For the community project we were given the theme of the life and works of legendary film maker Alfred Hitchcock to be presented through the style of cabaret. Cabaret originated in France in the late 1800’s and prominently features the use of comedy, dance, music and drama. The location of the performance consisted of the Hitchcock Hotel in Whipps Cross; theoretically the most appropriate setting to pay homage to the masterful director. As the whole section of the course is called ‘Community Project’ , it should come as no surprise that it was aimed at the people in the community, that grew up in the same place that Hitchcock did.
The overall aim was the give new insight, in an entertaining way, into the life and works of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s films were extremely important of course and we primarily decided on his masterpiece ‘Psycho’ for use; ‘Anthony Perkins/Norman Bates’ was our MC and ‘Janet Leigh’ was on of the female protagonists. The other films we looked at were ‘Rope’ and ‘The Birds’ but we decided on ‘Rope’ which ultimately played a key role in the conclusion of the play.
As a stimulus, we watched some of the works of famous choreographer Bob Fosse and we aimed at making the piece energetic and physical much like his style. Other practitioners we looked at for this was Bertolt Brecht, an influential theatre practitioner. We adopted some of his stylistic elements, namely his use of songs, dance and pronounced characterisation. Famous French actor Jacques Lecoq was very much part of the physical and mime theatre which fitted perfectly with the melodramatic approach we were going to take to our play.
The use of stock characters and exaggerated acting dates back to ancient Greek and Roman theatre which we also researched and adapted. This primary stage consists of constantly trying out new things and assessing whether or not it fits the genre and is entertaining for the audience. We started out with attempting to come up with a catchy melody that would enable us to open the performance with something that would immediately engage our audience; This would come in the opening scene.
In lesson, the exercise of trying to create a soundscape didn’t help particularly in this instance because we weren’t looking for sounds, but a song instead, so we resorted to trying new melodies and adding words to it until we came up with one we thought was perfectly fitting; ‘Alfred Hitchcock/ Tippi Hendren made his heart tick-tock/Everybody wanted a shot/But all she ever wanted to do was please Hitchcock’. It was very catchy and we were aware of this due to the fact other members of the class sung it aloud at times so we were really aiming for this song to stick with the audience, in fact we expected it to.
The next thing was how to stage it; we began as standing in a diagonal line but we thought it looked quite dull and lacked dynamics and as proxemix is important in the movement aspect in relation to the presentation of the drama we decided to place the scene at the entrance to the pub and stand in a vertical line, one person on each step behind each other; that way we were all visible and we proceeded to move. We then began adding sidesteps and box steps. The most prominent one was the use of the ‘jazz fingers’ which added more energy to the scene, credit to inspiration from Bob Fosse.
We weren’t sure how to kick off the dialogue and decided on the use of an MC (Master of Ceremonies) to open the play with a monologue to give the audience insight into what they were about to watch. The monologue was improvised and it lacked fluency at first so we decided to shorten it and subsequently making it funny and snappy and engage the audience with lines that gave an initial background of what the audience should expect mixed with comedy: ‘Hitchcock! Where boredom is defined as tension! ‘.
We decided early on that if this was going to work, we couldn’t take ourselves too seriously so we relied on using elements of farce like suspension of disbelief and even moments of breaking the 4th wall in order to shake things up and make it interesting. To lead on to the next scene, we created a transition where we proceeded to the next space in a single file and singing the opening song; the problem which arose with this was it was repetitive and didn’t look particularly energetic so we added the circular movement of the wrists signifying which would in turn signal the audience to follow.
The scene between Tippi and Hitchcock set in his trailer where he attempted to make sexual advances to her. We were unsure of how serious the scene should be and we ultimately decided on taking a Berkoff style approach by using two actors as a chorus and in the style of Lecoq use mime and sounds to enhance some of the words or phrases or actions the characters said or did. When we first improvised the scene, the dialogue came out very sharp and very funny and we kept it that way throughout.
The choral speech and movement had to be worked on because it lacked energy and we were struggling to keep up with the pace of the dialogue so we chose words we thought were essential and used those added by mime; for example ‘sexual advances’ was repeated by the chorus is a husky voice accompanied by outrageous hip thrusting movements which also added more comedy. We set it out as the two characters sitting down with a chorus on either side of them which not only enhanced the drama but also provided different levels.