Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Lying for the Truth: the post in which I use the word "I" way too often, without apology

As we go into this process I think it's important for designers and actors alike to understand my feelings about realism, realistic design, etc: As a tool it's as useful as any other tool. As an aesthetic it is a cancer that wrecks our imaginations and warps our values. We are most dishonest with our audience when we try to trick them into believing that what they see is real.

More: Too much fake reality does away with that elusive thing we call "magic." If you tell me we're going to see an elephant and you show me an elephant I may be impressed, but there's no magic. Show me an apple and make me believe its an elephant---- that's how magic works. And that's how I work as well, and it is how we will approach The Underpants.

For a better sense of what I mean you may wish to visit the blogs I created for Ubu Roi and Rocky Horror.

Also, here's a shot from Not About Nightingales, another show that brought realistic and abstracted images and performance styles together.

I care less about a performance space conveying a sense of place than it's ability to serve actors and alter an audience's perspective. I care even less for an actor's ability to mimic life than his or her ability to use their entire bodies to transmit necessary information in ways that are interesting to watch.

I like to think if a script as a puzzle box full of surprising things, waiting to be unlocked, not as a blueprint.

LASTLY, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: My job as a director, as I see it, isn't to tell the designers what to draw, or the actors where to stand (though there will certainly be some of that). My job is to unlock and channel the cast and crew's collective creativity. You are all smarter and more talented than I am, no doubt, and together we have the capicity for genius. This is OUR project, and I cannot stress how important I think it is for everyone to take full ownership. The more you allow me to simply play housekeeper and referee--cleaning things up and making sure we're all playing the same game on the same field-- the better this will be.

Please, feel free to comment even (perhaps especially) if you disagree.

Now, here are some more pictures to inspire set, costume, and character. Some are real, many are abstract. Hopefully all are useful


Randal Cooper said...

A noncommittal response:

Considering that Sternheim's and Martin's characters (save perhaps Louise) are largely caricatures, absolute realism is destroyed in the script. At the same time, failure to ground these characters with some sense of reality moves the show from satire/farce to camp.

Also (and slightly unrelated), I picked up Martin's memoir over Christmas, then re-read the script, and got a whole new set of jokes out of it--less character driven, more setup-punchline. I think we're gonna have to pause for laughs a lot. Or at least I hope so.

PeskyFly said...

RC: I agree---- sort of.

And these are the kind of distinctions I want to have sorted out before we get going.

Satire/farce/camp: let's forget these words.

There's the world, and there's the world of the play. What happens in one is a reflection of what happens in the other but the world of the play is governed by a completely different set of rules. We just have to agree on what those rules are.

Perhaps the goal is to ground that world in unreality: to make our mirror bent in the fashion of a funhouse mirror.

Wants, needs, desires: all of these must be honest. Only expressed in ways that are highly stylized in accordance with the rules established in the world of the play.

All of this sounds so serious and pedantic. But I think it's important that we have this discussion, no matter how pretentious it may sound at times.

Randal Cooper said...

As a starting point for Theo, I pulled from the long list of windbag husbands with long-suffering wives: Ralph Kramden, Archie Bunker, Tevye, with extremes of Al Bundy on one end and Cliff Huxtable on the other. That's not to say that Theo is any of these characters, or even a combination of them, but those (especially Kramden and Bunker) are the characters with whom comparisons will inevitably be drawn.

The stylistic leanings of those characters are products of the decades in which their shows were produced--most tellingly in Fiddler On The Roof which is alone among those listed in having a show setting some sixty years apart from the production. The question follows, what stylistic choices can we make in 2008 to tie the action firmly in 1910 and still to make the all-important connection to our audience?

I don't know the answer to that question yet: I hadn't really even considered it until today, except in some preliminary thoughts about my character, who (like everyone else listed) has to be a mildly sympathetic jerk. The audience doesn't have to root for him (like they should Louise), but they shouldn't feel betrayed when he ends up with his wife.

Just tossing ideas out. I'm intrigued by the magic metaphor, incidentally--the idea of playing with the audience's preconceptions and ultimately giving them more than they bargained for, in a pleasant way. Perhaps that's something to be pursued.

PeskyFly said...

Good starting points all. Perhaps I should share some clips from my own homelife!

(Rimshot, please)

Randal Cooper said...

Oh, don't think I don't have a cornucopia of things to pull from there, as well. :)