by Howard Gayton
Wednesday, 7th December
Yesterday, Tuesday, we were doing tech all day: putting the lighting, sound levels and cues into the computer. After the debacle of Saturday evening, I started work with all the technical crew in our circle too, so that there was an open channel of communication with me if there were any more problems.
It was an excellent, if very long, day — 9.30 in the morning to 12.30 at night. I love working on lights in the way we did today; it is like painting. The show is a series of moving images, and by working in conjunction with the lighting designer, I am able to highlight these, and create new images. I learned a while ago from artist friends that if you are going to have a lot of red in the top left corner of a picture, you need a little shading of the same colour in the bottom right.In literature, too, you need to foreshadow a character trait if it is to be important later on. In this show, the sorcerer’s tower is foreshadowed when the old woman talks to the boy early on and the ensemble echo the word ‘Chave,’ which is Portuguese for ‘key.’ In the tech run yesterday, I added a repetition of this echo as the boy nears the tower towards the end of the play, to highlight the moment when he uses the key. I was struck again by the importance of foreshadowing when I added alittle bit of light in the set to cover the three animal kingdoms (which are represented by structures at the back of the stage) to join them all together. I didn’t just bring up light on the Fish Kingdom on its own, leaving the rest dark, but added the slightest dab of light on the other kingdoms too. The smallest glint of light on a leaf was all it needed to tie it together.
The lighting student, (who was the one who had to leave early on Saturday, which lead to all the problems), said that he had learned more about lighting yesterday than he had in a whole year on his course. I think this is because we weren’t designing it on a computer and then imposing it on the show, but we looked at the images on stage and composed for them in an organic and creative way. Lighting is a part of the dramatic process; it evolves and is played with, not imposed.
Our lighting starts with just one light for the narrator — one light, one person. I like the simplicity of this; it reminds me of the opening of Peter Brook’s The Empty Space, in which he writes that for an act of theatre to occur, all one needs is an empty space. If someone crosses that empty space, and someone else observes them, then that, in itself, is an act of theatre. (I find resonance with this in Quantum physics, where it is the act of observation that determines the quantum result.)
Thursday, 9th December
Today I feel sad and totally spent. I am touching my mortality, my body feels old and my spirit feels drained. Yesterday was our first show to an audience, and it went well: but I won’t be satisfied until the spirit of the performance breaks through, lifting both them and the audience to new heights. It will happen, of course, I am sure of it — but tha is what I want. Not a perfect performance, but one that is alive, vibrant, fresh, real, that touches the intangible and allows us to feel it,to be transported by it, enchanted by it, whisked up and taken on a journey. We are not there yet, but we are close . . . .
We have only had the Seal King mask for a few days, and it sits on top of the actor’s head, not covering the eyes. Doing some work with it today, I was reminded of images of shamans putting masks on the tops of their heads, their eyes remaining uncovered. In our scene, when the Seal King heals the boy, he tilts the mask down so that the audience can see the seal. Then when he has brought the boy back to life, the Seal King shows us his human face again. It is a different way of using a mask. It is more shamanic in many ways than justcovering the face with a mask completely — it is almost the embodiment of the shaman’s power, his ability to cross between the two worlds at will, just by the movement up and down of the head. One minute the king is deep in world of Spirit, head down, the ‘seal medicine’ active. We see the seal, its eyes focusing, concentrating, moving energies, calling back a soul from the Spirit World. The next minute, the shaman is human again, in this world, no longer the seal but a man with a mask on his head.All this, just from the tilt of the head (and of course attendant change of concentration, seeing and energy)!
Saturday, 10th December
Yesterday’s show went very well. The cast started to grow, to play, and to fly! There are new bits of characterisation starting to emerge as they discover where the audience is laughing, or find more about the feeling of a scene, or uncover possibilities in the continuation of a physical move. We have been working on process all along; this is the true empowerment of the actors.
As part of our warm–up today, we did a speed run of the lines, standing in a circle, with the full cast setting the pace by clapping and dancing along. Sergio joined in by playing with the lights, without my asking. He is now seeing how he can play along with the process. All but one of the cast got into the speed run, letting themselves be taken into trance, beyond their normal and comfortable boundaries.
I had made the decision not give the cast any notes from the performance the night before. I know I can be a very exacting director at times, but if you want people to fly, then loading them with too much stuff is not the way to do it. The warm–up was, therefore, mostly massage, and the only talking I did was to say how well the show had gone.
Sunday, 11th December
Two of the comments from the show so far have been that "children were completely transfixed," and that the show is "very simple, yet very deep." Both are comments that I am very pleased with.
One of the exchanges of text that I am particularly fond of is when the boy meets the girl in the tower for the first time:
Girl: Quem es tu? (Who are you?)
Boy: O rapaz. (The boy.)
Girl: Cual rapaz? (Which boy?)
Boy: O rapaz! (The boy!)
There is a little explanation of what the boy is here for, and then:
Boy: Quem es tu? (Who are you?)
Girl: A rapariga. (The girl.)
Boy: Cual rapariga? (Which girl?)
Girl: A rapariga! (The girl!)
This sounds great in Portuguese, and has a Commedia sing–song feel to it. It has a great rhythm, enhanced by the punctuation of image at the end of each little interchange, but for me it is much more than that. Who are you? The Boy. Which boy? The boy! It really sets it into the realm of archetype. Indeed all the characters are referred to by their archetypcal designations: the old man, the old woman, the fisherman, the oldest sister. There are no names.(Actually, there is one name in one bit of storytelling, but I am going to take that out for Monday’s performance.) The sense of all the characters being archetypes takes away the idea that the girl is helpless and just there to be saved. She is the girl, and he is the boy. Both are necessary for the integration of a person on his or her quest, the integration of the feminine and masculine.