Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Passion Plays

Stepping off the second day of table-work for Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play, I'm tempted to tie together the previous discussion about Monsterism, Doubt by Shanely, and Jose Rivera's 36 theses ... but maybe it's better to examine them individually for now.

Passion Play

I love this massive, crazy opus that verges on collapse every step of the way. The suspense doesn't come from the story -- we all know the story -- it comes from watching the grand architecture of the whole composition. Symbols and stage-pictures planted almost subliminally in Part One end up bursting past the proscenium in Part Three. Characters are reincarnated as themselves, but their relationships morph form epoch to epoch. Just when you think the iconography has been bolted down, Sarah inverts it when you're not looking. There are no simple superimpositions a la Terrence McNally (Corpus Christi), no doubter-in-disguise meta-narrative like Scorsese (Last Temptation ...) and no forensic fetishism like Mel Gibson (Passion of the ...).

Finally ... and best of all ... can ya feel it coming? ... the individual scenes play like parables, but they require the particular magic of live theatre to make sense! Amen! The Pirandellian elements stay within the confines of a pretty obvious premise -- they're never used as a back-door climax for lackluster plot mechanics. And when the fourth wall does get teased off its support beams, it's for the purpose of illumination, not deconstruction.

I know most of that's just vague insider gushing, but I'm not gonna write too much more about a script that's still being re-written and hasn't been put on its feet yet. Suffice it to say that I'm excited as hell to watch another crazy-big-shoot-the-moon project develop. Between The Tattooed Girl, columbinus and this, I haven't worked with a fixed text in almost ten months. And it feels great.

36 Assumptions

I'll trade you one Jose Rivera action figure for two vintage Artaud playing cards! I love most of the advice in this list (see post below). Much of it could apply to writers of any stripe, not just playwrights -- specifically, assumptions 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 20 - 28, 31, 32, and 36. Some I wouldn't pass on to writers of any stripe. Specifically, assumptions 15, 17, and 33. I think you should writer from your organs (#15), but the brain doesn't have to be last in the list. Especially if you're counting vestigal nipples. And while it's important to find your tribe (#17), most rites of passage come from courageously stepping outside the tribe into the wilderness. I love my fellow roundtable chums, but I wouldn't be half the writer I am now if I didn't hang with Dan Stroeh, who writes brilliantly from a completely different corner of the universe. Finally, I don't know who counts as "having a vested interest in my future" (#33), but I've gotten some pretty good advice from people who didn't give two shits about the shelf-life of my scribblings. I might be confusing Rivera's terms there, but it seems to say you should evaluate the person before you evaluate the advice. Sometimes good advice stands on its own. And it can tumble out of the mouth of the most cruel, unwitting sage.

Rivera's premium on structure is refreshing (#4, 20, 23, 26). As is his articulation of the medium (#2 and 5). The bits I like best are the ones that sharpen the writer's sense of theatricality (#9, 10, 14, 16, 19, 30, and especially 35). Yes, we should write at least one impossible thing in each script. Writing from your senses is crucial because theatre is the only place you can take in information from all of your senses at the same time. Re-writing the laws of gravity is just plain fun (although, I don't think realism is AS artificial as any other genre).

And last: writing in layers. Goes hand-in-hand with writing for all 5 senses because even most film-makers have abandonned the idea of placing more than one thought-per-frame on the screen. The gestalt in live theatre isn't merely handy, it's compulsory. That's why my eyes drift to the light plot when a writer makes me sit there to watch people conversing for three hours.



Anonymous said...

"Finding your tribe - educating your collaborators - be faithful to your people" doesn't sound like a proposed template for an insular, creative cul-de-sac; but rather a challenge to find the warriors who will fight for you. The producers who will pound the pavement fo find the $50,000 - $100,000 (or in the case of Arena $500,000 - $1,000,000) to get your work on the stage and who will spend many a sleepless night trying to figure out how to make payroll for one more week. The actors who revere your vision enough to stick by you when a better paying job is offered (the stories of the actors who passed up lucrative Hollywood deals to work for NOTHING while "Rent" was on its long workshop march to realization comes to mind), the directors who devotedly dive into your words, not givng a rat's ass if you don't come with a Julliard or Yale silver spoon in your mouth and/or a rich uncle to bankroll the production. We're not talking kissy-face, artistic co-dependency here...we're talking serious foot soldiers who will fight for you. And unless one plans to write closet drama or eschew all those great concepts of Monsterism to relegate onself to writing/acting one-man shows in their own basement, the tribe is more than just loving chums in the grand scheme. Don't think Rivera meant that you should limit your writing to what is approved/inspired by your tribe - those folks aren't interested in circumventing your trek into the wilderness -- it's just, they will be the one's with the machetes poised over their heads saying, "Okay, you want to go in that direction, Mr. Articactor, then let me clear some of this bamboo out of your way so you can move about more freely." And my guess is his comment about "vested interest" is more about personal armor against the soul-smashers than anything else, no matter what organ you choose to pull your script out of.

I think Ms. Ruhl is fortunate to have you in her present tribe.

arcticactor said...

Yeah, I figured that was the better of the possible meanings for what Rivera meant by "tribe" -- it just connoted something else when I first read it. I guess it's because it was only recently that I found a "tribe" that wasn't secretly an exclusionary, cabalistic, sniping ground for everyone else. Academic tribes are sometimes less constructive than real-world, secular tribes -- in my experience. But thanks for fleshing that one out in more inspiring terms.

SAS said...

"In all your plays be sure to write at least one impossible thing. And don't let your director talk you out of it."

This is great. I hope I never have, and never will, ask a playwright to cut the impossible for staging sake. That's the fun of directing anyhow. "How do we get this character to enter on a horse in this scene?" (a stage direction Sarah Ruhl writes in her play LATE). That's where the wheels start turning.

It reminds me of an assignment that Paula Vogel apparently gives her MFA playwrights at Brown. "Write the impossible play". I did a reading of one of these impossible plays, and it is still one of my favorite plays by an emerging playwright. The premise is that the tectonic plates shift and as a result Paris ends up lodged in the middle of New Jersy. Now stage that! It is one of the smartest and funniest plays I have ever read.

Can you imagine if there was a director around to talk Shakespeare out of "Exit pursued by a bear"?

amy said...

I need your posts in order to thrive in my daily life and you haven't updated in post something else you ANIMAL!!! ::realizing I sound like a psycho...walking away ashamed::

H said...

In reference to # 35...

I love when impossible moments happen in plays. It is like reading Sarah Kane. I was constantly stopping and thinking "Now, how the hell is anyone going to stage that?" But then I always paused and thought "Let the director figure it out!"

The next question is...

When does impossibility become spectacle? I am mostly asking the question because...

I read about this on Mirror up to Nature and thought you would get a kick out of it.

Andre Serrand seems to think that the spectacle is all that is saving the paltry existence of live theatre.

Why do some artists have to be like this? I enjoyed The Clean House for what it was just as I enjoyed De la Guarda for what it was. But I would be interested to hear what you think. Where does theatre end, and circus begin? Or does it?