Friday, June 20, 2014

Hide and Seek: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman: Part 3

Becoming the Actor-Writer
In 2010 and 2011, I visited London to workshop a stage play I’d been writing, Today I Live, in collaboration with my mentor Lloyd Trott.   I was hot on the heels of this fruitful writing process when I was accepted to UC Davis, and though excited about the course, I was loath to put work on the play aside and turn my hand entirely to acting and teaching.  But the illusion that we must choose is often as false as the illusion that we must do it all:  During my second year at UC Davis, I received a Margrit Mondavi Fellowship for further development of Today I Live and contrary to my previous expectation, had the opportunity for further work on the play, within the University environment.

Hide & Seek:
“The notion of ‘presence and absence’ is a recurring trope among all ‘performed autobiographies’…”[10] 
Hanna Berrigan, director of the London workshops, was curious to know why I myself didn’t play the central role in my play, commenting that I reminded her of the actress whom I have spoken to about playing the role of Niaz in a potential London production.   I responded that although I was drawn to the idea of playing Niaz in theory, not only am I from a different ethnic background than Niaz, but I have been largely concerned with seeing the character and the play from the outside. ‘Seeing’ Niaz has been a recurrent theme in this creative process. 

In much the way that it is difficult to see oneself, close loved ones or family members with any sense of impartiality it has been hard for me to write this character.  Whether I play her or not, Niaz is my voice hidden within the text.  I as the writer ‘appear’ to be absent from my play: a story that does not ‘appear’ to be autobiographic, bearing scant resemblance to the facts of my own life.  This exemplifies the typical artist’s game of hide and seek.  Obscuring myself under a metaphorical layering of the vastly different cultures and circumstances of my characters in Today I Live, I felt free to explore my own preoccupations, with which the play is bursting.   The Mondavi Fellowship gave me an opportunity to ‘try out’ Niaz as an actor on ‘the inside’, reporting back to the external writer, like a journalist on field assignment.   I was unsatisfied with how I had previously written the character and jumped at the chance to view her through a different lens.

I didn’t quite know what I was getting into.  My internal experience of double exposure in playing a role I have written, triggered a desire to hide all the time.   I struggled to free myself within the role, under the gaze of the observing and editing writer.  Failing to put the writer entirely aside during this process affected my playing of the role.  Constantly preoccupied with what the writing was doing or needed to be doing, kept me at a slight remove.  As this was the first time I’d ever played a character I have written, I wasn’t familiar with the pit falls I faced or how to avoid them.  Yet the process proved successful for ‘the writer’, who benefitted from the actor’s ‘live feed’, about what wasn’t working in the role of Niaz.

The experience was energizing, and yet I felt that my workshop performance was flawed.  This provoked in me a desire to develop the process of actor/writer collaboration.  What circumstances are most conducive to letting go of the critical eye?  Can I successfully act in something I have written? Some of the answers are found in the nuts and bolts of artistic process.  But to understand the conflicted relations of female writer to actor to self, I would like to paint the backdrop of our scene: the wider social and historical context from which the two emerge.

(Continued here:  "Disguise Thou Art a Wickedness")

[1]  Rosalind, As You Like It by William Shakespeare

[2] Hereafter referred to as RADA
[3] Process-oriented approaches to learning place as much value on the experience of doing exercises rather than the outcome or endpoint of a given task, in the belief that the deepest learning occurs through moment to moment ‘experiencing’ of the exercise itself
[4] Current Head of Dramaturgy at RADA
[5] The title of the solo exploration, which forms the practical aspect of this thesis:
[6] Excerpt from the BBC tagline to Alaska which aired on BBC R4: September 21st, 1995
[8] Toni Morrison as cited in Newsweek Magazine, March 30th, 1981
[9] I continue to take classes in aspects of craft I wish to improve and intend to do so for the rest of my life
[10]Maggie B. Gale and Viv Gardner, Auto/biography and Identity: Women, Theatre and Performance  (Manchester UK: Manchester University Press 2004) p. 3

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