Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Wild Theater (a collaboration)


With this project, we aimed to explore how we could take one scene from a structured script (“Equivocation” by Bill Cain) and play with “wild” performance to create different genres outside of that structure. The scenes are all separate videos, in order to break down structure even further, allowing you folks to watch the scenes in any order. Also because each of the scenes are roughly 7 minutes long and there are multiple scenes, and it’s the same scene repeated over and over again in many different ways, feel free to jump around and watch only as much as you want/need to.


*Note: We planned to put the videos two-by-two (to be a little less linear), but the HTML isn't cooperating.


Context 1 & 2
Here is background information about the entire play and the scene that we’ve chosen and our ideas for making this scene “wild.”


Cold Read
Marian plays this part in the show, but Abby does not, so this is the first time she is reading this scene out loud, so it is a “cold read” for her. Caleb plays the audience.


This is the scene as it written to be, which is mostly tragic and dramatic.


Spatially Constrained Comedy
(a.k.a. Hamster Cage) In this take, we took the words from a tragic scene and tried to make them comedic inside a constrained space, which was the inside of the fountain.


Intimate Still Neutral
This is a cold read for Caleb, meant to resemble two friends talking at a sleepover.


Melodrama in Space
Here we tried to utilize the space as much as possible. We placed the microphone in the middle of the space, so often the proximity of the camera to the actors does not correspond to the expected volume of the dialogue.


Foul Fiend
These are our concluding remarks, detailing our final thoughts on being wild thespians in an outdoor theater.


I don’t know whether this project was a success or failure. It was certainly interesting to create – a wild acting exercise. Throughout this semester, I’ve been seeing parallels between things we talk about in class and this show, “Equivocation,” that Abby and I are in. In trying to think of what we could do for this web event, I had so many ideas that had to do with the many different “ecological” aspects of this play, but I kept thinking that the easiest thing to do would be to just write a paper on these themes – that’s not very wild though. Adding the multimedia angle to this project definitely made it much more difficult, but I’m glad we did it because we ended up taking this project in such a…weird…direction. Being in the show and playing the character Tom, I’ve been doing this scene over and over again, yet always in the same general way – as a tragic scene. So when we first tried making it comedic, it was a really weird feeling – the words and the structure that I’m so familiar with were completely thrown out the window and it was pretty uncomfortable at first. The more we kept playing with the scene in our filming though, the more fun it got. I especially liked doing the “melodrama in space” interpretation, because we were trying to use as much outdoor space as possible (in opposition to in the tragic scene in which my movement is pretty restricted), and then watching it later, it was really interesting to see how the audio volume often did not match at all the actors proximity to the camera – it’s never what you’d expect, and that unanticipated variance, I think, could be interpreted as kind of wild. It was also just fun coming up with the many different ways we could read and perform the script, and then coming up with genre titles for the scenes (sometimes they got a little ridiculous). Seeing what worked and what didn’t was pretty interesting – I think the one that was probably the least “exciting” was the “still intimate neutral” scene. Makes me think about how much movement, pace, and space are a part of creating performance genres. I thought it also generally added sort of an “ecological” feel to the films doing the performance in an open space (not unlike the open air Globe where the play is actually set…interesting that it is set in an open air theater but usually performed in a closed, dark theater…), not cutting out mistakes or people who walked through the cloisters during filming, and filming bits of us just talking through our ideas. Lastly, to clear up the guaranteed confusion, our “concluding remarks” is actually part of another scene in the show, so I’m actually not just making up words. All in all, was this project a failure? Maybe, I don’t know. Did it feel pretty wild to create? Absolutely.

Some scrambled thoughts…

This project made me realize how difficult it is  to push the boundaries of conventional genres. At first, it seemed fairly straightforward to use the text as scaffolding and deviate from the typical genre of tragedy, but this proved much more difficult as we went on. Each version in itself was an acting exercise, where not only did we try to deviate from expected inflection—on auto-pilot, I accidentally shouted “NO MORE QUESTIONS” in the first part of “intimate still neutral”—but we also tried to get away from expected staging (“blocking” in theater lingo) and conventional film framings. In filming, I allowed myself to become “distracted” by the place the actors were situated in. Listening to their lines detached from conventional play movements was quite something; it’s a kind of visual/audio metaphor. Decoupling the visuals and the words—what we see is maybe not what we get—adds a new depth, context, and meaning to the words themselves. The viewer watches at the actors, then looks at their setting, and returns again to the “stage”. In our project, the visual stage has a much broader boundary, and the visuals explore it throughout—following the actors’ movements, keeping them at a distance, drifting to look at the architecture. The audio stage is also broad. While centered on the actor’s language, the microphone stayed in one place. In much of the film (especially in the “melodrama in space”, sound reverberates in between stone arches and actors’ voices are clearly heard only when their bodies are close to the space’s center.

Theater, as a storytelling devise with a particular way of using verbal and body language, has some major confines as a genre in itself. I’m wondering now what we could have done additionally to make it more wild: maybe we could have  combatted a single-narrative perspective by using multiple cameras (like strapping a camera to each actor)? Maybe we could have explored the audio/visual disconnect further? Maybe we could have pinpointed better our target genres—or rather, thought up direct ways to unlink them from convention and hone in on Gary Snyder’s definition of "wild writing"?

This was an odd one. When I first envisioned some sort of critical, “wild” multimedia project, I must say I was thinking of something a bit more planned. I know that I have a tendency to think that if something is unstructured, less work is going into it and therefore less will come out of it. This was one of the most organic projects I’ve ever done and is presented with little to no editing.  As an actor, I found our different takes fascinating. They all reminded me of exercises that I’ve done which help to get an actor ‘out of their head,’ so to speak. I’m quite guilty of this—focusing too much on the words and what I want them to sound like. A physicality exercise forces you to take the focus off the text, for when you’re running or moving the words themselves become secondary, and you must exist in the moment first and foremost. When brainstorming ways to engage with this text critically, we focused on all the connections we could find—perhaps a focus better suited to an analytic essay. When we came up with our idea for a ‘wild’ way to interpret these scenes, we inherently took the focus off the text, not unlike an exercise to ‘get us out of our heads’. I also mentioned in one of our context videos that we were treating these scenes like neutral scenes—scenes that have no context and all of the choices are to be made by the actors. This let us play with genre too though—can a non-neutral scene cross those lines of genre? We played with this a bit when we were titling things as well. From “Melodrama in Space” to “Spatially Confined Comedy,” we found that a traditional genre did not fit the ‘wild’ versions of this scene we were creating. I don’t know if the language of success or failure fits this project—to me it felt more like a beginning. I would be up for a round two, perhaps with slight improvements like having lines memorized, or scenes with more people, or in different spaces. Maybe we could be more specific with our genre choices, or maybe the spontaneity was what added to it.


Anne Dalke's picture

Abby, Caleb, Marian--
Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to re-load this as a collaborative post--I like having it show up in each of your portfolios...

So….Marian begins your reflections by saying they “don’t know whether his project was a success or failure.” And they end it repeating the same query: “was this project a failure?” Measured by what standards? Could we actually get ourselves into a space—one I’d call truly ecological, in Timothy Morton’s terms—where “success” and “failure” aren’t part of the calibration—or @ least not the framing for all other evaluations? Abby gestures in this direction, when she says, later, “I don’t know if the language of success or failure fits this project—to me it felt more like a beginning.” That’s how it felt to me, too—beginning an experiment, trying to shake up a pattern you had spent many weeks learning. I was delighted to see you taking these risks, find your collaborative experiment an intriguing intervention in what is, in attempting to make something other, and am especially heartened by your report (in class) that having one another for company enabled you to go "further" than might otherwise have been willing-or-able to do.
I saw, through you, how much movement, pace, and space are a part of creating performance genres—and as you just slightly gesture towards, though I’d like to hear more about this--how much they need be part of any environmental/ecological performance, too.

I liked your attempt to make tragedy “wild” by making it comedic, and of course certainly heard the changes in tonality, your giddier mode of speaking, and also  noticed how much more motion you incorporated—that version was jumpier, more exuberant, there was even laughter. I didn’t understand, though, the spatial constraints you put on your comedy, since it seems as though tragedy is actually the much more constrained form (“comedy is tragedy plus time,” etc…) I was also surprised to see that the comedic form seemed to open up more direct encounter between the characters…or maybe that was because the video zoomed in so I could see that better..? Maybe the “sleepover” could be in the fountain, spatially constrained, while the comedy is unbounded, cavorting all through (or more probably way beyond) the cloisters…?

If you are really up for a “round two,” as Abby suggests, here are some other thoughts-and-nudges. First-- this project is very language-bound. Each of your (so-called) wild versions is entirely scripted (you never really go truly—or much--off script). Coming @ this experiment from each of your earlier ones -- Marian’s querying queer time, Abby’s loopy prezi-paper, and especially Caleb’s losing language—makes me think that if you want to seriously “go wild” you probably need to throw that script away (or @ least play with it more fully: for example, what if Marian repeated her lines and the other two of you, who haven’t memorized any, adlibbed your responses)?

I was also caught, early on, by Marian’s comment that “a play has to have a structure.” There are of course 1000s of “well-made plays” that do, but I’m not convinced (yet) that adhering to one, and experimenting only with how much range you give to your voice, or how much you let your body move through space, is really going to let you demonstrate what “wildness” is. Caleb wrote about the “generic confines of theater,” and speculated about making this “wilder” with more cameras, and/or by further disconnecting the tie between the audio and the visual. But I’d suggest starting instead with the language: how to disconnect from that? Or disconnect it from the story? Or tell the story without the language, not in words? Or with different words or sounds? This is of course related to the exercises Abby described, “which help to get an actor ‘out of their head’….I’m quite guilty of this—focusing too much on the words and what I want them to sound like. A physicality exercise forces you to take the focus off the text, it felt more like a beginning.”

Next, I’d urge you to experiment more with the visuals. I myself pretty much dislike videos, largely because I can’t manipulate them the way I can texts. When I’m reading, I can skim, jump ahead to the conclusion, slow down, loop back; I feel as though I have a lot of agency. But watching a video I always feel trapped in the pacing selected by the videographer, and so much less in charge of my experience. And I felt very trapped by your videos: the same scene, over and over again, the same words, in the same sequence. So by the end of the sequence--even with the shifts in perspective and position that you’d incorporated--I was feeling that video was the “least wild” form I could imagine, @ least from the perspective of a viewer, who had to watch as Caleb (or his camera) did.