by Howard Gayton
Thursday, 17th November
Today did not start well. One of the actresses was very late and had not phoned to let us know. Having had cause to talk with the cast two days before on respect for punctuality, I decided that the rest of us would wait, standing in circle, until she arrived. This was boring, and I used it to illustrate my belief that when we are late,we rob the group of time. The show is ensemble work, and we need to be working together. This created quite a dark mood, which I took into work on the scene in the sorcerer’s tower. I dimmed the lights, increasing the bleak mood as we looked at the horrible, filthy old man who had trapped the young woman in his tower.
We also worked on the Seal Kingdom, which is the last of the kingdoms the boy visits. The designs of the seal masks look very ‘cute,’ but in our representation of the world we are going to subvert that. The seals represent the brutal natural world that the boy has to face up to; they surround and trap him, holding him until the king comes to fight the boy for trespassing in his kingdom.The boy is then saved by the timely arrival of the youngest sister.
The metaphorical or ‘inner tale’ of the show is starting to show itself now:
The three sisters represent some missing parts of the boy. When the sisters go away, their place is taken by the items that the boy will need on his journey. The journey is into understanding of ‘self.’ When he leaves the house with these ‘gifts,’ the boy doesn’t understand their value. It is only when he helps the old woman — a new addition to the story — that she, being the archetypal wise–woman, opens his eyes to the magical properties of the items. (Except the key!)
The boy then travels to three kingdoms to find his sisters (i.e., himself). The first kingdom is that of the fish. Symbolically, water corresponds to the emotions. Then he goes to the kingdom of the birds, which is air, and links to the mind. When he has found/tamed the mind and the emotions, he goes on to the seals. The Seal Kingdom is his animal nature, a darker side: kill or be killed. He has to face and integrate this part of himself in order to journey further.The boy’s journey can also be understood as a kind of shamanic initiation. The boy is torn apart, similar to the way that shamans from different cultures journey to the Spirit World and undergo spiritual dismemberment. The boy is killed by the Seal King, but restored to life by the compassion of his sister.
After this initiation, the boy is ready for his final quest to the tower of the sorcerer. Now he understands the use of the key, having discovered this knowledge himself, without needing the old woman’s advice. In the tower he meets the feminine, his other half, which has been kept imprisoned, separate from him. He finds fullness and integration, but in order to fulfil his final destiny, he needs to overturn the older generation and come into his power.To do this, he breaks the egg (a symbol of birth) over the old man’s head, killing the old and re–establishing the proper order of things.
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In the afternoon we looked at the ‘white face’ make–up I’ve chosen for the play, which works well, especially with the floor lighting in the birds’ realm. This type of make–up gives the actors a ‘fantastical’ look, which is right for the fairy tale world we are creating.
Towards the end of the day, we improvised the whole of the Bird Kingdom, with some great transformations of images from trees to a flock of birds to the courtiers. There are times when the birds, made by the hands and voiced by the actors, look absolutely magical on stage, reminding me of scenes from films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers.
Friday, 18th November
This morning we went through all the scenes of the show that we have worked on thus far, in order. This was to give the cast an idea of the sequence of events, and to show me what we are missing.
The actors were all quite tired and aching, so we spent the rest of the morning massaging each other. We have achieved so much and are all surprised at the amount of material we have generated in such a short time. It confirms my belief that time is relative. Meditating in circle at the beginning of the day, we are able to ‘distort’ and gain more time by lifting ourselves to higher levels of concentration.It is not that we are working all the time — we are spending a lot of time talking, and laughing actually — but we don’t waste time, we don’t loose it. We follow the flow of the energy — the energy within ourselves, the energy of the piece, and the ‘Tao’ of what needs to be done. This allows our creative work to unfold without too much struggle.
In the afternoon, the cast worked on characterisation and little scenes. As has been happening all along, these improvisations are really good, in terms of image and richness of text. We have created a whole world, and are now able to mix and match our language from that at will; we are playing with the fairy tale motifs, which reinforce each other and resonate through the whole play. One example is the back–story of how the Bird King was trapped by the sorcerer. The sorcerer took a feather from him — which, if his wife ever leaves the kingdom, even for a minute,the old man will cast through the Bird King’s heart. It is beautiful imagery, so heart wrenching and self–contained: his own feather used to kill him.