Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hard fun, or, the multifarious voice of a single character’s consciousness

This is the second blog this week from playwright Octavio Solis, live from our fourth workshop for The Pastures of Heaven.

“Take your attitude and turn it into an action.”

Jon Moscone gave this note to Amy Kossow during our workshop. This suggests a curious shift in the way we are defining character and action in this Pastures of Heaven process. In our process of storytelling—which must merge the novelistic approach with the dramatic imperatives of staging a play—we are constantly redefining how character functions in this project.

There are numerous complicated shifts from the first person to the third, wherein the actor describes what her character is thinking, even naming herself in the third person in that classic Brechtian way. But it is not alienating at all. It enables us to layer in strata of being through spoken text. The third-person self-address presents a veneer of the character regarding her world and herself in it; then when she is spoken about by someone else, a new layer establishes itself. But when the shift turns to first and second person, when “I” and “you” inhabit the moment, we shift into the starkly, freshly dramatic. The moment becomes immediate and present and active.

"Active" is a word that Jon is constantly repeating when staging this story of Tularecito. Because he must activate the narrative mode of John Steinbeck’s stories in any way he can. Even through the presentation of “attitude.” In this work, all the players enact their individual character but also function as a unified chorus. A chorus whose identity shifts with the demands of the story. Sometimes, they are the single narrative voice (that is, Steinbeck’s) sometimes they are the vox populi of the community, and sometimes they are schoolchildren. But what is really fascinating is how we are discovering how they can operate as the multifarious voice of a single character’s consciousness. I see the group assembled behind an isolated character like Tularecito and feel that they are different aspects of his mind and soul. Even if they all have the same attitude, they can never have the same attitude.

It’s fun working with a group of this size and experience on a project like this. Hard fun. The actors are bringing so much to the process and I feel I can respond at my leisure to their chancy stuff. This is what a workshop is supposed to do. It’s supposed to give the director and the company a chance to activate what I’ve written, to define our working vocabulary and the physics of the play, to renegotiate assumed notions of character and action and narrative every time we speak text.

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