Stanislavski Stated That
Stanislavski stated that ‘the fundamental aim of our art is the creation of this inner life of a human spirit, and its expression in an artistic form’. In reaction to this, our directors instructed us to separate our Three Sisters extract into units of action, describing the section as an objective that our individual character is trying to pursue. ‘Window’, reflects a smaller circle of attention which is the internal past thoughts of the Irina’s father, providing a marker for me the actor to gaze over the audience into an isolated focal point, what Stanislavski called ‘public solitude’.
In Irina’s opening monologue she is verbally contemplating the death of her father a year ago. I was directed to focus my body language and the proxemics of being confined to upstage left, to physically isolate Irina from the other characters. As part of Stanislavski’s system, internal concentration focusses on the actors imagination on the character, my concentration as an actor to be focused on this reflective unit of action.
When performing a later section of the extract, the frame of concentration widens and therefore creates a new unit of action titled ‘Moscow’. Influenced by Stanislavski and instructed by my director, my ‘medium circle’ of concentration is extended to the nearby environment and the ‘larger circle’ further extends to the entire room. This is manifested in my body turning outwards and gazing towards the other actors, thus creating an external consciousness. The motif of ‘Moscow’ as a place of the past and the potential future, draws my character, Irina, into a larger discussion with her sister. As an actor, I was directed to focus on the delivery of tone and projection of my voice, in the first unit ‘Window’ my tone was soft and slower in speed, versus the more conversational tone of Irina when discussing ‘Moscow’.
Stanislavski’s system proposes that the method of drawing out an objective from a unit of work ‘consists of finding the most appropriate name for the unit, one which characterises its inner essence’. This inner essence has to be found and if the character is met with an obstacle, the unit of action must therefore change. This is seen with Irina’s transition between the two units ‘ Window’ and ‘Moscow’ and is physicalised by Olga’s strong stride into stage left, it is ultimately triggered by Olga’s intrusion into a physical window space that is metaphorically Irina’s place of meditation. Therefore the circle of attention visibly grew to a duologue between the two sisters, seen in Irina’s angling of the head upstage towards Olga.
As well as this, the directors staged the scene so I paced between the window and stage centre, thus personifying Irina’s stream of consciousness. This frantic body language combined with Irina’s meditative gesture, highlights this transition between inner and outer thought. Thus Olga is occupying the space by the window, physicalises the character’s intense level of inner concentration and therefore adopting a more naturalistic portrayal of thought.
Epic theatre coined by Bertolt Brecht utilises the technique of Verfremdungseffekteffect which creates a dialectic replication of a world with a contradiction. Gestus consists of asking the questions as to why people behave the way they do and what has conditioned this behaviour through gesture. The physical element of semiotics, as a medium of communication through signs and symbols, further adds to Epic theatre. It provides a view of history from the perspective of a lower class, a form of historicisation through learning plays. The extract from The Mother was one of the self contained scenes in the plays montage. When directing the first section, I instructed the actors to introduce themselves to the audience whilst morphing from a person into an actor. This was physically seen from the actors relaxed body stance that changed into a neutral state, then finally transitioned into the characters they played. During the scene all actors held their script in their hands to further emphasise that this is a piece of theatre and not recreating reality, but to further prove that it was a performance.
During the Mothers prose style dialogue, it opens with the mother seated amongst the audience, thus breaking the fourth wall and interacting with the audience. The son on a higher central piece of staging wears a hat, and here the audience’s is first introduced to the concept of a double use of the prop hat. Firstly to symbolise a lower working class male character, then later in the section it is used as a bowl which the mother uses to dish up the soup. This symbolises the connection of poverty to a lack of food. This encourages the audience to form an opinion which is enhanced through my directional decision for the Mother to pass the bowls around the audience, thus provoking a critical view of the society portrayed on stage.
In the second half of the scene the Chorus were instructed to talk in a melodic and joyous tone that juxtaposed the morbid lines, thus creating an element of black comedy. The song on the surface provides entertainment for the audience, but also draws on political issues that are made easier to comprehend. For example, the chorus members not talking in unison highlights the individuality of each actor’s expression. The body language and almost dance like movement of the chorus seen in the interaction with Chorus member A, who squatted down on the line while “your position is bad”. This is followed by Chorus member B further pushing down A to the ground on the line while saying “it will worsen”. The staging being in the round allows the choruses movement and action to include the audience more. The chorus acts as a body but also as individuals that provide a socialist message, but also reminds the audience that the play is only a representation of reality and therefore there should not any emotional involvement.
Artaud believed that theatre can and must change society and the world. Artaud revolts against what he considered to be the bourgeois concept of theatre as a place of entertainment, “we must finally do away with the idea of master pieces reserved for a so called elite but incomprehensible to the masses”. Theatre should therefore be an act of organised anarchy. Observing this piece of theatre as a spectator, I became heightened to my primitive instincts. Artaud believe that the audience leaves the theatre and can cope better with the complex dangers of the world they live in.
This devised piece, followed Artaud’s mantra “like the plague, the theatre is collectively made to drain abscesses”. The lighting at the start of this piece is flooded bright white light, setting the mood of the stage and drawing attention to a female actress on her back in a contorted position. It almost seemed she was infected by the negatives of life, and it was obvious the actors were going to extremes in this physical realism. Following a black out, a red pin-point light denotes danger and a sexual undertone, the audience is made aware that something awful is going to presented on stage.
The ‘Double of cruelty’ achieves catharsis in practice; it is meant purge us of our emotions; it awakens us and releases the subconscious. Seen in the use of strobe lighting that allows for the suggestive of rape, both attacking the visual senses, causing a discomfort and exhaustion for the audience. This lighting created a jarring snippet of graphic rape. When observing this piece as an audience member, I found that the staging and seating for the audience enhanced Artaudian theatre. The stage being in an Vortex, allows me as the audience to view the action from above, making me feel like a voyeur, whist making the actors feel inferior. In the audience I was high up in gallery looking down.
My senses were further attacked with the groups use of masks. As Artaud wrote “abandoning our western ideas of speech, it turns words into incarnation”, the use of the lion mask for the character of the rapist added a masculine, prey and predator symbol to the piece of theatre. This was further emphasised with the drums coinciding with the rapist’s stalking. None of the character had any lines, the only speech was a scream at the climactic end of the scene. I as an audience member interpreted it as the actors trapped in cages like animals that can still express themselves, but not reliant on words. The use of physical theatre as outlet for expressing emotion without verbalising them, highlights the unimportance of spoken word as “a new body language no longer based on words but on signs”. Artaud believed that civilisation has turned humans into repressed creatures and that the true function of the theatre is to rid humankind of repression and liberate individuals instinctual energy.
Futurism is an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in 1909-1944, founded and funded by Fillips Tommaso Marinetti. Manifesto’s were read at Futurist-style theatrical events known as Serate. Made up of short plays of self contained scenes, theatre promoted the futurist movement through powerful mix of politics and entertainment in a cabaret/variety style that goes against traditional theatre. This type of theatre was conceived not to be privately performed but rather to be publicly declaimed.
The play Old Age is made up of three acts, staging the piece in the round with two chairs facing each other. The director made the conscious decision to an interlace futurist manifesto by overlapping each characters line in the opening act with extracts from a manifesto. “Dramatize all discoveries” and “totally abolish the technique that is killing the passeist theatre” are examples of mantras from the manifesto, providing a brief but intense political experience for the audience. In the original script, the acts repeat three times with only the dates changing. “January 10 1860…1880, 1910” reflecting time passing in an ironic way. The compressing of time is the futurist belief that the essence of a situation should be understood in the shortest time possible, thus creating a grotesque distortion of individuals, ’we want no part of it, the past, we the young and strong Futurists’.
The physicality of my body was key for separating the manifesto from the piece of drama, and also indicating the passing of time. During act one, spinning around on the chair, I addressed the audience when talking about manifesto. I used a traditional old man voice that was intercepted with robotic voice with extracts from the manifesto to vocally show juxtaposition. The sensory overload of a robotic, monotone voice speaking over the old women character created an overwhelming confusion for audience members. Whereas when playing the old man, my character spoke directly to old women and I was directed to play the scene sat on the chair, therefore limited with my movement.
To show the passing of time I physically went from a strong male position with planted legs ready to spring up, to later in Act Two, a body slumped with no enthusiasm. Finally in Act Three, my body was limp and lifeless, seamlessly flowing into a final physical collapse, like a machine shutting off indicating death. The synchronised line of “Oh God! What a stab in my heart! I am dying…” said by both characters, the director staged the climactic death with both characters falling off the chair. “To compress into a few minutes, in to a few words and gestures, innumerable situations”, the overall use of a bright cold spotlight, at the end of each act, cutting to darkness had both the practical purpose of allowing time for me to change my body movements to show subtle signs of deterioration, but also showing the motif of time passing. Throughout the piece of theatre, the backing track of a mechanical clock ticking sent a message to the audience, that this could be the potential events of their future if they don’t provoke a revolution of the arts.