This is the dramaturgy which will appear in the program. No real “spoilers” and it may help you to read this at your leisure.
One of the first things one notices in reading the script for The Women of Lockerbie is that it is structured in the form of Greek tragedy. Instead of scenes, the play is divided into “Choral Dialogues,” “Choral Odes,” and “Episodes.” Deborah Brevoort, in her preface, encourages producers of her play to “trust the form”. [To the blog reader: The idea I want to stress to everyone thinking of seeing this, is: Yes, it’s sad. But it’s also hopeful. The ending will be worth the price of admission. And the entire play is only about 80 minutes long. Please take a chance on this! You will not regret it. ]
It was therefore appropriate for us to research Greek theater, and to share some highlights of our findings with you so that you can view this piece in a more informed way. The Greeks are credited with virtually creating theater as we know and understand it. Here are some things to keep in mind about their theatrical style:
1) It was designed to be viewed by huge audiences;
2) It was written to provoke intense emotional response (catharsis–see note below)
3) It was political
4) It incorporated music and dance and poetry as a rule rather than an exception
The “Greek Chorus”: most of us have heard this term, but may not understand exactly what it means. The Chorus function both as storytellers and as witnesses to the story. They are characters in the drama, and also stand outside it (the chorus in a Greek play might be soldiers, townspeople, prisoners, etc). They help the audience to focus on the central events, and they also comment on those events. They speak of their own feelings and also of the overarching ideas being presented. Their part is often sung and/or danced.
In The Women of Lockerbie, the two women, plus Olive, speak three Odes (“Grief,” “Lockerbie,” and “Faith”). The final Ode, “Washing,” is wordless. There are also Choral Dialogues, and “Episodes”. The Episodes are the most naturalistic in style, and it is there that the primary action takes place. The Dialogues are often hard to distinguish from the Odes, except that in them the women speak of their individual experiences, and in the Odes they speak more universally. We have employed some stylized movement for the women to underscore the Odes, and parts of the Dialogues.
Presentational style: Greek theater usually involved no more than three actors, who wore large masks so that the vast amphitheater full of people could distinguish one from another. Each actor might play several roles, using a different mask–and a different voice–for each. Actors moved little, using voice and large gestures to communicate their words and emotions. You will notice in our play that most longer speeches are delivered directly to the audience, and that there is less blocking (movement onstage) than you may be accustomed to seeing.
Most theater today is more commonally done in a “representational” style–striving for realism, where the audience is asked to believe that events are really happening on the stage. There is an invisible “fourth wall”. The characters onstage are supposed to be unaware of having an audience; the spectators are passive, eavesdropping on the action.
Presentational theater is typically more minimalist, employing only suggestions of sets and locations. Frequently, actors will play multiple roles. The audience members are challenged to become more active in creating the action, filling in with their imaginations the elements which are being depicted onstage. Actors may speak directly to the audience.
Production Design: The play is set on a hillside in Scotland. Even with a minimalist approach, there were several possibilities. We’ve chosen to employ a visual metaphor. As violence tears at the fabric of our lives–both individually and communally–and since the women are determined to wash the clothing of the victims, it seemed appropriate to construct the set completely of textile materials. This renders the setting abstract and stylized, rather than trying to achieve a realistic exterior.
The use of visual projections–whose concept as well as production are thanks to Joel Miller–is in recognition of the fact that we live in a highly visual culture, and we are describing events our younger audience members will have little or no knowledge of. Visuals allow us to present much information dramatically, in a very short time, while heightening the emotional impact of the words which will follow.
Catharis: Originally a medical term, ‘catharsis’ literally means a purging. Aristotle was the first to use this term as a metaphor for the strong emotional response by an audience at a play. This response was the intended result of the performance. and might take the form of tears, laughter or other ecstatic emotion. The Women of Lockerbie, written in the wake of the World Trade Center destruction, as well as multiple epic natural disasters, offers to a culture in danger of being inured to tragedy an opportunity for profound and healthy emotional release. Grieving, which is generally personal and private, and progresses at a different pace for each of us, is not often expressed corporately in American culture, and there are not always public opportunities to grieve world events–unless one is able to attend a memorial service which may take place in another state or another country.
To facilitate this invitation to grieve, all for One is providing not only tissues in the program, but grief counsellors on site, and talk-back sessions the first weekend at the end of each performance.