October 1, 2008
Tempest #3 – On Vacation

Two weeks visiting daughter & friends in Europe, taking along the Tempest sketchbook, text, and laptop. I imagine a similarity of pre-production to pregnancy: that singular fact defines everything you touch and see.

Monday, 9/15 — PERIOD
The day before leaving. At the library sketching Elizabethan/Jacobean costume. This feels right for the basis, though with Elizabethan freedom of anachronism. Something about those stiff power suits. The dawn of Imperial Europe, when Medieval wonder segues into science, that magical channel to true power. I’m fascinated with the multifarious Elizabethan hats.
Wednesday, 9/17 — PREP
Landed in Paris, train to Milan, then Firenze, late into Pisa. Finished scenario for 2:1 Alonso scene just before my laptop battery dies.

Over the years, I’ve prepared for directing a show in different ways. Early on, it was explicit blocking diagrams and notes on business. Gradually I pulled away from that and began to trust the immediacy of the actors — allowing the piece to be a pregnancy made in the moment.

Strangely, with puppetry, I’m going back to that early detail, with scenario, story-board, the urge for a whole production generated before the first rehearsal. Is that from sheer terror? Not quite, because I know the first workshop will change the whole dynamic, like the first variant move in a chess gambit.
For all its rewards, the danger of “ensemble process” is its temptation toward chaos. Too many great ideas that don’t cohere. Or else an inner coherence known only to the ensemble, who’ve discussed it endlessly. And thus is born the show of fabulous images, vibrant energy, no human relevance.

Once I’ve got the skeleton, there’s still plenty of work to do on the beast. So this early work is a road map; it’s not the journey. We still need to scour the cathedral till it yields us its secrets, its sacred mummified parts of saints.
Friday, 9/19 — CHANGE
In Firenze. Video exhibit at art museum. Slow-moving cross-fades of water forms in blues & greens. For Tempest possibly a slow transition of projections, no image ever static or permanent — all is change. Seaweed forms? Often, Tempest productions forget the constant presence of the sea and its tranformational “sea change” urgency.
Saturday, 9/20 — FERDINAND
In Firenze at Bargello. Sketch of Ferdinand from a bust by Donatello, and finding Miranda’s nose in about a dozen Madonnas. Jo calls it “a Florentine nose.”

Monday, 9/22 — CLOWN FEET
Wandering in Pisa. Scenario of 2:3 clown scene. Problem of doing physical comic lazzo involving feet with puppets that have no feet. Tentative solution. Hope to get a better idea.

Wednesday, 9/24 — KANTOR’S PRESENCE
Visiting our theatre friends in Zurich (Kammertheater Stok), we saw an exhibit of the artwork and theatre videos of Tadeucz Kantor, the renowned Polish director of The Dead Class and Wielepole Wielepole. Brilliant work, well worth an exhausting afternoon of seeing the films of four pieces.

And useful in relation to The Tempest. Kantor is always present on stage, watching the performance, beating time or giving small finger directions to the actors. Occasionally intervening to lead an actor offstage or to flex the limb of a recumbent body. He’s engaged but distanced, and in a rhythm utterly alien to the intensity and stress of the dramatic action. Even in the most emotional moments, he’s the dispassionate controller.

This is Prospero’s fantasy. He is the regisseur who has defined every gesture, pre-edited every take, eliciting the most extreme emotion from those enacting his inner tempest. But Kantor maintains his control. For Prospero, it’s more difficult.
Friday, 9/26 — MORE CALIBAN
At cafe in Belle Isle, island on the south coast of Brittany. My Caliban sketch turns out in contemporary costume. Elizabeth questions the anachronism — will it occur elsewhere or stick out like a sore thumb? Legit issue, but I’m attracted to something that emphasizes Caliban’s singularity. Costuming him as a fish, an Indian or an African goes in that direction, but all those are wrong for me. The lone child of an exile. What conveys that loss of soul?

Saturday, 9/27 — WEDDING MASQUE
Walked along coast of the island, four solid hours of climbing. Amid extraordinary variety of plant life, thinking about the wedding masque, the nature of the goddesses, etc. It needs to be very beautiful. Possibly in shadow. Photograph leaf shapes, render into high contrast, see what faces and hands emerge. Question continues to bedevil: why does Prospero interrupt the masque? The reason he gives just doesn’t make sense.

Sunday, 9/28 — EXHAUSTION
Starting out mid-morning on another coast walk, I feel a sudden exhaustion. We find a beach and spend the day pleasantly baking. I’m thinking about charting Prospero’s process of high energy and exhaustion. Most productions with an active hero pay no attention to this: he’s assumed to face challenges but never his own fatigue or despair. Willy Loman, definitely. Hamlet, yes, it’s in the text, but actors seem to hit every monolog with high energy, as if auditioning for their next role. Is this relevant to Prospero?
Tuesday, Sept. 30 — HOME AGAIN
Return flight in aeronautical sardine tin. Finished a sketch of the banquet scene, with trick table, Ariel as a multi-clawed harpy. Elizabeth suggests much changing of scale in the play. Good idea, but I’m wary of doing too much. The play is built on Classical unities, needs to stay coherent. Full of magical transformation, yes, but never loses its grounding in reality. And yet I deeply mistrust my own conservatism.

[Next Web posting: October 6]