December 22, 2004

ďThe last word will be the play, gentlemenĒ and Other Musings

~It seemed silly to end this blog with no big song and dance, so I thought I'd include a little something to top it all off. My final paper, ladies and gentlemen.~

What have I learned in this class? That itís impossible to write your typical 5-paragraph theme thesis paper in a theatre class. The bits of my brain that spew flowery collegiate prose for political science papers disengage when it comes to theatre - when Iím in my Ďtheatre modeí, my creative side kicks in and refuses to shut off. Therefore, my theatre papers always come off more like novels than textbooks. But thatís the nature of theatre, I suppose. The purpose is to tell a story that begs to be told. As with any good story, half of the experience is in the method of the telling. If I were to write a 5-paragraph theme, it would have to have certain implications that I had woven into the telling. But I donít. Hence, the telling of the story matches the material itself. Itís my own story. So I am stream-of-consciousness-ing it. With paragraphs added for clarity.
As per the project requirements, we divvied up responsibilities in the first assignment relating to our final project. The trouble with this was, after TK was elected director, the rest of the jobs were somehow distributed, Iím not sure how, and I caught only a glimpse of that assignment before it was turned in. Somehow I gathered that I was to be a designer, but I had no idea who was doing what else. I felt a bit off-balance, so to speak, in that I wasnít exactly sure what we were doing. I was Ďgung ho!í and ready to begin approaching this project as if it were a mainstage show, but we didnít really get started until a while after, and I think our group drifted for a while, not knowing in which direction we were headed. As it turned out, I did become the sound and lighting designer, but the set designer responsibilities fell to Ben. Interestingly enough, I donít think that the other production groups had designated sound and lighting designers, or if they did, those responsibilities were paired with other responsibilities and not given quite so much attention as my approach. Then again, lighting design isnít new to me, so I knew how to go about it, and I wanted to dig deeper into lighting and approach these limitations and new challenges ready to learn and grow as a designer.
In beginning my approach to the lighting and sound design for this project, my first step was to determine the overall mood and tone of each scene, and how each could be emphasized by means of lighting and sound. With lighting, I began by taking into account the limitations of the space we were using - I knew that I didnít have eighty-odd lights with a full set of gels at my disposal; I only had a few florescents, six floodlights, and whatever I could bring in from home to work with. Keeping that in mind, I began to discover just how far I could push past these limitations to create a lighting atmosphere that would enhance the show. My biggest inspiration for this work came from the guest speakers at our design lecture, Matt Lefebvre and Sarah Leigh, who both held that in design, one should always begin by dreaming big, designing for a perfect world, then adapting that design to fit your limitations.
So, in dreaming big, I knew that in order to present the epilogue in the way I wanted it to be presented, I would need to have a blackout and a spotlight. For the rest of the show, I wanted it lit in such a way that would suggest a real subway station, and then to change the lighting to show that the world of the play had moved outside the space of reality. I donít remember TK ever finalizing our theme or underlying message of the show, so I interpreted the themes as best I could from my vantage point - being an actor (and, unexpectedly, the star?), I had a feel for what the show was about, and tried to sneak my own interpretation of the script into the lighting and sound design, as well as acting. However, not wanting to step too far outside of the boundaries of the consensus of our group, I followed orders from TK to light the subway in such a way that would suggest first reality, then a transportation to an alien world. In achieving this, the use of some gels procured from my old high school aided my task considerably. As a lighting designer, I knew that colored light can improve the look of a show enough to spell the difference between amateur and accomplished. For whatever reason, I approached this show in the same way I have basically every show Iíve done design for, although this class has taught me again and again that the mainstream shows Iíve done in the past are but a tiny piece of what theatre really is. However, I did realize that towards the end of the production, my reservation from doing the project was replaced by my usual fervor in making the show just right, and I fell into the mode of working that I always have, doing all the shows Iíve ever done.
The sound design was, in some ways, easier than the lighting, because I didnít have the same limitations. Once I had the sound system set up, I could choose any music I liked to create the scene. There were a few limitations, though - at first, I wanted to have a realistic soundtrack for the second scene, with background crowd hubbub and real air and train sounds on cue. However, I couldnít figure out how to mix several different sounds together into one track, and didnít have a way to cue the train sound to match the text, so I ended up picking a soundtrack for each scene instead. However, as a result of this limitation, I realized that I liked using music through all of the scenes better - because it enabled me to contrast that with the background hubbub to be played after the puppet scene, showing the coming back to reality that my character went through. An example of how creativity arises out of limitations, I guess. My research for this mostly involved a lot of library CDs and a few lucky finds within those CDs. One of the resources I approached this project with was a video game called Deus Ex, of which I had the soundtrack to, because the world of the game is mostly dark alleys and subway stations, and the mood seemed to meld very well with our sceneís overall mood. So, I listened to each song in the on that soundtrack, and ended up using a few of the songs in the final cut. In addition to sound, I even used some of the gameís screen shots in my research for lighting, because of the fantastic use of shadows to create atmosphere and drama. But aside from Deus Ex, not a lot of Ďresearchí was done, in the traditional sense... Iíve been learning that in the field of theatre, that which is classified as research is only sometimes done with libraries and books. Theatre is a science of sorts; research is done in the field, with experiments. I couldnít learn all I needed to know in a library; the most efficient way for me to design was to simply try things out and to call upon my own memories and experience.
Unfortunately for our production, timing constraints and the fact that we began from ground zero, without even knowing what show we were going to put on, I didnít get a chance to even begin to think about design until a week or so before our day to perform. So, the bulk of my work on the show, if it can be called Ďwork,í was as a collaborator and designer of concept. Early in the process, the engaging of artistic differences was rampant within our group. Which is the theatrical way of saying that animosity was everywhere, we couldnít work well together. But looking back on the experience, Iíve spent this whole semester learning about the world and, especially in the past few weeks, myself. In the collaboration process, I was matched for the first time with groupmates whose dedication and knowledge of theatre were akin to my own. Rather than making for smooth sailing, this created friction within our group, specifically, between me and everyone else.
Although I claimed again and again that I didnít want to be the director, I had this vision in my head of how our group was going to perform scene ten from Our Countryís Good, how we were going to convey the idea of theatre being a way to escape the hopelessness of reality, etc. etc. ad infinitum. Everyone else in our group latched on to the David Mamet piece right away, and was excited to be doing that. Iím ashamed of myself now, how I didnít believe that the David Mamet piece could be presented in a meaningful way, with what we were doing. Because of the way I felt, I decided to quit collaborating, in a way. In my stupid, stubborn way, I think that I was thinking, if we canít do OCG and we canít do it the way Iím seeing it, then let *them* do whatever they want. I opted out of the project. I suppose I had my reasons for doing so, but Iím still ashamed of what I did. Which is why I wonít be going into the whole reiteration of my thought process of the early stages of the project. For more information, please refer to .
As far as smooth points in the process go, Iíd have to say I was very impressed with the way that rehearsals always went smoothly. All of the time, with few exceptions, everyone was there on time, and we were very focused as a group to the task at hand. We also had enough rehearsal time, in spite of my pessimistic outlook at the outset that we would only be able to have one or two rehearsals before performance. I was also very impressed with the acting talent in my group - TK as the director didnít have to dictate specific acting choices, she merely made suggestions that were quickly integrated into characters. Even Marla, though she denies it, did very well in becoming her characters, and was very believable, when she was acting. I really felt honored to be working with such a talented group of people. Though it might have been against my most fervent wishes to be working on this play instead of OCG, if I had to have been doing this particular show, there werenít any better people to be working with.
All in all, I canít say that this production was as fantastic as Iíd dreamed it could be, but I doubt that any play in the real world could live up to the standards of the plays of my dreams. I do remember Natalie saying that this project wasnít supposed to be the be-all, end-all play of plays, but I knew that I wanted it to be. Even if itís just a school project, I see it as an opportunity to show the world a little bit of something that I feel needs to be shown. In this case, it was my own personal theme, how theatre can serve as a refuge from the hopelessness of reality. When we read Our Countryís Good, and especially when I saw it the first time, that particular theme rang true for me, most likely because I was in a situation where I felt a desire to escape from reality. Since then, I have been trying again and again to find the best way to convey that theme, to what ends I am uncertain. Iím not entirely sure what I am trying to accomplish with this, but my best guess is that Iím trying to tell the world a story, that in a way is about me. In this past year Iíve really come to realize that itís the storytelling aspect of theatre that intrigues and excites me, and I expect to be a storyteller for all of my life. In this production, I hope only to have shown a tiny bit of this theme, for as Emily Dickinson put it, ďIf I can stop one heart from breaking / I shall not live in vain.Ē As this class project undoubtedly will not be the last piece of theatre that I work on, I know that I have the rest of my life to create a paramount piece of theatre that will live for ages and speak to millions. However, I look on every chance I have at creating good theatre as a learning tool - each time Iím getting better at this whole theatre thing. And theatre can also serve as a stress relief for me, the Ďtheatre as an escapeí spiel. Again, for further information, refer to . One of the major things Iíve learned within the context of this class is why I love theatre and how I can use it to serve my purposes. That may be the penultimate lesson to be learned from this project - how to use theatre as a tool to express something you want to share. The shows Iíve done have been conceptualized by others (sometimes not even conceptualized at all!), and Iíve never had the freedom to really manipulate the implements of theatre of my own accord. In retrospect, I really didnít have much to learn about the mechanics of being a lighting or sound designer in approaching this project - and sadly, I canít say I learned much. However, the more important thing for me was the opportunity to take a piece of theatre and add my own personal flair to the design of it, with hopes of telling a story in lights. While I canít say that that worked in this particular show, per se, Iíve since realized that such a thing is possible. I didnít have the theatre apparatus available to me to create the exact feelings that Iíd hoped to imbue into the production, but it created a suggestion and an impetus for the whole of theatre and the possibilities contained therein.
Okay, to sum up all of the fluff expressed in the last paragraph, I think Iíd like to be a light designer. At least for the short term. Until I lean how to play nice with others and become a director. At the present moment, Iíd like to learn how to best convey messages in theatre by using technical tricks. Unfortunately for this production, I wasnít entirely sure of what our overarching theme was, since TK or anyone else never specifically articulated that, but standing at this point Iím standing at now, I can see the possibilities running off into the distance. So to metaphorically speak. I canít get the aphorism out of my head that the wise man is that he knows he knows nothing. Instead of teaching me everything about theatre design, and instead of being the Ďbring down the house,í people-dancing-in-the-streets epic piece of theatre of my dreams, this project was the first step towards something much greater. So, in the game that we played on the last day of class of stepping towards the center of a circle to indicate our level of learning, Iím ready to respond to my own journey of life in theatre. The center, I realize, is probably unreachable, and there are hundreds of yards between me and the center anyway, but Iíve stepped off the circumference of the base circle. One step towards the center, and Iím eager to eat up the rest of the distance now. Iíll make up the rest of the way somehow.
As this little girl with starlights dancing in her eyes looks up, the lights fade until there is nothing left but a single footlight, only a desk lamp really. The sun has gone down, which to some may metaphorically mean the end, but once the night envelops the earth, the thespians come out and play. The lights of the theatre go up, and the world is good once again. Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, an English officer in the first convict penal colony of Australia, gave this advice to his players: ďI ask you to keep in mind the play, to cling to the play as the thing which will give you your spirit back.Ē The true meaning of Our Countryís Good takes many forms, and I believe it is universal. Now to tell the world.

Posted by holm0567 at December 22, 2004 11:29 AM