We were initially given two texts to progress from. The first, a photograph of a female Jewish refugee in 1938 arriving in Britain. There were no captions or headings, just the photo itself. At the outset, we were very interested in what we were expected to do as the text was very stimulating. We then had to create a background, something of a history for our Jewish girl, and produce a fact file. We decided on an age of just 16 and we thought it would be very rewarding if we added the idea of her witnessing her mother’s death and believed that we could produce some great ideas and develop dramatic techniques of an emotional standard never before practised in our course.
We had to choose between either an emotional scar or a valuable piece of information stored in her head and decided on the first one. We thought that if we had her see her mother being shot at just the age of 9 we could take these ideas further in our work. We were instructed to create a prized possession for the girl and we thought that the idea of a photograph of both of her parents together would be an interesting prospect and would have an excessive amount of sentimental value to her.
The first physical aspect of our work was creating three tableaux illustrating three highlights in her life, but not necessarily positive ones. The first was of the Jewish girl emigrating from Poland, her home country in our group. This one was seeing her mother getting shot and then her running away from the Nazis in terror. Of course, the girl running was hard to bring to life in a tableau. We used our imagination and decided to have two soldiers surrounding her mother and the Jewish girl, named Marisa, turning with her back to the murder, the side of her facing the audience with her hands over her face and the rest of her body in a desperate position attempting to run away but not exactly in a running posture. The second tableau was of Marisa arriving in Britain and we would need to include the idea of Britain being terrifying for the young girl to successfully create a still image on this scene. We had three actors in a row facing the audience stood up with their arms crossed, with mean facial expressions, looking as though they are after Marisa. They weren’t of course but we attempted to put across to the audience Marisa’s thoughts and paranoia. She is in a crouching position trying to protect herself from the unfamiliar faces of what she considers to be evil Britons whom she feels intimidated by and petrified of.
The third and final tableau in the ‘Marisa’ work was to create a ‘what the future holds…’ idea in which we decided a probably future for Marisa was going into prostitution and this was definitely the most difficult to portray. We decided on placing two characters in one corner looking very thoughtfully at Marisa, all the while looking suspicious, and with Marisa being ‘comforted’ by a man, with his arm around her, looking to the audience like he is making a proposition meanwhile pressuring her, like a stereotypical pimp. At this stage, we felt if we would have props to illustrate stereotypes for example a gun, a cigar for the pimp and perhaps some lighting to highlight the main character, which in all cases was Marisa, and particularly in the final tableau, spotlight her facial expression as the pimp approaches her. This could maybe illustrate the terror and emphasise the aspect of pressure.
We then moved on to ‘marking the moment’. This involved actual acting but of a high standard to go with the relief of our group who struggled incredibly with the tableaux exercises. We were given an extra member to our group which had potential to make things easier in the ‘marking the moment’ section of the work. The first scene we acted out was the one of the mother’s murder. It started as a family having a pleasant evening together. This was of course Marisa with her mother and her father, who we were allowed to bring into the story now we had more actors. The calmness of the family gave a pleasant atmosphere which emphasised the terror as the two soldiers banged on the door to their home screaming at them to open the door in German. The sudden mood change stressed the horror of the family. The Germans then break in and ‘knock-out’ the father and release the child, Marisa while they attempt to rape the mother. The mother then escapes but the filthy Nazis get her and place the gun to her head. The soldier didn’t move and Marisa covered her eyes up. The mother was screaming things at her daughter telling her to go and it was just like the tableau but with sound. This position remained for about six seconds until the two soldiers looked at each other and laughed and pulled the trigger.
This marked the moment well as it built up tension. I thought the idea of a German accent would create realism and make it more horrific for the audience. It worked well. The way the Germans called the mother a bitch and a bint etc created an image for themselves. Scary, filthy and horrible. The second scene was one where Marisa arrived in Britain. In one corner was an innocent friendly looking man calling out names of refugees. Marisa is pacing what is supposed to be a railway station and there are two other men bumping into her as though she didn’t exist. This created a perfect mood, where Marisa felt unwanted, alone and extremely scared. The remaining character is a tramp sitting at the side of the stage. He is begging for change and food and for a few moments, Marisa notices him and looks deep in his eyes.
This lasts for about six or seven seconds and this is where we marked the moment. For those seconds of eye contact between Marisa and the tramp, everything goes silent so the audience only concentrate on those two characters and at this point Marisa has found the one person who she can relate to and vice versa. The one person who felt the same as her. The beggar feels unwanted, alone and scared. The scene ends with the man calling out random refugees’ names finally coming across ‘Marisa Aghnieska Cloze’ on his list and taking her to her train. We only managed to produce two scenes for marking the moment but both were well though out and somewhat affective, we felt.
The second text we worked from was an account by an 18 year old Kurdish girl on living and moving to England. She describes what it was like when she first moved here about children insulting her home country, Iraqi Kurdistan and making her feel unwelcome or fellow students at school just ignoring her. We had to create some tableaux in this element also. We worked on two aspects here. We firstly worked on an ideal/reality idea. This involved creating a parallel scene. We firstly worked on an idea where she is in the lunch queue ready to choose her food. In the first scenario a boy goes up to her and puts his arm around her to comfort her and starts to explain what all the items are. In the next tableau, the exact opposite happens, as a girl approaches her and pushes her straight out of the queue, telling her she doesn’t belong here. In each tableau the girl’s face, named in the text as Choman, is different and that is what we attempted to illustrate. The first she has a wide smile across her face and in the second she looks frustrated and offended.
The second aspect was a comparison of Kurdish/English culture. In these two we worked on stereotypes. We had four teenagers, all facing them audience just about to shot an alcoholic drink and they smoothly flow in to the four of them kneeling on the floor praying. We used a phrase in these tableaux. ‘Play, and then pray’. In these tableaux we focused again on the actor’s facial expressions. As they were drinking they all seemed so happy but as they began to pray, the expressions changed into a dull bored look on their faces as though the praying was a duty, not a privilege.
Our final work was of marking the moment once again. We just worked on the idea of comparing two lifestyles again: Kurdish/English. Choman is in a bad situation. She cannot decide whether her family or friends are more important. She compares the two lifestyles and must come up with a decision. We decided on an interesting storyline including Choman and her family duties. She is sat at the table eating diner with her parents and she is being told that she is expected to go to a family party on Saturday night but as they are telling her this her mobile phone rings. The parents don’t hear the voice on the other end of the line but the audience do as it is one of the actor’s voices. He says to her, ‘Saturday night, Jane’s house. 7.30. BE THERE!’ Choman is in a difficult position as she feels she has finally fitted in with her friends and now she has been invited to as party that all her friends expect her to go to she feels she is letting them down.
To emphasise Choman’s feeling of being ‘in the middle’ and the pressure on her, she is seated in between her two parents facing the audience. Her father says that she will not be spending as much time with her ‘new friends’ as she would like to because he believes that they will get her in trouble in the long run. Besides, drinking is against their religion. We marked the moment by after about a minute of Choman being ordered around by her parents she storms out of the room. Her parents’ facial expressions tell the story alone. It is blatantly obvious that this behaviour is highly unlike Choman and the influence of her new friends has changed her significantly. We marked the moment with sheer silence as the two parents are speechless with shock.
The difference between the two texts except for the format was the idea of creating a history and a story already being set out ready for you. Our knowledge of a Polish refugee in 1938 was far superior to that of a modern day Kurdish refugee. This may have allowed us to produce work of a higher quality and avoid stereotypes as much as possible because when there is limited knowledge in a certain area of work, the results will be similar but when the students know about the subject already, the ideas may vary somewhat and develop more successfully.