Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Enchanted

(partial repost from my LJ, 1/2/04, regarding my first production in Chicago)

So. I'm playing a French schoolgirl. One who's about 10 years old in the 1930s, to be precise. Needless to say (well, if you haven't met me IRL, not entirely needless), casting for this show was not exactly based on physical type.

That said, it's involved a WACK of exploratory, workshoppy physical work in order to "create the bodies" (the phrase our director uses) of characters ranging from 10-year-old schoolgirls to ancient spinster ladies, all played by a bunch of 20- and 30-something actors. Some of it is work I've done before, or similar to it, but quite a bit of it has been shiny new stuff for the toolbox. I cannot tell you how much I've missed that.

It's doubly challenging here, as the goals of this process can sometimes seem contradictory. We need to be true to our physical reality, but still be these people who should be physically so unlike us in many cases. The characters need to be absolutely honest and not "put on" in that "I'm going to be a little kid now" way, yet in many ways they're written as types to the point of archetype and almost to the point of caricature.

There's also been acres of verbal discussion, especially at the beginning, which is often something I'm not terribly comfortable with, because I'd prefer to try different ways to do than to say "How am I going to communicate this?" This has been a really good balance of discussing the text just as text, tho, with a few key thinking hooks for what we would then do with it. The kind of thinking I usually prefer to do on my own, because I get frustrated with trying to shove concepts into spoken words that I invariably feel are inadequate. I had some of that here, but not as much. Plus there was a lot more room to free associate and say "You know, that reminds me of such-and-such a concept," and feel like people were finding it more useful than usually happens. A lot of that is the nature of the play itself, which is more philosophical exploration than conventional drama.

I established my Enormous Geek credentials right off the bat by mentioning hyperspace geometry at the first read-through. *sheepish g* But it was relevant. It was! It really could be connected to something written by a French proto-existentialist playwright in 1931! And how cool is that? Plus now I've got the director reading Surfing Through Hyperspace, which is just one of the more fun books ever and a fantabulous layman's intro. Once again back to reasons why I love theatre people being similar to why I love fen – both groups reject the idea (otherwise quite ingrained in our society) of certain fields of knowledge being the province of specialized professionals, and intrinsically too hard/boring/whatever for the rest of us. Which is why I've felt perfectly comfortable bringing up associations with various motifs from folklore and mythology on top of it. *g* I just have to love a play that allows for both that and responding more than once to a fellow actor's statement with "Well, yeah, if you're only looking at three dimensions."

Mind you, that kind of brain munchies I can get any time. All I have to do is throw out a feeder idea on an email list or LJ and watch it go. ;-) But it's always fun to have new and different munchies.

What I can't get online is the other side of the equation, the actual getting this thing up on its feet and seeing what it becomes. I could toss out a lot of the words that we've been hearing in rehearsal, but it won't mean much unless you can at least see what's being created as a result, if not be actually creating it. The core concept involves the tension between nature (in a very Rousseau sort of rationalist way) and the spiritual on one end of the spectrum, and man's order and the material on the other. Which makes it sound incredibly heavy, and yet the script almost seems like fluff. It's absolutely boggling. Then we weave the voice and physical work through it, and we've got ritual and stylized movement and entropy and…

And this is why I get frustrated with trying to discuss verbally. I'm sitting here at my keyboard wanting to fling gestures and sounds and thoughts at you that just plain aren't gonna fit in an LJ post. (And people wonder why I say I like to write, but don't self-identify as a writer…) I wish I could teleport you all here to see the show. Hell, I wish I could teleport you into rehearsals. There's so much in the process that can only ever be little glimmery glimpses in performance. And it's been years and years since I've truly had the opportunity to have a real process, to ask the questions and invest the time and energy in finding the answers, instead of plodding through everyone learning what to say and where to stand, and having a handful of insights that result in sparkly moments that never quite connect to anything.

The flip side of the process-oriented vs. product-oriented question, of course, is that I can't guarantee when all is said and done that the product will give the audience the experience we're aiming to have. You never can. But I do firmly believe you almost guarantee they won't if the show doesn't get to grow through a full organic process. (You had to know I couldn’t get through a WHOLE one of these without resorting to "organic." But I swear on any religious document you care to produce that the words "What's my motivation?" will never seriously pass my lips. Then again, that could be because I believe the first requirement of MY job is to answer that question…) The paranoia comes in when something with a fantabulous process gets me all giddy for months, and it leads people to expect a fantabulous show, and then they come see it and go "Huh?"

You can never entirely tell whether that's going to happen, but to the extent that I can, I don't think it's going to happen here.

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