Goodbye Brecht

Our final performance is over, we’re all still friends (just about!!) and we’re free for Christmas!

Hundreds of hours and countless Impy meals have gone into creating something were proud of and two days of no staging… and I don’t know what to do with myself!

Never before have I experienced a module that’s consumed my life so much, not only time wise but emotionally and mentally. Now that its over…I guess I need a new hobby!

Learning about Brecht has been really interesting, he’s a more complex man than I first thought but his theories will definitely stay with me and inform not only any theatre making that I’m apart of but also my writing in the future.

The experience of staging has been stressful, time-consuming, demanding, challenging, and SO rewarding. Whatever grade we end up getting, we have a piece that we’ve poured ourselves into and we’re proud of the final product.

Merry Christmas everyone!

 

 

 

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Playing with shadows

Happy weekend friends, we are on the precipice of week 8 (week is TERRIFYING).

However, we’ve been busy this week and have some interesting material to show for it. I ran the workshop I discussed in my previous post and it was well received…

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We experimented with a sheet, taking it in turns to push against it in creative ways and figure out what looked best. As we worked someone had the idea to turn the lights off and use a phone torch to see what visuals we could create, thus our journey into the world of shadow work commenced.

My research into the technique has led me to assume that shadow work dominates eastern tradition, particularly in Javanese and Malaysian theatre-making.  Wayang kulit is a tradition which uses shadow puppetry, although we’ll be using people I was interested in reading about cultures where shadow work is integral to their theatre-making. Beth Osnes writes about her experience of Wayang fondly, ‘this form seemed so liberated, immediate and imaginative’. Interestingly Osnes also commented, ‘I liked how accessible it was to every age, every economic level, even every race’. I want to achieve a similar feeling of accessibility in our piece by using silhouettes. The  emotionally charged scene of Tyra sexually assaulting James will be communicated through only their shadows, therefore relying entirely on their movements and gestures.

By only using the silhouettes of the two characters, thus stripping the characters of any status or personality, I hope the characters will be perceived in their most raw and human state. Instead of ‘Tyra’ and ‘James’ they will be presented with two bodies displaying a struggle for dominance, power and dignity. This battle is one that will hopefully be generally relatable, after all Brecht wanted to create theatre that everyone could attend . Walter Benjamin recalls, ‘on a window ledge stands a little wooden donkey, that can nod its head. Brecht has hung a little notice around its neck, with the word ‘I too must understand it.’.

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Beth Osnes ( 2010) The Shadow Puppet Theatre of Malaysia: A Study of Wayang Kulit with Performance Scripts and Puppet Designs

Walter Benjamin (1996) Selected writings

 

Into the second half (ahh)

So reading week is drawing to a close (cue students weeping in unison) and it’s time to start thinking ahead to the next few weeks of staging. We’ve had a week to recharge, rest, have some well deserved fun and I’m feeling positive that we’ll all return to the module with a new energy.

We set ourselves a task for the week, to make sure Tennessee William’s wonderful play was never too far from our minds. Each of my team took a scene each and have each spent some time thinking about possible ideas for how it could be staged. Undoubtedly these will be informed by ideas we’ve already discussed but it has also given us a chance to add our own personal twist on the action.

I chose Scene 9 as it’s the scene in which Tyra rapes James as I’m particularly interested in how the gender and power dynamics can work. I feel it wouldn’t work to simply have Tyra over power James, as we’ve been discussing a lot in this module the advantage of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’. I feel in someway this scene would work best if some of the action was left up the imagination. Therefore I’ve imagined the two of them stood behind a sheet, unmoving, simply saying the lines. I hope this will take any humour out of the ordeal and simply leave the audience with James’ cries.

A further possibility it to use the sheet for choreography throughout the scene, at the beginning for example when Tyra is trying to temp James to bed. She could wrap him up in it for example. I would love my group to experiment with a brief routine using a sheet, to demonstrate the struggle between the two characters.

When looking for inspiration I came across the following video..

 

Although this is a group ensamble, some of the movements might be nice to play around with in rehearsal (particularly people stretching the material by reaching forward ect).

I’ll update you on how it goes!

 

 

The sound of music

Hi wonderful Brechtian friends.

We have finally arrived at week 6 and that means the two words every student longs to say ‘reading week’. After a pretty exhausting few weeks it’s nice to have a chance to sit and reflect on the journey so far. Yesterday my group huddled in one of our beds, each with a cup of tea and enough chocolate to feed the 5000. We discussed our progress and came up with a plan of attack moving forward.

Recently many of our discussions have surrounded the concept of music and how we might use this in our piece, so I thought I’d relay some of our thinking here…

It became evident that music would be an important element to our piece as the script offers musical pieces to be played by a pianist, in the stage directions. We started off by listening to the music proposed by Williams and then branched out into other songs from the period. Upon coming across Rum And Coca by The Andrews Sisters (1944) Micky set about experimenting with some choreography for us to experiment with.

We considered using the dance sequence to highlight the chessboard motif in the text. We used masking tape to create a chessboard on the floor of the workspace and used the squares to dance. We hope this visual aid will contribute to our themes of control and help the audience question the autonomy of the residents who in this dance we reduce to chess pieces, controlled by the external forces of society.

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Having created a dance routine we’re proud of I suggested that we use the chess board as part of our staging throughout, this may be challenging as it would effect our movements/interactions if we were to stay restricted to the squares and so would need to be thoroughly rehearsed but I do believe it would be a strong visual image to communicate how trapped our characters are.

How can music contribute to our red thread?

We want to ultimately leave the audience with the sense that the troubles the characters are faced with in Vieux Carre are still relevant today, certain groups of people are still seen as ‘rubbish’. One way we want to achieve this is through our music choices. Therefore instead of simply using the set musical pieces in the text we want to use music throughout, slowly becoming more modern decade by decade and scene by scene. We want to challenge our audience to consider how society treats ‘outsiders’ or ‘others’, not to tackle any particular social issue but simply to strength the muscle of empathy. We hope that by the time familiar 21st century music is being played they will realise that the themes and issues presented are not confined to the walls of the Vieux carre but instead are timeless and universal.

Brecht once asked ‘does the music give rise to the events on stage or do the events on stage give rise to the music?’, commenting on the inextricable relationship between music and action. We hope to play with this relationship and use it to our advantage in our piece.

Feature image: The Andrew Sisters (New York Times)

Bertolt Brecht Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic

location, location, location

So after the excitement/relief of finishing the editing process last week, we sat down on Monday morning and realised…we really haven’t finished editing at all. In fact we’ve barely made a dent. We read through half the play and it took us almost an hour (oops). All is not lost though and we’ve been working hard to continue the cutting process so we can start getting this play up on it’s feet.

Once again editing has thrown up some interesting discussions. One in particular provoked a lot of discussion (especially as we learned in our seminar that our buddy group had also debated the same thing). We found ourselves continually going back to the question-

‘So where is the Vieux Carre?’

Ok, so we know that the Vieux Carre is in New Orleans. But where is our Vieux Carre?

Perhaps it’s in England? After all we all have British accents and don’t intend on putting on American ones.

Perhaps it’s in Europe somewhere…or the Middle east…or Australia…

Or perhaps it’s just somewhere and that’s okay.

My personal opinion is that while the plays rich cultural roots to New Orleans is interesting to play with, we only have half an hour and need to prioritise the themes such as madness and sexuality, themes which are all explored internally within the building and not particularly contributed to by knowing the specific location of the hostel. Therefore we can quite literally set our piece anywhere, or (even better in my opinion)- no where.

The Vieux Carre is like a strange limbo, a lonely stop off point for these characters until their lives can either move forward or end. Maddy Costa describes the piece as ‘shadowy and heightened as a dream’, an observation I feel to be very accurate. I believe that the dream-like, ambiguous atmosphere we want to create will be helped by not giving the audience a place as this would root the piece more in reality.

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How we spent most of our week- huddled around a computer going through the script together

 

Featured image: new orleans night skyline (source- Pinterest)

Referenced- Vieux Carré – review, Maddy Costa. The Guardian (2012)

 

Why are you laughing?

IT’S A NEW DAWN, IT’S A NEW DAY, WE FINISHED EDITING, AND IM FEELING GOOOOOOD.

Sorry for any cringing caused by the sing-song intro (I am a drama student after all), I’m just so happy because last night we completed the mission of cutting  ‘Vieux Carre’ down. There’ll still be changes made along the way but we officially have a script so we can start getting it up on it’s feet and get staging!

When editing we made several significant changes to character so I thought I’d discuss these and explain our reasoning…

Gender

Unfortunately the one guy in our group, Jack, is completely outnumbered by 7 females. Our play is very male dominant character wise and so we were faced with a problem- we could either us girls could pop on some trousers and tie back our hair or we could make the slightly more daunting decision and change the gender of the characters. After conversing with our seminar tutor who reassured us we didn’t need to treat Tennessee William’s as a deity whose work was in someway untouchable, sacred even, we decided we wanted to be a little more inventive and change the character’s gender entirely. We knew we wanted to keep one heterosexual couple but in order for the dynamics to work with the other characters we needed to have ‘Jane’ become ‘James’ and ‘Tye’ to be reinvented as ‘Tyra’.

What began as a necessary alteration due to the male/female ratio in our group has actually become very interesting, giving us more freedom when it comes to characterisation. For example, lines that William’s wrote to come out of a females mouth, are now being said by a male, which creates humour at times but also prompts some interesting conversation; particularly in regards to the ambiguous rape scene. In our version a female now appears to sexually abuse a man. The scene is now more than a display of aggression and domination but provokes questions about societal attitudes to gender and sexual violence. I suggested we push this point by allowing the audience to laugh but then interrupting their laughter by coming out of character briefly to ask ‘Why are you laughing?’, an idea we’ll be experimenting with in the next few weeks. I feel this would be very in keeping with Brecht’s desire for the audience to question their emotions.

Race

Another character we made significant changes to is that of Nursie, Mrs Wire’s confidant, friend and maid. When discussing what themes we wanted to prioritise, as a group of white young people, race wasn’t one we felt we could successfully discuss. Although minimal, there are several references to Nursie’s race (and that of the piano player). In order to avoid the audience trying to find a meaning we aren’t trying to communicate we’ve decided to remove any lines were Nursie’s skin colour is mentioned. This is something we discussed in detail, after all it feels a little silly to put on a play set in New Orleans without one black character in it but none of us feel we can accurately or appropriately represent a black woman on stage so we’ve reimaged Nursie as an aging white woman, humpbacked, in a costume that mirrors Mrs Wire’s to draw attention to their relationship, which we feel is one of the strongest in the play.

Workshops

When it came to the editing process Jon Venn’s workshop was particularly helpful. In his session we discussed the theory that the desires of the characters are at the foundation any piece of drama. Therefore, when it came to any significant changes to the text I tried to make sure that the desires driving the plot were still clear and strong. In order for the piece I feel the motivations of the characters must remain the same, despite any gender/race changes.

We had a couple of evening rehearsals this week which weren’t too much fun and by the end of the sessions we were often a little delirious. However, sustained by chocolate fingers and fudge, we persevered and I’m really pleased with our progress so far.

Now to get this text on the stage…

Where to start?

This week saw my group and I delving into our chosen text, Tennesse Williams’ ‘Vieux Carre’.

We read, we discussed, we… well I wouldn’t say we conquered but first week of rehearsals is officially complete and I’m feeling really positive with where we’re headed.

We began our process by meeting on Sunday to read through the play in it’s entirety (tea was provided of course) and as we read from scene to scene an excitement grew in the room. The best thing that could have happened, happened- everyone actually loved the play and was keen to get going! yay!

On Monday we met and were at a bit of a loss as to where to start. We had a play we were passionate about but no idea how to actually get it off the page and onto a stage. Most of this session consisted of talking about character (most of us are joint English students so it got pretty deep and analytical). Most importantly we decided on our key theme, or red thread, that would be underpinning our work and therefore all the decisions we’ll be making from now on; mental illness.

On Wednesday we met again and took a different approach, after our first seminar we were all inspired to get editing (slightly because we were excited to start the process and make the play our own… but also because we discovered our buddy group had already finished editing…). To do this we wrote out the main action in each scene and discussed what we felt was completely necessary to our piece and what wouldn’t contribute actively to our key theme in order to decide which scenes to chop.

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We made notes on flip chart paper throughout this session

Finally today we met and had a go at getting to our feet. To warm up we put some fun music on and walked around the space. After a while someone suggested we attempt to dance in a style that we felt represented each character. Although the process would have been hilarious to someone who happened to walk past and see us bopping and sliding around the space, it was really interesting for us as it got us thinking about character, movement and most importantly Gestus.

We also ended up in a park to read in the fresh air and discovered the value of a change of scenery (below is a nice photo of our attractive sun-in-eyes expressions as proof).

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