You decide to work on the Edgar Allen Poe’s captivating and dark image-rich poem, “The Raven.” Shadowy impressions of that ebony bird posed upon the bust of Pallus had haunted your thoughts for decades but it was only recently that you imagined dramatizing it. Then when you find yourself tapping your feet to the rythym of a jazz musician’s trumpet at The Garth Gallery in Columbia, Pennsylvania, the idea bursts into your consciousness.
So you read the poem. How in Hell can you work this into a theatrical presentation? Theater involves a special kind of communication with spectators: the script is the guide, but the breath and the voice in all of their variations bring life to the characters, as do the movements, the forms that the body assumes, the costumes, the lighting, the pauses, the direction of intent for each action…
One thing is to read a poem to yourself in front of your fireplace. Quite different is to recite it, hear the words resound. But how are you supposed to read it? In this case Poe helps and hinders at the same time. His verse is rich in images, is incredibly rhythmic and utilizes repetition as an essential recourse.
However, what you propose is theatrical. So you have to ask yourself other essential questions: who is the protagonist? What is the role of the author, Poe, in the performance. What significance do the graphic images have? (midnight dreary, tapping, rapping, wind, nevermore, bust upon my chamber door, ebony fowl…) Is there an underlying meaning, does Poe want to “say” something with this poem? Should I say the lines rhythmically—as in the poem itself—or should I perhaps break them up into what might be closer to the rhythm of speech of a man living alone? What words or phrases should be stressed? How should the strong emotions of the protagonist be treated—his melancholic sense of loss for Leanore, the growing sense of dread, fear and frustration with the raven.
I decided first to memorize the poem (not an easy task) and then step by step let the movements emerge, the dress, the idea of connecting up with Shakespeare’s Macabeth, the tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow speech where he laments the death of his wife and anticipates his own demise. Then a basement, in front of the boiler, the rehearsing began. By the night of the performance—April 18th—I had barely gone through the whole idea three or four times.
One interesting aspect of the performance developed with the ingenuity of the producer and master of ceremony, Louise Imm-Cooper, who suggested combining with poets who would read their poems. However, since not many were available we selected poems which we placed in a basket—to be chosen and read by participants in the event. We were greatly surprised when most of them did so, and very well!
Bill Adams: “I really enjoyed your interpretation. Many years ago I had heard the Raven’s lone, “nevermore” done in a gloomy eerie fashion which suggests anthropomorphic quality. The generally accepted reasoning is Poe choose the Raven and designed the wording of the poem around a “bird brain” who was simply taught to say its name, a mindless automaton and the way in which you said it supported that assumption, so I was curious if that play any part in your presentation. The way you presented it was in keeping with what is thought to be Poe’s so you are in good company.”
Describing himself as a relative moralist, he asserted that there is neither a right nor a wrong way of doing things. “If the purpose of your performance was to do it as Poe would have done it, then a host of issues become important. But you were doing your own interpretation and therefore the only judge is you yourself as to how well you did it.”
Carol Galligan, painter: “I was thinking about the rhythm yesterday. My son ‘brought me up’ with is percussion studies. The sounds of the beat of a drum is so familiar to me. Had you ever thought of just doing the ‘dance’ (I call it a ‘dance’) of all the movements without words, only making sounds with each movement? Maybe just the beat of a drum. I would have to be a good drummer…an educated percussionist who can make the drum speak with you (Poe). I think I experienced the piece as a dance. I loved the use of black…oh, and then the blowing out of the candle…so significant!!! I love the way you turned a black piecve of material into a pair of wings!!! Beautiful! I do not object to improvisation…absolutely not! I can’t be objective about that. It’s the way I paint!!! I also call what I do a dance.”
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