I have never before tried to resist so passionately writing these entries.
Passionate resistance (engaged resistance? militant? never mind…) gets me nothing since I lose the battle every time, and do end up writing them, although I tell myself that something that started as a joke inspired by a 60’s British show,* has taken a serious turn and is in danger of alienating half of the potential public.
I look at the production diaries for The Happiness Machine or The Silentio Project and, although vaguely introspective, they contain mainly surmountable problems – technical, mostly, which could, in fact, ruin the show, so there’s definitely that tension and worry there, but not this…necessity for confession, for placing under the microscope every single shift in the affective structure of the play, something I have experienced ever since I started work on Noir. And now, of course, the title of an article I read the other day comes to mind – “The Cognitive and Affective Structure of Paranoid Delusions” – there’s more, something about schizophrenia and “abnormal explanatory tendencies,” and I think, my, my, how everything connects, and I remember my professor of World Lit (which we did study in college although it wasn’t on any exams, just to realize that we weren't alone in the universe writing in a bloody vacuum!) would say, “When everything connects, RUN!” which sounds great in principle, but is completely absurd in reality because I am a semiotician and so I’d have to run constantly, beautifully, breathlessly, because things connect everytime, everytime.
A list of things that stubbornly connect:
1. Love. “So there you are, my love,” a conclusion of sorts presented to the audience twice, as part of the lyrics of a song that almost bookends the production, although the staging into the abyss continues. If this is confusing, I can’t help you. Not today. Come see the show and everything will become clear. So, on the subject of love. I mentioned it in the first entry, trying to explain a certain dimension of Immediate Theatre (Brook’s term) which Deadly Theatre lacks completely because it cannot conceive of it. Affection, gratitude, love for one’s production and its people, because they (the people) are the ones who take words flattened on paper and make them breathe. (“Cut these words and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive.” Thank you, Mr. Emerson. I’ve been carrying this thought with me for decades now, ever since I decided I needed to say in this language – not my own – everything I could communicate in the one I was born with. Cut these words. A sentimental bloodbath).
So love then…Practiced within a landscape of detachment, among men and women who’d rather conquer the Old West (they have) than go on a date (“NIGHT: This is excruciating”). I have been staging love story after love story, hoping to find the perfect balance between my internal rhythm and the “real” reality, knowing that it might never reveal itself (chimera), feeling (everytime, everytime) more at home on the stage, in the middle of that story than inside the one that contains me. And people ask: if it is this difficult to stage a play, if it drains you so, why do it? The answer is simple and immensely complicated if those who ask know me very little: I do it because it helps me breathe, because this is the only way I know to connect (not superficially) with other human beings, because, in the process, relationships are forged that remind me of the way people relate to each other in books – which is lovely, and intense, and meaningful, and completely impossible to sustain in reality.
2. Water. Images recur: in Urmuz, the secretary was a mermaid whose desk was inside a bathtub; a sea voyage followed. In The Happiness Machine a giant ship, the one I made for the “Habitat” art exhibit, was hanging from an impossible tree outside Larry Tarkowsky’s window. The Silentio Project’s torture scenes were inspired by well-choreographed waterboarding scenes in the movies. Yes: “I know of torture scenes from the movies” sounds delightfully stupid, but better than the truth (Not today). Water. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover has the most complex scene involving bodies and liquids (water, wine, tears, urine) that I have ever seen. It is breathtaking and humbling. Years ago I saw an entire show staged inside a 30 foot pool placed in the middle of the stage. Front row spectators received tickets and towels, just in case. Possibly without knowing it, Night is drowning internally. There are unhappinesses that feel like underwater breathing. Kafka feels like that (see the beginning of The Castle). Kafka’s sparse sex scenes feel like that. Insomnia (the original, not the remake) feels like that. You go through the motions mechanically, you take in air, but you are drowning.
3. Flight: all the (dangerous) ways I make the actors move on the stage to suggest imponderability – the possibility of flight. Bodies arrested in motion, caught (midair) inside some accident of fate. Most often (this happens frequently in Noir) the idea of flight is suggested in a dialogue line or an inflection.
K. is very good at this, mostly without knowing it, because his inflections accomplish imponderability two ways: there’s the suggestion that contact with another human being will make him flee – physical flight, then; and then there’s a certain softness of speech that, to me, suggests a lightness (of being? Ha!), as if his words, once released, float through the air toward the other person. This happens rarely, when he’s relaxed, at night, and allows himself an intimate connection to language (not always to the person language reaches, though). At the very end of the play, C’s voice accomplishes something similar, something I love, a light, quiet goodbye – not melodramatic, not dripping with sentiment, but something very similar to flight. If this doesn’t make sense, I’m sorry. I don’t know how else to explain it. Flight, the moment you sever your connection to the ground that holds you prisoner, is another definition of freedom. (Freedom to do what? Ah…)
4. Text(s). The text of the play – never complete, constantly evolving, never resolved (that would be deadly, no?) is both necessary and problematic. Necessary as a skeleton, a scaffolding that sustains this entire enterprise (“This So Called Disaster” comes to mind); problematic because of its physical presence on the stage. I used to love that; now, the proximity to the public makes me hate it, and yet the physical text makes a point about its own existence. Books, pages, libraries cannot disappear. We cannot survive another Alexandria incident. Culturally, we simply can’t afford it, so I bring texts on the stage to remind everybody of their physicality. Noir’s text functions strangely, though. For months, now, K. and I have been exchanging lines form the play which seem to fit every single situation we find ourselves in (personal, social, academic, textual...RUN!) and yet, inexplicably, in rehearsal, he’s still handcuffed to the text although he quotes all of it, by heart, all the time (everywhere, everywhere). The text is the point of origin. The final result rejects the text. Conclusion: the text is its own problem.
Roughly, three weeks to the show. Roughly, I’m somewhere between happiness and worry (not despair: notice the optimism?) Everything connects constantly, stubbornly, creating a paratext around the text of the play and the text (psychopathology?) of everyday life. This should be comforting (my world makes sense). This is terrifying.
So there you are, my love.
*The Avengers, if you must know. If you’d like details, ask.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
The other day R. (credited in the program as “crisis management”) reminded me that all my plays go through cycles. In fact (she said) it’s the same cycle of happiness and despair. (You were wondering where the dramatic opening line for this entry was, right?)
Come to think of it, The Happiness Machine and The Silentio Project exemplified these exact emotions, which is probably why I could never jump up and down with joy (as I’m often known to do when things go swimmingly) at the end of any of Silentio’s rehearsals. There was too much darkness there, and I didn’t exactly know where it came from. But I had to do that play as I’ve had to do all these plays whose images haunt me until I manage to put them into words and silences, until I shape them into (always) unfinished love affairs – demented fairy tales, the lot of them, with their monsters, and their lost boy-heroes, and all that fucking, unapologetic sentimentality (yes, I said “fucking” in a blog. Grow up, children).
Happiness and despair. About three weeks before the show everything disintegrates, everything that we’ve worked on collapses, and I have to start again, from the beginning, not quite the same beginning though, but a new point of entry which gives everything a new shape. It’s some sort of phoenix moment I love and mostly hate (up in flames, then alive again), a necessary punishment, a revision, a reconstruction that helps me see things clearly once again. I am not alone in this. Everybody involved in the process feels it, everyone acts and thinks differently after that. I can’t explain it. It always happens, and I always forget until R. reminds me…
Four hour rehearsal this past Saturday – more like three hour rehearsal and 40 minutes of coffee and croissants and reciprocal congratulations – during which miraculous things happened.
You know I love lists. Here’s a list of…
I should stop here, just having said “C.” It should be enough, but it’s not. I need to go into details. C. with the little girl-fatale look, and the expressive, imploring, sad eyes that get somehow bigger, ready to capture all the sadness in the world when Night delivers the fatal line (this is, actually, just one of many: the man is a death-sentence machine): “I don’t think I can help you. Please leave.” Night, kicking happiness out like a fool, as if chances like these materialize every other day, as if people ready to love him unconditionally, blindly, spectacularly, endlessly, are waiting just around the corner for a chance to get in. I don’t understand this man and I wrote him. What does that say about me?
C…There was splendor there on Saturday. How, I don’t know, because the paneled, evil, fluorescent room we rehearse in is the opposite of all that is decent, beautiful, and emotional in a human being (is that why it’s called the faculty lounge? As a punishment?) I watched C. understand the moment of her death (Death comes calling); I watched her take Night’s hand, in a last, desperate attempt at connection (Night, you fool!); I watched her dance her way out, into oblivion, at a moment when I thought there was nothing on the other side. I thought: what an extraordinary girl. I thought: why is she hiding so? I felt gratitude, and affection (affinity?), and a certain need to advertise her extraordinariness, and a certain feeling of impossibility. (Can one feel impossibility? It feels like uselessness. It feels like desolation)
C.: glamorous, secure in her convictions, a movie star, moved to tears by a little man whose need for love is so immense it shatters everything. Is this Night’s tragedy? Is it a kind of blindness? Is he incapable of dealing with these extraordinary women – Chlotilde, The Angel of Death, perhaps others – loving him completely for what he is (no “I love you, now change” moment here), seeing him for the first time? Was he hiding behind his mediocre relationships before? Was it easier to be with mediocre, normal women because they did not see, and did not question, and because their love didn’t burn at the stake, “signaling through the flames?” Ok, so I went a bit Artaud there, at the end, but, really. Why resist C.? Why not try harder with the Angel of Death who proclaims her attraction to him? At which point does reserve become a shroud instead of a protective membrane? (Night, you fool…)
- Death. Angelica. The Angel of Death. We made a collective decision to let sentiment back in (Yeah: that fucking sentiment. Grow up) and, suddenly, Death was there, magnificent, important, deadly. E. found the character's rhythm, finally, and it makes me think that it was my fault, all along, telling her to sound and behave as if words, sentiments were alien to her…but I thought I was right. I thought the Angel of Death wouldn’t feel, wouldn’t know how. What a colossal mistake. Isn’t it so much more tragic that a creature who understands sentiment, who sees people for what they are and loves them, also has to end their days? Wouldn’t that create, eventually, a crisis of sorts? Is that why Death takes refuge in amnesia – as if it were an oasis in the desert? I understand her so much more now. E. was magnificent on Saturday.
-K…K. having fun with his lines, internalizing the character, having the courage of his inflections, inhabiting that sordid space like it was his birth right, holding C. close during his 25.3 seconds of affection during the waltz…K. becoming Night, meeting the Angel of Death terrified, yet somehow heroic, intense. Vulnerable. Human...K. being human.
And now a list of despairing things which only contains one item (can a list consist of one item only? Why not? It is my list)
I never thought it would happen again and yet it did. We were taking photographs before rehearsal and, in an attempt to capture the perfect image, I tried to rearrange K’s hair and his face registered a new kind of horror, something very close to suffering. (This happened once before, at the end of a difficult rehearsal when I tried to hug him, to make him forgive me for all the physical abuse I had subjected him to). There was a moment there, on Saturday, that I didn’t want to linger over not to spoil an otherwise perfect rehearsal. Afterward, though, at home, alone, I kept thinking about it, trying to find a logical explanation for it. How to explain this concisely? I handle actors. I manipulate them, I touch their faces, their arms, their torsos, to correct a movement, a posture, a hesitation. I do it all the time. I talk about this in the beginning. I always warn them that I’m going to “handle” them. I also warn them that I’m going to hug them when things go my way. It’s how I signal happiness…I love Gordon Craig and his Ubermarionette, and the possibilities he sees in its silhouette extending somewhere beyond the possibilities of the human body. I don’t have marionettes, but I have actors, and I touch their bodies in rehearsals, and I tell them how I want them to move. With K. things come to a standstill, always. I approach him, I extend a hand, and his face contorts into a rictus – I’m not sure if it’s an expression of horror of disgust, I’m not sure if it’s directed at me or the world in general, I’m not sure if K. is under a general warning of “noli me tangere…” Whatever it is, it alienates me inside a second, it’s detrimental to rehearsals because I hesitate to “correct” him, it also makes me wonder why someone who finds contact (with me? with the world?) so distasteful would spend hours talking (to me) about the world.
So there’s the despairing thing: my failure to connect with my main character because the actor is in the way, because he finds my proximity suspicious, because he knows nothing of Grotowski’s experiments (one of those great 20th century events that changed the way we think about theatre), because he wants nothing to do with human contact while (I imagine) wishing for a colossal love story, like his doppelganger, one S. Night…
What is to be done? And where are we to go from here?
After rehearsal, K. becomes himself again and sends me a friendly message I cannot respond to, because I never know who I’m talking to: the witty compatriot (I often feel K. and I share a history, a geography) whose collaboration I’ve come to value so, or the distant spectator whose face always shows the horror of proximity?
I don’t know. There’s a bit of a shizo-split at work here I haven’t figured out yet. For now, the formidable promise of our last rehearsal, C.’s extraordinary grace, K's victory over reserve, and E’s tremendous progress will have to keep me company.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Three hour rehearsal tonight with both spectacular and disastrous results. The show becomes more and more elaborate in my mind* as this obscure world I have invented takes shape. The problem is that it takes shape in my mind more than it does on the “stage,” which is the awkward space where we rehearse, a ‘70s, wood paneled, cavernous room adorned with mouse-colored, stained carpet and fluorescent lighting.
Perhaps it is the space: this is an intimate show, meant for close-ups and whispers. Possibly a movie. I’m doing it as an awkwardly lit play, while also trying to cram 100 people on the stage.
Every time I do a new play I wonder if this is the one that’s going to be my monumental failure, the one whose painful memory is going to crush me like a like a gigantic, unkind juggernaut. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is the price I have to pay for ‘doing honesty,” for revealing things, in public, which I barely dare confess in private, for holding nothing back. Maybe honesty is overrated and all I need to do is withdraw inside some transparent, protective shell that’s going to parade the world before me without forcing me to interact with it.
I am terribly afraid and I am terribly unhappy and, with R. gone (my stage manager and most trusted confidante), I have no one to talk to. True, there are these entries, there is this virtual audience of complete strangers whose faces are a blur, but how can that be even remotely comforting?
There is something to be said about the solitude of the director (why am I reminded of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner?) which can be devastating at times. Does this sound too dramatic? Perhaps it is. For you. But this is not your play, not the world in your head, not your nostalgia, not your fear and insecurity. It’s mine. I reach out to K. but, having left the space of the rehearsal, he sheds Night’s persona (“Despite what you might think, I am not made of stone”) and settles back into his nicely decorated life. I can’t reach him there. There is no place for me in his carefully guarded universe.
I talk to S. but she too is worried, and we part in silence.
The spectacular part tonight: Chlotilde’s monologue, her attempt to break through Night’s barriers; her interminable patience, her professionalism, her endurance.
The disastrous part: K’s barely audible, monotonous delivery – a sign of utter exhaustion. My panic that he will deliver an equally flat-lined performance on the one night that matters. My inability to hide this fear from him.
E’s complete separation from this play. She has a superficial grasp of the character – a certain pitch in the voice, certain deliberate movements – but life has taken over and she is more preoccupied with that (socializing, living, planning for the future…) Why did she insist on being in this play? She has no time for it, her heart is not into it.
On the way home from rehearsal, for the first time, I can’t listen to the soundtrack. It’s a little painful, like a reminder of potential, colossal failure. In class I talk about the ability to fail all the time. Why don’t I practice it? Why can’t I practice what I preach?
I feel exhausted, and a little lost, like an actress who’s forgotten her next line, the exit line, the one that promises some sort of refuge, and delivers, through backstage corridors and darkened alleys, the silence of the day before.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Whenever I get to this point –about a month and a half before the opening (and closing) night – I take inventory. A catalog of sorts, this list is very similar to people’s New Year resolutions (which is appropriate considering that my “year” begins and ends with each production; that I keep time according to our rehearsal schedule: one evening a week – a two hour rehearsal, casual, less taxing than a class; then the occasional 6 hour Saturday rehearsal, a little more intense, more focused; then, two weeks before the show, rehearsals every evening and all weekend, 10am to 8pm, performance boot camp, really, just a little bit classier).
Unlike a list of New Year’s resolutions, however, my inventory consists solely of flashbacks (no flashforwards here). Unlike the people who make lists at the beginning of each year, I am less prone to delusions.
These are the things I’ve learned over the past few months, a list of facts in no particular order, accomplishments, losses, victories and disappointments, in other words, History: the history of this production, its genesis, its paratext. (When did I start work on this play? July? By “work” I mean the moment I started thinking about it, writing lines in my head while doing dishes, letting – slowly, slowly – Night’s image materialize, seeing the space around him, then the cast of characters necessary for his survival. So: July? Probably much earlier, perhaps two years ago when K. walked into my classroom, of all the classrooms in all the world…There’s no such thing as a coincidence. Dickens invented coincidences to advance his plots and we’re just too damn well-read, that’s all).
-I will never learn: I will do plays when I have something to say, when there’s something new I want to try – a genre-bending twist, a different kind of character, a new method of work. I will never learn, and I will not care that six months of work equal zero on my end-of-year performance evaluation, because a production is not a written text (not a publication), because it can’t be quantified, because “everyone can do theatre, it’s just that easy”** so it can’t require that much effort. But a production is a living, breathing thing that keeps me living and breathing, so I will never learn.
-I am in danger of losing touch with reality. I’m not talking about the method actor’s trance here, but a different kind of reality, my internal reality that changes with every play I do. Some people are afraid of death. Oh, let’s stop hiding: I am terrified of death, not the process itself but its consequences, my complete erasure from existence, and even more devastatingly, from other people’s memories: people I befriended, people I loved, people who loved me, people who will mourn my absence for a while (but not too long because time heals everything). Because of my irrational fear of inconsequence, I feel completely alive only when I make up a world whose evolution, whose path I can control utterly. When I do a play, I live differently, I think differently, I feel about two decades younger, my internal landscape changes. Then the play is over and I become dormant…older. This is both a gift and a curse. The gift: I think differently. The curse: I cannot explain this to the people I work with closely, the fact that, internally, I see no difference between us, not in age, not in experience, not in cultural background. So I behave differently (perhaps shockingly) because every play is a great leveler of things, because the immense expanse of open, empty space it creates (very similar to the desert) becomes the stage we work on, the place where we meet on equal terms, the consequential playground. How can I ever explain this coherently? Sally Potter does it at the end of The Tango Lesson when she dances with Pablo (her actor, her tango teacher, her lover) in the final scene, and sings, “You are me and I am you/One is one and one are two.” This is what I mean. This is what I can’t explain. This is how I lose touch with real reality. This is what keeps me alive for a while.
-I am afraid that, one day, I might be too old for this. How will I know? When the internal landscape (my age) will refuse to change; when I will cross paths with people and see them exactly as they are, and not as what they might become under the spotlight; when I will no longer hear random lines in my head while doing dishes. When I will no longer fall for the Steppenwolf. When I will no longer care.
For now…For now all these things are still happening. The play is the perfect storm. And the storm takes my breath away every single time.
* So it appears I lied: this particular inventory is not just a collection of facts about this play, but an inventory of inventories, because this play makes me more nostalgic than I’ve ever been, because it infects me with sentiment, because I find it so confounding. An inventory of inventories then. So be it.
**One day I will punch in the face the next person who proclaims this in a meeting, smiling benignly, with that righteous, self-assured conviction that only imbeciles are capable of.