Saturday, February 03, 2007

Greenlight

So full steam ahead on Why More Weimar?. Hopefully we'll have a better title within a few weeks. The questions that surfaced in today's company meeting fell neatly into three basic interrelated headings:

Characterization:
Ah, the age old question, "To play or not to play multiple characters..." Stolen Chair shows have pretty much run the gamut here: actors have "shared" characters, actors have played multiple characters using a variety of storytelling, puppetry, mask, and quick-change costume techniques, and Kill Me marked the first time there was a 1:1 ratio between actors and characters. This time round it looks like we're going to test out a casting technique that we've never fully embraced before (one could argue that the half-baked concept in Fair Ladies dabbled with this, but it was tacked on at best). We'd like to create a world of fully developed characters with complex relationships and thrulines, but place these characters in a context in which they perform other characters (a la Marat/Sade, from what I can recall). Now, such a context brings us to heading #2, the pesky dramaturgical nuisance of...

Framing Device:
If you, like me, cringe every time the camera cuts away from Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Cary Elwes, and Wallace Shawn to show the cloying and saccharine scenes between Peter Falk and baby Fred Savage (yes, I'm talking about The Princess Bride), you just might have Framing-Device-a-Phobia. The problem seems to be that the framing devices invariably attempt to create a naturalistic context for the explosion of style and fancy that they frame. This makes them a total bore, at best offering a welcome break from the zaniness of the plot proper, but more often than not, providing an opportunity for a low-risk bathroom break. Now, though I can't think of any films that do this, there are a few plays which give as much thought to stylizing the framing device: the aforementioned Marat/Sade and Pig Iron's Lucia Joyce Cabaret, to name just two (and both of these are performed by inmates at mental asylums). So, while we'll experiment with as many different framing devices (Sam tossed out the idea of a salon of sorts) as we can in our retreat, we're probably going to want to find a context other than Cabaret or Mental Institute unless we're prepared to be consciously derivative. No matter what framing device we eventually settle on, though, it seems that most stylized framing devices are best served by some degree of heading #3, an oft-abused Artaudian theory commonly known as...

Total Theatre:
I'll lay my cards on the table and say that I have never seen "total theatre," the potential for a theatre event to break through the traditional constraints delimited by inherently voyeuristic audience/performer interaction and mimetic mise-en-scene, pulled off by any American theatre. Period. (Full Disclosure: I have not seen any of bluemouth's performances, and, from the way Martin Denton describes their work, this seems to be their forte. I also have never been part of a Bread & Puppet retreat in Vermont.) Call me a curmudgeon, but I just can't ever talk myself into "buying" the conceit; it always feels like Epcot Center to me.

The main obstacle that any attempt to create a "total theatrical event" always seems to confront is the question of audience interaction. As Kiran put it in today's meeting: audience interaction requires audience members to perform. You can't effectively "recast" the audience (especially one comprised of the family-friend networks on which small indie theatre depends) as the other-half of your theatrical event without a) pandering to them a la bad children's theatre or b) inviting humiliation and anxiety into what should be a provocative but, ultimately, safe space.

So, we're setting ourselves the challenge of "expanding" the bounds of the theatrical event as much as possible (When does the show begin? When does the show end? Do our performers address the audience for what it really is or force it to "transform" along with the show?) without compromising either the artistic integrity of the performance proper or the audience's pleasure (though we might try to stretch the audience's understanding of what pleasure is...that's why they call us the pleasure stretchers. Oh wait. No one calls us that.)...

Okay. Off to read more Emil and the Detectives...

2 comments:

Alexia said...

As I mentioned to Jon last night, I thoroughly enjoyed Cynthia Hopkin's show at St. Anne's on Saturday. The music moved me to tears again and again from the inexplicable way sounds I had never heard before continued to mesh and delight. Made me wish I had stuck with my piano lessons.

But more than just enabling me to fall in love with a new theatre maker, it also made me think a lot about Stolen Chair's grappling (or perhaps lack thereof) of women's relationships with one another, particularly within the family. I've rarely shared the stage with another woman in one of our shows, and when I have, it's been fleeting.

Now to avoid scaring Liza, I not only want to explore making theatre with her because she is such a hottie, but because I find it interesting that given many of our gender and queer theoretical and performative interests we shy away from relationships between women. I'm curious to flesh this out more in this show, perhaps particularly relationships between women of different generations.

Off to corrupt some young minds!

Jon said...

That's a really frightening observation, Lex...Stolen Chair has, not once since Portrait of Dora as a Young Man, delved deeply into any relationships between women. Actually, one of my favorite parts of Dora was the relationship between Dora and Frau K: a moving adolescent swirl of worship, desire, envy...

I think this piece, with its focus on pre-adolescent characters, will open up some possibilities for us to explore these relationships, especially since we won't have to construct a plot fueled primarily by sexual desire...or will we?