Monday, January 5, 2009

The Long Weekend - All About Process

I heard the word "process" used in a number of contexts in the last few days.

Friday we saw Theater of War at the Film Forum, centered by Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, which was performed in Central Park with Meryl Streep and Kevin Klein. It is also about Brecht's life with stills of his own production of the play in Berlin in 1949 with his wife playing the lead. It is also about Marxism and war protests and lots of other stuff weaved in seamlessly.

The excellent NY Times review said
Jay Cantor... delivers a mini-course on Marxism threaded through the movie. Among the highlights: some wonderful home-movie fragments of Brecht with his young family and choice clips from his fascinating (sometimes funny) testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which the theater director Carl Weber laughingly terms a “brilliant performance.”

...because this is also a document of an actress actually at work, much of the movie’s pleasure comes from watching another brilliant performance take shape as Ms. Streep tries out different line readings, gestures and poses in her search for Mother Courage.
Actors rarely allow views of them developing a role because they can look so bad during the process. "We never allow people to see process," Streep says. We don't get to see enough process but the movie is so well done it should be on any one's don't miss list.

So I got to thinking about process on a broad basis. I was reminded of a conversation I had in Tokyo last year with a teacher who coached a robotics team at the Little Red School House in Manhattan. She said her masters degree was on process vs. product. We talked about the robotics program in that context and how some schools are focused on the scores their robot get and on awards they bring home (product) while others are more concerned with enhancing the gestalt of the entire experience kids get from working with others, solving problems and reacting to the situation at hand (process).

Little Red is a process school, as probably most private schools are, while the public school system has been relegated to product. The ed reformers who are pushing the product want their own kids to experience process while forcing product down the throats of poor, urban students.

I had a few major things to do this weekend that also involved process and product. I had to keep memorizing the lines for the short scene I was doing from The Pillowman for my acting class. Frank Caiati, the instructor, has been talking about the process of developing the characters as an important component of the final performance. Some actors and directors are interested only in the product. They worry only about their lines and how they are going to say them. Frank pushes the idea of characters really talking to each other as if there is no audience.

He has me convinced and I've looked at the way we perform the scene each week as part of a process of growth, not worrying about the product. Frank says the product will emerge out of the process. What a wonderful way of looking at things even beyond acting. By the way, our scene worked out real well, especially when Frank told me to be unpredictable in order to create anxiety in my partner (I'm a policemen and he plays a prisoner). I was free to try out stuff. Process. One woman in my class said was afraid while watching us. Nice words to hear. Next week is the finale and I will not be wed to what I did before but relax into trying more things out.

The concept of process came up again because my fiction piece for my Tuesday night writing group was due. I was struggling with revising a first draft of a short story when I was taken by the process concept. I used to look at writing as product. You write, people read, you revise. But as I looked at the comments made by my group members from my first draft, I realized they were functioning in some ways as co-authors. Or at the very least, editors. In essence they play a similar role to the one Frank plays as a director.

So, I relaxed into the re-writing and revising and began to enjoy the process. I even came up with an idea to expand the story into a short novella.

Now if we can only get the people running urban school systems to see the light and begin emphasizing process over product like they do at so many elite private schools. Anyone for Frank, all of 23 years old, for chancellor?

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