Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Another day, another class - and Die Konsequenz

I was at my second improvisation class last night. My appreciation has gone up from last week's 5 out of 10 to 7. The acoustics in the church hall are still annoying but the class was more focused this time round and there was opportunity to perform in front of others and to see others perform.

We began with the format of Whose Line Is It, Anyway?. Start performing a scene - any scene - one way then when told to change the style do so immediately. Sci-fi to romantic, Western to James Bond. The problem for newbies like us is that the content often changes with the style. You may start with a young man asking a father for his daughter's hand in marriage, but with the change to Western, daughter is likely forgotten as guns are drawn and threats uttered. Nonetheless, I had fun as a Bond villain, with a fellow-actor throwing himself as a cat into my metaphorical lap - although I have to confess to sometimes talking too much and depriving fellow actors of their place in the sun.

The next part of the evening involved having a conversation alternating each sentence with a letter of the alphabet in sequence. Eg: "Are you happy?" "Be assured that I am." "Come on, you don't look it." "Definitely happy." "Everyone says that." and so on. Easy, I thought and in practice I got through the alphabet with ease. Inevitably I failed in front of the whole class, when in response to "Let's see, who can we invite?" I said "Well, Mary", blissfully unaware until it was pointed out to me that I had offended.

Further deflation in part three, where we had to quickly answer every question with a question. "What do you think this is?" "What's your opinion?" "Does it look funny to you?" and so on. I could always manage the first two or three with "Why are you asking?" "What do you think?" but soon found myself, like most of the others, either automatically giving a simple answer or my mouth gaping as my thought processes froze.

The last exercise was the most rewarding - four of us in a small scene having to bring into our roles random phrases drawn from a bag. I was a drunken punter in a lap-dancing joint, obsessed by the woman gyrating in front of me and happy to announce to the world "I want a divorce". Then I ended the scene (again, I wonder, had everyone else had their opportunity??) when the phrase in my hand told me to tell the waiter "Let's go for a beer", so I put my arm around him and dragged him away, saying I preferred guys anyway...

All of which meant that I drove home in a better mood than the previous week, regretting only that I won't be in town next Tuesday and so will have to wait a fortnight until I get to pit my wits again. I now know what I had already suspected, that good improvisation - sticking to one idea, being inventive, allowing others their opportunity to perform - is not easy; it requires a talent and quick-wittedness that not everybody has. Whether or not I have them is something I have yet to find out.

On another topic . . . I finished watching Die Konsequenz (The Consequence) last night, a German television film from 1977. The story of an actor in his thirties sent to prison for sexual relations with a 16-year-old (based on writer Alexander Ziegler's own experience), who finds himself seduced by the 15-year-old son of a prison warden was movingly acted by the then stunningly beautiful Ernst Hannawald (left in the picture) as the young Thomas and Juergen Prochnow (right) as Martin, the older partner.

Shot in a grainy black and white, rendering the beautiful Swiss countryside cold and distant, the film moved at a slow pace that allowed us to become fully involved with the couple. Of course the primary attraction was physical - the two are classically good-looking and, although one is fair and the other dark, similar in appearance - but sexual desire was soon overlain by insights into each other's personalities that made them lovers in the emotional as well as physical sense. You understood why they wanted to be with each other and you cheered them as they overcame each obstacle - and, like Martin himself, you were saddened but not surprised when circumstances which Thomas in his youth could not resist drew them apart. The closing scene, where you suspect that the end has come, is harrowing, with Thomas's angelic face staring relentlessly at you for minute after minute while the credits slowly pass.

It was an insight into a world that has disappeared in less than 40 years. The idea that a fifteen-year-old might freely chose a relationship with someone twice his age is controversial at a time where the public and opinion leaders seem unable to distinguish between the horrific abuse of children and the choices made by sexually mature teenagers. (Thomas's seduction of the older man was more believable than the apparent ease in which the youth reached the inmate's cell.) Most striking was the difficulty of communication in a world where no-one has a mobile phone, where landlines are few and far between and days can pass before a lover can speak to his beloved. And in that time, much can happen that a lover does not know about and cannot prevent.

Ziegler - the Swiss writer of the film - died of an overdose of sleeping pills ten years after the Die Konsequenz was made. Hannawald, who was cast in the film at the age of 17, has had a troubled life, which includes cocaine addiction, the death of his fiancee in a car accident that he was responsible for, and a prison sentence for robbery. Prochnow has achieved some success in films in Germany (most notably Das Boot) and Hollywood, although his face was disfigured on the set of David Lynch's Dune, in which he played the part of Duke Leto Atreides. And Thomas and Martin? We will never know.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


Yes, the city can look this beautiful, just not all the time...
I'm once again a permanent resident of Edinburgh, the city I grew up in and left immediately after I graduated. Throughout the interim I have returned regularly to visit family, but otherwise my connections with the capital have long since faded; I no longer remember the names of streets that I once knew intimately and I lost contact with the last of my friends here long ago.

I'm not a hermit and although I'm happily partnered and the Other Half will join me in February, I need a social network. In London as I prepared to move here, I mentioned the lack of a social life to friend Todd, who immediately told me to take an acting course or join an acting group - which is how he got three good friends. Truer words, the cliché reminded me, were never spoken; indeed, it was how he and I met. That very night I sent off emails to several Edinburgh-based drama groups and colleges, pointing out that I had some experience in the theatah and wondering if I might get involved with them in some way .

The response was underwhelming. I won't name names, because I might yet work / collaborate with them, but I feel no great enthusiasm for those who got back to me. Two responded immediately, in friendly, helpful emails; a third wrote after several weeks, offering no apologies for the delay, and in a tone that suggested that I might grovel at their feet at some point in the future. The others I contacted have not got back to me, although I know at least one of them still functions.

I liked Organisation A. A friendly bunch, with a handful of actors under thirty and a much greater number of contributors over fifty, they put on several productions a year. The problem was that I wasn't inspired by their choice of plays, even though they all deserved to pull in large crowds. Their application form sits on my desk, waiting to be filled in or thrown out. I'd join for the social life, but I'm not sure what that would be. Besides, I'm feeling poor; this month the book sales which provide my primary income have been steady rather than outstanding.

Organisation B give courses. I chose improvisation. Fourteen of us in an echoing hall made it difficult for this rapidly aging individual to hear the tutor. Most of those around me were under thirty; perhaps three were over forty. We were set various tasks in scenarios in small groups. In one I decided to be a father-to-be expecting his fourteenth child; I'm nervous - "the fourteenth is the worst; it gets better after that until the twenty-third. I was a twenty-third". I suddenly have sympathetic labour pains and I'm on my back with my legs open about to give birth. I'm pleased with what I'm doing, but it doesn't mean much; I'm not really interacting with my two partners and we're merely one of several groups trying to make ourselves heard. there's too much noise going on around me. Why, I wonder later, doesn't the tutor do a group at a time, see how we each get on? Give us advice to help us interact better instead of just watching us make fools of ourselves? (Of course, there's nothing wrong in being a fool, but I'd like to be good at my foolery...)

Ah well, it was only the first of eight classes. We wandered off into the night and I returned home to a glass of wine, wondering if I would remember everyone's names next week and whether I really would learn anything. As I fell asleep that night once again I went over the opening scenes of the play I have been planning for months to write - and wondered if it would ever get produced.