Blood Wedding and The Woman Before

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Over the last 5 months as a class, we have been exploring the plays “Blood Wedding” by Federico Garcia Lorca and “The Woman Before” by Roland Schimmelpfennig. Through the methods of various practitioners, group discussions and solitary research I feel I have investigated both plays to a great depth.

The play “Blood Wedding” lends itself extremely well to the works of the practitioners Constantin Stanislavski and Artaud. Within our class we explored how the more surreal scenes could be developed further by incorporating Artaud’s theories of sensory deprivation and non literal sounds. Artaud liked placing his audiences in the centre of the theatre, with seats that could turn and enjoyed engulfing and overwhelming his audiences with a massive accumulation of effects.

I played on this by selecting 5 audience members to sit in a small circle facing inwards and blindfolding them (sensory deprivation). By removing their ability to see, every action would be a surprise and would evoke a sensual and involuntary response rather than detached and intellectual; something which Artaud aimed for in his performances. When creating more naturalistic scenes, I developed my characters using Stanislavski’s theory of emotion memory and given circumstances.

I first analysed the text to deduce my character’s main emotion in the scene I was enacting and then thought to a time in my life when I had felt a similar emotion. This allowed me to sympathise with my character much further and in turn, make the audience believe in my performance as the emotions I displayed were true, real, raw emotions and came from the heart. “The Woman Before” on the other hand is a very different play. The script feels very naturalistic with the only surrealism coming in the climactic scene.

I decided to use the theories of Bertolt Brecht to help the audience to understand the otherwise dauntingly difficult, leaps in time. With the play seamlessly flowing from present to past and future, the time changes are made easier to understand with placards held at the start of each scene, something Brecht championed in the theatre circle. This ensured that the audience remained focused on the action rather than spending time trying to work out where the action was taking place on the timeline.

I believe the main difference between the two plays is the style of writing. “The Woman Before” is very naturalistic and follows the ebbs and flows of natural language whereas “Blood Wedding” is a lot more surreal, with characters that symbolise death etc. This affects the choice of practitioners as each practitioner is more suited to a particular style of writing. Interpretation Our introduction to “Blood Wedding” began with the class being asked to create a tableaux depicting a symbolised interpretation of the title of the text: “Blood Wedding”.

My initial thoughts were that the title represented something holy or pure (“Wedding”) being tarnished or ruined (“Blood”) so I set out recreating such a scene. To represent the purity of the title I showed the birth of a child with characters behind shrouding the mother and baby in black shadows to represent the putrid aspect. I went to the props box and found not only black cloaks but also a single red rose which I suggested be placed on the baby to symbolise new life and fertility.

Overall I think the workshop really helped in my understanding of the play, without even opening the text. I got to hear and see each group’s interpretations of the title, allowing us to draw upon those and create out own opinions on what the play may be about. When creating scenes from “The Woman Before”, the main problem I encountered was how to portray the character of Romy. I began by playing her as a jealous, possessive psychopath, out for revenge but I found that this made the character hard for the audience to relate to or sympathise with.

To counter this, I decided to try and display a softer side to Romy by inferring that she just found it hard to let go of the past and that she was not in control of her actions. To show this, I decided to no longer portray her as manipulative and vindictive but rather as a fragile, helpless and complicated girl trapped in the past; torn apart by her lover’s ‘betrayal’. I also decided to therefore show Claudia as very manipulative, especially in Act 4, where Claudia asserts her position as Frank’s wife when confronted by Romy.

I played Romy as very confused in this scene, struggling to come to terms with what she is hearing, thus making the audience sympathise with the character. I found that this method of Character Contradiction, developed by Brecht, evoked a much stronger response and enticed the audience further as it gave the character of Romy some much needed depth. I personally preferred working with “The Woman Before” when it came to looking at interpretations of various characters as I believe the text left it a lot more open to personal opinions.

Characters could be played in a multitude of ways and it gave the actors a lot more to work with in comparison to the rigid structure of “Blood Wedding”. Social, Historical, Cultural & Political Context “Blood Wedding” is set in 1930s Andalusia at a time when many families depended upon the fertile land around them. Vineyards, as owned by the character of the bridegroom in the play, were one of the few ways to make a living and showed your family’s wealthy status in comparison to esparto farmers like the Bride’s Father.

Understanding the time in which the play is set helped me to act out the character of the Bride’s Father. I sympathised with his scepticism about the Bridegroom’s Mother selling her land as I understood that her vineyards were “worth a fortune” and that selling them would be a stupid idea when the fruits provide you with such a high standard of living. Therefore, I could echo this scepticism when performing thanks to my understanding of the social and cultural context. Based in late 90s Germany, “The Woman Before” is set in a society very similar to ours thus making it much easier to relate to than “Blood Wedding”.

We didn’t have to research the historical context of the play to the same extent as “Blood Wedding” because the social situation still existed in our world and we could therefore imagine and relate to many of the character’s actions. There was no gender segregation or political oppression to research into as with “Blood Wedding”. One part of the research for “The Woman Before” was investigating cases of overly possessive and psychopathic females like the character Romy in the play.

By reading the psycho analytical reports of such women as Myra Hindley and Rose West, we began to understand further Romy’s thought process and the way in which her brain worked and how she viewed life. I noticed similarities in both cases in that they were very fragile, quiet and helpless, something which I incoporated into my performance. The play “Blood Wedding” deals mainly with the theme of an individual against society; Leonardo goes against the traditions and elopes with the bride in tow.

This is something that doesn’t come as much of a shock to the modern reader, nothing more than a storyline from Eastenders or your family’s juicy gossip. However by understanding how traditional life was in Spain in the 1930s, I can understand the reactions of the characters further. This also helped in my performance of Act 2 Scene 2 where the crowd at the wedding realise the pair have ran away. I could understand and therefore portray a felling of shock and slight excitement as I knew that in the context of the play, people would never have seen someone going against the traditions.

Visual, Aural &Spatial Elements The main emotions emanating from the text of “Blood Wedding” were love, hurt, revenge and death; all emotions associated with the colour red. When designing my set for my performances, I remembered to keep this in mind and in turn made sure that all climactic moments were highlighted with a red light. I decided to use a standard proscenium arch stage with raked seating in all but one of my performances in which I sat five blindfolded audience members in a small circle facing inwards with the rest of the audience members seated in rows facing the stage.

I think this increased the voyeuristic feel for those watching as they could not only see the action but also see the reactions of the blindfolded audience members. For the five with hindered sight, they had to rely on what they could hear and feel alone, thus making our vocal performances even more important. We incorporated non literal sounds to compliment the sensory deprivation, two Artaudian theories, whilst also reading segments from one of Artaud’s poems that complimented the text of “Blood Wedding”.

We also looked at ways in which we could deliver our lines, experimenting with such techniques as canon, chanting and repetition. We settled on the Use of chanting as it had quite a daunting effect on the audience when combined with the lack of emotion displayed in our faces. In one “The Woman Before” workshop, we were challenged with the task of creating the final scene using only our voice as the audience would have their eyes closed throughout the performance.

To start the scene, I began by opening the stage curtains, this worked on two levels as it is a sound associated with the beginning of a play whilst at the same time, it also worked at the first sound heard in the scene: the drawing of shower curtains. As the action in the scene picked up, so do the pace of our breathing. Our breath not only quickened but deepened, creating a sense of fear in the audience as we closed in on them slowly. We began our scene with long, quiet sounds that slowly increased in volume until the climax of our performance.

It ended with a chorus of desperate screams for help, followed by the sound of a phone ringing. The sound faded out until the room was left in complete silence. Overall I found that “The Woman Before” provided much more of a challenge when considering the aural elements of the play but “Blood Wedding” gave a lot more room for experimentation when creating the staging and the text itself was surreal in comparison to the naturalism of “The Woman Before”‘. Characterisation One of Lorca’s most notable features within “Blood Wedding” is how his protagonists are named.

With the exception of Leonardo, the characters are designated according to their position or role within society; hence, there is a Mother, a Father, a Bridegroom, and so forth. In choosing only to individualise Leonardo it exemplifies his individuality and raises the theme of an individual versus society. We also explored traditional archetypes observed in the play and what characteristics they would have. For example, typical characteristics of the Mother would be crossed arms, a stern face and a scowl whilst Leonardo would generally have his hands on hips, chip pointed up and feet spread apart.

Being able to other people’s interpretations helped my performance as I could use characteristics which I found effective as an audience member when watching the rest of my group. When acting out scenes from “The Woman Before”, I had to quickly transform between the characters of Andi and Frank. As we were portraying a very Brechtian performance of the play, I could not use extreme costume changes to show the difference between characters and therefore the onus was on my gestus when performing. The immediately obvious difference between the two characters is their ages; Frank is in his 40s and Andi is 18.

My movements as Andi therefore were much more graceful and swifter than as Frank, with the latter often not moving at all in scenes. To magnify this difference in character I also used a lower pitched voice as Frank Language Lorca’s use of language in “Blood Wedding” is very poetic and stylised, using metaphors and personification he moves from Prose to Verse within the play. In “Blood Wedding”, poetry and drama seem to become one as characters talk to each other in verse form with the transition seamless. But verse is only used in the play at a heightened dramatic point or to help create tension.

For example, when Leonardo and the Bride are talking to each other in the middle of the forest, they speak in verse form. For example “Be quiet I say. With your teeth, with your hands, with whatever you may”. In this scene, the text really flows and helps towards magnifying the mystical, surreal feel of the scene already exhibited by such nonsensical characters as the moon.

“Blood Wedding” also contains examples of dark and sinister imagery and metaphorical language throughout the play and in Act 3 in particular, most of which lies in the Beggar Woman’s dialogue. Torn flowers their eyes, their teeth two fistfuls of frozen snow” is a rather daunting line for the audience, creating an air of eeriness that sets up the scene perfectly for what follws: the rejection of the Bride by the Mother after the death of the Bridegroom. In comparison, “The Woman Before””s language is very naturalistic and follows the conventions of modern day speech. It has a slight feel of informality with characters overlapping each other and cutting into one another frequently throughout the dialogue.

The interjections increase the plausibility of the text which allows the audience to immerse themselves in the performance as they are not questioning the credibility of the dialogue as the dialogue possesses many of the same structural weaknesses that shape the way real people speak. In my opinion, I prefer the language of “The Woman Before” as the characters feel more like actual people and in turn the audience are more inclined to believe what they – and by extension, what Schimmelpfennig has to say. Non Verbal Communication

One of the most helpful exercises when working on non verbal communication in “Blood Wedding” was a workshop where we were challenged to act out our scenes without using our voice or mouthing words to each others. This helped to magnify the importance of non verbal communication within drama as the exercise allowed me to focus solely on that aspect of acting. Without the prompts in dialogue that I had grown accustomed to, I had to rely on the non verbal cues. At first I found that I wasn’t utilising non verbal communication to a great enough extent with my body staying motionless in the majorty of the performance.

By the end of the workshop however, I realised how using gestures within my performance helped to convey the sub text of the play and my character’s through lines and objectives without even having to speak. For example, as the Bridegroom I could show my exasperation at the Bride whilst my dialogue made it appear as if nothing was wrong. The importance of sound effects within theatre was also explored through workshops based around “The Woman Before”, when challenged with creating a portrayal of the final scene using entirely non literal sounds and the natural percussion of items in the room.

Second only to sight, sound is the second most powerful medium on which to convey a message and helps to accent the performance. We came to realise that sound effects enhance the dramatic and visual effects of a performance and can help to set the scene, effect the mood and heighten tension in a performance whilst adding a sense of realism to the piece. However, sound effects are not always necessary, especially with a Brechtian performance, where simplicity is a must.

Overall, I feel that “Blood Wedding” provided a much greater opportunity to work with non verbal communication when performing as they was a more intriguing sub text to develop through the use of gestures and facial expressions. Vocal Awareness Within a small group, we were given the task of analysing a small section of the lullaby in “Blood Wedding” and investigate how we create the greatest effect from the section we had been given. Throughout the course of the workshop, we experimented with a variety of vocal techniques, one such being canon.

With four lines to recite and four members in our group, this seemed like the natural option and worked with great effect. Canon is primarily associated with children’s playground songs (“London’s Burning” etc. ) and therefore we used high-pitched squeaky voices for the first part of the performance. This was then countered by the gruff, monotonous slur of the lines repeated simultaneously. The juxtaposition of tones resulted in quite a haunting effect with what appeared at first like something as pure as a nursery rhyme (“Wedding”) ruined by the groans of the repeated lines (“Blood”).

This therefore kept in line with our interpretation of the play as something pure being tarnished by something unholy. With “The Woman Before”, I experimented with how the tone of my voice could help to convey a sense of panic to the audience. As the character Andi realises that he may have murdered an innocent woman, fear, worry and ultimately panic begin to settle in and my challenge was to let these audience understand the emotions I was feeling in a non explicit way.

I began by trialling different volumes and found that the more panicked I became, the louder I got until I was almost barking out explanations. I also found that by contrasting the loud shouts with a softer, higher pitched voice helped to show Andi’s innocence and youth and his fear of retribution. Overall, I preferred working with “The Woman Before” as there was a wider variety of emotions that each character could display through their voice alone.

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