“The fall of the house of Usher” by Steven Berkoff Essay
“The fall of the house of Usher” by Steven Berkoff
Response: We were presented with a text called “the fall of the house of Usher” by Steven Berkoff, 1st published in 1977 by John Calder Ltd. The edition of the book we were given to work with was published in 1990, reprinted in 1996 by Amber Lane Press. The story itself is odd to say the least; I come across some of the strangest characters ever thinkable, you had Usher a seemingly mad middle-aged man, Madeline sister to usher her role in the play leaves you feeling empty, Friend and Oswald (servant) these two are two of the more civilised characters in the play. The story is so unpredictable it can be interpreted in many different ways giving avenues to countless different remakes of the book. We found exploring the text in the time we had difficult as we came up with a lot of different interpretations of our own of the play which in some way or another were altered to such a point we were starting from scratch again.
We tried breaking the text down and switching the scenes of the play so it wasn’t so confusing but this turned out to be very difficult and several different interpretations all didn’t work so we just stuck with the text we were given as it was given and interpreted that as we wanted. While we were reading the text as a class we tried several strategies to help us explore the text, such strategies as spotlighting, improvisation and simulating, hot seating, games, trust work and a form of doubling in each case we were trying to manipulate the text or take out scenes from the text and turn into a role playing exercise.
When we were spot lighting we were 1st asked to act as animals and then the class would freeze and watch and student carry on with his improvisation when asked by the teacher, we improvised and simulated madness and by improvising being mad, speaking to a wall, simulating riding a horse and being trapped in a invisible coffin, I tried hot seating within my own group to help get a better understanding of my character, we started a few lessons with games just to get us motivated or we had a game some where along the text as it had something to do with the text.
The games helped us explore the text as the games themselves weren’t something you’d play with your mates on the play ground, we took to chair scene out the play to work on trust work, we paired up and one person from the would bend their legs and act as a chair as the other person sat on them, we used a form of doubling when asked to copy what someone else was doing in the class, we used all these strategies to help with role play and exploring the text. As the text was so bizarre we employed these strategies quite a few times whilst reading the text as a class. Most off these strategies were aimed at simulating madness insanity.
Development: After going through the hold of the text with the class I paired up with Sam as he’s one of my good mates and a very talented actor, we flicked through the book again looking for some scenes we could use for our interpretation of the play. We spent a good hour on finding different scenes we could use, after choosing the scenes we decided to play around with the scenes and make our own script by moving the scripts to different places. After working on the idea he had established for about a week during rehearsals it emerged that the piece was going to be to short and didn’t make much sense. So it was in our best interest to had some more scenes from the text to give our interpretation a bit more structure and make it longer so it met the minimum time limit of 5 minutes per person in the group, which came up to a total of 10 minutes for us.
After having a quick browse through the text we picked out a new begging middle and end and added this to the old script to create the new one. The new script was a lot longer but need some work. Sam took the script home to work on it and came back the next lesson with the idea in his head it was to long and complicated and wasn’t going to work so we scraped the hold thing and started of the process of choosing some scenes and rehearsing them again but this time we didn’t move the scenes around we simply just choose them and wrote them into the script in the order they came. We then proceeded to rehearse certain scenes and work on the sound for our performance.
During rehearsals we changed the set and props we would be using consistently and Sam decided on playing both Madeline and Friend. We planned out how we would move around the stage and when and where to use the lines and choose a piece of music for the start and end of our play both being mellow and classical pieces from the schools collection. We started writing out our stage directions. We then had 2 hours of lesson times to perfect what we had come up with and this meant learning our lines and knowing when to use them.
We attempted a rehearsal to see how far we had got and it just wasn’t working, we had to many line to remember and we didn’t know where we was supposed to be walking on stage we both had different ideas. We sat down and decided we had to interpret the text in a way we could both perform it. Ideas came up of shorting it and we were thought about employing our old script but both ideas seemed to be no hopers and we realised we needed something original. Something so different even if it was a bad performance the audience would be left with wide open faces. Sam finally came up with the idea to have all the characters drugged up on opium.
He decide to forget playing two roles and stick with playing Madeline. We did anther detailed browse through the scenes in the text flicking through the pages we selected a few scenes which only had Madeline and Usher in them.
After selecting the scenes and learning our lines we rehearsed the hole thing over a few times, the only problem we encountered this time was how to end it, we had planned to end it with a scene where Madeline kills Usher but we had to fit it with the scenes we had and we had to do it in a way no 1 got hurt. After figuring out what to do we rehearsed the death scene a few more times.
We listen to some different music we could use and decided to use Get Your Groove On by Limp Bizkit ft Ludicrous for the death scene.
In the end we didn’t have enough time to go out and pick up our own costumes and had to do with what the school had. Sam got into a dress and applied some make up where as I put on a waist coat.
To explain the theme of our interpretation we used the speech,
“I feel an utter depression of the soul.
Which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after dream of a reveller upon opium”,
to help get across over vision.
We knew weren’t going to ever reach the 10 minute mark with what we had so to add length to our performance we attempted to say our lines slowly so they took up more time.
The performance it self showed lack of rehearsal. There were forgotten lines and bits where I just froze because me and Sam just went of course and didn’t work out how we were going to link up each scene. There was even a bit where I ran off with a cramp because I was laughing too much but that could have been over looked by the theme of the play as I supposed to be “high”. We did have some good bits though. Tasha did our music and had perfect timing, the death scene went really well and Sam looked good in a dress and with make up on.
The performance we did come up with could have been a lot better if we used the time we had more efficiently. The theme it self was original and if we did think of it 9 weeks prior to the performance we might have come out with something spectacular. We abused the 9 weeks we had to get the performance together partly because we thought the time we had would last for ever and we didn’t really need all of it and was expendable, but we did learnt the hard way that 9 weeks actually wasn’t enough to get exactly what we wanted as a lot of time and work goes into making a good performance. This was a good lesson for our next performance and we won’t be slacking so much next time.
Evaluation: I watched at least ten other groups perform during performance week. One of the best performance I watched was Seema’s, even though she was working on her own she still managed to capture an atmosphere. A group that didn’t do as well was Pooja’s, Jazkiran’s and Richas. Seemas performance had things about it which set apart from all the other performances. Her set consisted of a staircase and a back wall with to pages stuck to it with the lyrics of the song which was playing. Before the play had even started I immediately was reading the lyrics as soon as I caught sight of them. The lyrics them self were from a song which sounded very eerie and fitted the text perfectly as it was also very eerie.
When she did start you could see the make and dress was well thought out, she had a child’s dress on and had white face paint all over her face with some red lip stick smudged around her lips. You could clearly tell what she was trying to imitate and she stayed in role perfectly. She had also bought some props in, 2 dolls which you could tell she dedicated a lot of time to as they had both been broken apart and put back together as well as having their hair burnt. Seema captured the social barriers by acting like a spoilt brat and using Barbie dolls which in a way also had cultural assets to it. She also hit the cultural note with a bizarre death scene from the text interpreted by her.
Poojas, Jazkirens and Richas performance on the day showed clear lack of rehearsal. Before the play even started there was a fairly long black out and all you could hear was the girls mucking about behind the curtain trying to learn their lines or something. When the play did start the wrong music started to play and Pooja started having a fit and walked of stage and had a go at the person doing the sound. They did another black out and started the play again, they continuously kept forgetting lines and were laughing on stage, the lighting was terrible and their make up was just a bit of make up smudged across the face. They had no props or costumes apart from Richa, who was wearing a black blazer and trousers. It was hard to find any historical, social or cultural implications apart from the white face paint which had some historical relevance as you always see those old films with the royal family having bright white faces.