Friday, 2 March 2018

The Fairground Booth: Mirrors, Neoplatonism and Shakespeare's The Tempest

Plotinus and the Eclectic School - a detail from Raphael’s “School of Athens” featuring Plotinus.
There are three strands I have been working on as I edit and put together the film The Fairground Booth and The Fairground Booth project in general which will also include a book: mirrors, Neoplatonism and Shakespeare's The Tempest. There are many other themes but for now these themes are in the forefront of the project. At the moment I am reading The Enneads by Plotinus translated by Stephen Mackenna as background to the film. There is a section about the dreamlike quality of reality and even of  the material, corporeal world itself, to the effect that the material world has no existence. This image however extreme is reflected in The Tempest which could be read as a neo-platonic tract in the tradition of Plotinus when Shakespeare claims, through Prospero, "we are such things as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with sleep".  In Plotinus section of the Enneads, The Impassivity of the Disembodied is written in the context of mirrors, masks and theatrical roles which is most apt to our task and touches on the theme of reality and illusion in The Fairground Booth

Prospero's metaphor applies not just to the pageant he's created , but also to the play Shakespeare presents in the Globe Theatre—the "great globe itself." Dramatic illusion in its turn becomes a metaphor for the "real" world outside the globe, which is equally fleeting. Towers, palaces, temples, the Globe theatre, the Earth—all will crumble and dissolve, leaving nothing behind. Prospero's play within a play (The Tempest) within a another play which is the "real" world.
"The stuff of dreams" seems  only to superficially resembles Prospero's purpose. "The stuff of dreams"  refers to the materials that go into creating an illusion and the materials themselves are it seems also an illusion.

The whole concept of The Tempest is a subversion of reality, a descent into a dream like state which poses as reality and is indistinguishable from our "waking life". It is a question that Descartes, the instigator of modern thought, posed by asking how do I know that  all that I know and see and think is not merely a dream. The Tempest also explores this theme. Blok  in The Fairground Booth also explores this theme in the context of theatre of his own time, drawing attention to the deficiencies of the perceptions of reality as expressed through theatre and the need for a new theatre with new forms to reflect a new reality or changes in our perception of reality brought about by a crises in culture and science. Each epoch has to do this. The dream allows for a re evaluation or new appraisal of reality through a perusal of the relationship between illusion and reality. Poetry, art and in our case theatre are ways of addressing these questions.

It is worth mentioning that a key element in the idea of reality, certainly cultural reality, is the notion of authorship especially in art and literature. The authors are the guarantors as it were of what is and in some cases of what should be, they stand between us the readers or audience and what the world should be. But even this backstop is undermined deliberately in The Fairground Booth. Blok is attempting to redefine the theatrical reality and "authors" can conspire to reinforce the accepted assumptions rather than challenging them. Blok exposes the author's shortcomings in The Fairground Booth by re-positioning authorship of the play onto the commedia dell'arte characters and their capacity for improvisation without an authors "approval". By concentrating on the Commedia Dell'Arte our attention is drawn  away from the identity of the author and we are liberated from what people like Meyerhold, Blok's collaborator on The Fairground Booth, certainly believed at that time as the "tyranny" of the word in theatre
In the context of the Fairground Booth project the traces of Neoplatonism in Shakespeare's Tempest could confirm the influence of The Tempest on The Fairground Booth itself. I am working on this assumption in order to explain some of the themes of the play. 

Monday, 26 February 2018

Boris Kustodiev, the Russian Theatre and the Fairground

A few days ago I visited the opening of the exhibition of Vsevolod Tarasevich   at the Photography Centre MAMM near Kropotkinskaya in Moscow. I have already blogged about this opening which can be viewed here. However there was an element in the exhibition which relates to The Fairground Booth project and is worth mentioning here. A parallel exhibition was taking place  of Boris Kustodiev - both his photographs and his paintings I was familiar with his paintings because they will feature in The fairground Booth film in the section which will explain the role of the Fairground in Russian Theatre.

The Russian Revolution of 1905, which shook the foundations of Russian society, evoked a vivid response in the artist's soul. He contributed to the satirical journals Zhupel (Bugbear) and Adskaya Pochta (Hell’s Mail). At that time, he first met the artists of Mir Iskusstva (World of Art), the group of innovative Russian artists. He joined their association in 1910 and subsequently took part in all their exhibitions.
The artist was also interested in designing stage scenery. He first started work in the theatre in 1911, when he designed the sets for Alexander Ostrovsky's An Ardent Heart. Such was his success that further orders came pouring in. In 1913, he designed the sets and costumes for The Death of Pazukhin at the Moscow Art Theatre.
His talent in this sphere was especially apparent in his work for Ostrovsky's plays; It's a Family AffairA Stroke of LuckWolves and Sheep, and The Storm. The milieu of Ostrovsky's plays—provincial life and the world of the merchant class—was close to Kustodiev's own genre paintings, and he worked easily and quickly on the stage set. He also photographed provincial Russia in the early days of photography around the 1900s.
My interest is in his paintings of the Russian Fairground. Kustodiev concerned himself with both painting the Fairground and theatre set design and is ideal for the film The Fairground Booth. His paintings are a visual witness to what the Russian Fairground looked like at that time and therefore have a documentary element. 

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Fairground Booth Studies

This post is by way of explaining why the play The Fairground Booth is important to study and why it is necessary to go back to original sources. An historical approach to acting and theatre can  impact on the technical aspects of acting by explaining the context of present day theatre. This theme will be more fully developed in the book that I am writing about Blok and Meyerhold's presentation of The Fairground Booth in 1906. This play had an enormous influence on the direction of Russian Theatre and world theatre and it continues to influence theatrical innovation even to this day. Why because it established a principle, a new principle with a destructive, deconstructive element at its core. It was not just a question of change in one direction or another or a development towards a new tendency. The Fairground Booth was deeply revolutionary, its central theme I would argue, was the apocalypse and its intent was to create a new theatre without any preconditions. This I believe is what Meyerhold found so attractive in the play. To understand the meaning of The Fairground Booth one has to understand the apocalypse and its place in Russian thought especially in pre revolutionary Russia. The apocalypse was a metaphor or an aesthetic non sociological way of explaining the process of events in history which had not in fact yet occurred. The Fairground Booth was presented just after the first Russian revolution of 1905 which was considered by many as a prelude to events which took place in 1917 and to some extent in the world at large with World War 1 being a catalyst for other events in Russia. 

The Fairground Booth both as a book and a film will be part of The Russian Theatre Film Series.  A new book has been published with the same title which is a intermediate publication for understanding the series, a kind of behind the scenes look at how the films were made and how the project will develop in the future.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Why The Fairground Booth

Reasons for filming this play:

Why "The Fairground Booth" or "The Puppet Show" as it sometimes is called - "Balaganchik" in Russian. Well if you acknowledge that carnival has had an enormous influence on Russian theatre especially at the beginning of the 20th century then "The Fairground Booth" is the play which really underlined this fact. It was one of those watershed plays or theatrical events which defined the future and broke with the past. Alexander Blok's play and his cooperation with Meyerhold in "The Fairground Booth" served as a link between the symbolism of the early twentieth century and the revolution in culture and technology and society - it was the nexus between the old and the new theatre.

From this perspective, to pair a film about Vakhtangov, carnival and "The Fairground Booth" makes sense. Each film will stand on its own but each film will inform the other. Moreover it will also sit well against the two films already completed about Russian theatre: "Meyerhold Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde" and "Stanislavsky and the Russian Theatre". This will make up a series of five films covering an area which is less explored than say the theatre of Chekhov.

The connections will become clear over time as each film begins to develop. I will be charting the progress and development of these films here and in blogs and in a series of background video blogs across the internet. Some may claim that Blok's Fairground Booth is just a curiosity piece or not a classic drama. In subsequent blogs I will try and argue otherwise and  that it is as much of a classic as any play by Chekhov, Shakespeare or Ibsen and deserves its place in the history of world theatre. Blok's play paved the way for a new kind of theatre which relied less on naturalism and explored other means of expression.

However the question still arises why Blok and the "Balaganchik" and why now. Russian society and culture was changing at a rapid pace, to some extent this is still true of Russia. Any attempt to hold a mirror up to nature so to speak was then doomed to failure. Naturalism was ill equipped to deal with reality at the beginning of the 20th century. Events move on a at staggering pace. How does one reflect reality of the then Russia, how does one come to terms with it. One way is through masks and masquerades, to widen the expressive possibilities of what was then a narrowly defined view of the role of theatre and the content it should portray. This, in the context of The Russian Theatre Film series  is what is hoped will be achieved

Draft of Fairground Booth book proceeding

Many days work on the project I have been planning for some time -The Fairground Booth or 'The Puppet Show" by Alexander Blok. The play was first put on by Meyerhold in 1906 and I intend to revive a version of it as part of the Russian Theatre Film Series​. I have not fully decided whether to use computer graphics or a combination of Computer graphics animation and actors or just actors. Searching for a computer graphics designer with whom I can work to create the main characters - Pierrot, Harlequin and Columbina. This is a singularly important part of the project, key in fact. One of the avenues being explored at the moment is the links of the play to Shakespeare's Tempest and how Blok was influenced by this play. Both are concerned with masquerades and characters which are neither human or puppets but inhabit some in between existence which Prospero is always, in the case of Ariel, release them from. The theme of transformation and metamorphosis runs through the fabric of both plays alongside the carnival tragic/comic atmosphere which became an integral part of early Russian 20th century theatre.
#theatre   #russiantheatre  
+Russian Theatre Documentary Series 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Puppets and People and Blok

 The site  posted a collection of quotes about documentary film. There where several which  struck me as being actual in terms of the film Tokyo Journey. In the film two puppets are seen together - the  puppet human and the real puppet, mechanical.  But which is the real puppet. This interface where two masks, two puppets meet each other and respond to each other has the effect that I wished for. Are these beings sentient or mechanical and where does the one end and the other begin. What are the elements which create the impression of life and decrease the impression of life and living, in what does the character of life consist? If we met with alien life from an other planet how would we know, how could we determine its reality, its true reality when we are unable to accurately determine our own reality and embrace it as a fact or facts. Throughout the making of the film from its conception to completion Noh theatre and bungaku puppet theatre was always in the back of my mind, not consciously informing the film but certainly the work I was doing reminded me of these Japanese arts. I couldn't say they informed my decisions but something of the arts of one slide through into the other and back again. More over the Fairground Booth  by Blok was always there informing the direction of this film much like Meyerhold and and Vakhtangov. Blok's Fairground Booth informs this film as much as Japanese Theatre. Meyerhold was heavily influenced by Japanese Noh Theatre and Kabuki for many of of his innovations and were apart of the technology of bio-mechanics which Meyerhold developed as a way of training his actors in movement and dance rather than solely concentrating on words and language to convey emotion and drama.

Ovid and Blok

Photo: Researching Ovid's Metamorphosis as part of The Fairground Booth project. Metamorphosis and transformation are common themes of both Ovids Poem and The Fairground Booth Play by Alexander Blok. Blok's play features a short section which relates directly form the legend of Echo and  Narcissus featured in Ovid . Writing the section which will explore this theme in the book which will be part of the film project

This panel by Bartolomeo di Giovanni relates the second half of the story. In the upper left, Jupiter emerges from clouds to order Mercury to rescue.
#thefairgroundbooth   #ovid   #metamorphosis 

For more information on The Fairground Booth Project clink on the following link 
Researching Ovid's Metamorphosis as part of The Fairground Booth project. Metamorphosis and transformation are common themes of both Ovids Poem and The Fairground Booth Play by Alexander Blok. Blok's play features a short section which relates directly form the legend of Echo and  Narcissus featured in Ovid . Writing the section which will explore this theme in the book which will be part of the film project

This panel by Bartolomeo di Giovanni relates the second half of the story. In the upper left, Jupiter emerges from clouds to order Mercury to rescue.
#thefairgroundbooth   #ovid   #metamorphosis  

For more information on The Fairground Booth Project clink on the following link 

Symbolism and The Fairground Booth

As I work on The Fairground Booth project it is becoming clearer and clearer how important Alexander Blok was to the transition between Symbolism and The Russian avant-garde even though he did not directly participate in what we understand as the Russian avant-garde or Futurism. However the play The Fairground Booth was one of the major steps which broke down the dominance of Symbolism in Russian literature or at least highlighted its shortcomings and opened up a artistic and theatrical space where new forms could be explored and developed. As one digs deep down into the layers and substrata of the play more and more possibilities emerge. The book I am writing as part of The Fairground Booth project which in itself is part of the Russian Theatre Documentary Series is becoming an indispensable input and incubator for the film and the documentary film. Whole new lines of development opening up. #russiantheatre #alexanderblok #theatre 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Vakhtangov and the Russian Theatre in production

VAKHTANGOV was a pupil of Stanislavsky. He went on to be one of the most influential innovators of theatre. His theory of "fantastic realism" laid the foundation for much of what we understand today as modern theatre. This new film is in the process of being funded. Click here to contribute to the crowd funding campaign

Part of the Russian Theatre Film Series

Indiegogo Campaign for 

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Fairground Booth

The Fairground Booth by Alexander Blok

"The Fairground Booth" was presented in Moscow in 1906. Written by Alexander Blok the production was a collaboration between the Theatre director Meyerhold and Blok himself. The outline of the play involves three main characters Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin plus other players like the author and a group of what is called the mystics. Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin are stock characters from the Italian Commedia Dell Arte but also there is a distinctive Russian turn to the play involving the supposed Russian equivalent of Pierrot - Petrushka. Peterushka was a puppet much in the style of Punch and Judy and feature in the fairground shows which were popular in Russia in the 18th and 19th Century. Copernicus films is planning to shoot an adaptation of this play as well as two other documentary films - The Carnival and Russian Theatre as well as a film Vakhtangov and the Russian Theatre. These films will form a single project about Russian Theatre in the early twentieth century.

The Fairground Booth: Mirrors, Neoplatonism and Shakespeare's The Tempest

Plotinus and the Eclectic School -  a detail from Raphael’s “School of Athens” featuring Plotinus. There are three strands I have been...