Tuesday, 31 January 2012


I have a terrible habit of selling myself short - either by not stepping forward when I know I am best for a task, or by letting myself settle for something less that my best work. Usually this happens when I worry I am being overwhelmed, or that I am being overwhelming....most commonly a twisted combination of the two. I did just that at the end of last term, and am now feeling the effects of it. At the time, I told myself it was good enough. But is good enough okay? Not for me it isn't. I am more than a little disasppointed in myself for this, as I feel I poured a lot of energy and thought into something without really thinking through the focus and the goal of it. I have, however, learned from it. It will not be happening again.

Anyway...enough self-musing. My scene from The Balcony went up today, with decent success. My 3 actors did a great job of bringing to life the layers I was hoping to see, with the short rehearsal time. The feedback was positive, that my choices made sense, and I was able to bring out something interesting about the parallels and rivalry between Carmen and Irma. So that is good. I didn't really get a chance to talk about what inspired me, all of the research I had done in Prisoner of Love, and the Gene Plunka "Rites of Passage of Jean Genet", not to mention the DeFrancia painting that inspired a lot of the connections in the movement. I did get to bring up the ideas I latched to from Genet's "Pour Jouer Le Balcon" which was good.

I have a mountain of films to watch, and a novel to read, and a book...and 2 scenes to write. Goodness me. Blogging might be slow for a couple days.

Monday, 30 January 2012


I went by the National Portrait Gallery yesterday, while out for Chinese New Year celebrations in Trafalgar Square; we thought we'd have a warm up and take in some paintings. One of my favourite periods of English history is the Tudor (and thereabouts) largely because I have studied it in some detail. Meandering through the second floor, we encountered busts of Queen Victoria, large paintings of period families, etc, and then came upon the room of Tudors. It was really startling to be confronted with the actual paintings that make up the images that have become so familiar in books and other media. One that really stood out was the painting of King Henry VIII - it is toward the end of his life. We see the layers of identity; the clothing and jewels of kingship, the regal, lush fabrics and gold necklaces. This is what he wants us to see, what he presents to the world. Next, we see his skin; only the face, fleshy from rich diet, another symbol of his wealth and power, and by extension that of his nation. But when we look at the eyes, we see something else. This unknown painter has succeeded in capturing a clarity, a vulnerability in his eyes, which seems to imply a falsity of the preceeding layers. Having read my history, I know of the paranoia from which Henry suffered - worries about contracting The Plague, not having an heir, losing his kingdom. . . each of these seem to glimmer behind the facade of the exterior.

Of course, looking back, knowing what happened (or at least what has been recorded) we can see this. But I wonder what was perceived at the time? Could his subjects see the vulnerability? Clearly the painter was able to pierce through the exterior and see this, so that we can have it today.

Saturday, 28 January 2012


I am directing for our Scene Study class on Tuesday, and have worked with 3 actors to prepare a scene from the balcony. I really wanted to bring out the changeable nature of each character's "self" in the scene, and selected a scene that gave some very juicy opportunities for this. Genet's plays always centre around a game of some kind, of taking on roles of dominance or submission in varying manifestations, and The Balcony is no different; the premise of the play is a house of illusions, where men can go have their fantasies played out. The scene I selected was not one showing us the fantasies, but instead one that might on the surface appear normal; Irma, Carmen, and Arthur, all of whom work at The Grand Balcony, are in a room discussing the workings of the business. But this scene too has its games and roles played; it is a power game, a struggle to assert leadership, ownership. We worked on the layers of roles going on - where is the character "real", where do they want others to think they are being "real", where are they taking on a role for someone else's benefit.

The other aspect I wanted to highlight came from Genet's notes to directors of the balcony - that there should be a rivalry between Irma and Carmen, that it should be questionable who really runs the brothel. Using some physical theatre techniques, I have the two actresses taking on one another's gestures and positioning, giving the implication that either of them could really be in charge. The illusion, the reflection, going back and forth as if they are mirrors facing one another; no matter how deep you get, it always seems to go deeper.

Our LABAN work fed into this as well; my group are working on physicalizing the qualities of the planets Mercury and Mars. Mars is a bit more straightforward - war, power, strength, etc. Mercury on the other hand seems to have a changeability about it; the idea of quicksilver has really struck us as an integral part of understanding Mercury. We've developed a staging of a piece of The Lady In The Moon that I think helps communicate this changeability and the impact it has on those around us.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Review - The Sea Plays by Eugene O'Neill @ Old Vic Tunnels

Saw this in previews earlier this week, but have been slow to blog about it. Part of the reason, I think, is that O'Neill is one of those playwrights who just sits funny with me. No matter the quality of a production, I often just can't get past him. With the exception of Long Day's Journey and Moon for the Misbegotten, his texts always feel one-dimensional, and that they really have not aged well.

This production, in the AMAZING Old Vic Tunnels (a series of arches underneath Waterloo Station, converted into a snappy little theatrical venue) didn't add to or detract from my O'Neill apathy. It started out really well, with an image as we came in of the men working in the bowels of the ship (not too shabby to look at, either!). The design in the theatre space really used the arches well, the industrial feel of the space lent itself to an association with the at-sea locale; the use of the raw brick walls with work lights, cement floor, and little overhead light contributed to the overall feel of the production.

But the production lacked (and I don't necessarily criticise anyone but O'Neill for this) a certain relevance. The period dramas of the first two pieces, set on a transport ship during the WW1, verges on the absurd, when we have characters dying for the better part of 25 minutes. The second of the on-ship plays fared a little better, building anticipation over the contents of a box one sailor is hiding, but fizzles in its resolution. And the third of the plays, with location now moved to a dodgy east London pub, was a cacaphony of stereotypes, played out to their extreme. The performances were varied, with some very strong interpretations, and some weaker, including some bobbling accent work to be expected in a preview. As well, some scenes (particularly in the first play) could use tightening, again to be expected at preview.

But on the whole, I found myself questioning the choice of material most. Why does this matter to us now? What does it tell us about humanity and experience? I am still trying to find an answer.


So I have written a bit about this scary playwriting adventure. Under the tutelage of the fabulous Lin Coglin we are learning a character-based approach to writing, and various exercises to help ellicit good (read: Interesting) writing. I have found this process to be rather challenging, but quite rewarding in its evolution. Challenging, because it turns out that I am writing a play that I never would have guessed would come out of me; I'm not much of a one for realism, contemporary family drama, etc. I tend to attach to plays of ideas, of movement. . . not those in which the central character is an 80 year old man. But, then there was Frank. Our starting point for the process was to select an image that interested us, and get to know the character in this image. I selected a rather silly photo of a man and woman, in bed with sunglasses on, and met Frank. And I became rather attached.

I'm really wrestling with my inner-critic monkey, which keeps jumping up and down reminding me I am not a playwright. That little monkey did a number this week when I tried to write a scene outside those Lin had assigned us. But this week I'll be having a word with the monkey, and making some progress. Because although I might not be a playwright, Frank is there, and wants his story to be discovered. I guess I'll have to help!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Where is the Truth?

Spent more time on Genet this weekend and early this week, performing in another scene from The Blacks for classmates, and analyzing scenes put together from The Blacks and The Balcony. The layers present in Genet's work are fascinating - every time you think you have gotten through to a new plateau, it cracks to reveal something further underneath, begging to be uncovered. In his plays, it seems there is a constant layering of lies; the characters are bottomless pits of identities, each new one to serve the purpose of their current situation. For directors this poses the challenge of helping your actors understanding what each identity is, where the shifts are, so that from the audience these cracks can be seen. The nuance between each must be subtle yet noticeable. Andrew suggested that perhaps some of Genet's "Truth" lies not in his plays, but perhaps in his novels. Or maybe it doesn't - in Prisoner of Love, which seems to sit in a middle-ground between fiction and documentary, just as the reader begins to feel they know his position on a subject, he'll pull that mat out from underneath you. No comfort, nothing is reliable, constantly undermining expectation. I wonder if this is his truth...the truth of the unreliability of the world, of expectation, of categorization.

Elsewhere, reading Edward Braun's "The Director And the Stage" as supplemental, given that I'm not in Sue's directing group for approaches. What I found really interesting was the sense of overlap this book gave; it is really easy to think that Stanislavsky did his thing, then Meyerhold, then Brecht, etc...but in fact there were little pockets of development happening everywhere, simultaneously, with achievements cropping up all over the place. What is also interesting is the afterword, the reminder that although they appear monumental now, at the time the events, the riots, the scandals, were relatively uneventful for the community as a whole, and it wasn't until viewed from the distance of the future that we can see the sigificance and assign value.

Some passages I found particularly useful....

On Jarry and the Surrealists (P58) - "Perceiving the universe and society as irrational and contradictory, they felt impelled to create works that were correspondingly irrational and contradictory in their forms, that stood the accepted conventions of theatre on their heads - and to achieve this they sought to exercise the closest possible control over the play in production, lest the theatre be tempted to impose its habitual symmetry on their calcuated disorder."

On Stanislavsky (P76) - "He seldon considers the peroduction as a total synthesis with a unified objective. What is more, he takes little account of the psychology of the audience, assuming that if the individual performancecs are truthful the spectator will necessarily respond to their truthfulness through a process of empathy"

On Meyerhold (P126) - "It was precisely because the spectator was shown so little that he saw so much, superimposing his own imagined or remembered experiences on the events enacted before him. In this way the dialogue and characters assumed a significance and a profundity which overcame their intrinsic banality."

On Artaud (P188) - "Artaud based his entire approach to the production [of The Cenci] on the principle of engulfing the audience with a massive accumulation of effects, so that its response would be sensual and involuntary rather than detached and intellectual."

On Grotowski and the production of Apocalypsis (P197) - "But when the lights came on and the room was discovered empty, it did not necessarily mean that he had gone - or even that he had been. The room had simply been returned to the state it was in when the first pectator entered. So what had been witnessed? A group of ordinary people, in everyday clothes. Roles were assigned, amidst mirth, and assumed, rejected, fought against. But each role, once assumed, posessed that person who was trapped within it, drained by the excesses with which he fulfilled or denied it."

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Apparently didn't blog at all for the latter half of last week. It included continuations in Playwriting and Laban approaches classes, which have been great.

Also did some initial rehearsals and voiceover recordings for this week's scene study, another scene from Genet's The Blacks. In this, we learned that apparently I can do a Nigerian accent. Still can't do German, though!

Outside all this, I've been reading Genet's book 'Prisoner of Love' which was (I believe) his last publication. It reflects on his encounters with Palestinian rebels and the oh-so-confusing politics of Northern Africa in the 1970s (Heck, even now). What I am really finding fascinating is his ability to draw historical parralels to the French Revolution, The Black Panthers, The Nazi regime, and yet nothing seems put on. The beautifully poetic lens he applies to the people and space of the conflict is wonderful; at once it makes you feel completely aligned with the individuals, and yet completely separated from them. Some enjoyable moments for me...

"The fame of heroes owes little to the extent of their conquests and all to the success of the tributes paid to them. . . all the images of wars have been created after the battles themselves thanks to looting or the energy of artists, and left standing thanks to oversight on the part of rain or rebellion. But what survives is the evidence, rarely accurate but always stirring, vouchsafed to the future by the victors." - (p7-8)

"Everything happens in the dark. At the point of death, however insubstantial those words and however unimportant the event itself, the condemned man still wants to determine for himself the meaning of his life, lived in a darkness he tried not to lighten but to make more black." (p54)

"What was to become of you after the storms of fire and steel? What were you to do? Burn, shriek, turn into a brand, blacken, turn to ashes, let yourself be slowly covered first with dust and then with earth, seeds, moss, leaving behind nothing but your jawbone and teeth, and finally becoming a little funeral mound with flowers growing on it and nothing inside." (p102)

"When someone leaned out of the window of a departing train it used to be the custom, apparently, for his friends to run alongside waving their handkerchiefs. But the custom has probably died out, just as the piece of cloth has been replaced by a neat square of paper. You used to know the train would take good care of the traveller, and you expected him to send you a postcard. If someone set out on a journey on foot, his friends would wait until he or even his shadow disappeared. But even in his absence he was still with them, and if they heard he'd died or was in danger or trouble, they felt for him." (p240)

"When a man invents an image that he wants to propagate, that he may even want to substitute for himself, he starts by experimenting, making mistakes, sketching out freaks and other non-viable monsters that he has to tear up unless they disintegrate of their own accord. But the operative image is the one that's left after the person dies or withdraws from the world, as in the case of Socrates, Christ, Saladin, Saint-Just and so on. They succeeded in projecting an image around themselves and into the future. It doesn't matter whether or not the image corresponds to what they were really like: they managed to wrest a powerful image from that reality." (p302)

Photo: Portrait of Jean Genet by Anthony Weir

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


Today's Scene Study class raised some interesting questions surrounding identity and art. . . specifically to do with what identities we (as artists) create, challenge or reinforce through presentation of plays. In particular, this was raised in relation to staging old plays, the baggage of literary and performance history that comes along with them. The main focus on the discussion was Othello, looking at a 1960s version with Laurence Olivier in black face, while another was with South African actors in Johannesberg in the 1980s. Looking at some critical texts on the idea of gender or race in performance, we discussed the implications of staging decisions, and the results these can have for informing stereotype.

This raised a few things for me. . .
- part of me wants to say that art is for art's sake, so what the hell are we worrying about this other stuff for.
- The rational part of me replies, knowing that there is always responsibility of the artist in representing anything, and particularly in representing something that has gained certain significance for a community or group.

So then how do we merge these? I think that the main focus needs to be artistic integrity, but that merged with this needs to be a conscious acknowledgement of what the stage images are doing to the audience, and how they will be received. Audiences at different times and places will bring context that must be acknowledged in the production. A failure to do this is a failure as an artist. Our main role is to interact with and respond to the world as we see it; this can take many forms, but must necessarily account for audience response.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012


While last term the focus with Tom was on really clearly presenting the text (as in the words), our focus with Andrew this term is more on the ideas, the themes, the sense that comes out of the play, and how to get that on its feet. Working with Genet, particularly in an English rational theatre tradition, there are certain problems when presented with a text that is so clearly visceral. The words are important, but just as important are the physical acts, the representation.

Today our scene presentations were interesting; with selected scenes from The Blacks and The Balcony, what emerged was a very clear sense of the difficulty of this work. One thing that stood out regardless of directorial choices was the ability to clearly understand the spoken words. There were scenes in which I felt that the director had paid too much attention to staging and emotions, and not enough to simply understanding the text, and understanding the modulations genet provides in his script. This is something that I want to try to balance when I approach directing a scene.

I am really interested in how to do this now; the idea of presenting an aboriginal "the blacks" in Canada really fascinates me. There would obviously need to be some adjustments to appropriate the text, but the ideas, the fear and violence the blacks feel in the play seems a strong parallel to what I have seen in Canada. Something to continue to consider.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Friday's movement class was great. We spent time re-visiting some LABAN concepts, and then began to look at the play we will be using as inspiration for our end of term creation. It is an Elizabethan court play about Pandora...no, not the Pandora with the box, a different one who Nature creates and pisses off the 7 planets (of the time). The play is hilarious, and I can't wait to create something out of this.

On the subject of movement, I was sitting on the DLR Saturday afternoon, and caught myself watching a pop can rolling about, back and forth, completely aimlesslly, for around 10 mins. The train would stop, it would roll one direction, then it would begin again and roll another. Never in straight lines, always random, and changing direction if it hit the chairs or someone's foot.

Spent some time at the Tate Britain Saturday as well, and came across this fabulous paintin (pictured below) by Peter DeFrancia called "Bombing of Sakiet". It made me think of Genet's The Balcony almost immediately. It is sort of what I imagine the world outside the brothel to look like.

Anyway. . . happy sunday!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Dared to Try

I've mentioned in an earlier blog that despite my misgivings, I am doing one of my sections of this term in Playwriting. This is at once exhilirating and terrifying. Today was our first class, and I will admit feeling sheepish, as the only one in the course who doesn't even slightly see herself as a writer. I can devise (sort of), and I can offer insight, but outside the sphere of choreography, I don't think I can write. The class progressed nicely, easing me into the idea. Our tutor, playwright Lin Coglan, let us know that her goal is to give us the tools of creation; the backbone of technique to help when the creative forces are slow to come, fizzle out, or seem to disappear.

We began with an exercise to look at starting with a character; simple ways in that could help us with a starting point, from which we can get into large picture narratives. Overall I found the process really interesting. It is funny the odd and seemingly incoherent thoughts that come to mind, and then suddenly they pull together as you might never have expected. I am looking very forward to the next class!

I also failed to chat about Scene Study last night, which spent time looking at Artaud, then re-visiting ideas of violence and suffering on stage. I need to do a re-read of Artaud's Theatre and its Double, as our task for the term will be to create a manifesto for the theatre (you know...no big deal, right??). Oh goodness.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Back to it...

Our first day back in the Spring term. Yes, I know it is only just winter, but apparently here in the UK Winter is simply that brief period in December when there are christmas lights on every available surface. Where January in my estimation typically includes horrific winds, large wool coats, and hibernating indoors, January here is around +10, humid, and, apparently, called Spring. Alas, I digress. . .

To speak metaphorically, last term felt like I was walking on one of those sheets they stretch across a pool; uneasy, but familiar territory, with a burst of energy to get through to the end. This term, in its beginning, already feels like a tornado, whirling about with so much information and so many ideas....begging to be put to good use and calmed down. We spent our first class on Genet discussing the man, our first impressions of his plays, and some general themes that come out of them. We also spent considerable time watching and then discussing a BBC interview with the man from the early 1980s, not long before his death in 1986. What we saw in this footage was an artist at his twilight; still glimmering with incisive intelligence and a gripping personality, but struggling against the interviewer, desperately to ensure he is not defined. I believe it was Camus who articulated the existentialist tenet most clearly, when he said of objectivity that "to define me, means I am dead". Watching Genet twist the questions, avoid responding to the directness of the interviewer on certain subjects, and approach the subject of his life with such a coy and playful nature was at once fascinating and confounding.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

David Hume - Of Tragedy

Was reading this dissertation by David Hume (originally published in 1757) for some essay preparation. Hume's overall position is rather Aristotelian, which makes sense for his time; he sees tragedy as an imitation of an action which evokes pity and fear. But Hume adds to the conversation on this subject, by investigating how this pity and fear is evoked. His main question is to do with why tragedy has an impact on us, and in investigating this he engages with previous thinkers on the subject. His conclusion is that eloquence is the key; the way the poet (playwright) presents the text, particularly the violent or damaging incidents which cause passion in the reader or audience (pity & fear, if you want to be Aristotelian) and is the cause of the passions elicited. Further to this point, he notes that there is (as many before him have posited) a pleasure derived from this, emphasizing that eloquence is the key to this pleasure. If the violence is not presented in a beautiful way, harmonized within itself as a work of art, we will only have experienced the passions of pity and fear, and pleasure is not possible. He argues that this, then, is not art...it cannot be distinguished from any daily occurrence of violence in the world.

Although I'm not much of an Aristotelian purist, I have to agree with Hume's assertion about eloquence. When we think of the pieces that really move us; Othello, Hamlet, The Duchess of Malfi, and more recently Beckett, Kane, Bond...what causes them to work, cause our passion to be aroused, and most importantly, to make us think, is eloquence. The beauty of presentation of these horrific acts.

Something to keep in mind for presenting violence in theatre.

Monday, 2 January 2012

2500th view!

Apparently I have hit 2500 views on my blog since its inception. Yippee! Apparently someone reads this. Or at least looks at it, and realizes it is comprised of the moderately lucid musings of an theatre-obsessed maniac.

In any case, thanks all for reading. More jolly fun to come in a few days' time when the Spring term begins. Look forward to Genet, LABAN, and Playwriting mania.