Research & Analysis : Final Paper

I’ve Never Read Peter Lake

RYE is a puppet.

KAEDE

RYDER

MAI

AUGUST VANCE

HANNAH

A space. The students discuss Brooks, Auslander, and Goffman and what they have learned from their Theory of Theatre class.

 

SCENE 1

 

KAEDE

When I was in high school, we were given two poems for homework and asked to analyze them. One was called “Little Boy Blue” and the other… well, I forgot what the other one was called.  And then the next day in class the teacher asked us which poem was better.  And I wrote “Little Boy Blue”, because it was sweet, and touched me.  But I was wrong.

 

RYDER

Huh? You were wrong?

 

KAEDE

Yeah. After we talked about both poems the next day in class Mrs. Mott asked us, “So, chickadees, which poem is the better poem?” Everyone shouted out the name of the other poem and I sat there, feeling terrible that I got it wrong.  She said that “Little Boy Blue” just pulled at your heartstrings, and nothing more.

 

MAI

But it affected you.  Even if your teacher thought it was simple, the fact that it did pull at your heartstrings means something, doesn’t it?

 

KAEDE

Not to her I guess.

 

RYDER

So she thought it was bad? Like it was just a kind of manipulation?

 

KAEDE

Yep. Guess so.

 

RYDER

Well, she’s right to an extent.  I mean poetry… art… it’s all manipulation, isn’t it?

 

MAI

Yeah, but the teacher was acting as if that’s a bad thing.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be.  I mean, it must be acceptable for us to get manipulated to an extent.  We are aware that when we enter a theatre or pick up a book our emotions may, and probably will, be affected.  But we do so willingly.

 

KAEDE

That’s true. But I think she thought it was a lower form of art because it was simply that.  Simply emotional.  And maybe provocative in diction.

 

RYDER

Provocative. How so?

 

KAEDE

Well, there wasn’t a lot of meat to the poem.  It was just forgotten toys and an abandoned room and the like –something to make you nostalgic and want to cry.  But there were no double entendres.  No Grecian allusions.  Not even a nice alliteration or two.

 

MAI

I still don’t understand why any of that is necessary at all.

 

RYDER

It’s not really necessary, it just shows the skill of the writer, or playwright, or painter. To have tricks, and literary games within the pieces.

 

MAI

Yeah… I understand all those literary tricks are ways artists –

 

RYDER

Tricks, say you? Please don’t –it carries a negative connotation.

 

MAI

All right. Affirmative.  Those literary… tools enable an artist to show off their wit, but don’t you think that in itself takes away a bit of the art?

 

RYDER

You mean, artists being too artsy make art less worthy of being called art?

 

Pause.

 

MAI

Okay, that does sound comical, but yes.  I think the more theatrical you have to be, the more you deter from the point of a piece.

 

RYDER

But you’re using a very 21st-century mindset of the theatre, are you not? You seem to be arguing that the more lather and décor a piece has, the more it steps away from reality and by association away from true art.  However, naturalism, or realism were not (and really still are not always) the point of the theatre.  Indeed, it was not always so… referential.  We can witness this just by the types of theatres popular in the 18th century.  Big, red curtains, ornate….

 

RYE

Looking up from his painting,

 

You know, Chikamatsu Monzaemon is remembered as preferring Bunraku theatre to Kabuki or Noh because he felt the puppets created the exact amount of distance that the audience needed from the story to make it believable.  He thought it was quite obvious that the actors were not the characters they were portraying, and this was distracting for the audience.

 

KAEDE, MAI, and RYDER all look at RYE and nod.

 

Also,

 

KAEDE, MAI and RYDER all jump with shock that he will speak again.  RYE shrinks back a little, astonished by their reactions.

 

… also, there’s a story about the guy who was directing a show and there was a hanging scene and he asked the jailer if he could use one of the men really set to be hung for a crime, a real criminal… he asked if he could use ‘im and the jailer let ‘im but it flopped.  He didn’t fling around enough.  He wasn’t dying the way people wanted him too.  Even though… he really was dying.

 

Pause.

 

People didn’t want something real.  They didn’t really want to see a man “die”.

 

Pause.

 

KAEDE

Hmm.  Getting back to how theatrical or non-theatrical you should be in the theatre, maybe we have to take into account what the director or producer or company wants to show.  If they want to get to the heart of, say, Our Town

 

RYDER

Come on, can’t you pick another-

 

KAEDE

Just go with me. If the director wanted the audience to really grasp the fluidity of time and the ephemeral characteristic of life, and does that through the simplest set, grand.  But if another director does it by, say, using the same hundred pieces of wood to construct the set of each individual scene, and then tears it apart, and then rebuilds and strikes, so that the entire production takes three hours longer than usual…

 

MAI

We shouldn’t fault him?

 

KAEDE

Exactly.  If, indeed, the audience, through observing this destruction and reconstruction of scenery between each scene, each new stage of life, somehow became aware of the brevity and cyclical aspect of life.

 

RYDER

Yeah, I understand your point.  But don’t you think, that by using that wood, somehow the play was… better than the former? It not only told the story through the script, but it was built into the scenery as well.  My friend once saw a performance of Bernarda Alba where the house had a small crack at the beginning of the play.  As the play continued, the crack slowly spread so that by the end of the play, the house looked like it would soon fall.[1]  And my friend said, “My God, I never really understood the play till I saw that crack.  I realized- the house is being torn apart.

 

MAI

But the first play got across what it wanted to as well.

 

KAEDE

Even though I would say that maybe it was less… deep?

 

MAI

You guys are operating under a very traditional viewpoint of theatre.  Surely, after all we have studied this year in our Theory of Theatre class, you should be a bit more open about what constitutes a good or bad play.  Furthermore, don’t you think even using those words to describe distinct Our Town productions is a little too simplistic?

 

KAEDE

That’s true.  We can’t be all that objective when describing art.

 

RYDER

I don’t see why not. Surely there is some sort of criteria by which we can judge works or art.  You cannot say that August Vance’s plays about Archibald and Gwendolyn are as intellectually stimulating as Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

 

AUGUST VANCE

I really like that play.

 

MAI

It’s okay, August.

 

To RYDER

 

Maybe you can’t say they’re as intellectually stimulating, but there’s no reason one is better than the other. Or a greater piece of work than the other.

 

RYDER

Really?!  You’re saying that any old piece of pumpkin batter that gets performed in whoever’s basement on Thanksgiving day for their parents, some old skit of Indians and Pilgrims, with four-year-olds piping “me too” and giggling and winking at the audience, and breaks of character too high to count… all that? Is just as worthy as a Southern American modern-day adaptation of Troilus and Cressida in Surrey?

 

KAEDE

The audience probably enjoyed it as much in both places.  Is the point purely to entertain? And nothing else?

 

KAEDE

Not necessarily. Though I think that is what marks the success of a production much of the time.

 

RYDER

Well, fine for those kinds of people, I guess, but surely there are plays that are not worthy of being produced.

 

Break. Switch focus with lighting.

 

HANNAH

Appearing from behind a curtain, recites,

 

“The new theater, like the new visual art, was in a process of dematerialization. When a live sculpture or painting dissipated the traditional permanence of the art object, it dissolved the commodity aspect of the work as well. A sense of immediacy and concreteness combined with spontaneity and an interest in the work process, rather than the finished product, to repudiate the romantic notion of the artwork as a fixed instance of the artist’s expression. Strategies of monotone and repetition undercut values of craftsmanship and composition.” [2] It makes sense doesn’t it? It’s kind of fun… the process. Isn’t it?

 

Break back. Switch focus with lighting.

 

MAI

Again, I think you are being a little too traditionalistic.  What speaks to you may not speak to a fifty-five-year old woman, Ryder.  I always think about this when critics refer to Ibsen, Dickens, and Williams.  Maybe these plays are just popular and revered because they speak to upper middle class white males who wrote all the reviews when these pieces came out.  That’s why I really like authors like Sharon Creech.  She could write beautiful novels for adults I am sure.  She has got the skill and the soul –but she spends her time writing for children, focusing on that audience.

 

RYDER

What exactly are you getting at?

 

KAEDE

Everyone blames the critics.  You know Peter Brook says that “a critic has… [an] important role, an essential one, in fact, for an art without critics would be constantly menaces by far greater dangers.” [3]

 

MAI

And “his angriest reaction is valuable –it is a call for competence,” I know. [4]  I am simply trying to say that perhaps our perception, or rather, your perception of what is good, or classic, is simply a result of critics’ talk and their opinions.  If we had thirty-two-year-old African American women as our main source of review, then what plays are a “success” would be different, to be sure.

 

KAEDE

Well, of course we are affected by our surroundings, critics, and our time period.  I think, before this three day lecture series though, I never understood to what extent the theatre has changed.

 

MAI

How do you mean?

 

KAEDE

Well, previously, I had thought there was really only one big shift, when naturalism had its nascence. But there were so many other changes in theatre buildings, in what was emphasized, etc.

 

RYDER

That’s true.  I had never really thought of the actual building of the theatre as an element of performance.  I took it for granted that plays are done in theatres.  Theatres are buildings with a stage and seating, however arranged.  But I hadn’t really been aware of… the existence of the theatre building.

 

KAEDE

I remember when Ida asked us about “what the theatre building [did] as a framework for viewing a show?”[5]

 

MAI

Yes, wasn’t that interesting? For example, the Mermaid Theatre, in Bray.  The fact that it is in the main section of town, that it is a community theatre… that symbolizes its utility and place in the town.  It can probably not be too risky, and the plays should be chosen to directly benefit the community, whether in entertainment or efficacy.

 

KAEDE

Therefore, the location of the theatre illustrates its place in society.

 

RYDER

And you might have some trouble trying to put on 4:48 Psychosis there.

 

KAEDE

Well, some people might like it.  But if it is somewhat of a traditionalist town, then you would probably not get the reaction you wanted.

 

MAI

Well, actually, maybe you should be putting on plays that the town does not expect.  Then, you would make people think a little more, instead of having cookie-cutter feel-good shows every month.

 

RYDER

But theatre should not always be used as a means to provoke.  If the audience does not like the type of theatre that is being performed, perhaps they would fail to attend the theatre all together.  Surely sub-par theatre is better than no theatre at all?

 

KAEDE

Also, it’s interesting to look at the theatre as a social institution as well.

 

MAI

What do you mean?

 

KAEDE

I mean, I took for granted that theatres are just there.  I never thought before about why?  For example, society must have a need for them to exist as they have been around for ages.  Also, even though I like to think of theatre as revolutionary or rebellious, government must have some reason they want theatres around, else they would be disbanded, like Japan did to Kabuki in the 17th century.

 

MAI

I see.  So we’ve realized not just that the buildings are something to observe and take into account, but the actual existence of the art form is something to be cognizant of.

 

RYDER

Yes, it seems that in studying something, before timelines or periods, one must study the actual construction and existence of the studied thing.

 

KAEDE

Yes.  Well it was interesting to learn about that.

 

MAI

Though I would still be interested in studying what would occur if more experimental works were performed at the Mermaid Theatre.

 

KAEDE

Yes, perhaps the audience would think that the work could not possibly be too obscure if it was being performed in the center of Bray and therefore take a liking to such a piece.

 

RYDER

Hmm.  You know what Victor Hugo said… The theatre can take a mob and…. Something about a peephole.  How does that go?

 

KAEDE

I am not sure… but it has something to do with how an audience can become linked together with an experience, perhaps creating a unified vision at the end. [6]

 

RYDER

Exactly.  Meaning to say that, perhaps all the citizens would bond together and…

 

KAEDE

Maybe their expectations of and desires for plays would transform…

 

Walks into the kitchen.

 

RYDER

Maybe.

 

AUGUST VANCE
Brecht was a smart man, so he was.

 

RYDER

To make people be aware of what they were seeing?

 

MAI

Mhm.

 

KAEDE

Returning from the kitchen with tea.

 

Would anyone like some tea?

 

RYDER

Yes, please.

 

In his hurry, RYDER trips over AUGUST VANCE, who is lying on the floor.  He does a forward roll as a result of his fall.

 

AUGUST VANCE

Ow!

 

MAI

Laughs.  Jokingly,

 

Wow, that was brilliant.  Good show, Ryder.  Really, quite enjoyed it.

 

RYDER

Struggling to recover,

 

Well, you are welcome, Mai, but that was not done for your entertainment, I’ll have you know.

 

KAEDE

Joining in on the game,

 

I don’t know Ryder… Peter Brook might just defend Mai and me when we say that that was the performance of the year.  Or, at least the week.

 

MAI

You know what they say… All actors are performers, but not all performers are actors.[7]

 

KAEDE

Who says that?

 

RYDER

Hardy har har, guys. Very funny.  But I don’t think that that fall can be construed as theatre.

 

KAEDE

But-

 

RYDER

I know, I know.  I’ve never read Peter Lake or whoever, and I don’t know what his theories are, but there is no way that me tripping over August could be comparable to Bang Bang You’re Dead being performed in Columbine. Can you pass the milk?

 

MAI

Sure. But I can’t just let you get away with something like that.

 

KAEDE

No, I don’t think she can. Sugar?

 

MAI

Yes, please. Now, really, Ryder, I know you can tend to be quite conservative, but give Peter Brook a chance!  He has some revolutionary ideas of what the theatre could be.  You know, the things he calls for could bring about a transformation in theatre comparable to that which was made with Checkov’s plays.

 

RYDER

Maybe Goffman can help me out here.

 

KAEDE

Haha. Well on his scale of pure to most impure, I suppose he would have to say that that may have been an unpure performance, for you seemed to “openly show no regard or concern for the dramatic elements of your labor.” [8]

 

RYDER

True.  But if I had meant to simply twirl over August Vance for a bit of fun, it would have been one of the purest of performances, by Goffman’s standards, no?

 

KAEDE

For without the audience there would have been no performance. [9]

 

AUGUST VANCE

Ow.  At least you’ve got that one nailed down. Something good came out of –ow.

 

MAI

But, how odd to organize performances from being pure to impure.  Impure seems so negative. It’s as if every time one observes a couple fighting on the street, there is something wrong with the act of observation.

 

RYDER

It’s not necessarily that.  It only means that there are levels of performance.  Some things are meant to be watched as so, from plays to sporting matches, and then some occurrences can still be seen as performance even though they would not typically be defined as such, like weddings and lectures. [10]

 

 

KAEDE

Performance is an element that occurs everywhere. But disappearing too…

 

RYDER

Sort of what Peggy Phelan says when she talks about the value of liveness.

 

AUGUST VANCE

“Written on the wind”[11]

RYDER

Huh?

AUGUST VANCE

Peter Brook.  He and Phelan are in accord. He said “…theatre is always a self-destructive art, and it is always written on the wind.  A professional theatre assembles different people every night and speaks to them through the language of behavior.  A performance gets set and usually has to be repeated –and repeated as well and accurately as possible –but from the day it is set something invisible is beginning to die.” [12]

RYDER

Yeah. Exactly. Phelan says theatre will never die, that its value is uncontested, for it will never occur again, the same as life. [13]  Because of its brevity, the theatre is priceless.

 

KAEDE

I understand what Phelan is saying, but I don’t think everyone would agree with her.  In fact, I think the majority of the public would not agree with her and side with, say, Philip Auslander.

 

MAI

I don’t know, he is a bit radical.

 

KAEDE

I don’t think so.  Basically he just points out that we are all used to combining media elements, and that fundamentally, there is no difference between theatre, or performances with media, or simply, say, television.[14]

 

MAI

I understand what he is saying, but you could argue quite easily, I believe, that a play is different from a movie.

 

KAEDE

Not everyone would agree with you. Or your Phelan woman.  You surely must admit that there are levels of liveness, such as Auslander points out?

 

MAI

I suppose, but it all seems a little convoluted, don’t you think? I mean that whole chart about what is this amount of being live, and this section and…

 

KAEDE

I think it’s pretty simple.  And pretty straight forward actually.  For the first section, one is in the same space, and the same time. This makes it “very live” because this can’t be replaced at all.

 

RYDER

And the idea of commodity attacks this.  In the same way that Guinness advertises that you’ll always get the same pint, shows like to guarantee that what you see in Chicago or New York will be just like it was in Paris or Tokyo.[15]  Then you move on to the next section which is people in different spaces, experiencing something at the same time.

 

MAI

See, I don’t understand why that is even a part of liveness at all.  I mean, how are people in different place experiencing something live? Or as a group?

 

RYDER

Just think about September 11th.  You remember what you were doing that day, I am sure.

 

MAI

Yes, of course. We all do.

 

RYDER

Do you remember what you were feeling?

 

MAI

Yes. Of course.  I remember the classroom I was in, the test I had that day.  I remember watching the news when I got home.  I remember that moment, second period as we were all watching the news in the library… I remember seeing the second plane attacking and thinking, my god, no –this can’t be happening.  Up to then we were all thinking it was a mistake, a fluke, the first plane.  When we saw the second, everyone got quieter.  I remember feeling a little bit emptier, like the plane had flown into my stomach along with that tower and knocked all the air out of me.

 

RYDER

There’s something binding in that, don’t you think?  With everyone in that library, yes, but also, with school children all over the States.  There were so many of us sitting there, speechless, watching those people jump out of the highest of stories to nothingness… We all share something because of that, don’t you think?

 

MAI

Yes, that’s true…

 

KAEDE

I mean, yes, he made it up, but it makes sense, to divide it that way.

 

RYDER

There’s definitely something to be said about lack of liveness though.  Doesn’t it make certain moments all the more… real? Like, remember in Theory of Theatre we talked about telegrams, and how the feeling of having received one is almost lost to an audience now.  With all this business, and swift speed of communication… in an ironic way it means we are aware now, more than ever, of being together in the same space at the same time. [16]

 

MAI

Perhaps that is so.

 

RYDER

Either way, it is quite useful to have these theoreticians in our back pocket, don’t you think?  The next time the guys are cracking jokes about me being in theatre, I’ll whack them over the head with a bit of Phelan.

 

KAEDE

Well, I think that Auslander will be useful to my friend’s company in Chicago, “The Rolling Company.” All their plays have a vast amount of media involvement, it’s part of their motto.

 

MAI

Cute.

 

KAEDE

Mhm..

 

MAI

Well you know what they say, “the distiniction between live and technologically mediated performance remains a fundamental and cultrally stratifying one.” [17]

 

KAEDE

Looking through notebook,

 

Ah, yes. Let me see. Where is the quote? Here we go.  “I’ve been spoiled… by watching movies and television, where you can see very well and you can hear what the actors are saying.  It’s really, really hard for me to sit in row HH and not be able to see the faces of the actors and have to… strain to hear their voices…” [18]

 

MAI

Implying “that the sense of immediacy can actually be stronger when watching film or television than at the theatre.” [19]

 

RYDER

Yep. Well you know, nowadays, “many performances blend elements of both technologically mediated performance and live, unmediated performance,” and it gets harder and harder to differentiate them.[20]

 

KAEDE

Auslander has a very Cartesian way of writing about the theatre, don’t you think?  It’s a bit too scientific for my taste.” [21]

 

MAI

Definitely for me.  He talks of proscenium arches and seating arrangement and the process all as a science, as something to be scrutinized, rather than something we feel.

 

RYDER

Oh, Mai. You and your feelings.

 

MAI

I’m an artist, Ryder. I am a sensitive soul.

 

Curtain.

 

 

 

WORKS CITED

 

 

Auslander, Philip, ‘Live and Technologically Mediated Performance’ in Cambridge Companion

to Performance Studies, ed. by Tracy C. Davis (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Balme, Christopher. The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Studies. Chapter Two: Spectators

and Audiences. Cambridge University Press.

Banes, Sally Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance. Wesleyan Paperback: Wesleyan.

 

Kindle Edition. Kindle Locations 876-879.

 

Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. Penguin Book Ltd.: England 1968.

 

Goffman, Erving. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Harvard

 

University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1974.

 

Jordan, Eamonn.  Class Lecture. . Research and Analysis in Drama and Performance. University

 

College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland. 14 Sept 2011.

 

Leeney, Cathy. Class Discussion. Research and Analysis in Drama and Performance. University

 

College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland. 14, 21 Sept 2011.

 

Ros Gordon, Loli. Class Discussion. Text Analysis and Performance. University College Dublin,

 

Dublin, Ireland. 15 Nov 2011.

 

Wurtzler, Steve. “She Sang Live, But the Microphone Was Turned Off’: The Live, the Recorded,

 

and the Subject of Representation,” in Rick Altman, ed., South Theory Sound Practice

Routledge: New York. 1992.

 

[1] Ros Gordon, Loli. Class Discussion. Text Analysis and Performance. University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland. 15 Nov 2011.

[2] Banes, Sally Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance. Wesleyan Paperback: Wesleyan. Kindle Edition. Kindle Locations 876-879.

 

[3] Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. Penguin Book Ltd.: England 1968. Page 35.

[4] Brook, 36.

[5] Jordan, Eamonn.  Class Lecture. . Research and Analysis in Drama and Performance. University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland. 14 Sept 2011.

[6] Leeney, Cathy. Class Discussion. Research and Analysis in Drama and Performance. University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland. 14 Sept 2011.

[7] Goffman, Erving. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1974. Page 127.

[8] Goffman, 126.

[9] Goffman, 125.

[10] Goffman, 126.

[11] Brook, 18.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Leeney, Cathy. Class Discussion. Research and Analysis in Drama and Performance. University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland. 14 Sept 2011..

[14]  Auslander, Philip, ‘Live and Technologically Mediated Performance’ in Cambridge Companion to Performance Studies, ed. by Tracy C. Davis (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

 

[15] Auslander.

[16] Leeney, Cathy. Class Discussion. Research and Analysis in Drama and Performance. University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland. 21 Sept 2011.

[17] Auslander.

[18] Weber, Anne Nicholson. comp., Upstaged: Making Theatre in the Media Age. Routledge: New York. 2006.

Page 9.

 

[19] Auslander.

[20] Wurtzler, Steve. “She Sang Live, But the Microphone Was Turned Off’: The Live, the Recorded, and the Subject of Representation,” in Rick Altman, ed., South Theory Sound Practice. Routledge: New York. 1992.

 

[21] Cronin, Finola. Class Discussion. Research and Analysis in Drama and Performance. University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland. 17 Oct 2011.