Monday, October 18, 2010

Week 6: Entry 1: As the show unfolds

Acting is a very strange activity. And this show is a particularly curious beast. Tilly No-Body is very much about dialogue: that might sound strange given that it's a one person show. Yet, dialogue, as I've previously mentioned, can be with a prop, a sound cue, a lighting state, a piece of the set, and of course the audience. Therefore, every night feels very different, as the audience is such an important part of the experience, witnessing Tilly's journey, sharing Tilly's decisions, celebrating her successes and fearing for her failures.

So far we've had three more shows since the first night. Friday night included a talk-back, which was terrific. The audience's questions and responses were so intelligent and interested, illustrating the fact that not only had they followed the play attentively - and it's quite a demand on an audience with regard to narrative - but they had also been provoked by the issues. I could tell that some of the audience members were students perhaps assigned papers on the play, and they were so astute in their questioning. This is one of the exciting aspects of working in an environment that encourages excellence in practice, research and teaching: all three aspects of which interweave with this project. There's an element of intellectual curiosity, as well as enjoyment of shared story-telling. The educational part of the project is important to both myself and Miles, and we were delighted at the way in which both Reed and Sabba contributed so fulsomely to the talk-back, taking centre stage so that actor and director could stay on the sidelines.

Saturday night was a strange night for me, as suddenly the props seemed to have a life of their own. The Frank puppet decided to fall off his chair. The walking globe decided to take a stroll around the set. One of the hats decided to attach itself to my boot. The pompoms on the pierrot costume decided to pop off whenever they felt like it. I firmly believe in what the Polish director, Jerzy Grotowski, advocates: discipline encourages spontaneity. This show is very tight in terms of where everything is placed and the exact timing of moments. That allows for me to feel safe enough in the structure to be playful and unexpected. However...I could rehearse this play till the cows come home, and the props and costumes might still develop a life of their own.

Another anomaly of acting is that time loses all its usual structure. The show - on stage - felt very slow to me, and sometimes I almost felt as though I were wading through treacle. And yet, we ran at one minute faster than usual. Certainly, the audience was very warm, and Reed's dad was in, so I wanted it to be a good show to reflect Reed's contribution.

The Sunday matinee was interesting, in that the energy a performer has at 2pm is quite different from 8pm. I'd had a lovely breakfast, the day was a little rainy with the signs of Fall in the air, and I was really looking forward to the performance. During the show, I became aware of what a challenge the piece is to the actor: while the stages of Tilly's decline into madness might be cumulative for the audience, they are very episodic for me as the actor. In some ways, I hop in and out of the emotional content far more than the audience does: they are able to share in her journey, while I as the actor have to be a little bit more of a puppeteer, guiding the character through the turbulent seas. At the end of the performance, I walked out into the autumnal afternoon, and felt a great deal of affection for Tilly. What a strange life she led! What a strange thing acting is! What a delicious thing live performance is! Vulnerable and life-affirming, at one and the same time.

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