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In this unit we looked at the beginning of Steven Berkoff’s adaptation of Metamorphosis. We used various dramatic techniques and devices such as improvisation, freeze framing, mime and unison work. All these techniques were employed to develop our understanding of the play and its characters.
Using the Stage Directions at the Opening of the Play
Our first task was to use the initial stage directions to create our idea of the opening image of the play. We split into two groups.
We tried to follow Berkoff’s stage directions as accurately as we could because the play has a very distinct non-naturalistic feel to it. We were told to focus on the transformation of Gregor and how we could create the figure of the beetle so we looked very carefully at the stage directions to try and replicate the ideas that Berkoff had when he adapted the play. We decided to create the individual limbs of the beetle with our bodies as this was the best way we could display the exaggerated movement of the beetle’s legs.
This was a very good way of introducing ourselves to the play as it enabled us to get into Berkoff’s mindset and understand a little bit more about the narrative and the non-naturalistic style of the play.
How did you explore this scene? Did it reinforce your understanding of the play?
A Day in the Life of Gregor Samsa
In this exercise we decided to focus on the life of Gregor pre-metamorphosis.
The point of this was to establish a better understanding of the character of Gregor and how he feels about his life and his job. We performed an off-text improvisation to show this. We also decided to look at the monotony of Gregor Samsa’s daily routine and reflect it within our piece. We did this by taking one daily cycle of getting up, going to work, coming home and then going to sleep and repeating it again and again. We also focused on the use of exaggerated mime in this exercise; we thought it would be more effective to show the emotion or rather lack of emotion of Gregor as he continues through his unbroken cycle of working, eating and sleeping. This turned out to be very effective in conveying the fact that Gregor is trapped within this cycle and he cannot escape from it. We also showed Gregor’s work as being tiresome and unsuccessful as every time he approached a customer a door was slammed in his face.
The feedback from the other group was very positive. They enjoyed our use of props, especially the use of a doorframe to represent the houses that Gregor was trying to sell his wares to. They also commented on the way that we changed the person behind the door each time Gregor approached it to show that it was a different house.
The other group had a similar idea. They decided that repeating the daily cycle would also be the best route towards portraying Gregor’s seemingly endless cycle of work and sleep. They did this by repeating the exact same scene again and again at a gradually increasing tempo. I think that this exercise enabled us to really get in the mindset of Gregor Samsa and understand how he must feel to be almost reliving the same day over and over again.
Gregor’s point of view
In this exercise we had to perform the first scene, which we had already explored. However this time we were told to interpret the scene from Gregor’s point of view. We decided to focus on how Gregor’s family was entirely dependent on him and that they were a huge burden on him. We then decided to develop this idea. Andrew played Gregor and Jack and I played the role of the family. We did not play specific roles within the family as we wanted to represent the family as a whole. We made Andrew wear multiple layers of clothing to symbolise the money he had earned and when Andrew entered the home we rushed to him and tore these clothes from him almost like scavengers. We decided to use what we had learnt from the previous exercises and show how Gregor had become familiarised to the situation by having him almost oblivious to what the family was doing. Once again we incorporated his daily cycle by having repeatedly entering the house, going to bed, getting up and then leaving.
I think this piece went very well as the audience could see very clearly how the family saw Gregor as a means of support rather than an actual person. The audience said they liked the way we used exaggeration to make it obvious what was happening to him as we actually tore his possessions from his body. I think this exercise was very useful as it helped us build on what we had learned in the previous exercises.
Entrance of Chief Clerk
First of all we sat down as a group and discussed the role of the Chief Clerk. We came up with similar ideas, particularly that the Chief Clark was an oppressive figure and that he represented a higher class within a kind of feudal system in which the characters existed. After this we were told to create freeze-frames representing oppression and fear in a symbolic manner. We found it very difficult to separate the ideas and create two different freeze frames. We both came up with scenes that symbolised fear very quickly however when it came to oppression we could only think of physical representations rather than symbolic ones. This exercise really helped us understand the meaning of oppression and fear and how we could apply it separately to the role of the Chief Clerk.
Next we were told to turn those freeze frames into a performance. We were not allowed to use dialogue so we used rhythm and movement as a way of expressing our characters. We decided that we could put the two ideas we had discussed together and use rhythm to demonstrate the sense of oppression that the family felt under the Chief Clerk. I took the role of the Chief Clerk while Matthew and James played the role of the Family. We thought it was important that we portrayed the family as a whole rather than as individual characters as it made more sense within the context of this exercise. We chose specific actions and expressions that we thought represented the characters. The Chief Clerk is an ominous figure and is superior to the family so I decide to use oversized steps and an emphasis on large movements and heavy footsteps. In contrast the family took small quick steps to symbolise their fear.
We were then given instructions to develop our piece using dialogue however we were only allowed to use one or two words. For the Chief Clerk I chose the words ‘time’ and ‘late’ because the lateness of Gregor was the reason why he had come to the house. Matthew and James chose the word ‘Gregor’ representing the family’s complete dependence on him. He was almost giant-like with a booming voice. The Family however was a complete contrast to this. Matthew and James spoke in high pitched quiet voices. They also spoke in unison to further the idea of the family being one.
More about physical elements. Voice etc. what did you add to your character
Firstly we split into threes and looked at animal-like movement and unison. We had to pick an animal and then choose three speeds of movement interrupted by three different actions. After this we joined as one large group and completed a school of fish exercise where we walked around the room as one group in unison using different speeds and changes of direction. The purpose of this exercise was to give us a greater understanding of unison work and how we could apply animal characteristics to characters. Both of these exercises were very useful as they helped us with the next piece of performance where unison work would play a key role.
Add more sentence isn’t finished
The next scene we looked at was the scene in which the lodgers enter the household. This is a key scene as it marks a moment in which the family is almost put into Gregor’s shoes as the lodgers, like leeches, begin to suck the family dry. We used the skills we had learned from the previous exercise and applied them to the characters of the lodgers. In the original exercise where we did unison work as a group of three we decided to pick birds as the animal group we would portray. This made it very easy for us to transfer what we had already learned into this performance and enabled us to mirror some of the mannerisms and movements we had already done. We decided to make the lodgers almost vulture-like in nature. As we were not able to perform the entire scene we picked key lines from the dialogue which really showed the audience the way in which the lodgers behaved and how they were ready to criticise the family’s every move. I feel that our unison work helped us a lot. As a group we were able to portray the lodgers as one body rather than three individual characters, which I believe is what Berkoff was trying to do.
Metamorphosis- Steven Berkoff’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s play:
For this element of the coursework you have a 1000 word limit alongside your play reviews. For this session I would like you to start writing notes on the work we have completed so far.
Remember you should be writing about how you are exploring the text practically.
How it helps your understanding of key themes and characters.
Evaluating the success of your work and the success/difficulties you felt other members of the group faced.
Work Completed So Far:
Using the Stage Directions at the Opening of the Play:
Your first task was to use the initial stage directions to create your idea of the opening image of the play. You had to try and follow his intentions as accurately as you could to understand the Non-Naturalistic style of the play. (Focus on creating the bug)
A Day in the Life of Gregor Samsa:
Your next task was a way of exploring the before-time of the play by looking at Gregor’s life pre-insect. The point of this was to establish a better sense of character and to look at what Gregor feels about his own life. Here we focused on Non-Verbal communication/Movement and Mime.
Gregor’s point of View:
Your next exercise was to explore the opening scene from Gregor’s point of view. Focusing on how he felt the family treated him. You had to interpret your own non-naturalistic idea whilst taking key elements from the dialogue on the page.
Entrance of the Chief Clerk:
We discussed what role the Chief Clerk represented within the play and his character being linked to the idea of communism and feudal systems. First you had to create Freeze-frames of Oppression and Fear in a symbolic way. Then you had to produce two different versions of the scene; the first focusing only on sound and movement, with Rhythm and tempo playing an important role. The second was to allow each character two words, which best symbolised their character traits. You could compare the effectiveness of the scenes you were in and what you watched.
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