Saturday, September 25, 2010

Week 2: Entry 3: Giving Tilly a Voice (b)

Finding Tilly's voice has been (touch wood) wondrously organic. I feel I know the terrain of her journey in quite an intimate way - after all, I translated her autobiography for 10 years! I've structured the play into 20 'Attractions'. I've called them 'attractions' rather than scenes, because I had initially thought there would be more playing with time, and leaping back and forth from one moment to another. As it is, the narrative is now more linear, as there's enough going on for the audience to try and make sense of without having to work out the time sequence.

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...

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