Today's Scene Study class raised some interesting questions surrounding identity and art. . . specifically to do with what identities we (as artists) create, challenge or reinforce through presentation of plays. In particular, this was raised in relation to staging old plays, the baggage of literary and performance history that comes along with them. The main focus on the discussion was Othello, looking at a 1960s version with Laurence Olivier in black face, while another was with South African actors in Johannesberg in the 1980s. Looking at some critical texts on the idea of gender or race in performance, we discussed the implications of staging decisions, and the results these can have for informing stereotype.

This raised a few things for me. . .
- part of me wants to say that art is for art's sake, so what the hell are we worrying about this other stuff for.
- The rational part of me replies, knowing that there is always responsibility of the artist in representing anything, and particularly in representing something that has gained certain significance for a community or group.

So then how do we merge these? I think that the main focus needs to be artistic integrity, but that merged with this needs to be a conscious acknowledgement of what the stage images are doing to the audience, and how they will be received. Audiences at different times and places will bring context that must be acknowledged in the production. A failure to do this is a failure as an artist. Our main role is to interact with and respond to the world as we see it; this can take many forms, but must necessarily account for audience response.

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.

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) 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