Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When words are no longer enough

Peter, Justin and Alenka (with Freya popping in in the background) in their Melodrama 'Orphanage'
The chorus creating the car crash in the background.  Ba.
Photo by Stefano Borghi

The last month or so at Helikos... which feels like long ago now... had us exploring the complex theatrical territories of Melodrama and Tragedy.  Starting with Melodrama... the terrible place where human beings make the worst possible decisions that have massive consequences.  We all remember Sophie's Choice.  What a film.  I still have a physical reaction to it when I think about it.  So... how to create that kind of drama on stage?  That doesn't leave the audience thinking they'd rather watch the film.  The place where the push and pull within a character is so heightened they don't know what to do, until they've done it... 'to be or not to be' type thing... And likely it was the 'wrong' choice, because there is no real 'right' choice.  Is there.

Massive drama... transposed for the stage.  What is the mask?  How can one best say and do these terrible things?  Reach a level of such heightened poetry that the audience will go with you and believe it.  We don't have the cinematic close up, the cut away or a carefully tailored sound design.  But we do have other things... like a chorus, like live music...

Song... for when words are no longer enough.  In class we created scenes that forced the character into an emotional off balance... a place where they can sing... believably.  For example, a desperate woman after a violent fight is left alone with a gun.  She begins to sing.  And we know, by the end of the song that she shot herself.  The pull becomes a push.  And.  Bang.  Of course it is important to earn this scene with the rest of the piece because if you get it wrong you will have the audience trying to hold back laughter... rather than tears!  Ouch.

The chorus... for amplification, subtext, background, space, consequence and so on... realising on stage that which we cannot see...  For example, after a mans fearless fight with cancer he has to submit.  The chorus manipulates him like a puppet.  And we know.  The cancer won.

A chorus.  What a rocking thing.  Such a wonderful tool.  Theatre... the way theatre should be... transposed.

Of course there is much to say about melodrama.  But what I think at the end of the day... for a contemporary audience... it is drama with very high stakes.  And the rules are perhaps the same.  We have to believe it.  And if we do... one can go very far.

A chorus of women in Justins beautiful song in our final performance last year
Photo by Stephano Borghi

During our time in Melodrama I was often reminded of our inchiesta on old people in the previous year.  Where the chorus work reached what I thought was a wonderfully high level both technically and poetically.  Trust.  Time.  What comes first?  The chicken or the egg?  But I do know that you need both.  And with this kind of theatre work you need trust and time.  You can't choreograph it so you have to listen and trust each other... and the time is better spent.  Important lessons.

Us in our final piece... a chorus of autumn

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