Thoughts on Other People's Children - JEN
Blog Post by Jen Viens, Oct. 30, 2018
I’ve been thinking a lot about language lately. Where it comes from, how we use it (or don’t), what kind of attitudes and beliefs are embedded into it, and how violent it can be. The language in Other People’s Children is such a focal point for both the audience and, I discovered, the actors. It almost feels like another character in the story.
B: For me, one of the things is just working within the writing and because the text itself is so technical and she’s so specific on punctuation, that it adds an extra layer of focus, at least at this stage. So trying to learn these scenes and follow the emotions, of these scenes and that kind of river, while trying to mark and honor what she has on the page, as far as how she hears these things. It’s certainly added a layer of frustration trying to get these things in your body and mark out why, and why this is a dash, why there’s an ellipsis, why am I using this colon in a certain way. But I think it’s interesting at the same time because it’s really freeing in that it kind of gives you a guide to work with. So, for me, it gives you an overall sculpture of the argument on which then you can implant the reasons why it’s structured as such. But it’s an interesting way. You have the freedom to fill all of that but, there’s a rubric there for you to kind of base it off. So I think that’s both hard and very interesting. I’ve never worked with a text that’s been written in such a way. Cause it’s easy to go ‘uh, but right here I really feel this and this is important so I’m gonna disregard that’ but, playing with the restraint where you really feel dissatisfied of like ‘this fucking elip – this ellipsis’
J: No you can swear.
B: Ok, ‘this fucking ellipsis’
J: Feel free.
B: Or whatever it might be. You know, and playing with that restraint and then what does that mean? It just adds kind of a tertiary degree of thinking on everything.
You can feel the actors wrestling with the language. Almost like the process of reconciling the structure of the text allows them to gain insight into the frustration and the tension their characters are feeling. In the same way that unpacking an Apple product mirrors how you interface with the device.
B: Yeah, whereas, if it wasn’t there, the arguments would be what they would be but they wouldn’t be structured to a certain degree. So, we would obviously fill them in a certain way, or create them in a certain way, so it’s interesting to see a specific understanding of it within Hannah, how this argument is playing out and how it sounds to her. And it’s really interesting to be given that and then make that your own within what’s there for her. Yeah, I’m always curious when she sees it, or when she hears it finally, how much she remembers that structure, you know what I mean?
A: And they’re really cool clues too that Hannah gives us. Yeah.
B: It’s a bit of a map.
The text is so intrinsically tied to the characters and their emotions and realities that it’s hard to separate the two.
A: For me, one of the challenging things actually came up today in rehearsal. With Miche. Cause Sati says ‘I’m sorry’ a lot. And, I think sometimes my natural inclination to that is to plead, but you can’t do that for the whole play cause there’s no coloration in that, and it makes for such a passive character too right. So and finding ways to be active even though she is not a person who has the room to express herself freely in these relationships and in this house. We did a reading once where we just read our character’s lines, and she says a lot of no’s a lot of yesses; a lot of thank you’s; a lot of sorry’s; because it’s not safe for her to just have a regular conversation in the way that these two [Ben & Ilana] have it. So, it’s finding different ways to not offend. But not make her seem like a cringing victim or something. Like, how do you say I’m sorry and be strong as you say it, right? So for me, that was like – hearing Miche talk about that and having her guidance in rehearsal around those things has been really helpful. Cause they’re all victims to their circumstance right? The expectation; the weight of expectation. One of the really cool things about the way Hannah’s written these characters is that you see that in all of them.
K: But I think this is what is so brilliant about the text, and what makes Hannah Moscovitch so brilliant, is that it’s all in the text. Like, these arguments that they have, the dashes, the cutting off it’s, the, even just like little words, like ‘it feels like psychosis’, like it’s all there. And that, that’s really helpful as well.
You can’t see it, but it’s always there.
And I guess like how, like for myself as an actor, how am I carrying that... yeah. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be obvious but for me, how is it informing choices and stuff. It’s a welcome challenge. One of my challenges and one of my interests is this idea of post-partum depression, and how it’s of underlining everything that Ilana does and says. So it’s like, had we met Ilana before the pregnancy, would she be acting this way? Like I could go at it with how I think it might feel in my body, but it’s been helping me now to just talk with a lot of women and for them to tell me how they’ve experienced post-partum. It’s really potent. I think it’s just sort of, I don’t know… it’s fucking hard. I think it’s just, understanding physically and energetically how it sits in my body. It’s all in the text. And I’m gonna say it again, what’s unsaid is so present. And so the text is just - like it’s so smart. And intelligent.
B: That’s an interesting dynamic to play with too from my standpoint, cause I go, it adds to the confusion around some reactions. This isn’t the woman that I know fully. Something is different. And of course, that’s all pressured by my own expectations and understanding of motherhood. But it’s an interesting thing to play with too.
Cause it’s one of these things that you can’t see.You can’t see it, but it’s always there.The effect that words have on other people. How it informs the behaviors of the speaker and the receiver. How it influences reality and how we interact with people. How we walk through the world.Remember that old saying from the playground? ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’? I remember it well. I even went so far as to make a sign. (I was a dramatic 5-year-old.) I’m not so sure anymore how accurate that saying is. Sometimes I think that the bruises we can’t see damage us more.