In this portfolio I will take you on the journey which I myself have travelled on throughout my IB theatre programme. Within this portfolio I will portray the processes which we as a group went through in order to create our devised piece as well as how we applied our knowledge and understanding from our experiences into our performance design.
Our production began with each member of the group producing a stimulus. Before presenting their ideas we decided that we should individually analyse the stimuli and see what we as individuals could come up with. We did this before the member of the group voiced their ideas on their chosen stimulus so that we had the opportunity to take the stimulus along different paths and elaborate different ideas and amalgamate them together. Belo is our stimulus’ and our ideas which we had on each.
After having discussed the available options which included images, music and objects of sentimental value we decided to use my stimuli. My stimulus was of a newspaper article that had been widely distributed throughout the UK.
We then discussed the direction we wished to take with our chosen stimuli. We again split into different areas of the room to individually assess our dilemma. Below is the mind map which I created at this time.
After thorough discussion we agreed upon the concept of using a ‘current affairs dilemma’ in order to solve our own. Our group was fascinated by the political outrage that Iran had caused with America in regards to capital punishment on women.
The Research and Development of the plot
Thorough research shown how on the 20th September 2010 Iranian Government publicly accused the US of ‘Double Standards’ in a newspaper article published in ‘The Guardian’. Centred on a 43 year old Iranian, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and a 43 year old American Theresa Lewis. Ashtiani was issued with capital punishment in 2007 after it emerged that she had an illicit affair with a man after the death of her husband in 2006; this was later revoked and she was charged with adultery, manslaughter and the murder of her husband. After heavy media attention in 2010 and the international campaigns lead by her children, the US decided to interfere. It was at this point that the political and controversial debate first took form. Iran used the case of Theresa Lewis and the issues surrounding her low IQ of 72 in order label the US Government as a hypocrisy. As a group we decided to build upon the idea that this issue was now a well known moral dilemma in the eyes of the media and transfer this to our audience.
Preparation of roles
Due to a shortage in group members most people on role allocation ended up with multiple roles outside of casting. As a strong leader I was required to both direct and create our script. Other roles distributed included head of lighting, head of technology (computer, projections, music), Costume designer/set designer and also a physical movement leader. After having directed a scene in both our performances of ‘The Seagull’ Anton Chekhov and also our modernized performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ I had already gained experience on my course for this role. Previously I had directed a scene from ‘The Seagull’ based upon the German movement in the 20th Century, Expressionism.
I had began reviewing work from Georg Kaiser, Oskar Kokoschka and Ernst Toller whom were all highly influential playwrights. As I had already worked hard to gain understanding of this tradition I really hoped I would be able to use this experience. Following on from this I began thinking that maybe I could find a tradition for each country involved in order to uniquely apply my imagination to our piece. After thorough research however it was evident that Iran had not really adapted a specific practice in order for us to carry out this desire. Whilst researching I stumbled across the book pictured below and I was struck with the words
“most people do not speak of theater and Iran in the same breath”
By Willem Floor
Because of this we decided to change tact and opt to symbolise the juxtaposition instead through lighting and staging.
As well as directing, my role was also to produce the script. After having seen a production of Willy Russell’s ‘Blood Brothers’ I was fascinated by the narration used. ‘Blood Brothers’ based upon the separation of two twin brothers at birth uses, a narrator to guide the play. I took inspiration from this and used the rhyming couplet format in order to symbolise the two women. Before penning the script we produced a flow chart collectively annotating the main plot and adding aspects of theatre which we had learnt on our journey. Below is a copy of our chart.
After having an outline of things to be included in the script I began by listing all of the main things we wished the narrator to introduce in the play. We had a vision that the narrator would guide the play throughout through facts and that he would create a connection between the audience and the cast. Because of this the narrator’s speech was conducted first in its entirety. From here it really felt as though my script had a strong ‘spine’ on which to build our piece. As our piece began with a police interview we wished to keep it at a very simplistic level of speech just like that of a real interview. We decided on stage direction so that the interviewer was not visible throughout; leaving the actress playing Ashtiani alone on stage to symbolise how she was alone and not supported when interrogated.
It was at this point that we reflected upon our past workshops based upon speech and theatrical forms in which we can convey speech. A workshop came to mind from the previous term where we had built upon the idea of a ‘sound collage’. A sound collage is where there is a build up of speech from multiple participants aimed at a particular subject. We decided that this would be a way of communicating to the audience a sense of anger or revolt; because of this we attached it to the chart in relation to the campaign against Astiani’s sentence as we felt this would have a strong effect. Another was that symbolism was used through my script writing was through Ashtiani and Lewis’ monologues; again showing how they were both alone yet in the same situation. We began our course creating a ‘one-person’ show based upon a real life event or experience which we had within our lives.
Within my ‘one-person’ show I had a vast majority of my speech presented as a monologue and I wished to transfer my craftsmanship of producing monologues into our script. In order to create the monologues I first had to visualise the characters whom would be performing them. Because they were both real women I was able to complete a lot more thorough research into them gaining a better portrayal as them as individuals. From this I concentrated on themes and emotions which I wished to get across to my audience through the monologues. I learnt that Ashtiani and Lewis alike were very religious thus concentrated their monologues from a very philosophical and religious point of view: however I still kept in mind that their two religions were very different and ensured that I kept the appropriate context throughout (e.g. Allah instead of God for Ashtiani).
Whilst researching our topic we had found that there had been a lot of media attention on both cases and we wished to portray to the audience just how much the media had been involved: also we wanted to show them how much people are influenced by the media. For the section of our chart where we introduce Teresa Lewis an idea was formed so that she would be introduced through a television broadcast. I began this section of the script by visualising a news reporter sat at a desk within the audience speaking directly at them. This idea developed and led us to have another cast member as a journalist actually interviewing Lewis at her correction centre. The idea of another interview type dialogue was to portray the two women’s differences in the way they were being interviewed and questioned.
To begin with it was decided that it would be best to create a mindmap of suggested roles that would need to be filled in order to go ahead with the production. Below is a copy of our mind map
However we issued a problem when it came to the casting of roles. As we only had two female members of our group we were automatically cast as the two women. This then left us with three males to cover a total of six casting roles; because of this we had to organise ourselves in a way that allowed each male to cater to two parts without them conflicting. We managed to do this by using a theatre practice wisely after an idea emerged that the narrator would be in the style of a ‘Bunraku puppet master’ the ‘omozukai’. We were first introduced to Bunraku puppetry by our elder Baccalaureate students who provided us with a workshop. We decided that everything in the production should be under the narrators control like puppets would be; in a way the narrator could be seen as the controlling governments holding the women for their crime. Introducing this style allowed for a lot of stylised movement pieces throughout our performance.
After having been allocated our roles we wanted each cast member to fully understand their character whether it be an officer of the law, a journalist or one of the women themselves. We provided each member of the group with an image relating to their character Below is the image I was provided with along with how I answered certain questions given to me by my peers in order to develop my characterisation.
It was at this point we experimented using a technique called ‘hot seating’ in order to enhance characterisation. We each took it in turns to be questioned in character. Everybody found it highly difficult at first however after a few minutes everyone managed to get the hang of it. We also brought in aspects we had learnt from our workshop on Stanislavski in how to apply his theories. We continued building on our characterisation by looking for resources. I found a particularly good resource online  from amnesty international which was not only personal but also highly emotive. In particular this helped me with my monologue as I was able to feel connected to my character in order to portray the appropriate emotions.
There was a great discussion between the group as to whether we should apply accents or not. It was decided that we should not apply accents but that we should be highly expressive and use the gift of sound/speech in other more appropriate ways such as our sound collages.
From a very early stage of production I had a very vivid image of where I would ideally see the piece going in terms of movement. I really enjoyed both Kabuki theatre as well as improvised dance. We tried to incorporate the two into the scene that the Iranian officials came to collect Ashtiani’s lover. We tried a lot of improvised movements however found that the final product was much disorganised and we really wanted this scene to be both memorable and pivotal so we decided to journey down another path.
Further discussion led us onto tableaux however after a short workshop this idea was also disregarded on the ground that the scene should have a content of movement in order to emphasise the brutal separation of the lovers. From this we organised a lesson where we explored the idea of using creative movement on the basis of a fight. We choreographed a routine using levels to show who was in control and also pace to highlight certain features. In the end the product for this movement piece in my eyes was highly effective in the way it showed the lovers being torn apart by their government and law.
Whilst developing our first scene we had to identify the difference in authority to the audience. We also had to show the difference in characters through this method due to the males playing more than one character. After having workshops on masks previously we were aware that the purpose of masks in Greek theatre was to signify the unity of a chorus: because of this we used them for our two Iranian officials as they had no speech during their time on stage. The idea of the masks was to create exaggerated facial features portraying the anger and authority associated with that scene yet at the same time disguise the actors true selves. The mask allowed us to show the contrast between the different levels of hierarchy within the scene as well as symbolise the isolation that the couple were feeling being faced with ‘masked intruders’.
When devising our piece it was decided that our piece required two pieces of music. There was one necessary at the time of the movement scene where the Iranian couple are separated. We found a piece of music by ‘Radio head’ entitled ‘Talk show host’. The tempo of the song was highly appropriate to the atmospheric desire as it showed confusion, regret and desire all at once. The lyrics in the song such as ‘You want me?
Well come on and break the door down…You want me?' we believed were perfectly fitting for the scene. We were able to synchronise our movement so that our choreography was carried out in time to both the music and in time with other cast members. There was also another piece of music entitled ‘We are the World’ by ‘Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson’ to be played at the very end of the performance. This particular piece of music I believe thoroughly puts the world into perspective emphasising the importance of life which at the end of the performance is taken from the women.
Due to there being two separate stories going on at one time on the stage the lighting was crucial. We used 2 spotlights (1 for each female character) with colour faded reflective lighting upstage. The flood lights used were chosen appropriately especially in terms of colour. For example green was used to portray coldness whereas red was used to show anger. We tried a variety of colours for the movement scene however in the end after a lot of trial and error we finally agreed on red fading through to blue to show the anger from the officials resulting in the blue for the loneliness and sadness. I really enjoyed experimenting with the lighting as not only did I learn a lot but we were also able to show the juxtaposition.
For our staging we tried to show the contrast through black and white flooring, curtains and backdrop. Not only did the black and white create the impression of harsh and soft but it also symbolised the two races. Below is a sketch of how we designed the set.
The idea was that neither side crossed the boundary set out in the middle. We placed 2 old fashioned chairs back to back for the two women in the centre of the stage for them to be seated on at the end. Other than the 2 chairs there were no other props on the stage.
Because we tried to use a very simplistic set design we compensated for this with a projector carefully placed to project newspaper headlines onto the white cloth background. Also attached to the backdrop was metal shackles which Ashtiani’s wrists were placed into to set the scene of her cell as well as show the restraints that she had against her: Lewis however had nothing but the chair and was not restrained in any way to show the two sides of the world two political views on law enforcement. As a whole I really enjoyed making the set as well as designing it. Although we encountered a few problems setting up the projector and laying out the flooring I was very happy with the outcome. The finished product was highly symbolic which was totally what we were aiming for.