Sunday, March 13, 2011

The 4th Wall

Last night, at The Moonstone, the actors, in character, turned and addressed the audience directly, as narrators. It got me thinking about the various ways the imaginary 4th wall can be broken.

If you look at Shakespeare's practice, you don't find much direct narration of the Our Town sort. But you do have the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, spoken directly to the audience:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene...
In prologues, the actor recognizes that he is speaking in a theater, to an audience. The same is true of epilogues.

involves the character talking "to himself", but the actor is likely to "speak to" the audience.

Asides are brief comments directly to the audience.

Contemporary playwright Jeremy Menekseoglu often speaks of breaking the 4th wall, and I've noted these other techniques from his work:

1) The characters are aware of the fact they have an audience, but don't seem to be aware that they are actors in a theater. They may ask the audience why it has come to visit their lives.

2) The characters are addressing an unseen character, a waitress for instance, but they address the audience, or some person in the audience, as if they were that character.

3) Actors begin the play in the lobby, in character, greeting the audience as it comes into the theater.

In what I've seen, however, Jeremy keeps the actors in character until the show ends. His practice doesn't seem designed to break the illusion of the drama, but rather to extend it, or to further draw the audience into the imaginary world of the drama.

As for me, I have not assaulted the wall. Except that in a short verse drama one of the characters turned to the audience at the end and gave a very brief epilogue - or perhaps it was a closing aside.

I think when I watch live theater I often get in kind of a trance, where I sort of forget there's an imaginary wall.

If a play is absorbing, that is all
I need to float through the wall.

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