How to lose sight – as we stumble towards the close

Tonight was almost a sold out performance, and it got me thinking about comedy, energy and emotion. A couple of days ago, I made a rather offhand comment – “I love playing with people’s emotions” which sounds evil, except for the fact that when you look at it technically, that’s my job. As an artist, my job is to allow an audience to feel what they want to feel. Before they can do that, though, they have to know what they’re “supposed” to feel. What I love about theatre is that it shows our most basic human reactions. Such as laughing and smiling. A psychological reaction (try it), if someone smiles at you, you need to smile back, even if it’s not noticeable, in order for the brain to register the fact that they smiled. If you’ve ever listened to conversations in a language other than your own, you’ll understand what I mean when I say a joke has a sound. There’s a particular inflection we as humans use when whatever we’re saying is supposed to be funny. A sense of anticipation, longing, before a punchline.

And sometimes punchlines aren’t verbal. Sometimes they’re physical. Sometimes they’re really very subtle. But as humans, we can all read them. It makes me wonder about life through the eyes of someone with autism, when it can be harder to read emotions in people, or understand the complexities of inflection and pitch and tone.

All of this came to me as a response to the audience that joined us tonight. As I said, it was a very busy household, and what always intrigues me is how an audience knows that what we’re saying is a joke, or serious, or that they’re supposed to react in a certain way. Having said that they are being led to react in a certain way, they could react in the opposite way, and that’s incredibly interesting in its own right. What I meant by comment stated earlier was that I love to see people react. I love a snort of surprise, or the huff of insult, or the honk of horniness (yeah, ok, that’s enough). And that’s what makes it all worthwhile for me. Because when they leave, they’ve been thinking. I know they’ve been thinking because they’ve been responding. And that’s what’s amazing about “How to lose sight”. Michal’s managed to very carefully pick at the strings of what makes theatre theatre and put together a performance that everyone can take something away from, whether it’s a sense of relief after being in a claustrophobic house, the sense of watching a movie, the sense of adoration or dreaming or collaboration or togetherness. The house is the forgotten star of the show, and while people may think the piece wouldn’t be as interesting or intriguing if it weren’t in a house, isn’t that the point? It WOULDN’T be as interesting if it weren’t in a house. We know that! Explore the idea with us that everything that exists is a performance, from the moment Pollyanna and Barton meet you at the theatre, from the moment you leave your house, the clothes you wear, the scent you put on your skin, the way you shaved that day – they’re all part of this performance. Aren’t they?

So if that’s the case, everything we say that’s funny – all the jokes, the tenderness, the soulfulness, all the moments – stemmed from you. From what you did in the lead up. Because none of the show would have been any good without audience participation, and I’m not a huge fan of performing for myself. NO. Theatre is for sharing. It’s not, and should not be exclusive. If it’s exclusive, it should be… something else. I can’t even say art. It shouldn’t be art. It can be Art. Art for art’s sake. And it can go somewhere else. I create for other people to react to. Acting is reacting. That’s what I was taught when I was ten. Acting is merely someone on stage that is reacting to something else on stage – be it temperature, emotions that were left behind, emotions that are there, an audience and what they brought with them, something the someone brought onstage with them…the list is endless. What is there not to react to?

On top of all that, it was wonderful to have a woman tell me she honestly believed I was blind.

What a day.

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How to lose sight – a response to encroaching performances

As we draw nearer to the opening of How to lose sight, I thought it would be a good time to talk about the show and what I’ve learnt up to this point. Other than how capable the visually impaired actually are, that is. I used to believe that if I lost my sight, I would become an invalid, unable to perform the most basic of functions. I now think almost the opposite.

The interesting thing is that Michal, our fearless director keeps suggesting we close our eyes, because our peripheral vision has become far too acute to accurately portray a blind person in a place they don’t know. I’d like to suggest an alternative idea. I’m starting to become as capable of getting around the room with my eyes closed as with them open and using my peripheral vision. What I’d like to propose is that I am now more closely representing a blind person in her own home. Which was part of the original idea.
We’re not aiming for that, of course, so I’ll have to move the set around minimally to confuse myself, but it’s amazing how quickly the body manages to rebalance itself.

Something else that always surprises me (and it perhaps shouldn’t, but it always does) is that my brain seems to forget what people look like very easily. I spend a lot of time in close relationship scenes with Peter, and when we finish rehearsing, take a break or some such, I end up mildly surprised that I can see him, and intrigued as to what he looks like, because I have no idea what he looks like while we’re performing. What a trick! And this goes for everything and everyone.

Going home is often a treat. Not because I want to leave the house – I don’t think I could fully describe how much I’m enjoying the sense of exploration and play I get from the cast the director and the process. Going home is a treat because I appreciate my sense of sight more having not had it for so much of the day. Sitting on the train in the rain, raindrops become miracles, street lamps become fascinating and unusual. When I (finally) get home, being able to see my dog is incredible, rather than just touching or smelling or hearing. Being able to see the mischief she’s getting herself into while I potter around the kitchen is visually stimulating in a way I haven’t experienced during the day.
Incidentally, my golden retriever tries to take care of me when I seem ill or upset more so than when I’m fine. Perhaps I should suggest an additional cast member…a guide dog? Maybe for a remount.

How to lose sight – November/December – Seeing out of the back of your head

This year, as stated in my previous entry, has been full of business. And busyness. I’ve been rushed off my feet for pretty much the whole thing, which I don’t necessarily find to be a bad thing. Now all my projects have ended and I’ve settled down to finish this last, beautiful piece before Christmas.

Who knows what 2012 has in store for me? I really don’t. Kinda wish I did. But if it has even one rehearsal period like the one I’m experiencing now, I think it’ll be great.

The thing about theatre – the amazing, wonderful thing about theatre, is that when you have time to just experience it, it’s incredible. This year has been a bit frantic, I think, leaping from project to project like the world’s going to end. That has its appeal because I love to be busy. I love to be in it and learning as fast as I possibly can.

This rehearsal period is about putting into practise everything I’ve learned, and just being creative. And that’s amazing.

The piece was created by Michal Imielski and is the second part of a trilogy of works. The piece is devised, which makes me very happy, because the fun involved in just throwing ideas up in the air coupled with the refining of those ideas into a piece that will challenge, excite and entertain an audience is almost a lost medium of theatrical creation. One that is often dismissed because of the time and intensity needed to work on a piece to strengthen it.

The piece is based, as the title suggests, on people that have, through one method or another, lost their sight. Some characters were blind from birth, others were brutalised. What we’re telling in this house (yes, it’s a site specific piece performed in a house) is based on true stories and using actual technologies.

I went to Melbourne over the weekend. My first time on an airplane in four years (far too long for a seasoned traveller). Since I was going on holiday, and my character at the moment seems to have an invested interest in travelling, I put on my sound recorder at times and just sat with my eyes closed, describing what I thought I could hear, touch, smell, taste in the air. Some things frustrated me, like drills blocking the sound of a crossing, or people talking too closely. Personal space, as someone that is visually impaired, works in many ways. You have to accept that people will expect it to be reduced because you “need help”. What if you’re incredibly independent?

My character has been blind from birth. She’s had no other way of living, so of course she knows how to take care of herself. She has to. She doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she doesn’t need to. So when people want to help her, what does she say, or do? It depends on the circumstance. If she’s with people that she can be honest with, she’ll say she’s fine. If she’s with people that are honestly trying to help, she’ll let them. If someone is forcing her to do something she doesn’t want to, she’ll fight back. It makes sense.

So my character went to Melbourne with me. She heard tram noises, and pressed the button at the stop that would read the timetable and due times to her. She touched beautiful fabrics and heard great street music (better than sydney). She felt the hot, dry sun on her arms during the day, the suddenly chill air on her skin at night while she sat at a bar and had a drink. She saw things she’d never seen before. And yes, she SAW things she’d never seen before. And when she returned to her hotel late at night, she slept like a baby.

The incredible thing about devising is that as a writer, you have to learn to let go of the idea that your text will be perfect, or near perfect, and grasp the idea that whatever you say will be the absolute truth at that point in time. Prior to refining and setting the text, every thought you have, every word you say or sound you make is a part of how the character, or the group, feels, and is precious in its own right.

The three devisors I’m primarily working with are all writers as well. I’m not sure how they’re finding the process of not writing, but I remember in the beginning especially, I found it hard not to try to censor myself, or edit as I spoke. The problem is that if you hesitate and don’t say exactly what you’re thinking, you’re missing an opportunity for someone else to pick up the idea and turn it into something else that could be perfect for the finished product.

And I think this piece will be incredible. Which is quite a wonderful way to finish a year.