Episode 172: Critical Thinking: Theatre in Another Language
Have you ever watched a piece of theatre in another language? Theatrefolk partners in Crime Lindsay Price and Craig Mason put on their critical thinking caps and reflect on seeing theatre in Norwegian, Icelandic, and scrap metal (you’ll have to listen in for more on that one). How are stories told physically and visually? When are stories not told well, regardless of the language gap? A great theatrical experiment!
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Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, and Theatre educators everywhere.
I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.
Hello! I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening!
All right, this is Episode 172 and you can find any links to this episode in the show notes which are at Theatrefolk.com/episode172.
Today, we are talking language – specifically foreign languages! Well, foreign to me, anyway. They’re not foreign to the people who live in the countries that we visited but they are not in my home language and we’re talking about seeing theatre. So, we’ve got language, foreign language, theatre. Okay, who’s put it all together? Who’s tying all the knots and a bow? Ah, you guys are so smart, yes!
So, we are talking about seeing theatre in another language. Have you ever done that? Have you ever went to a show where you knew you wouldn’t be able to understand the dialogue? It’s a pretty fascinating experience, actually. It’s something that you could replicate a little bit, show your students YouTube clips of bits of movie bits from another language and see what they comprehend. That’s kind of what we’re talking about here.
And so, my Theatrefolk partner-in-crime, Craig Mason, we did just that. Whenever we travel, we make it a point to go see some theatre. And so, when we were in Iceland and Norway, we saw plays in Icelandic and Norwegian – some with some very clear communicative storytelling and, well, some not. You’ll have to listen to figure those ones out.
That’s our purpose here in this podcast – to talk about what these experiences were like, not just as pieces of theatre or plays but pieces of communication. How do these plays communicate physically and visually? How much of a story did we understand when we didn’t have the language? And how much does acting, relationships, and verbal technique come into the equation.
It’s a whole big critical thinking mosaic – that’s a good word! Everybody’s got to put their critical thinking cap on and I’m going to say “critical thinking” one more time because then we’ve really got some 21st Century skills going on, eh, eh?
We’ve got some communication, we’ve got some critical thinking, oh, it’s all good.
Oh, and then, there’s one bonus section about a piece we saw in Scotland that had no dialogue – just scrap metal and music and lights. So, how did this particular piece communicate? Well, that’s something else you’re going to have to listen to find out. I can’t give it all away in the intro, can I?
So, let’s get to it!
LINDSAY: Hi, Craig.
CRAIG: Hi, Lindsay Price.
Hey, you didn’t call me by my last name.
LINDSAY: I didn’t.
CRAIG: I called you Lindsay Price. You called me just Craig.
LINDSAY: Okay, let’s start again.
LINDSAY: Hi, Craig Mason.
CRAIG: Hi, Lindsay.
LINDSAY: Oh, snap!
Actually, what you’ve just done is an interesting play on the place of where we are right now/ Where are we sitting?
CRAIG: We are sitting in Iceland.
LINDSAY: Iceland! Reykjavik, Iceland.
A fun fact is that, in Iceland, they don’t really use last names. Everyone is on first name basis. Even the Prime Minister is on a first name basis because everybody is John’s son or John’s daughter. Fun fact!
We’re actually here to talk about a theatrical experience that we had last night and that was Mama Mia.
Now, you may ask, “Why? Why on earth, Craig Mason, would we go and see Mama Mia?” and there is a couple of good reasons. What’s one good reason?
CRAIG: Well, one is practical. We’re only in Iceland for three days and we want to make sure that we see some theatre in every country we go to and this pretty much the only show that we could have seen.
LINDSAY: Yeah, May is not a great month for seeing theatre and it was really, really a bit sad because the particular theatre we went to, the Reykjavik City Theatre which has a name which we will put in which we will not even begin to try and say, we’ll put it in the show notes, and they had some amazing looking pieces in March and February and April and Mama Mia was in May.
However, here’s what really sold me on the show and that is that it was not Mama Mia in English. It was Mama Mia in Icelandic and…
CRAIG: And not only is the show in Icelandic – and I’ve seen this before where a show has been translated into a language but the songs are maintained in their original language – no, no, no, all the lyrics were in Icelandic, too. so, there was absolutely no English whatsoever in the entire show.
LINDSAY: So, our goal then becomes, when we go see a show like that is how much do we understand?
Now, I am a long-time listener, first-time…
LINDSAY: Admitter. I know Abba songs. I know them all so that wasn’t an issue for me and the story is pretty simple. It’s a girl about to get married and she doesn’t know who her dad is and it narrows it down to three people from her mom’s diary and invites them all.
CRAIG: It’s also like a Shakespearean intrigue kind of plot.
LINDSAY: Hilarity ensues! But that’s all we knew. Like, I hadn’t read anything.
CRAIG: No, never seen the show before – in English or any language.
LINDSAY: So, let’s talk about what was your preconceived notion of Mama Mia before you saw it?
CRAIG: Well, my understanding of Mama Mia is that it’s a big campy kind of disco festive show with a thin plot and really just an excuse to string a bunch of Abba songs together. Let me be clear; that was my expectation going in.
LINDSAY: Yes, exactly. These were our preconceived notions considering we had never seen the show. We only knew that it was Abba and you only know from what you see and, of course, when they show you the clips – like, if you’re seeing it on TV or somewhere, it’s the finale where they’re all in the 70’s getup and everybody is posing and making mocking faces. My preconceived notion was that it was a mock and that it was…
CRAIG: It was camp.
LINDSAY: It was camp and it was a little bit cynical and not something you would engage with.
Spoiler alert: Holy cow, were we wrong! And we didn’t understand a word of what they were saying.
It was three hours long and I was captivated from beginning to end. It was engaging and we had a really great time.
CRAIG: It was one of those rare experiences, too, where everybody on stage was completely full of life from beginning to end – whether they were in the scene or not. There was lots of background action going on during scenes. No matter where you looked, no matter who you focused on, there were vignettes, there were stories being told. It was wonderfully directed and beautifully acted, I thought.
LINDSAY: I want to just clarify that stories being shown, not stories being told.
LINDSAY: But that’s important for us because we don’t understand what people are saying but we understood really well what people were doing.
LINDSAY: And that, I think, yeah, also, this company, obviously, they’ve worked together a lot. I don’t know how much work there is here in Reykjavik for actors. I don’t know if these guys have day jobs or maybe they work together as a team and so they’re able to support themselves, but it was so clearly a communicative cast and they were visualizing everything.
CRAIG: For me, it was like that improv game where you can only do a scene. You do the scene but only speaking in complete gibberish and I’ve also seen it done actually as an acting exercise – like, when you’re in the middle of a rehearsal, do this scene but don’t use the words, use gibberish – and it was a lot like that for me except, well, it was completely like that. It was gibberish to me – the language – but what was wonderful about it was how effectively they were able to communicate the story, the relationships, their emotions. The text was almost unnecessary.
LINDSAY: I took a adjudication class with an instructor by the name of Ron Cameron-Lewis who has a long history of adjudication in Canada and in the States, actually. He’s a pretty well-known guy in that regard. He taught at Theatre Sheridan for also a long time before he retired and he taught me a percentage that I use all the time. I say this every time at every adjudication I go to I think also any time I talk to students about directing and visuals and that is an audience understands 60 percent of the theatrical experience visually, 30 percent orally, 10 percent text, and this was such a perfect example of that formula because we understood by the characters and the relationships and the blocking and then after that it was the tone of voice. You know, when someone is saying in a language you don’t understand and they give a side glance and they, like, squoosh their bum up, they sit a little closer to the person next to them, you don’t need to know what they’re saying to know how they’re feeling. I think that was really cool. The young woman who played the daughter…
LINDSAY: Sophie. Sophie! That was the one word we heard a lot. Also, the word “nay” which is “no” – they said that a lot! In her exuberance and her sincere honesty, her sincere portrayal of the role, she was nervous and excited and confused and she played that with her body. She physicalized this character in a way that it was okay, sure, we missed all the verbal jokes. Apparently, there’s lots of body puns in the script. We missed all those. So what? It’s a really interesting experience that I didn’t expect about how much visuals and also sincerity plays in seeing a theatrical piece.
CRAIG: What are the takeaways here?
My takeaway is how valuable that exercise is, actually – that gibberish exercise. I think it’s something that, if you’re rehearsing a show right now, I think it’s important. Take any scene in the show, especially a scene that they’re struggling in physically and take the actors and tell them that they are not allowed to use any of the words in the script. They can only speak in gibberish or martian or any invented language. No English whatsoever and bring in someone who is unfamiliar with the play that you’re doing and have them watch the scene and have them, after watching the scene, communicate to the actors what they thought the story of the scene was and you know what? They’ll be very surprised.
LINDSAY: It will the get students out of their heads and into their bodies and how we communicate so much with body language on a daily basis and it’s always amazing to me how difficult students find it to physicalize their character or to physicalize their relationships onstage. Fantastic! It was so gleeful. I just loved it.
CRAIG: Well, it’s so wonderful to go in expecting something silly and camp and to be actually moved like I would hope to be at any night in the theatre.
One other thing – and I’m not even going to mention the set, do I want to mention the set?
LINDSAY: The set, oh, we can mention the set because it’s part of a visual and the set was so awesome. It was fun to play on. Very efficient and effectively used.
CRAIG: The set was on a revolve and so they would use the revolve. When one transitions from scene to scene, the revolve turns. But not only did the revolve just turn to reveal a new scene, the scene would transition across the movement of the revolve set, so people would be walking in the opposite direction of the revolve and going up and down levels of the set. It was cinematic. It was like we were sitting and watching a movie and we were watching a tracking shot – a tracking shot where they lay rails down on the ground and the camera runs on rails sideways. It was like that – this panoramic cinematic transitions between scenes. It was visually stunning.
LINDSAY: And yet, very theatrical and it was a great way to bring in the ensemble and have them do scenes in the very dark background. Everyone was engaged. Everyone looked like they were having the time of their life which is exactly what you want with a show.
CRAIG: First-class stuff, all right!
LINDSAY: First-class stuff!
Okay, that’s it for us.
CRAIG: Mama Mia. We’ll see you in Norway!
Okay. So, the second play that we have seen, saw, went to in another language was a bit of a punt for us, wasn’t it, Craig? We didn’t plan to see this play.
CRAIG: No, we were out and about, there was a show that we wanted to see and we couldn’t get tickets online and we just dropped by the theatre and we couldn’t get into that show but then the nice box office lady said, “But there’s another show you can see at 8:00,” and she gave us but she said it’s all in Norwegian though. “Do you speak Norwegian?” I said, “No, but speak theatre.” And then, we walked away for a bit and thought about it.
LINDSAY: We went to the front, we tried to look it up online. We should say we were in Reykjavik before. Now, we’re in Bergen, Norway. We went and looked at the pictures and the pictures looked really visually interesting.
CRAIG: Yes. So, we were like, “Okay, this is it. We’ll go. We’ll go. We’ll go.”
The greatest thing about the night was that the lady took pity on us and gave us half price tickets because we didn’t speak Norwegian so she figured we were only going to get half of the show so that was very nice.
LINDSAY: So, we went away and we went to the nice pub across the street. Again, thanks to the mighty Google, we were able to look it up because the playwright was not a Norwegian name. It was Jennifer Hailey and we’re like, “Well, okay, what is this?” We found that it’s actually an American playwright and it is a play called The Nether so it was a Norwegian adaptation of this play and, when we looked at the visuals of the play online, it looked pretty stunning. No, we didn’t look at the visuals until after. We read the description.
CRAIG: We read the description and we read some reviews.
LINDSAY: That was it.
CRAIG: We had some idea of what was going on.
LINDSAY: Three things came up that made us think that we were going to get something out of this play as a non-Norwegian speaker was that it was about the future and it was about the internet and it was about a virtual reality world.
CRAIG: Yes, it’s a detective thriller set in the future inside the internet.
LINDSAY: And it poses actually an interesting is not quite the right word – a question in that, if somebody is doing something really wrong in the virtual world – in this case, it was pedophilia – if they’re doing it virtually, is that bad? Is that wrong?
CRAIG: Is that the same as committing the crime in real life?
LINDSAY: And the main character, the cop in this case, felt that yes. And so, she was pursuing the guy who owned this particular world and then we also went inside of the world. We didn’t know what was going on. We had a little bit of an idea but we thought, “I bet we’re going to get something out of this.” That was what we said going in.
We went to this play, it was 90 minutes long. Would you say that was a long 90 minutes, Craig?
CRAIG: It felt like, you know, if I ever get cancer and I’m told that I have one week to live…
LINDSAY: You would just go see that show.
CRAIG: I would just go see that show over and over again because it would feel like I lived for decades.
LINDSAY: Let’s be clear. This is a show that gets amazing reviews. It’s been performed numerous times in the States and in London and it had a ton of really great reviews.
Okay, here’s our question, here’s our question that we’re dealing with here – is this a play or is this production? There were a lot of production problems with this show that we saw.
CRAIG: That’s what I felt, too. I’m sure you can tell that we actually really didn’t follow the show at all. I didn’t read the part before we saw the play that the detective was a female and I had no idea that the female character was the detective. That’s how little clue I was shown visually as to who the characters were.
LINDSAY: And there was no set.
CRAIG: No, there was no set.
LINDSAY: There was no set. There was nothing for them to sit on. They wandered or they stood and it’s like, well, a talking head in Norwegian is just as boring as a talking head in English. They were literally characters standing onstage. They didn’t touch each other. They didn’t look at each other. I’m sure this was all intentional but it just left no visual clues. There was a huge screen that they projected nothing onto. I mean, they did, but it was…
CRAIG: It was abstract.
CRAIG: Abstract computer looking things.
I’ll put it this way. Three of the main characters were a cop, a Svengali-like webmaster, and a pedophile. I don’t know if I was ever 100 percent sure which person was who. As a matter of fact, the cop, it was the two men that I was thinking were the cop and I was trying to figure out which one was the cop because I figured the person wearing the white lab coat must have been the internet person. Of course, that was the cop. And so, there was nothing visual, nothing in the staging that gave me any clue.
I’ll contrast this to Mama Mia. Now, granted Mama Mia is a big, bold musical and there’s a lot more clues in a musical, I think, as to who’s who. However, you know, even things like costuming, even things like the way characters are positioned onstage to show status, there was none of that. None of that was achieved in the show.
At the end of our Mama Mia conversation, I talked about how great an exercise it would be to do a scene that you’re struggling with with the physicality, do it in gibberish, and have someone watch it and see if they can tell what’s going on. This was a beautiful example of how necessary that is.
LINDSAY: Visuals are! I think status is a really interesting point. Of course, we went home afterwards and we looked it up. If you look up The Nether – and I will put some links in the show notes – the other productions had gorgeous visuals that looked like they were in the future and one thing we didn’t realize until afterwards and we looked it up more was that the whole thing was based on an interrogation.
CRAIG: Yeah, there was no sense of interrogation in the show. The interrogation was two people standing side-by-side.
LINDSAY: Not looking at each other. At one point, I’m like, one guy, maybe he’s her boss and then the other guy, the relationships were so ambiguous and so vague. I’m not saying that this needed to be, like, because we’re obviously not the audience for this play. We just happened to be there and we just happened to go see it, but theatre is a visual medium and I think that, first of all, how boring it must be to only talk.
CRAIG: Yeah, it was basically like a book on tape. There really wasn’t any more added by sitting in the theatre watching it than you would get listening to a book on tape.
LINDSAY: Obviously, this was all choices because I know also too that the virtual world was supposed to be this beautiful 19th Century Victorian garden because the world – the real world as this show presents – is completely bleak and barren so these people are going into this world and they have this beautiful screen to help project the world. Instead, they’ve plastic flowers kind of came down from the ceiling.
CRAIG: I will say this though because there’s not much more to say, I will say this – and this was true in Bergen, Norway and this was true in Reykjavik, Iceland – the diversity of the audience is very impressive here. Marked difference than an audience one would see in North America. With America, it tends to be a much older audience. Here, we were among the oldest people in the place. There were families. There were teenagers alone – not dragged there, not forced there by anyone, but that was their night out.
LINDSAY: It was Friday night.
CRAIG: It was Friday night. It was date night and there were teenagers in the theatre watching a drama about pedophilia. That’s how important I think theatre is here or how highly regarded it is here.
LINDSAY: I’ve got to say, even though we didn’t enjoy the show, I am enjoying this experience of seeing what we could get out of a theatrical experience that we don’t orally understand because I think that – and this is something and, on this note, it’s so important to inject a physical physicality into your storytelling and how we are a visual world now and that I think it’s an important thing. It’s an important thing to pass on to your students.
CRAIG: That’s The Nether.
LINDSAY: That’s The Nether.
CRAIG: We’ll see you in a couple of days for Richard III in Norwegian!
CRAIG: This is Richard the Second plus First so it’s Richard III.
LINDSAY: Craig, this is our third non-English play that we’re going to talk about.
CRAIG: But the first one named after Richard.
LINDSAY: The first one named after Richard. I think this is a lovely full circle we’ve come here. We started with a musical and then we moved to a modern play and now we’ve gone back. We’ve gone into Shakespeare and it’s a Shakespeare that’s not English Shakespeare but Shakespeare that’s been translated into Norwegian. We saw Richard III in Norwegian.
CRAIG: Yes, so we had to familiarize ourselves with the story a little bit so we had some idea of what was happening and what to look for.
LINDSAY: But it was really interesting and this is a nice one to end this podcast on because what we’re going to talk about with seeing Richard III and we saw it at the National Theatre of Norway is theatricality and, you know, theatricality is a wonderful communicator.
CRAIG: Absolutely, and I think they were very effective in this production with the use of staging and the dynamics between the characters to really help tell the story and this is a stark contrast to the show we saw the other night.
LINDSAY: This is a modern version of Richard III that we saw when the play started. The play starts with Richard III, the first line is: “Now is the winter of our discontent, make glorious summer by this sun of York.”
CRAIG: It begins with the end of a war so everyone is at last at peace and relaxed. The way they effected that in this is that, when they open the house, it was like there was a disco.
LINDSAY: There was a rave party.
CRAIG: Yeah, it was like the lights were going, the music was going, and all of the…
LINDSAY: Champagne was flowing.
CRAIG: All the actors were onstage just basically at a party.
LINDSAY: At a party and it was very interesting to see Richard who had his hump and had one his arms wrapped up with duct tape sort of off on his own, you know, sort of participating but not really participating.
CRAIG: No, he was sulking on the outskirts and we were sitting in the front row of the second balcony and, at one point in the pre-show, he looked up and made eye contact with us which I thought was cool and he raised his glass and took a drink and we raised our imaginary glasses and took an imaginary drink.
LINDSAY: And then, the set itself was just basically steps. It was like seven or eight huge steps.
CRAIG: Like, four-foot steps.
LINDSAY: That people had to crawl and leap from and dive over and…
CRAIG: Yes, and I took a picture of the set before the show, at intermission, and at the end of the show and we’ll make sure to add those photos to the show notes because they really do help tell the story of what we saw here.
LINDSAY: Oh, the visual, just the whole visual of it in a theatrical storytelling. The last thing I’ll say about setting up our little discussion here is really it was a minimal casting they did. A lot of the actors doubled their roles.
CRAIG: And there was no distinction as to men playing women, women playing men. It was just whoever was available at the time.
LINDSAY: Yes, and this is a conversation for another time but I really didn’t like that Margaret went to…
CRAIG: The one great role.
LINDSAY: The one great role…
CRAIG: Goes to a guy.
LINDSAY: The one great female role – well, not the one great but a great female role – and this part was played by a guy but this is not a gender discussion. This is a discussion on what we saw in terms of getting a sense of a play only by its visuals and these visuals were completely theatrical. They played with blood in so many ways because Richard III is a really bloody play. Like, Richard basically kills everybody in his way to get to king and then he keeps killing people so that he can remain king and they had buckets of blood. Clarence was played by a woman and she rolled down various steps and blood was splattering.
CRAIG: The murderers kept picking up various buckets and throwing the blood at him. And so, when you look at the photos in the show notes, the one from intermission, you see these large swaths of blood going all the way down the steps. That’s from that particular murder.
LINDSAY: It’s a great example of how do we show a modern death of this great Shakespeare moment, well, I’m going to take a bucket of red paint and I’m going to throw it on an actor.
CRAIG: And at a white set.
LINDSAY: And at a white set. We don’t need to have understood the dialogue leading up to that point to know exactly what’s happening and they played with blood in lots of ways. They had squeeze bottles like ketchup and mustard squeeze bottles that were filled with what I hope was tasty blood substitute because, whenever somebody got their throat slit, the person who was slitting the throat took a huge pull from the squeeze bottle, mimed slitting the throat, and then spat out the fake blood.
CRAIG: Yes, and the play ends with like a mighty bloody battle and the way they effected that was they had one of those big – what do you call those things?
LINDSAY: Paint sprayer?
CRAIG: Yeah, it would be like a paint sprayer or something you would use if you were doing chemical fertilizing on your lawn – like, liquid fertilizing in your lawn – a big jug with a hose attached to it. The big jug was filled with blood and then the hose was just bring sprayed everywhere on the white stage. You’ll see that in the ending picture. You’ll see blood everywhere and that’s where that came from.
LINDSAY: It was really interesting, too, because this play starts with a celebration and that it’s peace time and Richard basically says that, because he’s ugly and he’s deformed, that he’s made for war and not for peace. He’s basically going to ruin the country.
CRAIG: Ruin the party.
LINDSAY: Ruin the party.
CRAIG: He’s the ultimate party-pooper.
LINDSAY: He is the ultimate party-pooper and it’s interesting and I can only assume it was intentional because some part of me thought it was really effective and some part of me thought it was really annoying but there were streamers out all over the stage so everybody, as the blood piled up on the stage, everyone tramps these streamers basically to the mud and the dust and made noise and it must have been really annoying for the actors to always have these streamers at their feet. But, when you think about it in a visual way and a theatrical storytelling way, what better visual of “the party is over” than these streamers just dusty and bloody and crumpled to death?
CRAIG: Yeah, I was worried people were going to trip on it, but I think they were quite used to it.
LINDSAY: It’s been open since February this particular production.
Another really neat thing they did visually was, at any time anybody died, they basically made their own tombstone and they put their name again on the white set with a cross beside it – again, just showing the deaths piling up that Richard is accumulating. Again, another great visual; I don’t need to know the story.
CRAIG: Yes, I think the most effective point of that was when there’s two young children who he has murdered in the show. I think it was most effective when they made their own tombstones – just these two little children, writing their names – and there was nothing else happening onstage and it took them a while to write their names. It was quite touching.
LINDSAY: They weren’t very good. It was a bit of a struggle because they were tiny. They were like five and six, maybe, and they basically wrote their own tombstones. What’s a more theatrical moment than that?
I want to end this by talking a little bit with you, Craig, about the Richard-Anne moment.
LINDSAY: There is a scene at the very beginning of the play. Richard kills the king previous to the king who is now and his widow basically walks across the stage and is followed by two guys carrying a bier with her dead husband on it. She’s leading her dead husband to his tomb and knows who killed him. Richard needs to marry her to…
CRAIG: To help them along on his ascent to power.
LINDSAY: And it is not a very long scene but it’s a scene that goes from “I hate your guts, I hate your guts, I hate your guts” to “I will accept your ring and I will marry you.” I think it’s a fascinating scene. It must be very challenging for anybody who has to do it. Here we are, watching this scene that, yes, we know what’s happening but, no, we don’t have the dialogue on the tips of our fingers – or the tips of our ears – and what was your impression just sort of seeing the theatricality of this scene and not being able to understand it?
CRAIG: I thought it was quite beautifully staged. I mean, she came in, too. Did you notice? She came in with a fogger. She entered the scene with a fogger and she walked across one step and down and then across the next step and down. She ended up creating this whole kind of wall of smoke on the stage.
LINDSAY: That magically dissipated when Richard started talking to her. I’m sure it wasn’t magic.
CRAIG: I don’t think it was magic. It was just the smoke went away.
LINDSAY: Oh, I think it’s magic!
CRAIG: No, and I thought that scene was quite striking. What did you think?
LINDSAY: I think it was really interesting on the theatricality of power because Anne was played by a man and it was played by a man in drag and did not in any way try to effect of being a woman. He kind of played it like a man and he had the power in the whole scene. It was directed so that Richard was beneath her – almost the whole way. He was on his knees or he was chasing her. She was the one with the power for the whole scene. To see him wrench the power away and actually, from a place of weakness and to actually win the scene, it really was a stunning visual. And to end this on another interesting visual which didn’t quite work but I think it could have worked was that, later on in the play, our last time we see Anne but before Richard kills her, she’s pregnant.
LINDSAY: And that is another devastating blow when you know that she’s dead and Richard killed a pregnant woman.
CRAIG: And towards the end of the Richard-Anne scene, they threw dirt over the corpse, right?
CRAIG: Do you remember who threw the dirt first?
CRAIG: I don’t remember either.
LINDSAY: I didn’t think that Anne threw the dirt. I thought it was just Richard.
CRAIG: Just Richard, he kept tossing dirt on top of it, yeah.
LINDSAY: Tossing dirt. Oh, that was another way they used the blood. When Anne was talking about basically that Richard is a murderer and he’s a horrible human, he took a squeeze bottle and he just went to town on dead Henry and just covered the dude in blood.
You know, what this all comes down to as we sort of put a pin on this is how much you can tell a story through your visuals, through your theatricality.
CRAIG: I think so, too. And I think it’s important to come up with your concept and your interpretation for the show and go for it and make sure that that concept is carried through for the entire show. I felt like both of the shows we saw in Norway – The Under?
LINDSAY: The Underland.
CRAIG: The Underland, whatever that was, and this one, we had a lot of not great things to say about The Underland but both of these shows had high concepts that they carried through all the way and I think sometimes, sometimes to their detriment like when you wrench your concept too much into it but they committed to what they were doing and I think, in both productions, I thought that was very well executed.
LINDSAY: Yeah, and this is the question to ask when you were directing the show – what is your visual image? What is your image for your vision?
CRAIG: This one was clearly a party gets ended.
CRAIG: In a big way.
LINDSAY: In a big, big way.
CRAIG: I think that was their thesis for the show and I think that’s what they did and I thought it was a wonderful production. I’m so glad I saw it.
We saw a trailer for it that was kind of zany and we almost went to it as the show was a goof just to see some wacky European interpretation of Shakespeare. I came away quite charmed and quite moved by the piece.
LINDSAY: I thought it was great. I thought Richard was great. Actually, his cohort whose name is escaping me – Banbridge? Buckingham! He was fantastic and there was a moment when…
CRAIG: He incited the audience to start cheering for Richard.
LINDSAY: Another moment of theatricality. He has to incite the English public. They have to be the ones to say that Richard should be king. Richard can’t say, “I’m going to be king.” He has to have public backing. The way that it’s written in the play, it’s actually not that easy. Buckingham goes out – I think that’s his name – he goes out and tries to get it and actually comes back to Richard with “they didn’t say anything, they didn’t want you.” He has to go back again and the way that they do it in this production is like a tele-evangelist revival meeting and he gets the audience involved. Again, theatricality! We knew exactly what was happening even though we didn’t exactly know the words.
CRAIG: Everyone in the audience was shouting for him to be king by the end. It was really exciting.
LINDSAY: Yeah, we were all part of the play. Awesome! Love it!
CRAIG: Yeah, we’ll see what’s next.
LINDSAY: Okay. So, we’re going to wrap things up with this podcast.
An experience but something that was a little bit different. Where are we, Craig?
CRAIG: We are in Glasgow, Scotland.
Of course, we’re not seeing a play in another language in Glasgow.
CRAIG: You very well could see a play in a different…
Are we talking about the play reading? No, but we went to a play reading and a lot of it felt like it was in a different language. They have very distinct ways of pronouncing words and using words here. I was actually quite surprised at how different Scottish is from English.
LINDSAY: Also, well, there’s also the Scottish language. There’s Gaelic which is a language that looks like you should be able to pronounce it but it is absolutely impossible to pronounce.
CRAIG: Icelandic and Norwegian is like that, too.
LINDSAY: Yes, very much so.
What we did is we saw this, it was very fascinating piece of literature on this show. It was called Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre and what it is is it’s this guy who grew up in Communist Russia, had a menial job. He lived in basically a closet and, for some reason, in his twenties, started carving sculptures and then he attached – again, for some reason…
CRAIG: Like, discarded machines – sewing machine parts and small engines.
LINDSAY: Yes, and then he would connect motors to them to make the sculptures move.
Long story short, he’s been in Scotland for twenty years and he has this little theatre of moving…
CRAIG: Moving sculptures.
LINDSAY: Moving machine sculptures. So, you go into this little room and you sit in front of an array of sculptures.
CRAIG: We have a few photos that we’ll put in the show notes of the podcast, too.
LINDSAY: We’ll do the website as well. And then, the array of mechanical sculptures tell a story. There’s no dialogue. There is some music which has some influence but basically you’re just looking at the movement of sculptures and the communication of movement and symbolism of movement tell a story.
And so, what was your response?
CRAIG: Well, my first response was, “Is this theatre? If there is no performers onstage, am I actually watching a piece of theatre? And, if I’m not watching theatre, what exactly am I watching?” As I was watching this show, you felt so connected. We didn’t get to meet the artist but I felt so connected to the artist and everything looked so handmade and crafted and, when it moved, I felt like I was watching a puppet show. Even though the artist wasn’t there, I felt like I was watching something that a person, an artist had put together. For that reason, I certainly decided, you know what, this really is theatre. It’s just in a different form.
LINDSAY: I thought it was theatre because the communication that was being presented to me, it was symbolism. It wasn’t spoken word but there was a communication happening. So, when I think because there was a communication happening, that I too thought it was theatre.
Now, we saw three pieces and I think there are some limitations to this communication. It all kind of started to feel the same but the first time, you know, when you see somebody who is moving a wheel and it’s that repetitive motion of moving a wheel and then a second person is moving a wheel and a third person is moving a wheel and there’s just this bell that goes off. It’s just everyone moving in this repetitive movement, you don’t need to be a genius to know that something is being communicated to you and it’s monotonous and there’s no light or life to it.
LINDSAY: When you’ve got a machine which is a large sword that’s being slapped against a piece of metal over and over again and there’s some red light and some heads on sticks, you don’t need to be a genius to figure out the symbolism.
CRAIG: Yeah, and what I appreciated to was that I was expecting a more linear storytelling but it really was more like tone pieces, like mood pieces, and you kind of assembled your own story in your mind as you’re watching it. Then, they give you a little guide but we didn’t read the guide or I didn’t read the guide until after I had seen the pieces. Sometimes, I was seeing what the artist had written about and, sometimes, I saw something different. You know, with art, that’s fine, I think – to see different things. I think that’s a good sign of good art when different people can see something in different lights.
LINDSAY: Well, we’ll wrap this up by just going off on a little bit of a tangent because another thing that we’ve been doing on this big trip is seeing modern art and we’ve been really frustrated with the modern art that we’ve seen because it seems, to get and make an opinion on it, it seemed very dependent on having to read the…
CRAIG: The thousand-word essay on the wall.
LINDSAY: The thousand-word essay that came with it. Is that art if you have to read an essay to have an emotional reaction? I think that’s a great question to sort of put out there.
CRAIG: If you’re ever in Glasgow, I highly recommend coming to see Sharmanka. It’s a very curious piece of theatre. We cannot possibly do it justice just talking about it on the podcast. The best we can really do is to link up to their website. I think there’s a little bit of video on their website. We also took some photos of the pieces to have a look at. Really curious stuff. If you’re a theatre maker, I think you’d be quite inspired by looking at this and actually thinking about how you can adapt this into physical theatre, right? There should be some video on their site. How would one take the machine movement and adapt that into your own pieces?
LINDSAY: Or how do you take symbolism as your storytelling? How do you use a symbol as a method of communication?
Craig Mason, this has been really interesting! We’ve had a long journey with all of this.
CRAIG: Yes, we saw many things in many different languages and the last language was no language at all.
LINDSAY: The last language was no language at all. Perfect! Excellent! Thank you so much!
LINDSAY: Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.
All right, now you’ve done your critical thinking for the day. You know, check that off the list. But where else can you find materials to get your students thinking in that 21st Century skills mode, right? Get them going in the critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration, where could you go to get lesson plans, units, resources, professional development courses for you? Yes, just you that cover these skills and more. And, more than that, cover them for your students.
Well, you should become a member of the Drama Teacher Academy.
The DTA is a membership site that is part of the education arm of Theatrefolk and, I’m telling you, we have got your classroom covered with all of those things – units, lesson plans, resources, professional development courses.
You can check it out at dramateacheracademy.com – all one word. You can also find the link in the show notes which is Theatrefolk.com/episode172.
Go check it out!
Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every second Tuesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on youtube.com/theatrefolk and on the Stitcher app. You can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search for the word: “Theatrefolk.”
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.
Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.
Thank you for this podcast episode! It got me more curious and interested to your other episodes!
(Google recommended your episode to me when I searched theater in different languages. My Improv theater player friends and I, from different parts of the world, are planning on putting an improv performance using our mother tongues, laced with English and Chinese. Your discussion on visuality and theatricality, “showing more then telling,” gibberish exercises – these affirm the directions we plan to take for practice to prime us for the actual performance.
Thanks to you both, Lindsay and Craig!