Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Upcoming "Joan of Arc" Performance at Lincoln Center

In preparation for our presentation at the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center on Monday April 20 at 6PM, I thought it would help to have a forum where the actors working on Shakespeare, Schiller, Shaw, Brecht and Anouilh could throw around ideas about their scenes.
Let's do that on this post: we can run a thread of comments here, ask questions, continue discussions.


Anonymous said...

When introducing this project, George asked us to focus on certain themes: Joan’s calling, her trial and her sacrifice. I chose a scene from Schiller in which Joan confronts an otherworldly knight who advises her to quit warring. I thought this fit well with the sacrifice motif. It reminds me somewhat of Jesus at Gethsemane who has a moment of doubt (or maybe it’s fear?) but decides to die on the cross anyway.

The motifs of doubt and fear in the Joan stories are quite pertinent, I think, as they relate to her sacrifice. Considering, the US’s involvement in two wars and the fear mongering that is going on in our media regarding our economy, terrorism etc., it’s not surprising that I gravitated towards a scene that examined courage and overcoming fear. I think that we are living in a time when doubt and fear are prevailing emotions.

During WWII. the allied nations were all about “Keep Calm and Carry On” and Victory Gardens. Now we just receive foreboding messages of doom from our leaders, politicians, media pundits… What’s going on there? I think the people need examples of courage and perseverance. While reading Anouilh’s The Lark, I marked off a monologue that I think I may use for auditions, it too was about overcoming fear when facing seemingly insurmountable odds (around page 22 starting with “Do you know why M. De La Tremouille isn’t afraid of anything?”). Clearly these themes are speaking to me.

If you’re the type who thinks things happen for a reason (I must confess, I am not), then you might say this Joan celebration has come about at an appropriate time.

So these are some of my initial thoughts as we Quest for the Dramatic Joan of Arc.

Cheers! Josey

George said...

Great post, Josey. It immediately made me think of a 16th century text on the guidelines for discernment of different spirits.
Here are a few examples:
2 – When we are intent upon living a good life or a better life

Tactics of the spirit are :

The Evil Spirit proposes all the problems and difficulties in living a good life.

Uses discouragement and deception to deter us from growing in Christ

Tries to bring about a false sadness about things that will be missed

Tries to instigate anxiety about persevering when we are weak

Tries to suggest many roadblocks on the way of the Lord

The Good Spirit





establishes peace

moves to a firm resolve

Leading a good life seems a delight and a joy; no obstacles seem too much to face and to overcome with God’s grace.

THIRTEENTH RULE The enemy of human nature behaves like a false lover, wanting to be secret and not revealed, for fear that duplicity will be made manifest. The evil spirit tries to keep temptations secrets but we should bring them to light with someone such as a director, confessor or other spiritual person.

The enemy of human nature behaves like a shrewd army commander who plots out the tactics of attack and finds the weak points of the defense. Weakness may be because of unpreparedness or because of our self-sufficient pride. The evil one looks for our weakest point, where we are most in need of eternal salvation.

Schiller most likely would be aware of these texts in his writing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks George, reading the play again, I am noticing motifs of old world religion, religious mysticism (for lack of better term) and superstition all over this play especially compared to other texts I've encountered. I gotta remember to not limit myself to a modern POV and keep in mind the belief systems of the Schiller and the times he lived in. This is good, juicy stuff.

It was Schiller who said in On the Aesthetic Education of Man, "Live with your century but do not be its creature."

Cheers! Josey

taylorvee said...


I think the scene Colista and I have chosen perfectly addresses the theme of the call. Both the call to war and the call to God. In the essential arc of Joan (you like that, don't you?), in all the stories, there is a higher power speaking to her and through her. In Anouilh & Shaw, it is specifically "the voices."

Now is a time when Religion plays such a controversial role: in war, in politics, education, and everyday society; where a man just need say "Jesus would've wanted me to do this" to justify any action. We live in a capitalist society whose currency pronounces, "In God We Trust." It is nearly impossible to separate religion from any largess that is instrumental in society.

And yet, what is it that an individual seeks from religion or God? Isn't it hope? Isn't it faith that truly keeps them going? Faith that the right thing will be done. Hope for peace. Hope for freedom.

Isn't that what Joan's voices are? Faith. Extreme, undeniable, unshakable, larger-than-life faith. She hopes for a better life for herself, her family, her country; and her faith, her call, is so strong that she is compelled to do what no other can. Make a difference.

In this scene, we see that faith tested. Tested by a man who has accepted her call, but also understands the reality of his call. The call to war. Separate from God. And Joan contests that man cannot do it without God. It is God and Man together that will prevail; Dunois protests that God is on everyone's side, so man must be prudent and intelligent in obtaining victory, separating himself from this no-sides God. Does not Dunois, too, have faith? Faith in the cause. Faith in his weapons and his men. Joan and God and her voices may have been the impetus to take their country back, but Dunois, his men, and their weapons are the means for liberation.

Some questions:

In a war-driven society today, what does the call of duty truly mean? Why are we as an entity going to Iraq or Afghanistan, and why are we as individuals choosing to serve our country or to protest the conflict?

Do Joan's "voices" and her subsequent actions read as religious zealotry or represent the true meaning of faith? Where do we see examples of this in today's applications of politics and war?

I'm sure there are more questions, but I can't think of them right now. God and War are two of the most scrutinized subjects in today's world, and this scene couldn't be more perfect to address them in our forum.

Thoughts, ideas, concerns? let's hear em...


Taylor V.

Magis Theatre Company said...

From Gwen:
Reading George’s post on aspects of the Good Spirit from that 16th c.
text immediately made me think of Joan’s use of persuasion in this
scene between her and Charles. I find the scene so contemporary, and
not in an entirely comfortable way. I think what the previous posts
are saying is true: it’s important in grappling with the Joan story to
remember that at this time in our nation, the majority of us (I say
that given the landslide election of Obama) feel manhandled by the
agents of media and government, and are left to question our role in
the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As does Joan. But while she and her story are manipulated towards the
end of her life, she does her share of manipulating, as shown in the
scene between her and the Dauphin. But what’s amazing about the
parallel actions of Joan and her inquisitors are how well their
separate motives correspond with the tactics of the Good and Evil
spirits—in silencing Joan, Warwick and Couchon do indeed try to “bring
about a false sadness” and “instigate anxiety about persevering when
we are weak” while Joan’s tactics in fact “strengthen” and “encourage”
Charles and “move [him] to a firm resolve.”

I’ll take it a step farther and say that perhaps the same rules could
be applied to the media. Yes, we’ve had our share of war- and
fear-mongering, but what is the antidote? Imagining Joan as an example
of good communication, a sort of conduit of a truth unknown to the
people around her, a Godly reporter, we observe the effectiveness of
her positive, and persuasive, communication in this scene. Yes, she is
manipulative, there is no way not to be where the media is
concerned—when done well and with good intentions, manipulation
becomes persuasion—but in a way that strengthens and encourages.

Anonymous said...

What powers surmount to belief, or the act of simply believing. Religious text tells use we can move mountains with belief. What did Joan do with her belief? Only raise a king, defeat the English in countless battles, and play a part in Frances’ freedom. As I read the Lark and saw the scene the other day. I was baffled to how an actress could play Joan. How could she convince these politically powerful men to believe in her and her vision of the future? She’s only a poor farm girl. Then I realized that’s the genius of it, she is only a poor farm girl. No political posturing, no grand confusing language. All she had was a genuine belief in want she must do. That is the key to Joan, here unwavering belief in this mission sent to her by god. So strong is this belief that it turns people towards the impossible. She was the most dangerous person the British had in countered because; they could fight and defeat anyone but not any thing. How do you fight an ideal, it spreads faster and lasts longer than a plague? The idea, that Joan of Arc was on a mission from god. This is why discrediting her was so very important, she was the symbol of an idea that neither the British nor the church could accept. First that god could be on the side of the French, and dismantle the propaganda of the British’s military force. The second and even more dangerous was that god could commune with individuals without the churches involvement. The power the church held at this time was due to the belief that they were the only ones who had a direct channel to god. The control over belief systems is how you create a hierarchy. Without it the people on top can no longer control those on the bottom.

Why were we, as a country supportive of a war with Iraq? We were lead to believe that they had weapons that were designed to kill us (the notorious WMDs), and somehow Iraq became associated with 911. Once those two beliefs were nullified support for that war was also nullified.

Why do you buy the type of soap you use? Simply, you believe it will make you clean. Everything we purchase is based on a belief system, which is shaped by advertising.
We elected an unlikely leader because we believed we wanted change. We also believed that this leader could bring about the change we wanted.

I don’t see the lark as a battle over good or evil necessarily. It is a battle for control, through the control of ideas. Joan is already defeated, why have this “trial”, why is it so important to let everyone believe she never spoke to god or that she is a heretic. The play itself challenges the belief of the audience. Do they think she is crazy or do they think she is a saint? Every time you read or see this play you will have to decide all over again.

So what are our individual belief systems? How do they shape our lives? For some it may be recycling, because they believe it will help the planet, for others going to war because they feel it will keep their country safe. For Joan it was that god spoke to her, whether that was true or not doesn’t mater, the fact is, in the end, her belief leads her to becoming a legend.


Anonymous said...

Taylor said: “And yet, what is it that an individual seeks from religion or God? Isn't it hope? Isn't it faith that truly keeps them going? Faith that the right thing will be done. Hope for peace. Hope for freedom.”

Actually, I don’t think everyone goes to God in search of hope. There are plenty of people who worship because they think it will get them material wealth. They fixate on certain scriptures, manipulate the meanings to suit their needs, and convince themselves that by merely repeating to everyone within earshot that they believe Jesus died on the cross that they will become rich and get into heaven after they die. These people already have hope, they want power, personal, selfish power and material gain. Now, these people may actually believe that they have angels walking beside them and that Jesus grants them special favors but does the intent behind their spiritual practice make their faith something else, something not of God? Or is faith, no matter how one comes to it, good enough? What about when that faith leads to the harm of others?

This brings me to Taylor’s other question: “Do Joan's "voices" and her subsequent actions read as religious zealotry or represent the true meaning of faith? Where do we see examples of this in today's applications of politics and war?”

I am not sure that Joan would be such an easy sell today in certain circles. We celebrate her story because we were socialized to do so without thought. I doubt Joan has been a focus of much scrutiny in recent years outside of groups who would never question her saintliness in the first place. Nowadays, I’m afraid she’s looking a bit like a zealot. Her voices, her clothing choices, and her martyrdom can be explained away by modern psychology and sociology. So that leaves us with a stubborn, crazed lesbian who was fatally less savvy than her accusers.

But it might be argued that no matter what brain issues she may have had, she thought she was on a mission from God. She had faith and put that faith into action to achieve the seemingly impossible. Therein lies the miracle. I think that is the point that could be used to uphold the argument that she was indeed blessed - even if modern minds logically explain every detail of her story.

Perhaps the answer to Taylor’s question really lies in the results of her actions. Was her faith true faith or was it something else, something not of God, as Shakespeare believed? Is faith something of value when others suffer for it? Does the spilled blood of British soldiers affect the nature of Joan’s faith? Does Joan’s thirst for British blood affect the nature of her faith? Does Joan’s hope for France and for the people of her village and for her family excuse her thirst for blood and war or perhaps even justify it?

I believe there are some members of the Christian right (not most of them, but some) who genuinely believe that Islam is evil. Does that belief justify bigotry and warmongering? Is nobody wrong as long as they truly believe in God’s support of their personal crusade?

Clearly, Shakespeare and his target audience saw Joan’s voices as worse than religious zealotry. Shakespeare made her evil. Shakespeare’s Joan: rejects her low-born shepherd father, assails her captors vicious character assassinations and, in order to stave off execution, rattles off a list of men whom she says fathered her unborn child. All of this comes just after she’s called up demon spirits to assist her on the battlefield. I think what we have with Shakespeare is a reminder that the English thought God was on their side too.

The difficulty with Joan is that she wasn’t fighting for humanity, she was fighting for the home team. Joan wanted power for the French. And perhaps Joan just convinced herself (in order shore up hope and courage) that her mission was indeed divine.

It’s difficult for me to agree with the idea that her mission was divine. I don’t believe you can wage war under a Christian banner. I’m not saying I don’t believe in war but I am saying it’s not Christian, in my opinion.
So then let’s examine another example of unchristian acts that were justified by Christians. Is it true faith or religious zealotry (or something else, something evil?) when a congregant acts on the words of her preacher when he tells her that Africans were so desperately in need of Christianity that it was good to kidnap them, rip apart their families, deny their humanity, sexually subjugate them, attempt to wipe out all traces of their culture, and force them to work for no pay with a whip in one hand and a bible in the other? If said minister convinced himself that these actions were divine duty instead mere economic strategy, are his actions righteous?

When we look at the end results of slavery, we can see without question that nothing good came out of it. Not one thing. Our US economy was built on lies and oppression. The fast money of slavery led to the search for more fast money and the fantasy of Wall Street. That eventually led to the American tradition of living beyond one’s means. The idea that brown and yellow people should work (cheaply) and create goods for Americans led to our nation being dependent on other nations. And now, the cornerstone of the US economy is sinking under the weight of the national debt and a dependence on foreign goods. Down it goes into the murky swamp of bloodied black bodies over which it was first laid five centuries ago. The fissures in the nation’s fa├žade are turning into huge cracks as we experience today’s so-called recession. And that same lie told to justify slavery has morphed over the years and resulted in the passive-aggressive, seething intolerance and misunderstanding that keeps Americans from ever being equal to one another. Never mind the centuries-long developmental gap it left in Africa. What a horrible legacy it created, however rooted in faith. There is not now nor has there ever been any justification for it. It was something not of God. Good begets good. Evil begets evil. Every time. And yet, there were (and are) true believers in the value of American chattel slavery.

So then, what legacy has Joan given us to justify her actions? What can we say today about the results of her war that make her actions still saintly?

This is not a rhetorical question, please, give me suggestions.

Cheers! Josey

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare’s Henry 6 pt 1

What is it about this scene that interests me as an actor? as a person?

As an actor, the choice was easy… I was already working on this monologue for use in auditions and it was pretty well memorized. Also, no one else seemed to be doing anything from Shakespeare, so this filled in the gap.

From a creative point of view, this monologue represents a dissenting voice. Shakespeare, as I mentioned in a previous post, paints Joan as a villain in his play. I hope it will be interesting juxtaposing this negative portrayal of Joan with the pro-Joan pieces in the show.

As a person, I am intrigued by how history can really become a game of ‘he said, she said’. Nowadays, it is accepted that Joan of Arc was a righteous figure. But in England, during Shakespeare’s time, Joan’s veracity and blessedness was, at best, up for debate. I submitted a longer post trying to speak from the English POV by questioning the honor of Joan’s mission. I wanted to figure out how we can say her mission was divine when her mission was actually quite personal (a better life for her family, a better situation for her country). Not to say that something can’t be divine and personal but I am wondering about the long term affects of Joan’s mission and trying to find a reason why God would intervene in this particular war in this particular way.

What is the author doing/saying in this scene? Who is Joan for the author?

In this scene, she has just been captured on the battlefield by the British. They have condemned her to death. Just prior to her capture, she and her compatriots were losing on the field and Joan calls upon her demon spirits to aid her. The demons arrive but are unable to change the course of the fight in France’s favor.

When Joan addresses her captors, she does what Joan does in other plays:
-- She insists that her voices are holy “Chosen from above by inspiration of celestial grace…”

-- She denies counsel with the devil “I never had to do with wicked spirits.”

-- She expounds on her chastity “Joan of Arc hath been a virgin from her tender infancy, chaste and immaculate in very thought, whose maiden blood…”

She also:
-- Claims to be descended from Kings (before this monologue, she denies being her father’s daughter because he is a lowly shepherd) “Not me begotten of a shepherd swain, but issued from the progeny of kings.”

-- Accuses her captors of the sins of lust, murder, and corruption “But you that are polluted with your lusts, stained with the guiltless blood of innocents, corrupt and tainted with a thousand vices…”

-- Vows vengeance “Will cry for vengeance at the gates of heaven.”

When the claims of innocence and blessed guidance are paired with bragging, finger pointing and mean-spiritedness, Shakespeare changes Joan’s famous “positivity” and virginal claims into base conceit and outright lies. Joan is shown as dishonest, sexually immoral and a bit of a loon.

Just after this speech, in a last grasp at mercy, she claims to be pregnant,
“Will nothing turne your vnrelenting hearts?
That warranteth by Law, to be thy priuiledge.
I am with childe ye bloody Homicides:
Murther not then the Fruite within my Wombe,
Although ye hale me to a violent death.”

She goes on to name several men as the father. While Shakespeare has set this up to show that Joan was lying to avoid execution, we are still to accept his assertions (made throughout the play) that she is a harlot. He also un-martyrs her by having her character scramble for an out.

Her execution takes place off stage: Now that it’s been settled that Joan is no good, Shakespeare has no more use for her.

I think Shakespeare was very glad that a figure like Joan of Arc existed in history. He was able to create a military opponent for his protagonists and load this character with both traditionally masculine and feminine faults. He got two for the price of one: an aggressive, warring, witchy-weird sister.

Who is Joan for me?

I will examine this question in a later post.

Anonymous said...

The above post is from Josey. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Yes Josey,
I think the questions you raise are THE questions that Joan raises. Isn't it fantastic that one person, yes person from 500+ years ago had so much of an impact in her boldness!
I agree with you on the Christian war-- no such thing. Even in the 13th century the justifications for what was an "acceptable" defensive war were far more stringent than what we "baptize" today.
Where power is, power can be corrupted. The stories we hear are the extremes. And so is Joan... very extreme, perhaps in an attempt to restore balance to the world pulled off center. No easy task. And yet it was courageous, extreme, radical (Christian) abolitionists, who upon returning to their center were able to point out what we see now.
How true that the idols we set up turn into demanding bloodthirsty gods: profit, consumerism, ethnocentrism,... all have the devastating effects you mention.
I think what made her saintly was that she remained true to a vision. Well maybe not saintly, at least heroic. I think what eventually gets a place in history for her is that when everyone else is calling her "witch" "demon" etc... she strives.
Not done on this one ... but a start.


Anonymous said...

Jarde and Gwen's comments about The Lark interest me as I am also struggling with the scene Sajeev and I are working on from Anouilh...
She seems to embody extreme ends of the spectrum, and all at once...
She is both the young country girl and the clever manipulator, both the naive innocent and the smartest person in the room. It's not a question of either/or, it's genuinely all true at the same time.... an interesting challenge for an actor...

Anonymous said...

Just a starting point for my thoughts on my and Taylor's scene in Shaw. I agree with Taylor's earlier assertion that our scene addresses the theme of "The Call", and to take it a step further I've found in Shaw's characters an example of what can happen when the boundaries between personal beliefs and collective/communal welfare are blurred.
Joan and Dunois both possess a strong sense of loyalty to and pride in their country, and neither wants to see the English invade France and re-arrange its socio-cultural structure. They are both working toward the same goal but their motivations are different. Dunois takes a more egalitarian approach, asserting that God is impartial "and has to be fair to your enemy too." Joan asserts that God will protect France because the English have gone against His will -- and the natural order-- by choosing to invade a country that God did not mean for them to inhabit.
As Joan and Dunois argue their positions, it occurs to me that the issue is not so much their faiths in God (or their levels of faith), but their strategic choices as soldiers/fighters.
Anyway...don't want to digress too much. In keeping the focus on Joan, the scene represents the strength of her call. At the opening Joan is weary, homesick, and frustrated. She's ready to go home, but is also struggling with her desire for the action of the battlefield. She's disheartened that no one seems to appreciate her hard work and accomplishments. Kinda like a teenager that thinks they have all the answers, and then whines when people complain about them.
Nevertheless, she hears the Bells and the voices and in an instant she knows exactly what she needs to do-- and no one can stop her, as if someone pressed a little 'reset' button.
Another little side note...Joan's belief in her mission never wavers...even when she herself feels weary from arguing and persuading, she never once doubts the necessity of her mission (at least not in this scene)--- ooo! our scene now addresses two themes YAY!
Ok, quick summary-- our scene demonstrates the strength and clarity of her mission/vision, and how Joan gives herself entirely over to God's mission.
Ok I'll take a break here and come back to add two more cents.