January 19, 2009

Interesting comment on Parabasis

Over at Parabasis, Isaac talks about Charles Isherwood's opinions regarding contemporary actresses and roles like Hedda Gabler ("There He Goes Again"). In the comments section, Jason Grote has this to say about today's dramaturgs:

" . . . at the risk of alienating my many dramaturg friends, there is a tendency to want to squeeze out any hint of mystery in a new play by subjecting every little story or character quirk that doesn't correspond to a cause-effect universe. I do imagine that a modern-day Ibsen would constantly have to field questions along the lines of, "but WHY is she such an asshole," or [SPOILER ALERT] "but WHY does she kill herself?"
Let's not leave that interesting note hanging, shall we?

As a playwright, it's something I always have to deal with, even with pieces I flat-out say are works in progress! As I said in "What does it mean? What does it MEAN?", I usually don't have a fucking clue. If I did, I'd just say whatever it is I'm trying to say in a more direct medium. Like, I dunno, an article in a medical journal or some shit.

What was your experience with the "But why . . .?" phenomenon? How did it affect your work? How does its existence affect your past, current, and future relationships with other theatre artists? Do you feel you have to "fend off" this mentality before engaging with the work? What should replace this mode of thinking?

When working on the piece itself, how do we get beyond "But why . . . "? What role do actors and directors play in this process? Is there a way to preserve the mystery of a piece while helping the audience see it for what it is? How do you do that?

Did I mention I'm on a real Susan Sontag kick right now?

January 17, 2009

Meme: Shakespeare Character Most Like You

Here's a meme geared toward self-discovery (or rather, exposure - I'm all for exposure, whether decent or indecent).

What Shakespeare character is most like you? Why? You are TEH WIN if you provide a quote.

I recently found out that I'm most like Beatrice. Apparently I have a wicked way with words, and I often don't know my own strength. It doesn't make me Miss Popular, but I sort of like knowing the power I wield over words (and hence, perceptions). Just don't provoke my bloodthirsty streak.

Anyway, here's a quote that can easily be said about me . . .
O, she misused me past the endurance of a block! An oak but with one green leaf on it would have answered her; my very visor began to assume life and scold with her. She told me, not thinking I had been myself, that I was the Prince's jester, that I was duller than a great thaw; huddling jest upon jest with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at me. She speaks poniards, and every word stabs. If her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her; she would infect the North Star. I would not marry her though she were endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgressed. She would have made Hercules have turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire too. Come, talk not of her. You shall find her the infernal Ate in good apparel. I would to God some scholar would conjure her, for certainly, while she is here, a man may live as quiet in hell as in a sanctuary; and people sin upon purpose, because they would go thither; so indeed all disquiet, horror, and perturbation follows her.
Now if only I had some princes, dukes, and whatnot to hook me up with a Benedick.

January 14, 2009

I wrote a scene! (Snow White)

(Note: This part of the play continues from the Rapunzel portion. Like the red cloak going from Sleeping Beauty to Red Riding Hood, I'm imagining the mirror somehow transferring from Rapunzel. This may change later, though.)

We are mirrors in the queen's private rooms, watching and judging all. The place has an air of decayed splendor.

There is a magic MIRROR that is a statue of perfect beauty - tall, thin, and pale with dark hair and blood red lips. It wears a Mona Lisa expression and holds a mirror in its hands. Despite its beauty, there's something creepy about it - as if, when we gaze at it, it gazes back and finds what it sees ugly or pathetic.

Orixa paces, fresh from a bath. She is now approaching menopause, but there remains an elegance to her. She examines herself in the magic mirror. Notices crows' feet at her eyes and brow, wrinkles on her mouth, stray gray strands of hair (all of which maybe only she can see).

SNOW WHITE enters as if going inside a secret chamber within a temple. She bears an eerie resemblance to the magic mirror.

[Mood music: The Velvet Underground, "Venus in Furs"]

Snow White dresses Orixa, applies her make-up (a face mask, perhaps?), and does her hair. There is something erotic about how reverent and meticulous she is. This is no chore, but a kind of liturgy. She may even sneak kisses onto Orixa's feet and hands.

Meanwhile, Orixa struggles to keep her regal reserve and avoid looking at Snow White. Snow White places a crown on her head. Orixa now resembles a kabuki dominatrix - a terrible beauty with clothes for armor and make-up as war paint.

Orixa admires herself in the magic mirror. The mirror gives an approving nod. It could even glance at Snow White.

Orixa notices Snow White waiting with neck bared. Considers. Pounces on Snow White, bites, and gorges on her blood. Holds Snow White in fierce, predatory embrace as Snow White clings to her (may even shiver and cry out in ecstasy). Orixa tears away. Harshly dismisses Snow White.

[Mood music: Bauhaus, "Bela Lugosi's Dead"]

Orixa allows the blood of youth and life to flow into her, invigorating her. Marvels at the breath coming from her lungs, the heart beating in her chest. All her earlier coldness melts away as she succumbs to rapture. Dances for joy - free, expressive, graceful.

When the magic fades, Orixa literally tries to hold on to it. She fails.

January 6, 2009

What does it mean? What does it MEAN?!

Why are we so reluctant to discuss the meaning of our work?

We have conversations about the meanings of art all the time while making it and yet... we get reluctant to share these conversations with our audiences.

Some of this reluctance is understandable to me. You don't want to dominate someone's understanding of the work, and culturally we are trained to accept an artists' interpretation of their own work as paramount. Also, audiences/viewers can themselves chafe at the dominance of the artists' viewpoint. I am particularly hostile to directors notes that tell me how to feel think and respond to what I'm about to see. But surely there's a difference between telling someone before they see something how they should respond to it and discussing it with them, right?

Which gets me back to an old saw, one i deploy all the time and I see my fellow artists deploy: I want to make art that asks interesting/difficult/meaningful questions rather than giving answers. Which is something I do agree with, but at the same time as artists, certainly we come up with at least a few answers to the questions posed by the work we do, even if we don't put those answers into the work itself.

I think the sticky wicket is this: How do we discuss our own interpretation of a work in a way that invites others into the dialogue, to have their own interpretations of it, to approach it in their own way and derive meaning from it, even if we (strongly) disagree with their interpretations or the meaning they derive from it? How do we lead those conversations? How do we use our expertise (we are experts in our own art, after all) without becoming dominant authorities?
Oh, just load it up while you're at it, why don'tcha, Isaac?

If I'm quite honest with myself, my reluctance to talk about meaning in my work is simple - I really don't know.

There, I said it.

I don't know what my work means. If I did, I'd rather just write an essay or something and get right to the point instead of dancing around it and being deliberately obtuse.

But the fact of the matter is I'm more interested in creating an experience instead of choosing or laying out an interpretive thrust for the play. To be frank, that's why I write for theater. I know I'm supposed to spend my energy on story and character and what not, but I'm afraid that's just not what I do.

This current play attempts to create a sense of enchantment - a sense or intuition of a deeper, richer reality than is apparent on the surface. It's a pretty nuanced thing to go for, so I'm not sure if I'm explaining it right. But there it is.

January 3, 2009

Dead end play?

I don't know why, but I can't progress with this play. I keep redoing the same scene(s) over and over, and I can't quite move forward. It's not like I don't have ideas. I just can't get them on paper. And I'm thinking about another script I want to start on too (film?).

I don't know what to do. I could try to sludge through this, and I'm constantly berating myself for not gaining more ground. But it's just - stuck. What's going on here?