Stage Motion and Shape

I have been called a jack-of-all-trades, a man of many talents, a renaissance man… but the truth is I’m far more often a dilettante than I am anything positive. I’m the very definition of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, in that I know enough to pretend that I know very much, and unless I tell you that I don’t know that much, you probably won’t discover it until we’re both in a lot of trouble.

BUT, my varied and eclectic theater training, while leaving me shy of having a specific voice as, say, a director or a designer, has made it possible for me to enjoy a lot of different kinds of theater, far more than I might even think of creating on my own.

When I started acting, I was in an intensive program that ruthlessly taught the basics. For instance, when you are upstaging someone, you’re not being obnoxious during their monologue, you are actually physically moving slightly upstage so that you can look at them AND at the audience, forcing them to turn their backs and look upstage. I mention this because much of the *rest* of my theater education ignored a lot of this.

Now, I’m not gonna wander into the deep waters going on over at The Lark (although you *really* should go over and read the whole conversation, it’s illuminating), because they’re discussing something far larger, the idea of experimentation taking the place of basic construction, and in stage craft, it’s really far more fundamental. By the time I hit my fourth college, I was immersed in a crowd of brilliant mumblers, of people who had read their Uta Hagen, but didn’t know how to cheat in a proscenium, of people who were fascinated by Alexander Technique, but hadn’t learned the basic art of talking fast and loud.

In Gideon, we talk sometimes about people who know “how to deliver lines”, and it’s one of those things the separates talent from skill. In the same way, I think understanding the basic uses of the stage can separate talent from skill, and it’s fully on display with our play now heading into its opening on Saturday, “Viral”.

Too often, in an attempt to fight for realism, we fail to use the stage space to create pictures that insinuate into an audience’s lizard brains. When you put bodies in motion, and let them stop at a moment, that moment can describe the volumes of back story that you simply can’t fit into the story.

Take the following image from our tech rehearsal.

What do you see? I’ll tell you what I see.

I see the queen, the slave and the jester. I see the Queen, in repose, who is doing nothing, who is letting the life come to her. At the foot of the couch, the Slave sits, toiling, not even raising her head, not daring to look up, and to the left of the picture is the Jester, whom you can almost see with motley and bells.

I’ll go you one better, I’ll tell you what this scene means to me. It’s the Pieta, the Christ figure being embraced by the couch, and at the foot is Mary, who is almost washing the Christ’s feet. And Peter who is bowing… but not to Christ. Peter is bowing to the camera, who is recording Christ. Not enough time is spent creating these images, these tableaux, we spend so much time working towards truth, verisimilitude, that we don’t know how powerful these moments can be.

What do you see? I see a giant man fishing, and around him I see fish. The fisher stands, a full head higher than the set, and behind him two crushed guppies. More than that, I see a stack of video screens behind a tiny poison camera. Every wall, every piece of furniture, stacked like a pile of discarded televisions. Even the guppy’s shirt looks like a wall of screens.

I’m gonna try to talk about different parts of this production over this next week. In a way, I’ve fallen in love with this show in a way that I never expected to, and I’d like to share it with you the only way I know how. I hope this isn’t seen as self-celebratory, as a producer my job is to assemble teams of people and get the hell out of the way, and I really only checked in at the end of last week to see where we are. And I’m… I’m astonished. I won’t be able to talk about the show without gushing, so I apologize ahead of time.