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The Eight Moon Journey

The Set

Brecht and design

The productions directed by Brecht himself rarely had a set that did nothing more than suggest location. If a character needed to sit then a chair was present; if a character needed to walk through a door then a door was present. Any set was designed to look like nothing more than what it was: a set for a play in a theatre, constructed to last just the few hours it took for the play to last.

The dynamic between the production and the audience was the most important aspect. Brecht wanted to create a sense of the boxing ring – that the audience could smoke, talk, enjoy themselves in ways not associated with visiting the theatre. Brecht didn’t want the audience to lose themselves in the illusion of the dramatic world of the stage. Therefore any set was to look like it was built to last just the length of time needed to perform the play. I think this sense of a sporting audience works on a number of levels: a sports crowd has knowledge about what they have come to see, they are experts on many levels, and so Brecht sought to treat his audience as such, that they were intelligent enough to know the play wasn’t ‘real’, that the issues and politics being portrayed was relevant to their lives because they were living it; there is also a sense that a sports crowd is there to see the sport and the competitors know they are there and are crucial to not only the process but also the outcome. Brecht carried this idea into his work in reaction to the naturalistic fourth wall – during a naturalistic performance the audience does not exist and the actors and audience submit themselves to the lie that the play and the characters are real, thus separating both the actors and audience from what is happening. The paradox of naturalism was that the more the audience could submit to the lie, the more they could afterwards separate themselves from the play and any view of the world held within it: ‘oh what a tragic end, it was inevitable – there is nothing to be done’.

Inviting the audience to see the play as a play, the actors as actors - to share in the experience - actually helps to highlight the fact that the world of the play is a world that the audience and the actors share and the characters are merely a vehicle to illustrate its failings and how it can be changed.

The Set – First Ideas

My first consideration is that we are performing in the Ron Barber Studio at The Crescent, therefore there is limited space and the stage will need to be small and focussed. With this in mind my intention is to have the acting area on raised rostra, using a thick maritime type rope as a boundary within which the action takes place and outside of which the actors are actors and not characters. Inside the rope the rostra will be painted a baked sandy colour to represent the harsh landscape of Australia, but will also pass for the inside of the ship and the cell. At the back of the studio, upstage, is a recessed area that can be used for entrances and exits. I will have a pair of white curtains made from a harsh, rough material. This will give us an ‘offstage’ area for Sideway to go off and for Arscott to be punished, without the need for a wings area as the studio does not afford one. Also, at the end of the play there is the difficulty of having the cast backstage and Arscott and Caesar exit ‘on stage’ to begin the ‘Recruiting Officer’. At first I considered having them come downstage and perform to our audience, thus taking the focus, but the reactions of the other actors are important, so I decided to have them exit through the curtains, as if stepping on stage. They will then be lit so we can see their silhouettes through the curtains. Locations will be suggested within the rope by the use of boxes and crates. This is an oft used concept in previous productions of the play and is an element I am happy to recycle. The crates will give the idea that these are people in transit who are not native to the landscape. Also they are flexible in creating places such as a boat or a bed, and where necessary can be completely removed from the space to create an empty area.

Off the rostra will be chairs at either side of the acting area where the actors will sit throughout the performance. They will be on stage throughout, changing costumes and preparing for their entrances in full view of the audience. This is our attempt at creating the ‘boxing ring’ relationship. The rope denotes where the action is but the audience will see the actors preparing, changing, and getting ready to take part and so. The audience will see their reactions to the play’s progress as actors not characters. It is one method that we are using to remind the audience they are in a theatre, that the action is not real, and that when characters die, or are feeling a particularly strong emotion, it is simply being demonstrated by the actor, reported to the audience, so the actors will stand up and leave the action not dead and not ‘feeling’ the emotion. Hopefully this will distance the audience enough for them to be more critical.

Above the stage is going to be a screen which we will use to project images and text. Obviously there are the scene titles which we will project, but also I want images that accompany the action, that reflect or contrast with or even comment upon what has been said. We may even slip in slogans or quotations that will further challenge the audience. At this point I haven’t begun the process of finding these images, I am also unsure as to whether there should or should not be modern images to ensure there is a sense that the audience should be considering the play from a modern perspective. Having an image from camp x-Ray in Guantanamo Bay above the action of the play would cause an instant reaction – what I would need to do is be sure that that reaction is in keeping with the show we are going to produce. Around the auditorium we will place slogans, generated in rehearsals by the cast, that will again focus audience attention to what we believe are the key aspects of the play.

I am also considering the potential of having the ephemera of the colony decorating the stage area and maybe incorporating the curtains into a larger piece of material that could look like a sail. However, I am unsure of both the logistics of such a move and also the potential for a ‘culinary’, pretty design that could detract from the piece as a piece of Epic theatre.

I also intend to base rehearsals upon previous work done in preparing the set design, just as Brecht did with Casper Naher. I will take sketches of various stage groupings of actors in different scenes and use those to begin the blocking of individual scenes, trying to ensure there is a Gestic basis to the use of space rather than an emotional or ‘culinary’ – aesthetically theatrical – stage shape.

The Set – the finished product

The set we are using is very close to how I envisaged it at the beginning of the process. We have rostra for our performing area, although we have decided not to raise it as high as I originally intended for practical purposes. The curtains are a bit whiter and cleaner than I intended but they are something that we as a theatre will want to use again so we cannot afford to create tattered curtains simply for this one production as a professional company would. The crates work very well, as a collection of mismatched boxes and create different acting areas in a very slick, simple way.

The idea of having the cast waiting works well. I anticipated being able to see more of them but, on reflection, we see enough of them to know they’re there, see actors before they enter and so on without being too much of a distraction – there is a difference between being distanced and having too many points of focus.

The projections are another area that has evolved into something different to what I originally envisaged but I have realised what I have is actually better than what I wanted. As an ensemble we decided that modern, camp x-ray type images would be a bit too much, shifting the performance from a Brechtian style show to something more Agit-Prop. For me there is a difference between the two in that the later has a tendency to be more aggressive and beat the spectator over the head with their message more than Brecht. I wanted that cool distance from the emotive qualities of the subject matter. Therefore, although there are photographs, they are old and slightly indeterminate in origin and period. That said, some of the pictures are still disturbing and may still be emotive – the one area that is out of my control is audience reaction. I can have intentions but I cannot predict or control that outcome. Luckily for me the whole issue of prisons and punishment for crime has become a hot topic in the press recently.

The other change is that, instead of having a constant stream of images we now just have the title of the scene with one image for the scene. This works really well in that some images link directly to the content of the scene, others are not apparent instantly in what way they reflect the scene – for ‘The First Rehearsal’ there is a photograph of a hanging – but does so as the scene progresses. Some scenes don’t have an image, which at first worried me but now I feel that there need not be a hard and fast rule if it causes too much distress!

I was also concerned with the practicality of projecting through stage lighting and that the images would not be seen. However this proved to be unfounded.

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