Thursday, July 8, 2010

Painting three dimentional pictures... onstage

I remember picking up this book that featured a collection of plays in a bookstore once while passing the time. There were about eight or 10 plays in it and I remember browsing through the first few lines of each play and how the last play in the collection, itself a collection of monologues, caught my attention. I remember ending up reading the whole script right there and then, and eventually buying the book and re-reading that script over and over again at home. I remember how I exasperated my best friend then talking endlessly about that script and how wonderful it was. I have been acting onstage professionally for four or five years already at the time, and I thought of giving copies of the script to actors, producers and directors I knew in the hope that they too will fall in love with it, just like I did, and stage it so I can see it come alive onstage. While a lot of them were amused by it, none of them were amused enough to want to stage it. So I did it myself, for I thought that the story must be told. And my life as a director began.


While it is true that directors usually get hired to direct plays predetermined by the producers for various reasons – theme, commercial appeal, etc. – an inspired theater production usually begins when the director himself falls in love with the script. It’s much like seeing a movie and liking it so much that you can’t stop thinking about it after, you can’t stop talking about it to your friends, you can’t stop imploring them to go see it themselves. In this case, it’s a director reading a script and liking it so much that he or she can’t stop thinking about it and wanting to share that story to as many as people as possible – and the only way to do that is to make that script fulfill its destiny: to be brought to life onstage.


The script. After reading a particular script and falling in love with it, the director will learn what the playwright’s intention was, why he told this story and why he told it this way and his own interpretation of the play takes shape. At that point, after reading the script perhaps for the nth time, in his mind the written text ceases to be a caboodle of words on a page and begins to take shape as a three-dimensional live presentation – if a stage direction in the script dictates that “there’s a chair upstage right,” in the director’s mind he can already see that chair, what kind of chair that would be and at what angle it should be positioned, and how the actors would interact with that chair.


To me, there are four fundamental elements of theater. First and foremost, as aforementioned, is the script. And then, there’s Space. Or more particularly, the Performance Space. This, I believe, is the theater artist’s true medium: space. It serves as the director’s blank canvas where he paints the story.


While it is ultimately the director who decides what and who goes on stage, and how and why, theater is essentially a collaborative art form. It involves the creative and technical input of different artists. It is important for the director to be able to lead his co-artists into realizing his vision for the play. The playwright has told the story on paper, the Director’s job is to tell that whole story onstage, and the do that, directs his co-artists to tell their individual stories. And among those who will help realize the Director’s vision onstage are -
The Set Designer – who tells the story of the space. He creatively recreates the physical space wherein the story takes place.

The Costume Designer – who helps tell the story of each of the characters through their clothing. He has read the script and has an idea about what pieces of clothing he would need to design. He’s been informed of the Director’s idea on each character’s being – his physical, psychological and social circumstances, among others, and he executes his designs accordingly.

The Lighting Designer – he has asked the question: where is this particular scene taking place? What time of day is it taking place? Morning? Noon? Night? What would be the source of light? The sun through a window? The moon? A lamp post? He would then position the lights according to the answers to these questions – an outdoor morning scene may have bright whites with a tinge of yellow to recreate the bright morning sun’s light, or perhaps a beam of amber to emulate the light thrown by a lamp post, while the rest of the stage will be flooded in soft whites and blues like the way the moon lights up a courtyard on cloudless night.

The Sound Designer – either by doing it live or putting together recorded sound, he adds to the reality being recreated onstage by making the audience, and the actors, actually hear the sound of rain and thunder claps so they believe that this particular scene takes place on a stormy night.

And of course, The Actor/s – they will work closely with the director to create believable portrayals on stage. He has done a character sketch – a biography of the role he is playing. The play may take place in a span of just a few days or hours in the life of the character, but The Actor knows that he must be able to recreate and communicate a 40-year old character’s 40 years of existence – the events in his life that helped make him who he is – and believe deep inside him that he was the one who journeyed through those 40 years for only then will the audience willingly surrender to the suspension of disbelief, and that what results in a magical theatrical experience.

And all of the stories told by the artists above, when put together, tells the story of the play. And that’s the director’s job. He will infect everyone with his love and passion for the story he wants to tell. It is his job to motivate everyone and enable them to express themselves individually and as a group.

Once he has chosen his staff and designers and has cast actors for the roles required, he begins the production process with a reading of the script, this helps everyone acquire a deeper understanding the play. He may call for more than one reading session, and in these sessions, he begins to share his vision of the play, his concept, his interpretation, and this will guide everyone else in telling of their respective stories.

And as the designers begin to work on their creations, the Director begins to paint his three-dimensional picture onstage using his actors. He starts by blocking them on stage, or determining their positions and movement within the performance space. Step by step, he helps them become the characters they are playing. Eventually, he will add all the other elements, the creations of his co-artists – the costumes and make-up that the actors will wear, the scenery that the set designer created, the lighting and sound design, etc., and the artwork is almost done.

I say almost done for we are now down to our fourth element necessary to complete the art process – the AUDIENCE, for no art work is truly complete until it has been experienced by an audience. And once the curtains are drawn on opening night, the Director’s job is essentially done. It is now up to the rest of his collaborators – the actors, the designers, the technicians, etc. to ensure that his vision is realized in every single performance.

In the coming months, I am quite sure that local theater scene will come to life once again with various productions opening in various theaters in Baguio. Take a break from the usual and more popular forms of entertainment such as television and cinema, and spend a magical evening at the theater and experience the stories told by local directors such as Dan Riopay, the dynamic, young resident director of Tangahalang SLU; Ferdie Balanag, among the pillars of Baguio theater who directed the local production of “La Mandragola” at the Victor Oteyza Community Arts Space years ago, and more recently the musical “Bintao” at the UC Theater; Martin Masadao, also a playwright and who usually stages his production at UP Baguio and who wrote, directed and acted in the much loved collection of monologues, “Baguio Stories,” or the indefatigable dynamic duo of local theater, Atty. Dammy and Bing Bangaoet, who may just find the time to get out of their beautiful sanctuary in Tomay to regale local audiences once again with a delightful musical.


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