Thursday, October 30, 2008

"If we could walk like the animals"

This week's assignment was to discuss methods of devising work and create our own methodology from our findings. We actually present tomorrow, but I figured I'd post this now, as I've been really negligent lately (I have lots of blog drafts, but few posts, I know, I know). We chose a story from a book offered to us to find a topic for the piece. My group chose "How the Elephant Became." One section of the story talks about how the elephant attempts to imitate other animals. We latched onto this, and attempted to make our own elephant.

The assignment is really more about the process (which we will have to present) than the product, so I made a short film to help with our presentation of the former from footage we were able to get during the devising. Hope you enjoy it, while I toil over those other entries...

Friday, October 24, 2008

"That is a picutre of a person I don't know"

This is a little personal reaction to some work other members of my program have been focusing on lately that has brought up some questions in my mind.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the question of identity. Firstly, I have to say that many people told me I’d probably end up being a real patriot once I left America. I don’t know if I could have been categorized as either patriotic or unpatriotic before, and although I always bled a great streak of Anglophenia, I’d like to think I still came off caring about America in my way. “In my way” is the phrase that raises some eyebrows, I guess. Honestly, the idea of what composes identity has always been confusing to me. I remember an exercise for a once rehearsal where we had to think of terms or labels that we fell under, either all the time or in certain social settings, and I couldn’t think of anything past “actor.” I missed the obvious ones like, “daughter,” “woman,” “student”—they just never came to mind. I think the reason I’ve never been overly patriotic, religious, or generally extreme in any way (that last point is up for debate I suppose) is because I always felt it was part of my job as an actor to come at something from all sides, to always be available to see a situation I may otherwise find abhorrent in a positive light. If I ever get cast as an extreme, right-wing, racist politician, who is also exploitative, a coke addict, a mega-bitch, and a rapist, I better be able to not judge that character because that will diminish the honesty of playing her. Just saying. I guess that’s one reason I tend to stand on the fringes of political discussion, because one: I’m not totally aware of politics and usually have little idea what people are talking about; and two, I don’t know if I could completely identify wholly with any one party’s agenda. I like gun ownership (RESPONSIBLE gun ownership), but I also like the right to choose. What’s to be done? Often we shape our identity by knowing what we are not. But at this age, or perhaps at any age, how can we have a great enough understanding of the world to know all of the things we are not? Does our sense of identity grow over years of experience, or do having so many experiences open up the flood gates to so many options that it just muddies the water further?

There is a fear that by defining yourself by some leading characteristic, you close doors to other kinds of identity, to having opinions that differ from that main label you call yourself. People are meant to be the most interesting in their contradictions, so taught me Roger Danforth in my directing class oh so many years ago. In this time that is so ripe for personal construction, should I revel in my contradictions or try to change them? Do I throw out everything “un-useful,” or let myself hold onto some vices—everybody, in my opinion, needs one really good, solid vice to keep them human.

Sitting in the National Portrait Gallery, looking at all of these faces I’ve heard about: there’s Thomas Moore, there’s Cromwell, there’s Ben Johnson, there’s Richard III not looking murderous at all. There’s the lone supposed-Shakespeare portrait←for the record, they don’t have any historical fact to back up that’s him. There’s Elizabeth Regina, shown in so many phases of her life that by the time you see her in the Ditchley portrait, you can see history in her face, the age and wear in how the artist defined her features behind that eggshell white. Many portraits in the gallery (indeed, many portraits generally) were commissioned. The sitter wanted themselves painted at a specific time of their lives and portrayed in a specific way. You can see how aspects of their historical actions and personalities affected how they were portrayed or what pictorial elements are shown in the portrait. Nowadays people take pictures all the time and photo shop them till they get exactly what they want. It’s the same principle, even if the methods have changed. There is still a distortion of the actual subject. A photograph is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional figure (that’s why you look ten-twenty pounds heavier) and a digital image is really just a series of zeros and ones when you get right down to it. So what are we? Is there any answer to that question really?

When you look into a mirror, what are you seeing? Is that actually you or something constructed, something waiting to be constructed on and painted an inch thick? Or did something get lost in interpretation—anorexics see something vastly distorted from reality. Is a model only the image that is sold after hours of make up, lighting, lenses, airbrushing and color enhancement makes the person in the print ad unrecognizable from that person who stands in a room too frightened to eat?

These ponderings come from a discussion I had recently with a fellow classmate regarding a project she’s been working on with several other strands. The designers, the directors, and the lone visual media girl (LVMG), Connie, have been in talks about how to build a work concerning itself with the Narcissus-Echo myth. The project sounds like it will remain strictly theoretical, never actually culminating into a performance of theatrical piece—not right now, anyway. LVMG Connie was actually the person who brought up the project to me, and I instantly thought about the book House of Leaves. Within it is an entire chapter of the ‘Navidson Record’ that discusses the myth, as well as the concept of echo location. Connie recounted that identity had come up in preliminary talks—that, in terms of echo, you could never know what you were, who you were, only what you produced, said, sent out somehow whether in action, print, or blogation. (Am I my blog? God I hope the answer to that is a resounding “NO.”) In a sense, you only know what you are in how you are perceived or interpreted from those sources as well. A classmate calls me "Foreigner" every time he sees me. So am I American because I sound American? Or because I vote in American elections (yes, I have my absentee ballot, stop worrying)? Or is it because I was born there? Or is it because I like cheeseburgers and diners? And what is America anyway?

I no longer have those little touchstones that created my day to day identity so long, those basic things that made up a routine that was important in understanding who I was at a time--I don't have my job, I'm back in school, I don't take my subway route, I don't buy the Times, I don't read the New Yorker (I have found it here, but it's pricey), I don't see the same people (Heidi aside). What is it that still makes me Lea? My haircut? My sardonic sense of humor? My name? My body? Whatwhatwhat?!

Can anyone ever really know us if we can never really know ourselves? What does one have to do to be interpreted correctly, not only in terms of the context of their life and surroundings, but something that goes beyond all that? Is that even possible? I caught myself staring into the eyes of my second reflection on the tube the other day, in a window comprised of two pieces of glass creating two other visages, figures I don’t know who looked tired and transparent, and thought, “No matter what I do, I will never get close to that. I will never know who that person is, who that projection is meant to be.”

I know this rambling is a bit mad, some embodiment of the quarter-life crisis, and all these questions feed into themselves, and again we return to the idea that this has nothing to do with the topic of this blog and is far to personal for the purposes of this forum. But as someone who wants to explore American identity and existence in performance (it’s been bouncing around in my head for a bit, particularly the past few weeks appropriately), these questions also seem completely relevant. What do you kids got for me on this one? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Out of my reach but always in my eyeline"

(Title comes from Keane lyrics to "Spiralling" off the new album. It is awesome, just FYI.)

This week's project was to deal with site-specificity in our work, focusing on the relationship between the outside and the inside. Two guest artists who had worked in a manner similar to this came in and showcased their work, a piece that involved taking an audience of three in a car through a city, on the hunt for a whale, in a retelling of the Pinocchio tale. They themselves did not believe that their work was truly site-specific in definition, and I tend to agree with them. The key to site-specific work is the correlation between the environment (the "site") and the action--the environment informs the activity of the stage. In this very base definition, it could be argued that any piece of theatre is site-specific. But when looking at a performance, or trying to build a performance in the conditions of site-specificity, there is usually a more direct relationship between the stage action (consider the word "stage" loosely here, as site-specific work usually does not take place on a stage) and the space the action is set against. The reason the guest artists' work was not strictly site-specific was because they had less of a relationship with the outside world than one would expect in a such a work. While the car they drove had to deal with the environment and architecture of whatever city they were in (the piece was re-incarnated in several cities over a period of six years), what they were seeing in the city rarely if ever had to deal with the structuring of the plot or events of the story they were telling. It was incidental, not essential to the production. And therein lies the distinction.

Our assignment read as the following:
"Look at ways in which the audience can be unsure of what is created by the artist and what is not. Look at ways you might frame a vision of the outside or draw our attention to something outside by something happening inside, with the audience (e.g. a performer, sound effects, programme notes). Do you want to remain invisible to the outside world? Or create something strange within it? Will you add things to it outside or give the audience a way of looking at what is already there?
"Working in groups arranged by your workshop leaders, make a short work of 3-5 minutes' duration for an audience the size of the rest of the year group. The piece can be performed twice if you wish to have a smaller audience...The audience is inside, looking out of the windows."

I was in a group of six, comprised of two members of the performance strand (myself and Lisa), the only visual media artist (Connie), two members of the dramaturgy strand (Deidre and Leslie), and one producer (a fabulous Greek named Maria). I won't go into the details of the process (because why ruin the illusion and why air dirty laundry from a subjective viewpoint in a public forum), but finally we came down to the idea of affixing text onto the windows like speech bubbles. The audience would see the text in line with people we would place on the street in specific places, and depending on the floor they were on, they would get a different story. We had five phrases of text that we were going to use repeatedly and move, so that each group was told a different story in how they encountered the text. They were:
  1. Stop watching me.
  2. I've seen you naked.
  3. I'm invisible.
  4. I'm looking for a funny sugar daddy, 40+ for romantic liaisons.
  5. I'll find you and I'll kill you.
Leslie came up with the idea that they be visually worded phrases, to comment on how the audience was receiving the story. Lisa had brought in the phrase about the sugar daddy which she found in the "Lonely Hearts" section of the newspaper, and perhaps also the "kill you" phrase, though that may have been Connie. "I've seen you naked," was a reference to Say Anything, that part where the characters are talking about sex, how it changes everything, and the next time you see the person you can talk to them very nicely, but the whole time you'll just be thinking, "We had sex." Yes, that one was mine. The other two came from group discussion.

Lisa had gotten really into the idea of the phone booth having text attributed to it, so we got into talks about how to use it on one of the floors. However, later on in the day when we tried out the perspectives, it was discovered that the picture varied depending on height, and there were few options in terms of how to focus the viewer appropriately--a box was suggested so that they would be able to have a specific frame, but we couldn't figure out how to affix it to the glass properly without leaving massive tape residue, and it would have logistically been a misstep--48 people in the program, and only five minutes to exhibit, it would never have been enough time to get everyone through.

While discussing the phone booth in the hallway, another classmate, Chris overheard us. As I was passing him soon after, he asked me, "Which phone booth?"

"What do you mean, which phone booth?"

"There are two."

We had been so focused on trying to figure out what we were doing, we had completely overlooked the other phone booth in plain view near the one we had been fixating on. We had been neglecting observing our environment, the very environment that was to shape our work so fully! It was an amazing discovery, and I ran to my group and said, "Everyone! Chris has just told me: there are TWO phone booths! What if it was a love story between two phone booths, but they could never be together?!"

Some one chimed in: "Yeah, they can only have a long distance relationship."

We went from there and wrote text that we posted above the metal divider that ran through this hall of windows, full of phone puns mostly thought of by Deidre. We ended up with the text I wrote above the pictures in the previous entry (those photos, incidentally, while capturing the site our work was placed in, were taken the day AFTER the presentation, so please understand that you as online viewers of snapshots, are still getting a different experience from live audience members).

On the day of the presentation, Maria, Lisa, Leslie and myself stood on the street in various ensembles comprised of red and black, so that the audience would be drawn to us visually when reading the text regarding the different colors--though I was told later that the black did not read. Oh well. Deidre and Connie stayed upstairs in the building to act as curators in our "gallery," prepare the audience appropriately ("Flash photography is not permitted," "Please do not touch the art work."), and lead them into the hall. We had used tape to create a frame for the section of the window we wanted them to look through. This way was could further shape and control what the audience saw, and ensure that the two phone booths were in the background of every "picture" we made--little details they'd take for granted because they were inanimate objects, and because we are all trained to look for the people we know to be the actors. They would discover at the last frame that there had been a story going on the whole time, right in front of their eyes, one they wouldn't have otherwise noticed had their attention not been drawn directly to it.

It went over well, and we got accolades for keeping our presentation simple. I would not have called the process of getting to that place "simple," so it's funny that in the end that was how we succeeded. There's a lesson in that, to be sure.

To see what it may have been like to experience the speech bubble version of the project had it worked, here's an example I made of one of the stories we came up with. Set the slide show for five seconds. There are only three frames.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

We'll have no faffing here!

Hullo, all my little loves!

The past week has been beyond full, and I must beg your indulgence in regards to what will now be a very quick, somewhat overwhelming update. Masters programs are unforgiving. Ready? Here we go!

SATURDAY 4 October 2008
--Went to the Globe Theatre during their closing weekend and saw Liberty, a new play produced there this season. It was extremely timely, well written/acted/directed. It was brilliant to see a piece of theatre that was not set in Elizabethan period work in an Elizabethan structure, and somehow be informed from the space it was performed in as well as the time period it was being produced during. Heidi and I, after stopping off to the Globe shop for strange Folio inspired treats (I myself am now the proud new owner of a CD of Elizabethan Street Songs) then went to a pub nearby where it is said was the site of after rehearsal drinks for Shakespeare and Johnson and the like. We also walked briefly through the ground floor of the Tate, crossed the Millenium Bridge, sat by the Thames, and were interviewed by a Korean TV station about a floating work of art. Then home.

SUNDAY 5 October 2008
--Reading and day of rest.

MONDAY 6 October 2008
--First Day of Term. Our day started with meeting up with the whole of our program. There are about 48 of us, which seems both daunting and appropriate considering what were are meant to do (I'll describe the break down soon). We did those small get to know you games--interview the person next to you and introduce them to the group; make a circle with chairs and run around the room if you've done some specific act called out by whoever's in the center of the circle, try to get a chair, and whoever's left standing has to say their name and give another act to continue the game; etc. Then we met up with all of the other masters programs in the Embassy Theatre for one of what was to be several induction programs throughout the week. Here they took us through several aspects of Central life, broke us up into random groups, and sent us off to devise one statement per group meant to define our time here. My favorite, sadly not generated by my own group, was: "Excited to be creative revolutionary sponges, shaking the tree without faffing." ('Faffing' means wasting time--don't fret, I had to ask someone, too.) Then someone who is in charge of something encouraged us to get a cup of coffee or tea with the people next to us who we may never see again.

TUESDAY 7 October 2008
--Met with our individual strands (focus of study) in the morning, so I was with the performers in a space just beyond Central in a nearby community center. Went around with the fifteen other people and introduced myself--I think I learned more about how people introduced themselves and less in what they said. Then we made up a rule re: arriving on time for class. Then all the strands met up again in the space we've been using as our main meeting place and were introduced to our first project that was to deal with time. Then we were broken up into eight groups and sent off to work. (I will go into discussion of this project at another juncture, simply because it was so lengthy, that to put it here would be simply mad.) That occupied most the rest of our day, besides our library inductions.

WEDNESDAY 8 October 2008
--More work with our groups in the morning, and presentations in the afternoon, followed by a discussion with mixed results. The discussion was the most telling part of the day regarding our immediate student body-->personalities shined through, and it wasn't always in the best light, I must say. But hopefully that's just a matter of over eagerness on the parts of some, and things will calm down. Or they won't. We shall see. There's also a great farmer's market out front of the school on Wednesdays and Fridays and I finally found a good cup of coffee. I couldn't rightly believe it. We also sat through a talk by Mischa Twitchin, an alumnis of our program and a founder of SHUNT, who will be leading a lecture series offered to us called "Acts of Intelligence." Should be very interesting, but also very challenging.

That evening myself and four of my classmates (Heidi, new American friends Melissa and Diedre, and new British friend James) saw the Barber of Seville, performed by ENO. This is, of course, the opera company whose Improbable-conceived production of Satyagraha I continually swoon over. Alas, this production was nothing like that. Everything was fine--well trained voices, decent set, nice staging, fine design albiet some questionable lighting choices. But it was in no way exceptional. And the production itself was translated into English, a language that rarely lends itself to the musicality of Italian, so that made it a bit rough. I was not terribly impressed, and the experience has put me off opera for a bit--at least watching it.

THURSDAY 9 October 2008
--Back to the Embassy Theatre for more advice on how to write a thesis and use the library. I skipped out on the second half of the morning with Melissa, who also was pretty sure she knew how to use MLA formatting (it was a review), putzed around the main street near school, and bought a toy:
(My mother is reading this blog right now and asking aloud to the heavens, "LEA--if it's So Expensive to live over there, what are you doing buying toys?!" Alas, I live in another country now, and her cries will fall on deaf ears. {"But Mom--he's SO CUTE! And I bought him at Woolworth's--they still have them here--so he was cheap. AND HE'S SO CUTE!!! Anyway, I bet Dad understands..."})

After our skipping which bled into lunch, we were back with our program, broken up into four groups this time, and led through our technical inductions. Then a short stop off at Ye Old Swiss Cottage for a couple pints, and then a long walk to Primrose Hill, just north of Regent's Park and the London Zoo, for a program-wide picnic. I pitched in with a few others for a bucket of KFC (I am not joking) to bring along. Those particular classmates have endeared themselves to my heart. We stayed until dark, and then made our way back to the tube, some of us heading home and others going over to the SHUNT lounge. I'm saving that excursion for next week.

FRIDAY 10 October 2008
--We had a day off from school. Most Fridays will be reserved for work in our specific ensembles, but since they don't exist yet, we had off. Heidi and I went to an art opening with a friend of hers who's studying at Goldsmith's. There were eight pieces and one performance artist who wandered around the room. The exhibit was at Hold & Frieght and was part of an art exchange: last year, English students had exhibited in Germany, and this year German students were exhibiting in England. I was not a fan of several pieces, but there were two that I enjoyed, the chief one being a video project called, Ivo Burokvic--The Life of the Fake Artist as a Young Business Model, by Paul Wierbinski. Wierbinski was appalled by the greed that was running the art world--Did you know there was an artist who sold ninety cans in 1961, each containing thirty grams of his own shit? About a year ago, one of these cans was sold for 124,000 Euro. Wierbinski responded by creating a pseudonym, Ivo Burokvic (a name he felt was appropriately Eastern enough), took a single photograph of a shopping mall, photo shopped it a little, mailed it to China, paid 600 Euro for a Chinese artist to replicate the picture on canvas, and then submitted and sold it at auction for 14,000 Euro. Genius.

The weekend has been pretty lax in theatrical experiences. I did make it to the Clink, this odd little British prison museum along the Thames. But otherwise, just some forced jogging around Russell Square, some walks around the neighborhood, and MOUNTAINS of reading to do for school. So here we are. Or here I am. Where are you?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Day 2 a couple days late.

It took me forever to remember how I uploaded the last video. I don't know why. But in any case, here's my take on Day 2.

I'm going to try and update every few days, but daily stuff will be hard, so please bear with me.

Also: thanks everyone for your well wishes and reactions! It's so lovely to hear from you guys, and it really touches me that you're all rooting for me on the other side of the sea. Miss you all!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"You say 'Goodbye/And I say "hello'"

Here is a little virtual tour of my accommodations I made today. I'm a little awkward on camera. That's a bit unexpected. But it might be less awkward if I was talking about literary structure. Katie? What do you say?

Enjoy--I'm off to Starbucks. Hooray!