Epic storytelling

I owe you at least one “college is going great” post. So here it is. College is going great. No, really. I’ve been mostly happy there for an entire week now and, of course, can’t imagine what the problem was before. Stupid emotions.

This week we finished our work on Commedia dell’Arte and moved on to “epic storytelling”. We finished off the Commedia stuff with the presentation of our Creation pieces, which were generally sex-based farces. A lot of fun, although it was obvious that this kind of work would benefit from a lot of time spent polishing the details: entrances, exits, reactions, timing, etc.

So now we leave most of the laughs behind and move on to serious stuff. We go from trying to make the audience laugh to, possibly, making them cry. We go from a world in which characters lived in the moment, not planning ahead and switching rapidly between extreme emotional states into a world in which events have lasting effects on the characters, where there is a powerful historical background to proceedings and the story could stretch over decades.

Our Creation theme for the next three weeks is to present a piece based on an existing “epic” story. The process of the 33 of us agreeing on four stories to tell was epic enough in itself but it was settled, and my group of eight people is re-telling Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Nearly all of the proposed stories were real life tales of suffering and heroism but I was pleased I could do something fictional. I can’t quite put my finger on why I don’t want to do something real. Watching some of last year’s Advanced Course pieces that were telling non-fiction stories I felt uneasy. Often the pieces didn’t come close to matching up to the reality. It was obvious the actors cared about the protagonist, but the piece itself seemed somehow too small and hopeless.

I guess I want to do fiction because it feels like there’s less at stake if it goes wrong. I won’t offend anyone, or anyone’s memory (although Conrad might do a spin or two). Maybe this is cowardice, but although there are many real life causes and people I feel strongly about I don’t have any desire to tell their stories as theatre.

I’m still working on exactly why this is. I don’t understand why I’m happy representing a fictional tale about the horrors of the nineteenth century Belgian Congo while the thought of telling a real life story about the same place would leave me in fear of producing an over-earnest Legz Akimbo-style effort. But for now I’ll just try and continue enjoying myself.


  • Oh man, I totally know what you mean about worrying about getting it wrong. My group is doing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict... or more specifically, Palestinian women suicide bombers. It's taken me a good week to get over my fear-induced paralysis. I'm still scared shitless, but at least I feel like I'm ready to try. Though God knows why we chose this topic to begin with...

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Saturday 24 November 2007, 6:03pm

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24 Nov 2007 at Twitter

  • 12:37am: I have just enough 'Godspeed You Black Emperor!' to last through a reading of 'Heart of Darkness'. Now, bed.

24 Nov 2007 in Links