We’ve announced Walking Shadow’s 2015-2016 season, including my newest play A Midwinter Night’s Revel — Check it out!
We’ve announced Walking Shadow’s 2015-2016 season, including my newest play A Midwinter Night’s Revel — Check it out!
When I was a young writer, I attended an improvisational storytelling workshop run by members of Improbable Theatre. I was enamored of their stunning productions of 70 Hill Lane and Shockheaded Peter, and jumped at the opportunity to learn about their approach.
One of their techniques came from Keith Johnstone’s book Impro – an alternating word story. You stand shoulder to shoulder with someone, arms around each other, and tell a story about yourself while alternating words. Left, right, left, right. One word at a time, ideally while it acting out. For example:
Once upon a time I went to the store. I bought some pickles and saw a zombie.
This technique is great because it’s impossible to steer the narrative toward any one writer’s goal. It also exposes all sort of authorial pitfalls. People try all sorts of techniques to control the story. Some would blurt out more than one word, or accidentally jump ahead of prepositions to reach the precious nouns and verbs. Others used lots of adverbs, adjectives, lists, and other filler words in an attempt to forestall action. And many pairings told stories that were nonsensical and episodic, thing to thing without through-line.
The Improbable Theatre guys took this in stride, and gave tips for overcoming each of these roadblocks. Move toward action; think about what came before; don’t try to steer the story; listen to the other person; focus on one word at a time; find the ends of sentences; and so forth.
Once we started to get comfortable they invited two people up in front of the group to tell a story while acting it out. I volunteered, put my arms around my partner’s shoulders, and we began.
We were a farmer, dealing an influx of rabbits in the yard. We kept finding new ways to successfully kill or remove the bunnies, until finally, we turned the corner and saw a FIERCE, GIGANTIC RABBIT. After a fearful description of our massive foe, we slowly turned away and said:
“…but first I think I need to get a bigger net.”
“Wait. Hold up!”
“You’ve established the conflict. We know who your enemy is. Why are you running away? The audience doesn’t want to see you go dig in your closet for a net. We want you to confront that rabbit, grapple with it, climb into its ear, stab it in the brain and emerge – bloody, gross and victorious – aaaaaaahhhh! That’s where the story is.”
As a young writer, I often wanted to enjoy the company of my characters without changing them. Even now it can be easy to fall into this trap. But stasis doesn’t make a compelling narrative, and good writers play for keeps. So whenever I get stuck making an easy choice instead of moving toward the harder one, I simply remind myself:
CONFRONT THAT RABBIT.
In the past six months, Bad September (my steampunk art rock band) put together a couple music videos with footage recorded at the beautiful Southern Theatre in Minneapolis. These videos were co-directed and produced by myself and Sarah Heller, with a huge crew of participants. Enjoy.
When I was eight, my mother brought me to a dance studio at the Great Bear Center strip mall in Bloomington so I watch the dance class and decide if it was something I’d enjoy. The class looked like a lot of fun, but all the dancers were girls in pink tights (except for one child wearing black tights, whose gender I couldn’t identify). Sadly, the gender polarization was too much for my young brain – even though most of my school friends were girls – and I protested that I didn’t want to do it. My mother took me home, somewhat disappointed I’m sure, because she rightly figured that I’d like it, and because dancing was always important to her.
I became interested in theatre. And by the time I was going to college, I was passionate about the idea of ensemble-based physical theatre. I trained myself to make masks, learned some circus arts, and it seemed to me that I’d be best served by learning as much about movement as I could. So when my parents asked me what I was going to do for a minor, naturally I chose Modern Dance. With no previous dance experience, this was not exactly a sensible fall-back career.
At Mankato, when you declared a Dance Minor, they asked they you take the Advanced Modern class each semester. This was a 2-credit 90 minute class from 3:00-4:30pm every M-W-F. This was my first dance class, mostly surrounded by experienced dancers who grew up in dance studios. I felt hopelessly out of my depth. Because who declares a dance minor with no previous experience? I MEAN, WHO DOES THAT?
My days were a rotating variety of other classes (beginning modern, ballet technique, jazz, tap, theatre movement), but it was those overwhelming afternoons in Advanced Modern that fueled my desire to learn, if not my ability — because I was really really floundering there.
Halfway through my Junior year, we were learning a phrase of movement in the Intermediate Modern class, when suddenly it all clicked. Movement, steps, arms, torso, tempo, rhythm, spacing. Everything just fell into place and I could feel my brain release from conscious thought and embrace the flow of the room. That’s when I fell in love: when dancebecame more than a series of steps, but a physical conversation with space and time. It was “being in the moment” in the most pure and honest sense one could ever imagine, and I will never forget that feeling.
I stopped dance and circus training shortly after college (when I lost my health insurance), but I’ve missed it every day since. For as big a part of my life as it was for College, it’s not a big part of my current persona. As a result, it tends to prompt a surprised reaction from those who have never seen me move. Over the past decade, I’ve cultivated a reputation as a writer and director, so to be returning to performance – in a medium that only a few people have seen me perform – is a fascinating lesson in understanding other people’s perception of who I am. How many other aspects of ourselves go unseen by those around us?
When my father died in 2005, my biggest regret was that he had never seen me dance. My father and I had such different personal values, I was never sure what to say to him about dance. I think the whole thing made him uncomfortable. The gap between us felt too large, to cumbersome, and after his death, very permanent. Yet as I grow older, I keep finding aspects of myself remind me of him. Now when I look in the mirror I often see his face looking back at me. I suppose it’s easy to forget how much our parents give us without our even knowing it, and in that way, those unresolved things can sometimes become a resolution of sorts.
I love you, dad. I love you, mom. This is how I dance.
After last night’s rehearsal of Act 3, I think I had a better feel for what you meant by “Pity and Fear” in On the Tragic Art. As we finished the Queen meeting, I realized that there are basically two ways we could approach that scene: with hope or with dread – and tense anticipation seemed like a better choice for pulling the audience through that scene. But what did this mean from a practical sense?
It now seems to me that this Fear, of which you and the other romantics speak so highly, must mean something akin to “suspense” in the modern sense – like Chekhov’s gun or Hitchcock’s bomb – a sort of dreaded anticipation of what’s to come, by seeing the worst possible outcome and expecting it to happen, but being unsure when or how. The destination is certain but the journey is not. I suppose it’s similar to the internal tensions of Shakespeare or Corneille, and I can see why you spoke so clearly about why the play should omit extraneous elements of history in pursuit of its poetic effect.
This all became even more abundantly clear when we reached the Mary/Mortimer scene in the Park. The failure of Leicester, and the violent passions of Mortimer make Mary’s last hopes utterly collapse. Because Mary’s awful discoveries are shared by the audience, it allows her dread and despair to be experienced by the audience sympathetically – hence Pity.
What strikes me so poignantly about your (and Mr. Oswald’s) approach to this aesthetic principle is how very raw and visceral it is. Pity and Fear aren’t mere set dressing of mood, but philosophical dictates of dramatic action, choice, and urgency. Indeed, your essays really don’t treat at all on tone, mood, or theme, as the Gothics so often did (I’m looking at YOU, Castle of Otranto). I also take note of your desire for the play to be driven by circumstances beyond the will of any individual character, and as we work acts 4 & 5 tonight I’m excited to shall see how the characters “act in opposition to their inclination” as you say!
Minneapolis MN USA
8 January 2014
Three days into rehearsal and one month from opening. Yesterday I found myself wanting to get a better sense of Mr. Oswald’s choices in translating your text, so after rehearsal I found a different translation of Maria Stuart (from sometime in the 50s). I was shocked to discover how many liberties Mr. Oswald had actually taken.
His adaptation is considerably less florid, and reduces much of your courtly pomp – I can see why it had appealed to Donizetti as an opera! Moreover, by omitting much of the tertiary action and many of the one-off characters (Burgoyne, Mary’s other ladies, various lords), his adaptation greatly emphasizes the intrigue, political maneuvering, and uncertainty of Mary’s guilt or innocence.
Maybe the most noteworthy instance is cutting Margaret Curl, the wife of Mary’s secretary, and giving her lines to Hannah Kennedy. By putting the lines about Curl’s perjury in Hannah’s mouth we have less reason to trust them, so we don’t truly know Mary’s guilt or innocence until the last moments of her confession to Melvil, right before her execution. This greatly increases the tension of that scene. I hope you’ll forgive my saying so, but I think this is a huge improvement over your original flow of information and gives greater dramatic significance to Mary’s confession beyond the inherent catharsis of the moment. This adaptation is peppered with other such changes and omissions, mostly at the beginning of scenes where it often starts in medias res.
One could argue that this does a disservice to the original intent of your play, but such is the nature of translation and adaptation, especially where a gap of history is also concerned. For my part, I confess that other translations of Maria Stuart don’t feel as accessible to me as Mr. Oswald’s. But since you yourself were no stranger to creating adaptations and translations, I can’t imagine you’d be much surprised. As Robert Bly says, the classics warrant a new translation every generation. This is why Shakespeare now feels contemporary and immediate to most French audiences but almost incomprehensible to most English-speakers. Such are the ravages of time, I suppose.
The feeling in the rehearsal room is good and filled with quite a lot of good conversation, and the pertinent quotes from your essays on art, passion, and reason seemed very well received by the cast. They really help give us a sense of your attitudes about leadership and society in the wake of the French Revolution.
Today we continue talking through Acts 2 and 3, with a focus on fully unearthing the meeting between the two Queens – and I expect it will take us awhile to really understand all the emotional nuances of that situation.
I’m eager to see how contemporary audiences relate to your work, and I’m feeling much affirmed by our decision to free ourselves from the constraints of the historical time period in both design and performance style. Nevertheless, I continue to pursue a better understanding of your influences and dramatic intent as we work to stage your play.
Thanks much and more tomorrow,
Minneapolis MN USA
January 7, 2014
Grüezi Mein Herr Schiller,
We haven’t spoken directly before, but I hope you’ll allow me to introduce myself, as we’ll be in dialogue for the next month or so – my name is John Heimbuch and I’m a theatre director from Minneapolis MN, which is naturally a place you’ve never been, although my state’s acquisition from France was, I believe, in your lifetime – so perhaps you had some cause to hear of it. It’s a place much populated by Northern European ideas and attitudes, and which on some level owes much of its intellectual legacy to the same factors that affected your life – Protestantism, literature, drama, education, and social class – and which your work so vociferously rebelled against.
I have recently undertaken the process of directing what many English-speakers consider your best-known work: Mary Stuart - in a relatively new translation by British playwright Peter Oswald.
The adaptation is good – although my German is admittedly rather shaky, so I’ll not get too far into that, save to say that it is an adaptation, with all the good and bad that adaptations entail. Mostly it means that I – the director – am dedicating much of my energy in attempting to decipher what you – the writer – were striving to accomplish, and how those issues might pertain to the performers, designers, and audiences on this cold day in January 2014.
Our first read was yesterday night, and I will confess to approaching these rehearsals with somewhat less rigor than I usually do (as a consequence of my being also in an ongoing dialogue with Monsieur Alexandre Dumas père regarding his popular novel Les Trois Mousquetaires). Therefore I entered the first rehearsal armed with only my foreknowledge of the material, which, while sufficient to yesterday’s needs, will be woefully lacking over the next month. As always happens at the first rehearsal, many questions arose over the night, including some which you would have had no need to concern yourself with – such as the use of dialect and accent (Mary’s voice being a particular cause for speculation).
Naturally, a few questions about the history emerged. The more knowledgeable cast members answered these questions, which I was glad of, but I added that historical accuracy was not our concern. I didn’t want this to be museum drama, and believe that history can be something of a rabbit hole. Therefore, unless it exists in your text, it wouldn’t be pertinent to us. We now face a wealth of information at our fingertips, but this overabundance of historical fact, speculation, and conjecture matters little if it doesn’t directly speak to the play you wrote. So I decided the bulk of my effort will be to ascertain the spirit in which you wrote Maria Stuart, what information you possessed, and which liberties you chose to take – with the belief that your choices, omissions, and inclusions will provide a better guide to the text than the facts of history. Therefore, I was particularly delighted when I found your essay “On the Tragic Art” sitting on my shelf, and discovered this sentence:
“It is a right – nay, more, it is an obligation – for tragedy to subject historic truth to the laws of poetry, and to treat its matter in conformity with the requirements of this art.”
I couldn’t have said it better!
The challenge, then, is to determine which poetic laws you ascribe to. Conveniently, the blueprint of those laws is laid forth in that same essay, as clear and universal as the laws of Aristotle or Robert McKee (don’t ask!) – what is more difficult is to ferret out the UNSPOKEN assumptions you brought to your work, and to discern how best to interpret them within this contemporary English-language production.
And so, the reason for my writing to you…
Of course you are insensate to my questions, being both long dead and far away, but the act of asking is nevertheless useful to me. So I will ask, and ponder, and read. And you, in your silent long-dead German-speaking way, will answer through hints and clues, dreams and assumptions, or the form and phrase of your words. And together, together we’ll work this out. Agreed?
Sincerely — your admirer,
Minneapolis, MN USA
6 January 2014
PS. I’m enjoying your letters and essays; and I just discovered those adaptations you wrote. Any advice on where to start? Shakespeare, Corneille, Racine, Euripides? The list of authors alone is pretty telling, and it made me glad I spent some time with King John, Richard II, and King Lear before entering rehearsals. In any case, we’ll see what I have time for; M. Dumas continues to beckon…. He cannot be ignored!
A theatrical audience is basically conscious of two things when watching a show: the world of the play and the world of the stage. By juxtaposing narrative information with staging techniques, it is possible to meld these two perceptions and use them to feed each other, giving the audience a more complete understanding of the world of the play. During the gravedigger scene in Hamlet, one of the clowns unearths the skull of “Yorick”, the king’s former jester, who had been dead for two decades. The role of Yorick doesn’t exist in the play, but the audience’s sense of his character is informed by Hamlet’s response to the skull. His words and reverence don’t paint a complete picture, but it is certainly sufficient to have an understanding of who this clown was, and how Yorick’s death symbolizes Hamlet’s own journey, his memories of youthful happiness, and his current emotional despair. Conveniently, it also serves to set the scene both physically and emotionally for Ophelia’s funeral. But Shakespeare’s audiences would have certainly recognized in Yorick’s description the character of Tarlton, a popular clown with strong associations to Shakespeare’s company who died some two decades before. This alone would have given an attentive audience cause to wonder about Shakespeare’s friendship with Tarlton, and consider that in addition to being Hamlet’s in-the-moment ode to Yorick, it was Shakespeare’s out-of-the-moment ode to his friend.
But there’s another aspect, often lost on contemporary audiences. In the original production, the skull was just that – an actual skull – and the physical memento mori calls meta-theatrical attention to itself, thereby taking the audience’s attention out of the play (“That’s an actual skull! Whose skull is it?”) Normally in theatre being taken out of the world of the play is considered a bad thing, but if in that moment of disconnect the nature of the real world matches the narrative world (“The actors are reflecting on death, and now I am reflecting on death”), it reinforces the audience’s experience of the narrative, making that moment visceral and personal for them. This allows the production to re-engage the audience on a deeper and more meaningful level, without ever compromising the world of the play.
The Elizabethans didn’t consider drama as literature not because they didn’t recognize its literary merits, but because the layers of meaning inherent in the artform depend upon the physical act of watching it.
A couple years ago my friend Mark had an evening off, and being an intelligent Discordian with a penchant for nonsense, he decided to feed a Phillyist review for my play William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead through something called a Travesty Generator and then steer it down a long road of Google Translations and finally back into English. He then sent the results to me. When I replied at some length about Dadaism, author intent, and automatic writing, he took that response and sent it through the same process, and then gave it a judicious if whimsical edit. The result, which he titled the New Method Adaptation manifesto, is posted below in its entirety.
You want to create what is written, regardless. About the size of the ideological division, physical contact of resources is very easy to see. Place the development of this document online, and then how many layers verify this are not in question.
If you believe using automatic writing is to write freely, I believe it is necessary to send this poem. I want another to experience the depth of poetry in all live art, the possible acquisitions, the enormous hat. In order to contact Henry, the point is clear that all the experiences of the past conceal this game, the procedure, and too the poems written by Tristan Tzara.
Experience is the game, but the review procedure does not work. All creating knowledge were proud of it, but review is not sufficient for this court. Any question is possible for a person, but what about the project, the poetry, the indictment, the artistic interpretation? But for the art, through which the media is attempting, in every moment, to make it more clear what works and what can work no effect at all on the hat, the ceiling, the device, the ideological level. I would write about New Method Adaptation, but I think some of the impact with poetry is what happens when a person is not clear. If you believe that writing and sending this poem was independently interesting, 5 entries on the first page wanted to know when, what, and for the text is written.
However, to talk of and analyze the main ideological point, I say that the nature of text is written to send a request. To create through word and poetry because you can feel each level of the enormous hat tells of clear a sense of recognition, and of the break with contact. Although the resources to develop this document clearly reduce my brain capacity, they say it is necessary to write this that way. For me to send the status of this study, what I want is important.
He thinks to break free, but all entries after 5 levels conceal this process completely. They say that the way to play and solve the line of development is interesting for the brain. Clearly, all other text, poetry and writing, is of no interest to me.
But the issue is clear. I have no personal ability to shape fact. As nearly proud as they all can feel, in the end the new method does not function normally. However, think of today. You even believe the impossible is interesting. How far can we go with a person or two since the text is not clear when a person has been affected.
Can you hide that here? Really, Tristan Tzara is no end for me, because although the hat is not enough to call interesting, they but click’d 2 see the possible nature of the starting material, and were proud of it. I do not know the role of transliteration, of source materials, but clear ideological distribution of resources on behalf of one winner before I understand the importance of art-derivatives is and is not attractive.
You can feel it is impossible for the line of development to impact the starting material, but with time, there is really no end to how far you go before the text actually crosses level of random phase autonomy. It is unclear when the glossary of nature will play the role of please and thanks on transcription and the presence of recognition on the ideology map.
When, for me, the nature the person is New Procedure layers, play type on-line development of lunar probe derivatives will not hide the severe effect of transliteration resources. Although because people even sense the infinite in time, all poetry is the art of living interestingly. Or, as Tristan Tzara may nearly know, I could see that this is another enormous hat. Infinite, actually.
Every time he thanks me, and at every call, it is clear we believe an accusation or two. Not me, no. Nor when, part of the time, it is recognition issues based on this process, not possible acquisitions to influence the poetry and the capacity of my brain. For me, because all this another part is his writing, a word two others were proud of is the starting material. How can the source of the text affect–no, reduce–the ideological significance of the materials?
Of course, at any point, the need for the role is the ideological location of this document. The work needed to contact the division is, at present, the basis of the ideology and a general knowledge which we can create and affect. You know it not, but the same is clear for Henry, and someone at City Hall.
Or course, New Method Adaptation is a familiar process, poetry written independently of the text. Both of the size, and ideologically. Obviously, the interesting note that is that the first page of the text is not art. The nature of interesting questions is written there, however: Develop experience with depth. The art of all poetry is living, interestingly.
However, to talk seriously, what I can do with with words is not you wanted to know, because although it is what all this is about, how can 5 entries on the list view “Click Here” to think and feel? Think on all this.
Thank you, time 2 go.
Naturally, I was struck by shocking viability of this “adaptation” of my work (at least as evocative and meaningful as the Second Dada Manifesto), and immediately asked his permission to repost it. I had intended to construct an essay around the subject, but of course, he beat me to the punch.
I’ve said this before but I want to say it again. “Marriage” is not a clearly defined term in our society. Until very recently marriage was simply a contract between two families. Even when the church became involved in authorizing and recording ceremonies, marriage was still principally defined by the individual participants’ relationship to their community. Between those who declare their marriage and those who acknowledge it.
In the mid-19th century, most counties didn’t issue marriage licenses or record registrations. Marriage records were preserved by churches (if at all), and recognized by the government through common agreement of a community. You say you’re married – therefore you are. It wasn’t until the 1920s that most U.S. counties began to require marriage licenses, and often did so for the purpose of discouraging or prohibiting interracial marriage. The Civil Rights movement ended that specific discriminatory usage, but because it was legally useful for counties to maintain records of weddings, the government retained its position of oversight.
With that in mind, here’s the U.S. government’s current role in acknowledging a marriage:
1. Two people apply to the county government* for a wedding license;
2. A registered officiant** performs the ceremony;
3. Two unregistered witnesses avow in writing that the ceremony took place;
4. The officiant files the paperwork with the county that issued the license.
As a reverend of the Universal Life Church, I have officiated over 17 weddings in three different states. In all cases the paperwork is worded very much the same: the county’s role is simply to record that a wedding ceremony took place, and to retain that record so that the couple can prove validity.
The foremost conclusion that we can draw from this is that a marriage only exists insofar as it is the ongoing status of two people who have engaged in a wedding ceremony.***
This in turn requires us to define what constitutes a wedding ceremony. There’s a lot of variation, but the modern standard seems to be:
1. the consent of two individuals;
2. under the auspices of a religious or secular authority;
3. before a gathering of the community (two witnesses).
The state currently has no say in the scope and scale of that ceremony, nor whether it occurs for love, for commitment, for children, for taxes, for healthcare, or for material gain.**** By extension, there is no reason why the state should have any say in who should be allowed to get married when both parties are consenting adults.*****
Regardless of your personal opinions on the matter, it is an undeniable fact that same-sex marriage ceremonies happen. No one can legally stop any two individuals from having a wedding ceremony. Moreover, these weddings clearly meet the above requirements and are considered valid by their communities.
With this critical point about community validation in mind, it is important to note that when the government refuses to acknowledge a marriage, it is not simply a denial of the rights of those who seek to have their marriages recognized. It is a denial of our community’s ability to validate the ceremonies that we have witnessed. The state does not have the authority to keep its citizens from acknowledging and respecting the existence of these weddings.
It is our responsibility as citizens to see that the state acknowledges all marriages between individuals; or if it will not, to not passively accept any laws which deny this right.
* The county where you apply to get your marriage license need not be the county where the marriage is performed, nor do the applicants need to be residents of that county.
** Officiants may be judges or clergy in-good-standing of a religion. They must be registered at a county office within the state (true of MN; laws vary state-by-state). The officiant need not be a resident of the county where he/she is registered.
*** The one exception being common-law or sui juris marriages, which are recognized in a few jurisdictions (none in Minnesota), and require no public proclamation or officiant, and therefore to be proven rely even more heavily on community acknowledgement and acceptance.
**** However, the INS/Dept of Homeland Security do investigate the validity of marriages involving immigration, and have been known to prosecute cases of “fraudulent” marriage. Proving what constitutes a “valid” marriage continues to give them trouble – and points to a clear double-standard in our society, where immigrants are held to a more strict standard than US citizens.
***** Especially considering that it’s still technically legal in many states for minors to get married with parental permission.
[originally posted on Facebook on Oct 20, 2012 – in regard to the Minnesota Marriage Amendment]