Diary for Wednesday August 12, 2014 Getty Villa
Overwhelmed with work, I wasn’t able to write on my day, this past Wednesday, 8/12. It seemed such a strange week to me, sometimes collapsing time –suddenly its Saturday, no wait!-sometimes the minutes expanded into a feeling of timelessness.
Like the collection, silent, in the galleries around us- ever present, ever past.
Nor silent either, really. Occasionally we get the privilege of going inside the museum after hours when the patrons are gone, only the guards are there on duty. We go up to the balcony to pull up the saffron curtains at the end of rehearsal, tie them back until the next night. We can’t linger, or wander, but even walking by the rooms now empty but for the statuary, the busts seem almost to speak. The rooms are so thick with stories we can only faintly discern or imagine.
Like Persians. The play seems now to me to be a sort of incantation as a whole, a mystical incantation. For each name we recite, it seems we have now just begun to discern or imagine the thousands of names left unspoken. It is a story that casts a spell over those in contact with it. Perhaps this is why time feels so malleable suddenly after a month speaking these words.
We are at the end of week four. We knew we were coming up on the section of the play that is very difficult for us to understand. We knew it would be even more difficult to stage.
It is the section the Queen returns and asks the Chorus to help her summon the exalted and dead king, Dareius. She is seeking relief for them all from the shock and despair of learning the entire defense of Persia has been killed. Her one shred of strength comes from having learned her son, the current king and instigator of this campaign, is still alive.
The Chorus cries out for Dareius through song that is filled with their grief and pain as she accompanies them, pouring offerings. Dareius appears, demands to know what has happened. At first overwhelmed upon seeing him, Chorus is unable to answer. The Queen then speaks, and there unfolds one of the most remarkable scenes ever written in a play- A dead husband and a living wife, discussing the fate of Persia and their son’s role in it. It is a ghost story, it is a domestic story, and it is about the fate of their people. It is all those things in a series of short lines back and forth-stichomythia.
How do you do that? How do you create the supernatural on the stage, a mystic experience, a successful séance. How do you have them coexist on the stage, the earthly and the unearthly side by side? How do you respect the power, the sadness, and energy that are exuding from these people to have created such an event to take place?
The scene happens without any real warning in the play. But as we build the staging, the event has to be set up just right, and our interpretation needs to strike the right balance between representing something wild and unknown and something with great dignity. And something open enough to not look dogmatic, or force the audience to watch it like a dusty artifact behind glass. Or simply cheap histrionics.
On Wednesday the added pressure to the room was that it was the day we invited interested friends and guests to watch training and a few hours of rehearsal. I was jangled and not flexible enough to rush from a meeting into leading the training, this time with an audience. Trying to find my nuts and bolts, my roots planted, my concentration where I had last left off only led me further from it. I felt miserable.
Sometimes I walk into rehearsal so frightened, but I know that I have my hands cupped around a (albeit) small flicker of a flame in my head for an image, something to light my way to a choice. This choice then gives way to the real choices that come from my colleagues’ inspiration. The dark days for me are when this flame isn’t there, I can’t see or feel it inside. My concentration becomes shallow, creatively and physically. On these days I usually try to refocus on basic tasks, breathing, strong legs, more acute listening… But I felt lost and rising panic only.
It has occurred to me that while many roles I’ve played have steered me with what seems like a hand from behind, this role only feels more and more elusive. It is in some ways, despite its antiquity, one of the most complex portraits of a woman, a parent, a Queen, I’ve ever known. More than Lady Macbeth? In some ways, yes, and oddly similar arcs. Both come to a place where their senses have shattered. The Queen in Persians is based almost completely on her recounting her experiences, the feeling of them through sight, smell and touch. It feels as if Aeschylus’ invention to separate a character out from the chorus allowed him to talk about what it means to feel human. And under the pressure of great shock, what happens to the senses.
She is also, a mystic. It didn’t occur to me for so long, and I’m not sure if I was simply trying to explain her actions in other ways. Like looking for something that you are holding, this fact has always been right there for me to articulate. She is both able to see the future in dreams, as well as call up the dead once again. These facts have been there and I just didn’t seem to see them.
And too, she’s also a Mother. And I can say, an ‘ambitious mother’, or a ‘protective mother,’ or a ‘loving mother’. Or all of those. And more.
We trained and carried on with our specials, which by the end of last week had threatened to take over the entire rehearsal period. It was decided that each leader of each special would tell Ellen M, our stage manager, how much time they needed. And we’d try to stick to that. I think what must have been the most fun for our guests was watching us train (although I felt we were disconnected and product oriented in viewpoints) and watching Stasimon (song) 3, which Bondo has choreographed to the meter symbols representing some text. I was so sad when it was decided that really, its not right to have me join in it, despite the fact that we are showing how all things come from and return to Chorus. But it wasn’t right. I still practice in the back, but each time it’s rehearsed, I’m a little sad not to participate. Its fun, its hard. It’s strange.
Later in the afternoon, after our visitors had left we worked outside. We got stuck. We tried, we got short with each other, we tried again. At times, multiple conversations happening at the same time, at times, silence. It was the kind of rehearsal where we don’t take breaks, rather, people mull the problem, move a prop, stare at the stage, page through the script, cluster in groups trying to come up with new things to try. By the time the break was over, a new idea was posited, it was tried, …nothin’.
It is not often, but it happens, when we end a day truly stuck. And I think each one of us feels just awful in some way, conversations in cars on the way home are thick with defeat or frustration. We ended stuck, got home tired. I watched every freaky Youtube Necromantic ceremony I could stand. I Googled more dicey websites and blogs than I’m proud to admit, and no doubt am setting myself up to get some real humdinger spam.
The funny thing is, is that we know that there will be a solution. A tangible one, and we will come up with it together. It’s lying there waiting for us in the future, and we just need to have our dials all set to the right place at the same time together. Like something called up from another dimension, creation takes place. It is casting a spell, and it takes patience for the outcome. We often speak of following the Ouija Board in rehearsal, describing the ephemeral process of theater making. And so we needed to evoke the mystery of collective imaginations, to create a scene about the mystery of the beyond.
This too happens, where what we are saying and trying to make, we are actually acting out in our struggle to find the solution. You have to have great faith, healthy opinions, and be a little bit empathic.
The solution did come. It happened between us all. J.Ed asked us to be still in Viewpoints the next day, and something happened. The quality in the room shifted, the ripples widened. Offstage, I looked at the bowl and tray options Brian had given me, and without hesitation placed one small gold bowl on a small marble tray. “That one.” I whispered to myself. It was sitting there Wednesday too, but I couldn’t see it. It had to be called up.