Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Creating Chills On Stage

I'm well into learning, by heart (always by heart) my part in The Woman in Black for Wayside Theatre, where it's being directed by Warner Crocker, for an October run.  It's a ghost story, or rather, as labelled on the cover, "a ghost play," set in some indeterminate period--in what could roughly be the turn of the 20th century--in an indeterminate, seaside village in northeastern England (all this indeterminacy giving me some welcome latitude with dialect, which, as long as I keep it forward in the mouth, make it non-rhotic, and round up the shwas, should play well). The most interesting aspect of the play is its dependence on atmosphere, established only partly through stage and sound effects.  The story gets its chills from a verbal narrative that interweaves with and underscores actual scenes, which are always played by either one or two actors (there are only two 'actors' in the show... or, at least only two who get credited in the playbill.)  Also, the 'story within a story' frame helps defeat an unwillingness to disbelieve and establishes the audience goodwill on which all tellers of ghost stories depend.  The play depends neither on gruesome spectacle nor outrageous imagination.  The place and characters are spooky and establish their hooks in our imagination through their antecedents in literature and simple curiosity piqued by the genuine, if restrained, emotion with which the character I play begins the evening.


Cynthia J. McGean said...

Sounds interesting. I've been thinking a lot lately about the ways writers create mood. It's really an investment in time and details of character and setting that surrounds the audience or reader and soaks into their brains so they are primed for the pay-off.

David Millstone said...

Cindy - do you find it difficult to trust readers' patience? To work against what seems to be a common desire for ACTION to be always happening?