Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dreaming of Theater

He and I began discussing the phantasmagoric in performance. He wanted to discuss how to incorporate dream imagery and dream ambience onto the stage without turning on the spiral gobo specials or cueing the high reverb sound effects. How does one actually put the dream onstage without the usual hokum associated with 'dream sequences'?

His goal was to have the elements and events occur onstage in the same manner in which they occur to his perception within his dreams, which is to say that the distancing, the v-effect, the jolting, the natural dissonance, the shift from one verisimitude to another, the shock of something inexplicable... that THING sort of never occurs to the spectator.

For example, when a character is mutilated onstage and revels in the mutilation... there is no appeal made to performance mode or dream indicating devise. When such an event occurs in the dream, there is no appeal to reason, no attempt at justifying cause and effect. The event occurs and the dreamer reacts within the presumed reality of the dream.

So, he wondered aloud how to do that onstage.

When we dream onstage, it is often lucid. Something somewhere occurs that clues us in to the idea that a character and by extension, we, are dreaming. Such a thing does not happen as often in our actual REM. Many of us have had a moment of self awareness within the dream, but in order to make it an achieveble goal during most REM requires a disciplined regiment that many don't have the patience for. Sleep is meant for much needed rest rather than a ritualized sequence meant to obtain lucidity.

I suggested to him that it was merely a matter of preference. That the stage devise was not something to be wary or, not something to avoid, that it could be utilzed or not as he saw fit.

The audience will decide each and every night and in a different way each time, whether or not it 'WORKS' for them. Some audience will not bat a eyelash when seeming non-sequitrs happen onstage. They'll be familiar enough with the author, the compnay, or the narrative intent that such an occurance to their mind happens onstage becuase it must, because it did...that is all. Other audience members will not be able to decode the notion of dreaming on stage unless they are ushered into it with a change in lighting, sound, or even something as simple as one of the actors saying the word 'Dream'. This is not a failing on the part of audience or artist, it is merely a convention at play.

When we speak of dreaming in theater, so often we discuss what is 'nature' or 'real'. I like it when asked about dream sequences in comic books Bart corrects the Comic Book Guy by saying "None of these things REALLY happened." Such is the case with just about every beat you put on stage. Any convention or lack of convention is at your disposal at any time. There is nothing at all natural about perfect strangers breaking into harmonious song on the street, but everyone I ever met understands this is a convention of music theatre. There is never the question of why "sing".

So, my notion is to go ahead and use the conventions of showing DREAM. Just do so with as much virtuosity as you can muster.


RVCBard said...


The problem I often have with "dream" scenes is that I don't feel they come off as dreamlike enough. Like you said, dreams don't rely on cause-and-effect the way our waking lives do, so I'll take that and keep in mind as I write. Thanks.

Tony Adams said...

I think there is a lot that can be done with light and sound to help signify a change in time/space/state of being.

But I also thing lighting and sound can be a crutch. What would one do to signify such a change if performed in the daylight?

A lot of the easy tricks (spinning gobos etc.)are just as boring as starting off the scene with a character stating "wow this is a really weird dream I'm having."