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:
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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.
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