Month: February 2011

Elements of a Score

Ryszard Cieslak in The Prince

 

While watching more Chaplin films, I recalled an excerpt of an interview with Ryszard Cieslak of Grotowski’s Polish Lab Theatre, by Richard Schechner published in Performance Theory. Cieslak refers to what he calls the ‘score’ of a performance: a dynamic set of predetermined physical actions which, like a musical score, provide a map of gestures and thought processes from which the performer can choose to use. These Gestik actions are objective and do not necessarily reflect what the performer him/herself feels, but provide the audience with images/pictures of what the performance wants to communicate. Chaplin, for example, doesn’t necessarily feel the anger we the audience see, but we see it (and sometimes feel it) because there is a pool of ‘angry’ actions and gestures from which he consciously selects the most organic and fitting. He puffs his chest, shuffles around lightly on the balls of his feet, lifts his arms and quickly drops them, cricles his would-be opponent, pulls his jacket halfway off, lifts and furrows his eyebrows. This score of actions are all gestures Chaplin rehearsed at length and was able to conjure up in each moment with great truthfulness and comedy. Like an improvising¬†jazz musician, he quickly and knowingly selects his next measure from a pool of loose, readymade riffs. Cieslak likens this meticulously created score to “the glass inside which a candle is burning. The glass is solid, it is there, you can depend on it. The flame [inside the glass] is my inner process each night. The flame is what illuminates the score. Just as the flame in the candle glass moves, flutters, rises, falls, almost goes out, suddenly glows brightly, responds to each breath of wind – so my inner life varies from night to night, moment to moment. I begin each night without anticipations. I want only to be receptive to what will happen. And if I am secure in my score, [I know] the glass will not break. The score remains the same, but [each night] everything is different because I am different” (Schechner 1988: 47).

There seems to be a creative balance between pre-determined structure and intuitive impulse. As Cieslak points out, as long as there is a well-known structure of physical, intellectual and emotional actions to follow, the performer can allow him/herself to improvise on each measure based on how they feel in that given moment. Having a well-known score of actions to work with also serves as back-up when the moment is lost. It is impossible for a performer to keep the flame alight every night in each moment, so having the glass (the score) to protect these moments that would otherwise be lost is a valuable tool to keeping the momentum of a performance moving forward.

Lastly, having a previously articulated score of actions (physical & psychological) allows for the kind of critical distancing an actor needs to make from his/her character. If an actor is to have an active opinion of their character and their role within the social structure, they must have the opportunity to simply follow their written notes and observe from the outside, tweaking and adjusting these notes based on what they see.

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Shakespearean Authorship Agnostic

"Shakespeare" by Another Name

I am currently about a quarter of the way through Mark Anderson’s “Shakespeare” by Another Name. Though I’m only at about 1579 in this biography of the life of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, I have enjoyed the historical connections between the plays and de Vere’s life. There is a staggering amount of evidence that points to de Vere’s authorship of the plays, sonnets and poems, however, I have decided at this point to remain neutral in the battle of the Bard’s identity. The detailed information about the Earl’s life is richly fascinating and valuable when developing dramaturgical contexts for productions.

At the end of the day, I don’t really care who wrote the plays. However, I am interested in de Vere and William Shakspere’s relationship. If de Vere wrote the plays, why did he choose Shakspere, an actor and business man from Stratford, to be the public face? It is known that it was rare for noblemen to publish works under their real name, so the fact that de Vere used a pen-name (Shake-Spear) is nothing extraordinary. However, it seems that the two crossed paths sometime in 1589 or ’90 and maintained a business relationship throughout the ’90s.

What would a relationship between an author and his face be like? Perhaps there was an agreement made between the two. Perhaps Shakspere knew the plays so well that he was able to convince that he’d written them himself. What if there are moments in the plays that parallel such a relationship? This is a relationship I am interested in exploring for a new play.

Charlie Chaplin and Gestus

I’ve recently begun watching clips and films of Chaplin’s work. It is important for 21st Century theatre artists to check in with such a pivotal player in the creation of modern American performance. A cross between a vaudeville act and a clown, Chaplin discovered ways of using his body that was both comically exaggerated, honest, and recognizable. His performances are composed of a revolving repertoire of physical and facial gestures. By using white face make-up to pale his face, his expressions were always able to go back to a neutral tone. From there he could move in and out of various expressions that allowed him to quickly transition from one motivation to another.

Chaplin’s techniques inspired Brecht’s development of the term Gestus. Carl Weber describes Gestus or Gestik acting as “the total process […] of all physical behavior the actor displays when showing us a ‘character’ on stage…” (Weber 2000; from The Brecht Sourcebook). Brecht’s concept of Gestus includes not only the physical behaviors of an actor on stage, but correlates directly to who they are in their social reality. The actor’s entire¬†Gestus (their physical score or repertoire) helps define their social positioning. As the Tramp, Chaplin performed a certain player within his social realm: a wandering, modern nomad of sorts. In each film, he finds himself trying out one trade after another be it a circus performer, factory worker or miner. His trademark shuffle of a walk and curious eyebrows, the constant adjusting of his hat and the way he fiddles meekly with his cane are all elements of his distinguishing himself as a unique character responding to social stimuli.

The famous ‘Table Ballet’ scene from The Gold Rush is a short, but illustrative example of the way an actor’s face can be neutralized and written upon by their Gestus. It is not the gimmick of the forks in the loaves of bread that is funny in this sketch, but the way Chaplin uses facial expressions to perform the dance. It’s as if the forks are his legs and the bread his feet. It’s as if his face is a blank page being written on before our eyes.

Welcome.

I have created this site as a posting place for my latest thoughts on theatre, performance theory, literature, education, and whatever else passes before my cerebral cortex.

The site also serves as a portfolio and resume outlining my creative and scholarly work. For want of a site map, I’ll briefly explain that on the ‘writing’ page, you’ll find excerpts from plays and articles I may be working on. In ‘production photos’, you’ll find photos of past productions I’ve directed. This home page will be dedicated to more casual, daily thoughts spawned from recent readings or conversations (a journal more or less). The rest is self-explanatory.