October 04, 2008

Synopsis of Play and Context

I've just realised that for anyone reading this blog a synopsis of the play as well as some contextual background would be very useful. So here goes-

Play Without a Title, or Untitled Play (Comedia sin título), is an unfinished experimental play by the Spanish twentieth-century modernist playwright Federico García Lorca. Lorca conceived the work as a three-act drama and had referred to it by the title The Dream of Life (echoing, perhaps, Calderón's classic Golden-Age comedy Life is a Dream), but he completed only the first act. Lorca's play was probably written in 1935, but remained unpublished until 1978; it received its Spanish-language première in 1989 at the Teatro María Guerrero in Madrid, in a production directed by Lluís Pasqual.


The play is in no way simple and if I were to tell you every event in the piece it wouldn't make much sense. Essentially a Director walks on stage before a performance (of which we are not certain though it's hinted that it may be A Midsummer Night's Dream) to tell the audience that it has been cancelled and that the theatre they have come to see is a lie. An enraged Spectator (we'll call him Spectator one) argues that the theatre's worth is in the audience's reaction and as a paying customer this is all that matters. The Director accuses him of having no interest in the real world as it's ugly. He describes a play he put on a few days earlier that depicted two starving children falling asleep on the dead body of their mother after eating shoe polish. Spectator One dismisses this as ridiculous and tells his wife they are leaving. His wife is however interested and tells her husband it is just a story, but when she learns it actually happened she and her husband leave. A young ambiguous spectator called (interestingly enough Young Spectator) applauds the Director's experiment but tells him it's ultimately foolish. They are interrupted by a Waitress bringing the Director a coffee and they debate the nature of reality and illusion. The Waitress being able to cope with horror in reality but unable to cope with it when it's illusory. She leaves and a Prompter interrupts the Director asking him whether he is rehearsing A Midsummer Night's Dream? He responds that he is leaving theatre and intends to never direct again. She leaves and the Director is confronted by his Leading Lady, who represents the opposite philosophical view. She argues that theatre is needed whilst simultaneously declaring her love for him. Their argument is interrupted by the sound of shots as the Civil War starts to invade the theatre (crazy huh!) at which point the Second Spectator (who is coincidentally extremely attractive) takes to the stage and starts debating the relevance of the Civil War. The Director is on the side of the revolutionaries as they represent freedom whilst the Second Spectator, an ardent nationalist believes they should be crushed. As events come to a head and the Second Spectators worry about their children a stagehand known as Bakunin offers to go and rescue them. Rather than being thankful the Second Spectator takes a note of her name to report her. A massive bombardment then hits the building as the workers start to break in and in a fury the Second Spectator shoots a worker. The rest of the Spectators are shocked by his action, especially the Young Spectator. As the bombradment increases the Director re-enters leading the Workers bringing fire and the Spectators watch in horror as the theatre starts to burn around them....then blackout. It's pretty heavy going!




Tuesday 16th

It was a very intersting day today. We had to run the piece but in a very heightened form. I mentioned in earlier entries the idea of raising of lowering a performance in terms of intensity with one being the lowest (virtually non existant) and ten being the highest (pretty damn mental). Well, today we had to perform the entire piece at around ten. Needless to say the piece took about twice as long. It's interesting to see just how far you can push yourself as a performer, it's also pretty exhausting. But, some useful material did come out of the run. One thing we did notice was that during the bombardment our overblown reactions didn't really look out of place, showing us that we needed to heighten them during the actual run.


Monday 15th.

Today we continued to run the piece whilst ironing out any problems with the text. I've found that no i've learnt my lines the piece flows much more smoothly and I have space to react to my surroundings and the other characters. It's interesting how the relationships between the spectators has changed. Initially Zoe and myself were in the front row as we were higher status characters, but now because of problems with the script we decided to move ourselves to the row behind and let Carl and Maria have the front row. This would allow the argument between the First Spectator and the Director to be more intense and when Carl leaves the second set of Spectators are exposed to the Director's scorn. This is a prime example of how we are working with this text. The text is unfinished as i've mentioned before and has very few stage directions so we are constantly trying to find the best way to stage it.


September 23, 2008

The Flyer

The flyer


Friday 12–Sep–08

Today we started trying to develop our characters. What physicality would they have? What quality would their movements have? To help us discover this we started experimenting with the Laban Technique. The Laban Technique is a system used by dancers in order to make notes on performances. Essentially it defines actions into direct, meaning the action is straight and has a clear goal and indirect, where the action is more physical and experimental and not necessarily goal driven. Actions are also classed as heavy (a strong movement) and soft (a lighter movement) as well as fast and slow. An action combines all of these for example it could be direct, heavy and fast or indirect, soft and slow. These are known as Laban states and embody a distinct quality. An action which is direct, heavy and fast is known as a punch and is quality normally adopted by an angry or dominant character. Movements can also be bound (meaning they have a definite end) or free (meaning they can go on.) We each chose an action our character would perform and played around with various Laban states to see which suited our character best. I think from a basic understanding of my character he is direct, heavy and fast. Yet, I am having problems with my character. I can’t seem to get a sense of his mindset. Some line seem to say he is angry, others that he is more vulnerable and at the moment I can’t seem to unite the two. He has such a strong political vie I struggle to see how this would not be ever-present in his mind and yet he has gone to the theatre showing he has other interests. I’m also unsure about his tone. His language ranges between the formal and the theatrical making it difficult to find a voice suitable to play both with. Still it’s something to work on. I reckon once I’ve learnt my lines it’ll be easier because at the moment I’m losing fluency by having to constantly looking at my script.


Thursday 11–Sep–08

After a refreshing bout of Alexander Technique to start the day we moved on to exploring the text. We first experimented with the blocking of the space, seeing how relationships developed. I discovered that because the auditorium space was so intimate and small, we as an audience automatically became united against the Director. There was also a clear feeling of competition between Spectator One and Spectator Two. Spectator Two was of slightly higher status and therefore occupied a better seat. When Spectator Two enters the space I feel it would be important for him to try and dominate the space thus showing why he might be so angered by the behaviour of the Director. It’s also interesting to discover how the Spectators may react to the Director’s speech as it progresses. At the moment the major problem I have with my character is how to play him when he’s not angry. Everything my character says, he says in defence of something so it’s difficult to get any idea of how he might behave when he doesn’t feel threatened. Would he be constantly grumpy, annoyed and politically minded or is there any way of revealing a softer side through his relationship with his wife?

We also explored the more violent and grotesque elements in the play namely characters beheading a turkey and crucifying a cat. Why does Lorca include these? Is it to merge the theatrical and the real, by describing something supposedly happening in the real world in an overtly theatrical sense? What we discovered whilst trying to re-enact these scenes, is that there is no way to play them realistically.


The cat torture sequence acted out.    A tortured cat (Drama Students!!!)    Torturing a turkey  Pouring whiskey down the turkeys


Wednesday 10–Sep–08

We tried some Alexander Technique today in the warm-up. Standing feet parallel, shoulder width apart, bending down and slowly rolling up through the spine. This relaxes the spine and allows the actor to breathe properly. We then moved on to looking into the musicality of speech by speaking lines of poetry to each other and reacting to the sounds we made. The actual language was unimportant it was the way the lines were said that mattered.

We then continued our detailed reading of the script. We considered whether the characters in the play are acting or not. The obvious example of this was the Leading Lady a character who comes on stage dressed like Titania. Is this an example of the theatrical intruding into the real? When she speaks her language is overly dramatic and hyperbolic possibly indicating that she has been altered by the parts she has played, something the Director accuses her of when he claims she is not speaking but quoting. The Director goes on to accuse her of being a shell, which is inhabited by characters. It’s as if she is so absorbed in the theatrical that it has overtaken her. Because he views her as being fake the Director feels unable to hurt the Leading Lady as it would be too real, indicating he believes the worlds of the real and the imagined cannot interact. The Leading Lady’s response is to morph into Lady Macbeth in an effort to be more real, yet she does it in an overly theatrical way which undermines this decision. As she becomes Lady Macbeth the lights change to red and backdrop comes down making the change seem deliberately theatrical. It’s interesting to note that the Leading Lady uses red light to create the imagined blood whilst the Director will not allow real blood on his stage.

Should the actor be visible in a character? Stanislavski argued that if you cannot be seen then you would be completely submerged in a character making you mad.

We continued our discussion of reality and illusion. Surely if a play contains its own reality which has a logic of its own then we can’t accuse it of not being true? The stage has a truth of its own.

We finally got the opportunity to mark the space. First we took positions on the set and mimed an action, which our character would do. Mine was the simple act of writing in a notebook. We then increased this in intensity to see how manic the stage could get. We then got our first chance to improvise in the space. This interaction gave us crucial insight into the motivations of our characters. I learnt just how frustrating it was when you were waiting for something to happen on stage after you had paid for it and it was clear that nothing was going to happen. The dominance and power of the Director was quite antagonistic and I could understand why the Spectator would get annoyed.

20080911_131.jpg    The Spectators watch on.


Tuesday 09–Sep–08

I have discovered the limtations of a blog; apparently you can't back date anything. Sadly as I have been without the internet for several days I have been unable to publish the last few records so they are all going up at once. This might be a little confusing but it should work out okay.

We started the day with a physical and verbal warm-up. After stretching, we moved onto tongue twisters, for example, ‘All I want is a proper cup of coffee, made in a proper copper coffee pot.’ That particular tongue twister helped us practise the use of plosive consonant sounds. We then practised the phrase whilst walking around the space turning on the start of each line. This enables you to learn how to pace a line.

We then settled down to discuss the script. One major question the play brings up is what is the difference between reality and illusion? To test this out we performed a section of the Director’s speech stepping forward on any lines, which praised the theatre and its illusions and stepping back on any lines, which praised reality. We then measured how far each of us had got which gave insight into how far we thought the Director liked theatre and how much he liked reality. One of the major paradoxes of the character and his philosophy is that he constantly dismisses theatre for being false yet he uses theatrical technique as part of his oration. The Director’s speech has been designed to change people’s opinions and this preparation puts the speech in the realm of performance. If he were speaking in the realm of reality his words would be hurried, improvised and not nearly as powerful as his trained speech. Nothing on stage can be the truth because the minute it becomes a performance it removes itself from real life. Yet this raises the question what is real? If as Shakespeare says ‘Life’s a stage’, then surely nothing is real? Do we indeed act our lives? The Spectators in the play do when they argue with the director. Even the Young Man acts as chorus summarising and commenting on the action.

The Director has an interesting theatrical philosophy. He questions why people go to the theatre. He claims they go to escape the monotony of their lives. So is the theatre a modern opiate for the masses? The Spectator’s claim they go to the theatre to be entertained. Yet the Director maintains the theatre cannot show real life, it can only reflect it. Do the people go to theatre to see life or to escape it?

We then considered where the boundary lies between reality and imagination. In our stage design where a small stage separates the backstage and the auditorium (all three visible to the audience) it asks the question which section is real? The auditorium, the stage or the backstage? There are arguments for each. If you presume you go on-stage pretending to be someone else then surely this is a false environment. Or how about the boundary between the wing and the stage? Is that a boundary between reality and illusion? Your life and the life of the character you are playing? Perhaps there is no clear boundary between reality and imagination. Surely what we imagine is based on what we see and therefore it cannot be possible to move from one to the other so easily. There must be a grey area. I believe this area is the stage, where we take reality and use it to create drama. Or it could be the Lip of the stage? Where the soliloquies are given, a space of direct address, where the actor breaks the fourth wall. Surely there where the actor touches reality whilst still in character is the ultimate expression of reality and illusion blending. Surely the audience is real? Or at least they are not deliberately performing. Is the boundary in fact within the actors themselves? How much of what they do is real to them and how much is fabricated? How far does method acting go? If when the actor performs a part they truly believe it, is this experience as real as when it happens in reality? Is the audience’s behaviour itself a careful performance? Take for example the coded etiquette used by an audience whilst watching a pantomime where they boo the villain, cheer the hero and laugh at the men in drag. Perhaps the boundary between reality and illusion is purely subjective.

the artist and the world (these plays were often impossible to stage) and his Theatre Beneath the Sand, which questioned the nature of hyper-reality on stage and explored experiences beyond the known.


Rehearsal Photos.

        A model of the set            20080911_102.jpg            The directors watch.     


September 17, 2008

Day 1. Monday 08–Sep–08.

The first day of rehearsals!

We started off playing a simple status game. We were each given a card from Ace to King, with the King being the highest status and the Ace being the lowest status. We then had to act out this status (keeping our card secret) and rank ourselves in order of who we thought had the highest and the lowest. Then we were given another card, which this time we were forbidden from looking at. This we had to hold against our forehead for the rest of the group to look at. Then we were told to walk around the room and interact with the people based on the status of their card. For example you bow to the King, the highest card whilst you sneer at the Ace the lowest card. By watching the way the other members of the group treated you the aim was to guess which card you had. We then had to put ourselves in a line based on where we thought we came in the deck. Miraculously there was only one mistake when Carl, actually the 8 of spades placed himself underneath the 6 of spades. His argument for this was that it’s easier to play very high status such as the King or very low status such as the Ace or 2 whilst the numbers in between were more difficult. The difference between the 6 and the 7 being very small and therefore requiring much subtler behaviour.

We then focused attention on sudden changes between statuses. We had to walk forward and when we got to a certain point change our status significantly, going say from a 3 to a 10. A 10 would be much larger, louder and more clearly defined, whilst a 3 would be much more low-key and introspective. After rehearsing these walks we were paired together and given the task of making these walks interact and tell a story. I had developed a large, gregarious walk (very high status) and Zoë had developed a much more low-key sylph-like walk. In order to make them fit together we decided to tone my walk down to about a 4 and elevate the status of Zoë’s walk to about a 6. This led to some fairly interesting status interactions with Zoë leading me to the point of transition as a higher status character only for that status to be reversed and for my character to abandon her. We then experimented with making our actions and facial expressions bigger to increase our own status. After taking a normal everyday action (mine was washing my face) and making it a lot bigger we were put into groups to create a diorama. We created a scene involving a family struggling to get ready for school in a tiny place. The more powerful characters of the father and mother were more dominating of the space whilst the children were frequently hurried about. After the status experiments we settled down to have a read-through of the script and discussed the stage design. In all an exciting and invigorating start to the rehearsal process.





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