Sunday, February 19, 2012

Where I walked #4

The birds march around on the frozen river Arno, their own private museum, with their feathers puffed out as slowly winter begins to melt beneath them.  It has been a very cold two months in Florence.  But the sun is steadily gaining momentum and soon we will be done with our heavy coats, our woolen lined boots, our scarves and gloves... Music will fill the piazza's and gelato our belly's... sunshine will warm our hearts.  And I can't wait.  So long winter. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lessons in Articulation

We have started the deep dive into Commedia dell'arte for real now... and it demands pieces of everything we have learned from the very beginning of this unbelievable journey!  A cauldron of theatrical potential.  It is terrifying.  And exciting.  At the same time.  We are doing Shakespeare plays in the style of Commedia dell'arte... Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth.  What a thing.  We have just started exploring the masks and the character types... and the level of style and articulation and vocal resonance they require is staggering.  Eee.

We can learn a lot from children and animals! For Christmas I got a new lens for my camera from Nick... aah... and these are among the first photo's I took... Rupert and Coroline.  Children and animals...  Articulation naturals.  Action reaction geniuses.  Levels of tension perfectionists.  And masters of 'play'.  You can watch them for hours.  And hours.  Sigh.  Missing home.    

My nephew Rupert at bath time!  Hey?!  How cute!

Coroline... our mad black cat x

We break for out next holiday in two weeks and I am going home... to all my family... our pets... the sunshine.  Can't wait!  16 sleeps.  x

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The human tragicomedy, Tragicomedia Umana...

I have started writing this several different times... where to start.  There is so much to say.  About acting.  About playing.  About structure.  About dramaturgy.  About rhythm.  But mostly about having fun.  Seriously.  So i'll start at the beginning of the process. The clay.  

We ventured into making our own masks once again... but this time they were to be half masks or speaking masks...  and this time we were to try go further with the form.  Take more of a risk.  But still without imposing your idea.  And I think perhaps we have started to understand something of volume and form and amplification.  Compared to the full mask we made these have stronger decisions in them... both in terms of form and dynamic.  At least I think that is true.  And so, it was with these masks that we began our exploration of Commedia dell'arte type theatre style...  which, for our purposes of exploring human tragicomedy, means improvisation within a structure...

My mask mould...

Justin's mask.  In clay he looked like Robocop - but in the end he was much slower and more stupid than that...
and very very funny!  Boom!

Commedia dell'arte (Comedy of Craft) is considered to be the childhood of theatre... it was half-mask theatre that was developed in Italy in the 16th century... A series of improvised scenes or sketches built around a pre-existing structure or story out line.  Meaning there are fixed points in the play that the actors know they are working within and towards.  And their themes had to be accessible human comedy / drama.  Because the most important thing was that these actors had to keep their audiences entertained or they didn't eat.  We have a lot to thank Commedia dell'arte for... like the first women on stage... to name but one.

So... where best to start the exploration of human drama... where can one easily find comedy and tragedy?  Family.  Ah.  Of course.  What a riot.  We developed scenes that contained some kind of familial relationship and therefore conflict.

In the commedia style of performance the safety net is that you have a prescribed structure, but then within this structure there is the freedom to improvise...  trick your partners on stage by throwing in new lines... new movements... new reactions and so on... build... build... build... crescendo... until the next turning point in the structure.  And you absolutely have to earn the turning points... or you have nothing.  A series of turning points and crescendos...  Because the play must go up... if it doesn't go up... it goes down.  Obvious.  It is.  But do it.  Ahhh.  The freedom.  The constraint.

Of course it took some days... weeks... to get there... but by and large we did.  Even if, we could have gone further... we were starting to knock at the right door.  At least.  And a very important key to success in this style is... you have to have fun... but really and truly have fun.  It is not enough just to act.  Because there is no cleaverly written script with brilliantly thought-out lines and carefully constructed character arcs to fall back on.  So you cannot act without playing.  How exciting.  It is.  Because 'playing' somehow goes further than acting... because, as we are learning, it incorporates the audience and on-the-spot invention.  If you only act it presupposes a fourth wall, but this work directly incorporates the audience response.  If they like something, do it again.  Develop it.  You are in complicite with your co-actors and the audience.  But, because you have the structure upon which to lean, everyone is relatively safe on stage... because not just anything can happen... but a lot can happen... because there are rules...

- Structure
- Listening 
- Action and Reaction
- Rhythm
- Audience Response
- Crescendo

After a dreary nose dive of just about all of our performances Giovanni reminded us, that with this work particularly (but probably in all forms of theatre) having fun is firstly the right and ultimately the obligation of the actor.  And this in no way detracts from the drama in the scene.  Quite the opposite.  It enables the drama to reach the audience.  And that really is the point.  Reaching the audience.  And a fabulous insight from Matteo... Always end up!  Even if you have a dramatic ending.  Punch out.  Boom. 

So the point is that once you have a solid structure, it only works if you really are having fun... then you can play.  And the work can really live.  What an obligation.  A light in the dark goes on.  Structure.  Freedom. 

We ended up with crazy scenes that were really funny in some moments and terribly disturbing in others and moving and mad and tragic...  These two weeks were Family and the next three weeks is Shakespeare.  How brilliant.  Seriously.

Andrea and I in our scene of woman in love with a hyperchondriac man who cannot and will not leave his house...
Helen: Ubaldo, you're so sick because you never go outside.
Ubaldo: I never go outside because I am so sick, Helen.

Helen:  Perhaps luck will be on your side.  After all it is a game of chance... and strategy...

The chicken made by Freya from the Farm House scene... Masks and puppetry.  Cluck cluck!

So after our final public performance... and a grueling few weeks filled with battle and discovery we gathered in a warm bar for a glass of wine.  And for some a game of uno.  I can't play cards now.  What are you crazy.  This is theatre.  And it really was fun... And it really was a struggle.  All of it.  Finding the body of the mask, the vibration... how to be light and fluid and grounded at the same time.  The voice, but particularly the way of speaking which was much more legato than staccato, and Liz (our voice teacher) so cleverly pointed out my rhythm to me... which changed everything...  the rhythm always has to be there - or purposefully broken - regardless of the characters sentiment.  And then how to play the different sentiments through the body of the mask and not falling back onto your own body.  It is so fragile.  The state.  The play.  Whether it works or not.  How can you play cards now!

Uno in the bar.

Walking home with Vika, the snow gently falling on Florence.  Sadly not enough to throw a white blanket over the city.  But enough to make the tip of my nose turn red.  My breath visible in front of me.  A glass of wine warming my belly.  A spring in my step.  Because this week, I feel more than learning something,  I have somehow just began to understand something.  Something important.  I think.  A rare and exciting thing.