Saturday, December 20, 2008

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

Could not put this one down. Written by Ed Graczyk, this is a great piece of nostalgia with enough dramatic irony to be a decent script. An almost completely female-driven plot which is pretty significant in the world of dramatic literature. The plot device that employs the use of James Dean is evidence enough that myth is the most powerful way to the human heart. The story jumps back and forth between 1975 and 1955 and revolves around a James Dean fan club that became obsessed with the pop culture icon. With plenty of historical references and exquisite details, this one is worth the read. The film stars Kathy Bates and Cher (which might be enough to make me watch it)...

Favorite quote: "More than love? There's nothin' more than's the end...No, Sissy, you're wrong. There's something beyond the end."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rehearsal for the Revolution

In his text, Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal demands that we "tear down the wall between audience and actor." A sophisticated argument, Boal details the history of oppression that underlies Aristotelian dramatic structure, from the formal beginnings of theatre in Greece to the present day.

Some of the central ideas:
  • Theatre began as an entity for the people, all amassed together to chant, etc. in dithyrambic odes. When Thespis stepped out of the chorus, he aristocratized the institution of theatre by separating himself from the people.
  • The tragic hero is a manipulation of the spectator. He represents nobility and higher social status. Through the elements of Aristotelian tragedy including hamartia (the one flaw that leads both to the tragic hero's prosperity and sudden downfall), anagnorisis (the recognition of this flaw), and the audience's experience of catharsis, the spectator is subversively forced into empathy with the hero, who oppresses them.
  • Boal argues that theatre for the people must involve the people. It must be a democratic process by which all members of the audience help to determine the outcome.
  • Catharsis must be eliminated as it purges us of the "impure." This purging keeps us from acting on the emotion we feel within the story.
  • Theatre must not be the revolution itself, but the rehearsal for it. An audience who experiences revolutionary triumph during the performance will also experience catharsis, preventing them from revolting in reality.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Towards a Poor Theatre

Jerzy Grotowski, arguably one of the most innovative theatre directors of the 20th century, here attempts to summarize his methodology, both in evolution and in practice. Grotowski, heavily influenced by the work of Antonin Artaud and Berthold Brecht, was obsessed with uncovering the true nature of humanity through intense discipline and unique physical exercise (Exercise plastique) throughout the rehearsal process. He believed strongly in myth and ritual being used as the sources for productions. A set was never used twice. Grotowski experimented heavily with radical blocking that placed actors behind, between and almost underneath spectators. He expected a rigorous and almost monastic life-style from his company of actors. They were to focus on ridding themselves of external concerns and pride, never to strive for glory or personal recognition but always to act as "medium" to the audience, allowing them to experience deep human truth through the actor, as if staring through a window.

I find the theories and practices of Grotowski interesting. For example, his explanation of an actor's relationship to his own body (the "conversation" between the hand touching the leg, etc.) and also the notes on vocal resonance (speaking through certain parts of the body, in order to fill yourself with sound).

It is, however, difficult to apply Grotowski's methods after a mere reading of his text. This would be like trying to apply Meisner's repetition work after reading an essay on it. I have a hard time grasping Grotowski's metholody completely since the work has lost something in its translation from Polish to English. I feel this kind of work must be observed first hand.

Grotowski's work seems to me a good jumping off place for work in movement. However, I don't believe he is an "end all to end all" in terms of acting technique, just as Stanislavsky, Meisner, Adler, etc., etc., etc. cannot be said to be. He is a tool in an actor's belt, one way of achieving emotional honesty on the stage.

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

So I read this one shortly after Twilight and even though it's been a few months, I felt it warranted a review. Now having completed Meyer's whole series, I can even more appreciate this book. However, it is the "Empire Strikes Back" book, if you will, the middle child. It's the most depressing of the four, mostly because, Edward is missing for the majority of the novel. Sure, his absence creates extensive growth in Bella and allows her time to befriend Jacob Black. But Bella's depression does grow tiresome and leaves one wondering, was she ever happy before Edward Cullen? All in all, great addition to the series. This one has some of the most action-packed sequences, especially in the last third of the book.

Friday, November 7, 2008

An Athlete of the Heart

In his 1938 text Le Theatre et son Double, Antonin Artaud writes, "In this theatre all creation comes from the stage, finds its expression and its origins alike in a secret psychic impulse which is Speech before words." The Theatre and Its Double is a work that combines letters, manifestos, and essays that detail Artaud's thoughts on the nature and purpose of theatre.

He compares the essential or living theatre to a plague that sweeps through, burning, stripping away the deadness. Artaud believes that theatre must cleanse or purge the audience of that which is unneccessary to get to the ultimate, cosmic truth.

Artaud spends a great deal of the book comparing Occidental and Oriental theatre. He uses many examples from the Balinese theatre to explain what he sees as key differences. Western theatre: tied up in the text, focused on the psychological, striving for realism, purely verbal, and using conflicts that relate only to what can be spoken or verbally expressed. Eastern theatre: uses gestures and spiritual "signs" to communicate every state of being, the voice's connection to the body, the way that sound and movement create meaning together, and a sense of "heightened" realism.

There is a demand for throwing out the "elite" of theatre. "No more masterpieces," he says. We must have works that are relevant to our contemporary audience. If the audience does not understand or appreciate the work it sees, it is the theatre's fault, Artaud argues. We have put art on a pedestal. We have distanced the audience from it.

This concept of distance troubled Artaud. He called for something new, something he named, "The Theatre of Cruelty." He believed that the theatre must overrun, overwhelm, and shock its audience into feeling. He spoke of reverberrations (something not unlike Luis Valdez' use of the word "vibrations"). While Brecht tries to achieve recognition of truth in his spectator through the Verfremdungseffekt (or alienation effect), Artaud strives to accomplish the same goal in the opposite way, by surrounding the audience, overwhelming it with sharp sounds, lights, costumes, etc.

The use of myth by Artaud is especially interesting as it would go on to influence theatre practioners like Jerzy Grotowski. Artaud believed that that which is human in all of us can only be truly reached through the use of the myth (myth being something ingrained in all humans, a story that has become part of tradition). This kind of story strikes a subconscious chord in which we understand a fundamental, deeper truth.

Favorite quote: "The actor is an athlete of the heart."

One of the major problems with Artaud is that he left no practical way to accomplish his mandates. While many scholars, writers, and directors agree with his assessment of the need for this kind of new theatre, it seems impossible to apply his theories without bastardizing them somehow. We do not know what Artaud meant by everything he said. We can only speculate and interpret.

The other issue I have encountered in examing this text is simply: Who determines this deeper truth the spectator supposedly will connect with when experiencing the "Theatre of Cruelty?" Does the director enter a project with a truth to communicate or does Artaud expect some deeper cosmic meaning to occur to each individual audience member as he or she feels it?

Overall, I feel that the sentiments of Artaud are note-worthy and can perhaps be applied, IF there is a goal. For instance, if I overwhelm an audience with heavy drumbeats or piercing screams in order to cause them to feel something specific so that their attention is drawn to something very particular, I feel that this is worthwhile. But the fear I have in applying Artaud is that taken out of context, screams, flashing lights, and strange noises only confuse.

The theatre must be a place of light, not darkness and confusion. If using these techniques brings about enlightenment, then they can be said to be worthwhile exercises.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Do I Dazzle You?" - Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Compelling enough that I read 400 pages in a night. A tad adolescent, maybe a little angsty, but thrilling and wonderful all the same. Some brilliant descriptive passages, an interesting take on the mythos of vampires, and some interesting character developments.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Beloved (Part 1)

Working my way through Toni Morrison's Beloved right now. I am most struck by the many layers of imagery. For instance, Morrison described the "cherry tree" in Sethe's back. Is this merely a description of the scars from her whip lashing? Are there literally pieces of wood stuck in her back? And what else does this tree represent? As of now, it seems to carry all of her pain, and yet be a sign of hope peering through the despair. I am so caught by this idea. The arrival of Beloved herself is another point of interest to me. I hope I will not be proven wrong but I get this sense that Beloved is some sort of reincarnation of the dead baby girl. I feel that while she seems to exist without purpose within the world of the story, her appearance and continuous presence in 124 is significant and full of meaning. We'll see.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"That killed me."

"What really knocks me out is a book, when you're all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."

Ditto, Holden. Ditto. I have not been so sad to say goodbye to a book in a very long time. I felt so worried and afraid for Caulfield and so enamored with his little sister and her selflessness. Salinger nailed it on the head. I realized in the end that Holden wasn't merely self-absorbed, but hopelessly idealistic and noble. He had this idea of a perfect world of decency and human kindness, without hypocrisy (phonies), without demoralization. He is disenchanted, disillusioned with a culture fixated on the immediate, on the shallow, on the surface.

Also, have not read a book silently that made me laugh out loud quite so hard, possibly ever. Example: "Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a toilet seat."

The book is interesting, as well, since it only details Holden's life as it occurs in the span of 72 hours or less, although it narrates much of his past in between. Salinger seems to make a concerted effort to put you in the sleepless state that Holden is in, so that you may, at last, understand his fury...and his disappointment.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What kind of punctuation mark am I?

You Are a Colon

You are very orderly and fact driven.

You aren't concerned much with theories or dreams... only what's true or untrue.

You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched.

You like to make lists and sort through things step by step. You aren't subject to whim or emotions.

Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice.

(But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!)

You excel in: Leadership positions

You get along best with: The Semi-Colon

"All her kings in the back row..." - Catcher in the Rye - Impressions I

So now that I am four chapters in, I have decided to post some thoughts. I distinctly think 3 things:

1) Holden Caulfield is a spoiled prep-school richie who complains about everything.

2) I don't want to like Holden Caulfield.

3) I like Holden Caulfield.

In addition, the language thus far is dated, but perhaps, this adds to the charm of Salinger's writing. The swearing seems awfully unneccessary but I understand its place in this book. I am still asking myself why Holden continues to keep my attention. I will admit that, in spite of his obvious flaws, he makes some very valid observations about human nature, about why we really do what we do. Indeed, Salinger seems to have a finger on the humanity button.
Favorite quote so far: "I used to play checkers with her all the time...She wouldn't move any of her kings. What she'd do, when she'd get a king, she wouldn't move it. She'd just leave it in the back row. She'd get them all lined up in the back row. Then she'd never use them. She just liked the way they looked when they were all in the back row...Ask her if she still keeps all her kings in the back row."

The Downfall of Society - Don't try to deny it!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

To begin...

Only a few weeks before I start the challenge! While I'm mostly focused on moving and passing all of my final classes, I'm starting to compile the book list. I'll be adding to it regularly. On May 11, I begin in earnest. Whoever reads this, please feel free to comment on my progress (or lack thereof). Suggestions for literature are also welcome.