With my interpretation of the play, I have needed to outline what I believe Williams’ own intentions were as writer. I believe that Williams set out to challenge his audience’s expectations about how a love story can occur and to ask them to take a moment to take stock of their own lives and relationships. Throughout the play, Lady examines her life and the actions that led her to arrive at its current form.
I intend to focus on ways that I can use visuals to evoke emotional responses that will inform the audience's interpretation of the rest of the production. Set, lighting and design can put the audience in an uneasy mood, thus providing a sort of antecedent action without the need to explicitly describe. I want to show a dissection of character; I want to construct a staged analysis of decisions and impact of choice upon the nature of an individual. My version of Orpheus Descending is about not only love or tragic endings but the million tiny connections between residents of a small town. It’s about the smallest human moments; the breaths in between the dramatic climaxes and plot twists. Williams’ script allows for actors to step out of the climbing tension and discuss their own morality and mortality without a care for the world outside the general store, and I intend to make full use of that. Given the relative celebrity of the playwright, I expect that any production of Orpheus Descending would attract an audience at least partially composed of theatre-lovers. I suppose I’ve been imagining the college crowd—just the right group to have a prolonged discussion of potentially unresolvable moral quandaries. I intend to stage my production in a theatre space modeled off the University of Evansville Shanklin Theatre. I will discuss this further when I discuss set and staging but this choice is mainly based on my desire to use a thrust stage.
Impact on audience
My main impact goal with my production is to encourage my audience to question their own life choices and moral framework. Therefore, I think the feeling I want my audience to leave with is one of lingering internal conflict. Throughout the course of the production I hope to emphasize the tense and anxious moments, but these are intended to place audience members in a mental space where they are perhaps more open to questioning the moral goodness of all the characters. I want audiences to feel empathy for Val and Lady but also to condemn them for their transgressions of normalized social-moral code. Real human relationships and experiences are never innately simple enough to describe as either good or bad, and are perhaps too complex to fully describe at all. I would much rather use my art to encourage people to continue asking questions.
When I first read "Orpheus Descending" by Tennessee Williams last year, I knew it was in the running for my Director's Notebook. I fell in love with the language and the discussions of everyday morality. While Williams' dialogue is masterful, I was especially struck by the lyricism of the stage directions, of all things. In all honesty, these are what made me fall in love with this play. "Orpheus Descending" feels complete, in a way that is hard to describe other than to say that I can't think of anything that is missing from this story; from this snapshot; from this world. I am a very visual learner, and this text is visually stimulating throughout.
In terms of new reactions, I've spent most of my time thinking about set design. In my initial interpretation of the play, I believe that the set should provide the tone of the show, perhaps even more than the words or actions. That way, viewers can sense the constant foreboding even as the characters engage in normal activities unrelated to the plot tensions. The way Williams writes, audiences become privy to the inner workings of the mind of the character of Lady (and sometimes Val or Carol) and can observe how anxieties or tensions can remain present even as she conducts herself as if she feels normal. I want this to be reflected in the set, especially since I interpret the writing in a very visual way. I envision a large central staircase above the central entrance to the shop. The apartment where Jabe is slowly dying is partially visible above. The door at the top of the stairs should become a sort of trigger for audiences to begin to worry; a light may come on under it then flick off as foreshadowing of the eventual climax when Jabe flings open the door to shoot Lady. I will have to do some sketches, but in my mind, the staircase is built onto a sort of pillar or pinnacle of black stone, seething with vines and gnarled trees. This can stand in juxtaposition with the relatively austere general store surrounding it; the stairs are meant to evoke a feeling that the audiences have descended the steps to Hell and are awaiting moral judgment along with the rest of the characters. I want the audience to feel unsettled in a way they can't quite place. Maybe I'll play with some angles so that some things are just slightly askew. Let them feel *just* a bit unhinged. Let them squirm in their seats.
We had just two rehearsal days this week since we had Monday off. After spending part of Tuesday familiarizing ourselves with the script I wrote over winter break, we launched into a writing session to complete the last scene. I had sketched it out myself, but really needed to hear the actors' opinions to be able to solidify the dialogue. I had the actors run through the scene a couple times and I tweaked and added to my dialogue each time. We ultimately arrived at about an additional page but I think it ties it up nicely. We also began our discussion of names for the show. We have several ideas but haven't quite agreed yet.
On Thursday, I made a couple more script revisions, then we launched into a run through. Leanne was sick that day, so I read her part and stood in for her in Scene 3. However, I was also able to take notes as normal. We spent some more time talking about costumes and set and I have a list of prop items we still need to locate. We explored the idea of having a real door in the middle of the stage for the café, but Lia does such an excellent job of miming it that it probably isn't necessary. I'd like to continue to use a more minimalist set with the intention of introducing an element of ambiguity about when actions are occuring in the café versus in Lia's mind. We also spent time discussing the meaning of certain lighting versions and how to communicate that the spirits are left behind at the end. By showing them locked in the café as well as not switching to the spotlight lighting for their conversation at the end, we are trying to show that Lia has moved forward on her own to confront her problem.
Moving forward with the project, we will get feedback from classmates on Monday and then spend our remaining time rehearsing.
Most of this week was spent on run-throughs and script revisions. We spent Monday revisiting Scene 3 specifically and worked on body language for Eleanor and Leanne as well as differentiating between points of discussion in the Scene 3 argument vs the Scene 1 argument. On Tuesday and Thursday we did full runthroughs and sketched out the final scene some more. At that point it was still not fully realized but we established end goals for each of the characters and I was sent home with instructions to fully script the show. This is a shift from our earlier perspective that we wanted to mostly improvise the dialogue with scripted cues and end points for discussions. I think this is a fully positive move since we have a wide range of acting and memorization styles in our actors and the improvising was incredibly helpful to devise the show throughout the semester. It's time to stick with one script, though.
Last week, we started out by catching Leanne up on what we had accomplished the previous week. Since we've had several absences (including mine today) it's been interesting how the process of explaining our ideas to each other when they return has actually allowed us to consolidate them. Monday, we also wrote dialogue for the third scene, the fight between Leanne and Eleanor.
On Tuesday, we did a run-through of sorts. We got through the first three scenes, and spent time working on transitions, polishing lines in the script, and making sure the blocking made sense. It wasn't a true run-through since we did each scene a couple times back to back, but this method allowed us to simultaneously allow it to flow but also to critqique and improve elements immediately. Once we had a scene more where we wanted, we would move on to the next. We didn't get to the ending, which still needs a lot fo development, and which will be one of our focuses this week.
On Thursday, Karsten and Eleanor were gone, so Lia and Leanne and I focused on writing. We finished scripted dialogue and blocking for the second scene, and Lia and I discussed her motivations that govern her actions there. We've found that often simplicity is best, and one thing that she and I have talked about several times is how to make sure the audience will understand what is happening. Sometimes the ideas I have are a little complicated, and she is good about reminding me that we need to make sure the audience will follow. They don't have all the backstory; it's all in how we present it.
We have made progress on the development of our narrative, character complexity and motivations, as well as some technical aspects. I actually think that while one of our group members being gone this week originally seemed like it would hamper our progress, it allowed the other actors to look at their character (collective, remember?) from a new angle. We spent Tuesday working on Scene 3 (Identity Crisis/Limbo) with the whole group and Thursday working on the Intro scene. However, on Thursday, Lia had an exciting idea for Scene 2 (snow/mother leaving), and we were able to spend some time exploring that. Her idea includes a video element that we would have to film, which presents new challenges that we will have to continue to discuss this week. Lia suggested that we have the main character essentially reenact a scene from her childhood. The screen would show the original scene. I wonder if there's a way we could do it without the video element?
In terms of things we need to spend time on for our process journals, the Insomnia journal has a significant amount of information about their starting points and inspirations, which I think we have, we just need it to be better organized. We also haven't spent any time talking about a target audience, which could be something to add to this week's agenda. Costumes/makeup also needs to be discussed before winter break, and perhaps we can do that as we work each scene individually.
We had a bit of a different week this time around. While it was a shortened week, I've come out of it feeling much more confident about the direction we're heading. On Monday, we played a couple theater games, then created an outline for the opening scene, complete with setting, actions and motivations for each character. On Tuesday, we continued like this and ended up with what I feel is pretty workable. We have each scene outlined (with some specifics!) and can move to developing more concrete dialogue chunks. Karsten has worked a bit on some set/light designs for each scene. Things are coming along... I think we are reasonably on track, but might not reach full run through when we had originally planned at the beginning of December, but I can't imagine it would be long after that.
This week was another point when we needed to take a step back and re-evaluate our progress. I've felt like we keep circling around our ideas to a certain extent, without zeroing in and just going with some of them, so I know one of my goals in the next week is to bring some more clarity of purpose to the moments we have. I know that the actors being able to sit down and really develop their character's backstory was helpful in informing the motivations of various scenes. We also tried out a couple improv exercises, like Expert and speaking in unison. These became a little silly, but they prompted an interesting discussion on the role of humor in our production, and we have since attempted to run moments from a couple of different perspectives to really focus in on the important elements. Finally, we worked on identifying containers for our piece, which are listed below:
This week was perhaps the first that we started to really think about the totality of the project. I feel like I'm now operating with a different perspective on how to approach our devised piece. On Tuesday we spent time working on bookends for our show, which has given it more narrative structure. This makes me feel more secure about the project in general, as I was starting to get a little nervous that we were getting lost in conversations about hypotheticals. One of the most important pieces of this revelation was a discussion about an effective timeline and method to complete the piece. We have determined that we will spend the next three classes (11/14, 11/15, 11/17) continuing work on fleshing out our moments and will have a defined plot and set of scenes by the end of class on 11/17. We will then spend each class between then and the first of December working an individual scene, with the intent of being able to do a complete run through 12/1. Karsten and I also discussed splitting our time during this period between working directly with the actors and beginning work on design and continuing script improvements separately to give the actors a chance to develop their own work. We will continue to update as we find a balance for directing ourselves through rehearsals.
Three topics deserve three updates!
This worksheet asked us to brainstorm various types of starting points from which to devise. Of course, we had already accomplished this to a large degree, so many of the ones we recorded as a group were from our initial brainstorming phase. However, it also served as a moment to reflect on some of the further starting points and themes we had developed in our first few weeks of physical exploration, and I was able to add in a few additional starting points. Revisiting this step actually was able to clarify what we had done so far a bit.
This worksheet asked us to brainstorm several activities to stimulate development of our starting point ideas. I would say this is the phase we are in right now, so it's not nearly as much a retrospective reflection as Handout 6. While I recorded several that we have tried, the one I really want to focus on is something we tried briefly on Tuesday of this week. Based on what I've read about Frantic Assembly, I tried out the role of script writer as our group discussed personal moments inspired by our starting points. This yielded two short scripted interactions that we can then try out physically and derive further. I think this exercise will be extremely helpful, not just for the writer, but also for design team members.
In addition to the aforementioned exercise, we have also started to zero in on a plot structured around a single character who has experienced amnesia. We have several experimental characters, like a doctor, a patient and a nurse, but we are also playing with how all these characters could ultimately be revealed to be the same character. Therefore, we've been playing with how to warp time in our production a bit, and the exercise we did a couple weeks ago imitating each other is coming in handy. More to come!