Sunday, June 04, 2006

Violent Delights ~ Part One

In July of last year I posted a series of diary entries tracking the progress of what was to be my last drama production – a small-scale physical theatre piece - on which I was working just prior to my retirement from teaching. Because of its essentially feminist theme & treatment, Karen thought that it might be of some interest to Lyssa Strada readers. I shall post the records in chronological order over the next few days.

I am rehearsing intensively with a group of six 15 & 16-year-olds on a street theatre project. We start with a 5-hour orientation session tomorrow & some 2-hour sessions at the beginning of next week. And then, from the Thursday we begin a series of five 8-hour rehearsals for a piece called Violent Delights. It’s a 15 – 20 minute treatment of the first part of Act III of Romeo & Juliet – essentially the combat sequences involving Tybalt & Mercutio leading to the latter’s death, & the subsequent fight between Romeo & Tybalt in which Tybalt dies.

Although there is only a brief span of two weeks between being a working stiff & pipe & slippers by the fire, I have this one last project to undertake. I’m pleased to be going out with a final performance project, even if the school will never get to see the fruits of the week’s work. I’m working with six excellent students & I can’t think of a more fitting or rewarding way to wind it all up. For me it’s always been about working with kids outside the standard structures & protocols that obtain within school. It’s worthless unless you stand to learn as much as the people with whom you’re working; & it’s a soulless & arid experience unless you have the sense that there’s an equality of endeavour & achievement. And with this small company – Poppy, Maudie, Isa, Aletia, Ania & Matt – I’m looking forward to that synthesis for one last time.

Here’s how it works. In the final week of the Summer Term at my school, all class work ceases & a range of widely varied activities begins. This miscellany that absorbs the entire school is called the Late Summer Programme, or LSP. This year groups are off on expeditions to Switzerland, Kosovo, our own South Coast & the Lake District. Many other students are involved in work placements; others are taking part in a large-scale Art project; one group is remaining at the school to redecorate to their own specifications the 6th Form Common Room.

Violent Delights was devised originally for, & performed by, an all-female cast for an LSP a few years previously. This time around a cast of five girls is joined by one boy. We are delighted to have Matt with us, but it should be pointed out that a significant component in the thematic character of Violent Delights is female commentary on the masculine drive towards violence – on the joy taken by men - or boys - in both the preparatory threat & actual implementation of physical conflict. Although the almost entirely female cast will physicalise & vocalise as men (& this will be major direction focus of the enterprise), the simple fact of the parts being played by females conscious of the thematic processes they are setting out to illustrate will inform the nature of their performances. Because Tybalt as a a character represents the undistilled essence of the male appetite for conflict, the piece accommodates comfortably a male actor in the role without significantly compromising or diluting the original intentions.

The immediate preamble to the encounter between Mercutio & Benvolio & Tybalt is uncut: the speeches & action run much as they would in a full production of the play. As soon as battle is joined we switch first to a massively edited version of the script containing only key lines & words followed swiftly by pure physical action – a melee involving combat with sticks. The sticks are 5’ long broomsticks, especially robust ones made for industrial brooms, & the fighting with them has to be full-on – blows are real blows, dealt with real force, stick on stick. Obviously all of this is organised within specific techniques of stage combat & health & safety considerations are paramount. But the conflict must appear to be absolutely real & punches can’t be pulled. Any kind of physical theatre carries an element of risk; that is a necessary part of its dynamic in respect of its impact upon an audience & the students are fully aware of both the performance requirements & the preparatory processes.

After the very intensive rehearsal period in the Theatre (conducted exactly as if we were a professional company, working as we will be without diversion or distraction), we shall load up our sticks, our rudimentary costumes – different coloured tops for Capulets & Montagues & black jeans/jogging pants - & our ghetto blaster (for the accompanying music) & head off to perform in the streets. On Monday we’ll go to Cambridge, which is only 24 mile north of Letchworth, where we’ll set up & perform around the marketplace. And on Tuesday & Wednesday the plan is to present Violent Delights on the walkway of the Thames Embankment just below the London Eye.


Blogger Thursday Next said...

Dick, this sounds like a great project. I would have loved to have seen the final result and heard what the actors got out of the process.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Karen M said...

Thank you for agreeing to post this here, Dick. In addition to the content, it also seems appropriate because it is both dramatic, and a piece of street theater.

9:28 AM  

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