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This document is the outline of a workshop given by Craig Stowe of "Goat Multimedia" as part of the Standard Bank Business Arts Series of the 2001 National Schools Festival. Craig started "Goat Multimedia" with Tori Crampton. Currently they are selling products to over 200 outlets nationwide and exporting to four countries. They have won a national prize for design and recently started a community development project in Port Alfred aimed at developing and marketing craft. For those interested in making a living through art, this document offers some guidelines on how to turn their dreams into reality.
This workshop dealt primarily with the notion of sub-text, using a short scene from Harold Pinter's Betrayal as a reference point. For the most part, characters in plays use language either to try to reveal something, like thoughts and emotions, or to cover up something. In the scene we looked at, it became clear that the polite conversation of the three characters was masking an undercurrent of tension. This tension was the result of a secret adulterous relationship between Emma and her husband's best friend, Jerry. The hidden discomfort was further compounded by the husband's knowledge of the liaison and his decision not to let on that he was aware of the affair. You will find that in most dramas written in a realistic style (and worth their salt), many of the characters will, at some point, use language that disguises, or runs contrary to, their true objectives, intentions and emotions. This approach is not limited to the realist convention, however, and may be found in Elizabethan, Restoration and Absurdist drama too. You might also notice, the next time that you tune into Isidingo or The Bold and the Beautiful, that the soapies love to play with the idea of characters not saying what they mean, or covering up some nefarious plot with kind-sounding words. This is a very clear example of sub-text in action.
If, however, you are looking for more intelligent use of this dramatic convention, try out the following suggestions:
What makes theatre a unique art form, different from cinema, television and music concerts? Although most people would agree that the "live-ness" of theatre is what gives it it's particular appeal, the participants in this workshop were encouraged to think about the specific qualities that make theatre a unique live experience different to, say, a sporting event or a rock concert.
Our investigations led us to the conclusion that theatre's magic lies in it's limitations. Unlike film or TV, theatre cannot realistically show us events that happen on a massive scale or in a microscopic dimension: we cannot put the Empire State Building on a stage, or show an audience the fine fur on the back of a flea. What theatre does to compensate for these limits then, is appeal directly to the imagination. In theatre, the actor puts a ladder on the stage and says to the audience, "Imagine this is the Empire State Building." Through lighting, mime or a creative use of props, theatre can suggest entire universes - provided the audience is prepared to join in the suspension of disbelief and use their imagination. An interesting question was raised during these workshops: Is realism on stage dead? Why should theatre continue to explore realistic drama when film and television can do realism infinitely better? (Why paint a picture of a mountain exactly as you see it, when a photograph will do the trick, and better?) Shouldn't theatre's aim be to do precisely what film and other art forms cannot do?
No particular sources were drawn on for this workshop. It was designed to ask questions and to encourage young theatre- makers to explore the boundaries of theatre. When we watch productions by Andrew Buckland, Brett Bailey and Aldo Brincat, to mention but a few excellent contemporary artists, we would do well to pay attention to the way they solve the problems set up by the limitations of the stage. It is in overcoming those boundaries that they, and we, truly exercise the imagination.