The Aresan Clan is published four times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun). You can see what's been written so far collected here. All posts will be posted under the Aresan Clan label. For summaries of the events so far, visit here. See my previous serial Vampire Wares collected here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Philosophy & Theater Final

When I was in my second year at Goucher college in 1999, I took a class in Philosophy and Theater. It was an elective credit towards my philosophy minor, which I had decided to join in on because it just looked interesting. And it was. And the most interesting day of all was the day of our final.

The professor had set aside a large swath of time for the final, which each one of the eight or nine students doing their final presentation. This being a theater class, our final had to be some sort of theatrical-type performance, but this also being a philosophy class, it had to make some sort of relevant philosophical point, which would be explained at the end of the performance. I had chosen to do a reading from Israel Horovitz's oddly humorous play play Stage Directions. It's a one act play wherein all the dialogue consists of the actors' stage directions. In other words, the actors spend the whole time saying exactly what they're doing and feeling. So it starts out without the male character entering the room, and as he's doing this he's saying, "Richard enters, quietly. Looks about the room to see if he is alone. Leans back against door, exhales, sobs once," and so on. It's a clever play and fun to perform. So I performed the opining monologue from the play and had someone else perform the scene, and then spun out some sort of philosophical point that it was supposed to be about. I was a smart kid, who'd taken a couple philosophy classes, so the philosophical part was convincing enough.

Some other students did their performances, which usually involved the participation of everyone in the class and were interesting enough. But it was the finale that was the most interesting. You see, none of these performances were huge surprises, since we'd actually had to tell the class about our project in advance so that we could get feedback and they could make sure we were on the right track. But there had been this one girl named Ashley who had been really cagey about what she was doing and wouldn't explain it in front of the class. She had had to discuss her project in private with the two professors. So when we came to the last performance of the night, it was a big mystery what we were getting into.

We'd walked to a couple different places for the various students' performances, and now we returned to the black box theater where most of the school's theatrical performances were given. Ashley had set up a stage in the middle of the room with a set of chairs in front of it. The chairs were labeled with our individual names, and various props were set on each chair. I think my chair had a sombrero. Other students had equally random things, like a ball, a scarf, a box of tissue and so on. The stage itself had been filled with even more props. It looked like she had taken just about every prop from the prop room, and then some, and arranged them on the stage. There was furniture and burning candles and lamps and fake fruit and vines and ornaments and statuettes and books and on and on. Mixed in were pieces of costume and accessories laying around and draped over things. The stuff didn't look like it had been dumped on stage, but it was scattered around somewhat haphazardly. It looked like the room of a person obsessed with collecting random things.

At the center of this prop-crowded stage was Ashley. She was laying down on her back, motionless, eyes closed, with flowers in her hands on a raised platform like a funeral bier, as if this was some sort of wake. Over her she'd draped a shear white cloth and she'd pointed a fan at it, causing the fabric to rustle in the wind, and she'd put on some unobtrusive music playing in the background. As we sat down, we waited for something to happen, waiting for her to do something for us, but that actually wasn't the way this performance was supposed to work.

It was a student named Sheila that got the ball rolling. The prop Sheila had received was a bowl of potato chips and she passed it around. Soon other people started passing around their props, just to give us something to do while we waited. Eventually some of us started to stand up, then to move towards the stage. We then started to mess around with the props onstage. The stage was so filled with the props and they were so randomly placed that some of us decided that it might be just a bit better if we moved a prop to a different spot where it might look better. It was all at first a bit tentative, but it soon become more animated and energetic. Eventually everyone was on the stage playing with some of the props, arranging other props, trying on the bits of costume and accessories, dancing to the music, making jokes. Our two professors were the only two left, still sitting in the seats, watching while this whole spontaneous performance played out.

After we'd had our fun for a while, Ashley finally sat up. She was so happy that it had worked. It was exactly how it was supposed to turn out, with her laying there passively while we did whatever struck our fancy. None of us could have been told what we were supposed to do, since the point was, we were supposed to figure it out. Ashley, was a long time stage performer, and she had said that one of her acting friends had tried to do it for a her and a bunch of other actors. But their performance had been totally ruined because there was one actress in the group that had adamantly insisted that they needed to stay seated. Whenever anyone tried to get up or do anything she'd ordered them to stay seated. Nonetheless, she remembered it, and saw this Philosophy & Theater final as the perfect opportunity to try it out on us. And she was so excited that it worked.

Of course, once someone has explained it to you, you can't have it done to you, so you miss out on all that fun that we had. Alas. Ashley in fact insisted that we not tell anyone about it. If you're going to pass it on to someone, you're supposed to actually do the whole shebang. So, I guess you miss out. Though I imagine the probability that someone would do it for you is exceedingly small. But at least you can do it for someone else. I might do it for my philosophy students, one day when they're expecting a lecture. I'll just lay down in front of class, motionless, with a sheet covering me and see what they do. I imagine it wouldn't work too well in that context, but who knows, it might be surprising. A social experiment of sorts.

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