Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Discussion Following the Reading of The Tree Play 9/8/13

 Sophia and Robin Grace 
Nine readers and a handful of production staff (and some kids and cats) met at Casa Polgar on Sunday, September 8 for an intimate, private reading of The Tree Play. After the reading there was wine and food and a 20-minute open discussion in response to what we’d heard and read. Below are my notes of the things that caught the group’s attention and ideas and questions prompted by the play. 

Click here to see more photos from the reading.


What sort of play is The Tree Play?
Skip the play -- one participant wanted to turn it into a movie right away: Let's get the lighting guys in!”

One said it felt like a nursery rhyme.

Another said she thought it was a children's play. Until the boy put his hand down the girl's shirt.

That this felt like a children's play resonated with many of the actors. So did the idea that it felt like a nursery rhyme or even a fairy tale. (“I have the sense that this would work very well for a young audience.”)

Breathing and how breathing and the staging interrelate.
The play opens with the sounds of breathing. Deep breathing with an intentional sound, like Ujjayi breathing in yoga practice. In the reading the three actors who comprise the TREE made this breathing sound. This is an aspect of the performance everyone wanted to explore and play with.

“Perhaps the audience enters the space and the actors are already in their spots, all breathing. And maybe there are performers behind the audience, also breathing this way, to create a surround-sound sensation of the inhalation and exhalation of breath.”

“I wonder what it would be like to have many breaths as the play begins. Whether consciously or not, the spectators could begin to mimic, sync up with the rhythm of the breathing of the performers. If the staging is environmental, and the audience is part of that environment then we could all be breathing together right from the top.”

“And the audience is immediately more involved: ‘I'm a part of this; my part in this is so much bigger.’”

“‘I’m more than spectating.’”

“The audience becomes part of the forest too.”

“It would add to the tension if the breathing is simultaneous at the start and when things get tense the breathing alters among the performers playing the TREE. Perhaps one element of the TREE character is breathing really fast while another is breathing really slowly. Let it build with situation.” 

Photographs or video or animation. 
“The play reminds me of animation movies. You hear the narration and the animation grows into the character. Like a drawing in process. Maybe instead of having trees or shapes that look like trees, maybe there’s a projection of a tree on this side and one on this side and over the course of the play the whole system is surrounded by trees.”

“There could be a pre-show video as a way to enter into this world. A video presentation of trees swaying from different perspectives.”

“Is there a way to video the people in the performance room from strange angles to create towering figures and project those on the walls surrounding the audience? Shapes that aren’t trees, specifically, but that evoke the sense of massive towering figures all around.” 

Music and sounds.
“If there’s music/musicians, they should be heard but not seen. The music surrounds the audience, too, while the audience’s focus in looking inside the performance circle/space. The audience has no idea where the music is coming from it’s just part of the environment.”

“I’m a sucker for live foley stuff to create as much of the cacophony of the forest as possible. It’s not drums, it’s musical instruments and noise makers. Instead of ‘monkey chatter’ it's [whirring, grinding noise]. I don’t want recorded sound. Make the performers learn to play instruments if necessary!”

Live sound keeps that organic feel. If we’re going to have one element on which to build then we're going to have to stay in that world [where the performers (and audience) create the entirety of the world of the play without recordings]. 

Musing on the number 3.
“The TREE as three entities is interesting. 3 is such a prominent number in religion, Catholicism. The TREE is GIRL’s religion, perhaps?”

“The original cross was not a cross it was a tree.”

“And three men come in and out of the GIRL’s life in the span of the story.”

“There are practical reasons for a trio of performers as the TREE. It gives us options to split focus to different parts of the house.”

“Three allows for 360-degree presence/awareness of the TREE.” 

Random thoughts and observations.
“Beer can being thrown. It’s a simple image that means so much. Small gestures and images mean so much in a play like this.”

“During the show, do [we get the sense] of trees being knocked down? Is the audience made aware of the destruction? Do we use lighting in other ways to indicate the shifts in the forest, the loss of trees?”

“Is there an awareness that the process of deforestation has begun right from the start; FATHER notes that there are already trees cut down -- foreshadowing, the ‘end of the play at the beginning.’”

“The TREE is both timeless and always innocent; because there’s always something new happening as the TREE grows.”

“Timelessness: Things are old and new at the same time.”

“Not all fires in the rainforest are bad.” It’s important for the life of the forest that old, overgrown sections burn to allow for new growth.

Similarly, logging is also necessary for the health of the forest (the LOGGER is not a bad character or one to be feared; he’s just doing his job). 

Idea for workshops. 
Movement: Animal movement from cues in the play to convey mood, tension and aid the performers. Create a shorthand for moments in the play: “This is a monkey moment.” “This is snake.” Ways to help actors move during performance. A vocabulary of ways to move.

Read an excerpt from The Tree Play.

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