Tonight’s staged reading has come and gone. This is my first experience doing one, and I have to say it’s nice to get to direct something without having to give your entire life to it. With basically four weeks, only two rehearsals with the musicians and actors together, and only one run-through in the space (constantly interrupted by arriving and departing cub scouts), we were still able to put together something beautiful and moving. Everyone did a great job, despite the fact that my computer froze up at a critical moment, and people really seemed drawn in by it.
With AIH I had a really clear vision for the show; with this one, it sort of emerged over the course of the process, and mainly I tried to let people do what they wanted to do. Bill wrote the music he wanted to write, Anthony did the dance he wanted to do, Paul made the masks according to his own vision, and the actors did a lot of the work of developing the performances on their own. Basically I just kind of held it together and designed the movement.
Bill asked me afterward if I was going to be able to get an article out of this. I told him I thought I’d pretty much already written what I was going to write about Yeats’s No plays, but that working with the HPCP has actually taught me a lot about the plays I work on in my scholarship. It’s a real privilege to have all these talented people who are willing to come help me find out how these plays actually work. For those who don’t have this privilege, I would say here are the lessons learned:
- Staging it in the round is definitely the way to go. Both of these plays have a kind of restless energy; and especially in Dreaming of the Bones, the circular motion just works better in that setup.
- This does make the folding and unfolding of the cloth sort of more trouble than it’s worth, though. I had to try it once; but it does seem as if it would have been more effective in a more traditional setup.
- I was really proud of how the movement came out. As simple as it was, it really made a big difference.
- As much as I hate to admit that Edward Gordon Craig might ever have been right about anything, the masks really do transform the whole theatrical experience. I especially liked how the Diarmuid and Dervorgilla masks caught the light when people looked up, and the way Cuchulain’s mask really magnified his fascination with the Guardian while she was dancing. And the eyebrows on the Old Man. Best eyebrows ever.
- Yeats’s plays were never all that popular. I’ve seen the Abbey Theater account books. His box office numbers were pretty much uniformly terrible. But people who think he was just a poet who got dragooned into writing plays are wrong. He had good dramatic instincts and (like me) he learned a lot from his experiences with production. Each of these plays has a simple, but strong story told through verse which may sometimes become unnecessarily syntactically complicated, but overall is easy enough for people to follow. More to the point, despite the fact that he couldn’t really appreciate music himself (being tone deaf), he seems to have understood its emotional impact–and he got better at exploiting that over time. In At the Hawk’s Well, the music is basically bracketing the play; there is the Guardian’s dance in the middle, but otherwise once the prologue is over it’s mostly dialogue. Dreaming of the Bones integrates the songs into the play much more effectively, and that’s probably why it was more satisfying for Bill to compose. BTW listening to Bill describe his composing process during the Q&A was one of the highlights of the evening for me.
- Everyone wants the Young Man to forgive those poor ghosts.
Beauty is what will get us through the coming horrors. Thank you everyone who was a part of this, and to Corinna for not minding it too much that this project took over Bill’s life for a couple months. I can face the world of chaos and darkness a little better now.