Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Genet is Clever

It is often said that male writers can't write for women, or can't write for women well. There are many reasons why this sort of statement is false, but rather than go on a tirade about gender, intelligence, and truths of the human condition, I will simply present a section of text by the brilliant Jean Genet in The Screens. This is right at the beginning of Scene 12.
KADIDJA: Without women what would you be? A spot of sperm on your father's pants that three flies would have drunk up.

THE DIGNITARY: Go away Kadidja. This isn't the day.

KADIDJA: It is! They accuse us and threaten us, and you want us to be prudent. And docile. And humble. And submissive. And ladylike. And honey-tongued. And sweet as pie. And silk veil. And fine cigarette. And nice kiss and soft-spoken. And gentle dust on their red pumps!

THE DIGNITARY: Kadidja, it's a matter of general security. Go away.

If this exchange doesn't clearly illustrate the long fought battle for escape from patriarchal power, i don't know what does.

and also...his beautiful and raw description of art functioning for society in scene 17 brings to mind volumes of conversation.
THE ACADEMICIAN: What will they build on? I observed them carefully throughout my stay. Their only memories are of poverty and humiliation . . . Yes, what will they do? Can an art be born for the purpose of enshrining so many facts which they themsleves would like to forget? And if there's no art, there's no culture. Are they therefore doomed to decay? And there they go nailing the cage . . .

What is fabulous about this is that it is used ironically; the Academician, and his colonialist compadres The Banker, Sir Harold, Mrs Blanensee, are all looking down upon the native Algerians from their position of power. And yet Genet's argument throughout the play, that this dirty mess is precisely what the matter of art must be, rings through.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Review: Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! - Sadler's Wells Theatre

How do I even begin to describe this? Bourne's imagination is unparalleled, taking the well-known story of the Nutcracker, and twisting out a playful perspective. The nods to classical ballet throughout were wonderful, with little details such as the bratty brother/sister's exaggerated toe-first turned out walk, to the arabian dancer's final pose, however Bourne twists these and "shakes them up" for the audience. As well, his references to pop-culture were overflowing; one couldn't help but think of Marilyn Monroe's rendition of Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend when watching the young heroine with her nutcracker and gaggle of topless men, or of boy bands when watching his russian dancers. What I found most remarkable about this was his ability to push the boundaries, to squeeze out the underlying themes in the story and magnify them for us to see, while still creating a story that was extremely watchable and enjoyable.

With some trepidation, I took my 7 year old daughter and husband to this show. My daughter has seen quite a bit of ballet for her age, but never The Nutcracker, despite being very familiar with the story and Tchaikovsky's score. My husband has seen only a little ballet, and again, never a Nutcracker. Both loved it! They had a lot of fun with the story, and the fabulous set and lighting design had an impact on the audience, even from up in the second circle.

I am SO unendingly happy to have been able to see this show, and share it with my family. More Bourne for all!!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Reflections - The Audience

I have been spending quite a lot of time thinking about the audience. Clearly, without the audience, we really can't have theatre. Until there are people out there, taking in your words and gestures, everything is just a rehearsal. The give and take between performers and between performer-audience are what make live theatre unique and enjoyable; the sense of risk that something could go wrong, the sense of profound connection with those around you. Increasingly among the avant-garde (and even in the mainstream) there has been a push to involve the audience in new ways. Immersive theatre experiences, although still relatively un-common in Winnipeg, are de rigeur here in London. Even companies as "mainstream" as Headlong, producing with the National Theatre, try to take steps at making the experience in some way interactive for the audience.

Our presentations at RADA played with this to varying degrees. Some groups had the audience sitting on the floor, some had them sampling treats, while still others had them participatinig in the violence against a character, pouring food and liquid over an actor bound to a chair. With each of these experiences, I questioned several things:
- when did this work for me as an audience member?
- when it did work, what was it about this that worked?
- when it didn't work, why not?
- regardless of efficacy, what was this doing to the audience member? And did the group creating the piece seem to know or intend this impact?

I spent likely an equal amount of time watching the audience as I did the production. How were they reacting? What were they happily taking on, compared to what got their backs up or made them uncomfortable?

What I found (almost overwhelmingly) was that when these moments of audience participation worked best, they felt like there was no other way to do it. I could not, as an audience member, think of another way for the message or the scene to be conveyed. The times when it didn't work were times when it didn't feel necessary, where the action felt as if it wasn't done for the sake of the production, but just for the sake of it. Indulgence, at times.

Oddly, some moments which, if described, would feel gratuitous, were just fine - they worked. While conversely others which may sound like they would be ok simply felt over the top. What it comes down to is intention and thought; has the company really thought through what they are doing, why they are doing it - can they justify the choice artistically and as it relates to the text. The times when this didn't seem possible, did not resonate.

Simultaneously, I have been been performing in an immersive theatre event called You Me Bum Bum Train. I can't reveal many details, other than that it is an opportunity for the audience member to be the focus of the show, experiencing various things from the absurt, to the unusual, to the mundane. I have been in a couple different scenes now, and had a chance over my several nights performing to gauge the various reactions people have to the different kinds of scenes. It is really fascinating to watch people who really buy into this audience power, and those who really shut down...along with all gradients in between. I actually admitted to a fellow cast-mate this week that if I just heard about it, I probably wouldn't want to go see this kind of show. Even going to the audition I was nervous, thinking about the awful kinds of audience participation I have seen over the years. But this specific production gives such ultimate care to the emotional ride of the passenger - in fact they call the performance a ride - each scene, and the succession of them, is carefully crafted to take a person through the highs and lows of human experience, but with a sense of safety that allows them to play.

I have, despite my initial worries, ultimate respect for the creators (Kate & Morgan) of this amazing experience, and only hope I can one day create something as truly special and experiential as they have.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Portfolio

Here, as promised, are photos of the portfolio I have created for the Autumn Term at RADA, primarily focused on The Duchess of Malfi. The assignment itself is really rather vague; create a portfolio tracking your response to the course. Scene study specifically, but it should also include references to research and to the other parts of the course. I decided that creating a director's notebook was my way in. I don't know if this is "right" or if it has worked, but I am pretty proud of what I have created, the ideas that have come out of it. And I now, more than ever, want to produce this play!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Closing Time

My posting has slowed down significantly as classes wind down and assignments pile up. Our performances of interpretations of our Scene Study plays happened this week. First, on Monday, the Measure for Measure group presented their piece. I was really impressed by the way they merged all 8 scenes, individually conceptualized or devised, into a single evening response to the play. Some scenes worked better than others, but on the whole it was a highly enjoyable evening, presented by some talented individuals. I particularly liked the scene that turned one of the early scenes into a brothel; I have felt this seedy underbelly, the netherworld in this play, but so often people producing it are scared to "dirty up" Shakespeare. Kudos to my classmates for letting the Bard get messy!

Tuesday (yesterday) was our performance of responses to The Duchess of Malfi. Our class functioned a little differently, creating 3 separate short pieces on our own themes. I really loved seeing what the other two groups brought out in the text, looking at politics and power, and the other at game playing and fate. Our group's focus on women and power was successful, I think. I have a brief audience-video that I will post a link to shortly. Not the greatest vid, but a sense of what we did with the text, interspersing other plays that lend themselves to this theme. In many cases the text of those plays was undistinguishable from Webster's text; several audience members commented to us that our piece really affected them, made them think about violence and power, and how women even today are subjected to these injustices, these violations.

Elsewhere on my plate has been the portfolio process. I have used this blog as a starting point to create my written response to the course. It is finished!! I will be posting photos of the final creation tomorrow, before I hand it in.

Saturday, 10 December 2011


We have had to submit our choices for approaches groups for next term. I had initially wanted voice, but in my email told our course leaders I would be ok with Laban too. I was really torn on this decision. On one hand, I find LABAN and historical dance to be extremely interesting...but with so much history in dance related forms, and being known already as a "movement" person back home, I worried that this wouldn't open up any new doors like voice would. I also liked the idea of creating a voice project, what this might entail. And not to mention, I really love voice work in general. So as I expected may happen, I was put in Laban. And at first I was a little upset...but now have realized that it is going to be immense fun, and I will learn things I haven't seen before, particularly the historical social dance. And my ever-practical brain has recalled that it will give me some ground on which to look for work with theatre companies choreographing historical dance, such as RMTC or the Opera. So I am now feeling good about these things.

Our second approaches choice was between directing and playwriting. I immediately chose directing, mirroring my choice of Scene Study directing, because I do not in any way fancy myself a playwright. The numbers were really lopsided, so some of us who were doing scene study directing too were asked to consider switching. I gave this some serious thought...was I willing to risk an entire module in something that I don't think I am capable of doing with any success? Again, I sat to re-evaluate. I have devised/created work, and choreographed with success, and this too is playwriting. Perhaps I can approach playwriting from this perspective, and hone my voice as a creator, not just as a director. And who knows, maybe I will find I can actually write things. I think back to undergrad and our Style & Genre class, where Per had us write our own fact, that didn't go too badly. And it is important to do things that take you outside your comfort zone as an artist; that is how we grow.

So next term I will be doing Directing Scene Study (major module), Laban, Playwriting, and Birkbeck Scene study (major module, audience perspective). I have opted out of the producing course; again here, this would be nice to have, but I don't fancy myself a producer, it is too far removed from creation itself.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Some Business With A Camel

This was our final approaches class for the Autumn term....true evidence that time is rapidly slipping by. Our group began in Acting Space with Sue, our course leader, who asked us to respond both to Brian's class and the Barbican Hamlet in some way. Some pairs chose just to talk about their experience, some chose a demonstration. We chose to create a scene which demonstrated our experience of Brian's approach, while commenting on Hamlet and what challenged us in the production. This was met with success. It was really great to watch and listen to everyone talking about their individual experiences in this way.

Next we went to dramaturgy in which Paul Sirrett answered our questions/led a discussion first about working as a dramaturg, and then about working as/being a playwright. This was a really great discussion, and a reminder that even those who work and whom some may deem have "made it" have the same insecurities, need to push forward, and effort to make/find work that those of us starting out do.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

In Earnest

Today was my daughter's school christmas concert. Unlike schools in Canada, the Christmas concert in this English school was during the day only, with performances in the morning and afternoon. There were no stage lights, no fancy party dresses, and a conspicuously religious story behind the play set up to allow all the classrooms to sing a song; while the first bits of the show celebrated santa, presents, christmas dinner, the tree as the "star" of Christmas, the coda to the piece was to really celebrate the Star of Bethlehem as the star of Christmas, sneaking in the reminder of the religious basis for this holiday (for some, of course). This in itself was Canada, at least in public schools, religion has been outlawed since my years in primary school. If I recall correctly, the Lord's prayer and bible reading in class were made contraband in around my Grade 2 or 3 year.

What stood out even more, though, as I sit pondering creation, development, art.....was the effort and honesty of these students as they stood modestly on a low stage, with little costume and no light, in front of their adoring parents and the parents of their peers. Each child, even those terrified by standing in front of the crowd, had a look of extreme earnest pride as they sang their song, smiling with extreme joy. It was a gentle reminder of what little we need to make magic for those watching.

Keep it simple.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Crisis of Faith

It is crunch time. So naturally, it is also the time when any other part of the universe (mainly transport) that can mess around with me does its best to make things difficult. Today, it was the return of the kid's flu, meaning that I was stranded at home when I should have been rehearsing and attending Scene Study for our impending Malfi presentation (one week today!!!!!! aaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!).

AND screw this. i wrote the whole blog post, and then blogger ATE IT. example of the above happening.

What you missed: me musing about the presentation, positive feedback that makes me uneasy and think I'm not pushing far enough, details about portfolio and essay status.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Review - Hamlet, Schaubune Berlin @ Barbican

There is so much to say about this production. I had high hopes, having read at length about Thomas Ostermeier's work, and his penchant for tearing apart then sewing back together canonical texts. This afternoon was in no way a disappointment. His vision of the Danish castle as a gauche, messy, single room was pitch perfect; the set was at once beautiful and ugly, with gold chain curtains and flashy lights, actors in tuxedos juxtaposed against dirt covering the first quarter of the stage, and an increasing amount of mess (literally garbage!) littering the stage as the play went on. The actors, too, began beautiful and we saw them fall apart. Images of consumption were highlighted quite forcibly, with not only the actors being consumed (by guilt, by revenge, etc) but many scenes of actual consumption of water, beer, milk, liquid that looks like blood. The very first introduction to Horatio was with him sitting at the table, eating voraciously, with food all over his face. This symbolic representation of the characters' devolution was quite stunning.

The performances were remarkable: Hamlet (Lars Eidinger) was not the beautiful, brooding Danish prince we have come to expect, but rather a spoiled, overweight, moody brat, forcing his video camera into the faces of his family (and at times even the audience). Gertrude and Ophelia were played by the completely fabulous Judith Rosmair, who played the two women differently and yet the same, characterizing the echoes of these two women so central to Hamlet's life in one another. Her physical work both in the transitions from Gertrude to Ophelia and back, and more specifically in Ophelia's madness was completely transfixing; I couldn't stop watching her remarkable and specific movements and vocalizations. The other four (that's right, only 4) actors were fabulous as well, playing Laertes/Rosencrantz in the same actor and Horatio/Guildenstern as one, along with an actor for Polonius and one for Claudius.

What I found most fabulous was the self-awareness of the production, finding moments to highlight Hamlet's jester-like qualities, coming out to the audience, turning the play into a black comedy. And it did not feel in any way was all those things that flash through your mind reading the play, brought brilliantly to light.

Fabulous. I must try to visit Schaubune when I go to Berlin...and hopefully manage to catch their Measure for Measure in Paris. More!! I want more!!!!!

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Classes Friday were good, and I got lots of essay-related work done, which is rather necessary at this point. Also rather necessary was some time of relief and relaxation; this was handily filled by a chance to see Plastikman Live 1.5 at the 02 Brixton Academy. Now this might just sound like a night of hedonism, however in fact it was in many ways an experience echoing the ideas we have been discussing in classes and outside about the performer/audience relationship, and the idea that in a mediated world audiences need stimulus or many stimuli to engage.

Richie Hawtin, the UK born, Canadian raised, Berlin-based techno pioneer who created Plastikman has always been one to push technology forward. From his early days challenging the limits of analog sound creation, to more recent forays into live performance and digital music creation, Hawtin is known to challenge the conceptions of what a DJ performance is. So when my husband told me of the SYNK app that Hawtin created for Plastikman live shows, I was immediately intrigued. SYNK allows iPhone users in the venue to interact with one another, and with the performer via a live chat, commenting on what is going on and the performance. In addition, and more forward-thinking, there are points in the performance where the SYNK users are able to impact the performance, sometimes through the lights on the enormous, semi-circle LED screen surrounding Hawtin in his mad-scientist lab, and sometimes through writing text which Hawtin then converts to sound via his equipment, and samples into the sounds he is creating. It was this in particular that really intrigued me. DJ and producers are notorious control-freaks, obsessed with the sound, the gear, the effect...not unlike many actors and theatre directors. So the idea of opening up parts of the performance to be moulded by the audience, and a large, alcohol-fuelled dance club audience, is at once terrifying, and liberating.

Granted not all audience members participated in this, or even knew was happening, but for those who wanted "more", wanted to be part of the action, this additional connection with the performer was offered.

The other thing I found uncanny was the "ghosting" going on in this space, echoing nearly 100 years of performance through the very walls. The Brixton Academy was first built in 1929 as a Theatre and Cinema, and physically the space hasn't changed significantly since this time. It still retains the proscenium arch with opera-style columns, and large playing spaces well above, eye-level with the Circle seating. The buildings comprising nearly a full set, including fake trees of what was likely once an attempt at naturalism, still appear surrounding the upper bits of wall. Juxtaposing this history with such forward-thinking dance music experiences as the one we were undergoing; I couldn't help but think of the historical significance of a dance music artist playing in such an historic space. At moments I imagined an opera production, or some Chekovian actors moodily walking about.

While dance music is often derided as hedonistic pleasure-seeking, it is moments such as this that remind me of the potential for greatness among dance music artists. Because the truly good ones are just that; artists.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Devise This

Workshopping our devised response to The Duchess of Malfi continues to go well. We have made a few adjustments to clarify the script we have created, and have come up with some really neat ways to visualize the story. We still have one enormous bit of physicality to work out, however aside from that have worked out basic blocking for the rest, and are unlikely to make many more script changes. A break on this for a couple days, then back in to share what we have done so far with Tom on Tuesday.

Class today was also focussed on devising, this time as a dramaturgical task. We each came to class with a couple observed quotes and situations from around London, from which we created two plays, and then performed the other group's play. This was a fantastic exercise, and one that would be great to help introduce people to devised work in a class or workshop. I should also add that it was greatly fun, and the stress-relief I think we all needed at this point.

And because I don't have enough going on, I have volunteered for the smash immersive show You Me Bum Bum Train. This ran last year in London to sold out audiences as part of the Barbican season, and a new Bum Train has been created for this year, at a new location. Because of the nature of the show, I can't really say more than that. I am really excited to have the chance to be a part of this!!