Meticulously Understanding Intuitive Theatre, Composing, 09/10/2014

The American cinema of the 1970s is a major influence on
my approach to drama and narrative. I originally planned
You Were My Friend as a pure social realist narrative, like
Hal Ashby's The Last Detail.
Last night was the first time I’ve been able to make it to a rehearsal of You Were My Friend in a couple of weeks. We’ve made great progress on the production. All but the last two sequences have been completely blocked already. Today, I thought I’d talk about an idea that I’ve had about our process of composition and production.

As I write a text like this, a script that’s performed entirely live in front of an audience who’s right in the room with us, I’m intimately concerned with transition and flow. Each moment of emotionally intense drama has to be followed up with a moment of humour. Levity must follow gravity so the audience isn’t dragged down too deeply. As well, each line progresses the narrative just a little bit. Even the most apparently superfluous element like a reactive, “Well, yeah,” contributes to the development of the characters, the story, and their ideas. I conceive of the play, as well as my film script for the Alice project, as one continuous movement.

Getting into the first rehearsals with Mel the director and Samantha and Hannah the cast, a very different process began. Mel breaks down that continuous movement into individual moments, according to the predominant emotional tone. Every tonal shift is a little break in the narrative, as my continuous movement is analyzed into component parts. 

Then once we get to physical rehearsal and the blocking out of scenes, the continuous movement of the play is restored in the performance. Small changes are made to the script, we introduce performance details as we refine and perfect the expression of the narrative on the stage. Most importantly, all the knowledge of that analysis is articulated in the physical movement of the play.

Yet once the script was finished, You Were My Friend had
several fourth-wall breaking and montage elements as well,
shattering its social realist style of expression (though not
its content) as it came to an end. Robert Altman's MASH
was a touchstone here.
This is the closest I’ve come to actually seeing Henri Bergson’s concept of intuition in front of me in my experience. The concept is a strange one, appearing as it does in his books Creative Evolution and Two Sources of Morality and Religion at work in more specific arguments about particular disciplinary areas (biology and evolutionary theory in one, and social/political philosophy in the other). He explains the concept in the abstract in some of his essays in the Creative Mind collection, but precisely what it is remains an object of endless debate* in academic Bergson studies.

* As all debates are endless in academic contexts. The endlessness is a function of the desperation of university academics to keep a debate going past a sensible point, finding more and more distinctions to create research niches in the sub-disciplines of X studies. For an example, see my earlier posts on Daniel Smith's work about Deleuze. Rant over.

After my experience working on You Were My Friend with a director who has such a different method that gels so well with my own, I think I can say, following up on my own suspicions about the concept in Bergson’s work, that this intuition unites the smooth articulation of expert physical movement with the depth of contemplative knowledge that you gain from analysis. It is knowing movement.

No comments:

Post a Comment