Wednesday, November 22, 2006

From Alice's conversations with the gods

Juha's space cadet 1
"There's a black hole here. I think I'll
go visit. OOOooooOOOoo!"
On the last few days of Alice I, we spent considerably more time on theory than on character. Or rather, on characters fixated with parallel universe theory.

There was spaceship Alice, in which we dressed in white underwear and, sleeping in cyrogenic freeze, dreamt of butterflies (ref. the Chinese tale of the butterfly that dreams it is a man/man that dreams it is a butterfly), were woken up by the computer, felt a terrible cryogenic hangover, and, while brushing teeth in front of our individual mirrors, were informed that we were heading straight for a black hole. Officer Hubblefield (or Hilbertspace, nobody can ever tell one from the other) ends up being the first human black hole tourist. Stuff like this, at least stagingly speaking, has the ingenious simplicity of Star Trek: a mirror, toothbrush, and white underwear, and suddenly we're all in space. We even said it like that. "Hey guys, I'm in spaaaaace! Ooooooo! Do you read? OoooOOOoooo!"

The Max Tegmark quintet
The Max Tegmark quintet take five
Then there was the Max Tegmark quintet, who, in different Level 3 parallel universes (that's the quantum one, if you're interested), is a gambler. If he rolls a die and gets a six, Max Tegmark 2 gets a five, Max Tegmark 3 rolls a four, etc. We should be a sextet but were missing one suit. There is a Max Tegmark somewhere who gambles and always, always wins. Every permutation is played out somewhere, if space is infinite and matter infinite (that's just Level 1 parallel universe theory for you), because eventually the organization of particles will repeat itself exactly. Level 1 is the infinite-monkeys-on-infinite-typewriters version of the universe. Which means that somewhere, you're living in Japan. Somewhere, you're a heroin addict. Somewhere, you are a Hollywood star. It's all happening. How does that make you feel? Somewhere, you stop reading this post right now.

In another exercise, we quickly developed four characters (self, other self, other self far away, and Wonderland character) with the common element that they were all standing in the rain. The only rainpants I found were made of PVC; kids, they're warm. Eventually the idea became to switch between these roles with only the slightest transition, which proved to be the sort of thing that's either impossible or requires a great deal of practice. It's very hard to stay in one character, stop it entirely, and only then take on the next one--you tend to think about your upcoming character before the last one is finished. Not to mention they have physical attributes, so all of a sudden you're a Roman soldier standing at Hadrian's Wall, but your body is the shape of the Seven of Hearts. Plus the imagination takes a second to kick in with the character's environs. Plus the audience (presumably) needs some period of time to realize that X character is not Y.

Bird's perspective
Akseli with his bird's-eye-view
In other words, lightning-fast character transitions are worth more experimentation but then the question is why. Why do that at all? Why not stick to one, or take your time? Of course part of the question behind this project is the nature of the actor's psychology: where are the limits, if there are any, between actor and character? What are their properties? What is required from the actor before a character appears?

1) Costume/makeup help but are not necessary. When we started by getting into character in full view of each other (we take turns watching and doing), it was subtle but clear that as more layers and elements of costume came on, the actor's behaviour modified to match. Almost unconsciously; almost as if we couldn't help it. Sometimes we liked a character so much we didn't want to get out of costume, as if that would destroy the feeling of that character (and of course it seems to do just that).

2) Concentration/imagination or something of that ilk. You don't need costume, or a logical costume, to create a character. This feels different, though, as though your acting mixes with the power of suggestion (from the director, from your odd non-costume) to create something. It's more easy to feel unsure of yourself. My March Hare character just started out as an Adidas-wearing bunny and ended up being the front rabbit of a Rammstein-type band with a heavy German accent, and you know that character could have possibly come from nearly any costume or lack thereof, but somehow it fits. But the initial creation is less like slipping into silk stockings and more like seeing what happens when you throw anti-matter at yourself.

From the last day of Alice workshops I: session on unlimited psychology. We tried a number of different exercises to de-limit, if you like, our own psychology, to get outside it or show it. In part of mine I had a rather uncanny conversation with Juha as Juha. We felt like ourselves, ourselves both being Juha.

In another part, I had a conversation with the gods:

- What do we want to do?
- Create something. Create a character.
- I like creating characters. I would like to create a character that understands the difference between happiness and sadness but considers itself happy. Characters are experiments. They are defined by their limitations, their desires, their physical being. We are defined by limitlessness.
- But if they are experiments, they are experiments on us.
- They are “what if” versions of us. They have costumes and makeup, and motivations and problems. Sometimes they even put on makeup and costumes and play another character, but it never occurs to them that they themselves are a character. Of us. Some of them would probably want to see what is behind their own mask.
- But we have roles, too. We play gods. So we are characters.
- Of someone else?
- Yes.
- [Thinks] Where is the director?
- There is always someone directing the director.

I also used to think Eki was a bit snap-happy with the camera; I thought he really just liked recording the work. Now I see the point: with rapid-fire characters, I've already mostly forgotten what I've made in two weeks. We have to write everything down (write up in finnish), and it really helps to remember costume details. I have, for instance (names hopefully vaguely descriptive):

Cheshire cat, part 1
  • The off-with-your-nipples laugher
  • Alice in Never-Never Land
  • Pervo-Alice at the rollerskating rink
  • The Cheshire Cat
  • Cheshire Cheese-Eater/Tourette's Alice
  • Johanna in the mirror
  • White Rabbit/March Hare/Die Hasen von Hölle
  • Wolf
  • Rhinoceros
  • Butoh Queen of Hearts
  • Innocent Alice
  • 100-year-old Alice
  • Maxine Planck, theoretical physicist
  • Robert 3 (a permutation of Akseli's French bird)
  • Max Tegmark/Schoolgirl
  • Roman soldier
  • Suicide in New York
  • The Seven of Hearts

Yeah, time for a break. Alice picks up again in 2007.

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