just sound like a night of hedonism, however in fact it was in many ways an experience echoing the ideas we have been discussing in classes and outside about the performer/audience relationship, and the idea that in a mediated world audiences need stimulus or many stimuli to engage.

Richie Hawtin, the UK born, Canadian raised, Berlin-based techno pioneer who created Plastikman has always been one to push technology forward. From his early days challenging the limits of analog sound creation, to more recent forays into live performance and digital music creation, Hawtin is known to challenge the conceptions of what a DJ performance is. So when my husband told me of the SYNK app that Hawtin created for Plastikman live shows, I was immediately intrigued. SYNK allows iPhone users in the venue to interact with one another, and with the performer via a live chat, commenting on what is going on and the performance. In addition, and more forward-thinking, there are points in the performance where the SYNK users are able to impact the performance, sometimes through the lights on the enormous, semi-circle LED screen surrounding Hawtin in his mad-scientist lab, and sometimes through writing text which Hawtin then converts to sound via his equipment, and samples into the sounds he is creating. It was this in particular that really intrigued me. DJ and producers are notorious control-freaks, obsessed with the sound, the gear, the effect...not unlike many actors and theatre directors. So the idea of opening up parts of the performance to be moulded by the audience, and a large, alcohol-fuelled dance club audience, is at once terrifying, and liberating.

Granted not all audience members participated in this, or even knew was happening, but for those who wanted "more", wanted to be part of the action, this additional connection with the performer was offered.

The other thing I found uncanny was the "ghosting" going on in this space, echoing nearly 100 years of performance through the very walls. The Brixton Academy was first built in 1929 as a Theatre and Cinema, and physically the space hasn't changed significantly since this time. It still retains the proscenium arch with opera-style columns, and large playing spaces well above, eye-level with the Circle seating. The buildings comprising nearly a full set, including fake trees of what was likely once an attempt at naturalism, still appear surrounding the upper bits of wall. Juxtaposing this history with such forward-thinking dance music experiences as the one we were undergoing; I couldn't help but think of the historical significance of a dance music artist playing in such an historic space. At moments I imagined an opera production, or some Chekovian actors moodily walking about.

While dance music is often derided as hedonistic pleasure-seeking, it is moments such as this that remind me of the potential for greatness among dance music artists. Because the truly good ones are just that; artists.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Devise This

Workshopping our devised response to The Duchess of Malfi continues to go well. We have made a few adjustments to clarify the script we have created, and have come up with some really neat ways to visualize the story. We still have one enormous bit of physicality to work out, however aside from that have worked out basic blocking for the rest, and are unlikely to make many more script changes. A break on this for a couple days, then back in to share what we have done so far with Tom on Tuesday.

Class today was also focussed on devising, this time as a dramaturgical task. We each came to class with a couple observed quotes and situations from around London, from which we created two plays, and then performed the other group's play. This was a fantastic exercise, and one that would be great to help introduce people to devised work in a class or workshop. I should also add that it was greatly fun, and the stress-relief I think we all needed at this point.

And because I don't have enough going on, I have volunteered for the smash immersive show You Me Bum Bum Train. This ran last year in London to sold out audiences as part of the Barbican season, and a new Bum Train has been created for this year, at a new location. Because of the nature of the show, I can't really say more than that. I am really excited to have the chance to be a part of this!!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Process

After a couple late nights and a lot of collaboration, our group have created our base script for our final Scene Study presentations this term. We are looking at Gender and Power in The Duchess of Malfi, specifically at the triangular relationship between the Duchess, Antonio, and Ferdinand, and pulling in other texts which comment on the nature of this relationship. First, we came up with our list of influencing texts:

The Dog In The Manger - Lope deVega
Boston Marriage - David Mamet
Something Unspoken - Tennessee Williams
Venus and Adonis - William Shakespeare
Top Girls - Caryl Churchill

From here, we sat together and compiled bits of the text from each that we felt might be useful to create a script from. Then, rather than try to battle things out, we each went away and created a script or mock up that used what we felt was useful, splicing the texts together, and thinking about shape. What occurred was remarkable; we came back with 5 scripts that were really 5 versions of the same play. We had used almost the same bits of text, often in the same ways or same places, just varying on the situation or setup.

From this, we sat together and hacked together the proper script, drawing from what each of us had done individually and creating the shape of the piece. We aimed to focus simply on the text, using the language, etc, rather than on things like stage directions or business. Our intention is to workshop what things will look like; who is on stage when, who says what, etc.

We were successful! We presented our concept and script to Tom, and he noted that the script was clear and the use of language was good. He gave us some tips on things that were awkward or not as strong, and also gave us some thoughts about what some of the pieces might mean, encouraging us to look outside the text to other ways of manifesting actions such as "cover her eyes"..which means something very specific, but also very vague.

First workshop is today, we're going to get this thing on its feet.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Review - Ashes and Sand @ RADA

The final production of this Autumn season at RADA was Ashes and Sand. Again, featuring graduate BA students, this show looks into the lives of 4 misbehaving young girls and their police officer friend in modern-day Brighton. The play begins fairly straightforward, however as the complicated relationship between these youths and the officer is developed, the world of the play gets more and more surreal, climaxing with an in-your-face style scene. This is a challenging style to work in, particularly given the huge outbursts required of actors, and I felt that most were handled quite well.

The design was flashy and commercial looking, and I found that the set itself wasn't entirely helpful to the development of the play. The pieces that were moved in and out by actors to use the full space were more intriguing, and offered more; the large pier that was built, with broken down posts almost felt like it was just in the way at times.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Review - Dealing with Clair @ RADA

What a strange little play. This centres around a couple wanting to sell their flat, and a potential buyer, all of whom are dealing with Clair, the real estate agent. Additionally we meet the couple's "italian girl" nanny, the contractor who comes in to do some work in the house, and Toby, another real estate agent. Each of the brief scenes shows us a little about what the characters want publicly, as well as their potential for indiscretion...most notably Mr James (the buyer) who grows increasingly obsessed with Clair as he delays and draws out the sale.

The performances were strong from all cast members, most notably the actor playing Mr James. He hit the right note between genuine, awkward nice guy, and slightly creepy. As well the design was great, and used the space in the GBS studio ingeniously. Costumes were great fun, set in the 80s.

On a personal note, it was nice to see students who are the result of the kind of training and approach to the work that we have been looking at.

New Perspectives

Voice and Movement Fridays. Voice was lovely...we did quite a lot of resonance work. I found Adrienne's take on some of the resonance exercises to be extremely helpful; moving on from the ha-humm-ah I had done with Gail, Adrienne uses the relaxed buzzing lips, turned into a hum, turned into the ah. This really pulls the voice forward. I also took a lot from her exercises showing us the capacity for resonance in your mouth, moving a humm from being far back (tight back teeth) to far forward (much space - ideal). We also used a bit of text toward the end of the lesson..I used Imogen from Cymbeline, which I have done for some time. I found that doing this resonance work leading into it really slowed me down and forced me to taste the words, really relishing in each. On a speech where I have been known to rush (excited, energetic....thoughts come too quickly!) I was able to maintain the level of excite, but really slow down and enjoy the words.

Movement was fun. We learned the diagonal LABAN scale and its associated movement qualities: float/thrust, dab/wring, etc. We also continued to work on the Saltieri, adding in the containment of renaissance dance and reverence to begin and end with a partner. Darren informed us of a lecture he is leading in January at the National Gallery as accompaniment to the DaVinci exhibit. I can't wait to attend!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Yes. No.

Thursday was our final Acting Space with the brilliant Brian Stirner. We continued to work on the Chekov scenes, slowly moving into the text as written, although as Brian said, a lot faster than he usually likes to work. Slowly, putting the "real" words in, but trying to keep the spark and energy of the improvised versions of the scenes. What I found really interesting was that Brian's first direction to me was to keep myself separated from Ferapont, which in rehearsal resulted in a sad, depressing Andrij. Upon seeing the scene Thursday he recommended that we try the scene as a "release" - both Andrij and Ferapont need to talk to someone, and are grateful for the chance to talk, knowing they are not equals. Of course, this was opposite to what he had directed previously, so at first we were confused. After trying it we quickly realized that the effect of this was to have the deep sadness droning underneath while the happy, facade was smoothing over top...just like the Matisse sketch.

Watching each group do their scene really reminded me of how much more watchable this was. It was a way to have "something going on" just based on the words, the emotion in the text...and then smooth it out with the intention in the scene.

We did some great exercises too...shaking out limbs and eventually our whole body in a loose dance...just letting whatever comes up happen. I really want to keep using the focus exercise, working your way up from feet to face, really looking at each thing with curiosity. It reminds you that at its heart, acting is PLAYING like a child, with insatiable curiosity. Without curiosity actors are boring. As well, we did some Meisner style exercises in pairs with simple text such as Yes/No, Yes You Will/No I won't, and then back to back Listen To Me/Get Off My Back.

MAN will I miss this class. We are hoping to organize a couple workshops once Brian is back from Brazil. I hope we can make this happen.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Do I even know that many words?

Just feel the need to actually put this in writing. In the next 3 weeks, we have:
- 8000 word portfolio of my work in Scene Study
- Create and prepare a performance of/in response to The Duchess of Malfi.
- 4000 word essay and 1000 or so word questionnaire in Theorizing The Contemporary

Sometimes it is important to say it. HOLY CRAP THAT IS A LOT!!!

Now that that's over.

We spent several hours working through a reading party in preparation for our Malfi presentation. We have opted to focus on The Duchess and Antonio's relationship, and the various ways it may exist, both in what we specifically see in the text, and in what we don't necessarily see. We are pulling from other scenes in Malfi, but specifically focussing on the Marriage scene in act 1. In addition, we're pulling from other similar relationships in texts like Top Girls, Venus and Adonis, The Dog In The Manger, Boston Marriage, and Something Unspoken. We are also looking at the stage as a "dirty" space, in response to an article we found in The Guardian about a photographer who went to Rwanda and photographed the sites of horrible atrocities during the genocide, but 10 years later...looking at what remains after. This all sounds great...but is a lot. We need to have a script draft to Tom by Tuesday. Woo!

Brief rehearsal for our acting space class, working on the scene from Three Sisters. I had an "aha" moment while working on it, realizing some shifts on when Andrij is or isn't paying attention or speaking to Ferapont. We present these scenes in class tomorrow, and then we'll see where Brian takes them from there.

Scene Study at Birkbeck today focused on Violence again, a fitting theme for the seeming violence going on in my brain right now over all this workload. Looking at Oedipus, we discussed the act of rendering himself blind, the level of violence in this...and also at ideas like Justice. I had some great points in the class about the function of the violence and the blinding...and also on the subject of the concept of justice as the Greeks saw it; not as individual justice as we see it now (justice as fairness). Rather, justice for the Greeks was justice for the collective. Oedipus' punishment isn't to match his actions or responsibility, but to mete out the impact his actions have had on the larger society.

Finally we looked at some performances of Greek Tragedy or responses to it (Oedipus directed by Tyrone Guthrie, and Mouth Full of Birds) and discussed whether it is possible and/or effective to stage Greek Tragedy in an "authentic" way...and if we do if it is still tragedy. I really strongly feel that the plays and ideas themselves are tragic, however if we try to present them realistically, they lose their impact and become a museum piece, or a piece of comedy. The way we can engage now with the violence to make it truly meaningful is to distance our audience (and possibly even the characters) from it. Expressionism first comes to mind as a means to this, however things like media can also be a way to stage the violence and make it still shock and inform us.

Oedipus The King - Sophocles (trans Stephen Berg and Diskin Clay)

This is a really great translation of the text, which for me manages to balance the style and poetry with modern text and phrasing. The effect is a sort of timeless quality which positions Oedipus' struggle both staunchly in the past (where it belongs) and at the same time flings it forward.

Something that really stood out, that I didn't recall from previous readings was that after he has blinded himself, and is brought out for all to see the evidence of this violence, his young daughters (Antigone and Ismene) are brought out to witness their father in his lowered state. I couldn't help but think how strange it is that he requests not all his children (particularly the sons who he says can take care of themselves) but his young daughters. Oddly precipitating the life of struggle they (particularly Antigone) will have to come in the trilogy.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Brain Ache

Today was a mountain of aching brain in many ways. Began with missing my train....getting to rehearsal late. My scene partner wasn't there....waited about 45 mins and then he came downstairs...we had been waiting for each other in separate rooms! So clearly no rehearsing accomplished.

Scene Study was good: We read and discussed Act 5 of The Duchess of Malfi, and then Tom spent some time directing short scenes in the play with different people. What really came out of this was how important the text is, and how slowing down and making sure the actors mean the words they are saying, without any "extras" of acting on top of it can really make the play come alive. It is remarkable just how little acting we need to understand the play. We then got to pitch our proposals for final Scene Study presentations on Duchess; my group's pitch was successful...hooray! More on this process later...tomorrow we meet to try to put together the script.

Then on to Theorizing. We spent the class looking at media in performance, and what theatre means in a mediated age. This included watching clips of performances from various companies who work with media in their practice...specifically several from the Wooster Group. I found these rather difficult to deal with; Wooster work in relation/response/interaction with classic or canonical texts, looking at the effect that media has on them. They use a lot of microphoned voices, really showing the mechanics of producing sound, and using the microphone's power to silence other actors who don't have the microphone. At the same time, they use various images, often many at once....simulating channel surfing as we do it on TV. There is a lot of ambient sound, screeches, enhanced voices from the microphones, videos, etc, simultaneously...which combine (in theory) to really make the audience aware of the work they are doing as audience members.

Now in theory, I agree with this idea...alienating the audience, really engaging them with the mechanics and not letting them be lulled in by emotion or character. In the video clips we watched, however, I wasn't able to get this. The onslaught, primarily the sound, made it impossible for me as a spectator to make a choice on where to focus; in fact, I tried to jump around, but soon just disengaged and stopped watching/listening. We debated in groups the means with which Wooster try to achieve this alienation, discussing the techniques above. Each on their own, or even in reasonable combination, I find these all to be exceptionally useful. I must say however that the combination, layering them all at once, just made me angry as a spectator. In all honestly, if the full show were like that, I would likely leave. Someone put forward that perhaps the point is just to agitate or provoke the audience. Maybe it is...but provoke them to what? for what? It seems to me this is likely just to end in resentment.

I think another area of frustration is that most of these, as I stated above, were attempting to interact with a canonical text...but the words of the text, even the ideas, felt lost in the pandemonium. What is the point of "interacting" with a text if the text is lost in the muddle? Why not just look at an abstract idea instead?

Now all this said, it is based on a few short video clips on the internet, which likely have the inherent sound engineering problems of videotaped theatre....and didn't show the full production. I am now rather curious to see a production by Wooster, just to see if in its entirety, live, it hangs together.

Shakespeare in a Pub

Spent Monday doing a workshop with one of my classmates' companies, Fine Chisel. They do devised work/new writing, using live music as a binding point, and have had some festival success in Edinburgh and elsewhere. This workshop was to help them work out some ideas about devising a Shakespeare piece they have been commissioned to do for a festival this Winter.

We worked into the text in various ways; initially just on a line, focusing on antithesis, and then lengthening that out into a full prologue, looking for ways to keep the energy and information flow in these prologues going. Tom suggested that the prologue often reads like a sports commentatary on what is to come. We had a lot of fun reading these prologues in this way, and found that this was a great way to really paint the picture in the text.

Finally, we worked on some scenes Tom had selected that they are looking at for the show; the idea is to situate all these scenes from various plays and with various characters in a pub, and see what comes out of the text in this new scenario. What I found really lovely was how easy it suddenly became to use the text conversationally and not just as lines thrown back and forth into space. Listening to the other groups, this was apparent in their work as well.

Generally this was a fun afternoon of light engagement with the same kind of work we have been doing in various ways. I hope I can work with Fine Chisel again in the future.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Right Now

We had a class/meeting with Tom on Saturday morning, during which he gave us feedback on how things are going for us from his perspective, and we had a chance to talk a bit about what we want to do after the course, how we feel it is going, etc.

This was a glorious 3 hrs. Everyone in the group is very open and willing to talk about how they are seeing things, which is great. It was interesting to learn how others are perceiving the class, and where areas of frustration have been, and also to see how Tom has perceived our path. What I also found interesting was hearing other students talk about one another's work, what inspires them, what they learn from.

Tom's assessment for me was that I generally am doing good work, and that I just need to trust myself. Wow...me in a nutshell! Notably he commented that I sometimes have an excess of energy that I need to trust myself to use, otherwise it comes out too loud or too quiet. Another assessment was that I need to not be afraid of my opinions and ideas; I had stated that what I want to do is continue devising work, directing, performing if it works in the situation, from which I want to write about the theory of theatre and practice of theatre that is ruminating in my belly, but right now I am not sure of exactly how to articulate it. Tom's encouragement to just trust myself and my ideas/opinions was helpful. I don't know why I have an apprehension, really...I know that I can stand in front of groups and talk about or defend my ideas. I think that somehow committing them to paper (or heaven forbid publishing them!) makes them so much more concrete and intimidating. Need to work at getting over that.

Based on this I have made some minor adjustments to my portfolio approach, and also to my dissertation proposal idea; I am hoping that I can use these tools on the MA course to help crystallize my ideas about theatre and how to approach practice.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Suddenly Last Summer - Tennessee Williams

Williams provides highly specific directions for the setup and feel of this play, which at first seem superfluous, but as we get deeper into the story, the reader sees immediately the need for this dense, thick place. The soundscape in the play brings a surreal, dream-like quality which mimics the madness of Sebastien (who we never see) and more specifically Catherine, whom we see driven mad on stage. We are left to question whether she is more or less mad after the serum....certainly a question about truth that Williams is raising

Something Unspoken - Tennessee Williams

This is a juicy little one act play about an old Southern lady and her secretary. It reminded me thematically of Mamet's Boston Marriage...allusions to a relationship that is not deemed appropriate by society at the time, but clearly a relationship beyond friendship among these two ladies

The pace of the play was very melodic, even reading it....there are beautiful cresecendos and decrescendos in tempo as the energy lilts, almost like the tide. As always, Williams' language is raw and beautiful, capturing the souls of these characters to the page.

Beautiful Words

In preparation for our Duchess of Malfi presentations for Scene Study, I have spent some time looking at various sources. Some essays or books on the subject of the Play or women in that period, and also historical texts. One I came across was Early Modern Women Poets: An Anthology Edited by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson. This anthology is fairly new, published in 2001, and I found it particularly helpful as it contains a wide variety of female poets, both aristocratic and working class, chronologically from around 1500 to 1700, and holds some biographical and contextual information.

Some specific ones that stood out (tho I am not sure whether any of this will bleed into my work....)

Anne Kyme nee Askew - 1521-1546 -
The Balade Which Anne Askew made and Sange whan she was in Newgate

Lyke as the armed knyght
Appoynted to the fielde
With thys world wyll I fyght
And fayth shall be my sheilde.
faythe is that weapon stronge
Whych wyll not fayle at nede
My foes therfor amonge
Therewith wyll I procede.
As it is had in strengthe
And force of Christes waye
It wyll prevayle at lengthe
Though all the devyls saye naye.
faythe in the fathers olde
Obtayned ryghtwysnesse
Which make me verye bolde.
To feare no worldes dystresse.
I now rejoyce in hart
And hope byd me do so
For Christ wyll take my part
And ease me of my wo.
Thu sayst lorde, who so knocke
To them wylt thu attende
Undo therfor the locke
And thy stronge power sende.
More enmyes now I have.
Than heeres upon my heed
Lete them not me deprave
But fygght thy in my steed.
On the my care I cast
For all their cruell spyght
I sett not by their hast
For thu art my delyght.
I am not she that lyst
My anker to lete fall
For euerye drysling myst
My shyppe substancyall.
Not oft use I to wryght
In prose nor yet in ryme
Yet wyll I shewe one syght
That I sawe in my tyme.
I sawe a ryall trone
Where Justyce shuld have sytt
But in her stede was one
Of modye cruell wytt.
Absorpt was ryghwysnesse
As of the ragyng floude
Sathan in his excesse.
Sucte up the gyltelesse bloude.
Tan thought I, Jesus lorde
Whan thu shald judge us all
Harde is it to recorde
On these men what wyll fall.
Yet lorde I the desyre
For that they do to me
Lete not them tast the hyre
Of their inyquyte.
(1547)

Lady Mary Wroth - 1587-1652
Sonnet II

Love like a Jugler comes to play his prize,
And all mindes draw his wonders to admire,
To see how cunningly he (wanting eyes)
Can yet deceive the best sight of desire.

The wanton Childe, how can he faine his fire
So prettily, as none sees his disguise,
How finely doe his trickes; while we fooles hire
The badge, and office of his tyrannies.

For in the ende such jugling he doth make,
As he our hearts instead of eyes doth take;
For men can onely by their flights abuse

The sight with nimble, and delightfull skill,
But if he play, his gaine is our lost will,
Yet Child-like we cannot his sports refuse.
(1621)

Anne Finch - Countess of Winchilsea - 1661-1720
A letter to Daphnis

Sure of successe, to you I boldly write,
Whilst Love, does every tender line endite.
Love, who is justly President of verse,
Which all his servants write, or else rehearse.
Phoebus, how'ere mistaken Poets dream,
N'er us'd a Verse, 'till Love became his theam,
To his stray'd Son, still as his passion rose
He rais'd his hasty voyce, in clamerous prose,
But when in Daphne, he wou'd Love inspire,
He woo'd in verse, sett to his silver lyre,
In moving Verse, that did her heart assail,
And cou'd on all, but Chastity prevail.
The Trojan Prince, did pow'rfull numbers joyn,
And sleeping Toy, again in flames was drest,
To raise the like, in pittying Dido's breast.
Love, without poetrys refining aid,
s a dull bargain, and but coursly made;
Nor e're cou'd Poeetry, successful prove
Or touotch the soul, but when the sence was Love.
Oh! cou'd they both, in absence now impart
Skill to my hand, but to describe my heart.
Then shou'd you see, impatient of your stay,
Soft hopes contend, with fears of sad delay.
Love, in a thousand pleasing motions, there,
And lively images of you appear.
But since the thoughts, of a poetick mind,
Will n'er be half, to sulables confind,
And whilst to fix, what is conceav'd we try,
The purer parts, evaporate and dye.
You must perform, what they want force to doe,
And think, what your Ardelia thinks of you.
(1690)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Greek - Steven Berkoff

Greek is Berkoff's realization of the Oedipus myth, set in contemporary (1980s) London. What I found really fascinating was his ability to so clearly describe and make the reader feel the plague on England at this time, but at the same time, it is not possible to articulate the plague in a concise manner; hate, racism, poverty, lies all play into it, and yet that only begins to explain it.

The language is visceral, gutsy, disgusting and beautiful. The structure is remarkably open, remarkably full of words and yet leaves you a feeling of emptiness after reading it.

The Norman Conquests - Alan Ayckbourn

This trilogy of plays follows the same weekend in the English country three times, but from different perspectives. Each stands on its own, but when read together they slowly reveal more and more about this hilariously disfunctional family of adult siblings.

Rather clever in its setup, we first see the weekend and all scenes in the dining room. Next all scenes in the living room, and finally all scenes in the garden...so by the third play you are filling in the blanks of what has happened offstage.

The characters are hilarious, dialogue wonderfully funny and honest. This is a comic take on some of the other ideas I've been thinking of relating to what we do to other people.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Ideas are flowing....

Our Theorizing and Scene Study classes this week have in a way merged into one for me. Theorizing spent time looking at the impact of scenography (design elements; costumes, set, props, sound, light, space) on our understanding of a play, specifically to do with ideology. We used mainly a structuralist approach to deconstruct scenes and look at what was going on in them. What really stood out for me was the role of power and ideology...looking at HamletMachine the assertion was made that this play is about the absence of ideology, the failure of signs. I disagree with this; the very nature of this play Mueller gives us is subversive, staunchly democratic in the strict communist world he is creating for. The fact that the play has no clarity for how it should be presented, what is or is not to be said or shown, is a rally against the dogmatism of the communist regime.

Onward and upward...Scene study was intended to be a focus on Violence in Greek theatre, with a guest speaker from King's College, expert in Greek history and theatre. His presentation was really fun and engaging, and got ideas flowing for me about not only greek theatre, but theatre in general:
- theatre as a space of citizen decision making
- violence represented through beauty/as beauty or art
- violence at the heart of the practice of theatre
- what is it about plays (art/objects) that engages us, even 2000 years along?
- does our current society really resist violence?
- tragedy as a vital forum for democracy

I think the biggest thing for me to come out of this class is the ideology, the re-inforcement of the status quo that we see through the emblems in the Greek theatre. In The Bacchae, women are invested with male acts; congregation, sex for pleasure, war/violence...and madness ensues. Dionysus represents both sides: male/female, order/disorder....and Euripides' message reinforces the social structure, and the balance necessary with this god.

Experimentation

Act 4 of The Duchess of Malfi presents all sorts of difficulties for directors/actors, and for the audience. Webster has been plodding along in a heightened, but relatively "normal" place of lies and deceit. Then we get to act 4 and all hell breaks loose. It has been said that Strindberg takes a moment that in a naturalistic play would be a minute and makes the whole play of it. Webster has done this in act 4...for all intents and purposes, really, we could just see the duchess be strangled, having heard of the torture. Instead, Webster gives us these gloriously juicy scenes with Ferdinand offering her a severed hand, madmen in her chamber singing and dancing, a disguised Bosola, executioners, coffins, and two deaths. Not to mention the marathon speeches of Bosola and Ferdinand at the end of the act. So given all this...how on EARTH do you put this on stage?

For yesterday's class, my group was charged with preparing act 4 scene 2. We were all agreed that there is a need to step outside of a naturalistic approach; first, because there are a ton of characters and we only had 5 people, and second because we needed to make the violence real, shocking, and not silly for a modern audience. We played around quite a lot, trying out ideas, working collaboratively on what might work. We ended with the idea to be influenced a bit by plays like Marat/Sade and have this scene located in a common room of an insane asylum. All chairs were placed around the full playing space, mostly single chairs, but the odd pairing...each facing different directions toward the front of the room, where the duchess sat alone, facing out to the crowd. All other performers were placed amongst the crowd as their neutral madmen, and popped in and out of the scene as various characters, contributing to the Duchess' terror. Our goal was to really help the audience feel her resignation, feel uneasy about what was coming at them, and ensure that everyone had a different perspective of what occurred in the scene, some seeing things that others missed and so on. The action moved around the space so sometimes audience members from certain places could only hear the text, not see the actor. This worked quite well in presentation, most comments indicated that this had really worked for them, the cacaphony of sound and position of the text distanced over the large space helped with the sense of the time and place.

Our second issue was all of the violence in this scene. Two strangulations, some dead babies. We opted to make the strangulations highly expressionistic; the executioner for the Duchess and later for Cariola faced away from the audience, never touching the victim, but doing a gesture of strangulation which was mirrored by the person dying. From here, Bosola's directions would snap us back to the madhouse and the "executioner" would return to their chair. Again with the children, we made use of the madmen; the scarf that one madman had worn was left at a chair, and became a baby to indicate the dead children.

Overall this premise worked quite well, and would be good to investigate further. Might it be possible to stage the play in this way in its entirety?

Monday, 14 November 2011

East - Steven Berkoff

I am simultaneously in love with, and completely disgusted by this play. In the best way possible. Berkoff shows us life in London's East End with no apology; his characters interact in a series of scenes which morph in and out of one another expressionistically, while what is contained in each is strikingly "real". Somehow he leads us to find these people charming, and then just as we are lulled into feeling some sort of empathy, he does an about face and causes us to be completely distanced, alienated, and disgusted...not only at the characters, but at ourselves for beginning to empathize with them.

The structure is seamless, and the language morphs in and out of modern text, Shakespearean parody, and expressionistic monologue.

It feels like Berkoff inherently understood the essence of what Brecht, Bond, Artaud and others wanted to do, taking it to new heights by managing to alienate us within a construct of what we are led to believe is realism. The graphic descriptions of violent sexual acts is far more shocking than Bond's aloof characters.

Berkoff is brilliant.

The Rehearsal - Jean Anouilh

These are truly terrible people. I read once that a critic told Anouilh that he writes people whom you would never want to meet, and I agree completely. They are self-centered, pretentious, and never deal with the issues in front of them without a great deal of superficiality. The play centres on a Count and Countess, married for many years, but with "arrangements" of agreed upon, in fact known and vetted, mistresses and lovers to keep them engaged.

They do nothing; there are no higher aspirations, intellectual challenge, they simply keep up appearances and meddle in one another's affairs. What we see is the result of stagnancy, immobility, not caused by too little means, but rather caused by excess. The only moral person we see is Lucile, who works for her living, and is "brought up" by the Count as his lover..raised up as it were to the "better" class. Yet she, when confronted by the horrid behaviour of these people, leaves.

This play felt like a modern scenario for The Duchess of Malfi, only not just the gossip of court, but actual information about the lives of others. An interesting foil to what happens in duchess. Not as bloody, but in many ways just as sad.

A little gem from Anouilh:
Actors, they're quite impossible. As soon as they open their mouths, they fall head over heels in love with the sound of their own voices. And they expect us to share in their delight. No, seriously, they do. There is nothing less natural on earth than what passes for naturalism on stage. Don't go thinking it's enough to be life-like. For a start, in real life, one has to work with such terrible material. We live in a world that has completely forgotten the correct use of the semi-colon; we never finish a sentence properly, it always goes dot, dot, dot...because the mot juste always escapes us. And then that 'naturalistic' way of speaking which actors are always claiming to have. All that stammering, hesitating, 'umm'ing and 'ah'ing...why ask five or six hundred people to pay good money to sit through that? But they turn up and they love it. They recognize themselves. But the point is that theatre has got to do better than that. Life's all very well but it lacks form. Art must use every trick in the book to lend it one. To be more real than real life.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Berthe - Michel Tremblay

This quick little play packs in a multitude of ideas in only a few short pages. Berthe is the ticket girl at a late night cinema, the play is her monologue on the state of her life, lost dreams, and confinement by expectation. She is literally confined within the ticket booth, however this booth is a metaphor for her stagnant existence and inability to realize the dreams she enacts so vividly through the play. Interrupted only by the monotonous droning of the doorman with the same words over and over, she wrestles with her status stuck in between expectation and disappointment.

A lovely short one-hander that really illustrates what happens to us when our dreams die.

La Duchesse de Langeais - Michel Tremblay

Since I have been reading incessantly on Duchesses, I thought it would be good to pick up Tremblay's la Duchesse, given the irreverence with which he approaches most of existence. Tremblay's Duchesse, unlike our Lady of Malfi, is a middle-aged drag queen who has worked most of her life as a prostitute. Not just any, but in her eyes the most high class, respected woman imaginable. This two-act monologue shows us the many sides of this woman who has lived her whole existence in another skin so to speak, and even within this has opposing sides battling with one another to expose tidbits of truth. La Duchesse suffers, and brings the audience along in her suffering as she gets increasingly intoxicated drinking straight whiskey.

This piece is a bit of a tour de force, and would be brilliant to work on as a director.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

27 - Abi Morgan

The basis for this play is a convent of present-day nuns who become a case study for scientists studying Alzheimers; the plot covers a span of 5 years, and investigates the tension between religious faith and scientific progress, centered on a young nun named Ursula.

I found the ideas brought forward in the play to be compelling and thought-provoking, with various characters embodying not only the poles of the debate, but the two main characters embodying the conflict within themselves. I did, however, find that stylistically this was problematic. Morgan uses a Churchill style interruption technique in conversations, but I found it was oddly inconsistent in its present. Similarly she sets up the play with Richard (lead researcher) Addressing the audience; this holds up a fair bit at first, but then is almost lost around the middle of the play..then re-surfaces toward the end again. I found this rather confusing while reading, and feel it may be problematic to stage coherently for that reason.

Overall an interesting read, but likely not a play whose language will stay with me.

Hell is Other People

I have been thinking a lot lately about what tragedy is in our modern times. We hear that word pushed and pulled around regularly; it is almost impossible to make it through an hour's newscast without hearing that word bandied about. But are the certainly unfortunate, miserable experiences of day to day life actually tragic, or just a set of seriously crappy circumstances imposed by other people? I wholeheartedly believe that major natural disasters (for example) are really terrible occurrences...but consider that the majority of the "human impact" and death isn't caused by the disaster itself, but by the situation some people have been put in as a result of the actions of others. And if that is the case, then really, the situation was able to be remedied or avoided. Albeit not an easy avoidance, but a possible option exists nonetheless.

This is on a major scale...but even on the micro, personal level we inflict pain and suffering on others daily. People trust others because you need to in order to survive, and yet these people we trust turn and change, and hurt us irreperably time and time again. Yet we need to have hope, and learn to trust again...otherwise the only remaining state is one of despair. Hope that true connection, true care for another being is possible and will happen....and willingness to risk being hurt again for the chance of a true connection occurring.

With this understanding, do we not need theatrical tragedy even more than before, to help us manage and clarify our existence? Theatrical models of tragedy show us the inevitability of events, our helplessness to impact our surroundings at time, however rather than leaving us bleak and despairing, they forge a connection for us and reinforce that hope which is so vital to our existence.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

HamletMachine - Heiner Mueller

I rather enjoyed the premise of this play, beginning with the character Hamlet and unmasking the actor to be a sort of everyman, encountering the world. The message seemed to be that our "modern myths" of the theatre have not prepared us sufficiently for the brutal reality of the world. Even the greatest tragedy, Hamlet, did not prepare us for the machine of mass culture, horrific violence, and disconnection of humanity.

The structure was interesting; it may have been the translation, but I wasn't always sure whether what I was reading was a stage direction or text for a character. This makes for some great variety in choices for producing the play, which I do find intriguing. What also really stood out was the poetry in the language, even translated to English from its original German this had a beautiful yet violent rhythm in the text.

Somehow, decade over decade, the German theatre artists continue to fascinate me.

Volpone - Ben Jonson

What a fun, silly play. I actually found myself chuckling aloud at the twists and turns, the snide insults and retorts. Jonson certainly does not paint a picture of virtue; rather one of malicious scheming, greed, and trickery...which brings all to an unfortunate end.

Jonson's use of witty language and allusions is uncanny...nearly every two lines there is a reference to something specific, whether it be current to the early Jacobean period, or historically referential. As well, i found it interesting that most of his scenes are what we would now term a French scene starting anew when someone enters...though the action continues without changing scene or location.

My only quarrel with the play is that the ending felt to drag a little too much....some of the snappiness was lost in act 5 with the continual turns of plot.

Either way this would certainly be fun to stage.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

On the Home Front

Read a great article in The Globe And Mail about a mixed race production of Tomson Highway's The Rez Sisters. Ken Glass, with the Factory Theatre in Toronto, had what some may consider politically or socially taboo; he had an open casting call (eg not calling specifically for aboriginal artists) to cast this play about aboriginal women on the reserve. I, for one, applaud the choice. I have always felt that the tendency to stick to racial descriptions of characters limits the potential of productions and exploration of the themes in the play. Certainly these women are set in a culturally specific place, and their language is culturally specific...but not any more so that Chekov's sisters are so.

Happily, the article reports that the playwright is more than pleased with this development. I have loved these characters from the first time I read this play, the beautifully funny, honest and open way these women take care of one another is moving, and tells us something about the human spirit in the face of adversity.

I wish I could be in Toronto to see it!

article link: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/theatre/a-new-staging-of-the-rez-sisters-defies-political-correctness/article2229640/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=Referrer%3A+Social+Network+%2F+Media&utm_content=2229640&utm_campaign=Shared+Web+Article+Links

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Musings on our Lady Duchess

While working on Act 4 of Duchess, and also along the side thinking through how I might like to approach the play for our end of term presentations, I have been thinking considerably about what in this play affects me. First, and probably most importantly, I find the character of the Duchess to be interesting not only as an actor, but as a spectator watching this woman's life. For the title character in the play, we see remarkably little of her, and know much more about those around her first-hand. From what we see...she lies to her brothers and says she will not marry, takes things into her own hands and marries her servant, keeps this a secret from her strong-willed brothers....but proceeds to have children with this unknown husband. Once she is discovered, she faces her imminent death with grace and strength, not fighting back (though she does take a mild detour away from Malfi...) and ultimately dying before the play itself is completed.

At the same time, we see that due to her power and status, she has Antonio wrapped around her finger; she exerts her power over him psychologically and sexually, seemingly taunting him, daring him to step out against her brothers, which she must know he cannot and will not do. Yet despite her power due to rank of birth, she is ultimately powerless as a woman who cannot decide for herself what her future will hold. Her line in act 3 really sums up her journey in the play for me - "Why should only I, of all the other princes in the world, be cased up like a holy relic?". It is precisely this that is the tension of her existence in the play; she is a prince, and should be free to act as she pleases. Were she a male, her actions (regardless of their moral value) would be accepted, never questioned....certainly she would never be condemned to death. Yet Webster isn't exactly painting us a picture for women's empowerment; rather he seems to present us with a hierarchy of power, everyone is controlled by someone, despite illusions of freedom.

image: Gustav Klimt - The Flower Garden

Review: A Walk In The Woods by Lee Blessing - Tricycle Theatre

This two-hander is an idea-filled two hours of debate between an old Russian arms negotiator and his young American counterpart. The two meet in the woods through the 4 seasons of what could be a year or several, and through the process learn about one another, themselves, and the roles they play in the big scheme of international relations.

These two are at times funny, sad, relateable, and distant as they go through the personal struggles of two people whose jobs ultimately serve a meaningless purpose. At one point the Russian says something to the effect of "we want to believe humans want peace; look how much our countries spend on war..then look at what they spend on peace; only the two of us. If we were really peace-loving, there would only be two soldiers and hundreds of negotiators".

The two actors handled the material well, Steven Crossley stands out as the Russian. His wonderfully relaxed, casual attitude and desire to talk of less important things guides the audience through the path of the play, in the same way his character guides Joan, his counterpart. At times I found Myriam Cyr to be strained physically and vocally, which detracted from her otherwise enjoyably awkward performance as the work-a-holic young American idealist.

What I liked most about this play was the ideas it raised; talking afterward we were discussing that in this type of two-handed play, where both sides of the argument are presented as equally valid...one can see something similar to the impact of Greek Tragedy, whereby the audience is left considering both sides of the story.

Monday, 7 November 2011

So simply....

Read some brilliant words today by Mr Martin Esslin:

Put in its simplest and most mundane terms, the basic task of anyone concerned with presenting any kind of drama to any audience consists in capturing their attention and holding it as long as required. Only when that fundamental objective has been achieved can the more lofty and ambitious intentions be fulfilled; the imparing of wisdom and insight, poetry and beauty, amusement and relaxation, illumination and purging of emotion. If you lose their attention, if you fail to make them concentrate on what is happening, on what is being said, all is lost.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Point...

Reading Tynan reminds me of the beautiful dialogue that can occur when theatre is created thoughtfully, and when it is responded to in a thoughtful way by its auditor. The collection of essays and reviews contained in his Tynan on Theatre moves through various productions, and also reactions to questions and occurrences in the theatre world of the British, American, and European tradition. The overriding sense from Mr Tynan is that to be good, theatre must respond creatively to the world around it; famously in his debates with Mr Ionesco, he decried the idea that art is the source for future ideologies. In fact, I think the actual truth lies in a balance of the two. Truly great work responds to what is around it, but inspires that which comes after.

I found it fascinating to read Tynan's review of Waiting For Godot. Many of his descriptions articulate the way I felt upon reading this play....that it made me think about theatre and art and life in an entirely new and yet altogether familiar way. Beckett's genius is elloquently described by Tynan here. It makes me want to read this play again...and to see it performed!

- art, ethics, politics, and economics were inseperable from one another; i realized that theatre was a branch of sociology as well as a means of self-expression. (p13)
- to gain admission to drama, words must be used; they must put on flesh, throng the streets, and bellow through the buses. (p36)
- Ancient tragedy puts the question: "how are we to live?" Modern tragedy asks: "How am I to live?" That is the vital difference. (p151)

- (on Shakespeare) We stage the tragedies as if they were histories; instead of trying to make them timeless, we fix them in their own time and social setting. Tragedy, we now suspect, has no meaning apart from historical circumstance. (p98)

- (on a National theatre) Must we forever shrink from committing ourselves to a theatre which should enshrine our drama, cradle and nourish it, presenting eight times a week a performance of which we can say to our guests "This is English Acting. This is our style"? If it be argued
that there is no audience for such an experiment, I answer in the traditional maxim of the french actors; "The public always follows the crowd". And in any theatre, from Shakespeare's to our own, the intelligent public is ultimately the crowd. (p205)

Physical Performance

We were offered a workshop on Saturday with Juri Nael, a graduate of our MA Program, and current instructor at RADA and Royal Holloway. Juri's approach to theatre is intensely physical, built out of a dance/choreography background, with influence from LABAN, Butoh, and Viewpoints/Suzuki/Bogart. His main theory is that time or tempo is the major influencer on our external influencing our internal; that generally we live our lives at around a tempo of 5, but slowing down to 1 or 2, or speeding up to 9 or 10 will awaken memories in our bodies and help us connect with emotions.

The first exercise really got things moving; we began moving through the space using our tailbone as a paintbrush, at first in smaller movements, increasing in size, dimension, direction. Set to music of some relaxed tribal drumming, this really set a nice mood, and awakened us to what is physically possible when we change the focal point of our physical movement. From here we went into moving (walking/running/slow) through the space at the various tempos, working our way up and down, making abrupt shifts in tempo, going to a full stop from a full run, or the reverse. Into this, he built asking us to find a focal point once stopped, and interact with it. Continually he asked us to challenge any habits that were forming, push for more speed or for slower movement. I think it is because I have done similar work, but I found myself interacting with focal points awhile before he specifically asked us to do so.

From here, we chose a focal point and interacted for some time; Juri asked us to get down to the floor at a speed of 1, so movement was almost imperceptible. I think images from Dionysus came back to me, because as I did this Butoh style melt I could see a large man in a tall black hat, with eyes like coal when the fire dies down..menacingly lurching over me...then when we were asked to get up (again at a 1) I felt defiant. None of this was put on, it just came up within me...amazing that an experience I am starting to feel removed from can render itself vivid once again so easily.

Between each, Juri had us do some automatic writing on the experience, focusing on the importance not to edit or compare, but simply notice.

From here we did an exercise interacting with finding our inner monsters, then forcing interaction with another monster. I found this to be interesting, but not to the same degree as some others did...many people were really affected by the open-ness of this exercise. I must say I really found the open-ness to be comforting, but not scary or vulnerable as others had.

The next exercise was (for me) the best...we used the same tempo theory to explore various physical gestures, and the impact this has on our inside. How does a gesture change meaning when done at extreme fast? or extreme slow? We also did some work in groups to try to communicate these gestures to the audience. I found it really fascinating that when I was trying to communicate at first, everything came from me....but then once I began to get or not get response from the audience this impacted my gesture....too much attention and I changed gestures or focus, not enough and my gestures wanted to catch their attention so sped up, or slowed down to extreme.

I was up and down through the day....though I do really find his theory on tempo to be intersting, and will continue to play on this.

Dionysus

Decided I would re-read Nietzsche's Birth Of Tragedy after sitting in one of our Theorizing classes and getting really angry about the reductionism of art to symbols. It all felt very scientific and Appolonian to me, so on my next bookstore trip I grabbed a copy. What really struck me with this read (the first time read not in relation to trying to write a paper) was the poetry of Nietzsche's language, the beauty of his text. And maybe it is because I now know the ending (I have read most of the rest of his work, including The Twilight of the Idols which re-thinks this text) but I could feel the argument leaning more toward the Dionysian than the Appolonian, though on the whole arguing for a balance.

I have to agree with this argument after sitting through classes on semiotics.....I feel like as soon as we reduce so much to only appearances and imbue meaning that way, we have lost the flow, the "Music" as Nietzsche puts it.

- art is the highest task and the proper metaphysical activity of this life (Wagner - foreword)
- mysterious union, after many long and precursory struggles, found glorious consummation in this child, - at once Antigone and Cassandra. (p13)
- only in so far as the genius in the act of artistic creation coalesces with this primordial artist of the world, does he catch sight of the eternal essence of art; for in this state he is, in a margelous manner, like the weird picture of the fairy-tale which can turn its eyes at will and behold itself; he is now at once subject and object, at once poet, actor and spectator. (p17)
- the true spectator, whoever he may be, must always remain conscious that he was viewing a work of art, and not an empirical reality. (p21)
- they have perceived, but it is irksome for them to act; for their actions cannot change the eternal nature of things (p23)
- nearly every age and stage of culture has at some time or other sought with deep irritation to free itself from the Greeks, because in their presence everything self-achieved, sincerely admired and apparently quite original, seemed suddenly to lose life and colour, to shrink to an abortive copy, even to caricature. (p52)
- In spite of fear and pity, we are the happy living beings, not as individual, but as the one living being, with whose creative joy we are united. (p60)
- and when were we in greater need of these highest of all teachers more than at present, when we are experiencing a rebirth of tragedy and are in danger alike of not knowing whence it comes and of being unable to make clear to ourselves whither it tends? (p73)
- however powerfully we are touched by fellow-suffering, it nevertheless delivers us in a manner from the primordial suffering of the world, just as the symbol-image of the myth delivers us from the immediate perception of the highest world-effusion of the unconscious will. (p79)

I am reminded that Nietzche's account is of the historical birth of tragedy, but the rebirth, after empirical objectivity killed tragedy through Socratism. Tragedy was ended by this, but must be re-born, as it is the other half of our understanding and experience as humans.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Tanz-Ton-Vort

Today was the first half/half Friday, with voice and movement on the same day. Adrianne was back for voice, and we continued to build on the work with releasing and relaxing the spine to free the voice. God, i love Alexander Technique work. Love it. It is amazing how much more freedom you can have in your voice simply from releasing tension in and around the spine...it is as if it fixes everything else.

Movement was lots of fun today as well; continued to build on LABAN's work, moving into deriving physical work with a story...and then on merging stories with other groups to create an expressionist piece. The story itself isn't what is important, but rather the relationships between the movement, the planes or spheres we are moving in. It was tough not to have my inner choreographer come out and to just let things happen. Even unwillingly we managed to create something circular. I think my brain moves in circles when it comes to movement-based things. It was also interesting to see how the other groups worked together to merge, seeing where their ideas went in terms of layering or merging the movements that were already created, or as our group did, modifying them to work together.

Let Stuff Happen

I look very forward to our acting space class each week; the space Brian and our class have created is one that is comfortable, relaxed, a place to try new things..where it is ok to fail. This week we began to look at Chekov, specifically being assigned scenes from The Three Sisters to work on with a partner or trio. Because I feel so comfortable in this class, I opted to look at Andrij. On my most recent read of this play he really stood out to me as the most interesting character, and I look forward to the chance to explore him, a character I wouldn't regularly get to play.

We spent most of the time working on an improvisation of the ideas of the scene, putting it into our own words. Unlike when we did this with the Shakespeare scene, which was very much outward, the Chekov text is very inward, and as much about what isn't being shown as what is being shown. Our scene is with Andrij and Ferapont, where Andrij is confessing his misgivings to himself, with Ferapont there as an unhearing sounding board. What we really found with our first couple improvisations is just how much the two of them aren't talking at all - it is two monologues on stage at the same time. For Andrij, jumping through the thoughts inwardly is the key. We then watched each group's improvisation - Brian's main focus was to ensure we weren't "Acting", not letting business get in the way of understanding the thoughts and emotional centre of these characters. It was remarkable what occurs when we do this; when we really think as the character and as he said..stuff begins to happen between these two people.

We are going to continue work on these off-book at the next class.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

How much is too much?

Late post, but I wanted to summarize Scene Study on Wednesday night. We spent time on Brecht's He Said Yes/He Said No, looking at it as a potential response to/restructuring of the classical Aristotelian idea of tragedy. We were looking at it mostly in reference to Aristotle, but it is extremely important to understand the more relevant response in Brecht; he, through the ideas of Marx about society, is revising Hegel more so than he is revising Aristotle alone. It has been said that Marx took Hegel's ideas and turned them upside down and backward, but he does this while sticking within the form of the Hegelian argument. Brecht does this too, and does so within the familiar form, but with blurred edges to remind us that this is a play and is not life.

We then moved in to talking about Augusto Boal's work with the Theatre of the Oppressed and Invisible Theatre. I find Theatre of the Oppressed/Forum theatre to be fascinating, in its ability to give voice to people who have not traditionally had one. I think this is a vehicle that can work not only for audiences, but for liberating characters who have been voiceless....the Lavinias, the Miss Julies, The Hedda Gablers.

Looking at Boal's invisible theatre, we read an account of a play he staged in the Paris Metro about sexual harrassment. While I find this idea of shocking audience members, showing them their own prejudices very useful, but only if there is a chance for them to opt in. I question the efficacy of the message when the audience doesn't know they are an audience. Without the "rules" of attending theatre and knowing one must "pay attention" to the signs and symbols, this could just be another odd day on the subway. Not only that, but given the travelling nature of the piece, with "audience" getting on and off the metro throughout, what of the message given to those who only saw one part, and not the contrast? They have just been exposed to another example of harrassment...but with no signifier that this is not simply commonplace.

Finally, we debated The Audience by Tim Crouch, with one side of the group arguing for Steiner's argument that Tragedy isn't possible in our godless world, while the other side arguing that Crouch's play is Tragedy evolving itself for our current times. This got me thinking about what the actual tragedy is in this play; is the tragedy our de-sensitization? Is it the permeation of one encounter with violence into the greater society? Is it that the audience is a metaphor for humanity, sitting idly by while atrocities are described to them? Is it the act with the baby? I don't know that I can answer that...or maybe it is that the tragedy is all those things. What is certainly true is that unlike Renaissance or Greek tragedies, where there is a clear cut of what we are supposed to find horrific, these modern plays offer tragedy on a meta level, which is more difficult to identify outright.

Bertolt Brecht - He Said Yes/He Said No (Lehrstrucke)

We read this one in Scene Study at Birkbeck, discussing the structure, alternate endings, and impact of the two. This fable is structured like a Greek Tragedy, and with the original He Said Yes, Brecht shows us the result of blind faith in a tradition or law...a searing message give that he was writing for school children in 1930s Germany. The alternate ending, written after the school children expressed dislike for the ending, offers hope that we can overcome and fight back against these incoherent practices.

We discussed at length which has more impact on the audience, which will be more of a cause to action. I have to say that the second, for me, really does all the thinking for the audience, leaving them patting themselves on the back at how good humans can be in the face of incoherent laws. The first has an impact more in line with Greek Tragedy, despite turning it on its ear...pity and fear are evoked, but more importantly outrage at the world that would allow this to happen.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Reading, Reading, Reading

I have been on a mission to read a ton, because....why the hell not, right?

So as a super-keener as I seem to be, rather than just reading the weekly assigned pages, I read all of Great Reckonings In Little Rooms: On The Phenomenology Of Theatre by Bert O. States. This is an interesting book. On the whole, I think it is useful, if only to give the audience and performer new ways of thinking about the theatrical experience, why we go, and what it does to us. I must say that some of the assertions had me a little uneasy...such as the one alluded to in a previous blog that when we see an actor, we also see all their previous roles peering out from inside this current performance, so Hamlet is Henry IV is Iago (for example). But other assertions and ideas got me thinking, and certainly made me want to read more.

Some ideas/phrases that got me thinking:
...altered our perception of reality. (p4)
...something of the realism of a sucession of dream images; it is an imagined actual experience that floats wherever the text leads. (p28)
...The actor is that unique creature who passes through a whole life in a few hours and in doing so carries the spectator vicariously with him. (p49)
...We know that human dramas do not unfold in one or two rooms. But when a play seduces us into believing that they do - that is, when the smoothness in the flow of events overtakes the artifice of the form - we have the spatial counterpart of the radical improbability that Fate performs in the temporal action. Space is Destiny, the visual proof that order lurks in human affairs. (p69)
...Once you have trapped your protagonist in one of these real rooms, leaving him (or her) in the posture of Munch's creature in The Cry, you take away the room - which is no longer real enough - and reconstruct it as the visible extension of his ravaged state of mind. (p84)
...an almost atomic release of stylistic energy. (p86)
...In one way or another, the history of theatre can be viewed as a history of flirtation with the psychical distance between stage and audience. Styles are reborn in new conventional disguise and certain styles serve certain purposes better than others. (p96)
...what makes it so wrenching is that it contains no emotional reference to its own emotion. But the fact that it doesn't serve up our emotions for us does not mean that it isn't producing them. (p105)
...There is something about the imitation of another human being, about speaking in another's voice, that requires either a creatural naivete, a touch of madness, or an invited audience. (p158)
...we might think of the curtain call as a decompression chamber halfway between the depths of art and the think air of reality. (p198)


More reading...coming soon!
Tynan on Theatre - Kenneth Tynan
An Anatomy of Drama - Martin Esslin
Drama from Ibsen to Eliot - Raymond Williams
Birth of Tragedy - Frederich Nietzsche

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

All Over The Place

Today began with Scene Study; presented our work on Act 3 of Duchess. This went well; we found some nice moments and shifts in the text that I think showed a clear understanding of what Webster is getting at. I am still finding that we weave in and out of understanding in our presentations...likely because we move directors each week, so everyone gets a go. Next week we are off, the following week we have been assigned act 4. This time Tom took the two key scenes, and asked two groups to prepare each. We'll then discuss and compare the two interpretations for what did and did not work. This is rather exciting. My group have been given the madman scene, and all of us want to try for a non-naturalistic representation. We meet Thursday to sort this out. Our only limit is that we must stay true to the text.

Theorizing tonight was both good and bad for me. Good in our initial conversations about the ephemerality of theatre, and what remains afterward; reviews, photos, notes, criticism and essays....This sparked an interesting conversation about criticism, which led well into the latter half of our class, where we had two visitors - Dr Karen Fricker, and Andrew Dickson. Dr Fricker is a theatre critic, and lecturer at Royal Holloway. Andrew Dickson is the Theatre Editor for the Guardian (curator of what I think to be the most important source of information on theatre today, the Guardian Theatre Blog). The two talked about their path to their current positions, and then about the role of the critic, good critical writing, and the changing face of criticism with social media and blogs. Then they opened the floor to questions.

Here is my gripe: I have been observing the British tradition from the inside for two months now, including the opportunity to see the plays that are then reviewed by esteemed critics such as Michael Billington and Lyn Gardner. What I am finding is that the review is in many ways a review of the history of the play more than it is a review of the production itself. Similarly, the two revival productions I have seen (unfortunately couldn't make it to Marat/Sade) were entirely reverent to the original production in as many ways as possible. We talked a bit about the symbiotic relationship between reviewers and performers, about the need to get reviewed to be "legitimized" and Dr Fricker suggested that smaller fringe companies should make use of social media in this way. What I think she fails to understand is that to an arts council, blogged reviews don't count as legitimacy when you are writing a grant application.

I'm meandering a bit here...but another point of contention for me is the idea of authority in the critic's perspective; with blogs and comment trails, twitter reviews and facebook...where is the authority of the "published" professional critic? As Dr Fricker suggested, the value is found in the analysis of the production, not the mere reporting of person x playing part y, and a value judgement...but an actual critical analysis of what was shown and what it means. The response to my query on this was simply to read Lyn Gardner. Now I have the utmost respect for her...but heaven knows she isn't the only reviewer! What about the hundreds of thousands of non-theatre "people" who stumble into work as a critic? How are they performing a valuable function that serves the dialogue for furtherance of this thing we call theatre?

Anway, a bit of a rant, and some inconclusive ideas right now....but food for thought.

image: Jackson Pollock - Summertime