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.


While last term the focus with Tom was on really clearly presenting the text (as in the words), our focus with Andrew this term is more on the ideas, the themes, the sense that comes out of the play, and how to get that on its feet. Working with Genet, particularly in an English rational theatre tradition, there are certain problems when presented with a text that is so clearly visceral. The words are important, but just as important are the physical acts, the representation.

Today our scene presentations were interesting; with selected scenes from The Blacks and The Balcony, what emerged was a very clear sense of the difficulty of this work. One thing that stood out regardless of directorial choices was the ability to clearly understand the spoken words. There were scenes in which I felt that the director had paid too much attention to staging and emotions, and not enough to simply understanding the text, and understanding the modulations genet provides in his script. This is something that I want to try to balance when I approach directing a scene.

I am really interested in how to do this now; the idea of presenting an aboriginal "the blacks" in Canada really fascinates me. There would obviously need to be some adjustments to appropriate the text, but the ideas, the fear and violence the blacks feel in the play seems a strong parallel to what I have seen in Canada. Something to continue to consider.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bertolt Brecht - The Baden-Baden Lesson on Consent (Lehrstrucke)

This play makes up part of Brecht's experimentation with making the audience part of the performance, to move them from spectator to auditor in a way we believe audiences of Greek Tragedy behaved. There were several texts/performances on this idea, all of which have open interpretation on repetition, removing pieces, etc.

This one in particular is rather interesting. It is structured like a Greek Tragedy, with the chorus talking to the "Tragic Hero" which here is a fallen pilot (or multiple fallen of the available interpretations). Here, though, the "crowd" is a character, who would have people placed throughout who know what is going on and lead the participation. The Crowd has conversations with characters, or repeats words almost in the style of a voice exercise to get at the meaning of the text.

Placed right in the centre of this is an almost slapstick comedy act with two clowns and Mr Smith, which feels like it is a mix of Shakespeare and Charlie Chaplin. But unlike those, the tale of Mr Smith is quite clearly an allegory for man asking others to take care of his problems.

While parts of the text feel heavy handed in their style, I could see creative ways of bringing this to the stage.

image: Leonard Braskin - Bertolt Brecht


today was a meandering sort of a day. Spent the morning reading and researching in preparation for Ludus Danielis. Also discovered the greatness of Foyle's bookstore, which is my official favourite place in London, I think. Short of going to a theatre-only book store, this shop has the largest selection of theatre, criticism, and SO many plays.

From here I had various meetings with my groups for Ludus Danielis, and then for Scene Study presentations. I'm feeling a bit anxious about these presentations, if only because of the very loose parameters we are working under. I think I have done my part of the research sufficiently, and we're going to rehearse it over the weekend. Part of me is anxious because I like to be in control, and have things done early....but it is good for me to feel this anxiety. At least I tell myself that.

Finally got to Acting Space. Our course leader, Sue Dunderdale, was observing part of the class today. Today Brian had sent us some Shakespeare texts to review in advance; 1.1 from Twelfth Night, and Marcus' speech upon finding Lavinia in Titus. I was excited, as I really love the character of Viola, and absolutely love that specific speech from Titus, having used it as a starting point for my physical piece Lavinia I created a few years ago. We began with some basics; read the Twelfth Night scene, decode what it means, then get in partners and talk it through colloquially from memory, to get the thought process going. From here, we began to discuss verse and how to approach it. Brian is a believer in understanding the pulse and rhythm of the text first, fully feeling in your whole body how the text moves rhythmically; from here you back off the technical reading of it and feel the emotional content.

We tried this out with a short few lines between Romeo and Juliet. Something Brian really emphasized is the need to fight for each word, and to push through to the end of the line, particularly in scenes, so that you are passing the energy and rhythm to your fellow actor. This was a lightbulb moment for me, as I realized that so much of the Shakespeare I had done previously was on soliloquies and sonnets...and I hadn't really given a ton of consideration to how to share that energy when someone else is doing half (or more!) of the speaking. One thing he had me do, which really worked, was to push against him and try to move forward as I said the line. This made me need to give each word its own space, literally having to fight for each one, and stopped me from grazing over words.

We then worked on the Titus speech; similarly we began by saying the text colloquially. From here we talked about things like technique; Brian was very cautious that any "rules" are dangerous. Anyone saying "always say a line in x way" risks losing the life and vibrancy of the text. It is important to know each word, why it is there, think about its meaning, and always feel the pulse of the da-dum da-dum da-dum underneath...even in cases of trochees or feminine endings. Another important thing is to keep that rhythm going between lines...don't let the ball drop so to speak.

The next exercises were really moving; we did focus work with our partner, just sitting silently and observing whether we were emerging or withdrawing from them. From here, we took a single line of the Titus speech and spent several moments just imagining it with closed eyes, breathing, in intense detail. From here we opened our eyes and said the line. The imagery in the words came to life in a way I have never personally been able to achieve before; my line was beginning "Alas, a crimson river..." and i literally saw this happening before my eyes in my imagination. I want to do more work like this as a way to approach text that is extremely descriptive, something I have always felt just a little detached from.

Shakespeare - Othello

I have read this many times, for various purposes. It has always stood out to me as one of my favourite of the Bard's plays, simply because of its focus on jealousy and the result of assumption. This time what really stood out was the pace; while some plays take awhile for things to happen, in Othello the events fly by (despite the play's length) and the audience too feels swept away by the lies and deceit, until the moment Desdemona is killed. From here one almost feels suspended in time and the moments take gut-wrenching years, while Othello learns of the error in his ways.

Also really apparent to me this time was the abundance of crowded feet and female endings in the metre, along with the seamless transition between verse and prose as Iago goes from spinning his web to trying to maintain his cover. This is likely influenced by all the Berry I have been reading, but it stood out nonetheless.

Language of the Body

Had our first class in Laban Friday afternoon with Darrell Aldridge. He began the class by talking a bit about his background, and about the background and history of Laban. Darrell is a very passionate teacher, who began with a degree in dance but then moved further into movement theory and personality analysis. After just a few minutes, we got on our feet, and Darrell took us through a devolution to get us from walking human beings all the way to jellyfish. From here, we slowly worked through a physical evoluation from jellyfish to fish, quadropeds, apes, and then humans, focusing on the specific movements of the spine and 6 limbs (arms, legs, head, tail) through these. This was paralleled with the physical development of a baby. Quickly I learned that despite having never specifically studied Laban, I had encountered these concepts through other teachers in dance years ago.

We then learned one of Laban's physical scales. The scales are structured in a similar way to a centre floor adagio, but with the intention to move the body in oppositions, opening and then closing from the navel in all directions. I really enjoyed this connection of movement.

Next we moved into the efforts of movement within the 3 dimensional cube, exploring how to exaggerate movement as light, sustained and indirect (float) or strong, direct and sudden (thrust). Homework is to complete the cube, filling in the remaining combinations of movement quality through space, time and weight.

After this, we attended a performance from some NYU students on exchange to RADA to study the arts of Shakespeare. These young american students had been studying the music, dance, combat and clown of Shakespeare's time, and performed about 1.5 hrs worth of sonnets, scenes and song/dance. What I found interesting to watch was the clarity between those performers who really understood and felt comfortable in the language compared to those who didn't. When the performer really understood the language of the sonnet or scene, the immediately relaxed, had better vocal quality and a more confident physicality. By contrast, when the actor didn't connect with the text they were wooden and awkward, and tended to poor vocal habits (bad diction, poor connection with breath).

Sarah Kane - Psychosis 4.48

This play really grabbed my attention. I happened upon it after several tutors talking about Sarah Kane's work, and me realizing that I hadn't even heard of this woman. So I popped into the library, and this title stood out at me.

The language is beautiful; savagely beautiful and abrasive. Structurally I liked that it isn't completely clear who is speaking immediately, but that a clear character emerges quite quickly. Similarly the movement from individual, poetic language into 2-handed scenes really appealed to me. I couldn't help but consider options for how to bring this to the stage, how one might deal with the pages of heightened inner-monologue without being pitched too high for the full show. Or should it be?

One of the structural ideas of feminist theatre is that there can be multiple climaxes in a piece, rather than following the Aristotelian ideal. This play nearly felt like several continual climaxes, without anything more than a few lines comedown before the next fever pitch.

I don't know yet what I will do with this. But I suspect I will be drawn back to it.