Performance Art: Storytelling
November 15, 2013
On November 6th and 7th, visiting artist Bob Lawson held intensive theatre workshops for Beacon students. Lawson, a director, playwright, and visual artist who currently teaches at Franklin Pierce University, conducted his workshops with a core group of about 10 students. Several other students participated in various parts of the process, and a few faculty and staff also checked in the see the progression to the final piece. All involved in this project were impressed with the outcome, and many of the students expressed an interest in participating in future workshops of this nature.
To begin the project, Lawson held a brainstorming session with the students, the goal being to identify preconceptions and notions about theatre and about what they expected from the workshops. Lawson then introduced the idea of the funnel (or the martini glass) when starting such a project. With this structure, the individual or group would start by considering all possibilities, all ideas, gradually narrowing down to the one deemed most appropriate for the performance. According to Lawson, it is the material that dictates the form.
The idea of narcissism and the Greek myth associated with it were introduced for discussion. This then evolved into the concept of storytelling. The students were given a few minutes to decide on a story to share with a partner. Unknown to the storyteller, the partner’s task was actually to study the mannerisms and actions of the storyteller rather than focus on the story itself. When these actions were demonstrated to the group, Lawson then shared how these motions could become choreography for the performance. All of the students were then directed to write their stories on sheets of plastic too small to actually be read. The sheets became a critical component of the set. Several student stories were then recorded, and these, with the background music “You” by Andrew Bayer, became the soundtrack of the piece. The group ultimately decided that the performance should express “controlled chaos” in storytelling.
On the second day of the workshops, the final details of the performance were decided on, and the piece was performed for a small audience. The set had been completed the night before, and the students were given freedom to determine their actions within it. They were guided by their own unique stories. Each student chose a “home base,” as Lawson referred to it, and they were to act according to their personal story. Pictures of each student were displayed in a rotation projected on the wall, which added another element to the set design. Deciding on the ending was a difficult decision as several good ideas were introduced. One student was set on screaming, with the students then retreating behind the sheets of plastic. While this was an interesting concept in theory, especially given that the only voices in the performance were those previously recorded, it was ultimately decided that this was too harsh a way to conclude an otherwise mellow piece. Instead, each performer was whispered the words “I have an idea.” That was then the cue to move behind the plastic sheet. The final silhouette provided by the lighting and the figures of the group was almost haunting.
All who viewed the final performance deemed it an artistic success, and the students who performed in it were deservedly proud of their accomplishment. We look forward to more such performances in our new art space!
~ Gretchen Dreimiller
Pictures by Heather Reed