Sarah Sedlack

Comm 108

Showing vs. Telling

     A powerful prose fiction performance requires a respect for the literature, an understanding of the literature, rehearsal time, and dedication to the performance. The performer must understand the meaning behind the text and sensory show the audience the scene and the characters' experience by using gestures, utterances, physicalizers, and space work. John Rubenstein captivated my attention and sympathy in his performance of a selection from the novel Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. He used sensory showing to bring the summary to life and transitioned between epic and dramatic modes wisely. Robert Ross, however, was unsuccessful in portraying the story realm, characters, and even audience mode in his performance. His performance from a selection from the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke lacked a distinction between characters and audience modes and inhabited no physicalizers. Both pieces had the quality to make a solid performance. Although Robert Ross's selection may have been more difficult to perform, due to all the summary, there were many opportunities to show the audience the dramatic realm of the story.

     The difference between performing literature and simply orally reading it is that performing literature requires gestures, utterances, physicalizers, and audience mode shifts to show the audience the story and characters coming to life. A good performance causes emotional dynamics in the audience's state of mind, while telling (or simply reading aloud) the plot to the audience expresses no feeling, therefore the performer receives no reaction from the audience. The narrator, characters, and point of view must be established for a successful performance. John established the narrator at the very beginning of the performance. He established an epic mode, making direct eye contact towards the audience consistently through out the performance. This developed a relationship between the audience and the character, Robinson Crusoe. John's introduction gave background information about the story and built anticipation about the possible outcome of the performance and Robinson Crusoe's fate. His transition between the introduction and the performance was rehearsed and smooth, allowing time for the audience to prepare themselves for the fictive reality. His use of space work and utterances made it clear that he was on a ship, suffered from an dreadful, reoccurring illness, then battled some sort of lord in a dream. I felt his fever, saw his painful experience, and pitied his hopelessness. However, although I could see Robinson and not John, some of John's facial expressions glowed through Robinson. I did see part of Robinson's intense journey, but I also saw John's smile creep through the serious parts of the character.

     During Robert' performance, I felt as though I was constantly waiting for some dramatic change or occurrence to happen...but it never came. The selection was all summary. Although Robert was making eye contact with the audience, there was no clear relationship established between the audience and the character or narrator. Robert's introduction was also all plot summary, with background information and facts about the novel and author. He told the story, rather than showed it. The summary was pact with opportunities to show the dramatic realm of the story. For example, he could have shown the animals strength and might by racing to the other side of the room. Or he could have crouched down to become the animal (prey) and risen upward to show the ape-men (predators). But there were very subtle, almost pathetic, attempts to show the intense parts of the summary to the audience. He merely stayed in one spot the whole performance and occasionally lifted his hand to form a fist to portray the sphere the ape-men used to kill the animals. This static and unemotional performance only proves his lack of rehearsal and analysis of the work.

     Establishing a clear audience was a challenge for many of the performers. I think we all shared a common fear of being ourselves reading the story, rather than portraying our character[s] and showing the story. For both performances, the narrator's attitude toward the audience was friendly. Both performances also projected their voices strongly; they spoke loudly and clearly. However, Robert was Robert, through out the entire performance. There was not distinction made between epic and dramatic modes, or characters. I saw Robinson Crusoe as a young man, telling his friends his horrific and exciting adventures. I also listened to Robinson's story at the same time as I was seeing his experiences. In a sense, the audience and Robinson were in the past and present. Robert' selection was naturally intense and rapid paced only because of the subject matter. The intensity derived from the plot, not from voice or tone variety or pauses or utterances. In other words, the text was doing all the work. In John's performance, John, Robinson, and the text were all working together. When the scene shifted to descriptions of Robinson's dream, the audience mode distinctly shifted to dramatic mode. I was scared for Robinson's life and sanity. However, vocal changes could have been more distinctive. The performance would have been stronger if the characters' voices varied, along with the characters' physical shape and appearance. For instance, in Robinson's dream, if John's voice expressed a low, deep tone to show the tremendous lord with the sphere.

     Through out the performances, Robert consistently portrayed indirect discourse, while John portrayed direct discourse. Robert merely reported the summary in third person, detached from the story and the characters in it. While John was Robinson, experiencing his adventure. Portraying direct discourse allows the audience's emotional state to be completely absorbed in the performance. It also allows for the audience and the narrator or character[s] to share a connection. Indirect discourse causes a great separation between the characters in the story and the audience, unless the plot is shown with gestures and movements. John's performance was very dynamic. There were pauses and emotional shifts in the character, therefore there were emotional shifts in the audience. The tone went from grim to melancholy as the audience modes and summary shifted as well. If Robert made his performance more emotionally and physically dynamic, by shifting audience modes, instead of getting trapped in the plot summary, the performance would have come to life more easily.

     Both selections deemed appropriate to the assignment, performer, and audience. John's overall performance was strong and powerful. However, the ending has room for improvement. The ending surprised me because it was so abrupt and unexpected. A longer pause in between the transition from being Robinson to himself would have made a stronger closing for the performance. It is difficult to derive a theme from performances because we do not see the whole story, but merely an excerpt. Both pieces in a sense follow a similar thematic path. The characters in both selections overcome an ordeal. In Robinson Crusoe, Robinson overcomes the ordeals of his adventures, while in 2001: A Space Odyssey, man overcomes the obstacles of evolving. Both John and Robert were passionate about their selection and wanted to share it with the class. However, choosing an appropriate selection, liking, and understanding the literature proves to not always guarantee a successful and believable performance. There must be many hours of time and energy spent analyzing the literature and rehearsing. A relationship between the audience and the character or narrator, physicalizers, and sensory showing must be established in order to create the tone, interpretation, and story realm of the literature. A static performance leaves the audience bored and unfocused. If the audience experienced some sort of emotional change during the performance, then the performance was strong and the student's identity was reconfigured into the character being portrayed. In other words, the student is no longer a student in a classroom, but a warrior, a murderer, or a lover in a fictive reality.