Monday, December 17, 2007

King of Capri Performance Proposal Reflection

For our performance proposal, our theatre arts class intended to adapt the book “The King of Capri” by Jeanette Winterson and propose a performance suited for students aged 7-9. The cast involves around 20 children who are all capable of singing but are lacking in theatrical experience or abilities. Therefore, we are fairly limited when writing the script and proposing ideas. There were a few themes and concepts from the original children’s book that we experimented with and tried to incorporate into our proposal. We worked in various sized groups depending on the task and the group efficiency often depended upon the number of students in a group. Some of our ideas were similar or contrasting to other methods I have seen in the past. My understanding of the theatre arts course developed considerably from this experience.

When it came down to proposing ideas we were fairly limited due to a number of factors. The script and action had to be suitable for a young audience. The audience and actors also had to understand the text. Since some were very young and some did not speak English well, the use of simple language was crucial when writing the script. The performance space was impractical because of the lack of a backstage area. However, it did contain a balcony which we found useful for hanging things on. The parents who come to watch the performance always want to see their child on stage, preferably doing something. So we had to incorporate keeping as many people on stage as possible for the duration of the play, as well as trying to give parts to as many people as we could. Due to the age of the cast and their inexperience as performers, we were fairly limited when it came to incorporating theatre techniques. However, we were still able to take advantage of what was available.

For example, the book often includes washing lines and hanging washing in the story. By making use of the balcony encircling the stage, we proposed that large washing lines be hung from one side to the other. This is an interesting idea, but has some drawbacks. One of which is that the clothes may block out lighting, as well as absorb some of the sound that is struggling to travel in the performance space due to the already poor acoustics in that room anyway.

One of Winterson’s themes is rich versus poor. This is mainly evident in the setting. Half of the action takes place on the island of Capri, which is a representation of the King’s ridiculous wealth. The island of Naples is a representation of the working class and trying to make a living. To represent this, we proposed that the stage appear like so:


One side of the “dumbbell” would be Capri and the other would be Naples. The middle section would contain waves on the edges of the stage to help the audience realise that the two areas are separated by water. One setback of this set design is that because of the audience coming from both sides, the actors will find it difficult to always face the two audiences frontally.

Wind, and the winds of change, is a motif presented in the story. Winterson uses wind as a reason for breaking the barrier between rich and poor and is therefore a significant aspect of the performance. Some wind ideas came to mind in the design process. A suggestion of a wind machine that created a light breeze and a whooshing windy noise was proposed. However, this idea was fairly complicated, required a lot of effort to create, and did not really have the desired effect of chaos and turning everything upside down, which is what happens in the book. Another suggestion was to setup several electrical fans around the audience which blew upon the audience and the stage and created a draft effect. The cast could create chaos on stage with their movements also. This would allow the audience to be affected physically by the fans and visually by the cast. One drawback of this proposal is that getting several fans could be quite expensive and the cables around the audience are fairly impractical and ugly. The fans themselves are also ugly and the noise they would make would be whirring and repeated instead of chaotic. A last suggestion is that several members or all members of the cast have a “wind uniform” that, when the actor is in motion, drags behind them to represent wind. The actors would also make “whooshing” noises to represent the sound of the wind. The cast would run around in random directions to highlight the chaos of the wind.

Once the wind has finished its chaotic episode, many items from Capri have flown over to Naples. In the book the items are stacked in a pile and each item is read out in a separate sentence to emphasise the height of the pile. To embody this pile, we thought of some ideas and experimented. At first we thought of piling many members of the cast up and having them sprawled randomly on the floor. Each cast member would read out what object they were meant to be representing. After testing this with individuals at least twice their weight, we realised that this was very painful, uncomfortable and difficult to organise. However, the children are half the weight of us, so the pain may be less, but they may not be able to concentrate and organise themselves in a pile successfully. A second suggestion was to create different levels for every item listed. There were seven levels and each would have to stand behind one another to represent the stack. This however, does not look much like a stack and also does not reflect chaos much, but is more easily organised. These were the two options we suggested along with a suggestion that both methods should be tested with the cast to see which one is more effective.

In a performance proposal, many aspects of theatre must be investigated. For example, the set, the script, the costumes, the music, the lighting. It is impossible to all sit down and work on each feature separately, especially since some individuals are more experienced or talented in one aspect than they are another. Also, by working with a group of ten for example, so many people have mixed opinions that not everyone is willing to share what they think, and when they do, it can sometimes provoke conflict. Therefore, it is most effective to split into smaller groups. In the smaller groups of 2-4, we were able to speak more freely and the ideas were debated upon in a more civilised fashion. However, very small groups, for example, one individual, are not always effective.

When one person acts as a group their ideas can sometimes seem slightly farfetched since there wasn’t anybody with them to simplify or understand their ideas. These ideas can sometimes be too complicated, too simple, or too unrealistic. It is important to work with each other to keep ideas sensible. Without input of others, the imagination can sometimes take the better of someone. An example of this was a wind machine proposal which included constructing an extremely complicated device that was beyond the scope of the performance. I was working on the script. I often wrote things on the script which I later realised were not good ideas thanks to advice from my peers.

Some of the ideas proposed could also be related to other performances I have seen. For example, in the Ramayana, water is represented with flags waving and the main characters “cross” the water even though no crossing of water is really demonstrated. However, in our suggestion for set, the water is constantly present and can be crossed physically. In a performance of the theatre “Blood Brothers” in the west end washing lines were often hung from one side of the set to the other. However, the clothes they hung were relatively thin in comparison to the thick ones we would be using and the lighting in the theatre was also a lot more sophisticated than what we have to work within our auditorium.

From this experience, I have learnt a lot about my theatre arts course. Proposing a performance idea is extremely hard work. From what I have gathered, I believe that proposing ideas for a more elaborate play where lots of resources are at your disposal, for example, a west end play, requires much more research and time since there are many options to consider and methods to explore. For a less elaborate play with many limitations it is extremely difficult to propose suggestions that will work with what you have, and this can be very frustrating at times. From this experience I have learnt a lot about how a performance is compiled and the immense work required for success. I also learnt that when you are on the opposite end, listening to suggestions, they should always be taken seriously and not taken for granted since plenty of thought probably went into them.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Elizabethan Theatre

In Elizabethan times, being an actor - or what was then called a “player” – was completely different to actors nowadays. This was mainly because of the style of Elizabethan theatre. But it also depended upon 16th Century society. Creating sounds however, was used in a similar way to modern day times. The stage and its characteristics are, however, completely different to a typical western theatre and forced the actors to improvise in ways rarely explored in 21st Century western theatre.

In the 16th Century, actors were often considered mischievous by the authorities and were not respected as much as they are nowadays. They were rarely wealthy. Mostly their only source of income was from what the audience placed in a hat passed around at the end of each performance. So the quality or enthusiasm of an actor’s performance sometimes depended on how empty their stomach was. The Elizabethan stage was open to the elements. The main part of the stage and the space where the groundlings stood was vulnerable to rain showers. This meant that the audience could become agitated as well as the acting space becoming more difficult to work with (because of the water on stage). This is why the majority of plays were presented during warmer months. The part of the stage that was covered by a roof was thatched. This area was known as the heavens or the shadow. Actors had to be careful of the roof because it was typical for it to catch fire. For example, the Globe burnt down in 1613 when a canon spark used in a performance lit up the straw. In the 21st Century, it is normal to hand out or sell a programme before the performance to explain the plot to the audience. This was not always possible in Elizabethan times and often a “Dumb Show” preceded the main performance to give a brief synopsis of the story. This was however, less common in Shakespeare’s plays.

One aspect of Elizabethan theatre which still remains today is the use of sound. The stage was hollow, so actors often used the resonance of their feet on the ground to create sounds. Other actors also climbed up into the heavens (the roof) and created appropriate noises – for example, thundering noises in a thunder storm. Music and sounds were often played from behind the stage or underneath the stage to add effect and create more suspense.

One of the few characteristics of the Elizabethan stage – sounds aside – that mirrors today’s stage are the separate areas. The balcony, for example, was used for Juliet’s bedroom in Romeo and Juliet. There was always a trapdoor underneath the stage and this was often used for multiple purposes, one example is as Ophelia’s grave. The thrust part of the stage was a lot more intimate than stages of late. Soliloquies could be delivered more confidently and naturally due to the close proximity to the audience. Stage asides were a lot more personal and served a better purpose than they do today. The set was very simplistic and rarely contained any extravagant features and did not use the computer technology that is often used today. Shakespeare frequently incorporated scene setting into his script. This can be seen in Troilus and Cressida when Achilles says:
“Look Hector, how the Sun begins to set”.
Because of the apron stage and its lack of curtain it also became impossible to open or close a play or scene. Since it was open air and performances were during the day, the stage could not be hidden in complete darkness. At the end of a Shakespearean tragedy the mutilated body of the protagonist was often sprawled upon the stage. To remove the body whilst the audience was slowly leaving would ruin the illusion. Therefore, Shakespeare often incorporated the removal or hiding of the body into the script. Lodovico delivers the lines:
“Look on the tragic loading of this bed,
This is thy work; - the object poisons sight;
Let it be hid.”
in Shakespeare’s Othello so as to hide Othello’s body from the departing audience. This is not really the case in modern western theatre however since it is custom for the entire cast to go out of character – or partially out of character – and show gratitude to the audience by bowing.

In conclusion, I believe that Elizabethan theatre is a large contrast to modern day western theatre. How the actors are treated – and even titled (as players) – is very different and what I would consider disrespectful seeing as it is not easy to perform in front of a large crowd. The stage characteristics could sometimes transform the script and the weather may also alter the performance. Some things, however, have remained the same, such as the sound. But putting everything into perspective, even an experienced actor or actress of today would find the Elizabethan theatre a challenge to perform in.

Bibliography, "Shakespeare Online." Online Shakespeare. 2003 . Solonica Web Design. 27 Oct 2007 <>.

Gray, Terry A.. "Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet." Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet. 09 Aug 2007. Solonica Web Design. 27 Oct 2007 <>.

Langley, Andrew. Shakespeare's Theatre. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Performance Analysis

Düsseldorf 04.05.1996
Director: Karin Baier

- Begins after all characters leave stage except Lysander and Hermia.
- Ends when Lysander and Hermia kiss and Helena enters the stage.

Theatre space: End on, fourth wall present, so as to focus audience’s attention on actor/actor relationships instead of actor/audience.
Performance space: No different levels on stage, simple square stage with blackened out background (where orchestra lies). Once again, this could be to focus the audience’s attention and to allow the audience to come to their own conclusions of the characters instead of putting them on differentiating physical and moral grounds.
Actor space: At first, Lysander takes centre stage and Hermia is positioned in the corner. Further into the scene both actors take centre stage. This is mainly to show that this is the central – as well as only – action in this scene.
Actors movement in space: Lysander, at centre stage, makes exaggerated movements with a fixed position to emphasise his frustration. The not being able to move highlights his helplessness in the situation he is in. Hermia who is at first distant to the action becomes more engaged and comforts Lysander. They talk for a while with fairly gentle movements which represent their love for each other. As they become more excited by their new plan the tension and humour increases and so too does the levels. First Lysander stands and then Hermia follows. Thus, tension is proportional to levels in this situation. The tension is released when the two characters kiss in silence and Helena enters the stage.
Set: No set design, perhaps the director’s intention was to focus the audience’s attention on the character relationships and the complex issues that arise from the action, also, to not be distracted when they should be focused on the many complicated meanings behind the multiple languages used on stage.
Costume: Costumes describe how the characters fit into society. Hermia is wearing a suit much like the other characters. What is different about her appearance is that she is wearing beautiful sapphire jewellery and has tidy hair. This is a contrast to the other women on the stage who are viewed as fairly unattractive, untidy, and have unkempt hair. The other women are also not wearing a suit but instead wearing rather drab clothing. The effect it has is that it portrays Hermia in a very attractive light. Lysander is an outcast and is in Jewish attire. This is to underscore that Lysander is very different from most characters.
Sound: At the beginning of the scene, to build tension whilst Lysander is panicking and making exaggerated movements, there are fierce drum rolls being played. The music stops to highlight the transition between the conflict of the society clash and the calm of the two lovers together. Lysander and Hermia become more excited when they cultivate a plan and to increase tension they begin to talk louder and more frequently. This then stops to release the tension when they kiss. There is also a silence to insist in making Helena’s entrance more dramatic.erHerfer

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kathakali Research

What is Kathakali?

Kathakali is a form of Indian dance-drama that is originally from Kerala in South India and began in the 17th Century. It is a unique form of theatre and has its own music, costume, acting, dancing and themes. Most Kathakali performances are re-enactments of Hindu epics. Right is a picture from a typical Kathakali performance. []
Kathakali lacks speech and dialogue. The actors must express themselves through hand gestures, facial gestures and bodily movements and dancing. Music is constantly being played, mostly percussion. Different characters use different instruments to symbolise different things.
In Kathakali make-up different colours signify different characteristics. For example, green signifies a noble male. Red on the face signifies evil and completely red signifies the devil, or somebody of pure evil. Yellow portrays women and beauty.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Personal response to the drama work shops

For me, the work shops were a very productive activity to break the ice as well as learn about different styles of theatre games and theatre instructors.

Personally, my favourite workshop - apart from my own of course :) - was the workshop that involved three volunteers to be in a scene that somebody has invented. The three act out the scene and then one is taken away and the other two are told a vital piece of informaton that involved the missing person. The result is some very funny improvisation.

I think the reason that this one is my favourite is because I enjoy comedy as well as improvisation. However, I think that for the missing person it is probably not very enjoyable since they are not sure what is going on and are the centre of a joke which they do not understand.

If you are one of the two, I think this is a good exercise in discovering comic styles of acting (unless you chose not to act out your scene in a comical way). It is also a good improvisation exercise because it forces the two people to do all the work themselves seeing as the missing person has nothing to work with except to react to your words/actions.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

What role do I best play in an Ensemble

In an ensemble there are several roles. A role that I prefer to play is a player. A player is the actor who performs. However, some could argue that I am also a cheat. Somebody can still be a good player as well as a good cheater.

One thing I have always wanted to try is being a play-maker. Specifically directing. I think I would be quite good at this.

By the end of my two year course I hope to have played all roles in an ensemble at least once.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Situations for Drama Work Shop

Situation 1:
A is ending their 3 year relationship with B.

Situation 2:
A had snuck out to go to a party and was discovered by Parent B whilst they were returning home. (C is second parent)

Situation 3:
Doctor A must explain to Family Member B that their sibling died on the operating table. (C is other Family Member)

Situation 4:
A must convince B not to jump off the top of the building without getting too close. (C is another convincer)

Situation 5:
A is confronted by B after B discovers that A has been sleeping with B's spouse. (C is spouse)

Situation 6:
A is explaining to B, after a 3 year relationship, that A is actually gay and is not really attracted to B anymore. (C is the gay partner who arrives to say hello)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cosmo's First Blog Entry

This is my first blog entry thingy.