Sunday, June 17, 2012

Court Stage

Introduction: Summer in the City

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  -  Plato

I saw this quote today and considered the truth of it. Of course, some days are easier than others, but life is often a hard battle, that is the truth of it.

I'm finding that spending the summer in Phoenix, (not my usual summer landing place) is compounded by the intensity of the heat. A trip outside is truly like walking into a pizza oven, (if one can imagine) and of course, a month ago, my air conditioner quit working in the truck. By the time I get to my destination, my body temperature has risen ten degrees. Like all Phonecians, I fight the heat with lots of water, a dip in the pool, and by staying indoors as much as I can. Baby the dog seems to have adjusted better than  I have, but she does appreciate the several water soakings I give her each day. I bought her a little wading pool, but she mostly just stands in it, staring at me for direction of what to do next. Some days, when we are both worn out by the length and weight of the day, we just stare at each other and try to smile. She never ceases to amaze me, especially when she seems to know my very thoughts. Lately, at night, she has been back up on the bed again to sleep, and has to connect her body with some part of mine. If my foot or ankle is not touching her when she goes to sleep, she moves in to make sure we are in someway connected. Okay, you got that, a dog is an amazing experience, and can be a primary relationship that is mystical and reassuring.

The Courtroom: My Job in the Courtroom

Although I can't talk too much about my courtroom experience, I can tell you that it is deeply satisfying, and although the trial has been on recess this last week, I am learning some really important lessons in life. (For those of you lost here, I've been working for a lawyer in a re-trial of a death row inmate, and have been going to the trial taking notes and giving feedback on the presentation). Although I haven't been sitting at the defendant's table, I have been sitting on the front row with the family, and that has been so very interesting. There has already been some fairly dramatic testimony, and I suppose because I'm part of the defense team, I've been able to establish a strong connection with the family. It's really interesting in a trial like this, how the courtroom audience is divided into the two factions. Across the isle, are the proponents who wish this man to be convicted again.

Part of my job is to analyze the physical language of the courtroom, sometimes separating the groups, and sometimes examining the entire body of the courtroom.

For years, this was part of the job of learning theatre. I always encouraged playwrights who were experiencing the production of one of their plays, to try and see every performance. You want to be able to see the audience react to every nuance, every line, and every action. Watching the audience gives you the clues to whatever cuts you need to make, what is understood, what is powerful, in essence, what works and what doesn't. Reading a collective audience is a subtle but necessary part of the playwriting process. The reason you go to as many performances as you can is so that you can get a true reading over several renderings. If the audience is primarily on the edge of their seats much of the time, or collectively not moving, or, the best is the silence beyond silence, it's working.  When there is a hush in the theatre, (including the silence of the actors) then something is definitely working. However, the ebb and flow of the body collective cannot be statuesque for the entire time, or the audience would simply break into pieces at the end of the play. You need the sections where the audience can laugh and relax a little bit, or look at each other. This is an important part of the observation process too.

A courtroom analysis has the same dynamics workings as a new play. Sometimes the jury seems to act as a collective chorus to the whole drama, and sometimes they seem as though they are a hypersensitive part of the audience. The dynamic between witness, jury, and attorney is also a dynamic that I've noticed has it's one special collective. For example, while an attorney is questioning the witness, just by the positioning of his body he can either let the jury become an intimate part of the process, or choose to leave them out as a collective observer. Its amazing what one quarter turn of the body can convey in a courtroom, which, I add here, has had years of history to develop. The same is true of the stage. Because the focus is so concentrated, these minor movements become very important.

On the stage, each of the areas in the playing space has a power role. For example, we all know that center stage is commonly known as the most powerful place on the stage, (depending on the design) but one step downstage can drastically change the dynamic. And, because we scan from left to right, (we learn much of this by reading) the audience's left side of the stage is subconsciously more powerful. (Different theatre professionals have varying opinions, these are mine). Further, if you begin to raise different parts of the stage by building platforms, you increase or decrease the power positions as well. Shakespeare knew this dynamic well, and its why when you go to The Utah Shakespeare Festival, you will initially have two levels of staging, one high and one low, and that's just to begin with.  This also enables scenes, for example, intimate scenes, (done high) to be enhanced. Breaking staging dynamics down like this seems rather complicated, but the great directors have an innate and instinctual ability to find all of these dynamics. A simple way of thinking about this would be the concept of heaven and hell. Heaven, of course, would normally be done on the higher stage plain, but what would happen if you reversed them, if hell were staged above heaven? Without the audience intellectually breaking it down, you would create a new way for them to think, which is why the theatre can be so powerful, you can suggest a different way of looking at things.

In the courtroom, as I mentioned, with hundreds of years to experiment, the playing spaces are highly developed, with a specific goal in mind. The judge has the most elevated position in the courtroom. Although the judge sits further upstage and to the audiences left, the judge has maximum elevation. In a courtroom, there is no mistake that the judge is the most powerful player, even though they have far less lines that the other players, they still hold power, merely from position. Next, the jury, also elevated, to the audience's far right, but faced directly into the playing space, the chorus if you will, the observers who bring to light the final decision in the outcome of the play. Next is the witness stand, slightly elevated with an upstage (audience right) position, facing directly downstage, the judge to their right, the jury to their left. Just like in the theatre, the witnesses play the supporting players, but sometimes they can change the direction and sway the thinking of the entire courtroom. And like a bad play, sometimes these players seem completely unnecessary, (in my observation, several of them could be cut from the play!).

The prosecution, the defense team, and oh, the court reporter, who oddly sits down right of the witness stand, powerful in the sense, that places in the courtroom's mind, that all things are being recorded. Next time, perhaps I will continue on with the prosecution and the defense tables, and most notably left out, the defendant, the antagonist perhaps?

I find this whole process fascinating, and am oddly qualified to do this kind of work. Who would have thought that first, all the years spent inside a theatre would come to this, and secondly, who could have traced the trail I trounced upon to get a job like this? Like all things in the past couple of years, I hold out just a bit of doubt that it can continue, however, the situation seems much more solid than some of the other weird opportunities that have come up, so, we'll see where it goes.

The Writing: Grateful

Once again, sitting down to write is a sometimes unbelievable process, just under the surface of the brain, are a world of thoughts that are the ones that are interesting to get to, and often without warning. This is where the reality of life lies, just beyond where you think you do not want to go. Although I often feel separated from being able to talk about these things in a general conversation, I'm really glad that I can write about them.

In a couple of hours, I'll head into work to sing for my supper, and am always surprised at where the journey takes me, and usually, its pretty interesting…

Happy Father's Day, Dad, I hope you are singing today, and, I'll make tonight's singing about some of our favorite songs…

As I'm adding observations to the content of my journal, I have also been adding headings so that the reader can read points of interest. Although I don’t' get a sense that I'm getting much readership recently, I'm still getting satisfaction from the practice of just thinking and analyzing, and for that, today, I am grateful.

1 comment:

Gerry said...

I think some of the people you need to read your writing are reading it and you need to keep writing it so more will find you and be glad they did. Your writing is certainly important to me, giving me a very tangible lift. I watch quite a few true crime dramas, in fact I watched with great interest a recent result of another death row trial only the prisoner had been incarcerated for 26 years! What a drama! In that case, you feel that if there is any credible evidence there should be another trial to try to release someone who did not commit the crime. What could be worse than being buried in prison while innocent? So you are also playing a role in an attempt to get it right or more accurate, and you are also becoming part of the drama, even doing a good deed as a citizen besides doing your job.
I was wondering the heat had hit you because you are not used to spending the summer here. And traveling very far without air conditioning in your vehicle would also be a hardship.