I was rather interested in a post Bill Benzon did on lit criticism here. Its a subject I have never done, it seemed to obvious a thing to do at university, I was well trained in certain aspects of this subject from a craft perspective and did not think it would be as challenging as sitting subjects I had no real experience of. I don’t think it will work but I want to take a break from my usual sources but want to keep writing each day. Will tidy up what are at the moment loose dyslexic notes on the hoof. The title comes from what I love about an aspect of psychology, the way it forms significant areas of research from very simple every- day observation (Its also in character, in regard to what is described below) . Its not any different to drama at this level, psychology and art do not seem distinct things both activities draw from observation.
Going to go through a speech from Still Life, line by line. I introduced the author in the last post. Still life is not autobiography but it is drawn directly from an environment he knows.
I think its quite obvious what you have to do with a script. It does not need any discussion or explanation you just follow the instructions, practice and as soon as you are in front of an audience it becomes very clear were things are working and where they need to adjust.
Many years ago when I did this sort of thing I moved into a shared house with about 7 other people living in it. I was not around much, working strange hours, but about 7 months into my stay I found my housemates had got rather the wrong impression of what I was. I had mentioned something about work. They asked me what I did. I told them, the response was Ohhhhhh (said with some relief) that’s what you do. We just thought you were fucking mad, sitting in you’re room at night speaking to yourself. No, that’s called rehearsing lines.
These lines below, I know very well. I also know they work. I performed the play and then used the speech as an audition piece afterwords as it works so effectively. But description on how they work from a performance perspective? I have no idea how to go about that in words. I also get to commit two cardinal sins, engage with a former profession that is aspirational for many people and therefore must be an indicate of artistic frustration on my part and I also get to indulge further in ‘cod’ science or ‘pop’ psychology. The interest is with how audiences become absorbed in performance and other cultural rituals.
Latitude, Longitude and General Location
Going to go over a few lines from a speech in Still life. The setting is simple. Phil’s mother has died, He is in the Garden of Remembrance, at her graveside. A memorial stone has not yet been arranged. He has things on his mind. What do you have do do with the script to get it to work?
“The garden of remembrance. So whats to remember?”
The opening lines give the game away and the first important thing, getting a sense of where you are. Its spelled out and the internal sense and disorientation of the character is also unfolding in the words.
He is not relaxed in this place. Nether can the audience as it is you who is giving them the feeling of where they are. They are sharing in the unease and uncertainty. In order to make the illusion work. The first thing is sense of place. Every one in the room needs to be drawn into this sense and have a memory of where they are in this moment. The garden of remembrance, slight sarcasm. So whats to remember, an aside to the audience, but unfocused its not trained in on them, Phil is getting a sense of environment, where he is, uncertain why he is here and also so far resistant to the atmosphere and stillness of the graveyard . The audience gets this sense to (if you do), it is not yet fully in the garden it is not yet fully engaged with.
“I love her, I love her not.”
Still uncertainty, slightly quieter than the fist couple of lines but it is still thrown about vaguely, the lines are to self and thrown out into space but not yet directly to each and every member of the audience. Things are still uncertain.
A Perfectly Natural Reaction
“You embarrassed me.”
This is the change, the line you have to get perfect. Its delivered quietly, movement is still, intimate, he is now connected fully with the place he is in, what he has to do, this is the moment you also connect fully with every individual in the room. The line is addressed directly to his dead mother. The trick is to make everyone in the room feel it is directed straight at them. They get a sense of where they are and feel it directly. It must be utterly believable and direct, leaving everyone feeling you are talking personally to them.
Its the moment, escape is not possible for anyone as the audience is forced to fully participate in the performance here. What makes this the point of complete absorption is contained in the language or more specifically in the pauses and in the words that remain unsaid. The conversation is not a natural one, the mind of the audience is having to fill in the parts where the mother interjects. Everyone’s mind is drawn in and has to actively participate. The setting makes this internal look inside the characters mind appear perfectly realistic but it is the unnatural nature of the dialog between son and non-existent mother that ensnares the room into fully into being a part this event.
“Are you listening?”
I said. You Embarrassed me”
All is hushed at this point. All life in this space still and attentive. You cannot go wrong. Everyone is in place you have the full attention of everyone in the room. You work out how to do it before you get in front of an audience the basic directions are clear but it is up to you to conjure the atmosphere of place. Which is done by clearly marking it in words, yet resisting and being uncertain of it. Its moving from that tension to a state of being relaxed and still and know exactly what to say and to who that is the killer (edit. rather confused paragraph).
But that is rather a lot of words to imperfectly explain the role of three simple words you, embarrassed and me. The delivery here is the key and it is simply to bring people directly into a place they know and allow them no other opportunity other than to confront what you are saying to them. The directions are quite clearly written. This is the one moment where Phil is calmly in control, it is where everything gets its sense of place. “Are you listening?” Louder but still controlled, leaves no doubt for anyone in the room what everyone’s role is in this space.
” I said. You Embarrassed me”
“No because you were stupid. For me that was a bonus. No everyone in the street had a mad mother.”
That sense of control is starting to go, but it has done its work in drawing everyone in. Uncertainty is starting to creep back in. He has questions to ask here.
“Some had a collection of marvel family comics, some had army badges, me, I had you, transparent, uneducated and you never spoke right neither.”
Its all starting to come out, the story becoming clearer, the anger is constrained and clings inside, it is not going to move to full blown rage, that does not work as you just lose all sense of place and its stillness and intimacy, if you over hit and go to far. Trail and error determines how to control the moment. For me with this one, I came into the rehearsal room after a nightmare journey one morning, had to start doing this as soon as I got in the door, I was just in time and no more, so was not in the zone, my own frustration from the events of the morning just blew the thing apart at first and it just did not work. Was a dreadful start. But you live and learn. With this you learn by doing and working directly with the script up on its feet, not explanation.
Stick this up raw edit later the last post will be re-worked as well as I engage a bit more fully with some of the things getting added below in the references. I am also working from memory as I don’t have a script at the moment.
Creating Social Connection Through Inferential Reproduction: Loneliness and Perceived Agency in Gadgets, Gods, and Greyhounds.
The Effects of Cell Phone Conversations On The Attention and Memory of Bystanders