Monthly Archives: November 2008
A week of heavy building on Rash Acts, plus seeing two Hamlets, one a solo collage, the other a six-actor, rapid-fire version. Strength of the first: the powerful presence of the solo artist in control of all except for a volatility that keeps us wondering, “What’s he going to do next?” — an essential sense for The Tempest. Strength of the second: the power of just telling the story, no frills or flourishes, just get on with it, trust it. I need to keep this in mind as I get flashes of new images, start getting caught up in the illusion that the show can only be interesting if I make it interesting. Must keep focused on my belief that, contrary to some notions out there, Shakespeare isn’t interesting for the poetry, nor is he interesting for what you can “do” with him: he’s a storyteller, and everything must emerge from and support the story.
New Puppet Mechanism–
Now in process. We’ve generally used a style of puppet with a 3/4ths lifesize head on a short rod and a hand up under the costume to operate it. The puppeteer’s other hand through a cuff on the costume becomes the puppet’s hand. The puppeteer’s face may be hooded, or in our Macbeth was always visible as one of the Witches. It’s a very visceral, dynamic style.
The downside is that the large heads plus costume can be heavy, tiring to the performer, and that the entire weight is against the top of the hand holding the head rod. Sometimes this restricts the ease of head movement or causes the head’s turning to turn the body. At someone’s suggestion we tried an alternate weight-suspension technique, supporting the body’s weight from straps going into the sides of the head, but this produced even more body swing.
Now I’m experimenting with another idea, and if it works we’ll probably use it for most of the characters in The Tempest. A fingerless glove is attached to the neck ring of the shoulder girdle, and the operator’s hand goes up into it and grasps a horizontal rod inside the head. Thus the operator’s wrist becomes the puppet’s neck, with almost the precise flexibility of an actual neck, and the weight is held by the glove.
Will try this with the Red Queen in Rash Acts (though I’ve been nursing a sore wrist, so the Queen may need a chiropractor), and also hoping to get some responses from pros on the puppetry listserv who may have some ideas for improvements. With luck, we’ll advance our technique another few inches.
About the Storm–
After the opening scene, the sounds of the tempest recur twice. First, as Caliban enters cursing, then scaring Trinculo to hide under Caliban’s garment. Second, when Ariel appears as a harpy to the courtiers. Prospero’s interruption of the masque, to a “strange, hollow and confused noise,” is in a sense another recurrence. The play is the tempest. We need to feel it’s always imminent, a direct emanation of the turbulence in Prospero. The man is volatile, full of sudden changes, great anger, then sudden calm. He’s not subject to the storm, as Lear is, but keeping it in rein takes great effort. His swells of anger in Act 1 Scene 2 — first at the memory of his brother, then at Ariel’s ingratitude, then at Caliban, finally at Ferdinand — exactly parallel the tempest’s surges in the previous scene.
How do we create the storm? Sound & music are primary. Probably need flash units for lightning. In the first scene, the storyboard suggests that the Spirits are whipping fabric about — this is kind of a staging commonplace by now, but still workable, I think. We also have to feel it in the characters’ bodies, caught in the whirlwind and creating its power through their unison movements. What’s essential is the surge of the storm. The first scene is built in a series of dialogue units, and this suggests an extreme dynamic range, quieting so we can hear what’s said, then swelling into a roar between each unit and pitching them one way and another. It’s terrifying to the degree that it builds suspense each time it slacks off.
I spoke this week with an actress who saw the Ashland Festival’s staging with Prospero played as a woman. She felt it was very powerful. And Julie Taymor is in production for a film of The Tempest with the same sex change. That doesn’t lead me to consider doing that, but it does push me to question what in fact is significant about Shakespeare’s choice of Prospero being male. How does his maleness function in the story?
With gender as with race, to venture into the question of audience response is to risk exposing all one’s own biases. But obviously in the theatre we’re telling a story to an audience who do bring their biases along and aren’t likely to shut them off as easily as their cell phones. A black Caliban carries certain connotations: would the same be true of a black Prospero, or are we meant instead to drop all sense of a culture where race is of significance and enter, in a twinkle, another world entirely? What of a very obese Juliet? Physical traits carry meanings that are part of our culture. My actress friend commented on the very moving flashback image of the shipwrecked mother Prospera cradling her toddler Miranda; the implication was that Prospero as a father wouldn’t have been so compelling. Likely not.
So despite the fact that it’s the conventional choice, how does a male Prospero uniquely shape the story? Some thoughts:
* There’s nothing impossible about a female holding political power, but it’s an anomaly. We’d want to know how it came about and to what degree gender was a factor in her overthrow. Prospero’s flaw is that he’s neglected his duty; he’s disregarded the nature of the world of power that he’s part of, seeking a different world — and it’s forcibly landed him in it. So it’s important to me that Prospero starts out as a “normal” Duke, i.e. hereditary male, never questioning his position or his vulnerability. At the end, he returns to power in a political arena he sought to escape from, and which even now he sees as a kind of dutiful limbo “where every third thought shall be my grave.” This journey of escape from responsibility and return to it is to me a very male journey, at least in our culture thus far, and it’s central to The Tempest.
* Miranda never sees Prospero doing magic. She sees only the results: the tempest, the masque. Ariel is unseen to her. Prospero reveals the depths of his magical studies — the practice of necromancy, etc. — only as he renounces them. So the gap is vast. His learning is in the European Hermetic tradition, has nothing to do with female-oriented folk magic. The female magician might pass on her wisdom; Prospero does nothing of the sort.
* Miranda is motherless. It’s not the same as being fatherless. She’s learning, with no life model, to be a woman. This sense of unique insularity is especially significant in her scenes with Ferdinand, as is also the fact that she has two examples of males, Prospero and Caliban, and Ferdinand fits neither category.
* Conversely, Caliban has seen two women, Miranda and his mother Sycorax, and the contrast is overwhelming to him.
* One might expect a mother of Miranda to react with vengeance to an attempted rape of her daughter, but it’s hard to imagine her enslaving Caliban and living with him daily, much less forcing her daughter (in I:ii) to visit him. Prospero is certainly vengeful, and as I’ve mentioned, I think it’s quite likely that he’s taken the precaution of castrating him. But he seems, as a self-proclaimed loving father, to be utterly oblivious to his daughter’s revulsion at seeing Caliban. It’s almost as if this forced visit is a way of forcing her own condemnation of Caliban, which finally bursts forth at “Abhorred Slave.” The operative word here is “force.”
* The lushness and earth magic of this domain is lost on Prospero. It’s something to control and conquer and turn to his larger plan, but ultimately for him it’s all illusion. He’s a disembodied man. His wife is mentioned only once — “Thy Mother was a piece of virtue, and/She said thou wast my daughter” — and so it’s likely she died in childbirth three years before the coup. Is this what impelled Prospero to lose himself in studies of ceremonial magic?
A nasty question remains: our overall feeling of Prospero. Interpretations seem to swing between the wise, Christlike daddy and the tormented despot, but in either case people seem to wind up not liking Prospero very much. Of course Lear probably would probably be even less pleasant as a dinner guest, but at least he’s clearly victimized right in front of our eyes. A female Prospero would likely be more emotionally accessible, her excesses more easily forgiven. So how do we bring an audience to stay close to Prospero?
Maybe I’ll know next week.
More storyboard. Act One, Scene Two, first section. Essential elements:
* Very strong feeling between Miranda and Prospero, but she’s rigidly schooled — the norm is a great formality between them.
* Miranda’s distress at the outset includes an element of repressed rage at her father for raising the storm.
* Prospero must recover from the severe drain of energy from his magic while controlling the pent-up rage in his telling the story.
* Robe and book have a magical presence and are in a visible location throughout the play. Book’s pages are sheets of mirrored mylar.
* Should be nothing plaintive about Miranda. The revelations reveal a hideous world to her, and she’s deeply shaken.
* Prospero’s repeated questions about her listening stem from her distracted emotion, not from boredom or inattention. They’re also part of his own struggle for control.
* Prospero dons and remove magical robe. He’s a full-size actor who also has a puppet replica of himself. The other puppet figures see only the puppet Prospero; only Ariel sees his live human form.
* Memories are reproduced in shadow enactment, but blurred, shifting in form.
THE MAGICIAN’S OBEDIENT DAUGHTER PLEADS FOR HIM TO WITHHOLD HIS MAGIC, LEADING HIM TO REVEAL A LONG-HELD SECRET THAT SHAKES HER TO THE CORE.
1 – Music change. Shifting colors on video. Lights up on Prospero, far R, back to us. He is slumped, exhausted. He starts to remove his cloak, then halts.
2 – Miranda appears, far L. She kneels formally, not looking at him but reaching to him. He remains frozen, back to us. She is deeply shaken by what she’s seen, pleading with repressed anger for him to undo the damage.
>>>Miranda: If by your Art, my dearest father, you have
>>>Put the wild waters in this Roar, allay them.
>>>The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,
>>>But that the Sea, mounting to the welkin’s cheek,
>>>Dashes the fire out. O! I have suffer’d
>>>With those that I saw suffer: a brave vessel,
>>>Who had, no doubt, some noble creatures in her,
>>>Dash’d all to pieces. O! the cry did knock
>>>Against my very heart. Poor souls, they perish’d.
>>>Had I been any God of power, I would
>>>Have sunk the Sea within the Earth, before
>>>It should the good Ship so have swallow’d and
>>>The Souls within her.
>>>Prospero: Be collected:
>>>No more amazement. Tell your piteous heart
>>>There’s no harm done.
>>>Miranda: O, woe the day!
>>>Prospero: No harm.
3 – She rushes to him. As she comes, he turns, holding a puppet Prospero, exactly in the same image. She embraces the puppet Prospero.
>>>I have done nothing but in care of thee,–
>>>Of thee, my dear one! thee, my daughter!–who
>>>Art ignorant of what thou art, nought knowing
>>>Of whence I am: nor that I am more better
>>>Than Prospero, Master of a full poor cell,
>>>And thy no greater Father.
>>>Miranda: More to know
>>>Did never meddle with my thoughts.
>>>Prospero: ‘Tis time
>>>I should inform thee farther. Lend thy hand,
>>>And pluck my magic garment from me. So:
>>>Lie there, my art.
4 – He disengages the puppet from her, removes the magical garment from his shoulder. Sounds of Spirits crying, echoing. Light changes. She holds garment — very heavy. Two Spirits appear, take it from her, hang it on a low tree trunk that supports his magical book. Miranda looks about, puzzled.
5 – The human Prospero holds her formally, both looking front.
>>> Wipe thou thine eyes.
>>>The direful spectacle of the wrack, which touch’d
>>>The very virtue of compassion in thee,
>>>I have with such provision by mine art
>>>So safely order’d, there’s no soul lost–
>>>No, not so much perdition as a hair
>>>Befall to any creature in the vessel
>>>Which thou saw’st sink. Sit down;
>>>For thou must now know farther.
>>>Miranda: You have often
>>>Begun to tell me what I am, but stopp’d,
>>>And left me to a bootless inquisition,
>>>Concluding, ‘Stay; not yet.’
>>>Prospero: The hour’s now come,
>>>Obey and be attentive. Canst thou remember
>>>A time before we came unto this cell?
6 – He passes his hand in front of her face, then places his hand on her cheek. Video images: blurred faces, merging.
>>>Miranda: Certainly, sir, I can.
>>>Prospero: By what? by any other house or person that
Hath kept with thy remembrance?
>>>Miranda: ‘Tis far off;
>>>And rather like a dream. Had I not
>>>Four or five women once that tended me?
>>>Prospero: Thou hadst, and more, Miranda. But how is it
>>>That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else
>>>In the dark backward and abysm of time?
Passes his hand again, touches her cheek. Pause. Images fade.
>>>Miranda: Naught else.
7 – He turns away, feeling his magic weakened, reaches to touch cloak, then to her:
>>>Prospero: Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since,
>>>Thy father was the Duke of Milan and
>>>A prince of power.
She focuses front, as if envisioning. Shadow image of Prospero as Duke on screen, sense of power. Strong kaleidoscopic spider web patterns, shifting. Very rapid dialogue:
>>>Miranda: Sir, are not you my father?
>>>Prospero: Thy mother was a piece of virtue, and
>>>She said thou wast my daughter — and thy father
>>>Was Duke of Milan — and his only heir
>>>Miranda: O, the heavens!
>>>What foul play had we that we came from thence?
>>>Or blessed was’t we did?
>>>Prospero: Both, both, my girl:
>>>By foul play, as thou say’st, were we heav’d thence;
>>>But blessedly holp hither.
>>>Miranda: O! my heart bleeds. Please you, further.
8 – Video: flames. New shadow: Antonio, villainous. Broad, emblematic mime. Shadow of Prospero reading, neglectful of duty.
>>>Prospero: My brother and thy uncle, call’d Antonio–
>>>I pray thee, mark me,–that a brother should
>>>Be so perfidious!–he whom next thyself,
>>>Of all the world I lov’d, and to him put
>>>The manage of my state; as at that time,
>>>Through all the sovereignties it was the first,
>>>And Prospero the prime Duke; and for the liberal arts,
>>>Without a parallel: those being all my study,
>>>The Government I cast upon my brother,
>>>And to my State grew stranger, being transported
>>>And rapt in secret studies. Thy false uncle–
Rapt in his own rage, not looking at Miranda:
>>>Dost thou attend me?
>>>Miranda: Sir, most heedfully.
>>>Prospero: Being once perfected how to grant suits,
>>>How to deny them, who t’advance, new created
>>>The creatures that were mine,
9 – Courtiers in shadow approach Antonio shadow; he grants favors. Bizarre postures of homage.
>>>Or else new form’d’em: set all hearts i’ the state
>>>To what tune pleas’d his ear; that now he was
>>>The ivy which had hid my princely trunk,
>>>And suck’d my essence out.– Thou attend’st?
>>>Miranda: Good sir! I do.
>>>Prospero: I pray thee, mark me:
10 – Prospero shadow in deep study. Antonio lurking behind, enlarging.
>>>I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated
>>>To closeness and the bettering of my mind,
>>>In my false brother
>>>Awak’d an evil nature; which had, indeed no limit,
>>>A confidence sans bound. He did believe
>>>He was indeed the duke. Hence his ambition growing,–
>>>Dost thou hear?
>>>Miranda: Your tale, sir, would cure deafness.
>>>Prospero: To have no screen between this part he play’d
>>>And them he play’d it for, he needs will be
>>>Absolute Milan. Me, poor man,–my library
>>>Was Dukedom large enough: of temporal royalties
>>>He thinks me now incapable, confederates,–
Shadows of Alonso and Antonio, reaching over Prospero shadow for handshake and homage.
>>>So dry he was for sway,– wi’ the king of Naples
>>>To give him annual tribute, do him homage;
>>>Subject his coronet to his crown, and bend
>>>The Dukedom, yet unbow’d,–alas, poor Milan!–
>>>To most ignoble stooping.
Antonio kneels to Alonso. Prospero shadow still lost in book.
>>>Miranda: O the heavens!
>>>Prospero: Mark his condition and the event; then tell me
>>>If this might be a brother.
>>>Miranda: I should sin
>>>To think but nobly of my grandmother:
>>>Good wombs have borne bad sons.
>>>Prospero: Now the condition.
>>>This King of Naples, being an enemy
>>>To me inveterate, hearkens my Brother’s suit;
Sudden swirl of shadow figures. Rapid movement back and forth. Soldiers appear with spears. Multiple layers of shadows, flashing searchlights, continuing. Prospero shadow moving back and forth in confusion.
>>>Which was, that he
>>>Should presently extirpate me and mine
>>>Out of the dukedom, and confer fair Milan,
>>>With all the honours on my brother: whereon,
>>>A treacherous Army levied, one midnight
>>>Fated to the purpose did Antonio open
>>>The gates of Milan; and, i’ the dead of darkness,
>>>The ministers for the purpose hurried thence
>>>Me and thy crying self.
11 – Image coalesces to tableau of expulsion: Soldiers holding Prospero with baby bundle in arms. Sound of crying infant.
>>>Miranda: Alack, for pity!
>>>I, not rememb’ring how I cried out then,
>>>Will cry it o’er again. Wherefore did they not
>>>That hour destroy us?
>>>Prospero: Well demanded, wench:
>>>My tale provokes that question. Dear, they durst not,
>>>So dear the love my people bore me, nor set
>>>A mark so bloody on the business; but
>>>With colours fairer painted their foul ends.
Superimposed shadow of boat, Prospero shadow holding it as he enlarges and contracts (mobile light source overlaid with storm video).
>>>In brief, they hurried us aboard a bark,
>>>Bore us some leagues to sea; where they prepar’d
>>>A rotten carcass of a boat, not rigg’d,
>>>Nor tackle, sail, nor mast; the very rats
>>>Instinctively have quit it: there they hoist us,
>>>To cry to the sea that roar’d to us; to sigh
>>>To the winds whose pity, sighing back again,
>>>Did us but loving wrong.
>>>Miranda: Alack! what trouble
>>>Was I then to you!
Image of baby’s face, boat shadow crossing it.
>>>Prospero: O, a Cherubin
>>>Thou wast, that did preserve me! Thou didst smile,
>>>Infused with a fortitude from heaven,
>>>When I have deck’d the sea with drops full salt,
>>>Which rais’d in me a stomach, to bear up
>>>Against what should ensue.
12 – Shadows fade. Human Prospero touches Miranda. Then kneels by her, embracing.
>>>Miranda: How came we ashore?
>>>Prospero: By Providence divine.
>>>Some food we had and some fresh water that
>>>A noble Neapolitan, Gonzalo,
>>>Out of his Charity did give us; with
>>>Rich garments, linens, stuffs, and necessaries,
>>>Which since have steaded much; and of his gentleness,
>>>Knowing I lov’d my books, he furnish’d me
>>>From mine own Library with volumes that
>>>I prize above my Dukedom.
>>>Miranda: Would I might
>>>But ever see that man!
>>>Prospero: Now I arise:
13 – Sharp change. He rises, bringing up the puppet Prospero. Very formal distance, not looking at her. She turns to him, kneels, acknowledging obeisance.
>>>Sit still, and hear the last of our sea-sorrow.
>>>Here in this island we arriv’d; and here
>>>Have I, thy Schoolmaster, made thee more profit
>>>Than other Princess can, that have more time
>>>For vainer hours and Tutors not so careful.
>>>Miranda: Heavens thank you for’t! And now, I pray you, sir,–
>>>For still ’tis beating in my mind,–your reason
>>>For raising this sea-storm?
>>>Prospero: Know thus far forth.
Suddenly he is stirred by anger. Broad gestures of puppet.
>>>By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune,
>>>Now my dear lady, hath mine enemies
>>>Brought to this shore; and by my prescience
>>>I find my zenith doth depend upon
>>>A most auspicious star, whose influence
>>>If now I court not but omit, my fortunes
>>>Will ever after droop. Here cease more questions;
14 – Sharp gesture of finality. The puppet Prospero disappears as the human Prospero rises behind Miranda, passes his hand over her face.
>>>Thou art inclin’d to sleep; ’tis a good dulness,
>>>And give it way;–I know thou canst not choose.–
Miranda is charmed to sleep.
And I’m off to bed as well.
Peace & joy–
[Next entry: November 24]
Last Sunday, our first workshop. Eight people plus me. After briefing everyone on where the bathroom is, introducing one another, all that, we plunged into the first segment of the workshop: vocal expression.
We always link voice with physical activity: the voice is physical. And especially working in this style of puppetry, involving both hands inside the puppet, the actor’s live hand as the puppet hand.
We start with a slow stretching, letting the impulse of one stretch flow into the next, always involving the whole body. At the same time, we vocalize, letting the placement, pitch and timbre be affected by the stretch, just finding what sound comes out of you. Play freely with this for a time.
* Keep all the body in some degree of movement all the time. Think of the stretch as informing the rest of the body — nothing is neglected, nothing outside it.
* Let one “phrase” of movement flow into another, the sound transforming as it does. Find the next stretch from the one you’re in.
* Use as much breath as you can.
* Keep an open throat always.
Then we stand hand to hand with a partner, with enough pressure to feel “joined.” Work together, giving and taking pressure, moving in various directions. Mirror face and voice.
* Stay relaxed except in the muscles that must actually work. Engage the whole body; get past the above the waist/below the waist dichotomy in which we generally interact.
* Find your voice mutually, both in what your partner is doing and what’s suggested by your bodies.
* Breathe in unison. Use a lot of breath, even when you’re making quiet sounds.
Keeping the vocal muscles relaxed while the rest of the body is working requires an ability to isolate muscle groups. This is essential to stage relaxation, especially in puppetry, where the puppet’s weight and position may require long periods of stress.
And we’re looking for a unity of vocal and gestural life in the actor & puppet. Much of the gestural language will be closer to the style that was likely prevalent in Shakespeare’s theatre: illustrative or metaphorical gestures, rhetorical in style but fully invested with feeling, more as we’d expect from an Italian storyteller.
This might be called “non-realistic,” because we think of expressive realism as what’s accepted in our own culture: a near-total disconnect between the vocal and the physical. I talk to you in a party with a few hand waves for emphasis. If I used extreme gesticulation, you’d move away. And yet in other cultures, the highly expressive gesture would be felt as “real.” Hamlet’s advice to the players — fit word to action, action to word, as opposed to merely sawing the air — was probably indicative of both a fuller and more explicitly mimetic gestural language in Elizabethan acting than anything we’d remotely see in today’s Shakespearean acting — based in rhetorical training, in a physical vocabulary that today is reduced down to a few hand wiggles. Yet our puppets allow us to be fully embodied.
So we’re basing our style on he premise that there’s a difference between Shakespeare as a realist and “realism” as we think of it. “Real” doesn’t mean “just like I normally talk.” Shakespeare is an absolute realist in terms of all the questions you ask about your character or your scene in any play: my motivation, my circumstances, the stages of action, the change-points in the scene — all those questions apply. His characters’ faces are real and tangible. But his style — i.e. his means of expression — can swing from the naturalistic to metaphoric expressionism in an eye-blink. There’s a vast transformational capacity.
Trying to make the verse sound “natural” doesn’t mean trying to make it sound as if the people don’t know they’re speaking those particular words, chopping up the lines, working against the rhythm, disregarding the sound values, all those little TV acting tricks. It means making the verbal expression organic with the physical and with the heart of the creature speaking. It’s not a matter of “being faithful to the verse” for its own sake; it’s because it’s a vehicle that’ll get you where you need to go, the difference between riding a motorcycle or a tricycle.
Puppetry opens that door to expression. You might not be able to get away with a broad gestural & vocal expression on the traditional Shakespeare-festival stage, but a puppet has license, as long as you make it real by the truth of its content and with guts.
Which leads us to our first analysis of the verse, and how to treat it. We all know that Shakespeare writes verse in iambic pentameter: -‘-‘-‘-‘-‘. Except that he doesn’t. If you take the first lines of Miranda’s first speech to Prospero (from the First Folio) and try to speak that with a regular stress, you’ll go nuts:
If by your Art (my deerest father) you haue
Put the wild waters in this Rore; alay them:
The skye it seemes would powre down stinking pitch,
But that the Sea, mounting to th’ welkins cheeke,
Dashes the fire out. Oh! I haue suffered
But the extraordinary thing about the iambic rhythm is that however radically you screw round with it, when you return to it, even with a few iambs, it asserts itself, it dominates. It’s almost like old racial laws that declared you black if you were 1/16th African. So I would say, instead, that Shakespeare writes in relation to iambic pentameter. It’s the ground from which he continually departs — creating surprise, emphasis, unrest — and to which he returns.
We spend some time analyzing the rhythm of this passage, including optional stresses, sensing what’s conveyed by the rhythm alone.
We each select an old puppet from our storage bins – from Inanna, Marvels, Shadow Queen, and Macbeth. They all get along with one another, and they’re glad to be out of their bins. All are large heads operated by a short rod under the costume, with the puppeteer’s hand emerging as the puppet’s hand.
The first stage: just breathing. We divide into two groups, one group watching the other for a while, then changing places. Breathe yourself, let the puppet’s breath match your breath, just moving very slightly. See him in the mirror, imagine it’s a living being.
Then the puppets are waiting for the bus. You don’t have to show us they’re waiting, just let them wait. Get a sense of the individuality of the puppet. Don’t do anything that grabs attention or demonstrates something, just let them be passive but alive.
Whether in large motions or small, the head and hand must always move in connection with one another. The adjustment of head to hand gesture or hand to head turn may be only slight, but it’s as if tendons connect them. Neither goes dead when the other part moves. Look too at where the puppet’s elbow lies in relation to the head. There’s a tendency to let the hand creep up toward the head, so we lose the character’s physical proportions. Moving the head while keeping the torso straight requires exploring different ways to grasp and turn the head rod.
We play a while with the puppets freely in the mirror. Focus on seeing how small a movement you can make that still reads. Then we explore walking with the puppet. To start with, try different walks in your own body and let the puppet match these. After a while, let your own body be neutral and channel the nature of the walk solely into the puppet’s body. Hold the head rod fairly loosely so you don’t freeze the head; you can tense it up a bit when necessary, but maintain flexibility.
The participants notice radical changes of expression in the puppet’s face, depending on the nature of the walk, posture, tilt of the head, etc. “This one smiled for the first time. She’s smiling again!” Some of that derives from the asymmetricality of most of these faces. Another key in the design is finding an expression that has transformative potential, that is, the sense that it’s just about to become something — incipient expression.
We focus on the dynamic of forgiveness. Sitting in a circle, the participants are asked to think of a personal experience in which they felt victimized. They’re asked to speak, not explaining the situation, but simply a word, a phrase, or a sentence that they said or would like to have said at that time, or would like to say now if they could. Allowing this to go on a while, then it shifts to lines we would like the other person to say to us, whatever we could imagine would heal the wound.
The point is simply to connect with the core of Prospero’s emotion at the outset of the play, also to Caliban’s. When we use personal experience, it’s not a therapy group, so it’s ok to withhold, to exaggerate, even to lie; the focus is on what it reveals about the characters. Here, actors are quite forthcoming with words, though very little of the specific circumstances is revealed.
I sense the degree to which a wound is very private, almost one’s “private parts,” sometimes covered, sometimes flaunted, but never a casual topic. It’s indicative of the depth of Prospero’s wounding that he’s kept his story private this many years and that it then comes gushing out.
At a later point, one actor is asked to coach two others to improvise his story and, through redirecting them as they progress, to make it turn out happily for him: what in effect Prospero seeks to do in the play, essentially controlling the “improvisation” and asserting his directorial control while facing his own demons. I don’t set up the improv well, so while it produces an interesting scene, it wanders from my intent. But what I learn from this, I think, is Prospero’s own difficulty in directing a play where he has absolute power but little directorial experience and very little patience.
We talk at some length about the nature of forgiveness and a slant that emerged from the improv: the admixture of the victim’s sense of guilt. What’s the effect of Prospero’s sense that his neglect of political duties is responsible for Antonio’s usurpation? What’s behind Caliban’s “Oh ho!” bravado when accused of trying to molest Miranda? Does Antonio feel he’s been himself victimized into being cast as villain? In the banquet scene, Alonso realizes that his guilt is responsible for the apparent death of his son — he’s both victim and criminal — but this admixture seems to echo through the play.
Now to comb through people’s available times and try to come up with a schedule.
[Next entry: Nov. 17]
Second-draft sketch of Tempest set, and beginning work on the scale model. Texture and line of heavy sail cloth, yellowed, shades of beige. Relates to the shipwreck at the outset, but also to the “voyage” nature not only of the literal story but of the transience of reality itself. Shadow screen in back; periodic rear video projection and color washes with live shadows. Iconic masks atop each mast, suggesting the primitive magic of the island. Words and phrases from the text imprinted on the canvas.
This will go through much evolution as we start the staging.
And starting the storyboard. First scene outlined below. This too will change a lot, but essential to find the spine in a play that has infinite possibilities. Essential to me in Act One, Scene One—
* The fury of the storm, alternating with short snatches of the characters’ responses to it, proceeds almost like frames of a comic book with great scribbles in between.
* The storm as multiple layers of reality. And as leveler: the social power structure overturned.
* The rapid plunge from hope to catastrophe.
* Non-Shakespearean additions: the Magician evoking the storm and being convulsed by the energy of what his magic releases; the presence of his books; the Spirits controlling the tempest; Alonso and Ferdinand wrenched apart.
It was a practice of Brecht to try to encapsulate the essence of a scene in a single sentence that embodied both its conflict and its ironies. Not a Cliff’s Notes summary, but an interpretation through action. Something like this, though maybe I’ll do better later:
Act 1, Scene 1: MAGICIAN EVOKES THE ILLUSION OF A TEMPEST, AS THE SOCIAL POWER STRUCTURE SINKS ITSELF.
Music. To black.
1 – Far right (R), light on a large open book with mirrored pages. From a crouch before it, Prospero rises, facing US, in a cloak with vivid magical signs. He inscribes symbols in the air with a bladed wand.
(Find sources for Elizabethan magical practice and verbal formulae. Need here to give a sense of Prospero’s enormous power. Do we need something stronger than chanting? Blood-letting? Scourging? This is an evocation of fury. This isn’t a New Age guy.)
2 – Suddenly his body contracts, as if electricity passing through it, blade thrusting upward, both hands clutching wand. Lightning, then thunder. Blackout.
3 – Lightning. On shadow screen, silhouette of four Spirits, hands outstretched. Laughter. Sound of sea, video storm swirl.
4 – The Spirits spin about, holding three ships, tossed on waves. Two ships fly off in different directions, leaving one, spinning.
5 – Flapping of weathered canvas. Ship Master appears R, holding onto vertical mast. Boatswain appears L, calling across to him. Both sway with ship.
(Mast is the central scenic element of this scene. How to do it? Needs to sway with the characters, but we won’t have enough actors to assign one to the mast itself.)
>>>Boatswain: Here, Master.
>>>Master: Speak to the Mariners: quick, or we run aground. Bestir, bestir!
6 – Master exits R. Boatswain comes C, calls to Mariners, front. Takes several swigs from flask during this, very deliberately — it’s part of the job. shadow of Ariel flitting across. Mariners (finger puppets) appear in front of him, scurrying about.
>>>Boatswain: Heigh, my hearts! Cheerly, cheerly, my hearts! Take in the topsail. Tend to the Master’s whistle. Blow till ye burst your lungs, so we stand clear of the rocks!
7 – Burst of storm. Alonso appears from L, then staggers across the deck, supports himself on R mast as Boatswain counters L. Storm subsides.
>>>Alonso: Good Bos’n, where’s the Master? Play the men.
>>>Boatswain: I pray now stay below.
Antonio and Sebastian appear from L, fall across deck as ship tilts, catching hold of the mast and one another.
>>>Antonio: Where is the Master, Bos’n?
>>>Boatswain: Do you not hear him? You mar our labor, keep your cabins, you assist the storm.
8 – Burst of storm. Everyone sways together. Gonzalo appears from L, loses balance, catches hold of Boatswain to support himself.
>>>Gonzalo: Nay, good fellow, be patient.
>>>Boatswain: When the Sea is. What cares these roarers for the name of King? To cabin! Trouble us not.
>>>Gonzalo: Yet remember whom thou hast aboard.
>>>Boatswain: None that I more love than myself. You are a Counsellor: if you can command these Elements to silence, we will not handle one rope more. Use your authority: if you cannot, give thanks you have lived so long, and make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hour. Cheerly, good hearts! Out of our way, I say.
Boatswain exits R as storm bursts again. Gonzalo falls R, catches hold of the others clinging to the mast. Storm subsides.
>>>Gonzalo: I have great comfort from this fellow: methinks he hath no drowning mark upon him; his complexion is perfect Gallows. If he be not born to be hanged, our case is miserable.
Alonso, Gonzalo, Antonio and Sebastian make their way across and off L as storm bursts again.
9 – Heavy lightning. Boatswain appears R, very distraught, waving. Leans with his back against the mast, drinking. Shadow of Ariel behind.
>>>Boatswain: Down with the top-mast! Lower, lower! Bring her to try with mainsail.
A cry from the nobles off L. Laughter from the Spirits.
>>>A plague on this howling! They are louder than the weather.
Re-enter Sebastian, Antonio, and Gonzalo from L. Boatswain still leaning on mast.
>>>Yet again? What do you here? Have you a mind to sink?
>>>Sebastian: Pox on your throat, you bawling, blasphemous dog!
Sebastian draws sword, lurches toward him, ship sways him back into Antonio.
>>>Boatswain: Work you, then.
>>>Antonio: Hang, cur, hang! You whoreson noisemaker, we are less afraid to be drowned than thou art.
10 – Gonzalo trying to calm them, between them.
>>>Gonzalo: I’ll warrant him for drowning; though the Ship were no stronger than a nutshell, and as leaky as an unstanched wench.
Gonzalo laughs at his own joke for the sake of the others. Huge burst of storm.
>>>Boatswain: Lay her a-hold! Set her two courses; off to Sea again; lay her off.
11 – Master staggers on from R, embraces Boatswain, as the trio huddle together.
>>>Master: All lost! To prayers, to prayers! All lost!
>>>Boatswain: What, must our mouths be cold?
They look at each other a moment, then separate, Master off R, Boatswain off L.
>>>Gonzalo: The King and Prince at prayers! Let us assist them, for case is as theirs.
>>>Sebastian: I am out of patience.
>>>Antonio: We are cheated of our lives by drunkards.
This wide-chopp’d rascal–
>>>Gonzalo: He’ll be hang’d yet,
Though every drop of water swear against it,
And gape to glut him.
>>>Antonio: Let’s all sink with the King.
>>>Sebastian: Let’s take leave of him.
12 – Burst of storm. Strong lightning. Sebastian, and Antonio lurch off L as Gonzalo is thrown R and catches hold of mast. Two Spirits enter R and L with billowing cloth, as the sea, whipping it overhead and disappear. Mariners appear from behind Gonzalo, scurrying about his shoulders and head.
Mariners: Mercy on us! We split, we split! Farewell, my wife and children! Farewell, brother! We split, we split, we split!
13 – Spirits reappear L and R, with billowing cloth, whipping it about, then bring up the figures of Ferdinand and Alonso clinging together. Burst of storm, and they are pulled apart and wrapped in the sea cloth, disappear.
14 – Light on Gonzalo, clinging to mast.
>>>Gonzalo: Now would I give a thousand furlongs of Sea for an acre of barren ground; long heath, brown furze, anything. The wills above be done, but I would die a dry death.
Sea Cloth rises slowly up his torso, submerges him. Blackout. Storm echoes away.
And that’s all for now.