Tobin’s Journal: May 5, 2005

Thursday, May 5, 2005

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Today was day three working intensively on Saccades. The two singer/ performers (Matt and Helen) read lines together, singing and speaking. We did this in a busy cafe resembling a train station (the location of the script) and I did videotape, in extreme close up mostly, trying to capture some of the raw, docu-quality of this first reading. Present was myself, Stephanie (the playwright), Matt and Helen. As things start to make sense, other things become more confused. I am finding, with the nature of my work developing to a place where much of the idea is outside of the projection, it becomes tricky to find ones’ role within the collaborative process. At the same time the process is extremely useful in helping me to clarify ideas and choices. This morning I started reading through a very impregnable and academic study on Saccades and Fixations of the human eye. I had tried reading this previously, but found it completing alienating and moved on to more accessible accounts. But this morning, seeing the PDF was still on my desktop, I opened it and read it. Strangely…a text within the text emerged for me, along with a sort of rhythm to the impregnability of the writing–that was enthralling. I was involved in my own series of cognitive saccades and fixations, roaming over the text, absorbing it for its sound qualities and rhythm, and then fixating on moments that related to me, words relating to space, and speed, rapidity, language describing movement, sound, and imagery–embedded in the text. I started imagining the text being used in the show, as a foundation or backdrop for dance, sound, and imagery. the vision in my mind was strong, and there was something very pleasing about this. When at the meeting today, I needed to explain this idea to others, I found myself at a verbal bottleneck. I was unable to explain this to the others in that moment, in relation to the pages of dialogue we had just explored with Stephanie. She then asked me what the emotion was that I wanted people to get from this idea, or the feeling from which this idea came. A fantastic question, that frustrated me because I could not answer it easily. I eventually responded that it came from a place of no feeling. Then proceeded to…a place of cold analytical self-examination. A viewing glass into a structure behind the piece we are creating. The idea of rapid searching…and momentary fixation on an acute idea, and then a return to rapid searching–the saccades–the blind moments of searching in which we do not see and do not notice that we do not see. This is the key framework we are working within for the show conceptually (in my mind), and it is important that people (the audience) are let into that idea. Then I thought of the article on atheism and agnostics that was in The Guardian last week. The writer told the story of a beautiful religious painting on a brick wall. The painting was so beautiful and lifelike, that people began to worship it as if it were real. Because of this, the artist then took a brick out of the wall, creating a gap in the painting. It was at this point that the people could appreciate the beauty of the painting…it’s existence as a painting and not reality had been established. From here I was led to the idea that my interest may be in the idea of juxtaposing the language of science against the realm of emotions, or the practice of trying to place emotion within that scientific construct. That maybe the incompatibility of the two opposing languages, the language of feelings and the language of science, was what interested me – the non-negotiable nature of these two realities – the insistence of people to fit one within the framework of the other. This relates to the idea of seeing–it relates to those hard moments of self – evaluation, where we try to fit the complexities of our selves and of our world into a reasonable and scientific container. The questioning of my idea was very helpful to me – and reinforced for me the importance of process.

I am going to work on putting this idea together over the next few days. Amanda will dance to the text (I think), on video, and then phrases or elements of the dance will resonate in more pedestrian staging with Matt and Helen (live). I will talk to Pete about what he thinks music will do here. I think I will also need to explore more about where the singers can move without the alteration of the singing. Yesterday, I was asking Matt and Helen lots of questions as to this. They were explaining to me that at certain moments the singer needs to support the vocalization with the body, so the positioning is important. They need to have some way through the musculature to support the note. So the singing needs to be negotiated with the movement. In other words, the singing really dictates the scope of movement possibilities at any given time. It seems that breath also plays a big role in this. What is great is that Matt and Helen are both more than willing to explore the extents to which movement can co exist with the singing. I look forward to learning more about this. Matt also talks a lot about the register of the singing. I will ask him more about this.

We spent a lot of time the day before yesterday really tackling concept. How can we draw different ideas together? Oedipus Rex, The ex lover conversation in the train station, and the saccades and fixations of the human eye are the three strands that we narrowed down too. We found the common thread to be sight. For me the television, or the image within the television, represented the weight of what we do not know. This tied in to the myth and the conversation. The pivot point, or shared climax of the strands, becomes the blinding of Oedipus, at the point at which he “sees” and the act of seeing or realization between the lovers in the train station, and of saccades-or moment of blindness-in the human function of sight. I am wondering if the piece could follow an experimental dramatic structure to reflect this. Instead of the classic dramatic arc, it would take the shape of a dramatic spiral, which would spin out from the center, the moment of blindness, towards the exposition and abstract non linear chapters that lead up to it.

Spent a chunk of the day yesterday going over Sophocles Oedipus Rex with Matt. We basically stepped through translating into modern day English and situations, and identifying possible duets, solos, etc. I am interested in focusing on the confrontation between Tiresius and Oedipus, hopefully for this upcoming scratch performance, with Tiresius on video and Oedipus on stage. Matt came up with the idea that he play both parts, (we were considering having Helen do the role), and I think this makes great sense, because it then becomes an inner dialogue or confrontation between what we know and don’t know about our selves. Did Oedipus, on some level, know his true ancestry and situation- deep in his sub-conscious? Could the blind seer be a part of the seer who is blind? This should be interesting to explore. I imagine we will start with a rough recording—a sort of video pencil sketch, and pick up again with the idea in Leeds this fall.

As the scratch performance draws near, I find myself more and more at a strange artistic crossroads. Questioning much of the theatrical conventions that are taken as a given.

As we are using the scratch performance as a sharing of early ideas in a process with a test audience, we will be presenting what we are working on in a very informal manner. I think it will be interesting to see what develops, and which, if any of the informal conventions may have usefulness in the final production.

Saw two performances at BAC last night. The Creation of the Violin, and In Search of Cellonetta ( I think that is what it was called)

The Creation of the Violin piece was interesting material. As it was a scratch he started by speaking casually to the audience about his passion for the violin—how it was the inspiration for the piece-and then filled us in on some background on the violin and its origins. The house lights were up and it was very engaging. After maybe 7 minutes, he concluded, signaled to the technician, and the house lights faded out. I couldn’t help feeling like a portion of the passion, or the engaging quality of the material faded out as well. I wonder if there is a way, as the piece develops he could keep that quality in the piece. He even changed his manner once the lights descended. He started with a story of gypsy fiddlers and his violin—which was beautiful-and then he sort of disappeared into the background, while some physical actors took on the bulk of the storytelling until the violin was birthed through a transformation of some kind, and he played live violin—which was again unique and engaging. What really interests me is that the pre show talk, a necessity of the scratch show, held in it the spark of magic that could really bring that show to life. A moment I also liked was when he handed his violin, I presume a pretty expensive and precious object, to a woman in the front row. He asked her to hold it for him until the point in the show where he would play it. Maybe he knew the woman, or it was planned—I don’t know, but in my mind she was a random audience member who he engaged in a spontaneous act of trust and inclusion. It was somewhat magical.

As I write about it now, it reminds me of the Jewish practice of letting a congregant hold the Torah. This happened to me once in a conservative synagogue in New York. It was my first time ever being there, and this object was placed into my arms—precious and sacred-and it is hard to describe the feeling of it. I wondered if the woman in the front row had that same sort of feeling. A tactile inclusionand connection to the source of the show she was watching.

It was truly fascinating what went into the creation of the violin and the history of it. I would love to see that piece in a year’s time.

Random thoughts from past days

This past weekend spent time in Horniman Gardens. They are beautiful, and just down the street from the flat we are staying in. There is a large lawn, which is perched on the hill overlooking Battersea. Because the weather was nice, people had brought their lives to this lawn. What was amazing was that there was all this private drama playing out. A lovers break up, with tearful proclamations and embraces, on the blanket to our right. Behind us two groping lovers were interlocked in a clothed straddle to the consternation of the Eastern European family further down the lawn. (They shouted something about getting a room, in heavy accent). A young boy, spiraling outward from the Eastern Europeans, was in a repeating cycle of running through the grass until, due to his own increasing acceleration, he tripped over his own feet – skid face first -continue on crawling for a moment-get up-repeat. The group seemed to be engaged in communal parental consultation on what the boy should do next. This culminated in him being handed a racket, with which he had no idea what to do, so he immediately began circling about waving it perilously in his one hand until it became a strange cantilever which magically enabled him to stay upright for more prolonged periods of time- although with constant imminent threat of sideways collapse. A middle aged “nutter”(as they call them here.) was walking in his own erratic pattern– stumbling forward with a strange, leg shaking, limp, and then settling on the ground where he would lay blissfully motionless (and seemingly sane). At one point he became urgently fascinated with a group of school age kids playing center of the lawn, motioning for them to include him in their game, but then lost interest, twittered in an erratic bee-like line, and settled again on a bench in the shade at the top of the hill. Behind us to the right, a mother and daughter were in a deep and silent conversation-mostly of the eyes and body. I never saw them speak to each other. The teen’s head was angled down, hair over her face, and the woman had her back angled toward me, but the air was thick in-between them. It was a strange teen to adult duet. The girl looked angstly out from pink strips of hair, and her mother leaned forward, emanating concern. The woman seemed ever aware of the young boy (a son?) who was hovering mid lawn, between the mother daughter duet, and a man (father? lover?) on the far side of the lawn. They had started–upon our arrival—together, as a quartet. This had digressed to two duets, on opposite sides of the lawn, and then duet, solo, solo. etc. At the resolution of this lawn dance there is a hesitant approach by the young boy, resulting in a welcoming hug from the woman. The pink-stripped hair girl emphatically looks away. The man still stands watching from the far side of the gardens. The woman, girl and boy begin slow procession across the lawn, and follow behind the man as he exits through a gate in the fence near where he stood. We’ll never know what their story was.

The clothed straddling lovers are maneuvering into a very questionable position. Everyone looks away.

Two women with Caribbean accents are laughing – something about marriage and their boyfriends.

The troubled couple has settled into a tragic tableau, the girl gazing away, and the man resignedly gazing into the back of her head.

The sun heads down and the park empties.

At moments it had felt like a series of living rooms with invisible walls

There is a definite choreography to the park, or movement dynamic. Definitely want to explore it more at some point.

Twilight of the Gods—watched all 5 and a half hours. Moments of brilliance. Too much to write about now. 1:32 am and my eyes are falling. More on that in a future entry.