Comments on The Art of Telling the Truth
These are comments Marc made originally in response to the post on our first meeting. They are important for working on our assignment for the 4/28/06 meeting.
On THE ART OF TELLING THE TRUTH. I want us to produce an evening (coffee house-ish, readings-ish) with the above ironic title and based on our work with that exercise. Last night has inspired me to try and create one (prepared, not improvised) and to write some more about ways of using and developing the exercise.
Briefly, for now, the keys for me are in the “existential categories.” [Ed. note: time, space, body, objects, and intersubjectivity]
[Ed. note: this paragraph belies Marc’s “briefly,” so I’m bracketing it. Important stuff, but not critical until you’ve thought about all this a bit. Skip it if you like and come back to it later.] These I stole from existential-phenomenological psychology and various methods it employs to do “qualitative research.” Language, itself, speaking itself, are not categories, their puzzling nature is “bracketed” or set aside and we assume a person can transparently relate a description of an event. The best modern playwrights, of course, factor in the troubling nature of language and recollection, but you don’t always have to. It’s a good creative exercise for unfolding the possibilities in dramatic communication. And the fact that the event might have happened but didn’t flirts with the whole question of longing or desire or regret (part of our emotional secret as we work with this kind of material; it will fuel the whole production).
Everybody, take a shot at the exercise. You can work in solitude. You need not improv it on demand. Soon I will publish some more suggestions as I continue to work with my own material, but for now—
TWO MAIN APPROACHES:
- Think of the event. Describe it. Go back over the description and do an analysis using the existential categories. Which ones did you feature? Which ones did you neglect? Add to your full description by working through the neglected elements. Did you attend to what your “body” was about in the description? What happens if you do? How did you interact with others (intersubjectivity)?
- Think of event (both of these approaches involve positing the event at the outset; you could describe your way toward the event, but that’s “more advanced,” I think, so try one of these approaches first) Write descriptions of the event, one for each existential category (one for time, space, body, object, and for intersubjectivity) You will have five texts. Then experiment with cutting and pasting; combine elements from your five texts into the final monologue.
Then, ONCE YOU HAVE TAKEN ONE OF THESE APPROACHES:
Think through how you want to perform your monologue (it’s still you speaking at this point) using the five existential categories; create descriptions based on this exploration, see if additional lines suggest themselves, add them to your piece.
For example, what additional lines might be inspired by your attending to the performance’s
- time: “my speaking to the listener(s) is timeless; was that only three minutes?; I want to dwell a bit longer, to linger, over details”;
- space: “the listener and I are alone in a room in my parents’ house; I’m sitting in an uncomfortable chair (body leaks in here)”;
- body: “I feel insubstantial, all in my head”;
- object: “why am I telling you this, the words are hard to say, but the image is enjoyable, I want to conjure something for the listener, but I’m afraid”; and
- intersubjectivity: “the listener is an old friend but has never heard this story; I worry she will disapprove.”
How does thinking through this way make you want to add to or subtract from your monologue? Does it influence choice of word or detail? Re-work. As you re-write you are also doing your actor’s homework.
I’m going to try to compose one using method two by the time of our next meeting. I have to be out of town, but I’ll try to send the text along.
Some masterpieces of recollection in which you are unsure of the status of the recollector, i.e., is he/she remembering it correctly or even telling the truth: Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape; Pinter’s Old Times and Monologue; Shepard’s Killer’s Head.
We met in the basement of Nan and Billy Newman. (Thanks, Newmans!)
After warmups, we dealt with some housekeeping:
- Dale suggested that we commit to meeting at the Newmans until May 18, and that we continue to look for a more permanent, less invasive home. Marvel suggested the Newnan Hospital Fitness Center and offered to look into it. It was also suggested (later in the session) that we meet 7:00-9:00, for an earlier evening.
- We discussed the hesitation of some Mame cast members to join Lacuna for fear that it was too “weird” or too “hard.” We’ll reach out to them. Come, join us.
- We discussed the Contact Improvisation workshop being offered at Mary Frances’s dance studio. Dale encouraged everyone to attend: fears of not being “fit” enough were discounted, the whole idea being to find the tension and balance in any contact.
- We decided to decide by next week whether we will offer a performance of our Telling the Truth memories before June.
- Dale proposed devoting one session (or half of one session) soon to listening to William Blake’s Inn so that the group can make a final decision about working on it. Kim said she had tried to find it at bookstores but had been unsuccessful. Dale said he had asked Scott’s Bookstore to lay in some copies. (Ed. note: those copies are in.)
Having dealt with all that stuff, we worked on our Telling the Truth exercise. Everyone had worked on something and shared, and it was good stuff. Dale suggested, when the question arose of how to make them “better,” that we wait until Marc (who was in D.C.) returned to show us his methods of playing with text to worry about moving forward.
With about 30 minutes left in the session, Dale dragged out a box of scripts and asked people to go through an pick a scene for scene work, part of our acting 101 initiative. That was pretty unfocused.
For next week, continued work on Telling the Truth, plus William Blake’s Inn.
The floor is now open for discussion.
In attendance: Dale, Nan, Billy, William, Marvel, Melissa, Kim, Michael, and Kevin.
We met again in the basement room of the Newmans.
We discussed Marc’s ideas about how our Telling the Truth exercises could be molded into a performance that would not be simply an evening of monologues. To wit:
- Dale and Ginny could begin telling “The Charlotte Story,” and the audience can tell that each is, besides sharing it with the audience as a whole, giving a special wink and a nod to another person in the audience.
- These “privileged listeners,” as Marc called them, might comment, might contradict, might share their version of the story.
- Other stories might spring up, through revelation, contradiction, explanation. Lying might occur.
- The audience begins to wonder how much of what we’re saying is true (which they would anyway), especially when other cast members begin to share their recollection of the “memories” being shared.
After some more discussion, we played with Dale’s “Dog Story”:
- Dale told a simple version of the story.
- Michael interrupted with his own evaluation of dirt clods as projectiles, plus a quick comment on how he got a bloody nose from one.
- Kevin, assuming the role of Dale’s brother, flatly contradicted the emotional basis of the story, i.e., he didn’t know why they had attacked the dog. Dale had a new slingsot, Kevin said, and deliberately led the attack.
- Marc began musing about how the story couldn’t make sense, based on what he knew about Dale.
- Melissa made the comment that her mother, Dale’s sister, would never have thrown anything at a dog and in fact would have adopted it, having done so with Melissa’s own dog.
Marc did his piece, posted elsewhere on this blog. It is a thoroughly self-conscious “art” piece, and a third of the way through it, Dale began an eye-rolling recapitulation of the evening in question to Kevin. “Marc” got mad at “Dale” for interrupting him, and “Dale” hushed. But, Kevin said afterward, “Dale” still undercut “Marc’s” story with the “true version” just by the expression on his face.
We discussed other ways this could be expanded on:
In a performance strategy that Dale called radiation, we could begin with a story being told up front like that (we have all been imagining this being performed at Gallery Row), but then commentary and new stories spreading from the stage to the tables and soon the whole room is full of performances. Like NTC’s murder mysteries, the audience has to choose what to pay attention to. They can’t hear it all.
We moved on to William Blake’s Inn. After a little futzing with the speakers, we listened to all fifteen pieces. Commentary followed:
- We discussed performance options: dance, puppets, large sets, small sets, children, etc.
- We developed several ideas for a framework scenario:
- three children on the road, from somewhere to nowhere, and they encounter the Inn
- three children at a stuffy Victorian inn, being seen and not heard; they attempt to play with a little puppet theatre (tiger, rabbit, sun, moon) but are shushed; the handyman gives them a little carved tiger, and they have a vision of the Inn
- Marc had the idea of Blake being a constant, kindly, removed, sometimes scary presence, always at work on his engravings of the guests, which he hangs for viewing as each guest takes the spotlight.
- Kevin discussed the idea that Dale’s music needed expanding. Since it started as a song cycle, to be sung by a chorus, obviously some expansion will be required to give room for any stage action. Dale commented on the differences between the pieces that were written first and the most recent ones and how he had written the recent ones with staging in mind.
The floor is now open for discussion.
In attendance: Marc, Dale, Melissa, Kevin, Kim, Michael, Billy
Beginning to feel like a packrat…