BioMechanics and StageMatrix for Directors *
Notes on a Theory of Mise-en-scene
"...the art of the director is the art not of an executant, but an author--so long as one has earned the right." (Meyerhold, "Meyerhold Govorit" 306)
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Part I. Monologue
1. Triangle or Line?
2. Competition of Messengers
Director's Text (Mise-en-scene)
Actor's Text (Performance)
Spectator's Text (Life of Drama)
Part II. Scene
Fourth Wall and Epic Theatre
Message and Messenger
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Practical applications of director's skills, even in classes like "Fundamentals of Direction," ask for answers about basic principles of structuring show. This paper includes some thoughts on the Semiotics of Directing. Most of the terminology and ideas are derived from Vsevolod Meyerhold's writings on theatre. Meyerhold, throughout his director's career, had concentrated on position of director in relations between stage and audience, and made the first attempt to define director's artistic function and "director's text."WORKS CITED
The director's position in theatre not only allows but asks for his aesthetic presence within the show. What is his role in a theatre communication model? Not long ago we knew "actor--spectator" relations, or the "writer--actor--spectator" model. The technological revolution in the past century has placed a new figure, the "director" into the "sender--receiver" model. Is the director a modem between a show and a public? Or a new link between a writer and an actor? A new connection between actors on stage? Or all of the above?
The public gives birth and life to theatre. How can we judge and understand this sphinx -- the audience? What do I direct -- script or actors? Whereas the writer arranges life into a play, the director arranges text and actors into a show. And the show is experienced by a public which actually "performs" the spectacle. In short, I direct actors to direct audiences; to direct a play is to arrange an audience's "reading" of this play.
How do we direct spectators? I am a spectator. The director is the ultimate spectator. He didn't write the script, he doesn't perform it, yet he is the Alpha and Omega of theatre; he is the "audience of one."
A new spectator asks for a new director. In the Age of Cinema we are used to "composing" our own dramatic experience out of combinations of shots and cuts; not only are we visually oriented, but active public. The director is a new spectator, and the "first spectator." As a "professional" spectator he is the last in the creating of the show, and therefore he is the first in command. Director is a model of spectator. He contains all theatrical structures which exist in a public:
WRITERThe last "Live People" category (INDIVIDUAL) is non-theatrical, but any theatrical message is based on historical, social, cultural references and life experiences of the audience.
The basic theatre disposition is obvious in acting classes; we have three fundamental elements involved -- actor, text, spectator. Monologue (character) is the link between the audience and the actor. The dramatic text (monologue) asks for performance (acting), but both texts are born because of one presence -- audience. The stage messages can be sent only after the stage has received the spectator's message: I'm here to watch theatre.
What is usually missing in monologues presentation is a director. Dramatic texts are not staged (and therefore couldn't be performed). But by definition we have three lingual entities (text, actor, viewer), connected and separated because of the media they use (words, voice and movement, and the life of those messages in the spectator's imagination). In order for me to understand the mechanics of this perception process in me-the-spectator, I have to notice what I do after the presentation. I leave my seat to direct the actor. I begin to arrange his voice and movement in such a way that the words will have a greater dramatic effect on me. All my suggestions are concerned with the space and time in which the character's words exit; I'm not a reader or listener. I direct the dramatic (theatrical) event in front of me, according to my previous dramatic experience during the monologue presentation. Usually, my most visible action is blocking (structuring and "stopping" the actor's performance). Monologue is the simplest form of mise-en-scene, and I construct the director's text, imposing on the actor (and character) new restrictions in space and time.
1. Triangle or Line?
Meyerhold sees three different texts (constructions) in every performance (Brown 50): the playscript, the directorial "PARTITURE" (staging), and the actor's composition (performance). In his discussion of "Theatre-Triangle" vs. "Theatre of the Straight Line" he offers two model of theatre communication with a spectator. In formula A (Theatre-Triangle), the first to meet a spectator is the director:
We know this model as a "Director's Theatre." Through directorial concept (including all designs; set, light, costume, etc.) the director introduces both Text (Writer) and Performance (Actor). As a spectator he is the author of his dramatic experience, which positions him as the author of a show and makes dramatic text as well as a performer into his "material." The public gives him rights and obligations as a first viewer to direct their future theatrical experience. He represents all three of the modes of spectator, audience and public. Since he is an active viewer, he constructs "his" show the way a (passive) spectator would do it later in his imagination. Of course, we could turn the triangle around and make the actor the first link (or last messenger of theatre), and we would have "Actor's Theatre."
SpectatorIn Formula B, the Actor is in a position of Author; the Writer and Director provide their material for his creation (performance). The same could be done with the Writer (the tradition of Dramatic Literature as a main form of theatre is the longest). It is more important to remember that all three variations of the Theatre Triangle co-exist in every show and stay together in a dynamic inter-exchange of priorities. The basic communication model of theatrical message(s) could be seen as three constructions (inter-related), going to the audience simultaneously:
Writer----(verbal language)-----------------Spectator (1)All three constructions (texts) are included in the Spectator's final text, and as a summary of 1+2+3, make the spectator the final Author of a theatrical composition. To emphasize the Spectator's authorship, "Theatre of the Straight Line" (Stanislavsky) places three main constructions, not in parallel, but in one line:
Writer----Director----Actor----Spectator (Model A)As Meyerhold explains it, "The actor reveals his soul freely to the spectator, having assimilated the creation of the director, who, in his turn, has assimilated the creation of the actor" (Meyerhold ? ) This Model A is based on Stanislavsky's concept that the actor must totally identify himself with the character, and, in his turn, the director must "die" in his actors. Of course, this formula cannot exit in absolut purity, and in reality both Triangle and Straight Line are present in theatre communication.
Writer----Actor-------Director---Spectator (Model B)
Model B represents Director's Theatre, with all elements of a show controlled by the director's designs. The director is a designer and brings with him all others: lighting, sound, costume, makeup designers.
2. Competition of Messengers
Director's Text (Mise-en-scene). In his lecture "About Intermission and True Time on Stage," Meyerhold points out that we must differentiate, in every show, the playwright's text, the directorial construction and the actor's text (performance). (Tvortcheskoe "Sozdanie Elementov Explikatzii" 58) The director through stage designs organizes "empty space" into a "stage machine" (Meyerhold's term) for the actor to perform (or to react to). Set design is the first physical organization of space (physical "given circumstances" for the actor), which is followed by the lighting design and the sound design. The director's construction in based on the playscript, but it could be in counter position to it: "If a playwright writes a play for staging, it is necessary to add this second text (PARTITURE), and therefore a competition occurs in construction." (Tvortcheskoe 58 "Creation of Explication's Elements"). Meyerhold insists on calling the second (director's) text a New Text, and, as a result, we have to take the subtext idea one step further: the conflict between Writer's and Director's Text could be seen as a mise-en-scene text functioning as a counter-text. Playwright-Director relations are direct, indirect, and intervening connections within the show. The competition of constructions gives the spectator the power of composing three main different lingvistic messages in a new text -- a dramatic experience which is decoded in its final individual form.
Actor's Text (Performance). The actor carries a playscript's verbal message, which, according to communication theory, counts only for seven percent of the total message. The rest is paralingual and body language. Therefore, the actor must interpret the first text. The subtext idea is built into the very concept of performance. The performance is the event occurring within a context of stage space (director's structure), and, again, by definition, has its independent language -- the actor's body. The actor is responsible for movement in space and he is the one who organizes dramatic time. He is in charge of using both texts (Writer's and Director's) as material for his performance; after all, he is the last messenger. He is the expression of the audience's experiencing drama. He is Agent and Agency of performance. Meyerhold made Biomechanics a part of his bigger frame theory of "Scenometrics." The Actor's Text is the one the Audience identifies itself with. We know theatre without scripts, without scenery, but not without actors.
Spectator (Life of Drama)
"What could be a model for theatre? Types, human habits, moods? No, all that isn't enough. . . . Seems to me, that the nature, which theatre must follow in its composition, is only imagination, imagination at large..." (Pasternak's letter to Meyerhold) Imagination of Actor? Director? They all represent Spectator and it is HIS IMAGINATION where action actually takes place. If imagination is the nature of theatrical experience, imagery is the main form of appealing to audience. "I couldn't imagine that METAPHOR COULD BE EXECUTED IN THEATRE." Meyerhold's departure from Symbolism to Constructivism never was a break but a development of his devotion to new relations with the audience. He understood needs for a different mode of theatre composition, and a new role of the Actor in this theatre.
From Eisenstein's notes on Meyerhold we read:
"An actor's creativity drastically different from a playwright's or a director's: he creates in public, and having his improvisational possibilities influenced by the audience -- his creativity could not all be foreseen (e.g., rejection by the public -- necessity to overcome it immediately, or to redesign it right away, to adapt, etc.).
Contact with the public visibly sensed (breathing, noise, etc.). This way the public gives `its lines,' which the actor must receive and to make use of." (Source )
The presence of the audience transforms the stage space into a pool of energy, an "empty space" full of time -- the watched space (here's he is a sender of the theatre's message, he forms the theatre-situation, makes the stage by positioning himself as audience). The moment the actor enters this (their) space, he's obliged to act differently (compared with non-theatrical space); he becomes an actor by definition. Directorial blocking is organizing the watched space according to the audience (and their interpretations of the play). Controlling space and time could be done only through movement; the audience "reads" changes, expects changes -- and the actor responds to their expectations.
As Meyerhold explains, "The actor immediately reacts through improvisation to all demands of the public." Acting is articulated dramatic sense of the public. The actor is an expression of the spectator's impulse to perform. The director provides the newly "designed" space-time universe of the show for the audience, and the actor materializes their experiences.
Spectator as Organizer and Medium. Spectator is a role which we play in theatre. But the material we use to experience a show are our emotions, memories, associations. (Very much similar to the actor's duality). There, on a non-theatrical life level we are equal, we are reunited after experiencing life in aesthetic forms (catharsis). The director is the one who can develop both sides of his nature: stage sense and audience sense.
Thus, the director is one spectator, but he represents many. How does he direct that Many -- more than one Actor, more then one Spectator?
SCENE: FOURTH WALL and EPIC THEATRE
If we move from one actor on stage to two and more, the dominance of the director in theatre communications become even more visible. The basic triangle in two-scene should be added to a basic triangle of actor communicating with two (at least) spectators.
Spectatorbut Actor A and Actor B have been directed, their links determined by script and mise-en-scene. In fact, they are related to each other as characters, and therefore must be seen as:
Actor A Actor B
Actor A--Character A (writer-director) Character B--Actor Bbut we have to remember that by the nature of directing, connection between the actor and his character involves the director as well:
The director happens to be involved in every link in the theatre message, and this position gives him control over all messages of the show. Here again he does on stage what the spectator is doing in his imagination.
ActorThe Actor's Triangle is the beginning of audience formation (theatre-public-tonight). Two triangles would illustrate the complicated connections between two spectators:
Spectator A Spectator B
Spectator Ain short: Spectator A---Director---Spectator B
Text 1/ \Text 2
Actor A --------- Actor B
Text 3\ /Text 4
"Text 1" represents "Writer," or a playscript's interpretation of Spectator A. "Text 3" is the same thing through the interpretation of Actor A's performance, but in Spectator B. How could all the four texts be formatted so the audience with all the varieties of interpretation nevertheless would follow the same pattern of the show? The playwright gives the first construction to be expressed within the Director's Text (staging). That's a ground for the STYLE of the show. Mise-en-scene organizes each scene in such way that relations between two actors are not only direct but indirect as well. The latter forms the AESTHETIC LEVEL of the theatrical message. Meyerhold's objections to Stanislavsky's realism (naturalism) were based on the System's removal of the director (he must die in his actors), resulting in freezing THEATRICALITY. The Fourth Wall concept eventually leads to a screen (that's why Method Acting became so popular), and the loss of LIVE THEATRE's expressive means.
The Fourth Wall concept is only a formula which couldn't be fully executed (every act is staged, not real), and the same could be said about Epic Theatre. In actuality both concepts are always present in each performance. A balance of the two ways of communication creates the Theatre Game which is the essence of live theatre; the rules of communications are dynamic and change many times during the show. The audience has to recognize the actor and character's existence, and to experience the switch between the two. Each spectator experiences the show on several levels, including the Critic's horizon, which allows him to move from one (theatrical) reality to another (non-theatrical). The director is the strongest representative of critical segment within the spectator.
Could a show be done without a director? According to Meyerhold's definition such a show wouldn't be Theatre as far as aesthetics are concerned. The director creats Theatricality as a unique life-theatre-method. Meyerhold was aware that this concept would require theoretical re-definition of Acting. He offered a view the actor in his duality: Actor as Artist (Creator/Organizer) and Actor as Medium (Material/Body of the First). This is present in every artist and every figure creating theatre.
According to Meyerhold, the basis of play-makersis that "Never is there an equality of personal mood between an actor and his character." The director represents the Actor-Artist. Actually, Artist in Actor could be seen as a director within each actor. There's no contradiction in this concept with Stanislavsky' System; the difference comes when the duality of actor is shown to the public. But this is a matter of stylistic choice of theatre.
The duality of the actor's life on stage is a reflection of the spectator's dichotomy. The director makes it more visible; he helps to control two natures of theatre artists by separating and reconnecting them under aesthetic laws.
Actor As Trickster. "The actor lives a double life on stage; he lives in two worlds -- in the world of his role, the one he created; and in a world of his own `I'. He is an executive, a manager; sometimes an adventure seeker, sometimes a prophet, he knows how he has to re-distribute all he needs." ( 144) The spectator's identification with the actor exits on both levels, and the duality makes theatre messages incomplete. The director advances the playscript but he doesn't complete it; actors carry the process further. Only mise-en-scene is fixed (similar to playwright's text). But the same incompleteness occurs in the actor's text; his performance must be interpreted by the audience. Each of them opens an original theatre message wider and wider with each step to the public. The director adds the extra meaning, enriches the play, makes the original message more complex (counter-text as director's method). The final message in the audience's minds and hearts wouldn't be complete either. That's why theatre exists in the first place; not only to answer but to raise questions. In such an incomplete nature of art is the beginning of another cycle of theatre.
MESSAGE AND MESSENGER
The director is both messenger (sender) and message (medium). He very much reflects the same Actor's (or Spectator's) duality; he carries the playwright's message and by creating the staged space is formatting a new message (mise-en-scene). Without such a dichotomy the very concept of sub-text (actor) wouldn't be possible. But the director isn't present on stage to point to his interpretation, and he goes further than sub-text: Meyerhold introduced the directorial equivalent of sub-text -- the counter-point. By placing a play within a new (his) context, the director not only interprets the script, but also makes it into material for his own message. According to the counter-point theory, in order to "make the invisible visible" we have to position a message within contrasting environment. If the actor creates "subtext" by emphasizing the conflict between the spoken text and his action (intonation, body language, etc.), counter-point makes it possible to elevate an image to the level of metaphor. By getting in between of all interactions of actors on stage, the director transforms their "realistic" characters' relations into aesthetic statements. Moving them from one acting area to another with different designs (using lighting, for example), the director changes the "reality" of their relations. The choice of green, blue or red light is a manifestation of an aspect of a director's narrative, and the positioning of colored space is a creation of a new situation for the "same" spoken line. The director is an image-maker (this is extremely obvious in film-making) and the only way he has to transform live bodies in three-dimensional space into symbols is to contradict the reality, to overcome his material. That is where the borderline between stage and audience comes in as a formative principle with linguistic potentials. The director is a division between life and staged life. He is the point at which life is transformed into reflections on life.
SummaryIf the director represents the public, his text must be followed by his public no less than the playscript. The very choice of script is his expression of public instincts. Since the director is absent from the stage, he must express his text through space (set) and time (actors). The show is his medium: live actors in dramatic (designed) space. Meyerhold called the directorial structure of the show STAGEMETRICS [SCENOMETRICS or Stagematrix].
[ direct.vtheatre.net = stagematrix ]
Notes are lost. Some references could be found on my directing and theory pages: Meyerhold, Direct and Performance. Also, see SPECTATOR and DOUBLES pages.
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