Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Continuity, cont'd

The point is: filmic discontinuity is invisible. This is despite/because of its position as the essence of the medium. Making a film seem discontinuous is almost a trick now because we are so quick to fill in the gaps.

On stage, discontinuity is essentially stunning because everything is out in the open. Consider for instance the blackout before the show begins. This is creating discontinuity. The lie it offers is that suddenly, you are no longer in the space you were just in. Fantastic.

Discontinuity within a play (real, black-out discontinuity, not actors running around with cubes discontinuity) works a little bit differently. We have created a world together, and then, in an instant, it is completely destroyed. There is no telling - absolutely no telling - what world we'll be in next. (Although, of course, if the last line of the previous scene is "Hooray, let's all go to the zoo!" we might expect the Zoo.) So theatrical discontinuity strikes me as the best way to present fantasy, delight, and possibility onstage. Especially if there really are changes to the set etc., a real blackout (no glowtape, no kidding around) that rises to reveal a real change will always surprise and delight an audience. Because there aren't any tricks. My friend Dash used to do this magic trick where he puts a condom up his nose and pulls it out of his mouth. People always asked him how he did it. Did he have a second condom in his mouth? Did he hide it up his sleeve? No: he just did it. That's the magic - confronted with remarkable reality, we will invent an impossibly complicated alternative.

I've heard complaints that blackouts break up a show's unity, but never an explanation as to why that's essentially bad. What if that is exactly what they do: break up unity. Imagine a living room drama in which the great secret is finally revealed. Then black. A moment. Then lights up again. Nothing has changed, everything has changed, what happened in between? Right? That's delightful.

We have so many tricks. So many tricks that litter our stages any-old-how. We use ming vases to hold paper flowers 8 times a week all across the country. Will the revolution come from something no one ever thought of over the last 2500 years? Maybe. But we could also try just thinking about all the jewels we're overlooking.

1 comment:

Zev Valancy said...

The question of blackouts, and when they're a good idea, varies from play to play. Some plays need a sense of constant motion, others benefit from being arrested. Certainly, "Lieutenant" would not have been nearly as interesting without the blackout before the final scene.