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 11:29 AM

December 9, 2004

It has just occurred to me that I am about the worst collaborator in the world. At this rate, I'll never be a director. How can I learn to play nice with others?

Posted by holm0567 at 3:34 PM

December 8, 2004

The Meaning of Plays

Well, here we are... coming down to the wire now, as it were. At this point, it looks like I won't have a whole lot of the lighting or sound ready until after this weekend, so that's unfortunate. But last night I did some hunting and I've got the muslin for our 'wall', a myriad of colored gels, and a bunch of CDs from the library for background music. I'm really glad I'm working with people who actually care about putting on a show, instead of just doing what the bare project minimums require or less. I think that we still have enough time to get the whole thing together so it's good to watch; I've been involved in so many projects with, well, non-honors students where no one works more than I can force them to, and the final product is a mess.

The fact that I see a bit of a bright end in sight is notable because of something that came up in rehearsal on Monday. We were talking about budgeting issues, how we were going to pay for the muslin, and Natalie was pondering why we should pay money for our project when it would be entirely possible to do our show for free. I guess the overall theme of the ensuing discussion was how we could best put on a show that would impress Jessie and I was just thinking, wait a minute.... when was it decided that we would put the play on for Jessie? A play can be good in and of itself; not only that, it *should* be. Contrary to my reluctance to approaching the beginning of the project, I've now been caught up in the anticipation of the live theatre and for me, we need to do everything within our means to make the show the best that it can be. No matter how I'm involved with a show, even if I'm just running crew, or lighting, I want to make the best piece of theatre possible. It's like I have this inherent drive to improve theatre.... I'm thinking of something my band director used to say, that our task as musicians was to win the battle against bad music; my quest in life seems to be to banish the threat of bad theatre. (Not that I'd be hasty to go around labeling things as 'bad theatre,' or even to define it right now.) No matter what a play is, no matter if I agree with what's being presented or not, there is a certain drive within me to help present it in the way that will serve its purpose the best. I'm not sure why that is. I just thought it was interesting.

As far as what Natalie said in her blog about reading people's personal opinions, I must admit that I was shocked when I realized that Marla was actually reading and responding to my blog. But the thing is, why would I write it if no one was supposed to read it? Or rather, why would I write it and then *post it online* if I didn't want anyone to read it? While I'm writing, I feel like it's just the blog, that no one actually reads it, so it doesn't really matter what I say; however, there's always been that little voice down inside that says, you know that they're going to read it. If this sort of thing wasn't meant to be said, it wouldn't be said here. I knew somehow that people were going to read it, but blogs are just an interesting little form of communication. Kinda subtle. I like that. There are things that need to be said but that can't be said using traditional means. Not sure what else I can say... more on that later.

I find it's really interesting how our project has changed. We have a throughline now, instead of having totally different scenarios and totally different characters for the whole show, and somehow I ended up as the quasi-main character?
---Note: if you're reading this just for input on our project, you can skip to the next paragraph because I'm about to go off on a long tangent---
What's wrong with this picture? When I was in high school, I would have given a lung and my firstborn child (not having any children... ha ha) if I could have been in a play. I tried out for everything, and it was all I could do just to get on the stage for five minutes. But throughout this class, somehow I've landed the types of parts that I always go for - the unique character, the protagonist, the 'lead' I guess. In our first little gestus of Death and the King's Horseman, it was decided that I would play the bride to Elesin... then there was the 5-minute mini-scene from Our Country's Good, and who gets to be Mary? Hmm... In our acting class on Mad Forest, somehow I ended up as Rodica and got to be in the middle of everything. Now I'm at the center of our show here, or maybe that's only in my mind? My character's involved in or on stage for I think all five scenes, and has a journey that none of the other characters have. I never asked for any of these parts!!! Why can't I ever land a great part anywhere else? It's a struggle. Meh.

OKAYYYYY... back to our merry little project. I was just thinking today how unusual it is that Ben and I were chosen to be the breakup couple, seeing as though I've never had a boyfriend, never been on a date, never been asked out, never been kissed, and oh yeah, never slept with a frat boy at a drunken orgy. (Were we still going with that as the underlying story? I don't know where this has gone...) And it occurred to me that Ben probably hasn't ever been on a date with a girl. Hmm. So it makes for an interesting concept... I suppose we could squeeze some meaning out of it somehow, eh? It could show how theatre can allow you to be someone you're not, to 'escape the hopelessness of reality' and did anyone just hear an echo? That sounds way too much like I'm just shaping the scene to fit with my theme of choice. "There is a world of something in this, but I cannot go into it just now."

The dynamic of our group is working out better now. Since our acting troupe has been cut down to four people, in rehearsal we've been splitting up to get twice as much done at once - two people rehearse a scene with TK, and the other two rehearse another scene with Marla. Unfortunately, we haven't done anything about transitions yet, and I know from experience that transitions can make or very easily break a show. And the transitions are kinda gonna be my thing, since I'm lighting. So I'll have to work with TK and put together the cues so we can run them. I've also heard TK talking about the way she's going to light the epilogue, which really makes me concerned, since I'm the lighting designer, and the epilogue was kind of my brainchild. It's got to have the certain effect that I'm going to put together. 'I've written something... the epilogue of this play won't make any sense to the audience, I've written a cues sheet that'll explain it.' I don't think TK and I are thinking along the same lines, exactly... I forsee that this'll be a point of conflict in the future.

Right now, I guess I'm just hoping it will all pull together and we won't lose our focus or sight of the final performance. It's finals week, obviously, and everyone's major mega stressed, I myself am fighting a downhill battle with my eyelids to keep myself from passing out and then drooling all over my computer. But it is the theatre, after all. Miracles can happen in the theatre, and magic too. It could all pull together and be magically good. I can only hope.

Posted by holm0567 at 10:43 PM

December 4, 2004

"There appear to be no limits to the depth, subtlety and creativity of human cognitive and emotional abilities."

Posted by holm0567 at 5:32 PM

December 2, 2004

The Second Rehearsal

Well, I'm relieved that we found a space, and I've heard that we'll be able to have control of the lights there, so I hope I'll be able to do something interesting with lighting. Once we figure out what we're doing. I *loved* TK's production vision: "I want to do something different, something fun. We'll add meaning later." Now that's great theatre! And I'm being a sarcastic snot again. It was Marla's blog that said she had never thought of the collaborative process as losing a central focus, but I really do believe that's what's happening here. If we're trying to include everyone's vision, it's much too broad. We'll never get anything meaningful across. In some ways, I'm still convinced that I don't belong here.

See, it's becoming clearer and clearer to me the theme that I want to present: that people go to the theatre in order to look for hidden meaning that is lost in the real world. To take an example from TH1321, a person on stage walks past a wineglass, notices it, and stops. Everyone in the audience immediately knows that something about the wineglass has meaning for that character. But the thing is, in the real world, no one would really care. Except for me, it seems. Am I the only one that sees these things? I had a really wierd experience in our discussion section that day we had a double class. When we were partnered up and told to observe things about the other person, James started telling me things about myself and I felt like I was in the wrong place. I guess it's a dazzling experience for an observer to feel like they're being observed. I watch everything, and I know a lot that people probably don't think I notice. But people normally just don't notice these things, I guess. I wish that life could be more like theatre. Every day I'm putting on a show for the world, and it's filled with underlying meaning if anyone would care to look. But it's just not getting great reviews. People don't look at me that way. Maybe that's my life goal, huh. To make people look at the world like that. Like everything has a meaning that must be tweezed out.

Anywaaaaaaayyyyy.... on to the project analysis, I guess. I think I am now our resident designer in charge of set, lights, and sound. Probably props as well. This is why we need to lock in what we're doing pretty soon... we perform in less than two weeks, and we still haven't been able to start a lot of stuff. I'm not sure how to analyze the members of our group... I think that Alex wants to help out more, because he seemed a little disappointed that his only assigned job was acting. Which he rocks at, by the way. Ben also... the two of them have helped to keep our rehearsal space really light and playful. Boy, do they know how to play. I only hope that our final project isn't too dirty. Or too homosexual. What about us poor heterosexuals??? Anyway, I think Marla's been doing a bunch of research, though I'm not sure on what. She's got some good ideas, though, and Natalie does as well. Right now, I think our biggest concern is just to play and play (and play quickly) and DECIDE WHICH SCENES WE'RE DOING! This needs to be done in a hasty manner. Because we need to start the real work. And I do have ideas about the epilogue. I'd almost like to be pseudo-director, just for the epilogue, beause I know what it means and I don't think anyone else has thought about it. I've been waiting almost all semester to show the theme of theatre as an escape from hopelessness, and this is the chance. See, when the sun goes down it goes from dark to light because we are the thespians. Day to day life is dull.. and depressing. But at, say, eight at night, when the curtain rises, it's light. It's theatre. It's an escape. I'm not quite sure yet how to present this through one line of text, it'd probably be lost anyway, but I have to try. I'd never forgive myself if I didn't. Now to convince our director to let me have control of a bit of the show. This is my collaborative contribution. It's the only part of the show I've been really really passionate about.

And as far as themes go, the first person to read through the lines of this blog posting to the hidden meaning gets a gold star. And my ultimate respect forever.

Posted by holm0567 at 12:33 AM