A superb final lecture at uni today before the Christmas break dragged me seven-and-a-half years back to my sole visit to the National Student Drama Festival in Scarborough. We were looking at difficult-to-stage scenes from various plays (including the famous 'pursued by a bear' direction) and one of them was the beheading scene from Judith, which I'd seen at the NSDF back in Easter 2001. It was probably that week in Scarborough which put me off ever wanting to become a drama student (although, in fairness, alongside some dreadful plays and amidst the sweaty throngs of horrible, horrible drama students *ptooie*, I was properly introduced to live physical theatre which ultimately led me to where I am now, so swings and roundabouts I suppose).
Just spent the evening back at uni seeing part of the Shakespeare Festival, with three Shakespeare snippets in the theatre. I was terribly disappointed, largely due to the quality of the performances. The first piece, a well-crafted clowning ensemble of Midsummer Night's Dream's rude mechanicals was the best, even if some of the characters lapsed into dull stereotypes (the primadonna Bottom, or the lion with stagefright, both overdone and mishandled). The next was an snippet of King Lear, which was fascinating visually and initially had me very interested as I don't know the play at all. Quickly, though, the performers started to irritate me and my attention wandered. The same with the final piece, a maritime-themed telling of Pericles, without enough of a maritime theme or confident performances (bar Pericles himself).
I thought back to Destination GB which I saw there last week, a devised piece performed mainly by friends and directed by my tutor. The reason I felt it hard to judge was because I feel like I know the performers too well. Seeing the shows this evening with a completely fresh eye (I didn't know anyone in it or anyone involved, except for, I assume, Al and Paul in the theatre) had me wondering whether it's almost impossible to properly judge work within the confines of the university drama community and whether frequent invitations for external audiences (outside of the cast's friends and families) are the only way to get a subjective view of the work. I felt every foot-shuffle and lifeless face and (what I felt to be) misunderstanding of the text by the actors and I wondered if I would have felt as strongly had it been my friends and peers (and indeed colleagues) that I was supporting.
Another thing came up which rather interested me. The evening was sold to me (I felt) as one event, but it very much seemed to be three seperate plays and companies to the extent that the companies who had already performed would join us in the audience afterwards. When I was about twelve, on holiday in Guernsey, we went to see an outdoor production of A Comedy of Errors in the awesome castle in St Peter's Port. It had the convention of the actors actually playing Shakespearian performers putting on a show, so beforehand we had knife juggling, firebreathing and so on. It was extremely well done, and immediately afterwards, as the audience was wandering off, one of the actors had come out into the crowd to see his friends. "That was great!" his friends were telling him, before he replied, in front of all the people who'd just seen him, "Nah, it was crap."
I kind of feel that you have a bit of a responsibility in the theatre to make sure that the theatrical experience (which a vast majority of people don't get very often) extends beyond what happens on the stage between when the lights go down and when they come up. I loathe hanging around in the bar after shows, and always find it disconcerting to see a performer immediately after their show's over. Not least because this evening a friend of one of the actors was having a heated argument with the girl running front-of-house regarding a refund over some tickets for friends who hadn't shown up. It was very odd and ultimately it's all been a bit unsatisfying.
STILL, getting some semester feedback tomorrow and hopefully going to see The Tempest with puppets at Ham House at the weekend (it'll be the second time I've seen it done with puppets) as well as seeing Spamalot tomorrow night and then hopefully a night out with the drama lot from uni.
Kill all hippies!