Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Balcony Continued

At some point early in the performance weeks the cast members began to exchange e-mails about the show. Director Joe McGrath joined in the exchange and, with his permission, I want to pass on to Tucson theatre-goers some of the comments that he sent to all of us.

What a pleasure to see The Balcony last night. It's such a wonderful departure from what I've been doing. And it's clearly a delicate beast, that needs all your attention and energy and musicianship throughout. You've come to be comfortable with the language and scenes. ….. You're now getting to do what you're capable of with this.

Something occurred to me about the Rogue, and what I would hope to pursue in the future. I've noticed a tendency, recently, in play production to spend all sorts of money on high quality illusion - as if this were the core of the theatrical craft. Many a tourist walks about backstage and marvels at the way a wall of muslin, pine sticks and glue has been rendered beautifully into a palace, a railway station, or a pagoda. In the same way, people are easily swept away by five pirouettes followed by a double tour en l'air, a high C, or real tears splashing over someone's cheek.

All these things display marvelous technique. In the end, however, these phenomena are only a tribute to the cleverness of the human animal. They display our skill in mastering this world and our own instruments, but say nothing about our perception of other, unseen worlds. Nor do they give the audience something that they can take away and use to great effect in their lives or that might affect their notions of life itself. We must, I think, devote ourselves to something much more profound and meaningful than provoking the audience's admiration.

I don't mean, by this, to reject the actor's vanity. As you know, I'm a great lover of the actor's vanity. It is like self-interest in the market economy. It is not only a tremendous energy source, it is an element, like the sea. It cannot be pretended away. Nor would you want to.

As we develop this ensemble and a way of working that unlocks the actor's potential and the ensemble's character, I'm hoping to continue to find work that carries messages transcending the "theatrical experience"; transcending high quality acting, scenic design, costuming, lighting, and all those elements of our craft that merely render a thought. The thought itself must be worth our and our audience's time.

I've come to love our peals of bells, and explosions, and blood silks, as you know, because they are not preoccupied with illusion. These elements of The Balcony strike at the heart of this thinking that our work stands not to be admired, but to be interpreted. The audience sees us banging drums, hammering the platform, rattling a barrel - they are not busy marveling at our sound design and the scenic wonder of the real plaster dust dropping from the fly loft, or the chunk of wall that collapsed by mysterious unseen technical wizardry stage right. Consequently, when someone says "A royal palace never stops blowing up" our audience is free to hear those words. I can't take a marvelous special effect home with me. I CAN take "A royal palace never stops blowing up" home with me. (I'm still not sure I know what it means, by the way, but I will some day.)

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