It’s All Greek

One of things that constantly fascinates when I am exploring the digital world for Theatre Room is the sheer variety of sources out there, and moreover, how they are being added to at an incredible rate.

The resource I’m sharing today is wonderful. A study of greek theatre in performance, hosted by Google on their Cultural Institute. It’s chock full of interviews, video, images and so on and is a delight to navigate your way through.

Untitled_FotormmmClick on the image above to take you to there. Hopefully there will be much more to come like this little gem.

Untitled_Fotorp

Who Does What & Where

Before I begin today, I would like to say that I have added 5 new sources to the Key Resources page of Reading Room – very diverse, both in terms of content and origin, and chock full of really useful information on virtually all aspects of performance.

Now to the meat of the post.  The Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK are in the process of staging Richard II and are keeping a video production diary. I am sharing them as a great insight into the professional production process. Obviously the context is the staging of a particular play, but the processes are universal in any large theatre.

In the first video, the director Gregory Doran explains how he’s approaching the play, ideas for the design and introduces his cast.

.

In this the second, Emma Hamilton who plays the Queen, describes the first day of rehearsals, including the welcome games they play to help break the ice and build rapport between the actors. She explains how the show’s Director Gregory Doran is beginning to help them explore their characters and also explains some of the historical truth behind Richard’s Queen.

.

In the third of the series, Historian Helen Castor visits Westminster Hall, one of the last surviving parts of the Palace of Westminster, with the cast and creatives of Richard II. She explains how Richard II transformed Westminster Hall, and talks about we can understand Richard the man, and Shakespeare’s vision of him.

.

In number four, the RSC head of Voice, Lyn Darnley, shows how she helps the actors in Richard II develop their posture, breathing and articulation, as well as bringing together the physical voice with the language and text of the play.

.

The fifth in the series we meet Professor Jim Shapiro who sits in on week five of rehearsals for Richard II. He talks about treason, censorship and seditious material in ‘a radioactive play’, which was both shocking and highly topical for audiences when it was written, and six years later sparked an uprising.

.

In video 6, the latest one released, Alistair McArthur, Head of Costume, shows the process of making costumes for Richard II. He leads a tour of the costume department, through painting and dyeing, on to footwear and armoury and finally into the hats and jewellery team.

.

There are 6 more of these videos to come. If you are interested in looking in more detail at the production you can by clicking the image below.

Untitled_Fotor

Drama Online

And finally for this week a potentially groundbreaking new resource for theatre students and teachers called Drama Online. It says about itself:

Capture

Drama Online introduces new writers alongside the most iconic names in playwriting history, providing contextual and critical background through scholarly works and practical guides.

Currently it is in BETA development but there is already so much on there. To get to the plays, you will have to have a subscription, but a lot of the areas, such as the Playwrights & Practitioners and Genres pages are accessible to all users. If this continues to grow it will become a key resource for theatre students everywhere.

Same Same……..

This is a fantastic idea. The Tribeca Film festival in Lower Manhattan is currently underway. As part of this year’s festival the winner of The Bombay Sapphire Imagination Series competition was announced.  The idea was that all entrants based their submission around the same script written by Geoffrey Fletcher. The script had no stage directions and no named/gendered characters and the rest was up to you and your creativity. You can read the script here.  The result is such a great variety of imaginations. Enjoy.

 

I reckon you could easily do the same with this little play by Heiner Muller:

Heartplay

A May I lay my heart at your feet.

B If you don’t make a mess on my floor..

A My heart is clean..

B We’ll see, won’t we..

A I can’t get it out..

B Would you like me to help you..

A If you wouldn’t mind..

B It’ll be a pleasure. I can’t get it out either..

A cries.

B I will remove it surgically. What have I got this penknife for anyway. We’ll have this sorted out in no time. work will keep you from despair. Right, there we are. But this is a brick. Your heart is a red brick..

A Yes, but it beats only for you..
(1981)

A beats B to death with the brick..
(Addition, July 1991).

Shadowlands

A great little article today about the history of shadow theatre, courtesy of Suite 101 and Cheryn Tan. I’ve added some images and video, and at the bottom of the page are some more comprehensive (and excellent) links.

The History of Shadow Theatre

Shadow plays depict fantastic stories of folklore and mythology, but their stories of origin are equally fascinating as they are vastly differing.

The differences of origins may be attributed – or may contribute – to the fact that the styles and cultural significance of these shadow plays differ from one country to the next. For instance, Chinese shadow plays usually depict history and the aristocracy; Indian plays are of religious significance inspired by epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana; whereas Turkish plays are comedic satires with witty banter.

China – Death of a Beloved

Most experts believe that the art of shadow playing originated from China during the Han Dynasty (206BC to 220AD). As the story goes, the Emperor Wu Han had many concubines, but one whom he loved most. When she died, he was so devastated that he lost interest in life, and neglected all his responsibilities. His councillors tried all they could to revive their ruler, but nothing could abate his sorrow.

201172265936719

Finally, one of the greatest artists of the court created a puppet in the likeness of the emperor’s beloved using donkey leather and painted cloths. He lit a silk screen from behind, and with the movable joints of the puppet he imitated her graceful movements, even speaking with the intonations of her voice. Having his beloved seemingly brought back to life, the emperor was thus comforted and returned to his duties, much to everyone’s relief.

An alternative, though somewhat less romantic, explanation of how shadow theatre originated in China was because ladies were not allowed to watch live theatre performances, hence the most successful shows were staged as shadow plays in female quarters instead.

India – Dancing Gods

The art of shadow puppetry gained prominence in India in the sixteenth century, especially during the reign of King Kona Bhuda Reddy. These puppets are the largest in the shadow performance world; and the plays usually take place outside the temple of Shiva, the patron god of puppets.

According to folklore, in the days when dolls were just crude blocks, there was a toymaker who made dolls with separate jointed limbs. One day, his shop was visited by Lord Shiva and his wife, the Goddess Parvati. Upon catching sight of the dolls, Parvati was so entranced that she asked Shiva to let their spirits enter the dolls so they could dance. After she was tired out, they withdrew their spiritual selves and left. The toymaker, who had been watching the entire scene, was inspired to make the dolls dance again. He strung their limbs together and thus gave life to string puppets.

Turkey – Comedic Satire

Shadow theatre also features in Turkish performance arts, with most performances centred around the main character Karaghiozis. Karaghiozis is usually depicted as an ugly little man with a large nose, humpback and enormous black eyes. The legend behind this Middle Eastern incarnation of shadow plays tells of Karaghiozis and Hazvidad as they were at the construction site of a mosque. Instead of working, they were constantly quarrelling – but their verbal sparring was so amusing that their fellow workers would stop to listen to them, to the point that the completion of the mosque was in jeopardy.

picture

The Sultan that had commissioned the mosque was so livid that he had them executed. Later he regretted his rashness, and summoned his viziers to create puppets in their likeness, to perform their humorous squabbles as entertainment for the masses.

Besides China, India and Turkey, shadow plays are still highly popular in more than 20 countries around the world, including Indonesia, Malaysia and France. Their styles and cultural significance may differ, but one thing they invariably share is that they provide hours of entertainment for the audience.

 

A much more comprehensive source on all kinds of Indian puppetry can be found here. A great resource.

One for Turkish shadow puppetry can be found here.  Again, a great resource.

And a super one here on Chinese shadow puppetry

 

Theatre Apps

Something a little different today.  I’ve been looking at what’s available in the iPad app store for theatre people (free and paid for), and there is a surprising mix so I thought I’d share a few of them with you.  First my favourite in terms of design:

Evernote Camera Roll 20130519 141459Played in Britain: Modern Theatre in 100 plays, 1945-2010

This is a beautiful interactive book that looks at plays that have been performed in the UK from 1945 to 2010. It isn’t just about British plays either – any thing that was performed during that period.  Reviews, interviews, production photographs and so on. Suffice to say I bought it.

.

Basically just an ebook, but beautifully illustrated, on the history of Chinese theatre.

Chinese Theater for iPad

Evernote Camera Roll 20130519 141443.

.

.

.

.

.

.

For you techies out there are a number of magazines you can get for free:

Lighting and Sound America

Evernote Camera Roll 20130519 141457.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Make-up Artist Magazine

Evernote Camera Roll 20130519 141446.

.

.

.

.

.

.

For all things techie Stage Directions Magazine

Evernote Camera Roll 20130519 141454.

.

.

.

.

.

Now this is a super organisational app for stage managers, ShowTool SM

Evernote Camera Roll 20130519 141452.

.

.

.

.

.

.

An app to write plays with called, not surprisingly, Playwriter

Evernote Camera Roll 20130519 141440.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Now there are a few line-learning apps out there. This is one of the free ones, My Lines Lite

Evernote Camera Roll 20130519 141450.

.

.

.

.

.

.

And finally a series of free little apps that bring various forms of Asian puppet theatre to the iPad, Shadow Play Wayang Kulit

Evernote Camera Roll 20130519 141445.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Human Rites

As I have mentioned recently, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the place of ritual in society and therefore in theatre. Being an educator, your life is dominated by ritual of sorts – the cyclical passing of the school year, graduation ceremonies and so 1340009907_59031on. As I write this, outside my windows, down in the bay, are the sounds of a Dragon Boat festival which celebrates the death of Qu Yuan, with the accompanying rhythmic drumming and traditional Chinese instruments. Again, ritual!

A week or so ago, I watched a TV documentary from the BBC entitled Feasts in which a writer, Stefan Gates, makes a journey across India to discover how feasts and celebration divide – and bring together – a turbulent nation that can be riven by religious tension and extremes of wealth. In it, he visits a society Hindu wedding in Rajasthan, which is outrageous in its extravagance, expense and show of wealth. Gates then travels to Kerala and experiences the Onam Festival, a Hindu celebration that brings this massive state of millions of people together, Hindu and Christian, rich and poor alike. Ritual.

I’m a regular visitor to India. I love the country , it’s people and all that it embodies, but I have never really explored why I have that affinity. Gates’ documentary made me come to a realisation – it is the ritual that exists in every aspect of the country’s life, and at every level, whether you are millionaire businessman in Bombay (my Indian friends tell me off when I use Mumbai), or a Dalit in Punjab. The difference between where ritual ends, performance begins and indeed, when it then turns in celebration, is all very blurred. Daily life feels like theatre in India. I’ve witnessed weddings in a tiny Maharashtran village, Uksan, that last for Holi, The Festival of Colors, Indiadays and combine ritual, performance and celebration in a cacophony of sound and colour. I think most people are familiar with the Hindu Festival of Holi – loud brash and immensely vibrant. And the fireworks! Indians seem to manage to squeeze fireworks into every event.

Gates’ programme itself is of course making a wider social comment about the immense kathakali2disparity between wealth and poverty in India. But he finds himself taken aback because in Kerala, The Onam Festival crosses all cultural boundaries, including religious ones. This is not a suprise, Kerala was on the old spice route and is a real mixture of east and west. Onam lasts ten days and includes many traditional dance and theatre forms including Kathakali and Puli Kali (Tiger Dance). The latter is pure popular theatre and Gates himself described it as intoxicating and an extraordinary experience. Again, Ritual.

So back to Artaud. Artaudian theatre is, by its very nature, a ritualistic theatre. It is intended to be full of passion and emotion in order to provoke an emotional reaction from the audience. It is intended to be void of rationality in order to probe at the mental status quo of the audience. The idea of the theatre is to appeal to the five senses and rarely anything else.

In an excellent post on Suite 101, David Porter talks about ritual as a key ingredient in performance.

Physical Theatre: Ritual is Key Ingredient in Performance-Making

Life’s rhythms revolve round rituals: daily tasks, birthdays, weddings and funerals. In creating meaning on stage, performers harness the power of rites.

Almost everything people do regularly has a ritualistic feel. Getting dressed every morning, preparing/sharing food, anniversaries, courtships, conducting business and great occasions of state – are rituals, patterns of regular human behaviour. Often, social convention rites/rituals dictate further ritual: for example, shaking hands on greeting, waving goodbye. Devisers of performance must reflect that in their creating. Then they have to experiment with it.

In psychiatry an action performed obsessively can be interpreted as evidence of compulsive disorder. It is often revealed in manic dance. A ritualistic dance or going through the regular motions of a life with all its tasks, may be called a rite. However, physical theatre practitioners use dance as but one element in the creative and experimenting process.

There is religious ritual as well as secular, a set of ceremonial actions like public worship, hallowed by time. Public performance and spectacle from the ancient Greeks

PentheusMediumto Medieval Mystery plays have drawn on religious imagery and symbolism to tell stories with messages. Performance is the enactment or creation of a version of myth, belief or historical event. It may be political, personal, social but it reflects human life through dance, drama, music or a mix of all three, performing arts.

Ritual in Performance Arenas

In ancient times, the sacrifices and appeasement of various deities informed crowd behaviour which became rites which became absorbed into theatrical convention……..Nowadays, sporting events like boxing, wrestling, football, cricket, rugby, baseball are played out in often circular spaces, a large audience around, perhaps increased by television viewers, and although it’s sport, it’s also entertaining spectacle that stirs strong emotions. The same applies to bull-fighting,…….. Son et Lumiere events, some street theatre activities and circus, whether people like the genre or not. When the floodlights go on, the event is heightened into pure theatre.

Evernote Camera Roll 20130517 150236[1]The New Zealand national rugby union team ritualistically precede games with the ka mata haka, a traditional Maori dance. This combines ancient warrior practice with psychological advantage for the participants by noh4demoralising opponents through a dance performance.In Japanese Noh theatre, slow, deliberate, ritualistic, symbolic movement characterises theatrical tale-telling, unchanged for centuries.

The theory that theatre originated in ritual was accepted by such practitioners as Jerzy Grotowsky (Polish), Peter Brook (English, but mainly resident in France), Arian Mnouchkine (French), Eugenio Barba (Italian) and Richard Schechner (American), all of whom have contributed ritual elements into theatre performance to restore its lifeblood at different times. Schechner has said that while performance is an inclusive term, theatre is one node on a continuum that reaches from the ritualisations of animals through life’s everyday rites to performances of great magnitude.

Artaud and Theatre of Cruelty

Attending traditional theatre has rituals of its own: tickets, ordering drinks, programmes, lights down, usually polite attention to the performance. Listening to a concert is similar, plus the convention of no-clapping between movements. Bertold Brecht broke traditions with his making strange (verfremsdungseffeckt), forcing audiences to know they’re watching performance by actors demonstrating a viewpoint.

Physical theatre tends to break old traditions. Antonin Artaud, (1896-1948) led with theories about assaulting the senses of the audience. His Theatre of Cruelty, total theatre ideas were heavily influenced by surrealism, oriental theatre, Balinese theatre, masks, magic and myth, colour, balicultureMS_428x269_to_468x312rhythm, sound, ritual, ceremony, spectacle, psychoanalysis, the drugs he took and the mental illnesses he suffered from.

He explored the cruelty of existence rather than mere bloodshed or torture, the works he devised attacked spectators’ subconscious to release deep-rooted fears that they normal suppress and made them face their inner reality. The technique is both derided and imitated today. Anything in-yer-face, from the dark psychosis is broadly Artaud, and useful in physical theatre creation. To be ‘Artaudian’ means to risk everything in an experimental performance, acknowledging ritual or not. His name now signifies the theatre of scream, despair and inner torment.

One group who are exponents of physical theatre, risking through experimentation, challenging the traditional stage/performer/audience settings, are London-based Complicite. Founded in 1983, this is a constantly evolving Complicites-Shun-kin-002ensemble of performers and creators. Artistic Director, Simon McBurney, says that there is no Complicite method, but collaboration is essential. They constantly incorporate new stimuli, new integrations of music, text, image, visual art and action to create what he calls disruptive theatre.

Experiments arising from ritual produce fruit in the devising process. Most people are unaware they‘re partaking in minor daily rituals, but are deeply conscious of the great rites of life. Physical theatre, draws on that great force to create and experiment and so adds to the richness of that life they are celebrating, examining, exploring and fulfilling.

If you are feeling adventurous, there is a great chapter here titled RITUAL IN THEATRE (Ritual concepts in Artaud and Grotowski), which is taken from a PhD dissertation written by H. Sadasivan Pilla, which is really interesting. The dissertation itself, The Uses and Functions of Rituals in Malaylam – their relevance to the ritual concepts in the theatre of Artaud and Grotowski, focuses on the performance traditions of Kerala (where Mayayalam is the spoken language).

So that kind of brings me to a neat end, full circle, if you wish.

Voices from the Heavens

Oh my goodness.  Every now and again I stumble across an amazing web-based resource that makes me wonder how I had managed to miss it before. I’d like to introduce you to:

CaptureIt is what it says it is – an archive of recorded interviews with theatre practitioners of all kinds. It was started in 2003 and is now supported by various museums and drama colleges with a growing archive of material which will be preserved for posterity.  All the recordings are tagged extensively, so it is easy to find things that are relevant to you. Click the banner above to access the homepage.

150257108_bf938d9394_mI’m going to start off by sharing an interview with Yang Quin and Mary Anne O’Donnell who are the two founder members of Fat Bird Theatre Company. They talk to Mary Mazzilli about what it’s like to make theatre in Shenzhen-Guangdong, the oldest and fastest-growing Special Economic Zone in China. This is the only independent theatre company that promotes experimentation and internationalism; they focus on social changes and are dedicated to transforming Chinese theatre through experimental workshops, guerrilla performances and stage drama. You can access the recordings here.

TDF Stages: A Theatre Magazine

I have just found a great little resource of a website called TDF Stages.  It is essentially New York based but has lots of interesting bits and pieces on it, such a Theatre 101, a video guide to everything theatre (check out the one on theatre etiquette) and categories such as set and costume design.

Click the image below and it will take you there:

Capture