Sunday, June 21, 2009

Theater of the Absurd

I have been involved in the creation of theater since I was five years old. I grew up acting in at least two plays a year, every year, in a children's musical theater group, in community theater, at school, at the local teen center. In high school I started directing plays and musicals. In college I was a theater minor, concentrating on directing, and working part-time doing tech. After graduation, I stage managed and ran light boards and whatnot for a while, then earned my MFA in Performing Arts Management. Then I worked for various companies, and wound up as Managing Director of an Off Broadway theater. After my son was born, I picked up the occasional theatrical grant writing gig because I couldn't think of another theater-related job I could do from home.

And then I realized: I've been directing a very short actor through 3 1/2 years of rehearsals and workshop performances at the playground.

I think my theatrical training has put me in the perfect position to be Ryan's mom. I have been trained to listen, to observe, to react spontaneously, to communicate, to improvise. I am used to dealing with diva moments. I am aware of motivations and intentions. I can figure out how to talk to an individual actor in a way that's helpful to him. And I can pretend to be really angry when all I want to do is laugh.

And Ryan is quite a good actor. He loves pretending to sneeze. He likes showing me his happy and sad and angry faces.

And he's always off book (for you non-theater folks, that means he learns his lines quickly).

Most of his language comes in the form of scripting. He will memorize the dialogue from a book or tv show and bust it out while playing or in an attempt at communication. The earliest example of this I can remember started shortly after he started saying words. If I was holding him and he wanted to be put down, he would command me "Down down plop! Down down plop!" This references the page in Are You My Mother? when the baby bird jumps out of his nest before he knows how to fly.

Every time we play Ring Around the Rosie, Ryan pretends to float up and the end, then reprimands himself with "We all fall down, not back" (sic - the line is "not up"), then responds to himself "OK, Wheeeeee!" and falls back down. This, of course, is a brief scene from Elmo's World.

My day is full of guess-that-reference, because I know Ryan can not use language creatively enough to form scenes like that on his own. Sometimes the scripts make sense (like down down plop), and sometimes they seem to come out of nowhere. I make a point of watching tv with him sometimes so I'll know what he's talking about later.

I have been instructed to use instances of scripting as a bridge to something else. The other day in the bathtub, Ryan was playing with the water coming from the faucet. He seemed to be trying to catch it all, then started baling it to the other side of the tub. I figured out he was reinacting a scene from the Clifford cartoon series in which Charlie and Emily Elizabeth can't figure out how to turn off Charlie's father's soft serve ice cream dispenser, and they try to contain the mess as the whole dock fills with vanilla ice cream. So I played along, throwing in suggestions I knew were not part of his script, like "Maybe the shark is hungry and will eat the ice cream" and "Quick, fill up this bottle! Whew, we saved the day!" Then I transitioned the game to "Let's pour this bottle of water on the duckie. What if I pour it on you?"

Like a director, I help Ryan get beyond his text to some higher truth. Someday soon, I hope he will try his hand at playwriting as well, instead of just reciting someone else's scripts. I love working with original material.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep it civil, people.