Monthly Archives: April 2009

April 27, 2009
Tempest #31 — Short & Sweet

Short entry this week, and none next, as I’m flying back to Pennsylvania to see Elizabeth’s performance in The Clean House at Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble.

This week, a lot of pedestrian work. Finished casting and gluing ten ears onto our five Ariel heads; recast our Miranda (the live actress, that is); started sculpting the final heads, Ferdinand and Miranda; progressing on learning lines & studying Prospero.

And becoming acutely conscious of that essential ingredient of creativity: a wife to cook the food, do the laundry, feed the cats, and provide the human proximity that prevents me going stir-crazy.

More miscellaneous thoughts, from reading, surfing the Web, talking and sometimes thinking:

* A production used Prospero’s robe as a tool of magical effect, involving it in the storm, the binding of Ferdinand, etc. Interesting idea. Possibly the puppet Prospero has a fixed robe, while the human Prospero has a removable one. The puppet’s is white, the human’s black.

* Thinking about dancing flames as a model for Ariel’s movement. Something radically non-human. But then at the key moment of, “I would, sir, were I human,” there’s a softening to something recognizably human. One production had him reaching for Prospero’s hand at this moment. That doesn’t seem right, but something like that.

* Gielgud played Prospero four times, and never in any of these did he look at Ariel. The intention was to underline Ariel’s disembodiment as a spirit. My instinct, though, is that Prospero must, in order to control him, hold Ariel in is sight always. But it’s not a casual look; it has great force behind it. But may also try not looking, so long as there’s the sense that Prospero is maintaining very intense focus on his own inner vision of Ariel.

* The Spirit/puppeteers can emerge visibly during the storm scene. At the moments of extreme fury they are visibly dashing the puppets about; when it calms enough for us to hear the dialogue segments, the Spirits disappear behind the puppets.

* I should look at William Blake’s art in relation to Ariel and to the color palette of the design.

* Is there a point to some visible representation of Sycorax? A Berlin production had Caliban carrying her mummified remains. I don’t see that, but we need to feel something of that lingering presence.

* Talking to the actors playing Ferdinand and Miranda, I realize how huge the impact is on them of each new event. For Miranda: the trauma of seeing men die in the storm; the revelation of her history and identity; the tearing open of old wounds with Caliban; the stunning first vision of a young man; her first challenge of her father’s authority; the betrothal; the masque vision — and through it all, seeing her father in a state utterly unlike she’s ever seen him. For Ferdinand: the storm; the apparent loss of his father; the magical survival; the enchanted unreality of the music and the island; the vision of Miranda; the sudden bondage and enslavement; the betrothal; the masque; the resurrection. Some critics have seen them as Shakespeare’s least rounded lovers, but the key is their astonishment, their discovery of one new world after another. We have to take them seriously, and if we do it’s amazing they even survive this roller-coaster ride.

Enough for this week. I need to do another round of sculpting, send some email to East Coast friends, make up a miniature script to take along for line study, fold my laundry.
[Next entry: May 12]
Peace & joy–
Conrad

April 21, 2009
Tempest #30 — Music, Part Two

This week, finished sculpting Caliban and doing his papier mache, as well as five sets of ears for Ariel — because of the shape I had to cast them separately from the heads. Scheduled callbacks to replace our Miranda, who had to leave for personal reasons. Progressing on line learning for Prospero. Discussion with Anthony about Caliban and Alonso. Finished watching, with delight, six more hours of workshop tapes by John Barton.
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And saw a gorgeous, deeply moving documentary, In a Dream, about the Philadelphia mosaic mural artist Isaiah Zagar. Elements of it open windows on Prospero. Must think about this more: some profound resonances.
And long-distance completion of discussion with Elizabeth about music for The Tempest, continuing on from “Tempest #25.”

IV.i. — Betrothal/Masque/Conspirators* Ferdinand & Miranda: Variant of Love theme leading in and under Prospero’s first speech, then segue to island ambiance similar to III.i. similar to III.i.
* Moment when Ferdinand’s shackles are unlocked, a riff of magical sound.
* Ariel entry sting. His rhyming lines rhythmically backed.
* Love theme intro for Masque, then rapid patter/chant, almost as
fast Gilbert & Sullivan until Juno’s entry. New cue sustains when Ferdinand interrupts. Juno’s entrance changes the rhythm and tonality, a lush flowering of song for Juno.
* Shadows transform into a nude figure, then becomes pregnant: music change into something lovely but deeply threatening to Prospero. Then shadow of Caliban blots it out.
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* Music jangled, into unsettled dissonance as Prospero interrupts. Then segues into darker tones as Prospero continues his “revels” speech.
* Another sting as Ariel appears. Then repeats as he disappears and appears rapidly. At exit, cross-fade to island ambiance.
* Variation on Clown theme as Prospero curses Caliban, sensing they’re coming, and through their entry. Continuing through their scene, with gradual intro of a darker magical theme leading to the dogs.
* Dog attack: extreme threat and nastiness, not realistic animal sounds but full expression of an animal rage that stems from Prospero’s.
* Strong underpinning of Prospero’s final speech of triumph over enemies. We should expect from this that he will take deadly revenge.
* Clown trio is collapsed in a heap as the lights fade. They are being tortured. Possibly the sound of stinging flies.

V.i. — Prospero/Ariel/Neapolitan Court/Forgiveness
* Act transition can take more time than previous ones. Possibly a reiteration of past themes. Echo of the tempest theme: the Tempest is the entire play, and we’re gathering everything together for the resolution.
* At Ariel’s description of the courtiers’ agony, we’ll see their shadows, should hear musical theme echoing this agony.
* “And mine shall.” Prospero’s choice of forgiveness underpinned by a theme connection with the last element of the masque: a pregnancy, a blossoming.
* “Ye elves of hills”: Entirely set to music. The first section (8 lines) is an invocation of the magical creatures, the broad scope. The second (10 lines) builds intensity to the truly terrifying: what I have done. The third (8 lines) is the renunciation, and it’s at enormous cost, a deep grief at what he’s giving up. We should weep. Final beat is the book closing itself.
* Sequence of speaking to the courtiers: reference the prepared harpsichord music from Revenger’s Tragedy, dark Jacobean Baroque. They are in a series of stop-motions, so there wants to be a marker for each group movement. It’s as if music that was intended to heal nevertheless has absorbed the sourness and infection of what it’s supposed to heal.
* Major change as Ariel sings “Where the bee sucks.” This is the true healing & awakening music, each being returning to own essential form. Some commonalty with “Full fathom five” in sense of intense transformation. Ariel is singing of his own freedom, and this is itself an instrument of liberation.
* End of song, segue to new island ambiance. Again, there’s a series of swoops by the figures into new pictures — sound underpinning this movement.
* At “require my dukedom of thee,” a Spirit appears, takes medallion from Antonio’s neck, puts it on Prospero. Music underlining this. Island ambiance continues.
* Appearance of Miranda & Ferdinand: new music, luminous, miraculous, like the statue’s rebirth in [[Winter’s Tale]]. Establishes fully at their appearance, then fades behind but continues till Gonzalo’s speech.
* New music at Gonzalo, romantic but less melodic, more stately.
* Entrance of clowns: reiteration of their theme.
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* Caliban theme as Prospero speaks of him and to him. Relate it somehow to Prospero himself: almost as if Prospero’s looking in a mirror and seeing Caliban.
* Boatswain entry: maybe an element of wind, something giving us the sense of imminent journey.
* Freeing of Ariel: a preparation, then something suggesting a departing bird cry.
Epilogue/Curtain Call
* Prospero speaks quietly and quickly. Maybe just a chord progression giving a sense of valedictory finality, but very quiet.
* A fade to black, but no hesitation: lights pop up and vigorous movement into call, with strong, pulsing music.
–Conrad

April 14, 2009
Tempest #29 — Scattered Thoughts

This week, I finished the papier mache layers on Prospero and Antonio; had the first work session with Mikaela Bennett, who’s playing Miranda & Antonio, and Benjamin Stowe, who’s Ferdinand & Sebastian & Stephano; finished memorizing Prospero’s lines in Act One; watched film adaptations of The Tempest by Derek Jarman and Paul Mazursky; finished two books, one a compendium of text & performance notes by David Hirst, the other a series of interviews with directors, Directing Shakespeare; and watched 5 hours of video workshops by John Barton & Cecily Berry.
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Miscellaneous thoughts emerging from all that:
* The challenge is to render the contradictions and incongruities in the text absolutely clear. The richness is in the paradox. Contradictions are to be painted vividly, not softened. Rather than tilting the balance by making Prospero more “sympathetic” or, on the other hand, writing him off as a despot, the play embraces all extremes.
* Prospero has the power to create storms, but not to force Miranda and Ferdinand’s love. He shows great wonder at “It works.”
* Does he intend forgiveness from the beginning. No evidence of that. He intends the bonding of Miranda and Ferdinand, but intensely feels the urge toward vengeance.
* Masque: It should bring up echoes of his own marriage, but the immediate interruption comes from the shadows of Caliban’s crew, and the storm intruding.
* Need to read Cornelius Agrippa’s On Occult Philosophy, which would be Prospero’s prime magical source, and Montaigne’s Of Cannibals. Possibility of using phrases from these in the soundscape.
* Miranda must be acutely attuned to every moment in Prospero’s behavior that’s uncharacteristic of him. In the first scene: his continual asking if she’s listening; his starting a sentence and getting caught up in verbiage, never ending it; his strangely inverted phrases; his sudden passions. She needs to continue this awareness of his development throughout the play, even as she’s becoming enrapt with Ferdinand.
* Hirst notes the irony that at the end, repentance is not by the villains but by the hero.
* Jarman’s use of a magical staff that contains a round magnifying lens. Moment of giving Miranda a vision of the past in this is very powerful. Could this be used in his narration to her, as if allowing her to see selected images?
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* Mazursky’s Tempest is a contemporary adapation, kind of a fun film, but the only thing that really struck me as useful was a dark red sky at the beginning: using this hue as the predominant one in the opening storm video.
* For Miranda, the play is truly a series of Star Trek episodes: discovering a new version of the past, a new world, new creatures, a new all-powerful emotion, and her own will. To a lesser degree, every character in the play has undreamed-of doors opening to new worlds: Caliban and Ariel both to the potential of freedom, Ferdinand to lightning-struck love, Antonio to new treaty arrangements with Naples, Sebastian to the kingship, Stephano first to his newfound stash of fine booze and then to the potential of kingship, Trinculo to elevation from court fool to viceroy, Gonzalo to the moment-by-moment wonder of things, Prospero to the calming of his tempest. The “magic” of the play is in this sense of astonishment.
* Sense of Prospero’s intense time pressure — totally lacking in the Jarman film, so it’s all atmosphere, no sense of forward action. Brook notes “a tempest that sets off a series of events that are still within a tempest, even when the storm is done.”
* Prospero’s renunciation of magic carries great grief. It’s like leaving the priesthood, or as in our play Carrier, the Navy pilot leaving the service: he’ll never have an experience as intense, powerful or enrapturing all the rest of his life.
* In “Our revels now are ended,” Prospero intends it as a speech of comfort to the young people, upset by the sudden interruption of the masque. But he sees himself looking into a future without meaning, a nothingness, and he’s stunned by the vision.
* Possible elements to adapt from Jarman: Sound of the storm breathing. Prospero mumbling 1:1 lines as in a dream (may sometimes mumble lines along with others). Ariel very neutral in his vivid reports of the tempest. The extreme vulnerability of the (naked) Ferdinand at his entrance. Ferdinand in his second scene has been manacled. Patterns of candles (could be projected). Grotesqueness of Ariel and Prospero both barking as dogs as we see only the reactions of the clowns, no actual dogs. Before the banquet, sounds of a festive crowd, but nothing evident when they come to it. Caliban in the middle of eating at the beginning. At the end, the sense of a dawning.
* Ariel hypnotizes Alonso and Gonzalo (possibly a hand passing over face, accompanied by humming a tune), and he tries it with Antonio and Sebastian, but it doesn’t work: they’re armored against music. So he must improvise.
* Possibility of a form of bisected makeup of Caliban, so the face is radically different from one side to the other.
* Strehler’s use of waves emerging at end of the Harpy scene, threatening to envelop the men.
* From some staging: Courtiers flee, leaving behind garments which are picked up by Ariel to become the frippery the clowns dress in. Possibly just the hats, or maybe just Alonso’s crown. This would underline the political parallel.
* Jarman’s Miranda is very much a fifteen-year-old: radical mood shifts, very alert to each moment, willful and guarded but still vulnerable.
* Declan Donnellan talks of Shakespeare’s radical dramaturgy here, and needing a sense that the play itself is uncontrolled, creating itself.
* Ariel’s “Do you love me, Master, no?” is a real question. He has great curiosity about this emotion.
* Bring out all the images of bondage.
* Jonathan Miller speaks of colonialism attracting those who have a degree of infantilism: they are seeking control and gain it through power. Maturity — and Prospero’s path — is in finally surrendering the notion that you have control over nature. This his relinquishment of magic in the freeing of Ariel, the captured energy of nature. Before this, all are bound by the past. In the end, the future is possible.
* Peter Hall: “If you observe the rules [of verse speaking] you can make the plays very much quicker, very much shorter. The audience runs after the play, rther than trudges.”
* Peter Brook: Serving Shakespeare is serving the reality that Shakespeare is serving.

April 7, 2009
Tempest #28 — Slow & Steady

This week, brevity. My first week of enforced solitude, Elizabeth back in Pennsylvania to do a role in The Clean House with Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. So I’m here with the feral cats, a fridge full of easy-to-cook stuff, countless little tats of obligations to deal with, and a large, very empty house. But work moves forward:

* The Tempest is 4/5ths cast, and I’m very pleased thus far with the actors. Starting this week with our first pre-rehearsal meetings, which will span over the next three months, talking about character, doing some individual work on verse speaking, puppet technique, etc. Meantime, hopefully, we’ll find our fifth cohort.
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* Elizabeth and I have finished our first discussion on the music & sound score. She’s carried a dense pack of sound equipment back to Bloomsburg, including her accordion, and will be working on it evenings after rehearsal. It’ll be scored much like a film, with music under probably about 3/4ths of it.

* I’m lurching my way through a series of videotapes at the Sonoma State U. library — they’re on reserve, so I can’t check’em out, have to sit there for hours at the video monitor. The series, “Speaking Shakespeare,” with director John Barton and an extraordinary cadre of actors — Patrick Stewart, Ben Kingsley, Ian McKellan, Alan Howard, many others — doing workshop demonstrations, 10 hours of an extraordinary master class. Confirms a lot of my ideas about verbal style, but also pushes me toward a more broadly expressive style than is theirs, certainly with a much broader gestural palette.

* Finishing two more crucial castings: Prospero and his conspirator brother Antonio. Only three heads left: Ferdinand, Miranda, and finally Caliban the impossible.

Prospero is a special challenge in the sculpting, as he must look like me. I’m playing Prospero both as my own bare-faced, full-sized self when relating to Ariel, the Spirits and the audience, yet manipulating the puppet Prospero in front of me as he relates to all the other human characters. Sculpting is first of all a matter of learning to see, and seeing yourself with fresh eyes is a novel experience. I photographed my head from every angle, pasted them all into a Photoshop document, and propped nine images of myself up beside the clay, plus a mirror. I think I’m coming pretty close: we’ll see better when the fnal eyes, hair and color are in.
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But it’s also a matter of finding the right expression, considering that he doesn’t change expression the whole length of the play. Some characters, such as Sebastian, lend themselves to a predominant emotional expression, but for Prospero, what’s necessary is that cast of face that’s on the verge of expression — the musculature that’s there immediately preceding the burst of rage, the laugh, the urgency, etc.

Antonio is perhaps a more difficult challenge. He must look like a younger brother, needs a strong resemblance, and so I sculpted him as soon as I was satisfied with Prospero. At the same time, his inner nature is very different, and he has to form a good match with his co-conspirator Sebastian — who likewise was based on a “degenerated” version of his brother Alonso, the king.
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Oddly, I found the key to Antonio in a comment Elizabeth made when I was sculpting Prospero, saying that my in-process Prospero looked too much like my dad. And yes, the more recessive jawbone, slightly sharper features, a bit more of the rat — which, I’m sad to say, was one aspect of my father. And so I changed these features in Prospero but drew on them strongly for Antonio.

In sculpting, I use unpainted glass globs for eyes, just to get a sense of the desirable placement and how they affect the other features, then remove them for casting. I’m getting more skilled with papier mache and finding a great affinity with the material a Toronto puppet-builder Mathieu Rene recommended to me: coffee filters. Very absorbent, very strong, and very easy to blend smoothly. Eight layers on each head, with lots of burnishing, takes a long, long time — nearly an hour on each layer — but for the lightness and strength it’s worth it.

More inspiring prose, perhaps, next week.
Peace & joy–
Conrad