Saturday, November 14, 2009

Inside the Box

One of the best things about working on a college campus is that I can attend stimulating talks, lectures, and performances almost hourly - well, except that then I wouldn't get any of my own work done. But still: I can sneak away with some regularity to expand my intellectual and emotional horizons. Last week I heard a wonderful talk on "Evil in Macbeth" by English Department Professor Emeritus Doug Burger. And I try to attend all of the Performance Fridays hosted by the Center for the Humanities and the Arts (CHA). Luckily I'm currently a CHA board member so I don't even have to feel guilty when I attend the Performance Fridays: enjoying their free light lunch before the performance, and then watching an amazing 45-minute production of music, theater, or dance, is actually what I'm SUPPOSED to be doing - it's what the University of Colorado is paying me to do.

Yesterday's Performance Friday featured CU's astonishing new assistant professor Tamara Meneghini in a series of monologues using the technique of "RasaBoxes." The stage was marked out with eight different boxes, each one representing a different zone of emotional energy, identified with a Sanskrit name, including wonder/awe, love, disgust, laughter, and rage. First, some of Tammy's students moved from box to box "warming up the RasaBoxes," using their bodies and wordless voices to portray the emotions in each one. Then Tammy took the stage, delivering a series of beautifully crafted, powerful sketches: a young child's boundless enthusiasm tempered by her grief for missing her absent mother, an aging country-western singer trying too hard to laugh at her own decline, a homeless woman picking invisible lice off herself as she rages against the passersby. Wow.

I'm wondering if the RasaBox technique might work for writers as well as actors. Certainly I came away from Tammy's performance with some thoughts about how what I saw in that powerful hour could help my own work as an author. Here is some of what I'm distilling for myself:

1) Go deep into whatever emotion your character is experiencing. Be as filled with awe, love, laughter, disgust, or rage as you can possibly be. Don't hold anything back: you ARE awe! you ARE love! you ARE rage!

2) It can help to "warm up" the emotion with some other exercises that generate that feeling.

3) Clear boundaries are good: start the scene, end the scene, enter into your box, and then at the end, depart from it - each scene is a perfect little unit enclosed within its own defined limits.

And I even got a free light lunch, too!

1 comment:

  1. I worked at two very large state universities in the past, but no interesting light lunches were involved! I ran a writers group on the side, and sometimes a professor would buy me lunch, which was very nice! But I was too shy to eat. I am glad you were able to enjoy your "free lunch" and get so much of value from the presentation you saw.