miners, detectives and music

September 20, 2011

Hello. We’re making a verbatim play about love. It was devised by one group of young people at university,  redrafted by a playwright,  and will be performed by another group. The work is called ‘Please Be Seated’ and is now towards the end of a period of creative development. Feel free to go find out where we’ve come from by going back in time and reading previous posts. For now, our ‘relationship’ with the play is deepening as we search for meaning and character.

September 7th : Mining the text

This Wednesday we experimented with applying a (group) editorial eye to the verbatim material. It’s a kind of script analysis which straddles realms of both playwriting and performance.

The cast identified ‘favourite’ or most ‘important’ lines in the piece, which spoke to the group’s interpretations of the themes bound up in (or rather released by) the text.

suitable for miners

Another fascinating exercise was ‘mining’ the text for moments when male characters actually spoke: obviously these moments are voiced by women in ‘Please be Seated’. The material that was unearthed was a series of guttural grunts and scraps of blunted words. It was read by our sole male cast member, Nick, in his inimitable vocal style. It revealed that it was the actions of the (unseen) young men in this piece (rather than their words) that had the most impact of the stories being shared in the play. This silence speaks to the role of young men as ‘antagonist’ as well. Often in the verbatim material it seems to be a lack of action, or delayed action that pushes stories out and forward. The young men are often (seemingly) passive antagonists, at least the way they’re described in the women’s stories.

What does this say to the gender stereotypes in the work? A different playwright on a different project would perhaps recalibrate it to redress or intensify certain imbalances, but the only options open to us on this verbatim piece are to:

  • Re-edit existing, or add in new material: but there isn’t much leftover stuff from the interviews
  • Do more interviews: time won’t allow this.

One of the things that we can do is to build the (non-text-based) framing devices of the chair sequences, and most notably the non-verbal male character’s actions, as they’re threaded through the work towards a more complex and layered exploration of the male experience of and influence on these stories.

some venetian blinds, yesterday

Sept 14: Detective Work

There’s a general fascination with cop shows on telly. Particularly forensics. Unrealistically good looking cops puzzle and gripe at each other in darkened offices, sliced by the noir shadows of venetian blinds, then grimly trade rapid-fire dialogue as they stride down a dark corridor.  Why don’t they turn a few lights on? On September 14 in our bland, carpeted, neon-lit little classroom there were elements of detective work way more interesting than any cop-show clichés.  Cold-case investigations. Identifying modus operandi. Profiling based on clues left behind.  We were looking for characters, in this play with no character names. In previous weeks we’d sketched and shared possibilities for WOMEN A to D, sharing our findings  and scratching notes on Draft 2. To complete the task, and give every member of the cast a ‘character’ we need to track almost halfway through the alphabet to ‘L’.  There’s clearly enough verbatim material for everyone to have a decent amount of text.

Script work, September 14th

So, what’s dictating the choices the cast are making in constructing characters out of these fragments of monologue? I asked them, and these are the results of the anonymous notes I received, (a total of 30 responses) used with permission:

60% of the responses indicated linkages could be made between different slabs of verbatim text, based on speech patterns, and therefore ‘character’ is indicated by the way they speak. I’d call this ‘form’. Makes sense. Comments included:

‘key statements’…‘Similar ways of describing things’ …‘What words they use continuously. Eg ‘like’’

‘Voice rhythm’ and… ‘The Pauses’… all contributed to the construction of character. It’s a bit like the work of a playwright, creating character ‘voice’ through dialogue, but it’s happening in reverse.

16% considered what the characters said, rather than the way they said it, as being significant. I’d call this content. Comments included: “Themes in either themselves or the boys they’re interested in”…Their perspective on events”…“Personality traits – quirky, looking at the ‘cute’ side to everything”…“Themes eg music, schoolies”

The remaining 24% comments are best grouped under the ‘intersection of content and form’ and they included:  “Dispositions evident in tone eg worried woman, confident woman, embarrassed woman”… “Style (deep, surface, or detailed approaches to storytelling) and …”emerging sense of ‘Personality’ (ie if person is shy / hesitant or loud and has no shame)”

As a playwright I could make a set of independent, executive decisions on which character says what, dictated by my knowledge of who said what in the interviews (though this knowledge is incomplete) or the structural/dramaturgical needs of the piece, but this kind of detective work, genuinely involving the cast in the discovery of the piece, is proving a juicy ‘way in’ to the show.

It means that instead of beginning their investigations mediated solely by their individual character and performance,  they’re getting an overarching (more dramaturgical) sense of how the play is put together and what it might mean.  It’s also possible that if the cast themselves ‘cast’ the show, deciding on the characters and who plays them, there’ll be a genuine quality of ownership of the artwork, which is an important factor is plays by and for young people.

Reading the Man, September 14th

Music takes its Seat

Music, narrative and emotion and performance has always been an area of particular interest to me, and this interest in the aesthetic effect of these three elements is now an important part of my academic research. If I was experimenting with combinations of chemical compounds I’d be doing it in a laboratory. The best place to experiment with music and performance is in a rehearsal room.

Therefore the reading on Sept 14 also included segments of music. Some was notated in the script for the TRANSTION sequences – all-in choreographed sequences using chairs to metaphorically embellish or play with ideas explored in the verbatim dialogue.

But I also brought along some music to use as UNDERSCORE – a sonic ‘bed’ for certain sections the verbatim text to rest on. These bits weren’t scripted. I asked the assistant directors to ‘place’ the music I’d brought along as underscore according to ‘favourite’ or most important’ lines as identified by the cast, and to ‘DJ’ the draft soundtrack under the playreading. As expected, the music gave the work a lift.

The selection and curation of music is paramount here. There’s a lot of theory around it, though it’s mainly focussed on the use of music in screen-based storytelling, rather than live performance. Rules of thumb (for me, at least – there’s no discounting issues of taste when it comes to music) include minimalism and subtlety, the use of ‘pure’ (or vocal/lyric-free) music whenever possible, and the knowledge that cinema, television, and advertising use music to manipulate us emotionally all the time – therefore using theatre to experiment with, subvert and push past these expectations while serving the story in performance.

Without giving the cast much background information I asked them what purpose they thought the music served in ‘please be seated’ :

38% said it ‘sets a mood’ or comments to this effect: “It complements the dialogue and sets the mood for each scene.

23% of comments referred directly to its function in the mysterious carriage of the emotional content of the performance : “It creates another layer of emotion, I think.”… “The music enhances the emotions in which the text has created.”

30% said, in one way or another, that its function was dramaturgical, or narrative focussed:

“shows the progression of the story”… “Breaks up text”… “Links scenes”…“Heightens tension.”

The remainder included an interesting comment: Music “..helps actors relive these peoples memories”.  I love this. This points to the function of music as our companion outside the fictional context, a ‘buddy’ in the rehearsal room that helps us shape the work, and can give us confidence to approach the central task of the work, which is to commit to the (re)telling of stories. This musical aspect of the product will continue to develop and be woven through the process.

The Assistant Directors

The Sams (Sam W and Sam S) have been present at every weekly session, assisting with note-taking, task coordination and collation of written exercises. Their role will take on much more significance as the intensive rehearsal period looms. I asked them to consider generating some material for this blog, which the both did. I’ll finish this week’s entry with some fresh perspectives  from them:

From Sam W: While Sam S. and I essentially share a role within this project, our perspectives upon the show are entirely different. Unlike David and Sam S, I wasn’t part of the initial construction of the piece, so my perception of the text and the show as a whole is unique. So it could be possible that I share a relationship with the cast as being ‘new’ to this production. Having enjoyed the performance of Draft 1 [with the original cast]  last semester I really wanted to be involved in the process of making the verbatim texts shared between a group of friends, and giving them to students who weren’t a part of what seemed like an incredibly personal task.

When I first had an opportunity to read Draft 2 I was surprised again by the honesty of the original cast. It has a much more serious tone thanks to the additional content, and this only works in favour of the play. After an exercise during rehearsal, it became pretty apparent that this change had affected the whole groups perception of the play.

After now a few read throughs, we are discovering and noticing different aspects of the play each time. The task of dividing these excerpts into ‘characters’ for the actors to play is an exciting process, and I’m definitely ready to get up and start blocking things out.”

From Sam S: ‘Please Be Seated’ holds a very special place in my heart. As being part of the original cast and collaborative team I have a unique perspective when it comes to the new rehearsal and creative process for this new form in which the production is taking. Because our original piece was done in the verbatim theatre genre using our own stories, its been interesting seeing our words being used by a different group of individuals. So far my favourite part of the assistant directing process has been seeing the groups reactions to the script which we originated. Hearing how its relateable and a touching piece of theatre makes me even more proud to be part of this project.

It has been interesting to see how the project has evolved from a script in which used stories that were randomly placed into different sections of the production, to now having a flowing almost streamlined narrative which the audience can follow and then make connections with on both a personal and emotional level. This is what makes the production so special. It shows the audience snippets of their peers lives, moments which they can relate to and other moments which they may not have experienced but it still has some form of effect on them. It has also been enjoyable to see just how well the new cast get along with one another. The ensemble is key with work such as this and with a cast as willing and creative as this, I believe we are going to have a fantastic show on our hands.”

Assistant Director - Sam S

Next time: our final pre-rehearsal meeting will be attended by members of the original cast. We’re all excited to hear their reactions to the new work.

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