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THE USE OF ELEMENTS OF THE "MISE EN

SCENE" IN A PRODUCTION OF THE


WEST SIDE WALTZ
by
JAY C. BROWN, B.A.
A THESIS
IN
THEATER ARTS

Submitted to the Graduate Faculty


of Texas Tech University in
Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for
the Degree of
MASTER OF FINE ARTS

Approved

Accepted

August, 1985
I f ?^^ ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. George


Sorensen for his guidance, knowledge, and patience in
helping me with this project. He has demonstrated, both
in his directing and teaching, that a director can,
indeed, be an artist.
I would also like to applaud the cast and crew of The
West Side Waltz for an excellent production.
I also want to thank my wife, Pam, not only for her
excellent performance in The West Side Waltz, but for her
continual support and love.

11
TABLE OF CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ii
I. INTRODUCTION 1
II. THE "MISE EN SCENE" 4
The Influence of Antonin Artaud .... 4
A Working Definition of the
"Mise en Scene" 6
III. DIRECTING AND ACTING ELEMENTS OF THE
"MISE EN SCENE" USED IN THE WEST
SIDE WALTZ 10
Directorial Choices in the
Production 10
Acting Choices in the Production . . . . 15
IV. PHYSICAL ELEMENTS OF THE "MISE EN SCENE"
IN THE WEST SIDE WALTZ 36
The Music in the Production 36
Scenery and Lighting Choices
in the Production 46
V. CONCLUSION 53
BIBLIOGRAPHY . 58

111
CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION

The stage is a physical place that must be filled, and


the director is given the task of filling that space. A
director generally has a script, actors, a place for
performance, and other elements which are used in the
production of a play. It might be arguable that there is a
right way or wrong way to direct a play. Critics spend
their lives demeaning and challenging the various choices
which a director makes. A director must decide the impor-
tant areas that must be touched in the production. Fur-
ther, some would deny the importance of the audience in a
production. Others might argue that the text is the only
thing which should be considered. Still others discuss the
belief that the setting, lighting, and costumes are the
most necessary elements in any successful production.

Fortunately, in answer to these arguments, a great


amount of experimentation has taken place in theatrical
production in the past fifty years. Many directors and
theatrical theorists have realized the importance of
blending the elements at the director's disposal into a
unified whole. A focus exists on the process of the
production, the seams which hold it together, and the

1
^Tr*w^!P^^^*'^^^\^-

quality of the work. This is an attempt to make the


audience more conscious of the events in the theater than
they are ordinarily.

One way of bringing the process of a theatrical


production to the audience is by placing attention upon the
"mise en scene." In producing The West Side Waltz, ele-
ments contained within this term became a part of the
process. This thesis will provide material which will
discuss the origin of the term "mise en scene," its defini-
tion and various possibilities, and the use of specific
elements of the "mise en scene" chosen in the production of
The West Side Waltz.

The production of The West Side Waltz, which serves as


the example of the use of the "mise en scene," was present-
ed by Actors & Company on October 12, 13, 16, 19, and 20,
1984. The cast consisted of Mary Beth Bratcher as Margaret
Mary Elderdice, Pam Brown as Cara Varnum, Susanne Barnard
as Robin Bird, David Greer as Serge Barrescu, and Tom Pitts
as Glen Dabrinsky. It was performed at the Universalist
Unitarian Church. The play was directed by Jay C. Brown.
Notes

Bonnie Marranca, ed.. The Theatre of Images (New


York: Drama Book Specialists, 1977), p. xii.
CHAPTER II
THE "MISE EN SCENE"

The Influence of Antonin Artaud


Almost any director would agree that the text of a
play is a vital building block in the production process.
Few plays exist without the dialogue for the actors to
speak, but often, these written words are the most impor-
tant or only thing which the director considers in mounting
a production. Many current directors and theorists recog-
nize the importance of all theatrical elements in the
complete development of a production. In the early 1920s,
Antonin Artaud professed the importance of a term which, if
he did not invent it, certainly has become as synonymous
with his name as is his "theatre of cruelty." This term is
the "mise en scene." Literally, the word "mise" can be
defined as "putting or placing," and the French word
"scene" is the same as the English word "scene." Together
these terms mean "the placing of a scene." When transposed
to the theater, the term takes on the additional definition
of having to do with a place for performing a scene.
Artaud defines the "mise en scene" in more basic terms as
"all that we call direction, production, and staging."
Artaud believes strongly that the text of a play,
which is usually considered the most important element of a
5
production, is, in many cases, the aspect which is to be
considered least. He feels that a theater of idiots
results when a production raises the text to a level above

the production elements contained with the "mise en


2
scene." Artaud also feels that the text is a stumbling

block to the process of sharing a theatrical event with the


audience. In Artaud's time, the theater seemed to be only

of a spoken word or dialogue, and anything that could not


be placed in speech was pushed into the background. Artaud
realizes that if the audience, who is very important, can,
in a theatrical production, have their old, preconceived
notions removed, or as Artaud states, "exploded," they
could then view what they see on the stage with spontaneity
and freshness.
Early in his work. The Theater and Its Double, Artaud
makes a comparison between the theater and the plague. One
may not see an immediate similarity between these two
disparate items; however, Artaud feels that both the
theater and the plague are communicative. They are, or
should be, spontaneous and far-reaching. The theater, like
the plague, is a crisis which is resolved by death or cure.
There are other comparisons between these two which Artaud
makes, but perhaps the most striking is that "the theater
impels men to see themselves as they are, causes the mask

to fall, reveals the lie, the slackness, the baseness, and


5
the hypocrisy of our world." The theater which does all
of these thingsand many morecannot be one which relies
on the spoken word only. All of the elements contained in
the "mise en scene" must be involved to produce a complete-
ly unified theatrical production.

A Working Definition of the


"Mise en Scene"
In approaching the production of The West Side Waltz,
the director had to decide upon a working definition of the
"mise en scene." Before the director could establish a
definition, he had to look to the works of Artaud and other
theorists. As earlier stated, this term contains all
elements in production, direction, and staging. A question
arose as to where the text and speech came into the pro-
cess. Speech is what most directors and audience feel is
the most important part of theater, but in actuality, the
theater has a language or speech of its own. This language
can be found in the "mise en scene." The mise can be
considered as (1) the visual and plastic materialization of
speech and (2) the language which can be signified on the
stage without speech. Artaud elaborates upon this defini-
tion: "The 'mise en scene' consists of everything that
occupies the stage . . . and that is addressed first of all

to the senses instead of being addressed primarily to the


7
mind as in the language of words." This definition covers

numerous areas and elements which go into the direction and

production of a play, including music, plastic art.


"'mpi

pantomime, gesticulation, architecture, lighting, and


scenery, as well as acting and directing.
Images must be brought to the audience's mind. The
language and text can be stumbling blocks to this imagery.
Many modern performance groups work with the idea of
maximizing visual, verbal, and aural imagery and minimizing
or excluding dialogue or speech. The works of Richard
Foreman, Robert Wilson, and Lee Breuer all advance this use
of the "mise en scene" to enhance the predominance of stage
pictures.
At this point, a problem arose concerning the text
itself. If, as Artaud feels, the text is not the most
important consideration, then where exactly does it come
into play, and what importance is afforded to it? How much
or how little importance is placed on the words of the
script? Jerzy Grotowski, in answer to this question,
states in Towards a Poor Theater: "We can illustrate the
text through the interpretation of the actors, the "mise en
9
scene"; the scenery, the play situation . . . "
Some modern theatrical theorists, writers and direc-
tors place little importance on the written words. Many of
their plays actually evolved with little or no dialogue,
and what was written down may have changed completely
between performances or during a performance. In Robert
Wilson's A Letter for Queen Victoria, the author was aware
of the probability that the audience seldom carried the
8
memory of a speech or theme from one act to another. His
play was an exercise in the perception of the senses. '^
Queen Victoria was actually "one long laugh at language's
claim to supremacy in the realm of communicative possibili-
ties . . . it is a theatrical language which appeals to the
senses, not the intellectan alphabet of signs. "'^'
The director of The West Side Waltz was aware of the
fact, as would be anyone who had read the play, that the
script was not one of brilliant dialogue. It does not
approach William Shakespeare's writing. The language is,
however, very honest, and in places, quite beautiful. It
was, therefore, decided not to disregard completely the
dialogue. A decision was made as to which speeches would
be emphasized for themselves alone and which would be
downplayed. As work progressed through the play, it was
discovered that many sections of the text were automatical-
ly highlighted through use of specific elements contained
within the "mise."
A working definition of the "mise en scene" was,
therefore, decided upon. An image should remain in the
mind of the audience. The elements of the "mise en scene"
which were emphasized particularly in the production were
acting, directing, music, scenery, and lighting. These
various elements and their use in the direction of The West
Side Waltz will be discussed in the following chapters.
\y

Notes

Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double (New York:


Grove Press, Inc., 1958), p. 6.
2
Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, p. 41.
3
Julia F. Costich, Antonin Artaud (Boston: Twayne
Publishers, 1978), p. 48.
4
Bettina L. Knapp, Antonin Artaud: Man of Vision (New
York: David Lewis, Inc., 1969), p. 60.
Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, pp. 30-32.
Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, p. 69.
7
Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, p. 37.
p
Bonnie Marranca, ed., The Theatre of Images (New
York: Drama Book Specialists, 1977), p. x.
Jerzy Grotowski, Towards a Poor Theater (New York;
Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1968), p. 56.
'^Marranca, The Theatre of Images, p. 42.
"'^Marranca, The Theatre of Images, p. 43.
CHAPTER III
DIRECTING AND ACTING ELEMENTS OF
THE "MISE EN SCENE" USED IN
THE WEST SIDE WALTZ

Directorial Choices in the Production


The West Side Waltz does not have a complicated or
unusual plot. It involves three women and the effect that
they have on each other and two other characters in the
play. The love of music and the need for companionship has
brought the three women together, and music plays a very
important part throughout the play.
In Directing in the Theater, Hugh Morrison states that
"the director must be deeply involved in the process of
design and acquainted with the mechanics of presentation."
When discussing the directing of this play, many areas
necessarily overlap. Staging and blocking involve setting,
and all areas of acting are effected by everything on the
stage. A "realistic style" of directing was used. Realism
to this director was what the characters would "really" say
or do given basically real situations and words.
A great amount of time was not spent discussing
characters' backgrounds or motivations. The West Side
Waltz makes plain why people do the things that they do.
Also, as a director, the elements of the "mise en scene"
10
'^"mmuw^mrrkj^

11
were not discussed with the cast or technicians. Many of
these choices evolved out of the particular situation with
which the director was confronted.
A theatrical group which does not have its own space
in which to perform produced the play. Therefore, the
location dictated, to a certain extent, the director's
vision of the production. Because of the small size of the
production group, the director was in view of the audience
while he operated the lights and changed the set. This
caused no problem because, as stated earlier, one element
or aspect of the "mise" is that of involving the audience
in every portion of a production. To watch the director
run the lights and change the set, or to see the actors
preparing for an entrance, was certainly viewing the inner
workings of the production. The musicians, an integral
part of the "mise en scene," were in full view of the
audience at all times. The audience was placed on risers,
and the only access to the seating was across the stage
area. This put the audience in direct contact with the
world of the play and "exploded" the myth that a stage and
audience must be separated by an invisible barrier which
makes the audience feel safe and secure.
The West Side Waltz is not a play which demands that
an audience "run from the theater and protest against an
injustice." It is also not, on the other hand, a play
which can easily be brushed aside. It moves an audience to
Hip ^- ^ - ^ ^ m ^

12
some emotion. The director of the play, in staging various
situations, hoped to involve the audience in the charac-
ters' lives and situations while leaving an image or
picture in their minds. This picture was one which may
have been drawn directly from the play, or it might have
been an abstract image which an audience member perceived
while viewing the play.

When Margaret Mary Elderdice, an elderly pianist,


delivered a speech about the importance of music in her
life, she was always in contact with her piano. This image
of Margaret Mary physically touching, almost caressing, her
piano, was seen frequently during the production. Late in
the play, out of anger and disappointment, she fell down in
her walker. The fall was staged quite close to the front
row of the audience, and many audience members were ob-
served moving physically forward to help the actress. No
one actually touched her, but the image was strong enough
to move the people.
The character of Cara Varnum was drawn to Margaret
Mary through her love of music and her desperate need for
affection. The opening scene of the play placed a concrete
image in the mind of the audience concerning this charac-
ter. Alone on the stage, Cara was seen playing her violin.
She frowned at her many errors, moved on when correct,
tuned her violin hopefully to solve the problem, and sang
along with her playing. Then suddenly she grabbed a piece
13
of candy from the candy dish without missing a beat. The
music continued while Cara munched on the bon-bon. Not a
word of dialogue had been spoken, yet the audience easily
held this image in their minds as the play progressed.
Cara was also an isolated character, and she frequent-
ly appeared on the stage alone when others were together.
At times, she pushed her way into a group which usually
allowed her in but had a tendency to ignore her if possi-
ble. Most of Cara's movements were very smooth and con-
tained very few quick or hurried gestures. This was
amplified through her frequent use of the violin. She used
her violin as a method of communication between herself and
the other characters. For the audience, the violin became
a frequent image, lying on the piano. Almost every scene
began with the violin there or in Cara's hands. Even when
Cara was leaving the room, she replaced her violin on the
piano. Her only tie to the room and Margaret Mary was the
violin, and the audience saw the frequent image of Cara
carefully returning the violin to a safe and secure place.
As the play concluded, however, the audience felt that
Cara would make a more definite move than before. Margaret
Mary invited Cara to spend the night. This was something
that had never happened before; in fact, Margaret Mary had
refused to consider it. It was obvious that Cara was
pleased with the arrangement, and she left her violin alone
to run up to her apartment. Physically, Cara moved closer
14
than ever before to Margaret Mary. She was allowed to do
this, and the audience sensed a new uniting between these
characters.
The third woman in this triangle was Robin Bird. As
her named suggested, Robin was a flightly character who
frequently moved from place to place during the play. She
moved from her last residence and moved in with Margaret
Mary. Later in the play, she made another, more final and
permanent move. Once Robin arrived at a new location on
the stage, it seemed that she never intended to be there at
all. Her movement on stage was frequently quick and
sudden. She changed from foot to foot when she infrequent-
ly stood still. As the play progressed and Robin's charac-
ter changed, her restlessness subsided, and her movements
became more controlled and assured.
Other directorial choices were also made concerning
the staging and blocking. The stage was frequently empty,
which indicated the emptiness in these people's lives.
Then Cara burst in and rushed around the stage. Her
boisterousness filled the stageand the audience's mind
with her constant pushiness and possessiveness. Cara and
Margaret Mary were often by the piano, which obviously
indicated their closeness to their music. The character of
Serge hovered due to his tentativeness, and Glen Dabrinsky
moved rapidly to indicate his restlessness and uncertainty
with his situation. In the dance sequence, the characters
-Kt-
-i

15
filled the entire stage and moved very close to the audi-
ence. The spectators were drawn into the mood and atmo-
sphere of the moment. The final scene of the play began
with Margaret Mary's empty wheelchair placed close to the
rat room door. (The rat room had frequently been mentioned
as a place where no one wanted to enter because of the
possibility of encountering rodents.) When the audience
saw the wheelchair before the doorway, an immediate thought
moved through them concerning Margaret Mary's whereabouts
and welfare. The empty wheelchair created an image by
itself.
The director's choices of staging and movement, the
first aspect of the "mise en scene," showed the audience
the isolation, loneliness, and uncertainty of the charac-
ters of The West Side Waltz. Perhaps the audience saw
themselves as they observed the loneliness of Margaret Mary
or the isolation of Cara. Without a single word spoken,
the viewers could, by looking at such images as the violin
on the piano, the woman isolated from the other actors on
stage, or the empty wheelchair, discover the language of
the theater. This language was obviously directed to the
senses and found its basis in the "mise en scene."

Acting Choices in the Production

Katharine Hepburn has appeared in two plays written by

Ernest Thompson. She played the role of Margaret Mary

Elderdice in the Broadway production of The West Side Waltz


16
and wrote a brief statement in the introduction to the
play. Although Hepburn may have little knowledge of
Antonin Artaud's philosophy of theater, she speaks directly
to one of the results of effective use of the "mise en
scene." "You (the audience) are taken along with them (the
characters) to observe what could be a period of time in
any of our lives." This idea is almost parallel to that
expressed by Ronald Hayman in Artaud and After. In dis-
cussing Artaud's thinking about the "mise en scene," Hayman
states that "the spectator must have the feeling that a
scene from his own life is being acted out in front of
3
him." The parallels are remarkable in the two statements.
Artaud and more modern theorists feel that the actor
must be an image through which the playwright expresses his
4
idea. The director must determine what ideas the play-
wright wants to project and what images should be presented
to the audience. Actors have many ways of interpreting
characters and many choices to make. An actor must use
elements of the "mise en scene," including gesture, intona-
tion, articulation, facial expression, and movement, to
help an audience picture a scene from their own lives.
Artaud felt that there was a great importance to be placed
on these elements of gesture and facial expression and a
small role to the spoken word. These elements of the "mise
en scene" will help an audience retain an image in their
minds which represents an actual moment from their past.
17
How does a director guide actors in the pursuit of
this ability to present an audience with a slice of their
own lives? One major way is searching for the "truth" in
characterization. This is the same truth which Artaud
speaks of when mentioning "true action." David Selbourne
observed Peter Brook throughout his direction of A Mid-
summer Night's Dream. In his detailed book of this direc-
torial process, he questions Brook about the process of
finding truth in a performance. Brook says that truth lies
in the rhythm that an actor finds for both himself and his
character. This rhythm for one actor will not be the same
as another actor finds.5 Finding the rhythm is difficult,
but as Brook states, "there are moments when it (the
rhythm) emerges clearly in speech and action and is felt to
be right by everyone."
Truth and rhythm must be considered parts of the "mise
en scene" because their function is to bring the audience
closer into the production. This closeness will be
achieved by an individual actor locating the truth of
his/her character and, therefore, making the character more
easily related to by the audience. The question of whether
or not "rhythm" and "truth" can be reached by the actor is
open-ended. Perhaps only Ernest Thompson knows where the
truth is in The West Side Waltz, or perhaps the director
can successfully guide the actors toward finding that
particular quality within their character.
18
In The West Side Waltz, the characters possess quali-
ties of realism and truth. They are, as Katharine Hepburn
states, "a group of average humans with a warmth and humor
and understanding . . . the young, medium, old, very old,
sick, well . . . living in perfectly regulation-American
7
circumstances." As mentioned earlier, there are many
choices available to an actor and many elements within the
"mise" from which to choose. In creating the role of
Margaret Mary Elderdice, the actress recognized the charac-
ter's need for independence, her loneliness, her fears, her
love of music, and the fact that the character deteriorates
physically throughout the play. Her physical deterioration
could be seen in frequent images of the canes, walker, or
the wheelchair to which the character was constantly
attached. Margaret Mary stood straight and tall, as much
as her health would permit, and this strength was clear to
the audience.
A frequent image which Margaret Mary sent to the
audience was the touching or caressing of her piano, an
activity performed many times either when she was talking
about her love of music, remembering her past as a music
teacher, discussing her marriage to Happy Harry, or talking
about her hopes. Frequently, however, she touched the
piano without saying anything. A fiercely independent
woman, Margaret Mary frequently pushed people away when
they were either trying to get too close or offering her
19
assistance. As she fell in her walker, she clutched out
for Robin. Very seldom did the audience see Margaret Mary
physically expressing a need for anyone. When Robin
offered assistance, however, Margaret Mary refused it; but
the image in the audience's mind was of her grasping for
help.
Margaret Mary had two physical weaknesses which
affected her, and they affected the choices which the
actress made in portraying her. She was losing her hearing
and her physical strength. Her hearing loss caused her to
raise her volume and to speak harshly to other characters.
Her harshness changed whenever she spoke to a particular
character. Her articulation slowed down and became
clearer, and her intonation, especially volume and pitch,
rose in scenes with Cara or Robin. The physical deterio-
ration caused her to move gradually from a cane to a
wheelchair. Although she was the type of person who
admitted defeat grudgingly, her movement automatically
slowed throughout these physical failures. Her gestures
stiffened, and her attitude toward this degeneration caused
her to stiffen vocally also.

The most frustrating physical problem was seen as


Margaret Mary gradually lost her ability to play the piano.
The actress wrung her hands in frustration when missing a
note and moved away from the piano. Her gestures became
20
jerky, and, without a word spoken, it was obvious to the
audience that the character felt pain and helplessness.
Vocally, using "mise en scene" elements of intonation
and articulation, the actress portraying Margaret Mary
created many images for the audience. In early scenes with
Cara and Robin, when they played or discussed music,
Margaret Mary's vocal quality was smooth and musical
itself. She was condescending with Cara, was patronizing
toward her, and was sarcastic with her, and the audience
was aware of these attitude changes by hearing the varia-
tion in the actress' intonation.
Perhaps the best example of the vocal aspects present-
ing an image to the audience occurred during Margaret
Mary's speech about the importance of waltzes. As she
moved into the speech, she described the effect that a
waltz had on her. Vocally, the actress found Peter Brook's
"rhythm," and it changed as she changed moods throughout
this scene. She described the dreamy frame of mind she
entered and even pictured a more beautiful setting, in
another time period, than the one in which she found
herself. She said, "Sometimes I picture West Seventy-
second Street as some snowy boulevard in Vienna a hundred
years ago . . . It's a considerable improvement over what I
p
do see. No one ever spits in Vienna." The actress' voice
moved from a dream-like state to one of disgust by subtle
changes in pitch and rate. Very quickly the audience
21
realized the use of humor when she mentioned her walker
pace: "clunk-two-three, clunk-two-three. "^ The humor
developed by another change in articulation and intonation,
both of which are elements contained within the "mise en
scene."

As the play closed, the audience perhaps saw the most


truthful moment in the play. Margaret Mary found herself
alone, physically defeated, and dependent upon someone
else. Determined not to show this, if possible, she
finally invited Cara to spend the night with her. Humor
returned briefly, sarcasm emerged again, and the final
image was one of Margaret Mary seated on the sofa. She
listened to someone else play music for her, but her facial
expression showed happiness. She shrugged as Cara hit her
usual sour notes and uttered her typical phrase, "Now we're
cooking." She was, however, obviously resigned to the
inevitability of her situation. The actress who portrayed
Margaret Mary used gestures, vocal intonation and articu-
lation, and other concrete elements of the "mise en scene"
to reflect life in its universality.
Many possible choices were available to the actress
portraying Cara Varnum. The actress' choices brought a
particular rhythm to her acting and a special truth to the
audience. Everyone has met a person like Cara Varnum in
liis or her life. Her friendship for Margaret Mary began
with the mutual love of music, and from there, Cara worked
^^J^JctiV.

22
herself into her neighbor's life. She was constantly
concerned with her cat, Ralphie, her building association
group, and, most important, her relationship with Margaret
Mary.

The truth of this character became more obvious as the


play continued. She pouted, "Oh, sure, it's get-rid-of-
Cara time. Story of my life."-'-^ Her pitch dropped, rate
slowed, a hurt, "little-girl" quality appeared in her
voice. She exaggerated, "Do you know how many women have
mastectomies every day? . . . Ten thousand. Ten
thousand!" When Cara exaggerated, her pitch automatical-
ly rose as she attempted to make her point. Her tone took
on a hard quality. Sometimes Cara showed a perception, no
matter how lopsided, of the world around her. She demon-
strated this when she said, "You have to squint your eyes
when you look at people sometimes, or you'll never like
what you see."12 The audience was able to picture the many
images of Cara Varnum by listening to her various vocal
changes.
These vocal qualities were concerned with elements of
the text, and the actress who portrayed Cara possessed
great truths when not speaking. As Artaud says the "mise
en scene" must, Cara presented many "stage pictures" which
relayed many images and messages to the audience. Several
instances occurred throughout the play. When Ralphie, her
cat, died, Cara gave a very moving speech describing the
23
importance of her pet to her. Even without the speech, it
was obvious to the audience that Cara was hurting simply by
looking at the actress. What normally was a fast-moving
and energetic character, now became one whose pace was
slowed, gestures were downward and hopeless, and her entire
physical bearing and rhythm were the image of despair. The
"Ralphie speech" was intense, but as Thompson frequently
did, it was also tinged with humor.
The actress' physical presence commanded the audience
to feel empathy toward Cara. In her final speech of this
section, she said, "Isn't life discouraging? There's never
one thing you can cling to and say, 'This is good, this
will last.' God forbid you should try feeling secure." 13
Cara's slumped shoulders and entire physical demeanor said
much more than the words alone possibly could.
There were other moments when Cara physically spoke
more than she verbalized. It was, perhaps, in these
scenes, more than any other, that this character's projec-
tion of the "mise" became the clearest. When Cara played
her violin, she usually portrayed two contrasting moods.
If the piece was simple and she made few mistakes, the
audience could see by Cara's facial expression and movement
that she was excited. The many times that she made errors,
she grimaced and reacted with anger and disgust at herself.
Perhaps the most telling moment of Cara's physicali-
zation was in the party scene. Cara entered in an absurd
24
costume which horrified Margaret Mary. Cara, however, was
thrilled with her appearance. She paraded around and, with
her cake plate and cherry cake proudly displayed, she
radiated a great self-confidence. When Serge complimented
her appearance, she was thrilled. He went on to say,
however, that "this dress makes your fatness look so
14
pretty." Cara, horrified, ran from the room and only
returned later when she secured a sweater with which to
cover herself. Physically, she moved from a swiftly-paced,
confident person to one who was crouched, slumped, and
depressed. She recovered when complimented by Glen. She
quickly moved to sitting between Glen and Serge and
attempted to be the center of attention once again.
Cara Varnum was a character of abrupt mood changes.
The actress had to physicalize and vocalize these changes
in order to bring the truth of the character to the audi-
ence. As the play reached its final scene, Cara entered
and was horrified to think that Margaret Mary was dead.
She moved from that mood to one of excitement when she
thought of her possible election to the tenant's committee.
She then concluded with a physical and emotional response
when she was asked to stay with Margaret Mary. With her
violin in her hand, Cara waltzed around the room, smiled
contentedly, and sang, "One more dream, for me to dream." 15
The text was of secondary importance. The concrete ges-
tures, movements, and vocal intonation and articulation
25
were all that were necessary for the audience to "redis-
cover the deep humanity of their theater" through the
character of Cara Varnum.
Artaud feels that one reason the public does not react
to the theater is that it is fixed in terms to which the
audience can no longer respond. The theater does not
address the needs of the time. Artaud states that the
fault is not that of the audience, but that the theater
does not present a valid spectacle for the audience to
view. 17 In The West Side Waltz, the character of Robin
Bird presented a valid spectacle to which the audience
could relate.
Robin represented a large majority of young people who
are unsure of their futures. However, Robin was more
unsure of herself than most. When she entered the scene,
she only applied for a job because she had nothing better
to do. She moved from that point to living as a companion
to Margaret Mary. From there she became interested in the
stock market and rushed into a serious relationship with a
man whom she met on a bus. The image of Robin moving
rapidly around the stage paralleled the image of her as she
rushed through life. The actress who portrayed the role
chose elements from the "mise en scene" to bring this
character to life for the audience.
Robin moved rapidly from area to area on the stage.
Her world was not well-balanced, and the actress perched
26
upon furniture as if she was about to topple over and lose
her balance. When Robin chose to sit down, she generally
drew up her legs and held her knees as if she was prepared
to spring back into action. Robin's gestures were sharp
and quick. The character was generally nervous, and an
image in the audience's mind was one of someone who was
high-strung, and on occasion, off-balance. On her first
entrance, Robin slapped her side, played nervously with her
fingers, and eventually retreated to the bathroom for
protection. These concrete gestures brought a definite
image into the audience's mind of Robin in the early
portion of the play.
As the play progressed, Robin became more at ease
living with Margaret Mary and her situation. Her
physicalization showed a relaxed and calmed person. During
the "sex conversation" between the three women, Robin sat
in a chair and painted her toenails. This was an obvious
image to the audience of a woman who felt completely "at
home" with her surroundings and with a discussion of her
sexuality. She and Margaret Mary sat together later in the
scene to laugh at Cara's prudishness.
When Robin brought Glen to meet the others, the
nervousness returned. She was uncertain of what their
reactions would be and unsure of her own situation. She
fidgeted, slapped her leg, and had to be excused to the
bathroom again. All of these physical activities were
27
reminiscent of her first entrance in the play. The argu-
ment in which she protected Glen brought Robin in a physi-
cal alliance with him. She touched him, held on to him,
and stood close to him either for protection or to protect
him from the others.
When she prepared to leave Margaret Mary, the panto-
mime between the two women was direct and precise. The
audience was aware of the feelings of both without any
dialogue spoken between them. Artaud states that "'direct
pantomine' occurs when gestures represent ideas, attitudes
of mind, and
aspects of nature, all in an effective,
concrete manner." 18 In this particular scene between Robin
and Margaret Mary, the two women began the scene at sepa-
rate ends of the sofa. They moved together during the
scene, and by the end, they were in the center of the room.
Robin stood behind Margaret Mary, with her hand on the
older woman's shoulder. Margaret Mary reached up and
touched it. These gestures represented ideas and attitudes
in a concrete manner. There could be no doubt in the
audience's mind as to these women's feelings for each
other. Facial expression, gesture, and movement were all
aspects of the "mise" which the actress who portrayed Robin
Bird employed.
The vocal aspects of the "mise en scene" were also
important in the interpretation of the character of Robin
Bird. The character's Brooklyn accent automatically caused
,^^SJt:^^^a;^2Sbii^

28
her pitch to modulate greatly throughout her dialogue.
When she first entered the scene, she seemed to be very
excited and nervous. Her pitch and intonation were
generally high and her rate was fast. At one point,
Margaret Mary remarked that she found it difficult to
understand what Robin was saying. She reminded Robin that,
if she intended to be an actress, she must enunciate.
Robin remarked, rather irritably, "This is something I m
cog-ni-zant of." 19
As Robin became more accustomed to Margaret Mary, and
vice versa, her speech patterns became less irritating.
Her vocal characteristics in later scenes with Cara and
Margaret Mary revealed to the audience a young woman who
had become more sure of herself. Whenever she became angry
and defensive, however, her volume and pitch rose, a normal
vocal change when anyone is angry. Robin's voice almost
became incoherent. Her accent seemed to take control when
she lost her temper.
In Robin's final scene, she used a variety of vocal
choices to create several images for the audience. Her
defense of Glen again showed the quality which her voice
assumed when angered. She screamed to Cara, "What's it to
20
ya? Mind your own beeswax, for Christ's sakel" In her
scene with Margaret Mary, her accent was almost completely
gone, her pitch and volume were controlled, and she showed
a calmness and maturity not previously seen in the
< }y...t^^r^j:i'Sis^^:iSS:i^=^-iSm

29
character. Her vocal choices caused a clear image to form
in the audience's mindthat of a young woman who had
undergone a process of maturation and change. The charac-
ter of Robin Bird, with her direct identification to many
members of the audience, provided one of Artaud's "valid
spectacles."
Although the characters of Serge and Glen were not as
prominent in the play as the three women, the actors had
choices available in portraying their characters. They had
to use the elements contained in the "mise en scene."
Serge Barrescu was a man who, through most of the play,
tended to be a congenial, gentle, and kind person. He felt
a closeness to Margaret Mary and Cara. Serge was not
overly-intelligent and a characteristic shrug suggested
this. This shrug also communicated another aspect of
Serge's character: that Serge pretended ignorance to keep
from working. Whether he confessed his failure as a
building maintenance man, watched Cara and Margaret Mary
play their instruments, or admired Robin's beauty. Serge
smiled. He walked with an unsure, small step which sup-
ported the possibility that Serge was in no hurry to get
anywhere, especially work. It was also quite possible
that, once he arrived at his destination, he was not sure

what to do.
The fact that Serge was unsure of the English language
caused him to drop his volume and to make his articulation
30
very precise. Very seldom was his vocal volume ever
raised. His obvious admiration of the women became clear
to the audience in his pitch and volume drop. Only one
time in the play did Serge change his usual vocal pattern.
This occurred when he became angry over being fired as
superintendent of the building. In anger and frustration.
Serge yelled at the women and then immediately dropped the
volume and pitch to his more typical, quiet manner.
Glen Dabrinsky also had a quiet manner but for another
reason. When Glen entered the scene, the audience already
had an image of him from the previous scenes. It had been
established that he and Robin had met on a bus, that he was
a lawyer, and that Robin was fond of him. He was nervous
on first entering the stage and tried to make a show of
meeting and greeting everyone. After Robin went to the
bathroom. Glen's nervousness became obvious. He stood
alone on the stage and shifted from foot to foot. When he
finally sat down, he joked with Cara and Serge and laughed
nervously. He seemed apologetic for the fact that Robin
had stranded him in the room with these strangers. When he
discussed his work as a lawyer, he seemed even to apologize
because he had not become more successful. He shrugged
when he talked about this and tried to escape by frequently
looking down the hallway for Robin.
During this time, Glen praised and flattered Margaret
Mary. He moved to her and asked her to play. He told her
V

31
that Robin had mentioned what a great pianist she was. As
he looked at the piano, he said, "Oh, wow, I don't believe
this piano . . . Robin tells me you're a real cracker jack
21
piano player." He continued this flattery to the point
of almost alienating the audience, and his constant use of
the word "charming" became very annoying. This word, in
fact, almost became an image itself to represent Glen
Dabrinsky. Although Glen himself was not charming, he
tried desperately to be just that.

When Robin returned. Glen's gestures and movements


made it obvious to the audience that he was glad and
relieved that she was back. He put his arm around her and
held her closely to him. His gestures and facial expres-
sion showed a true affection for Robin. During the follow-
ing scene, after Robin returned. Glen made many changes in
his physical and vocal choices. Relieved that Robin
returned, he became more relaxed. This was mainly a
surface appearance because he continued his ingratiating
attitude with Margaret Mary. When the argument between
Cara and Robin began. Glen let Robin shield and defend him
verbally. He became agitated with Cara's constant
questions about his relationship with Robin. For the first
time, his quiet, almost condescending manner was dropped,

and his pitch and volume both rose. He yelled, "Hey, Cara.
22
Give us a break, kid."
32
Later, as he finally defended himself against Cara's
constant belittling of Robin and himself, he shouted, "Heyl
Give me a break! I've gotta tell you: I don't like it
23
here!" At the height of his anger. Glen physically
defended and verbally protected Robin. This was an oppo-
site image from the one previously seen when Robin defended
Glen. He proved to the audience and those on stage that he
loved Robin by shielding her from possible attack. His
re-entry in Happy Harry's suit showed Glen as a man who had
become at ease with his current situation. He said, "I
look like I sell televisions, don't I?" Earlier in the
same scene. Glen was belittling himself but for a totally
different reason and with a totally different image sent to
the audience.
All five characters in The West Side Waltz made
choices in their portrayal of their various roles. In
Artaud's concept of the "mise en scene," an actor must
employ the vocal aspects of intonation and articulation and
the physical qualities of gesture, facial expression, and
movement. These elements are all used in various ways by
the actors to create a concrete image for the audience.
The rhythm that each actor achieved was reached through a
truth that each found within his or her individual perfor-
mance. Through this rhythm and truth, and the elements of
the "mise en scene," which each actor employed, the
33
audience received a direct communication from the stage in
the form of concrete images.
^

34

Notes

Hugh Morrison, Directing in the Theater (Bristol:


Pitman Publishing, 1973), p. 38.
2
Katharine Hepburn, Introduction to The West Side
Waltz, by Ernest Thompson (New York: Dodd, Mean & Co.,
1982), p. viii.
3
Ronald Hayman, Artaud and After (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1977), p. 68.
4
Bonnie Marranca, ed.. The Theatre of Images (New
York: Drama Book Specialists, 1977), p. x.
5
David Selbourne, The Making of a Midsummer Night's
Dream (London: Methuen Press, 1982), p. 21.
Selbourne, Midsummer Night's Dream, p. 21.
7
Hepburn, Introduction to The West Side Waltz,
p. viii.
p
Ernest Thompson, The West Side Waltz (New York:
Dodd, Mead & Co., 1982), act 2, sc. 1, lines 261-267.
^Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 1, line 269.
Thompson, Waltz, act 1, sc. 2, line 155.
'"Thompson, Waltz, act 1, sc. 3, line 75.
'^Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 1, lines 235-236.
*-^Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 1, lines 222-224.
'^Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 2, lines 64-65.
'"^Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 3, line 273.
-" ^Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double (New
York: Grove Press, Inc., 1958), p. 108.
'^Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, p. 76.

^^Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, p. 40.

Thompson, Waltz, act 1, sc. 2, 210.

^^Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 2, lines 236-237.


35
21
Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 2, lines 125-128.
22
Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 2, line 231.
23
Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 2, line 264.
24
Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 2, line 366.
CHAPTER IV
PHYSICAL ELEMENTS OF THE "MISE EN SCENE"
IN THE WEST SIDE WALTZ

The Music in the Production


In Antonin Artaud: Man of Vision, Bettina Knapp
states that "objects, music, costumes, scenery, and words
used together are much more effective in bringing about
powerful reactions in spectators than are words used
alone." These elements are also those which any director
must use in a unified production. Not all plays use music
and very few depend upon music as directly as does The West
Side Waltz. Whether or not there is furniture, columns, or
an empty stage, everything is scenery, and anything which
illuminates a stage is lighting. It is a director's choice
as to which elements are used. Perhaps a director will
choose a completely empty stage, natural or overhead
lighting, and no sound. Any concept is acceptable as long
as the director feels that it will bring a moment of life
to the audience. In The Theatre of Images, Bonnie Marranca
notes that many "current" production groups exclude or
minimize the use of dialogue in favor of visual, aural, and
verbal imagery.^ The images become concrete signs for the
audience.

36
37
Music, one of the elements of the "mise en scene," is
important in any production, but in The West Side Waltz, it
is crucial. Of course, on the basic level, three charac-
ters play instruments. The play script comes complete with
the music which was used in the Broadway production. The
music ranges from fairly simple modern pieces to difficult
passages. The director had to make an early decision as to
which pieces to exclude and which to keep.

It seemed necessary to the overall concept of the


production that as much of the music as possible should be
used. This decision meant searching to find the exact
music which Thompson suggested because the director felt
that, for this element of the "mise en scene" to work, the
playwright's choice must also be the director's choice.
After a great amount of searching, no tape of the music
could be located. It then became necessary to find the
actual music and, of greater difficulty, to find musicians.
A pianist and violinist were located. Because of the small
acting area, a decision was made to place the musicians in
full view of the audience. This related directly to
Artaud's feeling that it was necessary for the audience to
view the inner workings of the production.
In addition to playing as the characters played, the
musicians were directed to react as the actors reacted to
their playing. There were several examples of this. As
Margaret Mary moved expertly through such pieces as "The
V >^..-^-.r:::.^^...;;:^^^!*

38
Flight of the Bumblebee" or "Die Schule der Gelaufigkeit,"
the actress on stage and the pianist in view of the audi-
ence both showed through their facial expression, gestures,
and movement at the piano their pleasure in their playing.
Both were obvious in their exasperation at Cara's errors in
playing. As Margaret Mary's playing deteriorated, the
pianist made mistakes and showed the audience, through
facial expressions in particular, the pain that the charac-
ter felt.
The violinist who played for Cara had a more difficult
task. Not hidden at all from the audience as the pianist
was, the violinist was in full view at all times. The play
began with violin music playing various selections. Some
were very difficult, which were not played well, and
others, simpler pieces, were played expertly. At one
point, during a particularly difficult movement, the
violinist dropped her bow, muttered to herself, and rushed
to finish the piece. Many in the audience thought that it
was an overture to the play, but when Cara entered, it
became quite evident that the violinist playing beside the
piano and the actress on stage were one and the same. As
Cara made frequent errors, both the actress and musician
facially expressed their chagrin; when the playing was
easy, that was also evident. Cara expressed frequent mood
changes directly dictated by the music, and those moods
were reflected by both performers.
39
The West Side Waltz is subtitled "A Play in 3/4 Time."
Ernest Thompson chose this because music is an integral
part in the play, as well as an integral part of the "mise
en scene." Each act began with several selections. Act I
was started with violin music alone, and Act II began with
piano, guitar, and violin in several numbers and concluded
with piano alone. The music obviously set the image in the
mind of the audience that this would be a major part of the
play. Many plays have some music beginning each act, and
some have music during scene changes. However, music in
this large amount signified something more important. The
title of the play was the first indication of the impor-
tance of music. The piano and violin both on stage and at
the side of the stage strengthened the image. After the
beginning of the first act, the audience quickly became
aware of the importance of music to the actors and the
entire production concept.

Many of the first violin solos were very complicated


Bach Preludes and Strauss Waltzes. Others were easier,
especially "Neopolitan Nights" which was frequently played
because it was one of the songs with which Cara felt
secure. Although the audience was not aware of the indi-
vidual titles of these particular pieces, they were signif-
icant at the particular times they were played.

The first song that Margaret Mary and Cara played was
Strauss' "Du und Du." This translated to mean "The Two of
<. .y.-.-i*-^"^"-^'^

40
Us," and it was interesting that Margaret Mary played this
very well while Cara made frequent mistakes. This was only
one of many waltzes played throughout the production.
Waltzes set a natural rhythm3/4 time--for the production.
The rhythm was a flowing one which set an image in the
audience's mind. The scene ended with the two playing "Du
und Du" and continued into the beginning of the following
scene.

The scene which introduced Robin Bird had a change in


the tempo of the music. It began with "Du und Du," but the
first piece played after the action began was Carl Czerny's
"Die Schule der Gelaufigkeit," which means "The School of
Velocity." This was a number which Margaret Mary played
alone; it was fast, complicated, and Cara was greatly
impressed. She had never heard Margaret Mary play it
before. This selection broke the established rhythm of the
waltz. The rhythm is further exploded, for both the
audience and the actors, when Margaret Mary next suggested
that they play "The Flight of the Bumblebee." This was a
piece which Cara particularly wanted to avoid because it
was very difficult. After many missed starts, they began
playing. It was during this number that the doorbell rang,
and Robin Bird was introduced. Robin was, in a way, a
bumblebee herself.

The audience knew the title of this particular piece,

as it did others later, and many images were placed in


iwiii It law ' II !

41
their minds. These two particular pieces, "The Flight of
the Bumblebee" and "Die Schule der Gelaufigkeit," as others
did throughout the play, upset the natural rhythm. Artaud
states that the theater should have "an idea of chaos, an
idea of the marvelous . . . and one or two concerning the
3
importance of speech." "The Flight of the Bumblebee" and
other numbers presented chaos to the audience. That
particular number definitely presented chaos to Cara. This
music supported the idea that speech or dialogue was
unnecessary. All that was needed was to see the faces and
gestures of the performers on stage to understand every-
thing that they were thinking and feeling at any given
moment. Music helped bring this knowledge to the audience.
Prior to the end of the third and final scene of Act
II, Robin, Cara, and Margaret Mary played a trio. It was
established earlier in the scene that Robin played the
guitar slightly. This scene followed the first argument
that Margaret Mary and Robin had. Robin threatened to
leave the apartment, but instead, she was coaxed into
playing a trio with Margaret Mary and Cara. The song that
they played was entitled "Playing Together is Fun," which
was actually "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." The title,
"Playing Together is Fun," conjured up certain images in
the mind of the audience concerning the importance of music
in the lives of these people and the fact that music had,
once again, calmed the troubled waters between them. The
iksa^aaammx .v.. .-r.^

42
audience was left with the visual image of these three
women playing their instruments together in perfect
harmony. Margaret Mary played expertly, Cara picked up on
it quickly, and Robin tried the best that she could
representing their relationship on many levels. It was the
music as part of the "mise" that caused this image to form
for the audience.

The music between acts combined all three instruments.


"Playing Together is Fun" continued through the black out
and scene change, followed by several numbers which
combined all three instruments. The final selection before
the actual act break was a beautiful piano solo entitled
"The Swan." This was important because it was the last
piece played on the piano with complete accuracy.
The first piece of music at the beginning of Act II
was Beethoven's "Sonata Pathetique." This was a difficult,
hauntingly beautiful selection, and it was the first time
that the audience was aware that Margaret Mary's physical
deterioration was affecting her musical performance. She
made several errors while playing and eventually stopped
completely. Her weakness was more evident to the audience
when she moved away from the piano and began using a
walker. Her hearing loss was also shown here when Margaret
Mary began feeble toe-touching exercises. Robin came in
and complained about the weather and asked what could be
done about it. Margaret Mary misunderstood her question
43
and answered "My toe-touching exercises."^ This was the
last time that Margaret Mary played the piano until later
in the scene. Everything v;hich followed in this scene was
accented by the "Sonata Pathetique."
The only other musical selections in this highly
emotional scene did not occur until the end. This scene
contained an angry confrontation between Margaret Mary and
Robin concerning Robin's inability to commit to anything.
Robin left and indicated that she would not return. Cara
entered and related her emotional speech about the death of
her cat. Margaret Mary questioned her own manipulation of
Robin, followed by her speech concerning the importance of
waltzes in her life. The mood of the scene turned back to
the natural and safe waltz tempo which it originally had.
The scene ended with a duet between Margaret Mary and Cara
entitled "The Little Dog Waltz." Again, Ernest Thompson's
humor was interjected with the title of this piece.
Margaret Mary suggested that they play this song in memory
of Cara's dead pet, Ralphie. Cara was again reduced to
tears because Ralphie was a cat. They did, however, play,
and the music was cheerful and fast-paced. The audience
was rescued from the chaos of the preceding scene and
settled into what they felt would be a safe and secure
situation.
This mood, however, was not a lasting one. The next
scene was the party scene. "The Little Dog Waltz" faded
44
into a piano solo of "Du und Du" as the scene began. The
scene was introduced with yet another waltz rhythm. Cara
was preparing for the party and Robin's entrance with her
guests. There was no music throughout this scene until the
end. This was a scene of great hostility, revelation, and
discovery, and it was significant that there was no music
heard. The anger between Cara and Robin, the nervousness
of Glen, and the calming effect of Margaret Mary were
elements within this scene, and each of these contained
their own rhythm. Only after the scene between Robin and
Margaret Mary was music introduced. This was "Wein, Weib,
and Gesang" ("Wine, Women and Song") by Johann Strauss. In
this final point following an emotional scene, the mood
changed. The dancing began. Again, the music, which had
signified chaos for the audience, now symbolized joy and a

return to happiness.
As the lights faded on this scene, the music ended.
This was the first scene change which had taken place in
silence. The audience was aware of the change, and this
change signified more of what Artaud would term "chaos."
Cara entered, and became frantic when she could not find
Margaret Mary. Once she was found, the audience could see
Margaret Mary's great physical deterioration. The scene
was one of resolving problems. Serge announced that he had
lost his job, and Cara had decided to run for vice-
president of her organization. Cara had purchased a
\^i9m^J'- \V'' "y^fcTJ^
^^'^

45
wedding present for Robin and Glen's approaching marriage.
All of the characters had made changes. Margaret Mary lay
on the couch and listened attentively to everything that
was going on around her. She watched, but did not become
physically involved. During this scene, there had been no
music played, and the audience was aware of this change
from the ordinary.
As the scene and play ended, Margaret Mary asked Cara
to play something for her. Cara, of course, suggested
something simple like "Gypsy Love Song." Margaret Mary
insisted upon Strauss or Chopin. Cara decided upon "One
More Waltz" because, as she stated, at least it was a
waltz. The title, which was heard by the audience, was a
return to a more normal situation. Margaret Mary's current
condition was not normal, but it was the situation that she
had to accept. She made another decision and invited Cara
to spend the night for the first time. The lyrics of "One
More Waltz" were also significant to the situation of these
two women. "One more waltz, here in my arms, close to my
5
heartOne more dream, for me to dream." The idea, of
course, was that there was always one more waltz to return
them to normalcy, and everyone had a dream left to dream.
An image was left in the mind of the audience as Margaret
Mary lay on the couch and listened, and as Cara, with her
violin in her hand, played, sang, and waltzed. It was not
necessary for any words to be spoken here in the final
' f '- .t-'...^

46
moment. This concrete image, strengthened by the "mise en
scene" element of music, was the final vision the spectator
would have.
Music played a large part throughout The West Side
Waltz. All of the characters commented on the importance
of music in their lives. It had brought the three women
together, changed the lives of two of them, and caused joy
or irritability between all five characters. Cara said
that she and Margaret Mary had their music to keep their
friendship together. Later, Margaret Mary told Glen that
music was "a great tonic. ..6 At the end of the play, when
things seemed to be at the darkest point, Margaret Mary
7
said to Cara, "At least we still have our music." The
audience was constantly aware of the music by seeing the
musicians play and react to the actors. Music was a major
factor in this play, and, as an element of the "mise en
scene," it became a vital force which brought about a more
powerful reaction in the spectator than words.

Scenery and Lighting Choices


in the Production
Scenery is an element of the "mise en scene" which can
vary greatly according to each director's concept. In the
Broadway production of The West Side Waltz, large windows
were along the upstage wall, and the entire set was huge.
In this particular production, because of the limited
space, the set was scaled down greatly. Since the play was
47
performed in a church, the building itself comprised a
large portion of the scenery.
As stated previously, Artaud suggests showing the
audience the inner workings or "seams" of a production.
Many settings are designed in such a way as to provide
nothing more than decoration. These settings play little
or no part in any image being transmitted to the audience.
In The Theater and Its Double, Artaud states that the "mise
en scene" becomes a directly communicative language when
the plastic part of the theater drops the role of decora-
p
tion. It was to this end that the director used the basic
setting already provided by the church.
The space was narrow and along the top of the upstage
wall were windows. These windows gave the feeling of an
outside world. The actual church door was stage left and a
hallway to offices and storerooms were along the stage
right wall. All of these were incorporated into the
scenery. The only constructed set pieces were flats
representing the kitchen and the rat room. These con-
structed walls were painted the same color as the actual
church walls, and they represented the other walls of
Margaret Mary's apartment. Margaret Mary's room and the
other rooms were down the already existing hallway. The
audience saw the actors passing down this hallway and
exiting into "real" rooms. Using the actual church
entrances and exits gave the audience another image that
48
there was a real world outside the room. Frequent
entrances and exits were made through all of these doors.
The set was decorated in such a way as to add to the
feeling of realism. The piano was the focal point of the
set although it was not center stage. The other pieces of
furniture were chosen for usage and not decoration. The
sofa, coffee table, buffet, and two chairs were all used
throughout the play. There were green, living plants
around the stage, and they were changed frequently during
scene changes. They were chosen because Margaret Mary was
an active person, and the greenery represented life and
living. The piano was literally covered with music, and
some of the sheets of music had fallen to the floor. As
the play progressed, stacks of music appeared around the
piano, and stacks of newspapers littered the floor. Both
represented the action of the play. Margaret Mary con-
tinued her love for music, and Robin had a new interest in
the stock market. She cut out newspaper articles and
pasted them in a scrapbook which was placed on the coffee
table. All of the set pieces were on the stage for a
purpose. They all strengthened certain images in the mind

of the audience.
The set changes were also an important image in the
mind of the audience. All set changes were performed in
full view of the audience with the lights only slightly
dimmed. "Performed" was an appropriate word because they
i-^_ //.:^--.v:tvf*.x.T.-.j;ya!K;>.;sgaga

49
were a part of the production. Each scene change created
certain images for the viewer. In the early scenes of the
play, the scene changes were minor. They consisted of such
things as replacing music on the piano or removing glasses
and cups. Later, during the act break, the arm chair was
removed, and some of the green plants were taken away. The
season was winter when the second act began.
Another change occurred when Margaret Mary progressed
to the wheelchair. To allow her greater room to move, one
of the chairs was taken out. This was done for practical
reasons, but it also sent a message of change to the
audience. The major scene change occurred prior to the
final scene. Sitting in complete silence, the audience
watched Margaret Mary's home going through a transforma-
tion. The coffee table and rocker were removed. All green
plants were taken away. The couch was placed at a strange
angle which left a large empty space in the center of the
stage. As a final step, Margaret Mary's wheelchair was
placed in front of the open rat room door. This was done
because Margaret Mary had to move around the room in her
wheelchair. More important, however, these were made
because of the major changes in the lives of the charac-
ters. The season was winter, but, at this particular point
in the play, the audience was aware of a great change
simply because of this quiet, sombre method of changing the
scenery.
50
During this particular change, whispers were heard
from the audience. They realized that after the hostility
of the party scene, changes were inevitable. An image in
the audience's mind, as the lights brightened on this final
scene, was one of chaos and uncertainty. Artaud felt that
a production must contain both of these elements. The
scenery and set changes produced certain images for the
audience at this particular point as they had throughout
the production.

Lighting is another element of the "mise en scene"


which is frequently overlooked by a director. Many feel
that, as long as the actors on the stage can be seen,
lighting has played its part. Perhaps that is the particu-
lar image which that director wants to impress upon the
audience at that time. However, as an element of the "mise
en scene," which can make an effect upon the audience,
lighting must serve a purpose. Artaud demands that light-
ing, instead of being simply a decoration, become a lan-
guage itself.^ Much of the lighting in The West Side Waltz
came from practical lamps. As the play progressed, the
lamps were used by the actors. Two scenes took place in
the winter, and the lights on stage were dim. In the first
of these scenes, Robin entered and turned on the lamps.

Perhaps the most important use of lighting in the play


occurred at the beginning of the final scene. After the
major scene change, the lights came up slowly. The stage
'-iVr >' t-li'^fc.^.iJnta

51
was still dim, and with the furniture changes, it looked
cold and unusual. As Cara entered, her first reaction was
to relight the lamps. This caused a little more warmth to
enter the scene. At the end of the play, the lights
remained bright and signified a hopeful change in the lives
of the characters.
Music, scenery, and lighting are all elements con-
tained within the "mise en scene." They comprise much of
what Artaud terms "the plastic part of a production." All
directors, when preparing and analyzing a production, must
consider the usage of these elements. If the director will
choose ways to use music, scenery, and lighting, other than
simply as decorative items, these elements and all other
elements of the "mise en scene" will produce concrete
images in the audience's mind.
52
Notes

Bettina L. Knapp, Antonin Artaud: Man of Vision (New


York: David Lewis, Inc., 1969) , p. 86.
2
Bonnie Marranca, ed., The Theatre of Images (New
York: Drama Book Specialists, 1977), p. x.
3
Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double (New York:
Grove Press, Inc., 1958), p. 72.
4
Ernest Thompson, The West Side Waltz (New York:
Dodd, Mean & Co., 1982), act 2, sc. 1, line 4.
5
Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 3, lines 272-274.
Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 2, line 133.
7
Thompson, Waltz, act 2, sc. 3, line 116.
p
Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, p. 107.
9
Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, p. 119.
--^ -.">- / #-' '>*-^-A-tX?^*^^-**^-"-^^- ''^'*'-

Wr

CHAPTER V

CONCLUSION

The theater should challenge. It has become easy for


an audience to become complacent when viewing a theatrical
event. Much of the current theater asks very little from a
spectator. Perhaps this is not a fault of the theater
alone. Today's average theater-goer is not required to
think a great deal when viewing his usual entertainment.
Television demands no more of a viewer than who is current-
ly sleeping with whom on "Dynasty" or the number of car
crashes on "The A-Team." An audience's perception must be
expanded. Live theater has the potential to provide this
expansion if directed with that goal in mind. Several
options are at the director's disposal to help increase the
audience's awareness. These options are contained within
the "mise en scene."
In The Theater and Its Double, Antonin Artaud states
that "the possibilities for realization in the theater
relate entirely to the 'mise en scene.'" A director has
many elements within the "mise" from which to choose.
Everything included within the directing, production, and
staging are considered the "mise." A director must be
guided by intuition and inspiration when selecting the

53
54

specific elements to stress in a particular production.

Artaud believes that no rules apply in choosing those

elements.

A statement by Katharine Hepburn seems to be an

inspiration to the direction of The West Side Waltz:

"Ernest Thompson is bringing the ordinary human being back

to life. . . . It is a warm delight to people to see them-

selves and their very real problems brought to the fore


2
with humor and sensitivity." It was the director's
intention through this play to show a slice of life to the
audience. Artaud feels that an audience must feel that not
only life, but the audience's own life, is being acted out
in front of them.
Five major areas of the "mise en scene" were primarily
focused on in the production of The West Side Waltz in
order to provide this realization of life in a concrete
image to the audience. These elements were directing,
acting, music, scenery, and lighting. The play was direct-
ed in such a way as to show the audience the inner workings
of the production and give them as realistic a view of
these characters and their lives as possible. The actors
approached the interpretation of their roles with a realis-
tic style in mind. Facial expression, gestures, vocal
intonation and articulation, and movement are all elements
f the "mise" which the actors employed in achieving their
55
realism. All performers worked to achieve a rhythmand a
truth of the character through that rhythm.

The music used in the play also aided the actors in


achieving a certain rhythm. The script suggests specific
music selections be used in the production, and the direc-
tor decided to adhere completely to those suggested. The
music also set the mood for the actors and placed a con-
crete image in the mind of the audience. At times an
absence of music was as much of an image as its presence
had been. Scenery and lighting aided in the realism.

Directing a production of any sort is a risk. It is


very easy for a director to become complacent and to go for
a safe approach by simply allowing the text to dictate the
action. The director of The West Side Waltz chose to use
many of the elements of the "mise en scene" as set forward
by Antonin Artaud to bring a view of life to the audience.
The use of many aspects drawn from the "mise"performers
who used gestures and facial expression, set changes which
took place in view of the audience, musicians who repre-
sented characters in the mind of the spectator, and many
others set a concrete image in the mind of the audience
and spoke to the senses as mere words could not. This
should be the goal of the theater. Antonin Artaud states:
For the theater, as for culture, it remains a
question of naming and directing shadows; and the
theater, not confined to a fixed language and
form, not only destroys false shadows but pre-
pares the way for a new generation of shadows.
56
around which assembles the true spectacle of
life.^
57
Notes

Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double (New York:


Grove Press, Inc., 1958), p. 45.
2
Katharine Hepburn, Introduction to The West Side
Waltz, by Ernest Thompson (New York: Dodd, Mean, and Co.,
1982) , p. viii.
Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, p. 12.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Artaud, Antonin. The Theater and Its Double. New York:


Grove Press, Inc., 1958. ~

Costich, Julia F. Antonin Artaud. Boston: Twayne


Publishers, 19Ts~,

Grotowski, Jerzy. Towards a Poor Theater. New York:


Simon and Schuster, 1968.

Hayman, Ronald. Artaud and After. Oxford: Oxford


University Press, 1977.

Hepburn, Katharine. Introduction to The West Side Waltz by


Ernest Thompson. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co.,
1982.

Knapp, Bettina L. Antonin Artaud: Man of Vision. New


York: David Lewis, Inc., 1969.
Marranca, Bonnie, ed. The Theatre of Images. New York:
Drama Book Specialists, 1977.
Morrison, Hugh. Directing in the Theater. Bristol:
Pitman Publishing, 1973.
Selbourne, David. The Making of a Midsummer Night's Dream,
London: Metheun Press, 1982.
Thompson, Ernest. The West Side Waltz. New York: Dodd,
Mean & Co., 1982.

58
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