Friday, January 15, 2010

Entering Theatrical Space Episode 1

Optionals are never really what they seem to be, because none of us truly have an iota of control over our fates. In the second semester of my undergraduate studies, I was offered a particular course which i would have never seemed interested in.

Drama In Practice.

There were many reasons behind this like no prior experience of acting, a negative self image, a body which moves largely outside my neural control.

Still I took it, thinking it might be nice to spend some more time with people I like. The only inspiration which I had to fall back upon was a Macbeth adaptation, which I was a part of.

A little digression,

About the challenges I faced when i adapted the role of the second witch for the Act 4 Scene 1 sequence of Macbeth.

In 1591, King James authorized the torture of suspected witches in Scotland

Scotland's witch-hunting had its origins in the marriage of King James to Princess Anne of Denmark. Anne's voyage to Scotland for the wedding met with a bad storm, and she ended up taking refuge in Norway. James traveled to Scandinavia and the wedding took place in at Kronborg Castle in Denmark. After a long honeymoon in Denmark, the royal newlyweds encountered terrible seas on the return voyage, which the ship's captain blamed on witches. When six Danish women confessed to having caused the storms that bedeviled King James, he began to take witchcraft seriously. Back in Scotland, the paranoid James authorized torture of suspected witches. Dozens of condemned witches in the North Berwick area were burned at the stake in what would be the largest witch-hunt in British history. By 1597, James began to address some of the worst prosecutorial abuses, and witch-hunting abated somewhat.

In 1606, Shakespeare writes a play, which begins,

Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches

First Witch:   When shall we three meet again
                         In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch:    When the hurlyburly's done,
                             When the battle's lost and won.

Third Witch:       That will be ere the set of sun.

First Witch:          Where the place?

Second Witch:       Upon the heath.

Third Witch:         There to meet with Macbeth.

First Witch:           I come, Graymalkin!

Second Witch:        Paddock calls.

Third Witch:           Anon.

ALL                      Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
                              Hover through the fog and filthy air

It was a weird phase in the history of Great Britain. You always led your life on tenterhooks, not knowing who might bear a grudge against you, who can curse you to your death. And the death will never be pleasant. First, during the trials they will throw you into a water filled ditch, and a really deep one too. If you drowned, then they would just feel sorry about killing you, as you were human enough to drown and not save yourself with supposed witchcraft. On the other hand, if you didn't you would be subjected to diverse methods of torture, depending upon your gender. You might be even thrown off a cliff and if you bounced and lived, you were dubbed a witch.

After this rigorous phase of identity determination, if you thought that you lived to see the light of the day, you are WRONG. If you were a man, they would first hang you, then tear your limbs apart, chop you into five pices, and put your head on top of a tower of the Westminister Bridge. A signifier of sorts.

If you were a woman, you would be simply burnt on the stakes though.

Knowing these socio-political issues helped me to gauze how frightening my character should be. If you are putting up such an interesting scene and your only resources are your body and voice, you really have to master the fine art of spreading fear.

A childhood experiment in singing Judas Priests' "Painkiller" (and nailing it to some extent) helped me create a high pitched and hoarse voice my character. It was a bit of problem always projecting my thoughts in this foreign vocal set up and volume issues arose. I was fortunate enough to not have contracted a cold during this period. I drank litres of warm water and just sang Painkiller :D
To anatomise the process, I would say first speak in the highest pitch you can and then contract your larynx so that it alternately opens and closes. Your vocal chords also need to be trained accordingly. The first few days your throat will experience a tremendous burning sensation if you actually manage to do it.

Later practionners of the revised Stanislavski methodolgy will remember the art of using physical actions to activate the affective memory. I actually experimented with that principle here. Did it work?