SCENE STUDIES: Notes on Post-Living Ante-Action Adaptation Technique (PoLAAAT)

January 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Post-Paradise, Sorry Again and Again is a PoLAAT play created for the 2011 Rhubarb Festival at legendary queer theater space Buddies in Badtimes in Toronto.  As a collaboratively dramaturgical starting point, we will work with the participants in “casts” to adapt scenes from plays into PoLAAT scenarios.  Some European and American plays of the 20th Century that we have approached in the past, which might be useful to consider again, include:

Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
The Butterfly’s Evil Spell by Federico Garcia Lorca
Paradise Now by the Living Theater
Pre Paradise Sorry Now by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Le Balcon by Jean Genet (in French)
Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry

All of these plays are written by famous queer theater gods (and a pansexual theater collective) of the 20th Century.  The texts depict, describe and enact the difficult strategies of constructing a (group) identity for gays (and others) made other by society/geography/culture/etc.  The individual is a lonely figure, looking to belong – to what?  A world that erases them.   No, they are trying to invent a different experience.  They act like that to become real, to exist in reality.  And the cast and crew that put on these plays, what will be their reality?  And the audience that goes to see them?  And us?

One task of the PoLAAT is to adapt the languagepolitics, aesthetic/message, and/or fable-scenario of original theater texts (i.e. plays) into structured rehearsals of the present (i.e. play).  PoLAAT detours the play into a process, making the process speak to the audience of their own difficulty in seeing themselves reflected by what they/we are doing.

One strategy is to cast all but one of the characters in the scene.  Rehearse and memorize the adapted script, make costumes for all the characters, cast the missing part from the audience.  Give the audience member a costume and script.  Imagine what their experience of the scene would be?  They most likely have no idea what is happening, but the actors will walk and talk around them in a manner that underscores the level of preparation they have made for this very moment, a pre-destined chance encounter.

The other thing that may result in a particular estrangement: prepare everything in the scene except the actors.  The first read-through goes up in front of the crowd, with people cast randomly.  If everyone is in costume, it will at least look nice, but more importantly, the way the actors feel about the characters and scenario will be discussed as the scene is performed.   A critically engaged performer is created by the situation, one in which creating a character is impossible, and striking an attitude essential.

If the play is dense or hard to understand, try to emphasize this as much as possible, by memorizing the most cumbersome passages.  This will showcase the fact that the performer has committed to understanding something which is, to the watcher, inscrutable, or, at the very least, complex.  A well-rehearsed theater scene is loved by the people sitting in front of it, if for no other reason than the beauty of memorization.  It may seem an impossibility, a feat, particularly in this time of easily forgotten texting.  It’s impressive when people memorize large, dense paragraphs of theoretical writing, or lengthy stanzas of free verse, or songs, or raps.  Memorizing is a wonderment.  There is a sense of danger in it, too, a bit of Trapeze.  Yet it is not, in itself, considered quite enough for the theater!  It is, in fact, supposed to be invisible.  So they say.  What is seeing a Shakespeare play or Broadway musical if not a test of memorization?

Better still to make up all new words, which is another strategy: use a thesaurus.  Translate the text into another language and then translate it back.  Put your favorite lines to music.  Make up a different pose for each character, don’t let them move, arrange them around the room, among the crowds, even outside the theater.  Do the play backwards.  Facing backwards.  Do it with no clothes on.  Most effective in non-sexual scenes, particularly family dramas, or scenes of political unrest, or both.  Underwear is ok, as long as it is not too fancy.

In the spirit of Indistinction, a PoLAAT Group can try to change everything about the surface of the play, characters’ names and places and time periods, into whatever it least resembles, perhaps another genre entirely, and even a familiar one (noir, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, glam rock, disco, new wave), while adding no words at all.

Yes, add no words at all.  Remove them instead.

The other thing you can do: rewrite it entirely.  Each actor can do this for their own lines.

The process of adaptation itself is what to be foregrounded: the use of things that are just being left around, the recycling of ideas.   An engagement with these radioactivity of left-overs forces a mutation – something new, potentially even useful, will come of it. One warning: People enjoy parodies of familiar works, as in classic drag performance, but it is less interesting to the PoLAAT to merely switch words around or reference contemporary celebrities than to use the words of the original against it’s own meaning.

Perhaps it is the case that theater has died.  Yet in its post-living state theater can be used to pre-perform the action of the future by traveling through the past.  The plays selected by the PoLAAT present an unresolved relationship to the history evoked and enacted through these texts.  These particular plays also present coping mechanisms.  Whether it is the plight of young queers who are too special for the small worlds they got themselves born into (Member of the Wedding; Butterfly’s Evil Spell), the legacies of colonial adventure and crimes against humanity in the works of Hansberry (Les Blancs) and Genet (Le Balcon), or the experiments in collective identity-making of the Living Theater (Paradise Now) or Fassbinder’s antiteater (Pre-Paradise, Sorry Now) the goal in adapting these works is to look for models of action, resistance and thought that can be used now, or, at least tomorrow, and to confront the absurdity of our own utopian fantasies.

Below are some questions asked by the PoLAAT as a means of approaching the adaptation of plays.

  1. What are the historical problems the text brings up and how are these problems depicted, that is, pictured, that is, epitomized by images and words and gestures?
  2. How does the contemporary moment address/construct/confront/enact/envision/spectaularize these problems differently?
  3. How do the politics/attitudes/aesthetics of this play, and the scenario it enacts, affect me in my life?
  4. What pleasure/entertainment/escape is the text offering?  How can I subvert that pleasure?  How can I use/amplify/re-direct it?
  5. Who is coming to see this performance and how can I use this text to communicate with them?  How will their presence make the play complete?
  6. How can I contradict the text without using words?
  7. How can I use its words to make my life better?
  8. What’s the funniest thing about this text?
  9. What is the scariest?
  10. Who do you not want to play?

For purposes of the PoLAAT production in Toronto, these plays should be adapted to no longer than 6 minute scenes.


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