Sunday, 15 July 2012

The time to hesitate is through

We are here. After months of angst, tears, sweat, more reading than you can imagine, and rehearsals upon rehearsals, we are in our final week at RADA. I can't actually believe that I am here. It honestly feels like mere weeks ago that we were all crammed into the tiny basement studio on the first day, receiving our RADA booklets and cautiously selecting whether we would do scene study with Tom or Andrew.

I have learned so much about myself in this year. I have learned that I can make some pretty interesting theatrical pieces. I have learned that I can maybe, sort of, write a little. I have learned that the times when I feel most comfortable about a piece of work, those are the times when I haven't done enought. I have learned that I really like to scare myself into action. I have also learned from (and with) some of the most brilliant and talented people I have ever had the opportunity to be in the same room as. Tutors, obviously, but more importantly my fellow students, whose intellect, bravery, and talent have pushed me to become a better artist every minute of every day. I only wish that we could stay together and create work, rather than scatter the globe as we are bound to do. I will do everything possible to work with each of them again in the future.

So. . . as the title states, the time to hesitate is through. Dissertation performances are underway. I am assisting by performing in two presentations; Dena Rysdam Miller's adaptation of The Little Prince, and Holly Sharp's devised piece Nil by Mouth, about mental illness. I will also be reading a new play in development for Nika Obdizinski.

Largest looming in my future is my own piece - No More Prayers - an interrogation of Antigone through dramatic and philosophical history. Creating this piece has been a rollercoaster, and it has morphed to something completely different from what I first imagined, although simultaneously it continues to be an embodiment of that first seed of an idea. The piece I have ended up with is (I hope) the start of something bigger, that will continue and develop into a full production down the road. Thursday will be a "first viewing" for the work-in-progress, and I hope to share some photos and video of the presentation as well as the subsequent Q&A.

For all intents and purposes, the blog will be dark until mid next week, at which time I will try to make sense of this all. And wrap my head around the final written aspect of the dissertation, not to mention my impending move back to Canada and everything that entails.

In other news, I can happily announce that I will be directing a handful of readings for new plays at Sarasvati FemFest in September (Winnipeg) and will also be developing a piece titled Dear Mama, inspired by Sondheim's Gypsy for the RMTC SondheimFest in early 2013 (Winnipeg). More on those later, once I regain sanity.

Image: Cindy Sherman, Untitled 175

Matilda @ The Cambridge Theatre (West End)

It isn't often that you can sit through a full length musical and not have even a second where you feel that you are in the moment of superfluousness, with the the song added to make the second act long enough, or to ensure each character had enough to do to justify paycheques.  Matilda was a solid 2.5 hours of well written music and scenes, performed with gusto by this brilliant cast. The directing and choreography was fabulous, most notably the work with the children. There was not a second of doubt or uncertainty, each piece of choreography executed with impeccable precision and commitment, and crafted to tell us something about the story as the song went on.

Favourite moments for me included the song and choreography for Alphabet Song, which cleverly manipulates the set piece from school gate, to play climber, to shelf of alphabet blocks, weaving bodies in and around the structure beautifully to move the story forward and capture the terror young kids feel in approaching school the first time. Also beautiful was When I Grow Up, choreographed on swings with large sweeping gestures. Finally, in a moment of comic genius (and too bad for those hanging out in the bar at the interval!) was Telly, performed by the father and son of the Wormwood family. Had me reeling with joy.

Most importantly, though, is the magic this show brings for kids. My own little Matilda, obsessed with this book, was on the edge of her seat, grinning ear to ear for the duration of the piece. She was thrilled by the scariness of Trunchbull, the caricatured ridiculousness of the Wormwoods, and the moment Matilda accomplishes her first miracle.

I strongly recommend this show. Keep in mind that the original Dahl book is dark, and the adults in general (Miss Honey aside) are not nice to the kids, so preparing young audience members is essential.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye @ Tate Modern

It is funny how we become attached to the work of certain artists. I was in my 3rd year of undergrad, doing a 'painting project' for our honours acting class, in which we were to write a monologue as a character from a painting to 'come alive'. Most others selected paintings that were fairly naturalist and impressionist. Feeling edgy, I selected one of Munch's wood cuts; how edgy expressionism feels in an undergrad degree in the middle of Canada.

Anyway, I have spent more and more time over the years looking at various phases of his work. Obviously his famous work such as The Scream, Sick Child and Starry Night are beautiful and captivating in their own way, but it is Munch's fascination with photography that I find truly intriguing. I was extremely grateful to this exhibition for showcasing the photography alongside the painting, as it adds an opportunity to see how his experimentation with photographs, moving and unreliable images captured on film fed into the paintings. The movement in Galloping Horse was evident in a manner much more clear than it might have been otherwise.

His later photographs push this further, with images doubling, blurring, looking phantasmagoric. Curious that this led into his period dealing with fights, loss of the ability to see, and ultimately death; each of these is a mirror of our mortality, seen crisply in the photographs. The images that move, but are caught still, seem to capture that essence which is lost in death.

This is a beautiful exhibition, curated with extensive care, and one I strongly recommend.

Damien Hirst @ The Tate Modern

This is an exhibition which from its very start, pushes the viewer's boundaries, and slowly delves further and further into the mind of Hirst and his views on life and death. What is most remarkable is seeing the counterpoint between his early work and that which comes later, still focusing on the same themes almost to a point of obsession, but with a change in tone or material.

Some pieces, I found, don't evoke as much; the spot paintings, for example, with their order and perfection, I found unappealing. That said, when Hirst imposes order on the objects of every day life as he does in Still and Doubt - precisely displaying medicines and medical tools - that his work truly comes alive. He talks of wanting the shark in The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living to scare people. I find the frightening order and precision of the medicine cabinets, pills, and instruments for surgery far more frightening. That which occurs in nature may frighten us, but as Hirst highlights, is simply a part of life and death. These man-made implements are outside that cycle, an attempt to tamper with the cycle of life and death, to prolong the experience and cheat the inevitable.

The most profound of Hirst's works in this exhibition was The Acquired Inability to Escape, which features a human presence of desk, chair, cigarettes, in a case similar to those displaying the formaldehyde-preserved animals. It was a stark reminder that despite the medicines and advancements of science, we too are mortal.

This exhibition is on at the Tate Modern, Southbank London to 9 September 2012.

Photo: Damien Hirst - The Acquired Inability to Escape

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Performer Experience

The two performances I have been involved with this week have gotten me thinking about the performer experience in various forms of theatre. In the traditional, commercial theatre, the performer is a vessel; they experience physical work, speak words, move around the stage (in musicals, jump and dance about) but little consideration of the experience is given to their perspective. Everything is facing outward through the proscenium, targeted at the bums in seats who have paid their £30.

The two pieces I took part in seriously challenged this.

How We Met (still running at the RADA Festival - - until Saturday 7 July) is a piece of promenade theatre. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the audience go through the experience one at a time, with headphones on and a host to follow, guiding them through a way of seeing while walking through the streets. As a performer in this kind of piece, with your small but important pattern to perform repeatedly, feelings of loneliness and solitude are evoked. Much like the people enjoying the performance, the performers are simultaneously together (as a unit) but alone (doing their specific sequence). Not unlike people every day in life, who are together in this experience of London in July of 2012, but alone in our own path and perspective. The performer experience thus reflects the audience experience, taking the performer on a journey as well.

Moving Forest (500 Slogans) was an entirely different style of piece. Part of a 12 hour performance art installation, we read the poem amidst all sorts of other noisy installation pieces, crowds out on their lunch, workmen going by. Even our interpretation of the poem, as a cacaphony of noise and sound, rendering us unable to pick out the actual value from the unending stream of information flowing at us in every day society reflected this. While reading, though, focused, moving in my pattern and reading the text as rehearsed, I found myself almost in a trance-like state, unaware of all the other noise around me, having blocked it out. I cannot speak for the audience experience too directly, but writer Matthew Fuller (of 500 Slogans) noted that coming outside to our cacaphonous reading was an audible break from the volume and noise of the other installations, despite its overwhelming sense on its own.

I propose that the most exciting pieces of theatre are those which help the performer experience something while they are helping the audience experience something; the performer is not simply a vessel, but a conspirator, experiencing and changing in the world at the same time as their auditor...each having an affect on the other.