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designing for live performance – week 01: readings & reflections

This week’s readings were Eleanor Fuchs’ Visit To A Small Planet and Peter Brook’s The Empty Space first and last chapter. On the first class Andrew mentioned how concepts of time and space are important to design for live perfomance and I think that this is some way influenced my perception, conclusions and questionings regarding both texts.

On Visit To A Small Planet we are presented to a drama teaching tool based on wanderings the author finds relevant to designing the space(and in a more metaphorical sense the “planet”) where the story lives in. She keeps on teasing the reader by asking about a wide range of elements of any play. How physical elements can translate sensations, seasons, emotions and time? How and does the passage of time influences changes in the play world ?How time is perceived in this world? Perceiving the stage/set design as a world of its own made me conclude how her relation between time and space is limited to the space where the play will take action, and how the space can translate two different connotations of time: time as a period to context (how space translate a certain time) and as a sensible dimension (the passage of time). In a sense, all of her concern regarding the space is to stimulate the perception of each single aspect/piece/object/lightning/costume of this world as a character itself, how all of them can relate to the storyline of the play.

Eleanor Fuchs made me feel like designing for the stage is a very internal process in the sense that you are always reaching the play itself to find your answers. On the other hand, Peter Brook’s theatre philosophy goes in a very opposite way because he shows the process of design a play as a external and collaborative one – making the proper differentiations between the kinds of relations built within the agents that are rich(immediate theatre) and the ones that dulls the theatre(deadly theatre). The latter relies on reproducing, on the attempt of keeping the dead alive. Brooks argues that going back to the original text of the play has to be in an inspiration/reference perspective rather than a replication – considering it will always be out of its original context. For older plays there is the aggravating factor of not having the actual reference (the original play) documented – in the same sense as a history of soundscape is very recent due to lack of documentation of soundscapes during the decades. What is written is not enough to make a play; to make it work it has to become more contemporary and more “real”, it should be updated to cultural changes and context in which it’s still relevant.

The Immediate Theatre, pointed by Brooks as the most compelling process is all about interations & interactions between all the involved parties. It’s an on going process that potentialities how the crew can co-create together from the moment it’s a writing to the repercussion it might have outside the stage.The play itself is in constantly evolution and the first time it concretizes itself is in the moment it happens. Set designer, play writes, directors, actors and (especially) audience get involved in the process of designing the play. He talks a lot about how having a plan is good to have but they are only validated when all parts face together the challenge of the moment/ live performance. Once they start rehearsing, they will see how theory can works, what can me improved and how everyone involved in the play can collaborate to make it happen. The audience takes a great part in the process because only when the designed piece interacts with the audience that you have the real feedback. He exemplifies by comparing european vs american audience & big cities vs small villages to illustrate how a successful play will always take in consideration the context in which the public is.

Living in Brazil for most of my life, I’ve seen a few international plays coming to town and failing or succeeding depending on how much weigh the context had on the design of the play. Cats was a big temporary production and was very true to it’s original play. Set design, music and choreography impeccably replicated the original ones, but it was clear there was no effort in adapting the content of the music to the audience – all we had was a subtitle screen to follow the story. On the other hand the college adaptation of The Book of Mormon was so successful in considering the context of the audience (specially adapting the lyrics to Rio de Janeiro’s reality) that they had to extend their tour from 2 weeks to 3 months.

Both of the theatre types portrayed by Peter Brooks considers the time spent on the design process and what is the context in which the play takes place – and how these notions of time reflects on the play itself. The play is born the moment it is being written; it grows while directors, choreographers, set designers, actors & other agents are collaborating among each other and building an identity for it; it reaches its first “adulthood” when it faces the audience and it keeps on transforming accordingly to the context it is.

How far can you go on designing a play just relying on the written piece? how to work with a multidisciplinary team and keep a concise direction? how much influence can the audience have over the design of the play and how the design of the play can engage the audience in a more empathetic manner? It is clear to me there is a matter of boundary and balance in the two ways of designing a play presented by Fuchs and Brooks and I hope I’ll be able to experiment a bit of both during this semester.

Published in Designing for Live Performance

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