Sunday, November 30, 2003

Picturing Beckett's Play
If you're having trouble picturing what Beckett's Play might look or sound like performed, visit this site with director's notes, photos and video clips from Anthony Minghella's short film of Play, starring Alan Rickman and Kristin Scott Thomas. (Mighella also directed The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley)

The production I saw of Play in the Bay Area several years ago actually looked and sounded quite a bit like the Minghella film-- to my knowledge, it's a standard interpretation of Beckett's text. Is it how you imagined?

Here are some more photos of Play, this time of a recent German production.

Also helpful: a short history of the text with some interpretation. The critic notes: "Play is Beckett at play: it is almost silly, what with the clownish, guilty hiccups, the cattiness of insults like "her photographs were kind to her," the bourgeois fascination with the Riviera and green tea. Only almost, however, for there is something sadistic at work here. The urns are ghastly, morbid confinements, the spotlight is an interrogator's lamp (the stage directions refer to its 'victims'), and the title of the show is a stark command. The love in this play is in the past, forever examined despite the wishes for "mercy" and "peace" and a way out of the routine."

What do YOU make fo the title "Play"? Where is the play in Play?

Monday, November 24, 2003

Killing Games, a.k.a. What Would Sisyphus Do?

Inspirational quote: "We are all sitting at a cosmic poker game in which the house has an infinite supply of chips. Neither we nor our genes can ever really win, since we can never cash in our chips and go home.... There is nothing but the game, and since it has been going on for a long time, only the best players are left. It is an existential game, the only one in town, and all we can do is to stay in as long as possible. We are all playing, so perhaps we may as well enjoy it. Certainly we should understand it." --the sociobiologist David Barash, The Whisperings Within, 1979 ... Let Barash be your guide to deciding "What Would Sisyphus Do?" ...

Here are the teams as they now stand; if you want to switch games, post to let me know.
Team Scrabble: Eva, Sarah, Kat
Team Uno: Kiran, Amy C., Duncan, Marina
Team Chess: Chris, Tim
Team Monopoly: Amy H., Joe, Allen, Andy
Team Blackjack: Blanca, Kevin Lee
Team Trivial Pursuit: no one yet...

If you have any existential playing strategies going into Wednesday, feel free to post. And, as usual, please use this space to post your collective play reflections after Wednesday's game!

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Camus did not commit suicide (probably)
An account of Camus' death... from an interesting lecture by a French philosophy professor whose students mistakenly belived Camus had committed suicide, and therefore existentialism was clearly a failed philosophy (because Camus ultimately could not find a way to be Sisyphus AND be happy). An interesting read, but here's the pertinent stuff:

Camus lived at some distance from Paris but had planned to go to the city by train. Instead, he was persuaded by his friend and publisher Michel Gallimard to ride in his brand-new Fiat sports car, then just about the hottest four-seater on the road anywhere. I remind you that for many years French highways, even major ones, were lined with trees, deliberately planted, and spaced a little more than a car-length apart. This situation contributed greatly to the high-risk nature of highway travel in France. Zooming toward Paris at 130 kilometers an hour (about eighty miles an hour), the car skidded to the right and went off the two-lane road at a place called Villeblevin. As the published photographs show, it hit a tree pretty directly in the area of the right rear seat, where Camus was riding. The car was totaled--"shredded" was the official term--and Camus was killed instantly as far as anyone could tell. He died with his train ticket in his pocket. He was the only fatality. The national police noted that at least one left tire had blown out, consistent with loss of control and a skid to the right, and added "the driver may have had vertigo briefly." (A little hesitation, but is it enough to hang existentialism?) There was no mention, as far as I could tell, of any other possible cause.

In an important sense, absolute proof is still not the issue in a situation like this. What counts is what is or is not established. And the notion of Camus's suicide, while it may never be considered entirely impossible, does not have the standing to challenge the results of prior investigation, whoever may have carried the investigation out. Among other things, the issue is what we have to assume if we claim he killed himself. Here there is no anomaly in the evidence, beckoning us to clear up what is unclear. We have to go through what is often called special pleading, finding some unusual way to explain nearly everything about a discouragingly ordinary event, if we are to claim suicide. Consider the established circumstances:

* Camus was sitting in the rear of the car. In order to kill himself in the accident, he would have had to reach over the driver's right shoulder, grab the wheel, and guide the car into the tree.
* There were others in the car with him: if we assume the gesture just described was real and intentional, can we further assume he would have risked committing murder?
* Some premeditation would in any case have been required, unless we still further assume he suddenly snapped, yet the trip was not planned, and eyewitnesses say he had to be convinced to ride in a sports car with a driver he surely was right not to trust entirely.

Though none of these notions qualifies as totally impossible, we are having to go pretty far in our chain of assumptions.

Eugène Ionesco’s Theater: In His Own Words
What always helps to understand a playwright's work? Quotations from the playwright himself... here are plenty to chew on. Borrowed from a study guide for a Guthrie Theater production of Ionesco's The Chairs. Do any of them strike you as particularly helpful in approaching Killing Game? (which, by the way, is also translated from the French as The Killing Game)

"When I was a child, … my mother could not drag me away from the Punch and Judy shows at the
Luxembourg Gardens. I would go there day after day and endlessly watch them as if spellbound. But I
didn’t laugh. Punch and Judy kept me transfixed as the puppets talked, moved and clubbed each other. It
was the very image of the world—strange, improbable, but truer than true—that appeared to me in this
infinitely simplified caricature, as though the grotesque and brutal nature of truth itself was stressed. And
until I was fifteen any kind of play would thrill me and make me feel that the world was very strange—a
deeply rooted feeling that has never left me." --Eugène Ionesco, Nouvelle Revue Francaise, February, 1958

"I have called my comedies "anti-plays" or "comic dramas" and my dramas "pseudo-dramas" or "tragic
farces" because it seems to me that the comic is tragic and that the human tragedy is pure derision. The
contemporary critical mind will take nothing too seriously or too lightly." --Eugène Ionesco, Nouvelle Revue Francaise, February, 1958

"To discover the fundamental problem common to all mankind, I must ask myself what my fundamental
problem is, what my most ineradicable fear is. I am certain then to find the problems and fears of literally
everyone. That is the true road into my own darkness, our darkness, which I try to bring to the light of
day. … A work of art is the expression of an incommunicable reality which one tries to communicate—
and which sometimes can be communicated. That is its paradox and its truth." --Eugène Ionesco, "The Playwright’s Role," London Observer, June 29, 1958

"I have… tried to exteriorize the anxiety… of my characters through objects; to make the stage settings
speak; to translate the action into visual terms; to project visual images of fear, regret, remorse, alienation;
to play with words. … I have thus tried to extend the language of the theater." --Eugène Ionesco, Cahiers des Saisons, no. 15, Winter, 1959

"I have said it repeatedly that we rediscover ourselves in our fundamental loneliness and that the more I am
alone, the more I am in communion with others. … It is the fictional power that gives a work of art its
value, for it is foremost a fiction, a construct of the imagination." --Eugène Ionesco, lecture given at the Sorbonne University, March, 1960

"I do not write plays to tell a story. The theater cannot be epic… because it is dramatic. For me, a play does
not consist in the description of the development of such a story—that would be writing a novel or a film.
A play is a structure that consists of a series of states of consciousness, or situations which become
intensified, grow more and more dense, then get entangled, either to be disentangled again or to end in
unbearable inextricability." --Eugène Ionesco, journal entry quoted in Martin Esslin, Theatre of the Absurd, 1961

"I thought that it was strange to assume that it was abnormal for anyone to be forever asking questions
about the nature of the universe, about what the human condition really was, my condition, what I was
doing here, if there was really something to do. It seemed to me on the contrary that it was abnormal for
people not to think about it, for them to allow themselves to live, as it were unconsciously. Perhaps it’s
because everyone, all the others are convinced in some unformulated, irrational way that one day
everything will be made clear. Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for humanity. Perhaps there will
be a morning of grace for me." --Eugène Ionesco, "The Hermit," 1973

Ionesco's Killing Game
When analyzing a piece of dramatic literature, it often helps to see how various directors and theater companies have interpreted and marketed the play. Here are some links, some more informative than others, to recent productions of Ionesco's Killing Game. Do you notice anything interesting?

A production at Lewis & Clark college that has a cast of 16 and claims: "The play explores aspects of mob behavior, the vulnerability of the upper-class, and how fear of the unknown can incite violence, anger, and panic as well as a plethora of other emotions and reactions."

The Juggernaut Theater Company calls their show, with a cast of 11, a "rare production of the farce about a lethal epidemic" and has a pretty interesting poster for the show. Also, interestingly, they apparently worked with a Butoh (dance) artist to develop choreography for the production.

This extremely useful page (more useful if you can read French) links to a ton of different productions of The Killing Game, or as it is known in French, Jeux de massacre, from the 1970s to 2003! Some of the links include photos of the productions.

Some striking photos of a production from the University of New South Wales...

The rehearsal process, design and interpretation involved in putting up a San Francisco festival production with a cast of 6 is described in a lot of detail here, such as the following director's notes: (unfortunately, the original page is off the server, so the link is to a cached page without photos-- oh well)
"I chose to set this play in the present day in order to accentuate some of the underlying political themes that I found very relevant to our modern world. But that meant we needed to find modern equivalents for some of Ionesco's more esoteric imagery. We set about trying to solve our first challenge - how are we going to show all of these deaths? How can you have someone die when they have to play another character two lines later? I started by introducing a simple stylized movement sequence to depict a plague death. The dying person would do three isolated movements that simulated fainting to the ground and the rest of the cast would physically look at these three points and stomp one foot in unison to simulate the "thud." In order to make this read, the first time each actor had to die they would actually fall to the floor, while the rest of the ensemble would do their movements unchanged. The cast really ran with the idea. In order to coordinate their actions into one unified motion, we developed a 'death circle' to practice the movements which would further strengthen the connection between the actors. "

Existentialism and Theater of the Absurd
Okay, here are some links for anyone interested in exploring the Sisyphean world of existentialism and theater of the absurd... While you're digging around, let us know: Do you buy the existential world view? Which parts line up with your own philosophy, and which parts do you disagree with? Can Sisyphus be happy? Can theater be "meaningless" and still "meaningful"? Have you ever experienced art or a game that you would call "existential"? What would an "existential game" be like in design? (that's a juicy question, huh?)
The complete text of Camus' hugely influential (and short!) "Myth of Sisyphus" essay is here...
An obituary (alas) of Martin Esslin, which serves as an excellent short biography is here...
Another terrific summary of Theatre of the Absurd that complements Esslin's essay well is here...
A very interesting (and extensive!) web site documenting one directors' work with theatre of the absurd (particularly Ionesco, and some Beckett-- how convenient for our class, as those are the playwrights we are reading!), from how he selected which play to direct, how he held auditions, rehearsal process, and so on, is here...
(More Ionesco links coming soon)

Monday, November 17, 2003

oooh... juicy stuff on LaBute!
If you were intrigued by "a gaggle of saints" or curious about what kind of man would write such a play, you're in luck... all week long, online magazine Slate is publishing journal entries from LaBute as he writes he latest play. An excerpt from today's entry introducting the weeklong project... perhaps you can relate to his writing proscrastination and frustrations?

"I'm already late. Three or four hours late, and I haven't even started. That figures, though, because that's pretty much how I proceed with most things in my life. A few days late, if not a dollar short. Actually, I'm rarely short a dollar these days—although I have been many, many times before in my life—but I remain a terrible procrastinator. So it goes.

Alright, so I'm late—at least I'm starting today. The fact that I'm even writing this diary is something in and of itself. OK, OK, enough bullshit. Let's just put it all down on paper (albeit electronic paper) and be done with it. Here's what I'm suggesting I do: For the next five days, I propose to allow you (the reader) into my process—in both the personal and professional sense. I'm going to work on a piece of new writing during these five daily diary entries, which will allow you (the reader) to see the creative process in action.
For now, here's a brief excerpt from a monologue I'm working on. Let it stand as a taste of things to come:

... no, I'm curious, I wanna know, what is it? What bothers you, I mean, what specific part of it really gets you? Hmm? The fact that I was fucking somebody, or that the somebody was him? Someone you know. (BEAT) Funny thing is, you used to talk to me like that ... whisper to me, ask who else I'd like to be fucking, if it wasn't you. Do you remember that? When we first got together. You'd be on top of me, usually from behind and holding me, not down exactly, but kind of like that, pinning me and talking that shit in my ear. Do you remember? And you wanted to know, you really did—I'm not even sure why—guys just do shit like that, I guess. You wanted to see if I really would, I suppose, ever fuck any one else. I mean, you must've needed to prove it, or disprove it to yourself, or maybe you just wanted to watch and take pictures. I dunno. Something. Over and over you used to say that, like, even when I was down ... that was your mantra, remember? "Who else, who else, who would it be? Who?" Again and again. Even throwing out the names of people, guys we both knew. From the neighborhood or, you know, wherever. At the movies, all over the place. So ... I guess it just stuck, huh?

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Paper buddies
Okay, here's how this will work-- if you've already chatted with someone offline about being paper buddies, post the good news here so I know you've found someone already. Otherwise, post your two movies and either wait for someone to say, "Hey, I like those movies, I want to be you paper buddy" or feel free to extend an invitation "Hey Jane, be my paper buddy?" (of course I am technically everyone's paper buddy already, but you get the point...) And if people have already posted, you can just grab 'em as your buddy. It's fine to have more than one paper buddy, as long as you can commit 20 minutes to talking or IM'ing with each person. Hopefully this will turn out to be less complicated than I am making it out to be :). Let's get everyone buddies by Sunday night at the latest; earlier, and you can talk about first drafts as well as final drafts.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Boal: Image Theater, Invisible Theater, Videogames of the Oppressed, and More...
So much juicy stuff to discuss when it comes to Augusto Boal! I want you to share your thoughts and reactions to the reading in general here, but a few things in particular you can address:
Image theater
When we do our image theater workshop together, what topic(s) would you like to deal with? In previous workshops at Cal, questions we've attempted to answer through image theater included: What does is feel like to be an American post-9/11? What is is like to be a student at Cal? What is the U.S. political administration doing about Iraq versus what do you want the administration to do about Iraq? What is it like to write a paper for a class at Cal? How do you feel about your future? Please give some suggestions for our workshop on Wednesday!
Invisible Theater
We've got another collective play date coming up on November 21st when the final drafts of your film papers are due. I'm thinking that Boal is definitely the key to the next collective play and wonder if you are up for some invisible theater out and about on campus. Ring in: yay or nay? Can we do invisible theater together on campus? Which variety? On what topic? Where would be a good spot? Any scenarios you'd like to act out or any issues you'd like to put on in the public that you want us to help you brainstorm scenarios for?
Videogames of the Oppressed
You can read all about this project by Gonzalo Frasca (a really cool guy who I had the good fortune to meet and chat with at DiGRA tihs past week) here. He also has a really great blog called Water Cooler Games about "video games with an agenda." He does something similar to newspaper theater (Boal's idea) at newsgaming.com, where you can play some controversial games like September 12. I think you will find September 12 and Frasca's work in general really provocative. if you play, post some thoughts!

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Acting/Improv Workshops
Sorry about the late posting of this space to comment on your acting/improv workshops this week! Please share your thoughts about how Monica's and Beth's exercises or games relate to the Spolin reading. Also, for some interesting resources and juicy stories about Spolin and how her writings and exercises are used today, check out The Spolin Center.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Guten morgen from der Nederlands!
Hi everyone... it's freezing and windy and rainy here in otherwise beautiful Utrecht, where earlier today I had a chance to stroll down the (blustery) Huizingalaan, a.k.a. Huizinga Lane, named for the grandfather of contemporary play theory, honorary mascot of R1A Theater and Games, Johann Huizinga! That was cool and I thought of you guys slaving away (I hope) over Spolin, grandmother of another important 20th century tradition-- theater games! One thing I am reminded traveling by myself in a country where my language abilities border on the non-existent and I don't know a soul (yet) is that I think it is impossible (or at the very least, a horrible idea) to undertake daunting foreign travel in a telic mindset. I tried that for, like, 10 minutes and realized that it was hopeless. The probability of me accomplishing what I actually set out to do here is about the same as the probability of tails coming up for Guildenstern in scene 1 of Stoppard's play. Anyway, paratelic is definitely the way to go so far in the Netherlands, and speaking of which, I just found out that someone else who is speaking at the DiGRA (Digital Games Research Association) conference started a gaming company called Para.telic . I'm definitely interested to check out what he's working on... finally, for those of you with lots of spare time and at least a slight curiosity as to what I'm up to, the paper I'm presenting here is online as a PDF here. It's called "A Real Little Game: The Performance of Belief in Pervasive Play," and it's huge and gigantic (I've been drafting and revising all semester long, sigh) but you could get the point more or less from the abstract and the page or so. Anyway, I hope you are enjoying Spolin and get a chance to have some meaningful "Creative Experiences" while I'm gone this week.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Viola Spolin: Learning through Experience

Spolin, who wants to develop better strategies for teaching the art of acting, writes: "We learn through experience... [and] experiencing is penetration into the environment, total organic involvement with it. This means involvement on all levels: intellectual, physical, and intuitive." Spolin argues that this kind of "total, organic involvement" is most likely during game play, and she therefore argues that actor training should incorporate as many theater games as possible.

What non-acting game have you played that required the most from you in all three of these areas (intellectual, physical AND intuitive)? Describe the game elements that engaged you in each of these three ways. What did you learn from this intense way of experiencing the game? Were you able to practice these lessons outside of the game in other areas of your life? If so, how? If not, why not?

Viola Spolin: Free Response

Any additional thoughts and questions that Spolin's essay raised for you? Which of her ideas did you agree with most, and why? Which, if any, of her ideas do you disagree with, and why? What other theories that we have studied in class did you think of as you read this essay, and why? (For example, I thought of Czikszentmihalyi's theory of flow, Apter's theory of paratelic vs. telic, and Selden's theory of actor-audience dynamics in Theater Double Game as I re-read the essay this week.) If you have any other strong responses to the text, please share them. If you were confused by one of Spolin's points, tell us which one and the questions you have about that point.

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