Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ambience and Accident

I'm just coming out of a week of workshop and performance with a mixed group of enthusiastic amateurs and (what I like to refer to as) proto-professionals.

What started off as a performance of a cut down Shakespeare, ended as a most interesting experiment in the application of 'ambience' and 'accident' to a variety of text extracts. The basis remained Shakespeare - as reflected in the 'All the World's a Stage' speech which both started and ended the performance.

On Friday evening, as the sun set, we promenaded the texts in front of an invited audience - in the local botanical garden, a public place which hadn't been closed to 'the public'. Most definitely intended as (as one participant phrased it) a work in progress, resonance and echo, bright bombs of ideas and dud squibs have been infecting my waking thoughts since.

The strongest image I come up with is that of Seurat's, 'La Grande Jatte'.

In that remarkable work, individuals, pairs and small groups are placed in a man adapted landscape: So too with our texts.

Monologue, dialogue and more extended extracts from scenes were placed in a landscape which evolved out of the mixture of human decision and selection, and the more powerful vagaries of natural growth working on a genetic ‘text’.

This is a rational/real-isation ‘After the fact’, but so much of what happens in theatre is precisely thus - no excuse needed.

Environment and text interacted far more powerfully than I anticipated (or hoped for). Indeed, I am not sure I was consciously aware of the potential when I started on the workshops.

What the gardens were originally chosen for – backdrop and oddness, colour and outdoorness, time and light - soon transformed the scenes.

The strongest effect, in performance, was to unify. Under the green wood, along the paths, confined in the fenced space; but much stronger in feeling was the awareness of people – the park was full of humans – like La Grande Jatte on a Sunday morning.

These people were sitting, talking, walking, playing guitar, watching the children – and the ‘actors’ were no different – they too were in the playground, a natural part of the park: Truly, all the world had become the stage.

Each text was given a relevance – and the extracts became caught moments of other people’s conversations.

Caesar was just walking along the footpath amongst a group of friends and between the park people when from another path, across the formality of a flowered bed, the soothsayer shouted her warning – a moment only, then passed on – not time to catch more than an awareness of other people’s lives.

Later, on a zigzag Chinese bridge, over a dry pond, Oberon has just parted from Titania – and calls for Puck to fetch the magic flower – a dog barks as he mentions the singing of the mermaid, children are noisily playing, a family, pushing a child in a buggy stop and watch, then move on – a man with his children had watched the actors ‘rehearsing’ a previous scene – time looped.

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