It’s not often that we use text at LISPA; almost everything we do is either improvised or devised by ourselves from scratch. This term though, we’ve had to remember how to memorise lines for a couple of assignments.
One was to choose a small part of an existing speech. I missed the day when we were given the task, but I think the gist was that it should be a passionate speech, and it might be even more interesting if we disagree with its sentiments.
I was surprised how difficult it was to find really abhorent speeches online. The obvious English candidate, Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech was offensive, but still seemed surprisingly measured. I listened to a lot of crackly old Oswald Mosley speeches but those available were pretty anodyne; lots of guff about making Britain great. (Coincidentally I’m reading some of his son’s books at the moment, which are decent stuff.)
So eventually I decided to simply choose something good even if I agreed with it. I also thought that delivering such a text could be just as difficult in a different way. The passion involved in giving a hateful speech would have to come solely from acting. But if it the sentiments really got me excited then I’d have to work out how to control the passion, how to use it without letting it run away with me.
I settled on the final paragraph of a speech given by Aneurin Bevan to the Labour Party in 1959, following their general election defeat:
I have enough faith in my fellow creatures in Great Britain to believe that when they have got over the delirium of the television, when they realize that their new homes that they have been put into are mortgaged to the hilt, when they realize that the moneylender has been elevated to the highest position in the land, when they realize that the refinements for which they should look are not there, that it is a vulgar society of which no decent person could be proud, when they realize all those things, when the years go by and they see the challenge of modern society not being met by the Tories who can consolidate their political powers only on the basis of national mediocrity, who are unable to exploit the resources of their scientists because they are prevented by the greed of their capitalism from doing so, when they realize that the flower of our youth goes abroad today because they are not being given opportunities of using their skill and their knowledge properly at home, when they realize that all the tides of history are flowing in our direction, that we are not beaten, that we represent the future: then, when we say it and mean it, then we shall lead our people to where they deserve to be led!
Great stuff. They don’t write sentences like that any more. Unfortunately the full speech isn’t available online; to read it search inside The Penguin Book of 20th-Century Speeches for the word “meretricious”.
As for delivering this piece of speech… it was OK. I was torn between doing it reasonably faithfully, as a politician might, and being much more physical, like we were a year ago when interpreting words; kind of dancing to the impulses words gave us. I wasn’t sure what was wanted of me and ended up feeling I hadn’t managed what I could in either direction.
Another assignment we had was to find a piece of text — any kind of text — that opens up very big or very small spaces (there was more to the brief, but that’s how we ended up referring to it). Handily, I’d recently read this review by Kevin Kelly of a free physics textbook PDF called Motion Mountain. “It’s what a physics textbook would be like if a poet wrote it and made no mistakes.” Perfect! I settled on this introduction to the Fourth Part of the book:
Quantum Theory: The Smallest Change
In our quest to understand how things move,
we discover that there is a minimal change in nature,
implying that motion is fuzzy,
that matter is not permanent,
that boxes are never tight,
that matter is composed of elementary units,
and that light and interactions are streams of particles.
The minimal change explains why antimatter exists,
why particles are unlike gloves,
why copying machines do not exist,
and that probabilities are reasonable.
We had to deliver these pieces of text as if from a person or object that would be completely unexpected, inappropriate. As is often the way with more than thirty people in the class, I didn’t get a chance to do mine. Not that I was fighting to have a go this time around — I had no clue how to tackle this piece of text in that context.
And with a blink we’ve already moved on from all that, to the world of the chorus, more of which next time.