Thursday, 23 February 2012

Meditations on Identity

Last night's scene study class was a further extension of our discussion of tragedy as an identity-creation machine, this time focused on the creation of a National identity. Using Yeats' work at the turn of the 20th century as a starting point, we looked at the ways in which theatre and theatrical events (national ceremony, ritual, sport) can help to shape the identity of a nation and provide the values on which that nation define itself. This reciprocal, circular relationship is a confusing one, for arguably if done well, the image in the art reflects the image of the nation while simultaneiously propagating it.

I often find these discussions particularly engaging in their focus on post-colonial nations and their struggle to create an identity after the absence of the oppressor. This is fascinating to me, coming from Canada, as a result of our unique situation. Canada has only been a nation since 1867, and has primarily been a nation of immigrants. The very fact that our first peoples were shipped off, forced into assimilation, is only in recent years with the residential schools inquiries and commissions beginning to come into light as an issue for artistic contention. But for the rest of us, for the immigrant Canadians, the sense of identity has always had a necessary duality. We are at once Canadian, and our family's country of origin - Irish, Ukrainian, Polish, German, what have you. Even myself, a third and fourth generation Canadian, identify as a Ukrainian-Canadian. We identify strongly with the histories of our families, while also engaging with the future of our nation; that nation which was shaped by luminaries such as Pearson and Trudeau. My generation, the young thinkers and artists of today, are the first to have grown up in a Canada which had this view of our nation for the entirety of our lives, and this bodes well for the creation of an increasing amount of theatre that truly has a Canadian voice.

I found it interesting that in a brief discussion of the "global" citizen, versus the Nationalist citizen, our tutor raised Robert Lepage's theatre as an example of Global theatrical values - of duality. In fact, this is a distinctly Canadian identity, in the case of Lepage a French-Canadian identity, but one that echoes for all Canadians' sense of duality. Fascinating that the identity of a nation formed by thinkers like Pearson et al would be picked up as a global identity; I suspect he would be proud. I know I am. I just hope we can live up to it.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Review - Juno and the Paycock - Royal National Theatre

I have two perspectives of this production. The first, from my seat in the front row was extremely engaged; this is how I viewed act 1. From the first row, the set towered in all of its deconstructed beauty. The ceiling, a good 8 feet higher than would be necessary, gave the impression that this was a formerly grand room, in which this family had squatted and built shanty-rooms in which to live. The actors inner-lives radiated, and I was acutely aware of their struggle despite the comic overtones the director emphasized. For the second act, we opted to move to some empty rows in the back of the main floor of the theatre. . . and I believe lost something in the move. The second act, which contains the downfall of the family, appeared framed, distant, held back in the proscenium. Where in the first act, I was very aware of the director's hand in pulling out comedy before we turned to the tragedy, in the second act my awareness of the director's hand was as puppetmaster, moving the actors about the space for seemingly no reason at all.

Now to consider this as a tragedy. I believe that Juno is set up to be our tragic hero; she works to keep her family afloat, is offered what seems like an opportunity and rather than act cautiously, she spends, allows niceties, and ultimately is responsible for her family's further fall; her daughter's demise, the loss of their home and any respect they maintained. Certainly, if we are to measure tragedy in Aristotelian terms, I felt pity for this woman and her family...but I cannot say that I felt fear at the same time. Is this a way to present tragedy now? I am not so sure; this appeared to work within the already agreed upon tragic "rules", and in presenting a moment in history, did not necessarily speak to me about an act which is tragic. There needs to be an element of avoidability for katharsis to emerge, and for the characters to be likable. While I liked the actors, I can't say I liked the characters, so while I pitied their fall, I did not fear it for myself.

This said...the daughter Mary was a character whom was recognizable for the audience, and for whom the closest thing to pity and fear may have been acknowledged. This was a young woman who showed ambition and desire to better herself, and through poor (and avoidable) judgement, set herself back in a position worse than where she began life.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

I want to go to France

I have been reading quite heavily about French politics and art, particularly in the time between the wars, and after world war 2. This is solidifying my desire to visit France. I have wanted to go since I was a small child, but the desire waned slightly in my older years, after visiting amazing German cities such as Berlin, and falling in love with London. Maybe it is time for another new love.

Some 20th century French poems that are speaking to me in reference to Genet's work:

French surrealist Robert Desnos (1900-1945) - I've dreamed such dreams of you

I've dreamed such dreams of you that you're losing
your reality.
Do I still have time to reach your vital body, to kiss
into life that voice I love so much?
I've dreamed such dreams of you that my arms,
across my chest, might not yield to your body's shape.
Faced with the real presence of what's haunted and
guided me all these days and years, doubtless I'd become
a shadow.
Fine balance of feelings!
I've dreamed such dreams of you that the time for
waking must have come and gone. I'm asleep on my feet,
exposed to every image of life and love, and you, the only
thing which counts forme now, any lips, any forehead
will be easier for me to touch than your forehead, your
I've dreamed such dreams of you, I've walked so
much, talked so much, lain so much with your shadow,
that perhaps now all I can be is a ghost among ghosts, a
hundred times more shadow than the moving shadow
cast and lightly cast again across your life measured by
the sun.

Swiss-born French poet Philippe Jaccottet (1925-) - Serenity

The shadow within the light
like light blue smoke

Belgian-born poet Jean Daive (1941-) I rise from the depths

I rise from the depths of my resemblance
at the very edge of enigma

evening after evening
I have vanished I vanish

blinded resemblance
falls back into cold's fabric

All taken from:
Sorrell, Martin. Modern French Poetry. London: Forest Books, 1992. P. 63, 105, 227.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Review - The Maids by Jean Genet @ RADA

It almost feels unfair for me to review this, given my intense investigation of Genet these days, but alas, here it is.

We begin with a very traditional setup of Genet's world; a closet with dresses suggesting a time, but of no specific time. Tasteful furniture that would not be out of place today but suggests a certain antiquity. Maids in traditional uniform. And the game begins. The problem, for me, was that the game at once gave the impression that the players did not know where it was at, and at the same time were acutely aware that the game was on. The magic of Genet's play comes in its ability to trick the audience (and the players!) into conviction about the way the world must be, so that when the balloon pops and the game is interrupted there is a moment of utter confusion as to what has just taken place.

The production, as a whole, came across as safe. The Maids should have a seedy underbelly which slowly creeps out from beneath the text as a dangerous and risky game; this came across as a safe role play, for which everyone knew the end, and no real danger was present. I believe that some of this safety was the result of the translation. This was a version by Martin Crimp, which is undeniably English in its translation. With this came a minimalization of the dirt that Genet gives us in the language; we lost the beautifully grotesque image of "drowning in the depths of your stink, in the mists of your swamps" - the visceral quality of the langauge was lost, a factor I hypothesize contributed to the sense of safety in the production. Hearing phrases such as "arouse" in place of "seduce" dialed back the overt and dangerous sexuality in the text.

The performances were adequate, but I would argue unmatched. The sense of similarity between the three characters was lost, replaced by an individuality which detracts from Genet's power.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

New Perspectives

Spent a long and meandering day today, moving from one project to the next. Began with a voice tutorial with Adrienne Smook, an MA Voice student at Central who is offering small group and private tutorials for voice work with us. We first did a 45 minute group warmup, focused primarily on breathing - connecting breath with thought and the impulse to speak. One exercise I quite liked was a visualization of a specific place, where noises were used to identify things. This really served to help connect intention with breath and therefore voice. Another exercise I think I will use in workshops and classes is throwing a ball around the space, connecting breath, then a specific vocalization with the movement of the ball....aiming to curb the impulse to stop the breath and movement, allowing for smooth and continuous flow.

We also had a smaller private session with Adrienne, working on some more specific deep breathing and breath connection exercises. These really resonated with what I have been doing individually, connecting movement to voice - in this case, relaxation to voice relaxation, but using gravity in fetal or child's pose.

After this, went over to the Old Vic Tunnels for a dance dramaturgy workshop with Maryann Hushlak, dramaturg on Without Words. In some ways, this simply echoed our classes from last term with Paul Sirett about the role of the dramaturg. What I did find useful was the exercises and discussion on finding a language of creation. Maryann emphasized the importance of listening to how the creator talks about the projet, the kinds of words or phrases they use - this helps create a shared terminology of description for the process, and also enables creation of more practical materials like grant proposals. She also talked a lot about her process, particularly in the performance phase - analyzing the performance as well as the audience's reception. This is something I want to work into my workshop presentation in the dissertation - I am wondering if a Q&A would be useful to help understand the impact of the versions we see....and then help me draw some conclusions about identity and ghosts.

Finally, off to Birkbeck for Scene Study. A lot of talk of Hegel and Antigone today, so very apropo for my thoughts (not just now...always, really). I'm formulating my approach to the manifesto assignment, and think that I want to flesh out an anarchist tragedy of sorts...why do we need to define tragedy? Why do we spend so much time worrying about this? Now just to figure out how the form can merge...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


I am starting to find such wonderful overlap in the themes we are discussing across all classes, and in what I'm looking at for my dissertation. It might just be Genet seeping into my very existence, but I am acutely aware of layers and what people want you to see versus what you do see, both in themselves, in their work, what they present to the world. Where is that core of truth? Do we want to know?

I have also been reading Violence and the Sacred by Rene Girard, an examination of the roots of tragedy in sacrifice, in violence and ritual, and how sexuality is linked to all of these. This is linking with Genet in many many places, and leading me to exciting thoughts for my installation project for the end of term. What is our ritual that is shared, since we as a people no longer share religion? How do we practice this ritual?

Beginning to think about our end of term presentations in response to Genet as well, and what themes we would like to look at. I'm reading up on Paris and politics in Genet's time for inspiration, and also some poetry from his contemporaries. Visually I am inspired by Picasso, Cocteau, and De Francia. Still searching, watching, apsorbing everything I can.

Encountered a ballet, Poppy, by Graeme Murphy with Sydney Dance Company, premiered in 1978. This is inspired by the work and lives of Cocteau and Genet. Warning - beautiful. But also, contains some nudity (I need to be a responsible adult sometimes at least).

Friday, 3 February 2012


Read an amazing article by Anne Bogart today, which was very timely for some of my recent hurdles. We are struggling through mountains of written and devised work in our RADA classes right now; devising a LABAN based piece from The Lady In the Moon, an Elizabethan court play, and more recently devising a response to Genet's Our Lady Of The Flowers for Scene Study.

As we work through these tasks, all in differing groups, the same things seem to recur. We end up spending a lot of time sitting, talking about what something can look like, and this can go on for hours if we were to let it. But if we just get up and DO something, even if we don't know what that is, the results are far more fruitful. We need to get out of our heads, because as we do our bodies take over, and the results are breathtaking.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

One hurdle

My dissertation proposal has been approved!! Sparing you the boring academic bibliography bit, here it is in a nutshell. You can look forward to many obsessive posts on this subject in the future.

The aim of this dissertation is to use a performance-based approach to understand questions of identity for the performer when approaching historical texts. Marvin Carlson argues in The Haunted Stage that audiences bring with them the history of a performance, so are never simply watching the performance in front of them; instead, they are seeing the current performer, all previous performers, and their ideal version of the character. This supposition is problematic artistically, as it creates a barrier of communication; added filters through which the artistic message of a piece needs to permeate. Using Sartre's ideas of Being and Perception in Being and Nothingness as a starting point (to be is to be perceived), I will examine perception of a performer and perception of a character as they are mediated through re-writes of the same story in different contexts. The filters of audience context and re-imagined characters interplay to impact engagement with the work; I endeavor to explore how these filters function in performance, and what can be done from a creative perspective to counteract them or make use of them. I have selected Antigone as my base text as she is a familiar character in Western mythology, and through history, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries, has been re-written numerous times, each instance changing the character of Antigone to serve the time. My goal is to develop, through workshopped performance, key findings on approaches that will aid the director in using these filters in a positive creative manner when creating work.

Key Research Questions
What being is perceived when audiences see a performance?
What impact do changes in text and context have on audience perception?
How can the practitioner utilize these in production?

Working with 1 male performer and 1 female performer, I will workshop:
Original Antigone - Masked Male performer
Transitional Antigone - Becoming Female
Dionysian Antigone - Music & Opera
Politicized Antigone - 20th Century in Germany (Brecht)
Feminized Antigone - 20th Century in France (Anouilh)
Rebellious Antigone - 20th Century Ireland (Paulin)
Post-Colonial Antigone* - 20th Century Africa & South America (Osofisan, Gambaro, Sanchez)
Who do you see? Antigone's Identity

* Session 7 is subject to change: currently I am struggling to locate a copy of these plays. If I am unable to locate these texts, an alternate will be proposed for this session.

The 8 workshop subjects will serve to create material from which a work in progress performance will be devised. Each workshop will focus on exploring the questions of identity for the performer, using the source texts as a guide, and a physical theatre aesthetic. Within each session we will investigate the layers of performer identity; actor-self, character-self, character-perceived.


A video of Lindsay Kemp's Flowers, inspired by Jean Genet's Notre Dame Des Fleurs, which I am reading right now.

Words can't even begin to describe what this does. Kemp manages to embody the extreme beauty and grotesqueness of Genet's words, the perfect balance of the two.

She dies beautifully.