…seriously though, it’s because of my busy life! Wanna hear what I’ve been up to, instead of blogging here?
Well I have been contributing to another blog, under a pen name, with my significant other. Some really great personal memoir type essays, and it’s writing I’m proud of. Not going to share it here publicly, but if you know me well personally, ask me and I’ll give you the link to that.
The FRCC comp 1 students have just handed in their research papers, and the Comp 2 students have just finished their rough drafts of theirs. Topics for these include: Farming, steroid abuse, censorship in music, arts in the schools, the innovation of the electric guitar, police discretion, free speech on college campuses, trans rights and health, immigration, damage of video games and social media on youth, and the cruelty of zoos. Lots of important things, my students are writing about.
My Regis Capstone student is sending me big chunks of her high-Fantasy novel, set in a world where the sun is destructive and there’s all kinds of well written political intrigue and a telepathic power that certain people possess, and really cool ninja-like warriors, and. It’s a good piece, and I can’t wait till it’s published and I can share it with you. I also have seven Capstone students in DU’s seminar course who are entering proposals and getting their big projects nearly to the midterm point. Some really interesting projects there, too.
But. You can see why I haven’t had much time to write here, lovely lurkers.
In performance news, I have performed burlesque for Bronze Fox just this Wednesday, and will be appearing onstage for Boulder Burlesque’s upcoming Spring Fling Kink party. I’m having a heckuva lot of fun doing this particular movement hobby, and if you’re interested in keeping up with that stuff, follow Valkyrie Rose on Facebook.
I’ll write to you again on the other side of grading. When will that be? Who knows…
Here’s the final installment, lovely lurkers. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on any of the three installments. ~jenn
Brecht and Storytelling
Written by Jenn Zuko for Senior Seminar, BFA Acting program @UCB, 1995.
But suppose we help Brecht and discover why his alienation fails while the techniques of a librarian bring large, loud audiences to hear stories every week. We have discussed in detail what drama is: two or more performers on the stage, within their matrix, acting. The audience sees who and where the performers are, but has to interpret the goings-on for themselves. That is, they supply the “why.” In storytelling, the “why” is given; the narrator explains exactly the goings-on, and tells us up front whether each character is a villain or not, or if what the hero does is praiseworthy. The audience here has to imagine the what the characters, costumes, and scenario look like, since there is only one voice and body to supply them all. That is, they supply the “who” and “where.” In drama, we don’t know which character is telling the truth. In storytelling, we can always believe the narrator. So drama, therefore, shows plot purely by characters’ relationships, and storytelling centers on plot and leaves the intimate details of relationships up to the viewer. These are two different ways of telling a story, two polar performances. What would happen if we combined the two?
In October of this year (1995), I teamed up with some musician friends of mine to put on a storytelling show for Halloween. This time, instead of it being just me telling and them accompanying, we brought in two other storytellers and an actor to join me in the show. Most of the pieces were merely each one of us taking turns telling a spooky piece by ourselves with musical backup. But three of the pieces used all four of us to create a performance style which I think combines acting and storytelling in a harmony which worked well for our audiences.
Here is the way it worked:I’ll use the first one of these pieces, “Dancing Bones,” as an example. Daune Greene, our beloved narrator, stepped onto the stage and sat on a stool with a microphone placed in front. She began the tale: “Clarence Kelly was dead. Everyone was happy.” As she continued her narration, and mentioned Clarence’s widow, I entered, in the costume for the widow. I said no lines, but did actions as I heard them coming from the narrator. There was another actor portraying my dead husband, and another for the courting fiddler who comes in later. We said no lines unless Daune’s narrative included it: that is, we had short snatches of dialogue, but constantly interspersed with her narration. We even, for comedic effect, sometimes reacted to the narration itself, such as when she said that the widow might lose her insurance money if Clarence refused to stay dead, I stopped the action and looked towards her, in a “say-it-isn’t-so” manner. This further lowered whatever fourth wall
was there, and distanced the audience emotionally, so they didn’t empathize with any character, since the narrator was onstage, a character almost in her own right–almost a quarterback’s role in American football. This kind of performance (which I have both done and seen often) is not strictly drama, nor is it pure storytelling. The presence of the narrator as a character makes it storytelling, but having one actor per character engaging in dialogue makes it drama. Perhaps we should call it Storyacting or Dramatelling, because it combines both mediums effectively.
Brecht’s problem, as I see it, is that he was trying to map dramatic acting onto storytelling, the one on top of the other, which doesn’t work. He should have combined the two instead, not expecting actors to be both narrator and character at once, but one or the other–having actors to portray both. In fact, he actually does this very thing in his play Caucasian Chalk Circle. There is a minstrel-like character who inserts narrative into the action as he strums his guitar, much like our Halloween production. Perhaps this play is the exception to the rule that Brecht failed in effectively combining acting and storytelling into one whole.
(Note to any Comp students reading this: I have zero idea what style citations these are in. I’m assuming it’s an old version of MLA.)
Braun, Kasimierz. “Modern Acting Theory and Practice.” Brecht Yearbook, 1982 v11, p.108-121.
Kirby, Michael. “The New Theatre.” Tulane Drama Review. 10.2 (Winter 1965), p.23-49.
Martin, Suzanne. “Altered States.” Storytelling, 1993 Summer v5, p.20-23.
Pellowski, Anne. The World of Storytelling, H.W. Wilson Co. NY, 1990.
Rouse, John. “Brecht and the Contradictory Actor.” Theatre Journal, 1984 March v36, p.29-41.
Sawyer, Ruth. The Way of the Storyteller, The Viking Press, NY, 1951.
Brecht and Storytelling
Written by Jenn Zuko for Senior Seminar, BFA Acting program @UCB, 1995.
Let us consider this for a moment. In my last paper on this subject, I found no distinguishable difference between Brechtian acting and storytelling as a practice. What, then, is the one characteristic most obviously distinct between the two? There is only one performer in storytelling.
This may seem simple, but it makes all the difference. In Brecht, the presence of the narrator is in the set, in the form of commenting projections or bright lighting; or in the text itself: the inclusion of songs, or having the characters drawn in a more stylized than realistic way; or in the acting, with actors broadening their style, or breaking the fourth wall. Yet, as much as all these things are meant to emotionally alienate an audience, when someone sees a character in front of them, not on the page but in the flesh, a separate person from other characters, they will see them as that character, and even empathize automatically. And, since the narrator is not a character in itself but in all the characters or their environment, this device for distancing does not work as well because it is not as obvious as having an actual narrator character interrupting or adding the commentary. No matter how much style and set may try to reach only an audience’s intellect, audiences will attempt to suspend their disbelief anyway and have an emotional reaction, and and then wonder why the character was so unreal. Audiences now are conditioned to the realistic theatre; they are used to empathizing with the characters in front of them, who, no matter how intellectually they try to present themselves, are still real people onstage.
The narrator in storytelling, however, is an actual character. Not only that, but it is
the only character. There is only one actor for all the characters in storytelling, not one for each. And, no matter how good the teller is at character voices or physical work, that one teller is all the audience sees. Certainly a professional, polished teller can do very well at making each character she portrays different from each other and the voice of the speaker in ways that are stunning, and with a little imagination, an audience member can feel as though he were transported to the realm of the story. But, between each snatch of dialogue comes the voice of the narrator, describing scenarios and commenting on the action (often inviting the audience to comment too, not only in their minds as Brecht wanted, but actually out loud in the form of audience participation). That is, the one character of the narrator, or storyteller, presides over all the action and dialogue, and no matter how engaging the teller, there is never anyone else but the narrator on stage. Having one person doing the entire set, movement, and acting for every character and scene makes it impossible for an audience member to suspend his disbelief and think the characters real. The narrator is physically there and omnipotent in storytelling, so an audience can distance itself from the plight of the characters with more ease, and can more readily comment on the story as a whole instead. Also, as an acting practice, the characters in storytelling are (hopefully) believable, but brief, and interspersed with narrative which is non-matrixed. So the storyteller uses swifter means for getting at her character than an actor would: she uses body and voice work mostly, working from the outside in, not the inside out as in Stanislavsky’s method.
That, in a paragraph, is what storytelling is about. But suppose we help Brecht and discover why his alienation fails while the techniques of a librarian bring large, loud audiences to hear stories every week.
Stay tuned here for Part Three.
(Image credit / complete Works Cited will appear at the end of the final installment)
From: Elementary ep. 5.18
Character Name/s: Black Peter, John Neligan
Reference: “The Adventure of Black Peter” (canon original) shares a few components with this ep: 1) there’s a pirate called Black Peter; 2) some of the evidence in the central murder case involves blade strikes strong enough to go through the body, implying a very strong arm. In the story, the body is pinned to the wall with a harpoon. In the ep, it’s deep sword stabs. (Also: remember the scene in Sherlock ep. 2.2, with Holmes coming home, blood-covered, harpoon in hand? That’s nearly directly from the original); 3) a subplot involving a log book and someone named John Neligan, intertwined w the murder scene but not a cause nor an effect.
I came across this old (OLD!!) paper in my continued culling of belongings, lovely lurkers, and I was still interested in its arguments, so I thought I’d share. It was the final paper for my Senior Seminar at CU Boulder, for my BFA in Acting, waaaay back in 1995. It’s a little longish for a blog, so I will post it in multiple parts. Here’s Part 1.
Brecht and Storytelling
Written by Jenn Zuko for Senior Seminar, BFA Acting program @UCB, 1995
Audiences have difficulty engaging in and understanding Brechtian acting. Brecht’s idea of separating the actor and character is meant to touch the audience intellectually, to “alienate” the audience and let them watch the action at an emotional distance, but this idea often fails in practice. Brechtian productions, therefore, are done rarely, and when done, are met with criticism: “In his own home Brecht has been criticized … The cool, calculated, artificial, expressionistic acting is against our traditions and spirit” (Rouse). Having the presence of a narrator, whether in set design or textual style, violates what most theatregoers view as a “normal” play, and so most are thrown off by this style.
Storytelling, however, also has the presence of a narrator, and has a separation of teller and character that hits a viewer more in the mind than the gut. Yet storytelling continues to gain large audiences of all ages, and is practiced and performed with great success by many. Why is it, then, difficult for audiences to enjoy Brecht’s alienated acting, while storytelling (which is much the same style) still enchants and engages?
In my last paper, I attempted to answer this question by analyzing the acting styles and techniques of Brecht’s work and that of the storyteller. Here, I will pursue this question further by discussing character construction in both acting styles. How the character is formed directly affects not only the acting, but the structure of the entire play or story and how it moves the audience.
The character construction modern audiences see and to which they are most accustomed is the realistic system originated by Stanislavski. His way of creating a character is so widespread that his “Method” (or variations thereof) are taught as the only approach in most acting programs. That is, the actor and character are inseparable; as an audience member, one must believe that the person onstage enacting a role is indeed that character. As an actor, one delves into the past history and inner thoughts of the character, and strives to be “believable” in the role. Then, the directors and designers clothe the actor and her environment in authentic-looking costumes and scenery. This way, in all respects, the audience member succumbs to the illusion that this is a different person in a different place. This indistinction between actor and character may be one of the reasons (as I argued in the last paper) that audiences have a hard time sitting through Brecht, since Brecht tried to separate the person of the actor and their character. Kasimierz Braun describes it thus:
“This is an actor, with a name, personal life, political opinions, a member of a specific society, and that is a character, a creature of literature and imagination. The actor was not subordinated to the character” (117).
One can understand why, when audiences are so accustomed to Stanislavskian realism, they would have difficulty engaging with this strange Brechtian separation.
Yet we still have not explained why storytelling, which is much the same in theory as Brecht (that is, the
separation between actor and character is certainly present in storytelling) flourishes marvelously with the same modern audiences, where Brecht’s plays remain relatively esoteric.
Perhaps Michael Kirby can help us. We have just discussed how Stanislavskian characters are formed: by the actor in effect becoming the character in psychology, physical bearing, and costume. We have also concluded that for realistic theatre, constructing a character constitutes creating the illusion of another person in another place. Brecht did not want to create this illusion as such; rather, he wanted his characters, through alienation, to keep the audience engaged intellectually, not fooled into a fantasy world and duped into emotional empathy. Michael Kirby (he of Happenings fame) describes acting as a “matrixed” performance: one that has a structured, imaginative situation surrounding it. In the following quote, Kirby describes the difference between the realistic way of creating a character, and his characterless performer of the Happening:
“Acting might be defined as the creation of character and/or place: details of ‘who’ and ‘where’ the performer is are necessary to the performance. The actor functions within subjective or objective person-place matrices. The musician, on the other hand, is non-matrixed. He attempts to be no one other than himself, nor does he function in a place other than that which physically contains him and the audience.”
Kirby’s concept of performers in the Happening is that none of them are different characters or existing in any other world besides this present one. So, though they are not acting, they are still performing. This sounds almost opposite to the realistic character construction, and it seems as though Brecht is trying to have both Stanislavski and Kirby present in his characters. Each character, for Brecht, should be real in their intentions and actions, but behind them is a consciousnesses which comments on those actions: that of the actor, who is only himself, and separate from his role. This combination is the center of why Brecht doesn’t do it for most audiences.
Where does storytelling fit into all this? In practice, it distances the audience by separating the teller from the characters, and, like Kirby’s performers, each teller wears no costume, puts up no set, and attempts to be no one else but herself when she is the narrator. So why is storytelling more widely practiced with success than Brecht? There is one major difference between the two that might be the cause for success in one and not the other:
Stay tuned here for Part 2.
(Image credit. Works Cited will appear after the final installment.)
From: Elementary ep. 5.17
Character name: Lady Frances (Carfax)
Reference: “The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax” is one of the most underrated, underplayed mysteries of the whole canon, and on of my personal favorites. It involves a kidnapped lady and has one of the most chilling “gotcha” moments at the end, of any of the canon stories.
Though there are twists and turns in this ep, the Lady Frances is not a woman, but a Carfax Desperado guitar, described as the “Stradivarius of guitars.” Which of course is another reference to Sherlock Holmes’ musical instrument of choice.
Golly, it’s been awhile, lovely lurkers. Sorry bout that. See, it’s around midterm time at schools one and two, it’s the end of one class session and the beginning of another for school three, and for school four, I’m behind in having my updates for the complete course shell up and ready to go. All that, plus my computer dying on me yesterday means not only are there wrenches being tossed in my machine, but several of them. Which I needs must juggle. Anyway.
That’s not counting the intense personal stuff happening right now too. Sheeeez you guys. And no, as usual, buy me a pint in person and maybe I’ll tell you a little about it. But there’s a little blog out there in the online world now (that’s very well written), on which you can see some of the story unfold. I won’t direct you there, to protect the not-so-innocent, but it is out there.
But hey! There are two events happening this week, in both of which I will be performing. One is an author’s reading series, on Thursday at Front Range, and the other is a politically themed burlesque show in Boulder, called Pussy Grabs Back. Either or both should be a lot of fun, so come one, come all…
More from the about-to-be-recycled old notes from my MFA. I found this to be hilarious, though methinks it may not be funny to anyone else who didn’t experience the aged neo-Beats of the Naropa writing faculty. As far as I can ascertain, Anne is Anne Waldman, Andrew is Andrew Schelling, Andrei is Andrei Codrescu, Anselm is the late great Anselm Hollo (who now infamously called my work “determinedly derivative”), Reed is Reed Bye, then department chair, and I don’t recall who Ronnie or Tyler would have been. I think they were students/friends, which makes me feel awful that I don’t remember them. Anyone who was there, chime in in the comments. Anyone named STUDENT were all different people. The rest have both first and last names. Also: I really really hope nobody gets offended by this. But, it was my dramatic impression, that hot summer afternoon, of Colloquium #3. I don’t have it down, here, whether it was 1999 or 2000, but was one or the other. Also: go google all these names, kids, and get some real good reading added to your list…
ANNE: Blah blah blah…
ANNE: blah blah blah…
KATHY KUEHN: it’s wonderful to be here, working with you guys. It sort of spiralled from there
ANSELM BERRIGAN: (trying to look very wise) …
BRIAN EVENSON: (stares at the ceiling)
STUDENT: each shoe is a dream.
ANNE: that was wonderful…blah…
ANDREW: look where we are now.
STUDENT: c’mon c’mon c’mon
ANSELM: (stares at the ceiling)
REED: (smiles sweetly)
STUDENT: Fat chance
KAREN YAMASHITA: took a lot of notes, I don’t know what everyone did
NORMA COLE: This is a translation: I do love banana split
STUDENT: Blah blah blah…
ANNE: (stares into space)
TYLER: Blah blah blah…God forbid you can become complacent, so
RONNIE: bad boy bad boy
BRIAN EVENSON: It was a class on madness??
SIMONE FATTAL: Makes me want to clear my throat…
(then, underneath, I have a note which apparently is a term coined by C. Davis [whoever that is]: Techgnosis. hmmm, fascinating…)
Culling even more of my superfluous belongings, I have saved a few bits from my old notes from my MFA studies. I’ll share them here, a select few, before recycling. The following is an in-class exercise, of which the phrase in this blog post title is the prompt. If you know about writing, you’ll recognize the poetic form.
…late at night, after many margaritas (the kind they stop you after three), tottering to friend’s car, talking about love, war, or (more likely) sex, we enter.
going to friend’s car, we enter, a large parking garage, the kind that makes all women think of attacks, that make me in particular think of those action scenes in movies: car squealings, gun ricochet off paint, hiding between BMWs with a magic sword.
Power in two–not nervous like alone. The place itself is alone. And there, a sound. –Under the lone lights, stained with time and piss, he leans, jazz man.
Jazz man leans in that way on the cement wall. His sax softens it. He doesn’t look like anybody in particular–no more frightening or more beautiful than anyone. Ordinary–yet his sax softens cement.
Not going home, yet. Friend lights cigarette. Not going home yet. Stay a while. Learn to listen. No hat, so no pay. No deal, no bargains. Only music. Only echoes subterranean. Ricochet off paint, moths tick, a syncopated metronome. Music.