Thursday, November 16, 2006

Homework for Alice, or, how devising theatre seems to work

More work on Alice. I'm going to try to be more explicit about the process so I have a decent log of our workshops. It might be a nice thing to have later... not that I couldn't scrawl it down on a notepad with a pen, but you know how the digital age is just that much more exciting.


Alice in infiniteland dramaturgy
Dramaturgy begins
Devising shows can be rocky in the dramaturgy department, even though they make up for this in being visually rich and full of well-iterated ideas. By devising I mean there's no script, or that the script does not exist at the beginning of the project, and the text and dramaturgy of the play is improvised and devleoped more or less collaboratively over the course of the rehearsal period. Generally, it seems to free the actor from psychological acting, and also every idea is tested in front of other people, which has advantages over taking your words from one other person's head.

Often the downside is the drama. Devised pieces are very frequently like a collection of vignettes that give an overall impression of a theme, rather than a coherent story. Even if a dramatic plot is the aim, coming up with one collectively is not always easy. This is not to say that pieces without a plot cannot be touching, interesting, or downright blow your mind off, but there is a place for stories onstage as well. In my mind, devised drama often works more like dance; the individual moments are emphasized rather than the through-line of the piece when creating it, and so the moments tend to be very rich. I'd rather watch Pina Bausch than Pinter anyway.

And but so we're in the second week of Alice in infiniteland, the working sort-of title for a piece going up a year from now. It's based on, well, a text message Juha received from Eki when he was in South Africa last year:

"Ens syksynä, about loka-marras-joulukuussa sarja työpajoja. Aihe
matematiikka, kvanttiteoria, alice in w, humpyn sex pervs, monen
universumin teoria, shrödingerin (irvi)kissa, valkoisen kuninkaan uni,
kiinalainen perhonen joka uneksii olevansa ihminen, solipsismi, berkley,
russelin paradoksi, koko naamari esitystilana, simultaanisuus,
itsekseen-itselleen esiintyminen, experimance, puhtaan mielikuvituksen
teatteri, safiiri ja teräs, ym. Kiinnostaako? HUOM KIRJOITA VIESTI YLÖS,
minulla ei ole sitä.: eki, infinitedramaturgialla"


I won't translate but I'm sure if you stare at words like "kvanttiteoria" long enough, you'll get quantum theory. We're not allowed to read Alice in Wonderland; we're going off the impressions we have in our memories--most of which seem to be rather similar. Everyone remembers "off with your head" and the like, and everyone also remembers (or is making up) something that nobody else recollects was there.

Usually we get to rehearsal, we have a bit of a chat, and then Eki tells us what kind of character to find. The March Hare, the Queen of Hearts, Alice, Pervo-Alice, or any character of our choosing. We go to the dressing room (which yields nothing but surprises these days) and go nuts trying to find objects and costumes to build something reminiscent of a Mad Hatter or whatever.

Juha's Queen of Hearts / Alice
Drag queen Alice
There are mirrors hanging around the room. We come in and present our characters, often by first going to the mirror. "Who are you?" "I'm the Queen of Hearts. I'm the drag queen of hearts." "Where are you?" "I'm in my dressing room and I'm not happy. I'm angry with my stylist. The only thing I'm happy with are these shoes. I hate my stylist. Off with his head." Before long, the character will say something that someone else picks up on and it becomes that character's trademark. Maybe we decide that character is actually someone else. Maybe it's a character for another actor.

This takes a lot of time. We rehearse officially from 16:00-24:00, but we don't usually take the whole 8 hours. The advantage to this is that you don't rush anything. The disadvantage is that I'm probably going to need to train in the mornings sometime to get my heart rate back up; this is much more challenging mentally than physically.

So the homework for next session:
- Go through Max Tegmark's article on parallel universes (PDF) and choose a number of phrases that can be your text.
- Spaceship Alice: we're all non-Alice characters who were cryogenically frozen before an accident on a spaceship. We all wear white underwear. That's all we know, but that's homework.


My Queen of Hearts part 1
My Queen of Hearts

This seems to be the first character I'm really happy with: the Queen of Hearts. You can't see the huge hoop skirt, and I wish I had a wig and more jewels, but I like the shoulder pieces and the body paint. It's a vaguely Elizabethan queen, which I came up with because I had been jealous of Juha's beautifully-dressed Italian Opera March Hare on Monday--I just wanted to wear something fabulous. I didn't really have an idea in my head when I got up to present the character, but I had a vague feeling of authority and beauty. Eki instead told me first to do a slow butoh-walk across the room. When I got to the mirror, he said to touch the mirror. I did, he requested that I scream. Then I could touch the mirror and scream again, and enjoy the screaming. Then turn to the audience, show them my hands as though touching the mirror, and scream. No talking, just a high-pitched wail that, if you know me, you know is the kind of inhuman noise I've been waiting for an opportunity to do in a show. Apparently that was the character. Walking silently, listening, and screaming. Eki just had the idea that he didn't want to hear this character talk; he wanted to have a character who doesn't talk at all.


Kuka siellä
2-way mirrors

That's usually about as far as we go with the characters, just a paragraph or two of improvised song or text. In one rehearsal we might do two or three characters. After rehearsal we go and write down as much as we can possibly remember.

Akseli has a few excellent numbers so far, including a Filthy Rabbit and a Gryphon Lawyer. Virpi's Mad Hatter is so pathetically insane that it would be heartbreaking if she weren't acting. Juha's William S Burroughs/caterpillar is possibly still my favourite of his, plus his pervo-Alice, with pink wig, bitch boots, and a light saber, is a real winner. Reetta's March Hare is a circus ringmaster gone wrong; she has a bizarre tiny voice and is almost really creepy.

And the mirrors. Virpi's laboratory has created a prototype. The mirror is important for the solipsism aspect of the performance; we want to find out who these characters are when they're at home alone, not what they are when they're in front of 500 people. But the audience should see. Hence the 2-way mirror idea. With a bit of creativity in lighting, you can do an awful lot of stuff with these, mixing peoples' faces or creating a part of you that isn't your own.

39 comments:

Anna MR said...

Happeningkala, this is very interesting. Could you elaborate on "free the actor from psychological acting" for me, please?

happeningfish said...

Sure. In my head, at least, it gets away from questions like "what's my motivation"--because you yourself are creating the story at that moment. You tend to focus on the thing that's happening right now, hmm. This is really hard to explain. For me, stuff that is psychological acting tends to be on a lot of main stages; I think a lot of people think of what I'd call "psychological acting" as naturalism. I guess they're not the same, but for me they're often together.

When devising, it is more frequent that the stage/story has a set of rules. "We are in this place, you are this character, I am this character, we have a relationship that is like this. Now go." And what I usually don't feel is a need to pretend in a naturalistic, psychologically logical way.

Not all texts are naturalistic. Sarah Kane's texts would probably not come through so nicely with a psychologically logical performance, because the texts are not psychologically logical nor do they belong to our quotidien reality. But many texts encourage the actor to find out "who this person is", what he had for breakfast, etc. The job of the actor is sometimes to simulate a human being who does not exist but is perfectly believable. I prefer the job of the actor to be to perform, represent, be transparent about the fact that I am me and not Blanche, and that I am performing what Blanche is. I don't hope to become someone else, but to show something.

You can take this kind of mindset to other plays, of course. But what I tend to find in devising plays is that attempting to round-out a natural-looking and logically-acting human being doesn't get you very far, so you don't feel pressure to do it.

Sense? Or?

Anna MR said...

Yeeeees - I think we could talk about this at length. What reading your comment brought to my mind was the thought that perhaps - although I rather like the internally-logical approach of character creation - the problem with that is people are not necessarily internally logical, I mean "real" offstage people, and that too much internal logic might turn out to create an onstage character that is too "finished" to be truly, emotionally real, although reality is the desired effect.
That sentence was just way, way too long. Apologies. Mayhap we can talk about this in speech where my long sentences might not matter so much as to ... (etc ad infinitum et nauseam)

happeningfish said...

I practically blog a post and you complain of a long sentence? Ool rait!

Yeah, I think that's part of it for me. It's what happens when you start guessing who this character is and what they would and wouldn't do, when you yourself don't have a clear idea of what you would and wouldn't do.

But we chat. Coffee? We could start the Finn-Brits Theatrical Theory meetups.

Anna MR said...

Ooo yes, I'd dig that. Coming to the play reading on Friday? I am giving myself (more) gray hairs over picking the scenes & sketches...all supposed to be funny, all supposed to date to different Players' eras, and all supposed to not be all that fucking long so we can leave the place at some point. Argh. Anyhoo -if you are coming, we can continue this chat live. If no, we make arrangements.

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