Friday, March 7, 2014

A Clockwork Orange: The Book, The Movie, The Play

Tonight is the opening night of Theatre 'd Art's production of A Clockwork Orange -- in which I am playing Alex's mother and the orderly who straps him into the cinny contraption. Aside from the insane story, the insane in-your-face staging (we're doing it promenade-style), and the insane insanity inherent in the piece itself...this has been a basic, not-insane lesson in storytelling for me.

At this point I have three experiences with the story of Alex DeLarge: book, movie, play.

Basic storyline (for those who may not know): Alex is a Beethoven-loving gang leader in a dystopian world dominated by troubled teenagers. One night his raping and pillaging goes too far and he kills a woman, is betrayed by his droogs, and is carted off to jail. He hears about this new psychological treatment created by this dude, Ludovico, which gets you out of jail faster and decides to participate in the treatment. The catch: he will get sick every time he is confronted with violence. He will be made "good," but only because the doctors have mind-fucked him. As he tries to sort out his new life, the question becomes:

Is being good at the cost of personal choice bad?

To illustrate his point, Burgess created several scenes of crazed depravity at the opening of the story. And this depravity is what got me thinking about how certain elements in a story are told. The (what I'll call) visceral-ness of A Clockwork Orange is revealed in a different way for each manifestation of the story. In each of the variations, there is an alteration in how some things are handled.

The reason these situations are handled differently for stage, screen, and page is because different mediums create different levels of visceral-ness. It seems painfully obvious. I've heard some people say movies can do some things better than books and vice versa...but I'd argue it's not a matter of better or worse, just different. Throw in a third medium, like theatre, and there's and additional round of elements that work differently. (Man, I feel like a need a thesaurus.)

However, adaptations can tell the same story with the same level of visceral-ness. You just have to adjust how the story is shown/told.   

For example:

Sex with the Girls
In the movie version of Clockwork, Alex hits on a couple girls at the music library and they go home and have lots of sex -- portrayed in a time lapse. Now, movies have an automatic 'fourth wall' built in. There's some distance created by the screen. So how to make Alex's Lots-o-Sex scene impactful to the audience?

The visceral element of the scene is inherent in the amount of nudity (totes nude, folks) and the time lapse element itself which indicates hours are passing and they just keep having sex in a variety of positions, attitudes, states of dress, etc. Not to mention how long the time lapse goes on....This scene is one of many used to show how jacked-up young Alex is.

However, Burgess didn't have a time lapse available to him with just words. If a picture's worth a thousand words, then a time lapse would probably be worth a gazillion and Clockwork would be more like a Proustian exploration of depravity and the reader would be so bored by the infinite descriptions he wouldn't get to the hospital scenes until Volume 7. What does Burgess do to show how fucked up Alex is?

In the book, the girls are ten. Ten years old.

See what happened there? It took one sentence and a fragment and I bet you're thinking: That's fucked up. The reaction is from your gut. It's visceral in its visceral-ness

The play doesn't have that scene at all, and I bet I know why...so to illustrate, I'm going to talk about another scene:

The Rape Scene
I said before that movies have an inherent fourth wall, and generally plays do as well. However, while we understand Malcolm McDowell touched his co-stars and wore a penis mask on his face, we're still protected by the screen.

In theatre, you're watching a real live human touch another real live human right in front of you. The only protection is air.

Our production is even more intimate than that. In a promenade-style, you go to the action, it doesn't come to you. When Alex rapes F.Alexander's wife, he has her bent over a couch right in front of your face. In the end, the lights go off at the very crux of the moment -- and the audience breathes a sigh of relief. The theatre doesn't have to go as far to create a visceral reaction because it's right there. If we cut the clothing off of our actress's breasts and stripped her down like Kubrick's movie, it would be far too much.

Going back to the Sex with the Girls scene -- if a theatre did that, it would be too much. Plus, I think there are laws....

So, the next time you see a movie or a play based on a book and something's different -- just keep in mind that sometimes things get changed so the impact of the story is the most effective.

And here's the trailer to Theatre 'd Art's production. Opens tonight! If you're in Colorado Springs, we run this weekend, next weekend, and the weekend after.



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

King Henry VI, Part 2King Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Henry plays -- and a great deal of Shakespeare's history plays -- were written prior to 1594. These are Shakespeare's early attempts and a lot of critics have pointed out: it shows.

Henry VI, Pt 2, is definitely rough. There are a crap-ton of characters, some of whom only show up once for a couple lines and then disappear. In a production of these plays, a lot of these roles would be doubled-up. The result is a somewhat chaotic read, though I bet it's much easier to follow on stage.

All I really have to say about this play is: Early Shakespeare is Still Shakespeare!

And I think Shakespeare might've missed his true calling: dark-Kill-Bill-style comedy.

Yes, I think Shakespeare and Quentin Tarantino should get together. Wait, scratch that. They'd never shut up so they'd never get anything done. Both are kind of long winded.

However! Jack Cade, the badass-but-not-too-bright leader of the rebels, who appears near the end of the play, is the epitome of a Tarantino talky-crazed bad guy. He makes decapitated heads kiss each other. He kills people for calling him the wrong name. He proclaims random laws. His scenes are straight out of Pulp Fiction. It's a good thing Shakespeare didn't have access to needles. (Or, maybe, a bad thing.)

Some of that shit was so disturbing I laughed out loud.

Do the nobles plot for an unreasonable amount of time? Yes.
Is it sometimes difficult to follow characters and their motivations? Sometimes. Yes.

But I liked it way more than I thought I would.


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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Original Pronunciation of Shakespeare


I'm trying to read Shakespeare's works in the (generally) agreed upon order in which they were written. That means there's a lot of histories up front. Right now, I've finished the Henry VI trilogy and am moving on to Richard III.

And, really, the only thing clear to me is Shakespeare's historical presentations are quite questionable. There weren't any archaeologists or disciplined historians back in the day. Most of the base material he used to produce these works are biased at the very least.

So, I find it ironic that English majors, historians, and armchair quarterbacks use such rigorous focus when studying the Bard.

For example, there have been several productions of Shakespeare's plays in the past few years who have gone to a lot of trouble to recreate the original pronunciation of Shakespeare's time period. Below, you'll find a video featuring David Crystal, Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, presenting the methodology behind figuring out Shakespeare's language.

But the real question is why do we even care about Shakespeare's original pronunciation?

A couple different reasons off the top of my head:

1. Meaning. As Crystal points out in the video, the original pronunciation alters the meaning of the words themselves -- you can see changes in jokes/puns. This is a real-life exploration of the evolution of language. And evolution of meaning affects:

2. History. It's also pointed out in the video that Shakespeare's language/dialect was the language/dialect of the first colonists of the United States. While the presenters of the video are focused exclusively on Shakespeare, it's just a natural leap to assume the language (and possible meaning alterations) transfers to historical documents.

And that doesn't even come close to the several ways of understanding the plays themselves, which these gentlemen do a much better job of explaining:

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Public Service Announcement: Do Not Kill Your Friends Over Poetry/Prose

As a member of an active and passionate writers group, I have participated in many a debate over many different writing related subjects. For example, I once told a guy to check out the book How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish. (And I'm telling all of you to go read it too.)

On the surface, telling a writer he needs to learn how to write a sentence could be construed as being...ummmm...rude. Incredibly rude. Harsh even.

But I didn't stab him. Nor did he stab me.

Unlike this guy.

Apparently, one gentleman asserted that prose was the only real writing. He became the victim of a friend who also happened to be a poet. The poet stabbed the prose proponent to death.

So, look, there are really only a few rules in this game:
1. Write hard.
2. Write well.
2. Remember writing is subjective -- so don't kill your friends. No matter how much you've been drinking.

And while I may have taken too joking a tone over this, I am well aware that a man is dead. His death was tragic and a truly terrible thing. I hope what we take away from this is that there is enough room for everyone to have their own opinions and to create beautiful things -- poetry, prose, or otherwise. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Different Arts, Different Behaviors

As a writer, I fly solo. That's kinda the name of the game. The decisions made are mine and mine alone. It's me and the keyboard, my imagination, and whatever command of language I happen to have at the time. If I want to adjust point of view, setting, character, or anything else, I can do it and not have to answer to anyone. 

There are times as a writer where I take in other people's opinions. The most obvious example is my writers group. I submit pieces and they make notes and hand them back. In return, I do the same for them. And it's rather satisfying to suggest to other people what they need to do to correct their story. (They should always, always listen to me.)

However, what they do with what I say is entirely up to them. After all, it's their name on the title page. My name may or may not show up in the acknowledgements page. (Thanks, Fleur!) 

And I can take or leave their suggestions without a committee or an audience. I nod, say thanks, and move on. Every adjustment I make is my own and I'm the only one who has to answer for it. 

Theatre works a little differently. Theatre is collaborative. There is more than one voice going on at any given time: playwright, director, actor, etc. Collaboration has inherent constraints that aren't present when you're your own boss.

For example, tonight at rehearsal for Marat/Sade, I was reminded of just how different writing (solo) and acting (collaborating) are. There was a section where blocking was giving some difficulty in which Sade, who is the center man (after all, the play is his big Fuck You to the Man), was getting upstaged by some delightfully raucous musicians. This was understandably annoying to Sade, whose speech is kind of important to the point of the whole play. 

Being in the ensemble, I'm basically opposite the audience and saw that a small adjustment in blocking would keep Sade center man, instead of being brushed to the corner. I made the suggestion to the director -- during the break -- and he gave me a hug, said thank you, and then passed the suggestion on to Sade. 

Unfortunately, the set being the chaotic place it is, there was really no way to take the time to communicate the change in the time allotted. So there was a stumbling moment while director and actor went back and forth in front of everyone. No one got loud, but you could tell that maybe the better time to discuss this would be later. Which is basically what it boiled down to. 

Throughout the whole exchange, I cannot tell you how hard it was to stay quiet. I can see how it will work and if I had two seconds I could get the picture across. But, in the end, I'm the chorus girl. I'm not the director, or Sade, and their responsibilities aren't mine. I'm there to fill one slot of the story. I'm not in charge of the whole story. 

And, while other writers can keep or dismiss my suggestions at their leisure (to their peril), theatre means you take the director's note and adjust accordingly -- because someone has to be in charge of this chaos. His tools are actors and sets and scripts. All of those things have opinions of their own. By jumping in further and insisting on my change (which may or may not work, after all) I would just be adding to the chaos. So, with great restraint, I kept my mouth shut. They'll sort it out. 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Downside of Setting Challenges for Yourself

The only reason I'm up right now writing a blog post is because I'm stupid. Yes, I'm whining. And yes, I'm whining about a challenge I set for myself not even a week ago. I'm complaining about the blog-a-day challenge. This whole post right here - the one you're reading/skimming over - is written only because I said I do it and I can't wimp out on the seventh day of the New Year.

I'm soooo sleepy at the moment. This is the first night ever where I almost fell asleep at the wheel. Really, the only thing that kept me awake was the thought: I still have to write a blog post. I'm stupid.

So, there you are. Voila! A blog post. A post about posting. It's all very meta. Now I'm going to sleep.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Review: Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, by Ben Loory

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the DayStories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While this book is definitely short and you can read it in one day without any serious effort...I don't recommend trying to finish in one day. When it says "Stories for Nighttime" it means it. These are like small, modern little fairy tales and you need a second to digest each one or they all start to blur together in one heap of endless: person obsesses about object to the detriment/benefit of person's life.

The stories themselves are sometimes sweet, sometimes creepy, and sometimes both at the same time. There are some unique, impactful images throughout.

My only real issue with this collection is a strange one and might not make sense at first.

It's the way the story looks on the page.

Loory uses a lot of white space. White space tends to pick up the pace of a story -- after all, the amount of words on a page can be used to determine how long you're gonna spend reading it. More words = more time. Less words = less time. At least, that's the general formula I use.

However, the white space used in these stories is more akin to how white space is used in poetry. White space in poetry = you're pausing a lot and slowing way down.

Here's an excerpt from "The Book" which is the opening story from Stories as spaced by Loory (and as can closely be approximated by Blogger formatting):




The woman becomes famous for opposing the book. She even writes a book of her own. Her book cries out for the destruction of the first book.
        In answer, the first book's sales jump.
        The woman is frantic. She doesn't know what to do. She feels like she's going insane.
        And then one day on the street, a man comes up and spits in the woman's face.


The woman stands there -- shocked paralyzed. She hadn't realized everyone hated her. She turns and runs sobbing all the way home. She locks the door and collapses on the floor.
        She crawls into the bedroom on her hands and knees and hides under the blankets.
        She huddles in the darkness all night long, her hands over her eyes, crying.





All of the stories are organized and broken this way.

The way the sentences break off into their own paragraphs and the amount of space between paragraph-length sections make me think more of poetry than prose...and, unfortunately, it makes me think of weak poetry because the images don't oppose each other as much as line breaks are designed to do -- the sentences are just a continuation of the same thought without anything surprising in it.

And it occurs to me that I would enjoy the stories more, if the paragraph sections were smashed together prose-poetry like. Then it reads dreamy. Now, I know reviews should not actually rewrite stuff, but I think offering a contrasting structure illustrates my odd, perhaps singular frustration with this collection (no words have been changed, only spacing and indention):

The woman becomes famous for opposing the book. She even writes a book of her own. Her book cries out for the destruction of the first book. In answer, the first book's sales jump. The woman is frantic. She doesn't know what to do. She feels like she's going insane. And then one day on the street a man comes up and spits in the woman's face.

The woman stands there -- shocked, paralyzed. She hadn't realized everyone hated her. She turns and runs sobbing all the way home. She locks the door and collapses on the floor. She crawls into the bedroom on her hands and knees and hides underneath the blankets. She huddles in the darkness all night long, her hands over her eyes, crying.


What happens there is I, as the reader, get to find what is meaningful, rather than having line/sentences that try to emphasize it for me. As is, it's sort of like having italics telling you how to read a word. Sometimes it's okay. Doing it every time makes it lose it's impact. After a while, the stories felt monotonous to me.

So I highly recommend taking this collection slow, one story at a time, and then you have a good set of bedtime stories.

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

I intend to do both today:

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." ~Ben Franklin

Friday, January 3, 2014

Historical Novels Before the Internet Existed. How?

This last hour or so I've been working on my WIP, which is a historical novel. It's a little slow going, but I've written every day since the New Year, which is my goal.

However, my internet went out about forty-five minutes ago. It has only just recently come back on. During this internet blackout, I hit a snag on my WIP. I needed to know someone's name. It wasn't in my notes because I didn't think this person was very important (and story-wise, he isn't), so I didn't note his name.

But here's the interesting thing about novels...even a lot of side characters/bit parts have names. I just needed to know this guy's name because using his title would be obnoxious. This small dilemma led to a small twinge of panic.  

My initial reaction was: Go to the Internetz! The Internetz! knowz all! You can Google that shit in two seconds, fill in that blank, and call it good. About the time that I was clicking over to Google, Pandora stopped playing my magical writing music.

Uh-oh. The Internetz! had heard my need and said, "Fuck you, Jenny."

Now I had an issue.

Do I need to whip out all of my research books (and there are definitely more than one of those!) and try to find this dude's name?!

I'm not sure which book he'll be in. WTF?

How the hell did James Michener write all of those freakin' historical tomes without the internet or the awesome power of Google? His notes must be astronomically good and take up about three rooms worth of filing cabinet space. He must have somehow crossed referenced and indexed that shit. How could he possibly have found time to actually write the damn books? The thousand pagers he cranked out -- how do theyz existz?

I'd like to say that I'm an organized person, but I now realize that would be a lie. An outright, flagrant lie. So, now that the Internetz! is back...I'm going to take this opportunity to Google the crap out of a couple things before I lose it again.