October 20, 2008
Tempest #6 — My Egret

[Next posting: Monday, Oct. 27]
This week starting intense work on Rash Acts, a collection of puppet sketches for January, becoming more surreal with every trip to the studio. Tempest work has been confined to a bit more work on the scenario, finishing Act 3, Scene 1, and a fair bit of noodling via Google and YouTube, just scouring for serendipity.
Working too on a new control method for the puppet heads, starting to build some prototypes. Also a new attempt to cast papier mache in negative plaster molds, trying to get a lighter head but with great detail. it might actually almost work.

And reading Rodenburg’s Speaking Shakespeare, a very useful book by a highly regarded coach. An early chapter talks about “readiness” in the body — the actor’s and the character’s — an alertness with lack of extraneous tension that allows immediacy of physical and vocal response. That all seems obvious, yet very foreign to our own bodies’ readiness in daily life, where tension substitutes for attunement. She refers to Shakespeare’s world as dangerous and wondrous, each moment posing a threat to survival or a promise of reward, invoking those intense moments of our own lives that we’ll always remember, even on our deathbeds — those, she says, are the moments he write about.

That’s the danger of interpreting Shakespeare through the filter of our own lives. Not that it can’t be performed in modern dress or that we shouldn’t draw on our own experiences of the world in finding empathy with it, but that we can’t slouch through it, mumble it, play the subtext at the expense of the text, bring it down to what for us is “natural.”

On my morning walk last week, I passed a small acreage where they graze sheep, with a little stream running through it. A small white egret stood by the bank, and I stopped to watch. I was held by its beauty but more by its alertness. Dogs were barking in the distance; once in a while there’d be a passing car or a sheep bleat. It would hold perfectly still, once in a while cocking its head, then take one more step toward the stream.

It struck me suddenly that in gentle, laid-back, bucolic western Sonoma County, here’s a creature alive at every instant to the urgency of survival. Not all tensed up about it, but just utterly alert to the cat, hawk, dog, human or unknown god that might be lurking. The feral cats and raccoons living under our house are part of that world, as they scatter when the screen door opens and then creep back slowly to see what the humans have left. That’s the world, as Rodenburg says, that Shakespeare writes about. An immensely rich, beautiful, clownish, savage and sweet world that it’s our challenge to bring on stage.

In some ways, my egret suggests a model for Ariel. Imagine that creature caged, made a slave, and “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom” takes on a profound meaning. At last it took an elegant step into the stream and began fishing for its dinner. Absolute stasis, then a sudden whip of the beak, and a gulp.