Friday, April 01, 2005

A Paradox of Stage Performance III

Many thanks to Simon, Jay, Stower and Jack, for thinking along with me on this problem. Here is the state of things tonight.

There are two stages and two plays. But there is only one troupe. There are two casts or, at least, two castings. So, for example, we have,

Cast A

Jack plays Devon
Julie plays Samantha

Cast B

Jack plays Tex
Julie plays Debbie

Now, in the paradoxical situation I'm imagining, Tex is the actor (backstage on stage B) who plays Devon (onstage on stage A) and Devon (backstage on stage A) is the actor who plays Tex (onstage on stage B).

Consider the situation in terms of "representation" or "aboutness" and from the point of view of the audience. Take, first, a naively enthralled member of the audience for A, i.e., one who is caught up in the action of the play and afterwards talks to friends about Devon and Samantha and their various troubles. (Remember that one of my constraints is that each play must work on its own as a play about actors who are backstage at a play the audience can't see.)

"I hadn't expected Devon to go so far as to kill Samantha," he might say.

This audience member may go the next night and see play B and afterwards talk about Tex and Debbie in the same way. (After all, a play about putting on a play we happen to know the plot of is not unusual.) He may even return the following night to see play A in a new light. None of this is, as I've just put it, indicative of paradox.

[Here the actual plot of the plays does, however, become interesting. The question of where the "real" killing happens, depending on the location of the "real" gun (not the prop) may begin to the trouble the attentive audience. If, that is, this sort of play is even conceivable. . .]

Okay, what about the critic? Having seen play A, she will no doubt write about Devon and Samantha but also about the lighting and the directing and, of course, about Jack and Julie, that is, about their performances. She may say, for example, "Jack's performance is an insult to the intelligence of the audience," or something.

But this is where something starts to happen. After all, who is the critic really criticizing? Jack or Tex? Suppose there is some interesting reason on stage B for the acting on stage A to be less than exceptional? At what point must we concede that Jack is playing his role (that of a bad actor) perfectly?

All this would be interesting if not for the fact that neither Jack nor Tex have anything to wear. That is, while we seem to have a formal roles defined (casting) we still lack performable roles (costumes).

Still thinking.

4 comments:

Jay said...

Perhaps you've stated the paradox too clearly -- i.e., so well that I just can't see it. :)

I want to try something . . . I'm going to try to write a very short script, and I'm going to add a third character, George/Robert, played by Bill.

**********

Time 1, Stage A:

Devon is dressed as a groom in a wedding. George wears a t-shirt and jeans.

Devon: I just can't go through with this.

George: Of course you can.

Devon: But at her mother's mansion? I know she's trying save me -- us -- money, but . . .

George: You say her mother's mansion? She really is loaded, isn't she? Hey look out, here she comes -- run!

Devon runs offstage, Samantha walks on.

Time 1, Stage B (takes place simultaneously with the above):

Debbie stands in front of a mirror. She wears sweatpants and a white, sleeveless t-shirt.

Debbie: I can't believe I'm still playing Samantha. Look at me. I'm not right for the part. I'm just not up for it. Not like Tex. Talk about right for the part. Wow. I can't believe I'm even on the same stage. But why does it take him so long -- oh damn, it's just about time for me to go back on.

Debbie quickly throws an elegant dinner dress over her sweatpants and t-shirt then rushes offstage.

***********

Time 2, Stage A

Samantha (hiding her irritation): George! Well. What a surprise. I thought you were still in Bermuda!

George: Work. You know, they never leave you alone. Had to cancel the last four days. It's ok, it was too damn hot anyway. So, uh, Devon tells me you decided to have the wedding at your mother's, uh, mansion in Dallas.

[the scene continues . . .]


Time 2, Stage B:

Tex quickly takes begins to trade one item of clothing for another: his wedding jacket for a winter coat, his pants for a pair of jeans, his designer shoes for a pair of boots. As he changes costume, he mumbles furiously at himself.

Tex: Gotta hurry. Come on. What's next. Shoes. Socks. Where the hell is that hunting hat? Whoever thought of having a play with so many obnoxious costume changes in the first place? Debbie just doesn't get it. All she has to do is put one layer on over another. I've gotta change the whole thing, from head to toe. (Pause. He sighs.). But she looks so beautiful in that dress . . . I wonder if Robert has told her anything about the way I feel . . .

[the scene continues . . .]

***********

I guess my point in writing this is that I’m not having trouble (at least I don’t think I am) visualizing what the actors are wearing in the backstage play. They wear what (I imagine) actors wear backstage – part street clothes, part costumes from the previous and upcoming scenes . . .

Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks for this material, Jay. This sort of experimentation is certainly the right way to go.

The play on stage A doesn't seem to be set backstage, however. Or is there something I haven't understood?

The stage sets for both A and B, according to the constraints of my paradox should be designed to look like a backstage area. The pre-wedding conversations seem sort of odd in that context.

Jay said...

Yes, I did ignore that constraint. I apologize. I've placed a rather hasty rewrite below. In writing it, I realized that there is a certain arbitrariness to the costumes -- when we're on stage A, we're changing into and out of costumes allegedly used in the hypothetical "real" play (not taking place) on stage B -- but on stage B, we're changing into and out of costumes allegedly used in the hypothetical "real" play (not taking place) on stage A. So I have Tex, for instance, in Time 2, Stage B changing into a hunting outfit -- but when he gets to stage A, he'll remove this and replace it with something else. Still, it seems to me there may be some sense in using these costume changes to suggest things about the "real" play that the audience thinks is taking place on the other stage (for example, the wedding outfits suggest the "real" play is, at the present time, about a wedding -- a suggestion which could be used for comedic and/or ironic effect).

Time 1, Stage A:

Devon is dressed as a groom in a wedding. George is dressed as the best man.

Devon: I just can't go through with one more night of this play. I can't stand plays about weddings.

George: Of course you can.

Devon: And Samantha! She can't act but she gets all the glory.

George: Yeah, I hear she got the part because the director wants her family's money. Look out -- it's time for your scene . . .

Devon runs offstage, Samantha walks on, wearing a somewhat disheveled wedding gown.


Time 1, Stage B (takes place simultaneously with the above):

Debbie stands in front of a mirror. She wears sweatpants and a white, sleeveless t-shirt.

Debbie: I can't believe I'm still playing Samantha. Look at me. I'm not right for the part. I'm just not up for it. Not like Tex. Talk about right for the part. Wow. I can't believe I'm even on the same stage. But why does it take him so long -- oh damn, it's just about time for me to go back on.

Debbie quickly throws a disheveled-looking wedding dress over her sweatpants and t-shirt then rushes offstage.

Time 2, Stage A

Samantha: George! Well. I thought you'd be prepping for your next scene about now. Instead I find you apparently paralyzed, waiting for my arrival.

George begins to undress, replacing the best man's outfit with jeans and a t-shirt.

George: I was just getting started. And who are you to care, anyway?

Samantha: Just the director's bride-to-be, that's all.

[the scene continues . . .]

Time 2, Stage B:

Tex quickly takes begins to trade one item of clothing for another: his wedding jacket for a winter coat, his pants for a pair of jeans, his designer shoes for a pair of boots. As he changes costume, he mumbles furiously at himself.

Tex: Gotta hurry. Come on. What's next. Shoes. Socks. Where the hell is that hunting hat? Whoever thought of having a play with so many obnoxious costume changes in the first place? Debbie just doesn't get it. All she has to do is put one layer on over another. I've gotta change the whole thing, from head to toe. (Pause. He sighs.). But she looks so beautiful in that dress . . . I wonder if Robert has told her anything about the way I feel . . .

[the scene continues . . .]

Thomas Basbøll said...

Okay. But look. . .

Standing on stage A, Devon mentions that he is in a play "about a wedding" where he plays someone named Tex. When he steps off stage A and to stage B, which is to say, into the play he can't "go through with one more night of", he is not in a play about a wedding, but in a play about being backstage.

Therein, my friend, the intimation of paradox! [cue: spooky music].

For suppose he had said "I just can't go through with one more night of this play. I can't stand Tom Stoppard." Then why is he wearing the damn suit?