Sunday, December 31, 2006

"Moves the Air Around It"

From John Mayer -

"This is the greatest expectation you can have when it comes to art - that you can create something that moves the air around it, something that can at least hold (if not remove) some of the weight in a person's life."

www.johnmayer.com/blog

Hear, hear!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

METATHEATRE

For lack of a better word. If there is a better word, someone please educate me!

What I mean here is a theatre experience that encompasses and includes the audience in the proceedings. A "fourth-wall" breaker.

Examples: A Company of Wayward Saints, murder mystery dinners, The Victorian Hotel [http://www.rogueartists.org/projects/victorianhotel.php], Director's Cut, etc.

"Meta" as in "transcending."

I'm thinking "metatheatre" like "metafiction" and "metaverse." An all-emcompassing experience.

So that's the term, and what it means to me.

It's a fascinating form to be a part of, let me tell you! It's immersive for the audience, and a challenge for the performer. It requires an ability to improvise, yet keep things moving in the direction of a predetermined narrative.

So how the hell do you write for it? I know how my friend Pete [www.thepete.com] wrote for it with Director's Cut. And I've read A Company of Wayward Saints a few times. both of those examples are pretty linear ... how do you write for a show that has three or four scenes going on simultaneously in different spaces?

Hrm. Not much theatre/playwriting theory in this blog entry.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Theatre of the Occult

In my online travels, I run across many a strange and exotic idea. Most of the time it's part of a greater body of research; I will be "infogorging" on a particular subject that takes a wild tangent. One such tangent led me to "Pop Occulture" the blog of occult investigator Tim Boucher.

Not too long ago Tim blogged on the subject of "The Metaphysics of Media", regarding motion pictures in particular. He states:

Applying that to the matter at hand, we could think of a movie as being a complex set of events, out of which certain events are selected to be filmed. Those events which end up on film are then collected together, edited down and arranged in a linear sequence. The result is what we call a movie or film.

The trick lies in that this movie is composed of selected and arranged events (the "Original Events" - OE), but that the showing of viewing of that movie is in itself an event as well (a "New Event" - NE). In economic terms, we might say that the more people who see this movie, the more "real" the New Event created by the movie becomes. It becomes a shared reference point for masses of people and is added to the cultural lexicon. But if no one watches the movie, it is considered a "flop."
I believe that this could be restated for live theatre.

The word "occult" comes from the Latin occultus meaning clandestine, hidden, or secret. The majority of what we actually do in theatre is hidden from the audience. The audiencprivyt privvy to the audition process, rehearsals, design work, etc. They see the resulting synergy of all those "Original Events" manifest in the moment, participating with their attention and "suspension of disbelief." In theatre, as in engineering, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As a result, theatre can be a transcendent experience. I have had glimpses of this in my short career. I think we all have.

This sort of thing isn't typically considered very seriously when staging a show. Yet I wonder what would occur if we practiced theatre with transcendence as our goal.

Would Bacchus himself show up and demand an aisle seat?

Friday, December 08, 2006

PLOTTING

"Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."
-- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

"Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn."
-- Advice to Lane Meyer(John Cusack)
from Charles De Mar (Curtis Armstrong)
and Monique Junet (Diane Franklin)
in the movie Better Off Dead
The problem with unlimited freedom is inertia. If you can go in any direction at any speed, off into eternity, you might as well stay still. Structure is important if only to tell you where to go and when to stop. All the detail work, the fancy character choices, the witty dialogue -- that's the freedom that exists within the carefully determined boundaries of plot. In other words, a carefully thought out and planned plot allows for creativity and imagination to flow.

There comes a point when I've been stirring around the cauldron of ideas that the play starts boiling over. I'm ready to write. At this stage in the process, It's time to plot out the play. The way I learned to do it is with the old standard "plot card" technique. Any decent book on playwriting or screenwriting will tell you all about this, but here's my take.
  • Get a bunch of lined 3 x 5 note cards
  • Write the title (working or otherwise) on a card. (If you are planning on major act divisions [acts, scenes, vignettes, etc.], make a "title" card for each major division ["Act I"])
  • Put each of your major plot points on a card (Romeo meets Juliet, Romeo kills Tybalt, Juliet fakes her death, etc.)
  • Make "Introduction of [character name]" cards for each of your characters.
  • Let your imagination go wild: put scene ideas, bits and pieces of dialogue, etc. on note cards.
  • Now lay out your cards from beginning to end, roughly setting out when each event should occur. If you have cards that don't quite fit yet, set them aside.
  • Go through and create gaps in your layout where obvious gaps in continuity exist (missing transitions, needed plot points, etc.)
  • Fill in the gaps.
  • Go through and read the cards, paying close attention to flow.
  • Rearrange cards, take some out, write new ones. Tinker with it. Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty!
  • Put the cards in a neat, chronological stack. Go through them one at a time and write your play!
Note - one card is roughly equivalent to 2 pages or less of script. Roughly.

This is a very structured approach to plotting, and I know first hand that sometimes it feels better to just let the words flow. Sometimes the muse won't wait for you to plot things out. Well, fine. Just write. Jump continuity, write scene fragments -- have a ball! Later on, when you're stuck and have no notion of what to do next, transfer brief descriptions of your fragments onto notecards, and plot out the rest of the play.

The word "plot" literally means "piece of ground". I like to think of the plot as the map of the play. It'll tell you how to get from point "a" to point "b" but it's still up to you to detour around a bit and see the sights. After you've bought the souvenir spoon and seen the world's largest ball of twine, the map will keep you heading towards your destination: a finished play.

Monday, December 04, 2006

DOVER KIDS

Once upon a time Pamela and I took a one-person show around to elementary schools in Arkansas. The play was "Einstein's Quest" written by academic hermit and noted playwright Allen Partridge. Al wrote the thing so it could be performed by a guy or a gal, and in the early days of doing this, we took turns performing.

"Einstein's Quest" is a high-energy, interactive play that teaches creative problem solving to children from kindergarten to eighth grade. The emphasis here is on "interactive". The second half of the show does not work unless the kids are actively communicating with the performer.

Arkansas has many small schools scattered throughout the rural areas. A performer with good scheduling skills and enough gumption can hit up to three different locations in a day. When we first started doing "EQ", we were working for Al. (He would later turn the reigns of the company over to us before falling off the face of the earth.) Our second time out on the road, things were humming along beautifully. Pamela was up first and had a great audience first thing in the morning. I went second, and knocked 'em dead. And so we arrived at our third and final venue for the day in Dover, Arkansas.

Before Pamela took the stage, the principal addressed the assembled kids. Here's what he said, from memory:

"Okay. You remember the rules? We brought these kind people here to put on a play for you. I want you to keep your mouths closed and your eyes open. Sit on your hands. If you make any noise, or have any fun whatsoever, I will have the orcs dragged you down to the dungeon and there we will break you on the wheel!"

Well, it was something like that. The kids were absolutely terrified. When he introduced Pamela, you could hear a pin drop. It was unnatural to have that many elementary kids that still and quiet. And it would've meant theatrical death for that performance of "EQ".

Pamela (and this is one of the reasons I absolutely adore her) completely crushed the iron strangle hold the principal had on the kids. She did it with the old "hello come-back" technique:

PERFORMER
Hello.

AUDIENCE (unsure, nervous)
Hello.

The Performer paces the stage, shakes her head, sighs.


PERFORMER
Hello!

AUDIENCE (warming up)
Hello!

Performer nods her head. "Not bad." She steps back, and jumps forward:

PERFORMER
HELLO!!!

AUDIENCE (fully engaged)
HELLO!!!


Usually, that's all it take s to get the audience's attention fully focused on the performance. As I recall it, it took more than three "Hellos" to get the audience warmed up. In actuality, the audience needed to feel safe. Here were kids who were no doubt whipped for coloring outside the lines. Pamela, in shouting "HELLOOOOOO!!!" at them demonstrated a boldness and power that they had probably never seen. It made them feel strong, and so they responded in kind by the end of the "hello come-back" routine: "HELLOOOOOO!!!"

Thus unbridled by the wicked tyranny of the despot principal, the children became the biggest bunch of rowdy, uncontrollable ape-children I have ever witnessed. Pamela had to contend with a ROAR of laughing, talking, shouting, singing ... children dancing around, doing jumping jacks, breakdancing ... it became mass hysteria. Pamela soldiered on, keeping the reigns loose in her hands and riding those kids over the finish line and into the most heartfelt standing ovation I daresay has ever manifested in Dover, Arkansas.

And so "Dover Kids" entered the Moore lexicon. "Dover Kids" signifies a group of repressed, suppressed, and oppressed people who, upon finding a safe environment to "be themselves," go completely nuts with all the freedom. You see this a lot in acting classes. In an acting class, you can stretch out and do things that you can't do "in the industry" like wear an adult diaper on stage, or perform oral sex on your scene partner. (I wish those were made up examples. I really do.)

"Dover Kids" suffer from a lack of self-discipline in an environment with little to no rules. They wind up pissing in the pool and ruining the fun for everyone. But you can't really hold it against them. They've grown up in an environment where it wasn't safe to express themselves at all, so there's a lot of pent-up energy that has to get out.

So that's what is meant when one of us refers to "Dover Kids".