May 4, 2005
We're almost there. Not even phased in cleaning up the mess their director created when he shattered a lightbulb, the Trifles production team is ready to share with the class the story we've tried so hard to create. Truly, this has been a team effort. Every person has been absolutely essential. From Marie's practicality to Ladia's spunkiness to Jennifer and Cortney's amazing ability to move big, heavy things, we've created a "community" out of our piece of theatre. In creating the theatre, we have seen for ourselves what we hope we can share in part with our audience.
So regardless of how our performance goes tomorrow (and it will be great), "Trifles" has already been a valuable experience.
April 28, 2005
I’m really excited about the progress our group has made in this past week. Each person has been willing to try new and different things as a performer. This willingness has created some moments and images in our scene that I think are really powerful. Also, I really appreciate the insight that the people in our group continue to offer. Jennifer has a unique perspective from where she looks at the production, and that perspective has allowed us to see a lot of things we may have otherwise neglected. Cortney, even though she’s usually right next to me, is also able to note things that I may not see. Ladia and Marie continue to offer a perspective that only they who are deeply involved as performers in the scene can see. This collaborative effort I think has been really effective. As a director, I hope I am facilitating “our vision.” All things considered. I feel really good about our production as we enter the “home stretch.” Even as we work through some busy schedules, I have no doubt that the dedication of our team will allow our production to achieve our goals.
April 23, 2005
trifles, week two...
I was really excited by a lot of the things I saw in class on Thursday. Ladia, Marie, Jennifer, and Cortney did a lot of really compelling things in the exercise when we moved around the space. What was really interesting to me was how delicate but really powerful a lot of the things the women characters did. When I watched Jennifer, I was really struck by how she seemed to "float" through the space. I'm excited to explore using some of that when we get together as a group. I thought it was really cool how Cortney put herself out there as she thought about ways she could portray a man. Marie and Ladia really showed a unique power in their "soft" movements. I'm excited to discuss this and more importantly explore this through performing on Sunday.
April 13, 2005
Production Notes, Week One...
I have to be just about the luckiest person in the world to have the opportunity to work with the group I'm working with. Each member of the group brings a great deal to the table and starts me looking at theatre in new ways. I'm really excited about what this can mean for our production.
Let's talk first about the world's finest dramaturg Cortney Danzinger. Her organizational skills have already helped keep me focused. She has a great sense of what's important and does a great job of helping our group remember those things.
Ladia...I'm not going to pull any punches: she's absolutely crazy and I love her. Because of her influence our production certainly won't be boring. I don't think she'd ever respond to a question with the answer "because that's the way we've always done it before." She has an uncanny ability to look at a production through a completely different lens and see something that's really powerful that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Marie and Jennifer both do a fantastic job of helping turn Ladia's insights into something that's very tangible, something that can be incorporated into our production. They all (Cortney, too) play off of each other so well. Ladia suggests that Minnie should "be there," and the others in two seconds have come up with a very practical way of doing that.
Jennifer in particular has some really cool technical visions. She's able to see what a production can look like and articulate that and why it would be effective. She has some ideas with lighting that I'm really excited to work with.
Marie has me really excited about the emotions that we can draw out of Glaspell's text. When she reads, I see so many powerful emotions leaping out of the play. Ladia and she play off of each other very well. I get a vibe from that that I think will play an important part in our production thematically.
I'm really excited about our production. All my fellow group members are innovative, articulate, and open-minded. Already, I've been able to see things I would have otherwise overlooked. I'm eager to continue creating a vision with them.
April 5, 2005
Looking Closer at Trifles...
As I continued looking at Glaspell's play, I was struck with what seemed to me to be a theme of "community." Each in their own unique way, every character seems to be doing his or her best to create that kind of atmosphere. For the men, community seems to be found in a mentality of justice (or even revenge). They seem to think that the death of John Wright must be avenged. Only then do they believe that community can be restored. The women, however, seem to look at their own special community - the community of women. In Mrs. Hale, we see a character who regrets not doing more to save Mrs. Wright from her apparent isolationism. In light of the situation, she now seems to be doing her best to bring the non-present Mrs. Wright into the bond of womanhood - "loyal to her sex" as the county attorney says. The play is a struggle between these two very different but very powerful communities.
However epic this theme is, Glaspell's text shows that we can deal with it very subtlely. Every little thing, every "trifle" matters. As this relates to Jones, this means that each piece of our set design is essential. Each piece should have a "quiet intensity." This relates to the Schechner as well. Even though this is a realist piece of theatre where the audience has the opportunity to look in on us, we still need to draw the audience in. Our space should allow our audience to meet us in all our subtleties. It's like we're offering our audience an oppotunity to be a part of our community...but only if they will listen very closely.
As we approach this project, I'm excited to believe that we will be able to explore the theme of community in a very real way that transcends the text. In order for us to be able to communicate about the power of community, we must ourselves work as a community. We must hold each other up with our support and draw each other in with our ideas. We must enter our production as a community. I think that's pretty awesome.
March 31, 2005
week...yeah, i've given up on figuring that out...
Goffman, Stanislavski, and Grotowski...
We could spend upwards of five million hours talking about each of these theatre artists individually. More theatrically educated types have already done just this. So as I began to contemplate this blog, I was a little bit intimidated. More thinking, more intimidation.
"I wasn't afraid of tackling Shakespeare," I rationalized with myself, "Why am I afraid of this?"
Nails bitten. Awkward trips to the drinking fountain.
And then it hit me. These readings are so intimidating because they are so REAL. Sure, I can comment on Shakespeare; but regardless of what I do, he'll still be Shakespeare. But Goffman, Stanislavski, and Grotowski? They're taking theatre to the streets. They're telling us that WE are scary. Any commentary on these approaches to theatre are at their very core commentaries on ourselves.
Goffman lays this out on the line quite clearly. Every encounter, every moment, he says, is acting, is theatre. To me, this has a lot to do with the roles we play each day. For example, some American Studies TA who sees thirty kids like me every day, few willing to work hard and all desiring that coveted "A" is going to have a starting perception of me that is slightly (ok, severely) different than someone who I introduce myself to as "Jon Loveall, Educational Programming Coordinator of the Residence Hall Association of the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities." Ultimately, I'm the same me...but there's different expectations.
The same thing, I think, happens to us in theatre. We've got preconceived notions about what Broadway will be like, what a college theatre class will be like, and what a high school production will be like. In order for a theatre artist to give the most effective performance s/he can, s/he must understand what the audience expects. This doesn't mean that that's exactly where a theatre artist must stay, but it's the point where things can most effectively begin.
For me, Stanislavski is saying a lot of the same things. But instead of focusing on the audience's perceptions, those focii turn inward. In only hearing about Stanislavski, I've only ever heard the whole "lose yourself in the character" spiel. In having the opportunity to actually read him, I found a lot of really refreshing things. To me, what Stanislavski was about was being honest and aware. In getting "lost in the character," it's often easy to get "lost in what you've always done before."
Grotowski's "Poor Theatre" suggests a lot of the same things. To speak in an uncouth manner, Poor Theatre strips away all of the crap. To tell a story, one only needs to be aware.
In the awareness of audience, self, and stage, theatre becomes real. I've said it before, but I'll say it again:
Theatre becomes us.
March 1, 2005
week six... (what happened to week five?)
So at first glance, I wasn't so sure what I thought about Brecht's idea that the actor remain detached. It seemed to me to be a cop-out, a failure to really connect with the art. But as I thought more about Brecht's "social acttivist theater," the more the idea of the detached actor seemed appropriate to me. When we recognize that all of theater really DOES make a difference (an inspiring idea, if you ask me), we must be continually self-aware. Our actor isn't lazy; rather, he's understanding what he's doing. He demonstrates his art through his education. Quite frankly, Brecht's ideas make theater a little scary. But I think I might like it...
February 17, 2005
I hate to cite Avenue Q, but my answer as to why a reworking of a play as tragic as Hamlet could be so funny has a little bit to do with schadenfreude. In Stage Blood, we are encouraged to take pleasure in the misfortune of our hapless cast. In other words, just so long as we know things will ultimately work out in the end, a little tragedy goes a long way for comedy.
In my mind, the reason this works is rather simple: tragedy and comedy share many of the same elements - rising action, moral dilemma, climax. Essentially, the same story can happen. Say, for example we have a play about a rock climber. He falls off the cliff and dies, and the story is really tragic. He falls off the cliff and for some reason there's a trampoline there that saves him, we can laugh at his experience. There's a real tension that exists between the two. Both comedy and tragedy come out of the fear that we could end up like the characters. We laugh at comedy because they ultimately work it out.
And Stage Blood definitely works it out.
February 10, 2005
Though many may suggest that Glaspell's "Trifles" is nothing more than that, I would argue that by comparing that text to both Shakespeare and Stoppard we can see some remarkable changes as theater has passed through the years.
Shakespeare presents us with something that were I pretending to be Italian I would call "Theatre Grandioso." Individuals carry on extensive monologues wherein consciences are guided and people are compelled to action. Hamlet himself does this in the end of Act II:
"Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder'd,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words..."
Though Hamlet speaks from an era when actions were evidentally valued, he himself (along with several other characters in this play) needs this conversation with himself to be compelled to the action that drives the plot. This is a technique that Shakespeare uses with some degree of success. In fact, this is how we learn the WHYS and HOWS of characterization and motivation. While the modern literari may suggest that this sort of divulgement isn't in fashion, the technique evidentally worked in Shakespeare's era. These speeches - whether internally-directed or spoken towards others - drive us into our next action, which is always certain to be soon when Shakespeare is involved. After all, Hamlet brings up ships at sea, valiant warfare - a convention exists that theatre allows time to pass in a special way.
Though Stoppard's is ultimately more similar in nature, he and Glaspell both draw on Shakespeare, have Shakespeare in their core of experience when they write their respective works. Both dare to say "Yes, that worked for Shakespeare, and yes, that may ultimately still be good...But we can still try something new." Glaspell's is an "others-driven" theater - we find out about characters and happenings through dialogue exchanged. We do not have these sweeping speeches that have the ability to cast us into what is almost the next epoch. Instead, we have a very realistic time.
Stoppard defies a different convention. "Is it necessary," he seems to ask, "For epic talks to be had to carry us into the next scene, which may be at some later time." After reading 15-Minute Hamlet, I would argue that the answer to this question is no. Does this make Stoppard better than Shakespeare? No, rather it means Stoppard's work has a very different character from Shakespeare's. He gives us little time to say "Wait a minute...Hamlet didn't spend five minutes deciding what he's going to do and explaining it to us."
What, then, does this mean for theater as a whole? Does it mean theater has digressed? Does it mean theater has been made more true? One could argue many things. But every era of theater seems to share one thing in common:
Theater is us.
February 1, 2005
In a modern society that trumpets a "what's in it for me?" ideal, one would think we could easily dismiss the work of Sophocles as an outdated piece of Greek work that served its purpose admirably in its day but now has fallen to a wayside occupied by ignorance and unsliced bread. Why, then, does a reputable publication such as the Star-Tribune dare to call a production of it "brilliant"? Why, then, is it necessary to mass-print a "Dover Thrift Edition"? Why, then, is this play read and discussed by what one can only assume are countless numbers of introductory theater and world literature classes? The explanation, I feel, is simple: Oedipus Rex discusses themes that are still very much relevant in today's world in a manner that is still joltingly effective.
One of perhaps the first individuals to notice the remarkably sound structure of Oedipus Rex was Aristotle. A person can easily ascertain why he might have thought it to be the "ideal tragedy." Since Aristotle was so focused on plot (in fact, he calls it "the soul of a tragedy), I can imagine how enamored he may have been with Sophocles' work. Oedipus is brought from a triumphant height to an unspeakable depth. What is unique, however, is Sophocles' approach in doing this. Essentially, the real action of the story is already have said to have occurred (in other words, Oedipus' fate is already sealed by the time we meet him). Sophocles instead drives the story forward through realizations and greater understandings of the truth. The plot is driven by the character's (Aristotle's second most important element of a tragedy) realizations, their "oh yeah" moments. In the modern world, most have heard the Oedipus story. One can only imagine how shocking the first performance was for Greek audiences as they unraveled the truth along with the characters. The intensely effective structure is a major part of Sophocles' genius.
But even the soundest of structures is useless if this truth isn't something worth discovering. This, however, is not a problem faced by Oedipus Rex. Though we may view it in a slightly more complicated manner than he did, what I would argue is Sophocles' main message - you can't avoid fate - remains largely intact. Through a modern lens, we are able to add a more complex understanding and interpretation of the story. When the chorus says to us "Of no mortal say 'That man is happy,' till vexed by no grievous ill He pass Life's goal," we easily understand the modern connotation of "just when you wash the wagon, the thunderstorm comes." To me, Sophocles is urging us not to lose our sense of self simply because life is good. Only by being continually self-aware and realizing that time, space, God, gods, whatever you want to call it is so much bigger than us can we really find true contentment - not some sort of blind happiness.
That theme is universal. It matters to us. Because of this, dear Ladia, Oedipus will avoid the terrible fate of unsliced bread.