Monday, October 13, 2014

The Great Globe Itself: Creating Vertical Space

"Inner Below" humor.
In the six months since Bill Condee and I last shared tea, I composed the first draft of The Great Globe Itself, the play which inspired me to contact him. During that same time, he traveled to Malaysia on a Fulbright to teach, lecture and conduct research on Malaysia shadow puppetry.

When I reached out to him yesterday, informing him that I was spending a brief 36-hour period in Athens and did he have time to chat, he promised to quickly read the script I had sent several weeks earlier in preparation for our meeting. In that way, it was much like my preparing for his theater history class my sophomore year.

Much of his guidance is of a piece with one of my concerns about the production in general, which is making sure the audience, any audience, comprehends where we are and what is happening.

A few days ago the design team met to have our first production meeting, to discuss the set and costumes and overall concept. One of the questions is how we can make a single set (all three scenes take place at one of three "Globe Theatres") reflect three different time periods.

One of our interns has been tasked with dramaturgical study, and will be producing essays to be included in the program, which will act more like a study guide, to be sent in advance to libraries and schools in preparation for the production.

Finally, we will engage a dialect coach, so that characters from each time period have a distinct, regional accent.

So, Dr. Condee. We meet again.
However, I am aware it all come back to the text. In our meeting, the good Doctor suggested there are not enough "sign posts" of what is to come, and clearly laying out time, place, and facts.

This has been a major concern of mine, as I have been writing this piece for an audience who knows little to nothing about Shakespeare and his time, rather than for an insidery piece, full of private jokes for literary-minded people. Every line in Shaw's The Dark Lady of the Sonnets is hilarious - if you have the entire first folio memorized.

As our conversation continued, even he suggested some very funny bits of business that involve the discrediting of John Cranford Adam's theory of the original Globe having included a small, intimate stage in the rear of the space, for intimate scenes. This area (now referred to as the "tiring house") would feature the worst sight lines and acoustics, and render the play unwatchable to those who had paid the most pennies to see the production!

But I would have to explain all that, as I just have, in order to mock it.

However, these things are relevant and important to "getting" the first scene:
  • Who are these men? Burbage is clearly important historically, but he's more important that described here. The man who originated the roles of Hamlet, Richard III, Macbeth? These things are not obvious.
  • John Fletcher, his significance is also not emphasized enough.
  • What makes it exciting for audiences to enter and experience a play at the Globe Theatre?
For that last question, we turned to my wife Toni who was joining us.  She has often expressed her great love of the Re-imagined Hanna Theatre™ as the most beautiful theater space in Cleveland, and  using the Hanna as a model of experience has been helpful to creating this work. In the play I describe what it is like to play on the stage of such a space. However, what is not coming through is what it feels like to be in the audience.

Actually, I have tried to do that, with the character of the tour guide in 2005 at Shakespeare's Globe, but perhaps that is too far along in the proceedings.

Following the first reading, one of those in attendance expressed their view that the play successfully portrays the Globe as its own character. When I asked this question, "Is the Globe a character?" Condee disagreed. Not to him, not enough, and this opinion is important to me because he is the theater space guy.

The theory is that players would drag their cart into a courtyard and thereby have not only listeners on the ground before them, but also makeshift galleries, provided by those hanging out on the balconies rising several floors into the sky. This, presumably, was the model for not only the Globe but also Blackfriars.

Hanna Theatre, Cleveland
This creates vertical space to be filled by the performer. Condee rose to his feet in the coffee house (to the amusement of those in proximity) to enact a grand vertical gesture, his open, out-stretched palm rising from right in front of him, to over his head, his gaze following his hand.

Intimate, introspective gestures will not do. You cannot bend over and emote into your hands, the acoustics and sightlines in the original Globe were simply too poor, it was a necessity to draw your audience to you.

My wife's question, then, was how to present this in the numerous spaces to which this production will travel. Each of them is flat, they are horizontal spaces, with audiences at the same level or below, as in a traditional proscenium. Should the players - the characters - in the place, convey the struggle to connect.

Each new question threatens to turn the piece into a dialectic, a play about space, which could be exciting, I guess. Returning to the motivation of the players themselves, Condee returned to the subject of signposts, and whether it were possible to foreshadow future events.

At first, I was leery of portraying people, in the moment, realizing their destiny, as that would be too odd, people don't do that. Each of the days represented are ordinary days which are a catalyst for future opportunity. Do the players comprehend in the moment the magnitude of their own future significance?

I guess I am really only referring to Wanamaker here. He's only a young adult in his featured scene, and nowhere near the point in his life where he has germinated his legacy. However, there is someone else in the scene who has the potential do it for him.

To be continued.

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