Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stuff I managed to sorta learn this week

  • A lot of lectures make a head full, especially in your second language
  • Qi gong is one of those things you have to fight your will to fight in order to get
  • You (I) can't go to bed at 02:00 and be up at 07:00 all the time
  • You can not perform something for 3 months and then pick it up again with only really minor glitches in memory and in fact find that the role has deepened while you ignored it
  • That my bike and I have a twisted relationship; or rather, I do and I'm not so sure what Betty thinks, but I'll bet she wants me to oil her chain pretty soon. I started to notice that no matter when I ride (it's only 14 minutes to school), I ride really hard. I can't seem to stop myself from hovering at an intensity that is just short of eyeballs-rolling-back-into-skull, and just on the edge of ecstatic discomfort (torture, if you like). I make noises when I ride, like basic animal ones. And I'm all like, why on earth am I like this? With myself?
  • Dramatic theatre and performance, while on a kind of continuum, really are different
  • I really, really want to find out where that border is

Lost Persons Area on Thursday, Kalevala dell'Arte on Sunday! Both at Stoa! Come see!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Welcome back, Alice

Cheshire cat #2
Cheshir Cat can has cheezburgr? (sorry)
Time to get back into Alice ad infinitum.

We've been trying on each other's characters and the results are terribly fun. It's somehow very satisfying to dress up as your colleague would do and try to use their character rules to build your own thing. The only problem is that if you have the same pants, you can't both be wearing them at the same time.

At the moment the main tasks are rather space and time related. As in, building new areas in the Höyhentämö (our space on Korkeavuorenkatu in Helsinki), putting up curtains, thinking about mirrors and lights, and then organizing things in order, some kind of dramaturgy, for lack of a better word. If it's not a drama, what kind of urgy are we supposed to have? We have a whole slew (and I mean a really really large number) of characters, and thankfully a smaller number of places where they exist, including places like New York, Wonderland, outer space, and in the mirror. We're still building new characters but none of them really has anything like a story attached to them, or a through-line. Everyone's leaving all the time, never to return. They kind of have encounters or situations, and then that's it. Poof, they're gone.

Drama(?)turgical wall
Attempting to organize
Which is not to say, I think, that the point is to not give an audience some threads to follow. I can't really say what these threads are like, but they probably will have something to do with space. Not just outer space, but where the scenes are set, where things happen in our imagination, and where things happen physically on the stage and in the whole performance area. Having something consistent is rather necessary for any kind of (even post-narrative-type) threads to get their weave on. So we'll probably have, say, a few scenes in space, a few scenes in the Looking Glass land, and so on. And if characters come back, that also helps.

In Beyond the Red Room, a piece from 2004 at Naamio ja Höyhen and also directed by Eki Vuori, there was a small space with rather tight and simple rules. Colours (created by light) indicated what kind of a world the audience was in. It wasn't the only indication, but it was a consistent throughline, and it took me many viewings of the piece (I ran lights, or colours if you like) to actually clue in to the logic. The more inconsistencies you have in a piece, the more an audience appreciates a strong, simple throughline. Films like Mullholland Drive operate with these principles. MH is disorienting enough to keep you from hoping after a watertight story, but it's not so disjointed that you can't follow or get involved in what's going on. I rather think that complete anarchy on the stage is annoying and doesn't give an audience all that much aside from the potential for a few brilliant moments. We're people. We need something to hang on to while we're shown something beautiful.

On the other hand, I'm also kind of aware of the fact that me even discussing the process in pieces like Elektra and Alice sounds a bit stupid from time to time. I don't want to explain things away, obviously, but when I say "Filthy Rabbit" I have a very clear idea of what that is and how it got into the performance, but you peeps don't. Or if I talk about Looking Glass Land or "Me-ness" in the context of this show... I feel a bit idiotic, as I know I'm not really communicating, but I just feel I have to carry on like that. I've noticed in devising theatre that some kind of common language is always developed. A group will never be able to work exactly the same way as they did last time, because the people have changed and the aims of the work have changed. So we make stuff up as we go along and because we also need to talk about it, we name it when we make it up. Which is fine for those of us working on the thing itself, but woe to anybody who has to listen to me talk about it. :)

Characters have speeches, but they're not terribly fixed. Many of them have even only been improvised once, scribbled down, maybe gone over a couple more times if they're lucky, with a bit of feedback, and that's pretty much where they are. The all-out freshness even reminds me of working with clown: you have your character's basic outline of behaviour, and then you simply pay attention to (and meticulously, lovingly, gratefully capitalize on) all the accidents that start to happen as soon as you present the character.

Juha's Silver Queen of Hearts
Juha puts on the silver queen
And the clothes, the makeup: they're irresistable. When trying out Akseli's filthy rabbit the other day, I started out all business: calmly and rationally get the costume, find the makeup, backcomb the hair, consider what this character will be like, and I noticed that as I was putting the finishing touches on the makeup, I was already in character. I was moving differently, doing my businesslike business with a messy and playful flair that was really for nobody but myself. Or was it for the character? What happened? Why is it that the simple act of putting on clothes can change how we are so easily and completely? I know I haven't explained it to make it nearly as interesting as I find it, but the thing is that some costumes don't really work. You can feel that they don't fit, there's no place for this thing, and you're just turning on a character from your own hard work. But then you get a costume that just starts to turn you on instead, unlocking itself gradually as you add more elements, and it's not work to do this character. It is simply the way you move, talk, and act to match the clothes.

I know I mentioned this before in an earlier post. I wanted to come back to it because it showed up again so strongly when we tried on each others' characters. And it's a fascinating question, when you think that actors can spend their entire lives training physically and vocally, practicing and thinking endlessly about a role, even rehearsing for weeks or months in rehearsal clothes, not a costume at all, and then an experiment like this comes along and makes you wonder about your previous rehearsal process. Mind, I can also sense that I'm much more sensitive to whether characters switch themselves on or whether I'm working to bring them out, because I happen to be paying attention to the process.

I'm aware that after 10 years of training, this may sound hopelessly naive. Just imagine as you wake up one day and you start to notice the mechanics of the process by which you move from sleeping to awake, and from then on you keep finding yourself waking up from time to time and noticing something new about that process, until eventually you can't wake up without observing yourself.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Back to school, back to work

So I took a few months off after all but burning myself out with Elektra, but I'm back and intend to be badder than ever. :)

Juhannus calling
Rest up

An interesting thing about physical burnout: it takes a long time to recover. Like two months even. I wouldn't say that I was really mentally burnt after last season, but I really had pushed my body to its limit. While Elektra closed in mid-May, I noticed during Kalevala warmups (it ran until June 20) that I was never even able to get my body to run properly. With jumps, balances, and basically especially stuff that involved the legs, I felt vaguely like I was in one of those dreams where the more you will yourself to run away from the knife-wielding, goalie-masked Jason, the more cemented your feet become to the ground. Eventually I learned to just take this as what was available to me now and take it easy until I got my power back, no matter how long that might take. Started taking some ballet lessons in July, and by the time August rolled around and Juha and I enrolled in a three-week intensive Afro dance course, the body was right as rain. I'm deliriously happy to be training again.

So I got into school
And it's been two weeks since my first day of a Master's program at Teatterikorkeakoulu, in Performance art & theory (Esitystaide ja -teoria). There are six of us in the class (3 foreigners, 3 Finns; 3 carnivores, 3 veggies; 3 PCs, 3 macs; so far we've been having a game out of finding all the ways we split down the middle), and the program is known around the school for being academic to the point of nerd-dom, but we're also doing a lot of practical work. I'm looking forward to the mix, becuase it's what I wanted. On this blog I've noticed a tendency to start thinking more methodically about what I do; in this program I'll have the opportunity to officially concentrate on that much. But the practical work is also essential.

My two-year project, at the moment, is basically a study of "stage presence" and how it relates to the body and mind of the performer.

That's a very, very nutshell version. I'm looking at biomechanics as a form of physical, theatrical training. I'm looking at Zen as a form of mental attention/concentration training. Technology in our lives as a source of interruption of our natural moment-to-moment presence. The audience as a source of presence itself, and how that might interact with the peformer. Presence as a trainable skill. The concept of interruption, the idea of control, and the link between what we believe we can/cannot control and our own sense of well-being. All of these things (which now make the project sound like it's branching out like a Lorenz Attractor) are sort of stuck in my head as interesting points of contact for research.

The research itself is quite the process. How does one document stage presence exactly? Video, photographs, writing? How can it be measured, if at all? Of course I'm not expecting to come up with any mathematical formulae, but it's interesting to assess the value of such subjective research. Obviously what I learn will be fairly personal and in many ways known only to me, both in my mind and body, but if I manage to communicate what I find well, I suppose that is the Big Idea. Performers aren't scientists in the way that you worked in high school chemistry, where the answers were all fixed and knowable; but when someone goes deep into an area of their artistic work, their projects can be helpful and inspiring for others. And when that person manages to communicate, at least partially, what they've found, it can really resonate with another. Quite a beautiful thought. When I pick up Peter Brook or Kristin Linklater or Anne Bogart at the library, I really cannot have any hope that they will have an easy solution to my performance questions, but what I find from time to time is a paragraph or even chapter that blows my mind, clears out a few cobwebs, and helps me point my work somewhere new. Is that what art research is really about? Is it really secretly more for creative than informative purposes?

MasQue festival in Helsinki, 20-23.9, Stoa
Bringing back some of the older work. Davide and Soile and Sanni have been working like crazy to get a mask theatre festival up and running, and it's looking way more promising than they'd ever thought when they first came up with the idea. We at Teatteri Metamorfoosi will be bringing back Lost Persons Area, a silent, full-face mask play about old people and death, which premiered in February 2006 and I'll be damned if I remember the choreography (or acting, or whatever you might call it, but you see silent mask acting is incredibly technical, requiring precise isolation of body parts and continuous attention, and it feels very much like you're choreographed). We'll also do another round of Kalevala dell'Arte, which combines Kalevala characters and stories with the Commedia dell'Arte style, and I'm all like hip-hooraying about that one because I just love to do it. I'm Louhi, the leader of the northern lands and the evil character, and I never knew how much I enjoyed being evil before this. It's a great show, with music, acrobatics, fighting, gags, and a couple of touching moments too.

The whole programme at metamorfoosi.com

Plus Alice, oh Alice
And tomorrow starts Alice ad infinitum in earnest. We've knocked down a wall at the Höyhentämö, taken out the auditorium, repainted, thrown half of our storage space contents away, cleaned the rest, archived, inventoried, and put away all manner of theatre stuff, and we're ordering red velvet curtains.

It feels like we've just let a whole bunch of air into the space. Well, it's bigger, and there's more work to be done, but it's great even now just to think of the space in a different way. We open on November 28.