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“The Flashlight” – The first few seconds on stage

In a mime performance, it is critical to give the essential visual information on “Where the character is” at the very beginning of a scene as quickly as possible, whether it is an indoor space, outdoor space, or even “no-place” in an abstract environment.

There are different ways to establish your “Visible Environment” and we often combine various techniques in accordance with the characteristics of the play. Today, I will explain only the very first step I call “The Flashlight”, an effective way to visually create the foundation of the space before you add “The Depicting Objects” which was explained two weeks ago.

B-1) “The Flashlight”: Introductory Space Reflection

This technique is used when you first introduce your new environment to help the audience instantly visualize the most fundamental information as below:
“Is this indoor or outdoor?”
“What is the general size and shape of this indoor space?”

1) Narrow Focused Flashlight for Indoor Space:

Shine a “Flashlight” on three points

As soon as you enter an indoor space, you give a quick glance with eye focus at three different points. It is often effective if you choose one diagonal corner, which is a farthest point from you, and two other points in different angles and heights. At each focus point, stop your head for two beats and let your eyes register a thought. This will feel like your eyes are painting dots, which eventually paint a picture of your space.

Quick thoughts on dots

Always remember to reflect quick thoughts on each point you see. But you don’t want to make it a great deal by “describing” the unknown things for it is only about a rough idea of the space. Simply visualize the things sitting at those corners. Colorful thoughts naturally come out from your visualizing eyes.
And after those three stops on dots, you can give a phrase of after thoughts about that space.

This “Flashlight” process helps the audience understand the general size and shape of the three dimensional indoor space and the relationship between you and the space through your thoughts.

If you enter a church,

1. You can look at a diagonal far corner visualizing a stature or painting there,

2. Then, look at a little closer object at a lower height visualizing someone kneeling there,

3. Then look up the high ceiling with stained glass taking a little longer time, in order to give the initial idea of “a spacious room with a high ceiling”.

4. Then you can give an “after-thought” phrase,

5. Then start to add “The Depicting Objects”, i.e., actually touching “Visible Objects”.

2) Broad Focused Flashlight for Outdoor:

Brush over horizon line with Broad focused “Flashlight”

When you go outdoors in your scene, or your scene starts outdoors, you can smoothly brush a “faraway” look with your eyes over your horizon line above your audience with your head to create an outdoor image around you. Never stop your eyes on any object. (For distance, imagine you are at the beach, you trace the ocean left to right, and you do a similar diagonal arc, like tracing a rainbow to create the sky.)

No specific thoughts on horizon line

No specific thoughts need to be involved in this horizontal stroke. It is done just to quickly establish the basic information as “Outdoor” in the audience’s mind. And after this “Introductory Space Reflection”, you can start “The Depicting Objects” such as reflecting a bird flying by, finding a bench, a dog barking at you, etc.

3) No Bulb Flashlight for No-Place. (The Placeless Plot):

In the writing structure called “The Placeless Plot”, the scene is not in a specific scenery, i.e., you do not introduce your environment on purpose. It is still your responsibility to provide that information and keep your environment coherent in that texture of “no-place”.

The Flashlight with no bulb

At the very beginning of the “No-Place” scene, you can give a kind of spacy and abstract moving gaze around you, never focusing your eyes on any point in your view, scenery. Imagine that you are blind and looking around to feel the air. When the illusion (of the play) appears, you can only focus at the illusion. But never focus at other objects around you, for such a simple look can trigger images of an environment in the audience’s mind.


The Flashlight – its process and effects:

The process of “The Flashlight” – Introductory Space Reflection takes place in a split second like a magician’s trick not being noticed by most viewers, but the effect is enormous. It enables the next process of “The Depicting Objects” to work smoothly.

Because most objects can possibly exist both indoor or outdoor, and we should always avoid confusing audience. Also, we all like to bring furniture in after knowing the size of the room and painting the walls of the room, don’t we? That is the order we like to recognize in our imaginary world as well.

If you miss the process of “The Flashlight”, the audience will be forced to keep guessing the answers between indoor, outdoor or where while you are far ahead of them showing the objects and events in the story. They sure feel like being left in a dark room without a flashlight, worrying about bumping head or stubbing toe in a nightmare…

But once you learn how to guide your audience to enter the space with you, you will soon hear your audience “get” where you are, and find yourself enjoying a stronger connection between you and your audience.

To be continued,

Haruka Moriyama

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Caden Manson is a director, media artist, and teacher. He is co-founder of the media ensemble and network, blog, and publisher, He has co-created, directed, video- and set designed 18 Big Art Group productions. Manson has shown video installations in Austria, Germany, NYC, and Portland; performed PAIN KILLER in Berlin, Singapore and Vietnam; Taught in Berlin, Rome, Paris, Montreal, NYC, and Bern; the ensemble has been co-produced by the Vienna Festival, Festival d’Automne a Paris, Hebbel Am Ufer, Rome’s La Vie de Festival, PS122, and Wexner Center for The Arts. Caden is a 2001 Foundation For Contemporary Art Fellow, is a 2002 Pew Fellow and a 2011 MacDowell Fellow. Writing has been published in PAJ, Theater Magazine, and Theater der Zeit. Caden is currently an associate professor and graduate directing option coordinator of The John Wells Directing Program at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama.

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