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Saturday, 22 May 2010

Persons of the Adolescent Persuasion and Theatre

My interest in the anatomy of comedy just now springs from my just having been sprung.

I felt like a released prisoner last night when I doused all the lights, and secured all the theatre doors, and walked away from my last local commitment, an adaptation and staging of this.

(What a genius Wilde was, and how he must have loved his children.)

It appalls me how often this story is used and all the Christian symbolism stripped away, all notion of sacrifice gutted. (I think I might refine my work, and do something more with it, but that's neither here nor there.)

Every year it has gotten harder and harder to harness the energies of the thirteen-year-olds and reveal to them and marshal their not-yet-suspected skills.
Now, it is difficult, of course, for inexperienced actors to grasp what performing is; and what energy and focus are required of them until there is an actual performance, (which to these kids means in a nowhere-to-go-but-forward-because-there-is-an-audience run.
The concept of a dress rehearsal that no one but the directors or stage management is allowed to stop just could not be gotten through to them. Now that I think of it, in actual performance one child said, but we skipped some lines there! aloud. Oh, well...)

But that hasn't changed.

One difficulty is that our society is becoming autistic, incapable of relating face-to-face, of expressing emotions, of getting outside of the self, (who could deny a societal "impairment in social interaction; impairment in communication; and restricted interests and repetitive behaviors"?)

But what has really changed is the general discipline.

I see this almost across the board with young people, in language, in civility, in their treatment of property, in respect for others; so that impediment to success can come as no surprise.

But when the administration of the school is not supportive of what one is doing, and is not consistent and even-handed in the discipline they apply, there is not much one can do.

But I didn't mean this to be about that, what I am curious about is not the break-down of society, but the far more mundane and immediate question of Why Jokes Work.

In constructing the pieces I always have to balance water in the face, spit takes, prat-falls and Aflak ducks that the kindergartners will roar with laughter at with political and film references that the parents and teachers will get.

An extremely skilled and theatre-savvy parent gushed over the "wit" of the script, which she had read pre-curtain -- but not every gag received the hoped-for reactions, even when well delivered.

And yet other lines mumbled by barely audible adolescents furtively glancing into the wings or staring at the floor earned guffaws.

How does that work?

Can I analyze it so that I can reproduce the successes and eliminate the failures?
Probably not. But I want to try.

Oh, and lest my 2.3 readers think I am a complete ass, I know the story is not essentially a comic piece, (or even much of one,)despite the over-the-heads of children wit of many the author's original words, so it wasn't all spit takes, puns and slow burns.

And gratifyingly, the serious, touching, not to say heart-breaking moments played beautifully, even as presented by suddenly shy and inexpressive children.

As I said, Wilde was a genius.
Downstairs ran the Giant in great joy, and out into the garden. He hastened across the grass, and came near to the child. And when he came quite close his face grew red with anger, and he said, "Who hath dared to wound thee?" For on the palms of the child's hands were the prints of two nails, and the prints of two nails were on the little feet.

"Who hath dared to wound thee?" cried the Giant; "tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him."

"Nay!" answered the child; "but these are the wounds of Love."

"Who art thou?" said the Giant, and a strange awe fell on him, and he knelt before the little child.

And the child smiled on the Giant, and said to him, "You let me play once in your garden, to-day you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise."

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