After Melodrama, we went straight through to Tragedy. Yes, in the coldest time of the year, we dove from high drama to grand despair. We looked at tragedy through the lens of several Greek tragic texts, as well as the role of the hero versus the chorus.
Both Melodrama and Tragedy have heroes and choruses, so it can seem a bit confusing. In Melodrama, the hero is a regular citizen caught in a human struggle, forced to choose between two things that are equally dear to him, without knowing which is the right choice. The chorus is merely support players in the action of the play. Whereas in Tragedy, the hero is the leader of a crowd, one above many, and he is the one who takes action, setting events in play. The chorus bears witness. He can sacrifice himself for his people, but he can also bring them death and untold suffering.
Melodrama keeps you guessing till the very end, carving out the dilemma stroke by stroke, until the moment when the hero is pushed to make his final choice. This could be anything from choosing between saving a wife or saving a child, to choosing between loyalty to a country or loyalty to the family. Tragedy, on the other hand, carries an air of inevitability. Everything is a part of fate, and events are doomed to repeating themselves over and over. The hero acts, and the crowd/chorus reacts to events that transpire, the reaction being so big that words virtually explode out of them.
In the first week, we worked with the idea of the hero. What is it like to stand in front of a crowd and say what you believe in? How do you move a crowd with words? How does one rouse people, stir them into action or revolution? How can you speak with your entire body? For Steph and Amy’s classes, we brought in short speeches in our native languages. The idea is that we get up one by one to deliver them to the class, while the teachers pushed and pulled us in different ways. Steph opted for more oratorial experiments, telling people to speed up, slow down, emphasize certain words, add gestures, or even sing whole passages.
Amy, on the other hand, played in a more theatrical way. First, the person would say the speech once. Then, depending on what the person is trying to do to the crowd – move to action, console, bring together – she will ask the speaker to physically do it to a group of people while he/she says the speech. For example, Orina did a speech by Pope John Paul II, which was intended to raise people’s spirits. In action then, she had pick up people falling all around her, and keep them from reaching the floor. The physical action brought a new urgency to her words, which remained when she did the speech again by herself. Similarly, Cecilia did a speech by Eva Peron, in which she speaks to a crowd that deserts her. In the space, the group listens to her speak, then in the middle of her speech, suddenly turns and walks away. This action triggered fresh grief, which was then also felt in her words.
I did a speech from Mao, from the beginning of his regime, which was about getting rid of the old culture and building a new China. After I did it once, Amy asked me to say it again, but this time with extreme joy, letting the “laughter bubble up from within”. At the same time, she asked several men in the class to come and raise me up as I started to speak. What happened next was wonderful. It was a pure, ecstatic “We are the champions” moment, coupled with fist pumps, screams, running around, and roaring laughter. It was hysterical. I was on a complete adrenaline high, running laps around the room, while the audience was rolling on the floor. It got to the point where Amy started asking the guys to tickle me, just to see what would happen! Afterwards, when I started thinking about it, I realized just what I had been saying, and it gave me chills. How excited the class’s response was. They had no idea what the words meant, yet they were ready to follow me into a revolution. I understand a bit now what it was like in the early days of Chinese Communism, when everything was exciting and new, and it all seemed so hopeful. If you believe enough in what you are say, people will follow you, just as people followed Mao.
For the rest of the term, we explored tragic choruses. We went back to the balancing the platform game with Thomas, and Viewpoints with Michael. With Steph, we embodied materials. She brought us back to Year One with eggs, cardboard, sugar cubes and water. Yay! We all got unbelievably excited when we saw the props.
First she melted a sugarcube into a glass of water, then asked us to embody it, individually. Then, she smashed some eggs into a bowl, and asked us to find that action’s dynamic in our own body, Finally, she gave us all pieces of cardboard, and asked us to experiment with different ways of tearing it apart, then, to put them in the body.
After we did that, we split into our chorus creation groups, and played around. We tried clustering and doing our own egg-breaking individually, one person doing it while everyone held still, doing it in a wave, with separate body parts, and with starting/ending at the same time. The idea is that we get a sense of what we like as a group, what our aesthetic is, and how things work on twelve bodies in the space, so we can use it in creation. It was really interesting to see how little we can get away with doing, and still have a huge impact as twelve bodies. Also, with the embodiment of materials, everyone in the group can have a similar dynamic, without necessarily needing to do the same physical actions, which can look too choreographed at times.
Amy, the wordsmith, worked with us primarily on finding the essence of our individual texts, asking us to move the text one by one, then picking out certain dynamics that might be useful for our creations. Our text, a passage from “Antigone”, was challenging in that it was metaphorical rather than direct reaction, so we had lots of difficulties agreeing on what the dynamic was, and how to make it visceral in the space. In the end, we worked with the idea of a group of women saying these words in response to an invading army of plundering and raping soldiers, but we still felt like we were imposing action on the text, which is quiet and reflective in nature. What do you think?
“Many are the wonders, none is more wonderful than what is man. This it is that crosses the sea, with the south winds storming and the waves swelling, breaking around him in roaring surf. He it is again, who wears away the earth, oldest of gods, immortal, unwearied, as the plows wind across her from year to year, when he works her with the breeds that come from horses.
The tribe of light-hearted birds he snares, and makes prisoner the races of savage beasts and the brood of the fish of the sea, with his close-spun web of nets. A cunning fellow is man. His contrivances make him master of the beasts of the field, and those that move in the mountains. So he brings the horse with the shaggy neck, to bend underneath the yoke. And also the untamed mountain bull. And speech, and windswift thought, and the tempers that go with city living that he has taught himself. And how to avoid the sharp frost, when lodging is cold under the open sky, with pelting strokes of rain. He was a way against everything, and he faces nothing that is to come without contrivance. Only against death, can he call on no means of escape.
If he honors the laws of earth, and the justice of the gods that he has confirmed by oath. High is his city”