Sunday, October 24, 2010
I've just finished the final performance in this, Tilly No-Body's first incarnation. Before the show started, Miles had already left Davis to drive back to LA, and as I watched the set being taken down after the performance, I felt dead, completely empty.
Incarnating a character is a curious, mysterious and somewhat unsettling experience. Although I know we're performing the show again in a month's time at a big conference at UC San Diego - the UCIRA's 'State of the Arts' conference - I feel bereft.
I am back in my apartment. Dead. Completely empty.
I could barely walk the mile home, my bones were so weary. I was too tired to eat, yet managed to sup on a piece of lovely fish that Miles had left in the fridge. Did I want to take myself to the movies? Not really. Did I want to compile a list of all the things that I have to do next week, now that the delicious and overwhelming distraction of Tilly has gone? I suppose so. Get some order into life. Did I want to contact my folks? Yes, that would be nice. A short email, just to let them know I'm here. Did I want to take down the pictures of Frank and Tilly that have surrounded my desk for the last 10 months, since I started writing the play? Uh-uh! Not yet. Not ready to wipe the slate that clean yet.
I can however share a few secrets with you now - things I didn't want to say before in case they spoiled the moments...
I start the play in a big trunk on stage. The only way into the trunk is through its lid. That means I have to be in the trunk before the audience arrive. So for 15 minutes before the play begins, I am scrunched in a trunk - in 5 costumes (a body stocking, a trapeze artist's outfit, a pierrot costume, a ringmaster's woollen jacket and boots, a huge fur coat and a hat ). When we first tried this in the technical rehearsal, I was worried I might get claustrophic or just simply too hot. I had a flask of ice cold water, which - even if I didn't drink it - I could cool my sweaty palms on. What I discovered, however, was that it was blissfully calming. It's like a womb in there. I can hear muffled sounds as the audience arrive. A few footsteps. The odd laugh or cough. But it's dark and cosy and zen. Often, backstage chatter before a show can be a little unsettling, particularly if you have a role involving a lot of concentration. Here, I could just be with my breathing, my imagination, and Tilly's story. The first I knew that the show was starting was the announcement to switch off mobile phones, and then...the first few notes of the opening music and we're off... Out I crawl, like a bewildered animal...
The other secret I want to share with you is the moment in the show when I....
No, maybe that should still remain a secret...
As for walking on the 28" acrylic circus ball - yes, I am as terrified as I look. In the rehearsal room it was easy to balance as there was full light, so I could spot a place out front and focus on that. Here on stage I'm blinded by bright lights and gazing out into the total darkness of the auditorium. Added to which, the sprung dance floor in the Vanderhoef Studio means that walking on the globe has a slight bounciness to it that wasn't there with the harder floor of the rehearsal room. And as for Miles, Reed and Sabba suggesting that I also play the lute and sing a song while walking on the globe...why did I ever think that was a good idea? There is no acting required at this moment. I repeat: I am as terrified as I look.
And yet, what wouldn't I do for that fear now...?
Back to the silence of my apartment. The sound of cars on the rain-drenched street. Fall has arrived in Davis, and it's as wet as it is back home in England.
Miles has phoned me a few times in the last hour on his way back to LA. But the network keeps breaking up. Communication is down. Dead. Completely empty.
I think it's time for some quiet contemplation. Although (I repeat) I'm not yet letting go of Tilly and this is just the beginning not the end, I do find as an actor that a little part of your soul is relinquished whenever a run of a show finishes. Energy, time, emotions are expended at vast rates. And then suddenly...nothing. No 7pm adrenalin kick. Instead... A minor bereavement. A brief time of mourning.
Session 1: Creating and Acting the Wedekind Identity was chaired by Simon Williams, Chair of Theatre and Dance at UC Santa Barbara. Himself a Wedekind scholar, he was eager - as indeed was I - that he should be part of the event. The colorful and eternally insightful Gail Finney (Professor of German and Comparative Literature) gave the first presentation on Wedekind and Lulu: A Cultural Context: here she put the specifics of Frank and his writings in the much broader context of sexual politics in the Western world at the turn of the 19th-20th century. The second presentation was from my German collaborator, Margret Greiner, who had flown with her husband (Professor Bernhard Greiner) all the way from Munich. Her evocative, passionate and intellectually witty contribution - Frank and Tilly: 'Marriage is the most relentless of human addictions' - provoked questions of whether Tilly was a victim or a colluder in her own situation: nothing is black-and-white in gritty drama. As the third contributor, I addressed Tilly No-Body as a piece of practice-as-research, and how I had striven to turn archives, biography, letters, plays and original interpretation of events into theatre, song and present-tense experience of the researched material.
Session 2: Creating Identity: Performative contributions from writers exploring Practice-as-Research brought together three professional writers - playwright Lucy Gough, poet Andy Jones and novelist Lucy Corin. All three are also academics, Andy J and Lucy C here at UC Davis, and Lucy G at the University of Aberstywth in Wales, UK. Lucy G led us intimately and honestly into the processes she adopts as a writer incarnating numerous personalities through her one imagination. She described how she 'walks' her way into characters, revealing that writing is far from a sedentary, head-locked activity, and she compared her experiences of writing for theatre and radio with writing for day-time TV soap (which she did on a weekly basis of 10 years). Andy Jones blended poems from Browning and Eliot with his own original poetry, illustrating how personalities are incarnated and dialogues created through condensed imagery and language: indeed, both of his own performed poems took a dialogue form between two characters in a very intriguing manner. Lucy Corin demonstrated through her readings of her own prose work the way in which she changes narrative voice - from first person to third person - while always playing with her own 'presence' as the writer in a narrative. Listening to Lucy reading her various characters, I was struck by her changing rhythms and the naturally shifting placement in her voice: having described herself as 'not a performer', her performative self was embedded and intuitive, and so I would have to disagree with her own description!
Session 3: Shaping Identity: A discussion panel was chaired by choreographer and Chair of UCD Theatre and Dance department, David Grenke, whose own choreographic work resonates with autobiography and expression of identity. The discussion opened with a virtual presentation by Bernadette Daly Swanson of the Shields Library, who is an infectious energy when it comes to propounding Second Life, the online virtual world where people re-structure and recreate their identities through avatars. This was fascinating. Bernadette was sadly not well enough to appear in the flesh, but her virtual appearance was extremely appropriate. Her introduction to Second Life - and the disparity between people's avatars and their actual faces, contrasted with the appropriateness of their avatars to their own voices - was extremely fascinating. It of course raised issues with Dave and his fellow panel member, actor Miles Anderson, of the role of the body in expressing and performing identity. Both Dave and Miles had incarnated Hitler at various times in their professional careers, and they had both encountered issues of their own shifting personalities when finding themselves afraid that they might empathise with some of Hitler's rationale. Miles also discussed performing Peter Pan at the age of 30-something, and finding his own inner child activated by the role while also being intrigued at Peter Pan's dark side. I was particularly struck by his connection to Pan's statement that death would be 'an awfully big adventure'. Fourth panel member, David Orzechowizc - a PhD student in Sociology - gave some fascinating insights into how actors in theme parks micro-manage their emotions and identities, not only in response to the 'feel good' factor of daily life in a theme park, but also in terms of gender portrayal and a sense of liberation behind the larger-than-life characters incarnated there. One of the recurring themes with Tilly No-Body is the paradoxical way in which we often reveal more of ourselves when we adopt masks and characters, or hide behind veils (and Tilly loves veils).
Session 4: Acting and Performing Identity: Examples of Practice-as-Research brought together four very inspiring PhD students from across the campus. Daniel Grace (English) raised issues of what it signifies to call yourself 'a writer' and how he feels in the process of writing. Dylan Bolles (Performance Studies) and his talented wife combined music and story-telling to open up issues of moving from Korea to the USA. Claire Maria Chambers (Performance Studies) looked at the performance of religion on the streets of San Francisco during Ash Wednesday and the crossing of lines between performance and reality. And Nita Little (Performance Studies) - an immensely gifted choreographer who specialises in improvised dance - demonstrated her use of actual body and virtual body (using quite a different definition from Bernadette in Second Life). She also described the dancer's desire to keep moving forward, as - in the moments of stillness - the present-tense can be too potent for the dancer. This raised some very interesting questions for me in terms of the actor's desire to be 'in the moment', and what stage fright might mean to a dancer.
The symposium culminated in a performance of Tilly No-Body and a post-show reception, which brought together the contributors and the sponsors of the event (Carolyn de la Pena and Jennifer Langdon from the Davis Humanities Institute; Laura Grindstaff from the Consortium for Women and Research; as well as representatives from the Departments of German, English and Theatre and Dance). The whole day was very filling and fulfilling, and I felt that seeds had been planted for further interdisciplinary discussions and collaborations. This for me is the true harmony of practice and research, of performance and pedagogy.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Monday, October 4, 2010
Friday, October 1, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
However, I've kept the idea of 'attractions' as I like the word. And I like the premise on which it's based. The 'montage of attractions' is a term coined by the early Russian film-maker, Sergei Eisenstein. For him, an attraction might be any single image that contained within it potent emotional material. By montaging one attraction against the next - i.e. one image against a totally unrelated image - you could tell another story in the audience's head, as they put the images together. His most famous example is perhaps his film OCTOBER, where scenes of battle are montaged together with images of a cow being slaughtered in an abattoir. We - as the audience - make the connection that war is as brutal as the butchering of an animal.
There's still a certain degree of montaging that goes on in Tilly No-Body, and I give extensive program notes outlining each attraction for the inquisitive audience member. One of the strands of 'montage' includes the placing of Frank's words - i.e. extracts from his plays - against Tilly's words - i.e. what she really feels. In fact, giving Tilly a voice has inevitably been wound up with giving Frank a voice, as his plays are so revealing of the inner state of their marriage.
There are three ways in which Frank's voice comes through:
1) sometimes he 'possesses' Tilly, and we hear his voice through Tilly as in The Exorcist.
2) sometimes his voice is heard in the soundscape, to give him the power of an omnipresent, omniscient figure.
3) he is manifested as a puppet. This is real fun for me as the actor, because at last I have another actor on stage with me. I can talk to him, ignore him, I can throw him on the floor - in other words, Tilly can do things to Puppet-Frank that she could never have done in real life.
Sometimes Frank is clearly telling Tilly what to say next. After all, he was the playwright, she was the actress, so his job involved giving her a voice. Sometimes I play with the fact that Tilly doesn't know what to say next, as Frank (for various reasons revealed in Tilly No-Body) is choosing not to give her words to speak.
As for the technicalities of me as the actress giving Tilly a speaking voice, I have chosen to adopt a gentle German accent. It's not too heavy, as I don't want to distract too much. The intention is just to give a slight alienation to the voice. Besides, accents are like masks, they give you something to hide behind as an actor. They can be both releasing and empowering.
As for the singing voice, I'm pretty much using my own singing voice, coloured by the German accent. One of my fellow faculty did ask if I should try to change it more, to make it sound less like mine? My answer is no, because the songs are deliberately Brechtian, rather than psychologically real.
Brecht was a huge fan of Wedekind, who (by the way) wasn't actually a very good actor. He was rather wooden and stiff, and often suffered stage fright - and yet he could be immensely compelling in his emotional connection to a role. Brecht's 'making strange' or 'alienation' technique was heavily influenced by Wedekind's acting style.
I'm quite happy, therefore, for the songs to jolt the audience's sense of 'reality'. In fact, the first song is called 'The Ballad of the Family Suicides' in homage to the kind of titles Brecht used for his songs in his plays: they were often called 'The Ballad of...'
Interestingly, the lyrics of both Wedekind's cabaret songs (such as 'The Auntie Murderer') and Brecht's songs (such as 'Mack the Knife') frequently contain dark, sinister, blood-thirsty images. In homage to both of them, here are a couple of the lyrics from Tilly's first song, 'The Ballad of the Family Suicides':
'My sister, she retired one afternoon,
As we took tea in the adjoining room
Then she let out a scream
That froze our blood to ice
She'd cut her throat -
And guttered out her life.
She suffered unrequited love
Now you see there
Her bloodstain on the carpet
By the chair...'
And this is based on facts from Tilly's autobiography...
Lucy and I had talked a good deal about Tilly Wedekind, and had both found the material very alluring. As I undertook various pieces of research, I would send Lucy information from US to UK, with extracts from Wedekind's plays, Tilly's autobiography, personal responses to the material, etc. Then in July 2009, Miles and I made a trip to Munich to stay with Margret Greiner, my German language & research collaborator. Margret is another woman with whom I had instantly fallen in love at first sight. A striking lady, with a great wit and sensitivity, she and I had also become mutually entranced by Frank and Tilly as we'd developed our collaboration in September 2008.
That July 2009, Margret took myself and Miles around Munich, and we walked the streets, sat in the cafes, saw the apartment and visited the theatre where Frank and Tilly had worked. Margret also took me to the Wedekind archive, where we're poured over letters scripted by Tilly. Two struck us particularly - one written on tiny paper in tiny handwriting from the sanatorium when she recovered from her poisoning: it was addressed to a theatre director with whom she wished to work. The second was in huge scrawling letters on a big piece of paper to a lover who had spurned her, and in which she accused him of cold-blooded murder. (The lover turned out to be Tilly's daughter's husband...) The two sides of Tilly were blatant and exciting. (I'd already fallen in love with Tilly, long, long ago.)
One of the most impressive moments for me was visiting the graveyard shared by Frank and Tilly in the Munich cemetery. Although Tilly outlived Frank by nearly 50 years - during which time she had several other love affairs - it was with her husband that she found her final resting place. Beneath the art nouveau Pegasus which adorns the memorial, I knew that they lay together - I trusted they were more tranquil in death than in life?
The following week, I met up with Lucy in Cardiff and began to share with her my research. We were staying the night in a B&B, and at 2am I awoke as if possessed. I suddenly knew I had to find the courage to write the play myself. I felt such a bond with Tilly and such a deep rooted need to tell her story, that a strange energy worked its way through me. Had Tilly's spirit wisped its way out of the ground at her graveside and entered my imagination? I sat on the bed in the B&B with all the research spread out around me and I suddenly saw the whole structure. It began with an empty stage. It began with a bottle of pills. It began with the attempted suicide... Then the rest was a kind of flashback through Tilly's life, showing the audience what had brought her to this point of such utter despair.
I didn't go back to sleep that night. I knew I was on some kind of strange mission.
At 7.45am, I gingerly knocked on Lucy's bedroom door. 'I think I've got to write this...' I said.
Lucy, being the unique person she is, absolutely understood. And that was it... I knew I had to leap into the river Spree with Tilly... I had to feel the freezing water and wonder whether on earth I could swim to the other side. I hoped that if I couldn't, Lucy would be able to throw me a life buoy...or at least alert the lifeguard!
The first part of Tilly No-Body that I wrote back in September 2009 was a song called 'Tilly Dances' . Late in their marriage and after a good many difficult times, Frank and Tilly Wedekind re-kindled their romantic flame. A fanatical journal writer all his life, Frank would note in his diary whenever he and Tilly made love, the words: 'Tilly danced'. This image struck me as very poignant and romantic. And it inspired me to write the first of 5 songs for Tilly No-Body.
In addition to the songs, I also knew that I wanted a soundscape to be a significant part of the piece. Solo pieces bring with them all sorts of challenges, not least the lack of other actors on stage with whom to work. However, I firmly believe that as an actor, anything can be a partner - the audience, a prop, a piece of set, an item of costume, and indeed a sound.
My composer/sound designer is a wonderful musician and great scholar, Dr David Roesner. David and I have known each other since 2003, when we were both hired as new faculty in the Theatre Department at the University of Exeter, UK. Within 4 years, David was the Head of the Department. I meanwhile had winged my way to the US.
David's scholarship has won him acclaim, and his insights into and practices of music theatre (NB not 'musical theatre', which is a rather different genre) struck me as exactly what was needed here. Not to mention, he is German. Not to mention, his mother - Margret Greiner - has been my German language collaborator on the project since September 2008 when I met her with her husband, Bernhard, who was a visiting faculty member at UC Davis for a quarter.
When it comes to rehearsing Tilly No-Body, the tricky thing is that David is between Germany and the UK, while we're in California. Initially, he suggested that we Skype him into rehearsals. However, the time difference of 8 hours would mean that our 6pm-10pm rehearsals would be taking place at 2am-6am for David in Europe. While most theatre people are night owls, there are limits! Instead, Reed (our Stage Manager and Assistant Director) has been recording extracts from rehearsals, putting them on a kind of YouTube link, and enabling David to see what we've been up to in rehearsals in the comfort of his own time and space. This process has proved incredibly successful. In fact, David has been extraordinary in his ability to respond to the daily rehearsal notes and to reconfigure or remix music as and when required. He really is operating from a place of intuition and creative intelligence on many occasions. Perhaps the most impressive has been his response to my writing a new song...
After one run through, Miles, Reed and Sabba all agreed that the gap between the penultimate song - a reprise of a song called 'Sitting on a Powder Keg' - and the final song, 'Tilly Dances' seemed a little long. Could I write another song?
As it was, I realised that one of the speeches that I'd given to the Frank puppet - an extract from his play, Censorship - was a little dry. I had already looked to see if I could cut it, and yet every line of text seemed important. So, what would happen if I turned the speech into a song? What happened if we suddenly saw the Frank puppet sing?...
...The speech in question involves Frank recounting a tightrope walker whom he saw in Palermo. The girl had performed tricks - including a strip tease and somersaults - while walking on an elastic rope with knives positioned underneath the rope...
Palermo... That's Sicily, isn't it? What about a Latin-ish sounding song? A kind of Spanish guitar type of sound, with maracas, or castanets, and almost a little bit 'camp'?
Overnight, I wrote the song 'The Girl on the Elastic Rope'. I played it rather primitively on my guitar and sent it to David as an MP3 file, along with the lyrics and chords. Within 2 days, back came the most wonderful accompaniment. Had I been a better musician, it would have been exactly how I would have played it. Not only was I overjoyed that David had written so perfect an accompaniment, but that he'd done it from half way around the world without being in the rehearsal room with us. Bravo, Maestro!
When I first started writing Tilly No-Body, I knew that the set needed to be a fluid space. The storytelling is very fluid - the very first scene involves a pharmacist's shop, a busy street, a hotel lobby and a hotel bedroom, all in the space of 2 minutes. Working with Miles (the director) and John Iacovelli (the Professor of Scenic Design at UC Davis), we fixed upon a faded circus ring. In this ring, we have a large trunk - originally alluding to a touring troupe, now veering towards a box depicting caged tigers as seen in a multitude of period circus posters. We also have what we've come to call the 'elephant podium' which is essentially a series of circular steps with a top platform, which becomes all manner of both real places (e.g. the banks of the river Spree) and metaphoric places (e.g. something alluding to a musical box with one of those tutu-ed ballerinas on top, to give a sense of Tilly being both a doll and something mechanical).
John Iacovelli is a multi-award winning designer, with a flair and a passion which are very infectious. He works fast and mercurially, and it's extremely exciting and daunting working with him. He absolutely understood the atmosphere of the piece and the palette of colours which would be appropriate - blues, golds, reds, silvers. And the images that he initially showed us of circuses, animals and artistes engaged all of our imaginations powerfully. Being such an incredibly busy man, he's not had a chance to be in rehearsals yet, as he has a number of shows opening, both in and out of state. However, we've mocked up the 'elephant's podium', and we have a great rehearsal trunk which we're customising as we need.
With any piece of new writing - particularly such a multi-location piece as Tilly No-Body - a creative team is always aware that things may change in rehearsal. As it is we've been able to be quite clear of our intentions re: the storytelling, atmosphere and style, and by the end of the first week, the images that resonated round my imagination for the months of development are beginning to take potent and vivid shape. We also have a great shop team here at UC Davis: our production manager, Eric Steggall arrived less than a year ago, and yet it's hard to imagine life here without him. Eric has an ability to spot potential troubles a mile off, and shoot them square in the face. The team responsible for building the set - Daniel, John and Bryon - are a great cocktail of personalities. Daniel's quiet-spoken reassurances when suddenly the elephant podium looked a little precarious for the amount of running up and down involved in the mise-en-scene were a blessing. Byron is always funny and provocative, and when back in the spring I was learning to walk on a walking globe (an activity that Frank taught Tilly to do for his play The Stone of Wisdom), Byron was often at hand to throw the appropriately supportive - or gently mocking - comment.
The third part of the triumvirate - John (also known affectionately as Murph) - is doing the most amazing job on creating 2 figures/puppets to look like Frank and Tilly. John studied sculpture, and the heads that he has carved for Frank and Tilly render the whole idea of the puppets highly attractive and possible. At the moment, we're having a few problems building the bodies, as there are very specific things that I want the puppets to do - not least, to remain in whatever position I've put them in once I let go of them, so that I can manipulate them in a dialogue without one character 'dying' while the other is speaking. In other words, they can't be marionettes, which lose all life without the operator above them. In fact, John is working on a design not dissimilar to the figurines that artists use to fix in still-life positions for their drawings. I think this is going to work particularly well, given that in addition to the circus there are also references to artist's studios and easels and paintings.
One of the recurring images in the play is the sloughing of skins, like a snake. To take the audience through this narrative, I wanted to have layers of costumes that are literally peeled away to reveal another disguise underneath, until finally we get to the 'real' Tilly underneath.
It would be impossible to start finding the stage pictures in rehearsal without - from the very early days - having some rehearsal costumes. UC Davis is blessed to have the most terrific costume department - and the most wonderful Professor of Costume, Maggie Morgan. Maggie, Miles and I talked a good deal about costumes back in March when I was writing the piece. Circus is a recurring image, and Frank Wedekind loved trapeze artists and circus animals. His plays are riddled with animal references, and one of his most famous plays - Earth Spirit - begins with a ringmaster in a circus. Between us we have devised a peeling away of layers of costume that take us through various circus characters, until we reach the 'skin' of Tilly.
Maggie's designs are fantastic, and with Wardrobe Mistress Roxanne Femling and master-tailor Abel Mercado, they provided me with some excellent rehearsal mock-up costumes as well as some of the actual performance costumes. Because all the clothes come off or are put on on stage, it's vital that every zip, popper, button is part of the stage choreography, and their contribution in early rehearsals has been invaluable.
Props are equally important. Miles Anderson, the director, has a passion in the theatre for 'moments of magic', and the circus lends itself wonderfully to this. He has sprinkled lots of moments of unexpected 'magic' throughout the show, and this has been a huge surprise and challenge to me. The material of Tilly No-Body is quite dark - hey, it starts with a suicide attempt. Miles's aesthetic is so colourful and playful, that he has found a contrapuntal style to the show that I never would have imagined. As an actor, I love it! So the early rehearsals have been littered with props - silk handkerchiefs, sponge balls, masks, feathers, whips and a walking globe. These too are part of the choreography of the staging, and we've not even talked about actually building a character yet!
The key to creative freedom in a rehearsal room for me is undoubtedly a spirit of fun, collaboration and openness. Our director, Miles Anderson’s opening gambit on Monday September 13 was to express his desire that we should all have fun. The minute the process ceased to be fun for any of us, then the time had come to quit - or at least express that loss of fun.
What does it mean - to have fun in a rehearsal room?
For me as an actor I have to know that I can trust everyone in the room to respect what I’m doing. I don’t mean that in any supercilious, precious way. I simply mean that if I’m expected to be vulnerable in the rehearsal room, then I need to know that no one in that room is going to ridicule or deride the offerings I dare to make.
With a one-person show, the level of vulnerability is particularly high. There’s no one to turn to on stage except myself. I’m very lucky in this situation because the rehearsal room is a very familiar space to me - it’s the blackbox Arena theatre in the Department of Theatre and Dance at UC Davis. I teach actor-training in here, so I know it as a laboratory space. Also, there are only four of us in the rehearsal room: Miles (the director, whom I’ve known for 5 years and with whom I’ve worked as an actor); Reed Wagner (the Stage Manager and Miles’s chosen Assistant Director) and Sabba Rahbar (the Assistant Stage Manager). I asked Reed to be involved in this production as I’d seen him in action a year ago, as the Stage Manager in Sideshow’s previous production - Elephant’s Graveyard. Reed is a student majoring in Dramatic Art, and last year - at a mere 19 years of age - he had impressed me hugely with his ability to take an authoritative position with fellow undergraduates, graduates and faculty. His courtesy and maturity were striking. As Miles got to know Reed in our early production sessions, he was impressed by Reed’s insights into the script, and so Miles asked him to be his Assistant Director, as well as the Stage Manager, thereby giving him a double investment in the production’s growth. I was delighted.
I’ve known Sabba Rahbar since her stage managerial involvement in a production of The Seagull in March of this year. She is also actively involved in the student theatre group, Studio 301. Sabba is another Drama Major whose intelligence and reliability belie her youth. Not only is she a rock-solid production member, she also has great insights into the material of Tilly No-Body.
So what a treat! To have 3 wonderful, creative and mature people in the rehearsal room. The need for a safe space is made all the more important by the fact that I’m faculty and two of them are students: it’s quite a vulnerable position in an educational institution to really try and practise what you preach. I’m the Professor of Acting: I need to show that I’m a decent actor, or my whole credibility is questioned. Also Tilly No-Body is tricky material - it involves someone having a nervous breakdown, it involves someone attempting suicide, it involves someone trying to be talented and sexy and inspirational to her husband, Frank Wedekind. It’s delicate terrain. All the more important that - as I squirm around on the floor having pretended to just take poison, or I cavort on top of a costume trunk attempting to lure my imaginary husband - the people in the rehearsal room don’t find this either deeply embarrassing or just plain funny! At the end of Week 1 of rehearsals, I’m feeling pretty okay! Thanks, team!
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
David Roesner is a sparkling scholar and a highly talented musician. We both started at the University of Exeter, UK, at the same time in September 2005. When I left to join the faculty at UC Davis, David became Head of Department. We're both performance makers who enjoy the interlacing of the Academy and the Industry, while also understanding the complexities of validating and presenting our practical work in the academic environment. We have just been Skyping from US to UK, exchanging ideas about atmosphere, space, and the intricacies of storytelling through music. Working primarily from intuition, David already has some terrific ideas about the texturing of voices and sounds to create abstracted spaces. Last week, I recorded a very rough version of Tilly No-Body in the studio which I will now send David. He already has the script, but is keen to work from visuals, however basic those visuals may be at this stage, so that he can truly tune into the collaborative story-telling.
I started concentrated work on the basic contents for the script of Tilly No-Body in January - researching, archiving, translating, reading as many of Wedekind's plays as possible. Since March, I've been concentrating purely on the writing, but in so doing, I've been testing out the workability of the piece by 'enacting' it. This has involved a curious dialogue between my writer's/archivist's head and my acting body/voice. 'What feels right in the body? Which words lie naturally in the tongue?' While I'll outline more about the writing process in future 'Background' blogs, the key concept to note with 'practice-as-research' as an actor devising (I am finding) is that a particular dual consciousness is necessary in the studio/laboratory (I won't call it 'rehearsal room' yet, as my director Miles Anderson doesn't begin working with me until September). It requires gently easing from writer to actor, without the schizophrenia getting in the way of creative moments of 'aha'! So the DVD I'll be sending David has little concern for detailed staging or nuanced interpretation yet - it's all about the textual story-telling and the script at the moment. That said, the instant visuals arising from the text - while fairly primitive at the moment - will (we hope) prompt David's musical imagination in new ways from the written word.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Take an unknown 18-year old actress. Take a 40-year old nationally celebrated playwright. Put them together in a creative and romantic alliance – and the result is explosive. The dramatis personae in question are Tilly and Frank Wedekind. The time is the early 20th century. The place is Germany. And who am I? I’m an actress in her 40s, based in Davis (California) with a passion for practice-as-research. Which – for me – basically means finding ways of putting historical, cultural and archival material into the body and sharing the results with a live audience. I’ve been fascinated by Frank and Tilly Wedekind since I played Lulu in London in the early 1990s, when as part of my research, I came across Tilly Wedekind’s autobiography: Lulu – Die Rolle Meines Lebens (Lulu: The Role of my Life). It was in German – and I knew there were some real gems inside. I’d imagined that Tilly had called her autobiography Lulu: The Role of my Life because the part was so immense it had launched her whole career. However, over the course of several years (way past the actual production of Lulu), I poured over Tilly’s words – schoolgirl German in my head and German dictionary in my hand. And I began to discover the truth: Lulu was the role of her life because Frank had turned her into Lulu in the course of their life together.
When I played Lulu, I was 26. My then-partner was an extraordinary playwright aged 40. He’d met me one night in a wine bar in London, where I was singing torch songs to the accompaniment of a piano. This imposing figure – long dark hair, white shirt and dark suit, a figure out of a Jacobean Revenge tragedy – came up to me afterwards. ‘You remind me of Wedekind’s Lulu,’ he said, expecting me to speak in some Essex twang, going, ‘Oh, yeah – who’s she, then?’ Instead, I said, ‘That’s one of my favorite plays!’ (I’d studied it during my undergrad years at Birmingham University). That was it – we’d swept each other off our feet. I was impressed by the writer, in awe of him, inspired by his wit, intelligence, literary knowledge and aplomb. Indeed, it was his version of Lulu that we staged at the Chelsea Centre Theatre nearly 20 years ago. Little by little, over the course of our 4 years together, I felt him turning me into Lulu. So when I began to fathom the true contents of Tilly’s autobiography, I had a deep, deep connection with her – a woman long since dead and a different culture and world. And that connection has continued for 20 years. In this blog, I shall recount the journey from translating biography, to visiting Munich, to collecting and collating all the material that has found its way into Tilly No-Body, through rehearsal, to performance, and beyond. I hope you enjoy the ride…