Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tempests and Tricksters

Recently the Oregon Shakespeare Festival held a performance at my school: two actors playing a variety of characters in each of the performances they put on. I was lucky enough to see them for two different periods. The first, they put on a truncated version of Shakespeare's Tempest; the second, which was titled "Tricksters through History" or something like that, was a pastiche of various trickster/conman scenes.

As Shannon Hale discusses in her blog post "Hone your internal reader, not your internal literary critic," when consuming the product of someone else's creative efforts, it's more useful to focus on what you get out of the experience than what the creator "intended" or "failed to do." So here are some thoughts I had around--not necessarily about--the performances:

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I enjoyed the Tempest performance better, probably because I was more familiar with the source material. What does that tell me? That I'm unlikely to have a great response to something wholly original. To satisfy someone like me there need to be reference points, some kind of lifeline onto which to grab hold.

This tendency to favor the familiar is...well, pretty universal. Inertia, ja? I think this explains partially the immense appeal of works that take a large part of their DNA from fairy tales, myths, etc. Theme and variation: it's interesting to see something known get distorted, stretched. There are more threads connecting the reader to the story already.

Part of the reason I, personally, liked Tempest over Tricksters was that the "a conman gets conned!" plot doesn't work for me. Perhaps I am just simpleminded. Maybe because I dislike people who can't deal as well as they dish (the times I dislike myself most are when I've been hypocritical).

On the other hand, I did enjoy the segments where multiple people were working at cross-purposes. As Ron Weasley says, (I'm paraphrasing) "There can be more than one person plotting something at the same time." The difference between this kind of plot-havoc and the previous is that when a conman gets conned, that's a nested structure, while parallel plots that interfere is more interwoven. You get interesting interference patterns.

Part of the Trickster performance was an excerpt from Oscar Wilde's "Importance of Being Earnest," which I liked for the humor but also for the line "Besides, I am particularly fond of muffins."

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Some of the actors' comments post-performance were particularly interesting:

"I enjoy playing multiple characters because you get a closer look at the connections. For example, Caliban and Ariel (in the Tempest) have a yin and yang kind of dynamic."

I used to write where essentially every character had a foil (see: the Utopia Project); since then, I've cut back but I still like the parallel structure, the dualism. I don't think I've done anything as clearly-defined as the Caliban-Ariel dichotomy, however, since I favor large ensembles way too much. I wonder what would happen if I deliberately inserted a pair of foils?

"Neither of us can really do the character of Prospero justice, because he is an old man, near the end of his life, and we're too young to understand a lot of what goes into shaping his character."

That's one of my concerns with Orsolya: all the main characters are in their twenties (when they become important, at least) and I'm still in high school. There's a lot that I haven't experienced yet that probably keeps my characters from reading like real people. Which is probably a subconscious reason that my next projects all star young girls, since I've been there. Hell, I am there.

Final comment: the actors mentioned how English colonization of the Americas was just starting up while Shakespeare was writing, and how one could read a subtext of the whites-natives interactions into how Prospero treats Caliban (dehumanizing him, chiefly--which segues perfectly into what we're doing in Lit right now with Frankenstein...hm…), but how Shakespeare probably didn't have that connection directly in mind while writing. Which makes me wonder--in what subtle ways is my work informed by my world?

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