Sunday, November 26, 2006

Blocking Friezes

Earlier, I mentioned that I'd decided to add chorus speeches to the beginning of each act (since there will only be one intermission, there are only two acts in my version of the script). But I wanted to keep these speeches dramatic, somehow, so that the play did not begin with bland exposition. This is a bit of a balancing act; if you include a bunch of dumb-show action upstage during a speech, then your audience's focus will get split, and they won't hear the information you're trying to convey.

Thinking about the set design, I realized I have an opportunity for a sort of compromise--something half-way between an empty, lifeless stage and a bunch of action. See, the upstage walls will be backdrops, with pillars running a few feet apart from one another. The gaps between the pillars aren't quite wide enough to act as a "frame" for an entire tableau. But what if the space between each pillar could act as part of a frieze--that is, a series of frozen images (live actors in tableau) that unfold to make a story?

There are hundreds of examples of what I mean from classical artwork. A Greek or Roman vase will usually contain a story, told in a series of still images. Egyptian heiroglyphics do the same thing. A more modern equivalent would be the panels on the page of a comic book: each one tells a little bit more of the story; they're mostly visual, although they would work in tandem with the chorus to provide a complete narrative of past events.

Each upstage wall has three pillars, which means four spaces. How do you tell the "story" of the assassination of Julius Caesar in four still images? Keep in mind that each one could not involve more than a couple of people.

Panel One: Caesar enters the capitol, wreath on head, hand up, triumphant.
Panel Two: Brutus and Cassius stand close together, daggers peeking out of their togas.
Panel Three: Cassius stabbing Caesar. Caesar still stands upright, shock and rage on his face.
Panel Four: Now Caesar on his knees, Brutus poised to stab him. Caesar's disappointment and betrayal.

Of course, in the version of the chorus I have currently, this entire sequence of events is described in a two lines: "For, after Caesar cravenly was stabbed, / Betrayed by Brutus and his fellow blades--" So maybe it would be asking too much of the actors (and the audience) to move so quickly through so many panels. In which case, one might need to summarize the whole play of Julius Caesar instead:

Panel One: The assassination: Caesar and Brutus
Panel Two: Caesar's corpse, with Mark Antony crouching over it, thinking of vengeance
Panel Three: Caesar's ghost stands over Brutus. Brutus, racked with guilt, holds his sword above his own chest.
Panel Four: Antony stands over Brutus's body, maybe with Octavian as well

Or something like that. I might also incorporate the silhouette screen; we'll have to see. But I am intrigued with the "living frieze" idea--like ancient illustrations coming to life on stage.

Sooner or later, I'm going to have to stop mucking about with the chorus and get down to thinking about the actual play...

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