Head is Swirling

An MA dissertation in any form is a challenging prospect. One in which you will be not only researching a subject, but creating a response to it theatrically as well as writing on it academically is an entirely new level of challenge.

Things I am learning:

1) I really like to research. To a fault. There comes a point where reading yet another version of Antigone (or reading it again for the 100th time), watching anther German Opera version, or listening to another random lecture from the RA about any painter ever to have lived is just not going to do anything. You need to create. You need to put down the books and get up in the studio and just see what comes out. I am approaching this point now.

2) I have a tendency to want everything to fit to a plan, but at the same time happen randomly. The two are not compatible. I have been hit with two major setbacks to my plan - in the form of casting issues which were first solved, then sort of solved, then not solved at all - both of which had me reeling last week. Several hours we spent lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, surrounded by my iPad and copies of the play, listening to intense music whilst wondering what to do. I do learn the most from these things though; the times when my left and right brain are battling it out over order versus chaos are the times when the most remarkable ideas come out.

3) The play has the answer. It always has the answer, you just have to give it time to tell you. Luckily, I had the time in this instance, and didn't end up staying up nights bawling at my lack of options.

So, phase 1 of the dissertation approach (reading like a maniac) is coming to a close. My first workshop to lead will be in just over a week, and I am looking forward to just playing. It is funny that when reading, I get so many ideas, mostly in the form of physical images in my head, all of which seem to be contrary to the last. Right now there are about 50 "moments" I have imagined. The first 3 workshops will be a chance to try these out, see what actually works physically and with text or music, and then I will go away to try to piece together the first draft of a piece. Then I will come back for 3 more workshops to sew it together and share it on the 19th of July at RADA.

From here, oodles of reflection on the process, writing to pull in all the inspiration and thoughts to create the piece along with the future...where does this go now. And more importantly, where do I go after this whirlwind of a year, personally, and artistically.

Hell is Other People

I have been thinking a lot lately about what tragedy is in our modern times. We hear that word pushed and pulled around regularly; it is almost impossible to make it through an hour's newscast without hearing that word bandied about. But are the certainly unfortunate, miserable experiences of day to day life actually tragic, or just a set of seriously crappy circumstances imposed by other people? I wholeheartedly believe that major natural disasters (for example) are really terrible occurrences...but consider that the majority of the "human impact" and death isn't caused by the disaster itself, but by the situation some people have been put in as a result of the actions of others. And if that is the case, then really, the situation was able to be remedied or avoided. Albeit not an easy avoidance, but a possible option exists nonetheless.

This is on a major scale...but even on the micro, personal level we inflict pain and suffering on others daily. People trust others because you need to in order to survive, and yet these people we trust turn and change, and hurt us irreperably time and time again. Yet we need to have hope, and learn to trust again...otherwise the only remaining state is one of despair. Hope that true connection, true care for another being is possible and will happen....and willingness to risk being hurt again for the chance of a true connection occurring.

With this understanding, do we not need theatrical tragedy even more than before, to help us manage and clarify our existence? Theatrical models of tragedy show us the inevitability of events, our helplessness to impact our surroundings at time, however rather than leaving us bleak and despairing, they forge a connection for us and reinforce that hope which is so vital to our existence.

Musings on our Lady Duchess

While working on Act 4 of Duchess, and also along the side thinking through how I might like to approach the play for our end of term presentations, I have been thinking considerably about what in this play affects me. First, and probably most importantly, I find the character of the Duchess to be interesting not only as an actor, but as a spectator watching this woman's life. For the title character in the play, we see remarkably little of her, and know much more about those around her first-hand. From what we see...she lies to her brothers and says she will not marry, takes things into her own hands and marries her servant, keeps this a secret from her strong-willed brothers....but proceeds to have children with this unknown husband. Once she is discovered, she faces her imminent death with grace and strength, not fighting back (though she does take a mild detour away from Malfi...) and ultimately dying before the play itself is completed.

At the same time, we see that due to her power and status, she has Antonio wrapped around her finger; she exerts her power over him psychologically and sexually, seemingly taunting him, daring him to step out against her brothers, which she must know he cannot and will not do. Yet despite her power due to rank of birth, she is ultimately powerless as a woman who cannot decide for herself what her future will hold. Her line in act 3 really sums up her journey in the play for me - "Why should only I, of all the other princes in the world, be cased up like a holy relic?". It is precisely this that is the tension of her existence in the play; she is a prince, and should be free to act as she pleases. Were she a male, her actions (regardless of their moral value) would be accepted, never questioned....certainly she would never be condemned to death. Yet Webster isn't exactly painting us a picture for women's empowerment; rather he seems to present us with a hierarchy of power, everyone is controlled by someone, despite illusions of freedom.

image: Gustav Klimt - The Flower Garden

How much is too much?

Late post, but I wanted to summarize Scene Study on Wednesday night. We spent time on Brecht's He Said Yes/He Said No, looking at it as a potential response to/restructuring of the classical Aristotelian idea of tragedy. We were looking at it mostly in reference to Aristotle, but it is extremely important to understand the more relevant response in Brecht; he, through the ideas of Marx about society, is revising Hegel more so than he is revising Aristotle alone. It has been said that Marx took Hegel's ideas and turned them upside down and backward, but he does this while sticking within the form of the Hegelian argument. Brecht does this too, and does so within the familiar form, but with blurred edges to remind us that this is a play and is not life.

We then moved in to talking about Augusto Boal's work with the Theatre of the Oppressed and Invisible Theatre. I find Theatre of the Oppressed/Forum theatre to be fascinating, in its ability to give voice to people who have not traditionally had one. I think this is a vehicle that can work not only for audiences, but for liberating characters who have been voiceless....the Lavinias, the Miss Julies, The Hedda Gablers.

Looking at Boal's invisible theatre, we read an account of a play he staged in the Paris Metro about sexual harrassment. While I find this idea of shocking audience members, showing them their own prejudices very useful, but only if there is a chance for them to opt in. I question the efficacy of the message when the audience doesn't know they are an audience. Without the "rules" of attending theatre and knowing one must "pay attention" to the signs and symbols, this could just be another odd day on the subway. Not only that, but given the travelling nature of the piece, with "audience" getting on and off the metro throughout, what of the message given to those who only saw one part, and not the contrast? They have just been exposed to another example of harrassment...but with no signifier that this is not simply commonplace.

Finally, we debated The Audience by Tim Crouch, with one side of the group arguing for Steiner's argument that Tragedy isn't possible in our godless world, while the other side arguing that Crouch's play is Tragedy evolving itself for our current times. This got me thinking about what the actual tragedy is in this play; is the tragedy our de-sensitization? Is it the permeation of one encounter with violence into the greater society? Is it that the audience is a metaphor for humanity, sitting idly by while atrocities are described to them? Is it the act with the baby? I don't know that I can answer that...or maybe it is that the tragedy is all those things. What is certainly true is that unlike Renaissance or Greek tragedies, where there is a clear cut of what we are supposed to find horrific, these modern plays offer tragedy on a meta level, which is more difficult to identify outright.