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Script Exercises

So!! Since submitting a grant proposal for The Semele Project (working title) last Thursday, I've moved, been without internet for about five days, bought a bed, and worked like 40 hours at my new muggle job (which is great and I'm very grateful for)--all of which (but mostly the internet part) means that this blog/Semele Project website, which I have real genuine plans for, is still on its second entry. Grimace facemoji.


But I want to come back to the method by which I hope to revise the Semele libretto into a script, because I'm excited about it:


Basically, I want to use improv to generate a script. I mean. Not that this hasn't been done before, just that I've never done it before, so I'm definitely in the process of figuring out how to make it happen.


As sort of a preliminary step, in order to try it out, and in order to generate content to explain the process a little better, I enlisted the help of amazing wonderful countertenor Matheus Corona in my attempt to turn Act 1 Scene 2 of Semele from a libretto to a script using improv. The first step was to talk over Semele with Matheus, his character Athamas, and concerns and questions he had about the script and the score. Some highlights of Matheus-thoughts from my notes on this discussion:


-The moral of the story is not to let ambition take control of your life, cloud your judgment, and make you go against those who love you

-The Iris/Juno relationship is one of teamwork, where Iris is there to defend Juno; it's almost like they're hunters who have hunted together before

-Athamas's quick response to Ino's feelings is strange--as soon as she says she has feelings, he says "Oh cool! I love you too!"

-The Athamas/Semele marriage is a political one, and Athamas is motivated by political ambition a bit like Semele is motivated by godly ambition

-Athamas is desperately looking for evidence that Semele likes him

-Athamas is a nice guy, and kind of like a puppy--interested in going to whoever is willing to pet him

-Athamas wants to be seen as a problem-solver, and a practical thinker; he is pious (not about to go against the gods); he feels sorry for himself about Semele, and he doesn't pick up that she's in love with someone else

-It's possible Athamas has had unrecognized feelings for Ino the whole time

-Athamas has strong Libra vibes; he is the opposite of Jupiter--respectful of women, helpful, and trying to be sensitive


The second step was to get together over Zoom and attempt doing some script-based improv.


I just watched the recording of our Zoom improv session, and although it is quite painful to watch myself improvise (Matheus of course comes off as a golden angel--most unfair), I do think the video captures the experience, and how our understanding of the arc of the scene and our connections to our characters deepened via the improv process. I'm going to go into this in more depth in another blog entry, because I am hoping to post the edited Zoom video and I don't have it yet, but here are just some very preliminary findings:


For me, it was surprising not just how guilty Ino felt, but (some of) why she felt so guilty--her kind of attempt to strangle the desire to take what is Semele's gets in the way of actually just being in love with Athamas. And Matheus had this brilliant way of describing Athamas's arc in the scene: as you can see above, he had been slightly struggling, in our preliminary discussion, with how, if Athamas is so into Semele, he can in the course of this one scene seemingly start being interested in Ino. But at the end of the improv session, he said that it was like Athamas is a mouse in a maze, and he's searching desperately for the elusive cheese (which is Semele's love), and he can't get to it, and then he turns around and there's some great cheese (aka Ino's love) sitting right there, so he runs toward it instead, but then it develops legs and runs away.


The third step of the script-generating process I am envisioning is to write an actual script based on the improv, and below you'll find what I came up with as a VERY ROUGH DRAFT.


First, here is the original libretto to Act 1 Scene 2:


Athamas: Oh Athamas, what tortures hast thou borne!

And, oh, what hast thou yet to bear!

From love, from hope, from near-possession torn,

And plung'd at once in deep despair!


Ino: Turn, hopeless lover, turn thy eyes,

And see a maid bemoan,

In flowing tears, and aching sighs,

Thy woes too like her own.


Athamas: She weeps!

The gentle maid in tender pity

Weeps to behold my misery!

So Semele would melt,

To see another mourn.

Your tuneful voice my tale would tell,

In pity of my sad despair.

And with sweet melody compel

Attention from the flying fair.


Ino: Too well I see

Thou wilt not understand me.

Whence could proceed such tenderness!

Whence such compassion!

Insensible! Ingrate!

Ah, no, I cannot blame thee,

For by effects, unknown before,

Who could the hidden cause explore,

Or think that love could act so strange a part,

To plead for pity in a rival's heart.


Athamas: Ah me, what have I heard!

She does her passion own!


Ino: You've undone me,

Look not on me!

Guilt upbraiding,

Shame invading;

Look not on me,

You've undone me!


Athamas: With my life I would atone

Pains you've borne to me unknown.

Cease to shun me!


Ino: Look not on me!

You've undone me!


Both: Love alone

Has both undone.



...and here is the VERY ROUGH DRAFT of my version of the recit:


Athamas: (monologue) I’m not sure that I can actually bear this. I was so close to her—to finally being with her—and now it’s gone. She’s taken away from me again, and this time it’s not just her being coy, or whatever she was being, about our marriage, it’s Jupiter himself saying we can’t get married. The gods are against me. Again. It’s just— Of course I wanted to be king of Thebes someday, but it’s more than that. It’s—Semele is so…She makes me feel so desperate. And now it’s over, and I feel desperate in this vacuum. All I have left is the longing. I don’t know what to do.


Ino: Turn, hopeless lover, turn thy eyes,

And see a maid bemoan,

In flowing tears, and aching sighs,

Thy woes too like her own.


Athamas: (to Ino) You’re crying—Ino? Are you okay? Are you crying for me? That’s so sweet. You are the nicest person—you’re the only one who’s spoken for me with Semele; you took the time to make her listen, to try to make her realize I actually care about her; you’re the only person who did anything useful to try and help me with her. Ino, honestly, are you okay?

Your tuneful voice my tale would tell,

In pity of my sad despair,

And with sweet melody compel

Attention from the flying fair.


Ino: Stop—just please stop. You’re making me feel like a monster. How do you think I know what you’re going through? How could I possibly know what you feel if I didn’t feel it myself—Are you really this stupid and insensitive? …No, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it—I didn’t—I don’t know how I expect you to understand, when… I mean, why would I advocate for the marriage of my own sister with someone I— I mean. Nothing.


Athamas: “Someone you” what?


Ino: I said it’s nothing. It’s just bad and stupid.


Athamas: Ino…you love me?


Ino: No, please don’t look at me—I can’t—I didn’t mean to—


Athamas: Wait, don’t go. Please. I didn’t realize—


Ino: You’ve undone me.

Look not on me!

Guilt upbraiding,

Shame invading;

Look not on me,

You’ve undone me!


Athamas: With my life I would atone

Pains you’ve borne to me unknown.

Cease to shun me!


Ino: Look not on me,

You’ve undone me!


Both: Love alone

Has both undone!



So that's the process I'm hoping to use to generate the first draft of the script. There will be a workshopping session after the first draft as well, to clean it up and see what works.


Again, in the next entry I hope to have actual video clips to watch.


Yay for having the internet again!!

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