Monday, July 24, 2006

Act One

Today was the first day of the high school project I'm working with, and I had a great time. We worked partly through the first Act of The Tempest, starting with the storm scene.

I think I know the play fairly well; I've taught it a fair number of times. But, of course, thinking about the play on stage teaches me to approach the text differently, as a theatrical rather than literary text. (I try to think theatrically AND literarily, but I don't always.)

For example, I found myself thinking a lot about imaginitive spaces, geography, and staging. In 1.2, Miranda starts off by asking Prospero about the storm, and talks about the ship she saw. So, it makes sense that she's going to direct some level of attention or action to the imaginitive space where she "saw" the ship. That is, in 1.1, the audience sees the sailors on the foundering ship. Then in 1.2, probably in the same theatrical space, the audience sees Miranda talk about seeing the ship.

If Miranda directs her attention to an imaginitive space (say, just into the audience on the left side of the stage), then that becomes the place we think of the ship having been.

Similarly, when Ariel comes on in 1.2 and talks about the people separated after the wreck, Ariel can set up a sort of imaginitive geography; Ferdinand was left there, behind, stage right, and so forth. Then Ferdinand can reinforce that geography by entering from that direction.

The other thing I noticed was how absolutely central Miranda is to all the exposition Prospero gives in 1.2. We were talking today about why Prospero interrupts himself to check if Miranda's paying attention, and talked about the option that either Miranda isn't paying good attention, or she is, and he's just not a very attentive speaker. The text makes pretty clear that Miranda is paying attention, I think.

Theatrically, the problem is that Prospero has to give a bunch of background information to make the rest of the play make sense, and doing that all in one go could be deadly dull.

But, Miranda's already set up for us (in her beginning speech) as our stand in: she's seen and been fooled by the storm, as have we. And now she listens with us as Prospero fills her (and us) in on the background.

My point is that Miranda can really make Prospero's exposition much more effective if she is really and obviously interested. I think it could be especially funny if he's parading around orating and misses her when he checks to see if she's listening (because he looks where he thought she was sitting but she's been following him, for example). And funny makes exposition stand out.

Of course, someone experienced with theatrical performance and direction would probably see these things when they read the text right off. But for me, they're neat little discoveries, and I'm really enjoying learning.

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