Friday, 5 October 2018

The Fairground Booth Dairy - 4

The King of Time

Reading a book called "Deleuze and Futurism" by Helen Palmer and there is mention of Khlebnikov and his poem "The King Of Time" - a title which it appears he also applied to himself.  

Trained in the natural sciences and mathematics and an artist and poet, Khlebnikov thought he had discovered the Laws of Time and Tables of Destiny, by which enlightened humans could live in harmony with themselves and with nature. He devoted his  restless life to finding a language which would articulate his vision. Experiments with words became  paths to a reinvigorated future, and produced some of the most extraordinary poems in the Russian language.

The presence of time in poetic rhythms forced him to look for rhythms beneath the conventional ones to seek meaning in the cyclical patterns of the universe, according to Helen Palmer the books author. This links to Blok who also sought patterns and rhythms of history below the surface of facts and chronological events of the day to day. 

Andrey Bely and other authors of the time were also engaged in a similar task. In addition, Larionov developed a model of time looking backwards and forwards simultaneously. 

And this in turn links to the idea, popular at the time that there were different layers and dimensions in reality. 
This also connects to Blok's ideas in The Fairground Booth, the Avant-garde, theatre etc. One of the weaknesses of and dissatisfaction with theatre of the time was that it was stuck in one point of time. It could not move forward. It was stuck at a historical time and stuck at the time the play was written or the time in the play itself in that it had to adhere to an accepted or conventional idea of time and the time that was being represented in the play. 
The Fairground Booth abandons these notions of time. It is as if time does not exist. In the play there is no historical time. The mixture of genres especially theatrical genres across time in one play seems to encourage the idea if time being concertinaed into a flexible simultaneity, where time has all but disappeared. 

Friday, 28 September 2018

The Fairground Booth Dairy 3

Porcelain Dolls and Masks

Whilst working on two projects at once, there is one which I cannot talk about at the moment. However The Fairground Booth is always taking small steps forward. I have come to the stage where I am thinking about casting The Fairground Booth. Overall I have realised what kind of look I might want for the actors. Essentially I will begin the search for faces which have a natural soft porcelain skin - like porcelain dolls, human but pale and smooth so that perhaps no makeup or very little will be required. Riding on the metro yesterday through Moscow I began to seek out such  unusual faces and they are there to be found, so this is the direction I will take on on casting. One of the advantages of this apart form being on theme is that the "look" should cross between puppets and graphics and pictures and masks and actors so that the difference between all these components are blurred or at least ambiguous.

There are of course other grotesqueries in the characters of the play but that is a different casting decision.

I also plan to film some buildings on Ostozhensko Street not far from Christ the Saviour Cathedral. There are a group of art nouveau (or "Modern" as it is in Russian) apartments with fantastical swirling mask like designs and grotesque faces from that period.  I had intended to film some buildings of this style but these are better as the motifs are mask like and can be integrated into the film by dissolving to real masks. The word here is grotesque. Even though the lines and the  motifs are beautifully designed there is a strong hint of the grotesque as the swirling plaster and stone images return and delve into the mouth of the "mask" which is not in fact a mask but the suggestion of a mask which makes it all the more effective and illusive.

The porcelain is akin to the plaster of the decorative designs on the buildings linking the architecture to masks and in turn to a face.

Friday, 14 September 2018

The Fairground Booth dairy 2

The Framed world of The Fairground Booth.

More work on the film the last few days as well the book. Re editing material for the book especially the neo platonism section Over the last week we attended a kabuki theatre production here in Moscow. Meyerhold was strongly influenced by Kabuki theatre and I am now beginning to see why this so. It has a naivety accompanied by a sophistication which is often unappreciated. The fairground Booth in its fist performance was also much misunderstood and denigrated. However it contains many innovations which became part of contemporary theatre as we understand it today.

"The Fairground Booth" has an aura of childlike naivety, however, this innocence is also accompanied by the grotesque of the commedia dell'Arte. The purpose is to disorientate the audience, to make them aware of the unnaturalness and theatricality of what they are seeing. All kinds of framing devises were used by Meyerhold in these commedia type plays, "The Fairground booth" and "Columbina's Veil" to draw attention to the fact that this is not real life. For instance servants were used to perform certain functions like opening stage curtains and helping actors with various tasks, including them in the action in new and unusual ways certainly unusual for the time.

Such framing devises and the fact that the plays are framed within the grotesque, contribute to the sense of another world or another plane of reality other than that to which we are used to seeing in the theatre opening the way to other understandings and sensations in the audience. The sense of the real world being conditioned by a sense of fantasy and grotesque leads the audience to start to make their own interpretations about what they are seeing and in this sense participating and even molding the play's sense. The puppet like quality of The Fairground Booth (The alternative title for  Blok's "The Fairground Booth" was "The Puppet Show") also suggests another state of being or other possibilities for the characters and the action of the play.

The Kabuki play "Yoshinoyama"where  the actors playing the roles Shizuka and her loyal servant  Tadanobu, directly and explicitly points to an art form and a situation outside the play. Tadanobu is firstly not human but is a fox disguised as a human. In one fragment the two characters freeze in pose of a husband and wife paper dolls which stand in the homes of Japanese families as symbols of filial loyalty. The fact that they become frozen as dolls for several moments builds layers of meaning recognized and contributed to by the knowledge and cultural sensitivities of the audience who will make connections to cultural variants outside of the play. The important thing here is that the fact that this is part of the play is also deliberately exposed. The device itself for referencing a particular element is displayed as a device.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Fairground Booth diary 1

Blok's aim in writing The Fairground Booth is to liberate us from whatever trust may have been placed in traditional theatrical practice. Part of this process involves another form of understanding. The Fairground Booth therefore has a visuality or pictorial sense in its graphic unworded movement.

Blok wants us to see that out of the chaos emerges a new form or sense of order through the theatrical.

The author is introduced  not as a god like creator but as fallible and weak.

For Blok, the Cosmos as a subject underpins the apocalypse - as in the fall of the stars and the heavens crashing to earth.
The very multilayeredness of themes invokes and multiplies new themes, directions, openings and expansions.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

The Fairground Booth update

Work on The Fairground Booth film proceeding well: My intention is to start a journal which will chronicle the progress of the actual process of editing and producing the film.

Blok's aim in writing
 The Fairground Booth is to liberate us from whatever trust may have been placed in traditional theatrical practice. Part of this process involves another form of understanding. The Fairground Booth therefore has a visuality or pictorial sense in its graphic unworded movement.

Blok wants us to see that out of the chaos emerges a new form or sense of order through the theatrical.

The author is introduced  not as a god like creator but as fallible and weak.

For Blok, the Cosmos as a subject underpins the apocalypse - as in the fall of the stars and the heavens crashing to earth.
The very multilayeredness of themes invokes and multiplies new themes, direction,openings and expansions.

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.
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The Fairground Booth Dairy - 4

The King of Time Reading a book called "Deleuze and Futurism" by Helen Palmer and there is mention of Khlebnikov and his poe...