Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Insomnia" wasn't a terrible movie...

...but it's a bitch to have.

Have been kept awake the past week longer and later than expected, continually due to, I expect, undue stress from school. We'll start Week 9 of 10 on Monday, and at the end of it we need to present our 8 minute piece. I've been worried about it, and in true fashion I've given it more importance in my life than it probably deserves, staying up late at night/into the early morning trying to figure out how to nail it. Consequently I've been exhausted most days and a little more irritable than I'd like.

I also have two other projects I need to start this week, to be presented at the end of Week 10. The first is a three minute solo piece of our own devising, where we use something we have (either on the physical body, or something about ourselves) as the stimulus. I really want to resist doing something deep and humanistic, since I believe that to be my reputation in class--though classmates told me today this is not completely true (sometimes I even funny, apparently), which is nice to hear. I thought I'd focus on something a little more flip. So far I have come up with my complete adoration of fried food ("In three minutes I will consume an entire bucket of KFC!") and my current need for David Tennant to be my boyfriend. I need a rough draft to show in class on Thursday, and so far no real revelation. So that's whatever.

The other project is another ensemble piece, this time only amongst other performers. We've been split into two groups, one of seven and one of nine. I'm in the former, and our assigned stimulus is a section of a speech from Heiner Muller's HAMLET-MACHINE:

I don't want to eat drink breathe love a woman a man a child an animal anymore.
I don't want to die anymore. I don't want to kill anymore.
(Tearing of the author's photograph.)
I force open my sealed flesh. I want to dwell in my veins, in the marrow of my bones, in the maze of my skull. I retreat into my entrails. I take my seat in my shit, in my blood. Somewhere bodies are torn apart so I can dwell in my shit. Somewhere bodies are opened so I can be alone with my blood. My thoughts are lesions in my brain. My brain is a scar. I want to be a machine. Arms for grabbing. Legs to walk on, no pain no thoughts.

We haven't started work on this yet, but should have some time during classes this week.

And now, at 4:51 AM, I going to try to go to bed. Again.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Holy Homicide, Batman!


It's the third Thursday in November...

If you were wondering what I was up to on Thanksgiving, let some of that question be answered here. The North American Stronghold (the phrase I came up with to describe the massive clump of {mostly} Americans in the program who also pal around with each other) hosted a fine dinner for themselves and some guests at Bostonian Caitlin's flat. Heidi took on the turkey, and bless her, it came out so well. I baked sweet potatoes and apples in a maple syrup and brown sugar glaze, which went over very well. All in all, it was a great night with a lot of food, a lot of wine, good music, friends, and hand turkeys: truly all the things that Thanksgiving is all about.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I just wanna say/I haven't been away/I'm still right here/Where I always was

Give it up to Morrissey, sad as he is, for lyrics that made up the title to this entry. They're appropriate because they're to the song "The Loop," which is the topic of our assignment that will run for the next two weeks. Not the Morrissey song, mind, but the concept of a loop. Here's the brief:

This lab is an experiment in intermediality. It encourages participants to work collaboratively so that their processes both speculative and live can be witnessed.

The materials and the spatial conditions are prescribed so that the focus of the experiment becomes on ‘how’ materials are improvised with and structured to create sequential temporal images. Choreography and music have many models that use these techniques as methods for exploring compositional practice.

There will be 4 companies. Each company is asked to prepare 4 minutes of material that have the same start and end point- hence The Loop.

Basically, the 46 of us have been broken up into four groups and given the same space and same materials in order to complete the assignment. The playing space is set up traverse-ly (unsure of the realness of that word), with the audience on either side of a set that is structured as something that can be likened to a hallway. The objects in the space we've been given and are required to use are:
  • One minute of projection
  • 3 one minute sound cues
  • One men's suit jacket
  • Two chairs
  • One bucket of water
  • One newspaper
  • Three screens that can be projected onto and moved
Here's part of the space:

Now, look to the right:
And from the other side...

It looks almost as two playing spaces sat next to each other. I've taken pictures from either side of each "space" to show the different view points of the audience.

We have to use everything, create a piece that is four minutes long, and then repeat the piece with two different performers (hence the loop). Everything has already been set in the space for us, and it is in those original places we must leave everything at the end of each four minute segment (again, we see the loop). The second group of performers also must conduct the same actions that the first group does in their four minutes--again with the loop!

So the challenges are how to use all of these materials (bodies, objects, media) wisely and well, and create a well-rounded piece. Another idea of focus for the performers is to keep in mind how to make repetitive action distinct--is it simply a matter of making a different person/body perform that action, or are there other things that can/should/need to be applied to bring different meaning to the same moment. And can we get some text in there already--I'd like to talk on stage at some point. ("Someday!") Another thing is the relation the performer has to the audience--in a space that very nearly surrounds the actors with "4th walls" how does that change how a body functions in a space? Or need it change anything at all?

Lots of thoughts, lots of thoughts. Below is a video of some of my group members (including myself) moving around the space during a discovery exercise. Basically we were just trying to get a feel for what we could do in the space and what shapes the space could take on by deconstructing and constructing different environments. The sound you'll hear in the background are some of the cues we're meant to use. Enjoy it--I'm out.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The next time you think about giving some one change...

I know, I've been away. Please don't hate--absence makes the heart grow, and all that. More will come, and soon I promise. But for now, please enjoy this.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"I know this man."

After a long week of creating and receiving stimuli, I spent Friday picking up my first day of work in this country. The school was holding an expo on "Documenting Practices," and I was able to usher for a few hours for a little cash (I am a slave to the GBP). The exhibit showcased several examples of documentation of theatre practice--not only taped performance, but pages from sketchbooks of designers, models, photographs, audio renderings of specific performances, taped rehearsals, and journals from Central students from past shows. The larger discussion surrounding all of these "artefacts" was how can one actually document a thing while not actually documenting the thing. No matter how many play texts, production notes, production histories, video recordings, and personal narrative we have surrounding any one piece of theatre, you cannot fully capture any one theatrical performance--it happens live, to and with the people surrounding it in the moment, and then never again. Part of its ephemeral nature is what makes it theatre and not another medium. So while there were different forms of documentation--some of it produced to submit for grants, some the result of the production/artistic process, and some made for the sake of marketing--these things still have some distance from whatever piece they are associated with simply because they are but fragments of a much greater whole.

Some of the notable pieces were:
1) Sketches from Rae Smith's sketchbooks for her scenic design for War Horse.
2) Theatrical models (of people, furniture) placed in various wooden boxes that you were permitted to move and arrange and then photograph. The camera available was hooked up to a computer that would save and display the image on a nearby monitor.
3) Very charming photographs from a clown workshop in Barcelona.
4) The journals of various dramaturgs from the Central/Complicite production of The Boy From Centreville.

It's this last piece that prompted this blog entry. I had remembered seeing the piece mentioned in brief on one of the several flat screen televisions mounted around school, noting past productions and alumni news, but I had somehow forgotten what it had been about. Upon rediscovering the documentation, I realized it was about school shootings, focusing mainly on the Virginia Tech massacre. Flipping through the journals, I found a couple biographies printed off the Internet about some of the victims, and suddenly I was searching desperately through all of the books attached to the shelf with fishing line. I knew Mike Pohle, he was a classmate of mine in middle and high school, and was one of the victims shot and killed that day. I finally found mention of him, but when I did, it was only on a list of names of the 32 victims. It said simply:

"Mike Pohle--23 yr.s old, Flemington, NJ"

I was so offended. There was somebody I knew, somebody who had shared part of my past in a very specific way, reduced to somebody else's stimulus. Now, I must say: Mike and I were not friends, we were acquaintances. We had a lot of mutual friends, but I was not close to him, did not know him intimately. To say otherwise would be a lie. But I knew him to be a really good guy and a great friend to the ones we shared. But I can't claim any great attachment to him, simply because I never knew him that well. But I am certain he was more of a reality to me than any of the people that actually made this piece of theatre, as was "Flemington, NJ," and I was offended. These people, these British people, they had never seen him play lacrosse, they hadn't gone to prom with him, they hadn't had class with him, they hadn't walked at graduation with him, they hadn't gone to his wake and had to tell the media they didn't think their cameras and questions were appropriate outside the funeral home on Main Street. I did that. They didn't. They didn't see his mother that day, or the pictures of him dressed up for the Halloween parade in grade school, amongst all the others of him in his youth that led up to his casket. How dare they think that they could possibly grasp what happened, what had been lost, what this human life had meant. How dare he be reduced to a statistic.

This reaction really shook me. I usually address instances of trauma as an open minded theatre practitioner. It's just where my instincts lie now. And here was a response that had nothing to do with that. Now, we can say that creating a piece of theatre about what happened to Mike allows us to reach out to others who know that kind of violence, or need to understand that kind of event, or need to know what kind of repercussions those kind of acts taken would have on people. And again, I only knew him so well. But still, I reacted completely possessively: You didn't see what his face looked in his casket, so fuck you. That was my reaction. I think I'd doubt my humanity had it been otherwise.

This is the trouble with verbatim work. We take text from a specific place or interview, and we recreate it, and try to give it a greater validation because it is "true." We say, "Well, this is Really what they said, so it is entirely accurate." But it's only ever an approximation of what that person said and what they meant. It's not the whole story, it's just an instance--especially as the text gets further and further away from the original practitioners. Such it is with The Laramie Project. Okay, we can associate with this story in that we're gay, that we've been persecuted for being gay, that we've known persecution, that we've had friends who've been persecuted for being gay. We can connect to that piece of theatre through empathy or shared experience, and it affects us. But that is very different than being Matthew Shepard's mother, or than being Matthew Shepard's best friend. It is a different experience to understand something and to know something. These British theatre makers understand what I went through but don't know. And by the same token, I understand what Mike Pohle's mom went through, but I don't know, could never know, because that life was unique to her experience and it would be a lie to say "I know."

After a couple days to ruminate on it, I guess I come to the same conclusion we do when we come to documenting practices: just as we cannot fully encompass a theatrical experience in its documentation, we cannot fully encompass a whole human life in a piece of theatre. Something will always be missed out, an accuracy that you lose in the action of re-production. It's a rock and a hard place. On one hand, you seek to speak to the universality of whatever topic you are addressing, and by the same token, you can't get the specifics 100%, ever. It's a trade off.

In any regard, it was strange, a sea away, to find that Mike had permeated that far. I'd go on, but the bottle of Shiraz I've drunk in this process tells me not to.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Well I was tossin' and turnin'/Turnin' and tossin'/Tossin' and turnin' all night"

This week we're working with Toby Jones, a great British actor, comedian, and writer, though he will be best known to most of my readers as the voice of this little guy:

Oh that's right, ladies and gentlemen: I'm spending the week with Dobby the House Elf. Weep.

(Incidentally, I keep wondering if I should offer the man a sock at the end of the week. But no, no, probably not a good idea...)


(No, no...)

Our work this week has consisted of really wonderful, fun, engaging labs hosted by Toby, whose background in Lecoq training and prominent mainstream career gives me hope. Part of our assignment tomorrow will be working with another group, providing them with a stimulus of our own regarding the concept of, "What I can't get through the night without." Initially, I was thinking about the topic in terms of what my nightly ritual is, but I realized that none of those things were actions I was necessarily dependent on in order to get through the night. Then I tried producing some by finishing the statement: I can't get through the night without snacking, I can't get through the night without drinking copious amounts of tea, etc. Then I thought about things that had been happening to me, rather than things I did, which is where I came to, "I can't get through the night without having really crazy dreams." It may be something in the food, or just an indicator that I need a little more time off to settle my mental state, but I've found over the past couple weeks I've been having really vivid, really bizarre dreams that I can never remember upon waking. That last part is a bit confusing as I used to be a great rememberer of dreams, and now nothing, just a sense that they were definitely strange. In any case, I began thinking about sleep, what that was, and for part of my stimulus I created this piece of music. The actual music track is by Max Richter, a brilliant composer I've recently discovered (and I encourage you all to get into him, he's awesome), and the text I recorded is the tenth yoga sutra of Patanjali (this version here) and the Charles Bukowsi poem, Bluebird. I can't figure out how, if it's possible, to load strictly audio tracks onto Blogger, so I just shot some film behind a blue post-it and layered the audio on top.

I hope you like it, and I hope it's useful tomorrow. And I hope the US election turns out for the best back home (it's late there, VERY EARLY in the AM here). And I hope I get to sleep. Soon.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"A narcissist is someone better looking than you are."

I know I mentioned in my dialogue on identity that people in my program were doing projects on Narcissus and Echo. In an attempt to help one of them out with their work, everytime I saw a reflection of myself yesterday, I took a picture. Some are interesting, some are mundane, but I'm intrigued to know how this material will be used (for in truth, I do not know to what end this will supply the means). You can check out my day--and my killer new boots!!!--here.