Sound Affects

what is this six-stringed instrument but an adolescent loom?

Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare

why I act

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a friend of mine, studying at drama school, was asked to write a manifesto, a defence of why he acts. He didn’t really explain all that much about it, but I just started writing.

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I act, first and foremost, because I love words. Because I love the words on the page, the words on the tongue, the words flying thick and fast through the air.

I act because I love to act. I love trying to understand another human being – and one presented to me, wholly existant, in the script.

I act because I believe in the theatre, and I believe in film. I believe in the power of these creative titans to change the way people think, the way they approach issues, and the way they relate to their fellow human beings. I believe that both theatre and film occupy crucial roles in any society, and that they provide a voice that deserves it place in the discourse of the nation.

Asking me to defend my love, my profession, my joy, is completely disingenuous. We do not ask accountants to justify their role in society. We do not ask lawyers, taxi drivers, teachers or public servants to explain why they chose the career that they chose. We do not ask because we view these professions as crucial to the running of society.

And yet there is a perception that theatre and film are somehow superfluous. That both are part of the ‘entertainment industry’, which seeks nothing more than to make obscene amounts of money and be the centre of attention. And yet any flourishing society has artistic strength commensurate with its political strength. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo Da Vinci. The age of Elizabeth was the age of Shakespeare. I do not seek to compare myself to Phidias, da Vinci or Shakespeare, but there is a place for theatre and film in any sophisticated society, culture and nation.

But what makes me simultaneously angrier and sadder than anything else is this idea that ‘art’ is only made for and by some sort of chardonnay-sipping, self-congratulatory elite. This is a recent divide that has only come about since television enforced concepts of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, but we must find a way to curb this insidious, cancerous ideology. To re-claim the status that the theatre held in Shakespeare’s day, when the playhouses were always fighting claims of being dangerous to public morality.

And these are not contradictory ideas – arguing the centrality of art to a great society and defending the popular appeal of art. Nothing affects you so much as sitting in a theatre and being surrounded by the sensory experience of the theatre. Hearing the words. Seeing the costumes, and the lights, and the performers’ spit fly out of their mouths, smelling the sweat dripping down their face. Theatre is a visceral experience. It cannot be escaped by changing channels, or its impact diminished by an ad break.

In the 200,000 years that humans have existed, we have not found a single medium so confronting, engaging and powerful as theatre. Theatre has greater potential to affect, effect, confound and impact than any other institution in modern society.

And yet, at the same time, you can watch something like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and piss yourself laughing at two straight hours of loving, affectionate iconoclasm.

THAT is why I act.

Written by soundaffects

October 6th, 2008 at 12:26 am

OLD STUFF (review): Sydney Theatre Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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(written September 2, 2007)

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most delightful plays in the English language. It is a light-hearted affair, glittering with fairies, lush forests and love coming from every angle. It is impossible to see this play without feeling a warm glow throughout your body, and a smile form on your face.

Unfortunately, someone decided that it would be a good idea to import Englishman Edward Dick to direct. This is a man who, if I had my way, would never be allowed to work with Shakespeare again. He was the director of an Othello that graced our shores just a couple of years ago, and since then it has stood out in my mind as a particularly fecund dung-heap of a production But sadly, the nostril-burning odiousness of that production was nothing compared to the pure rankness of his Dream.

If this production was a human being, those Right-to-Die-Communist-bleeding-hearts would be campaigning around the clock to end its interminable suffering with a quiet, dignified death. This is not the fault of the actors. Goodness knows this is not a production devoid of talent in that department.

No, this production was doomed from the moment Dick-face decided to go for “dark”, “atmospheric” and “insufferable” as the cornerstones of his vision. One simply cannot bring oneself to actually critique this tripe in complete sentences, so one is forced to resort to a summary in bullet-point form.

Edward Dick-nose was the director.
• Dick-let saw fit to ignore the obvious joy and beauty in Shakespeare’s original text, and instead chose to drag the words through mud.
Mud. The set was covered in it. Quite literally. And there was almost no point to this whatsoever. It was utilised for about two minutes at the very end of the play, but otherwise it was completely ignored.
• The actors kept walking around in circles. Over and over again. Without ever once explaining or trying to justify this ridiculous act.
The fairies. Dick-Dick-McDick had every actor play a fairy at some point. This is not an inherently flawed concept. Unfortunately someone decided that the fairies should flail around as though suffering from a particularly violent case of Parkinson’s. To see three of Australia’s finest stage actors (Peter Carroll, John Gaden and Pamela Rabe) reduced to dancing around like Peter Garrett damn near broke one’s heart.
• “The course of true love never did run smooth”. This speech is one of the most beautiful in all of Shakespeare, and it’s the one chance that Lysander has to illustrate his love for Hermia. So to have Lysander and Hermia stand on opposite sides of a cavernous stage, and make Lysander bellow one of Shakespeare’s most tender, loving speeches is yet another criminal act perpetrated by Edward Dick.

Admittedly, not everything was terrible. The mechanicals were wonderfully done. Colin Moody was immaculate as Bottom, Peter Carroll loveable as Snug and Allan John delightful as Flute.
The lovers also managed to escape their appalling direction relatively unscathed. Hermia (Hayley McElhinney) and Helena (Amber McMahon) were two of the absolute highpoints, and Demetrius (Martin Blum) and Lysander (Eden Falk) were rather good, considering the limited roles they were playing.
Puck, played by Dan Spielman, is also worthy of a mention. Although this Puck was dark, malevolent and sullen, one is forced to concede that it was a wonderful performance. Spielman’s physicality was rather wonderful, and his was the standout performance of the production. Sadly, however, Spielman couldn’t save this production, and so it meandered towards its end. And while the final mechanicals scene was lovely, it would be almost impossible to ruin it.

Mind you, that’s what I thought about Midsummer Night’s Dream itself. Sadly, Edward Dick-for-brains-so-couldn’t-direct-his-way-out-of-a-paper-bag single-handedly managed to prove me hideously, ridiculously wrong.