Monday, June 07, 2021

Psychological Scenery

William and Mary had Backdrop Club, a student-run musical that closed every year without assistance from the faculty and staff. By tradition, they performed an original script by an older student every other year.  It now occurs to me that if I had had any discipline it should have been my play senior year. Hmm, one more thing to feel guilty about.  That's another story.

I was in the 1972 production, "Magic." You have never heard of it. It was very modern, a blocky set with platforms and ramps, intense colored lighting, an unclear plot, and many of us running around in glitter and leotards striking dramatic poses. Some of us had no lines, yet the director was very concerned with spending a lot of rehearsal time with us, making sure we got it right, because we were "psychological scenery," and our contribution was crucial to the play. There was no other scenery, so I guess we were left holding the bag. We did get to sing and dance as the chorus as well. At the time, I thought he was just being polite to keep us from quitting in boredom, but I came to understand he really meant it. These weird gestures were supposed to drive the action. My angry and angular pose on the high platform stage right was supposed to "frame and explain" Lindell's limp, collapsed heap on the floor stage left. It was an era when we believed such subtle things that audiences would never notice in a hundred viewings were somehow working on them subconsciously, heightening the effect of the banal songs and dialogue. Which I still remember.

However, I was both broad-shouldered and slender then and looked great in a leotard, so it wasn't a complete loss. 

I thought I was going to be free of the whole concept forever, but watched my granddaughter performing in "Dear Edwina" at the middle school this week, and there it was again.  There was no painted scenery, there were students across the back as the scenes shifted, striking poses. It's like one of those fires that looks like it's out, but a series of tree roots is smoldering underneath and it all comes up in conflagration two weeks later.


james said...

Is that an occupational risk of directors who have to get all the details right? Chronic detail-itis?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

As with other professions, it may signal someone who has lost control of the major things and is retreating to ones he thinks he can stay on top of. Bureaucrats in my department used to get that way when they could no longer keep up with the actual work.