Thursday, July 30, 2009

Less is More

"Because the play is so stripped down, so elemental, it invites all kinds of social and political and religious interpretation, with Beckett himself placed in different schools of thought, different movements and 'ism's. The attempts to pin him down have not been successful, but the desire to do so is natural when we encounter a writer whose minimalist art reaches for bedrock reality. 'Less' forces us to look for 'more,' and the need to talk about Godot and about Beckett has resulted in a steady outpouring of books and articles."
Normand Berlin (1999) reflecting on Waiting for Godot.

"Less forces us to look for more." It is such a simple statement and yet profound at the same time. Whether in presentation, design, or performance, simplicity and imagination has been a constant theme of this blog. Today I want to reflect on different ways that simplicity helps a story get its message to the audience.

The less being performed and represented means that the audience will have the ability to focus on one thing rather than sorting through a whole myriad of different ideas and themes to get to the central argument of the play. While this can be scary as it affords little room for failure and far less diversions to hide behind, in the end if attention is paid to executing the one story line the clarity that will ensue is more affecting than any smoke and mirrors combines. How much more do you enjoy a play that you get? When you're not coming out of the theatre having to say "I don't understand what it was about" or "what were the artists trying to say?" It doesn't mean that the message has to be obvious or that it has to be spoon fed either. But simplicity is only aided by clarity.

So what about a play like Waiting for Godot? This play has been debated and discussed ever since its first performance. No one seems to be fully confident about the play's meaning. It takes a strong vision to stage the play. But at the same time, if you allow the words on the page simply to play themselves and develop a rhythm, the play will begin to find its own meaning. Beckett possesses a higher power to allow the thoughts simply to represent themselves. It is those directors and actors that see simplicity and try to add meaning to it that will muddy up the story and make it incomprehensible. So there is a danger in simplicity too.

For an excellent example of simplicity, go out and check out a mime show. All of their performance is done through action. There are no words to help indicate what is being show. There are no props to lean on as a crutch. Yet, if they are not absolutely clear with their actions and movements, the story is lost. How can this simplicity and clarity translate to dialogue? How does this thinking aid staging and design? What are the elements in mime that are essential to any performance?

Happy Birthday: Laurence Fishburne (b. 1961)

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