Monday, May 21, 2012

Filming physical theatre

Event Client:  Mann Made Media
Corporate Client:  Standard Bank
Video:  Mount 2015 (internal audience)
My Role:  Concept Development, Co-Script Writer, Live & Video Director
Video:  Out of the Blue Pilot & Episode 2 (internal audience)
My Role:  Concept Development, Co-Script Writer
Video:  Out of the Blue Episode 4 (internal audience)
My Role:  Concept Development, Co-Script Writer & Director

How do you film physical theatre - ahh - you don't.  Or if you do - it doesn't really work.  Have you ever seen filmed theatre?  Not great.  The major difference between theatre and film is the space.  Obvious.  The theatrical space cannot be captured on screen in the way that it is portrayed on stage - on stage actors physically project the space with their gaze, their movements and their intentions... it's the wonder of theatre.  Film cannot do this.  In film you have to have the close up and the long shot and the swell of music... the camera does the work for you.  When you arrive in the theatre you are there sitting in your seat... but soon you are whisked away... in a car on your way to Cape Town... or on a run through down town Joburg... or in a boat on the sea... or wherever... your imagination does the work for you.

So when this project for Standard Bank first skidded in - about a year ago now - I did mental backbends and flick flacks on how to do it... without a budget for a mountain climbing on-location shoot at Mount Kilamanjaro!  ...the creative back then was a mountain climbing theme which was originally to be realised through a series of physical theatre comedy sketches.  This was fun and fabulous... the actors 'squashed' onto a small elevated stage of 1m by 2m... and through physical performance and the actors making their own sound effects... we could be any where!  Of course.  The joys of theatre...  Climbing the face of a mountain rock.  Rowing a boat through the rivers.  Arriving at the mountain summit to plant their flag in the ground!  However the show needed to travel to a number of regions all over South Africa.  Sending actors and a road manager and a technical team is quite an expensive business... hence the desire to film it.  But how.

After many sleepless nights... and wondering down many expensive and not-quite-right roads... the solution was clear... a white space!  Ta Daa.  This was so brilliant because it bridged the gap between theatrical space and cinematic space.  In a white space you can do anything and be anywhere... like in theatre.  And we fully used the joys cinema offers... tracks, dollies, jibs, loads of different lenses... close ups... long shots... crash zooms etc etc... we created a delightful series of sketches that followed these three characters, led by Sue... through the challenge sign-up... boot camp... base camp... half way... and summit!  It really was the place where cinema meets theatre... using the limits and offerings of both mediums to the maximum.  It was great - so much so that they ended up canceling the live show and everyone got to watch the video.  Who would have thought.  Not me.

Sue is interesting.  We - meaning Deborah Da Cruz the actress and myself - developed her for a Standard Bank monologue (written by Nick Warren at Mann Made Media) a number of years back as a say-it-like-it-is, aerobic-instructor-type, no nonsense, hard-core, hectic... but still charming... character... who the audience just loved.  She made them laugh.  She is very funny and quirky and uniquely South African.  And ever since her first appearance she has become a kind of in-house character at Standard Bank.  So much so that this year we started a monthly in-house series with Sue at the centre using the same white space shooting style we developed back then, called 'Out of the Blue.'  And it rocks.  It has evolved slightly now to include key set and prop elements - therefore the physical theatre side is not as heavily present... but should they need to skydive or white river raft... it shall be back!

So on my return from Italy I have picked the role of director back up ... I was lucky enough to co-write for Sue from Italy... as I know her very well!  It is innovative and fabulous and I love doing it.  It makes me laugh too.  What a wonderful thing.  Humour.

Below are some images from our shoot for Out of the Blue episode 4.  Rocking.  Working.

Sue blasts Graham and Joe...  Can you hear me!

Deborah as the tactless hard-core fabulous Sue...


Me and Chantel Carter brilliant Art Director... and Laura our wonderful costume lady poping in on the right...

James and Mongi as Graham and Joe... the odd couple... hit the road!

Bend like the wind...

Free your expectations...

The full team... flowing like the river x

The shoot draws to a close...  Almost... me and Nick Turvey - fab DOP

Friday, May 11, 2012

A lone clown on a bare stage

We often speak about this idea of 'the mask' of the play... The idea that the theatrical mask extends beyond the actors physically wearing a full or half mask or a clown nose (also considered to be a mask)... I understand this concept in many different ways... For example violence should to be 'masked' on stage, or it makes the audience uncomfortable to watch someone be hit for real... Love should to be masked or the space for play is somehow dropped if there is a real life somewhat ordinary kiss on stage... somehow these things untreated - or unmasked - brings too much reality into theatre.  We are often challenged with questions like... how can you make the whole stage burst into the kiss of all kisses... and become the love of all loves that is not a private intimate moment between two actors...  a moment which works well on TV with the close-up and the swell of music.  Theatre has to go beyond.  Creating a moment that the audience can share in - because they remember that kiss in their own lives.  Theatrical transposition.  How do you do it.  Who knows.  But this is the endeavor of theatre.  Or so it should be.  I think.

So on this point we did our final solo performances to complete our second year of training.  I have said so many times that this or that has changed how I see theatre... and all of it is true... I am learning so much I feel like a sponge with a physical sensation of absorbing all this brilliant stuff... so here I shall say it again... There was a moment in the final solo performance that constitutes some of the most important learnings thus far.  Matteo (our mask teacher of course) described it as with mask making so is your performance a mask... In mask making you have the clay and sometimes while you are making your mask quite unexpectedly another form or another volume arrives from the clay and you have to go in a different direction... you have to go with what the clay wants you to do.  Esoteric.  Maybe.  But true.  You don't know what you have till you start making it.  So, you have to make the mask that emerges and not the one you had planned... even at the risk of destroying what you have done.  How does this relate to performance.  Well... in the solo I was going along with my planned performance and at a turning point in the piece a different 'volume' arrived as Matteo put it... it went from being light and fun and full of energy to something quite tragic and still... the switch arrived quite suddenly but then instead of staying in this newly emerged volume I quickly ended the scene and walked off stage.  Leaving the audience going... huh?  And the thing is - it is not enough.  Making theatre is so hard.  I'm a very good typist... if only I could be happy typing.  But i'm not.  So if you are going to make theatre... you have to push yourself.  The alternative is too depressing.  To make mediocre work... that is almost moving... that is almost good... I'd rather be a typist.  So the lesson in all of this is that sometimes you are going along steadily in your 'vertical' journey as Matteo puts it and then the 'horizontal' plain arrives... and this is the poetic journey... where anything can happen... it is no longer linear...  When the death arrives on stage - what happens then?  A whole world can open up.  Unexpectedly.  Instead of escaping... stay at the risk of failing.  So next time that is what one wants to aim to do... otherwise it's just writing on a blog.

And with that we end our second year at Helikos.  A lone clown on a bare stage.  What a wonderful journey. x

Nicole as 'Penelope'

Vika as 'Clara Nightingale'

Barbara as 'Andromeda Andromeda'

Me as 'Fiona Van der Walt'