Yesterday, I wrote about how crafting words can influence the minds of observers. In the case of the poem, The Tiger, by William Blake, the reader has an image based solely on the words of the poet. We as performers have an advantage as we set the stage ourselves for our imagery. We do our best to provide props and stage settings to create an atmosphere of mystery. We can enhance that atmosphere by our words.
One of the concepts of directing our audiences’ attention is creating an inescapable box for them which doesn’t allow any retreat from where you led them in the mental sense. If we lead them through their own thoughts to a place that is derived by them in their own minds, there is no escape. The late Eugene Poinc, a master of wordcraft, was so skilled at this that the Learned Pig Project has memorialized his web site and will keep it alive as long as Marco allows his site to exist.
Let’s use an example based around a human skull. You can buy a plastic skull from a medical supply house or costuming shop just about anywhere in the world. Applying some makeup, paint and glue to attach some mosses, dirt, doll hair and bits of what looks like dried skin can take the skull from a clinical and sterile looking display item to a prop worthy of the association with the pure evil you wish to create. How creepy or disgusting you make it is up to you. Once you have the prop, the easy part is done. You now must impart some signifigance to it in the minds of your audience.
You can use a pedestrian, overly simple descriptive route and hope it sticks. That’s the easy way out and the one that most average performers use. Opening a box, removing the skull and holding it up while hoping for shock value falls far short of being entertaining by itself. “Behold, the severed head of Madame de Fronde brutally murdered by her lover.” Now, that might work for a group of 10 year old girls wanting to be scared (no offence intended towards 10 year old girls) but the highly sophisticated audiences we stand before today are used to seeing the special effects guys doing their best work on the wide screen and TV. Simply holding up the skull as if performing Shakespeare won’t cut it any more. It becomes a handbook of what not to do.
You must choose your plan, plot and words with the precision of an attorney who is trying to save his own life. You must lead your audience’s minds collectively towards a conclusion that appears to come from within them but which you have guided them to remorselessly.
The Hook: Dramatic license is very imporant here. A background of music being sung by a hauntingly beautiful soprano voice will help create the mood. Classical music sources abound with the voices you need. As a very low volume background you do a voice-over that begins with a bit of a reminicsence.
“The amazingly lovely song you hear was sung by a not so famous soprano nearly 80 years ago. We are priveledged to be able to hear it today, reproduced from old recordings. But she was more known for her spectacular end rather than her career in voice. You see, the beautiful lady lost her heart to a man.”
This sort of hook begins to set the story into the minds of the audience. The fact that it happened 80 years ago means they can believe themselves to be far more sophisticated than the singer. After all, she lost her heart to a man. How old fashioned is that?
The Lead: You must draw them further into your trap here. Remember, this is a cunning plan that you have laid out and you need to execute it ruthlessly or it fails. You continue your theme.
“In her thirtieth year of life she failed one night to appear at what was her most notable role. It seems she’d lost her head over the man who owned her heart. A body was found without a head near where she lived. She must have intended to appear as she was costumed for her part. Her lover never confessed and there was no evidence to convict. The crime remains unsolved today. Madame de Fronde died at the hands of an unknown fiend.”
Ok. We now have them waiting for the next part of the story. Everyone knows that cold cases can be solved – they see it on television all the time. It’s a natural place to which they have been led.
The Bite: It’s time to lead them into the box from which there is no escape.
“Last year, an old Victorian house on the same block where Madame de Fronde stayed was dismantled to make way for more modern structures. In the attic, this box, large enough for a hat but oddly perfumed with the scent of old lace and long dead gardenias. How this came to be in the house in which I lived so many of my childhood years remains a mystery but as the last remaining member of my family, it fell to my hands.”
Opening the box, you pause and look at the audience while reaching inside. Lifting out the skull, you continue.
“Could this be . . .? Is this our lovely voice? Can there . . . will there . . . be justice after all this time?”
The Illusion: I’ll leave this bit up to you. My thoughts run towards the Disembodied Head illusion where there appears a speaking head on a pillow inside a box resting on an ornate table. I’d place the skull back in its box, move it to the table and do a very spooky incantation to reanimate the head and allow it to speak to the audience for the first time since the day the woman was murdered. The means and execution of this are easy to accomplish and published elsewhere.
Getting from concept to complete routine is not done casually. In fact, something called a storyboard is needed to start the process which I actually finished here. Unfortunately, without seeing this process as I have described it here, a storyboard discussion is hard to follow. Thus, you get the cart before the horse with this installment.
On some future date, the storyboard will be described for you.