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Friday, November 25, 2011

Blog: The MAP Project - 2011 (Part IV)

The Impression Question 
by Amy Kitz
Step into my time machine folks. I would like to invite you back to a moment many Sunday nights ago, back when it was sunny at 8pm and backyard barbeques were still a dinner option. Welcome to Sunday, Sept 4th, 2011.
The above notes were presented and discussed. We then went home and watched TV.
In my notebook I have quite a few pages dedicated to that night. It was MAP’s first Sunday night social lab of the season (a MAP social lab is when we MAP people get together on a Sunday night and film all of the banal, goofy, and nitty gritty interactions between a group of long time friends) and MAP directors Rio and David were introducing the actors, Iris, Jake and Amy (me) to the characters that we would be exploring for the next nine months as we embark on MAP Season One.
Here are some of my notes from that night:
‘alter-world’ – characters that are our opposites that appear as common characters from reality TV. Characters that share some sort of emotional core with us.
‘real-world’ – Us. Confessionals, etc... How can we develop these alters from us.
ME - THE JUDGE – direct, simple, offensive, strong, intense
IRIS – THE HOUSEWIFE – nervous, light, fast
JAKE – THE SEX SYMBOL – suave, sexy, cool
Episode One: these alters begin to take over our real-lives. We come to see the fracture points where we are the alter characters.
The above notes were presented and discussed. We then went home and watched TV.
On that first night we actors were given the direction to find these alters in characters that already exist in the pop-culture zeitgeist. And so we did. We brought ourselves into our explorative studio rehearsals fully armed with these images of reality TV inspiration. We played. We discovered. We developed. Soon enough three very familiar yet entirely unique alter-egos were birthed, inspired by what we had seen on TV.  
...the time for we actors to develop these alters is over.
As Episode Two is now under our belts and Episode Three begins its period of gestation the time for we actors to develop these alters is over. We now have to sit in them and live in them, and it is here that I am beginning to discover the problems inherent to the MAP ‘inspired-by’ system: At what point is my alter simply an imitation and at what point is she a fully fleshed out character. These alters must straddle both those worlds, if they don’t, they lose their purpose in the action of the play.  Part of the fun of working on these characters is that there is supposed to be some foundation of recognition in them. The audience is supposed to recognize the archetype being played. And I use the word archetype, not stereotype, purposefully. These pop-culture figures are part of a stereotype-forming breed, and yet they are more. They are becoming reality TV signifiers, tropes, pillars of the construct of the genre itself.
There is ‘the host’, the ‘judge’, the ‘over emotional contestant/subject’, the ‘ego-maniac womanizer’: these are no longer simply stereotypes, but instead they are now characters that exist in order to orient the audience in the world of the show. And so MAP uses these signifying characters as well.
My struggle has been in finding out who this character is in a 3 dimensional way.  This has been difficult due in part to the way in which my ‘inspirations’ are portrayed on their shows. I have based my character off of the ‘Judge’ or the ‘Host’. It would appear that this makes my alter-ego a little bit more difficult to understand as a full human being. For Example: Tim Gunn is just Tim Gunn. I have such a hard time imagining him outside the world of the Project Runway. Tim Gunn eating spaghetti with his family. Tim Gunn going to the movies with his boyfriend (I am taking a slight guess here when I say boyfriend...but we honestly don’t know. Such is the thickly veiled persona of the ‘host’.)
am struggling. It would be easy to just go for straight imitation.
My struggle right now is giving the audience enough of Tim, enough of Oprah, enough of Tyra that they are able to experience that point of recognition, but also find a character who has legs of her own. Who could exist outside the world of my initial inspiration, with those points of recognition only being small bite-sized morsels of understanding for the audience, while the main course is still the action and the emotional core of a character that I understand completely.
am struggling. It would be easy to just go for straight imitation. It would also be easy to simply make up a character that borrows from no one, who is her own and owes nothing to the Oprahs of the world. But no: What Jake, Iris and I are being asked to do is develop those full-bodied , 3-dimensional characters AND keep on giving the audience that wink, that immediate satisfaction of the impression.
I can only hope that we succeed. 
This article as part of a series that different MAP members will be writing on our process of developing a monthly series that is performed on the first Friday of every month at Mainline Theatre

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