Week three, done and dusted. Lecture three was on Violence in the British Epic Theatre. Looking at Edward Bond. Bond had a traumatic experience of the military in his youth when called up for compulsory two years of service when he was sixteen. This is what led him to write about violence and the idea of humans being ‘turned into’ machines which is a recurring theme in his work and indeed also in epic theatre. Humans being taught to fall into line, be the same. Taught to hate and to kill. “I write about violence as naturally as Jane Austin wrote about manners” (Bond, 1978) He was brought up with it, it is what he knew, much like Austin was brought up with the manners, she wrote about young women finding love, she wrote what she knew. Both writers were drawing their inspirations from their experiences. – Linking this to Alma De Groen really makes me want to research further into her as a playwright and how she grew up. What got her writing the way that she did? Bond responded to a review of his play Saved (1965) with this quote:
“I meant the violence in Saved to shock. I wanted to evoke the cruelty and heartlessness of all violence. I wanted to make its loathsomeness unequivocal. I wanted to show that any violence—whether it happens in Europe, Asia, prison, backyard, living room, fun, anger, war or peace—has an aftermath of corruption, and that when the violence is severe the corruption is permanent.”
This says a lot for epic theatre and having read the play, it really made me think about how we can shock our audience into provoking change in terms of our own theme. What makes violence in the theatre harder to stomach than violence on t.v or film? Is it the fact that it’s right there in front of us? There’s no CGI or special effects? I think for me it’s when it’s so real, if it is stylised I can cope but when it is naturalistic it becomes much harder because I find I can imagine it happening to myself so much more clearly I would imagine. When watching it in a film you’re able to pause the film, turn the light on and break out of the story but when you’re in the theatre there’s no pausing or stopping it, it’s happening right there in front of us. When is comes to creating our own work I think it is going to be important to draw on our own experiences, that way, we can really know what is right and what is wrong, what is too far and what is not having enough of an impact on our audience.
Our seminar proved to be really useful this week, we talked about what it is that shocks in the theatre. Given that a huge part of epic theatre is the shock factor you give your audience in order to provoke them to make them think, thinking about what it is that shocks us on stage was really helpful. It made us think about what we could include in our own performance to help with the shock factor. There is certainly a lot that we can play around with in terms of our theme of suicide and society being responsible, audience involvement is definitely something we plan to include. Other things we came up with were:
Bodily functions (vomiting/going to the toilet)
Sex – in forms of rape and/or incest
Actors forgetting lines
Naturalistic torture or violence
Extreme violence or abuse
It’s strange how things like sex and nakedness can depend on who you’re with, when I’m with parents for example, I know that I would feel far more uncomfortable watching a sex scene on stage than if I was watching with a bunch of friends. Is it the age gap or simply that it’s a parent?
We then proceeded to do an exercise where we all had, written on a piece of paper, a noun and we had to connect it to our play and argue to our group why our particular word connected with the play the best. I had a high heeled shoe and so naturally thought of the way in which women dominate men in the futuristic time frame in The Rivers of China, it could also be linked to feminism. It was interesting what we were able to come up with for such everyday words. A particular noun we really liked, as a group was when Ana described hers – a moth. The way that they are often swatted away and seen as a nuisance and only when it dies do people take notice and pity it. When a man comes forward to talk about his emotions, so often he is shut down and told to ‘man up’ or ‘grow a pair’, then of course when their pain becomes too much and ends in suicide, people question it and pity him. There is also the link with the light – they drift towards the light because it looks better than what surrounds them at the moment, much like someone suicidal drifting towards the idea of death then when it happens, it’s not actually better. This is an idea we’ve really grown to like and are thinking of using it as a motif in our performance, perhaps in every scene, use it as something that bothers the actors on stage, then only when it dies we take notice. Much like the man, when he dies.
My third workshop was with Kate. Now, given that I am really not a fan of puppets, I wasn’t looking forward to this workshop all that much, however, I was pleasantly surprised. We were looking at the way that puppets can become so much more that what they originally appear to be. We took the story of The Old Man and the Golden Fish and had to create puppets out of random everyday recycling/objects to tell the story. It was amazing how immersed you become when watching puppetry, you forget that you’re watching theatre, you’re often so focused on the performance and the puppets. This being said, it’s a brilliant way to provoke the verfremdungseffekt, because, however immersed you become, you are always very aware that it isn’t real, it is much harder to empathise with a puppet than it is with a human on stage. It was really fascinating, the way in which each group was telling the same story with the same words but given the different styles of puppetry going on, each was completely different. My group for example, had all members of the group on stage. Hannah, was even part of the set – having all the performers on stage, in full view of the audience is useful when using puppetry in epic theatre because you are able to be a constant reminder that they are watching theatre.
We’re getting there with the producer’s pitch now I think, still a lot of work to do on it but we’ve arranged to meet our supervisor so we’ll be able to get some feedback on what we have so far which will really help but this week, we’ve really
got going. When thinking about the pitch, we thought of taping our mouths and recording our voices – this gives the impression that we cannot say what we want to say, only what society wants us to. We also thought of using the game Hangman, with a poignant quote from the script to show that by saying the wrong thing, you can kill someone.
Tara took us through Sarah’s workshop this week which produced some really good ideas. We took a small section of the script – the poem
by Shelley that the man reads on page 24 of the script and had to present it in 30 seconds, and then in 5 seconds. This meant cutting the script and picking out the lines and words that we felt were most necessary, this exercise really made us think about the sections that we needed most, given that we are cutting a 55 page script into half an hour production we have to cut the script and pick out the best and most relevant lines to our themes and message when condensing it into a much smaller time frame. This also made us think about what we could use instead of the text to create meaning and explain our message. For example, we were thinking of the elements of epic theatre and thought about the use of song. Romy came up with Ten Green Bottles, with the line “if one green bottle should accidentally fall” which could have connotations of suicide/death.
We also went through Kate’s workshop, led by Ana and Cath this week, we did a couple of really interesting exercises with this one: the first one, w
e had one member of the group in the middle about to ‘jump off a bridge’ and the others, sitting down, surrounding her. The ensemble sitting down had to convince her not to jump but if we sounded insincere or she didn’t believe something we said she’d move closer to the edge or jump. It was interesting how different the room suddenly became, we really felt like we had to save this girl, despite knowing it wasn’t real, we could see there was no bridge but it didn’t stop the tension. This exercise helped us think about how we can be real with what we were doing, reminded us not to act throughout our piece but to always be real and believe ourselves in the message we are trying to convey – then our audience will believe it too. The second exercise was a ‘mother’ deciding whether or not to give away a child, depending on the noises that we, as an ensem
ble made. We had to stop her giving it up and it was interesting in that although instinctively, in the ensemble, you want to make louder noises to stop the ‘mother’ giving up the child, it was the much calmer sounds that made her want to keep it. The sounds like lullabies that calm the stressful situation she is in. This made us think about what kinds of sounds we want to use in our own piece to help the audience to understand our message of male suicide, will calming noises help them to understand better or will loud, ‘punchy’ noises be more effective? We thought about using these exercises, the
first one in particular in our final performance, using audience involvement we could perhaps use the audience to determine the fate of our character – force them to take part and they’re likely to take something away from it.
We thought about staging this week too; we want to have our audience in the round. We felt as though this represented society, always being around and not really being able to escape. Also, for the audience, they can look straight across the stage and see other audience members, therefore, a constant reminder that they are watching a piece a theatre – another epic theatre element. In terms of our set and costume design – we have decided to keep it very minimalist and bland – not only is this a classic trait of epic theatre, but it adds to the sadness and loneliness one feels when
suicidal. We have thought about using placards around our necks with the gender symbols on to define us as a gender, making use of the multi-rolling element of epic theatre too, we can become anybody we wanted to on stage.
We’ve thought about how to use the script and we are thinking of cutting the 1920’s time frame and focus on the female dominated one set in the future. We plan to take lines from both time frames of the script but set it just in one. In a world dominated by women we can focus more upon male suicide and the way it is so often society that causes it. Our problems to overcome are how can we m
ake that relate to the society our audience knows now given it’s very much a male dominated society for most of our audience.
As a group we went to the Bikeshed theatre this week to see Happiness LTD. We booked the tickets last week as, reading the flyer, we saw that it was looking at themes of mental health so we thought it’d be an interesting production to go and watch, given our own theme. In all honestly however, none of us were all that impressed, we all came out with a fairly similar viewpoint… They had some really interesting ideas and there were some well thought out elements to the production however, regarding the theme of mental health, predominantly depression, it felt almost as though they hadn’t really researched it well enough. I’m certainly not a theatre reviewer by any standard but I’m unlucky enough to have suffered depression and unfortunately I didn’t believe that character had. I didn’t really feel for the characters, nor did I want to change anything the moment I walked out the theatre. Some wonderful ideas, just perhaps not quite executed the right way.