Saturday, February 7, 2009

'The Fourth Wall'

As of last night, we are two weeks from opening night. To give you perspective, I still have nine pages of material to memorize. I've been averaging two- three pages a day, depending on the material. When the material is in 'strange sequences' or shorter beats that connect in abstract ways,  it is more difficult to memorize. If it is a straight forward narrative, easier, and if it is written as a scene with two voices, its harder than hell. Yesterday, we ran through the entire play, the parts I didn't have memorized I used the script. It did feel good to finally get through the entire show, albeit script in hand the last fourth.  The play itself has a very complicated structure, which I've been explaining as I go along.  There is a rule called 'the fourth wall' which all theatre students learn early on. This is the imaginary wall between the audience and the actor. As the actors are playing scenes on the other side of the wall, they make no direct contact with the audience. Imagine a wall of a living room, for example, that is removed,  allowing the audience to 'peer in' to see what is happening in that room. This allows for a certain 'distance' the play has from the audience. When that 'fourth wall' is broken, there is a direct connection between the audience and performer, which is always a little 'tricky'. If I'm 'in your living room', telling you a story,  and if I am looking directly at you, the audience is almost another actor, listening and reacting. Then, there is the musical part of the play. Most of the time, when a musical performer is playing, the connection to the audience is direct. Those are some of the distinctions of performance, and there are other variations of the 'fourth-wall rule'. The point is that the writing in a play has to also take on these different dimensions and styles. If one performer is on stage performing, he needs the support of different styles of performance to rest the audience, engage the audience passively, and engage the audience completely. I hope that helps explain a little of the difficulty of doing a 'one person show'. 

Its been raining here in Los Angeles for three days, which is an added challenge in any city. I've been waking up most mornings now with some slight anxiety, but it usually goes away as I rise and get to work. I've also been doing my very early morning ritual of working on the memory around four in the morning, as I naturally wake up. The days are very full now, as we start to bring the elements together for production. The photos, the set, the lighting, programs, there are variables that must be attended to that are separate from the performing. 

Last night after rehearsal, we went and saw a play at The Ford Theatre by Jim Leonard, who taught playwrighting at ASU for a year in the late twentieth century. It was absolutely brilliant! Jim moved here to L.A. after his stint at ASU, and has been writing and working mostly in television, it was great to see that he is still plying his craft in the theatre. I don't have time to get into the specifics of the play, suffice to say it was everything you would want in a play and plenty more. It is great to see a playwright working at the height of his powers. If any are interested, its called 'Battle Hymn'. 

It's time to get to rehearsal, thanks everyone, for supporting theatre and a new play. 


TJ in Boulder said...

As you speak of memorizing the material, concert musicians (not singer-song writers but something akin to a clasical pianist) come to mind. A pianist for example has to have a programed muscle memory (called motor progaming and located in the Cerebellum) of the actual playing. They have the advantage of having a score to read, but they can't actually think about what they are doing while they are performing. So, they must rehearse the material continually until the their hands are moving without thought. This is a lot of work. But, when they have finally physically learned the playing they can start to forget what they are doing and focus on the feel of the material.
It seems that you are at this stage in learning your material, where each line calls forth the next automatically and you can emote.
Thanks for all your sharing during this process. I feel like I'm sitting in on and acting seminar. T

Gerry said...

I have been immersed today in a film, "Milk," which did not disappoint. I seem to remember you talking about Jim Leanard when he was at ASU. It is always a wonderful thing when a play lives up to expectations. And a film as well. So it has been a good day, and sounded like a good one for you, too, with a satisfying evening of theater. May the gods of theater continue to smile on you!

Jude said...

Blog damnit, Raymond. I'm sorry for taking so long to read your blogs. I'm a slow reader. You should know that by now.
It ended up not raining yesterday in Phoenix. How disappointing.
I miss you a lot.

What is it like being in a play that you wrote, and having someone else direct it? And having to memorize the complete material. Because one of the things I've learned from you as my teacher was "The acting doesn't start until the lines are memorized"
I guess I really don't know what I'm asking you. Just say something. k? k.

to fade in said...


I'm waiting on nothing more than my tax refund (due any day now) before buying a Greyhound ticket to LA to see the show! I'm thinking of spending a weekend, which is glorious since I'll be able to see "Bohemian Cowboy" and wander a city I've never been to on my own. Glorious... and a bit terrifying. I hope to see Los Angeles more in the eyes of a dreamy Francesca Lia Block novel, not so much the dreary Bret Easton Ellis-esque and void-like.
I realize you probably are terribly busy, but if you have any suggestions as far as cheap motels around the area of the venue, and maybe some sights to see, I would love your imput -- I have nothing to go on at this point! Haha. I'm excitedly horrified.
But I'm a grown-up now, or something, right?

See you in March!!