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NYC, 2 December 2005.
Nick Kaye: Could you describe your role in the process of developing SUPER VISION?
Moe Angelos: I came into the process at the rehearsal phase and final creation of the production, but the piece had been in workshop for maybe a year and a half prior to that. I wasn’t part of that.
Nick Kaye: When would that have been?
Moe Angelos: I was in a reading last November (2004). I might be wrong about that. Anyway, we began this process in August (2005). So that is when I really became engaged. The storyline of the Grandmother and Granddaughter was established before I got there, but some of our text came out of improvisation during the process.
Moe Angelos: No. Constance was there prior to me, actually.
Nick Kaye: How did the script evolve in relation to the improvisation? Were you working directly with Constance?
Moe Angelos: It’s kind of funny. Constance presented us with a script and then - a lot of time it is unintentional. There is a lot of waiting for the tech to catch up: they have to set the cues, especially the video. There is a lot of pausing, if they are rendering a cue or something or they have to switch between effects programmes. While that is happening, we will just be horsing around.
Nick Kaye: So the different layers of media are being evolved at the same time that you are working on the script.
Moe Angelos: Oh, yes, from the very beginning. That is the unusual thing about The Builders’ rehearsal process. I was speaking to an actor friend last night after the show and she was saying, ‘Wow, the tech rehearsal must be really crazy’. Well, actually, the whole process is like one long technical rehearsal because the technology is with us in the room all the time, including the lighting, because of course the lighting must interplay with the screens and the projections. It is so subtle, because we front and rear project onto the screens - and a person is between those screens acting and has to be seen while you can still what’s in front and back. That’s quite tricky.
Nick Kaye: Are there specific ways in which this combination affects how you evolve your performance?
Moe Angelos: I am sure it does, although I’m in somewhat of a different position. I am in my little world, my web cam world, and I don’t physically enter those spaces at all. But yes, I can see that in pieces in the past, where you are not really in the living room with the couch and table, that you are almost imagining them. You should speak to Kyle DeCamp and David Pence about how that is for them. There is no furniture in Builders’ pieces; you don’t sit down on something. So physical space is quite different.
Nick Kaye: Much of the time in the performance you seem to be looking away from the audience and towards the camera.
Moe Angelos: I am looking at a monitor almost the entire time. And since I am doing a ‘web cam performance,’ it is sort of ‘real,’ because that is what you do when you are chatting to someone on a web cam. You are sitting at your computer, looking at this little eye that is the camera, and you are watching them and they are watching you. So my situation replicates reality in a certain way.
Nick Kaye: Can you see the outcome of what you are doing?
Moe Angelos: On my monitor is a very long shot from the back of the house, so I can see the whole stage; I am seeing what the audience sees, basically. When I am projected, I can see myself. A lot of times, though, I can just see Tanya Selvaratnam in the corner. She is a tiny little image sometimes, depending what is up on the big screen.
Nick Kaye: So you’re watching the outcome of your own performance.
Moe Angelos: Yes, I am. It is odd, but I use it to frame myself, which is a very, very important part of being in a Builders’ show. It’s often like being in a film. You have to hit a mark very precisely because if you miss the mark you are out of the scene. That’s why they give me that big picture, so that I can adjust. Because sometimes the shot is very tight. In the last few scenes of Granny it’s very close, and if I am a little off, I am out of the picture. On the camera itself there is a little video monitor, and that little screen is turned towards me, but how I am framed up there is also altered by the video guys, so I have to be aware how I look on the big picture and not just on that small screen.
Nick Kaye: So that suggests a kind of slightly curious loop, in which your performance and focus has an element of privacy to it.
Moe Angelos: Yes it is strangely voyeuristic, or narcissistic, in a certain way, because I am just looking at myself in the same way as when we walk past a mirror. It’s the same thing. I am sitting there, and I catch myself looking at myself – watching to see where I am: am I framed properly? Or even when we are rehearsing, I’ll look at myself in the camera - and its very annoying! I annoy myself with it, but we do watch ourselves.
Nick Kaye: That is really utterly different from film, even though it engages with the language and process of film performance.
Moe Angelos: A film actor is not able to see what they are doing.
Nick Kaye: It has all those properties of edit and framing, but you are performing those edits and frames.
Moe Angelos: I am able to influence that – it is sort of in-the-can edit. I am physically doing it – moving myself into frame – the camera is static, stationary. Although, at one point I zoom the camera into me before the last shot. I reach over and push a button, but again that is all a little hit or miss as to where I hit myself on the zoom because there is no real number or anything I can calibrate it to. I just I think that kind of looks good. So I do adjust those things. If I look and see that the camera is just looking at my right eye and my ear, I will move back so that it sees more of my face.
Nick Kaye: The way you describe it sounds like a task element of doing the performance – and that a kind of directorial aspect is heightened for you.
Moe Angelos: Yes, sure, sure.
Nick Kaye: Do you feel a division between these things, or do they seem when you are doing it, very integrated together?
Moe Angelos: Last night, another thing happened. I don’t you were aware of it or not, but in my first speech I have this little microphone that hooks around my ear and comes down next to my mouth. I wear a wig and an earring, and they get all snagged up, so I wasn’t getting a direct hit on the microphone with my voice. Hal, one of the video guys - Dan Dobson must have told them on the headset, ‘tell Moe to put her microphone up’ - so Hal comes creeping over to me in my scene and I see him out of the corner of my eye going – like this – so I had to adjust my mic up. It was something that was very physical. The overall performance is so dependent on the technology. I have to be aware, first and foremost: Am I in the shot? Am I seen? Am I able to be seen? It is an odd double consciousness.
Nick Kaye: Norman Frisch describes the performance as a cyborg in the sense that it emphasizes the ‘real,’ but does so by employing all these mediated channels. So even though you are very aware of when performers are in mediation or not, in watching the performance you can’t really separate these worlds.
Moe Angelos: It is an odd hybrid. One can’t exist without the other.
Nick Kaye: As a performer, do you find yourself thinking of one mode of performance through the other, or are you focused on the composition on the screen?
Moe Angelos: Good question. I think that I am mostly focusing on being in the scene as an actor and saying my lines and having a good rapport with Tanya Selvaratnam, whom I am playing with, but again it is an odd situation as I am not with her in the same physical space. It is like an instant chat, like a video chat with someone. Maybe it is because I use that technology in my life for video chatting that it seems sort of ‘real’.
Moe Angelos: It is curious, and I don’t really know why that is, but it is riveting to watch someone in real time – you see me and you see Tanya, but then to see the projected result of it, the mediated result of it, is very exciting and I don’t know why, do you?
Nick Kaye: Norman Frisch suggests that, whenever Marianne Weems has the opportunity, she chooses to have the technology played live rather than using a series of pre-recorded tracks in which cues are embedded.
Moe Angelos: Yes, that’s true.
Nick Kaye: This reminds me of John Cage’s statement that, in the performance of electronic music, ‘live’ sounds gain a ‘presence’ in their performance that recorded sounds do not.
Moe Angelos: I think, as an actor, it has been my experience that I cannot - even though I am there as a live person and making that framed image happen - I cannot compete with that framed image. Your eye will always go to the flickering image. That is so much more delicious, I don’t know why, but it takes a lot of focus.
Nick Kaye: This seems connected to the ways in which technology changes things, the ways in which media are not as stable as one might assume.
Moe Angelos: Yes. We have all sorts of technological meltdowns in the show sometimes. Luckily lately we seem to have lately gotten them all smoothed out, but yes sometimes things just don’t want to do what you want them to do.
Nick Kaye: And it is all being played…
Moe Angelos: More like a DJ.
Nick Kaye: Well, this is interesting, as it also suggests a kind of musical framework.
Moe Angelos: I would say it is very, very musical. In my scenes I don’t have a musical score under me, but you should speak to David Pence. David is very musically-minded. He is speaking, but almost singing. His ear is very good. He knows where to fall in the music. And he really is very adept at playing against the score, or with it. It is really lovely to listen to.
Nick Kaye: Listening to what you are saying, the performance seems to have a structure that produces a particular kind of awareness for you in what you are doing. Do you find that this structure affects or shapes your sense of presence as a performer in the space or in the role?
Moe Angelos: Well, since my role is almost entirely on camera I am playing to the camera. It is very different from being in a play. I don’t have to do a lot, and I don’t have to be big in my body. I can be more restrained, also because of the microphone. The microphone is very subtle: it picks up when I sigh. So I would say my ‘presence’ is both. I am very aware that these instruments are amplifying me – my presence. I would say my presence is more restrained - almost, subtle, small: I don’t have to do a lot. It is not a lot of heavy lifting, as an actor. My presence - my actual presence - is more restrained, but made large by the technology. The technology blows it up, expands it. Does that answer your question?
Nick Kaye: In watching SUPER VISION I think of your presence as dispersed across these things, not just you. In fact, the mediation has a curious reverse effect, because your presence at the desk is in contrast to all the things that amplify you. In a way, I seem more aware of your live presence as a consequence of your amplification. It provides for a curious amplification of both. I think this takes us back to what Norman Frisch was saying about the cyborg.
* * *
Nick Kaye: Earlier, when you were talking about paying attention to your own mediated self, it was as if you were performing to a looped image of yourself. Now, though, its as if you are attempting to modulate your action down, in order for it to be amplified elsewhere.
Moe Angelos: Yes, I think they both happen at different points. A lot of times it is to do with doing less as an actor. Sometimes to do less gives the audience room to go somewhere - the audience will complete the story. I think I try and do less rather than more. There are many theatrical layers: I have all kinds of make up; my character is Sri Lankan and seventy. I haven’t worn this much makeup since I was in high school. So I have a literal mask, with latex applications on my face to give me wrinkles and make me look old. I have a wig and an accent. It’s a funny combination - which I find delightful - of old time theatrics and cutting edge theatrical trickery.
Nick Kaye: How aware of you of the other performers?
Moe Angelos: Since I am downstage right, I can sit there and watch everybody, I don’t see them as the audience would see them. I am very close. I am also aware of scene changes –there is all kinds of chaos going on behind the screens when they are closed - when something is projected onto the front of them. Two nights ago something jumped the tracks and I heard boom, boom, boom ……… there was some kind of physical drama going on during the set change. So I think I am somehow more aware of those kind of things - of the anomalies - because I sit and watch certain parts of the performance every night. Then I do my crossword, in between scenes, so Granny doesn’t talk. Or I read a magazine or whatever. Because the technical guys are there, if something is wrong with my camera I will go over and speak to them and they will come and adjust me. It’s not hidden behind a curtain; it is all there for you to see.
Nick Kaye: And you were talking earlier about how because the conversation through the web-cam is almost ripped out of daily life and just put there – that it has an aspect of real activity in a sense.
Moe Angelos: It is a real activity, although, ironically, to recreate that theatrically is way more complicated that you sitting at your PC and me sitting at my PC and talking. It’s quite funny to think about how it is recreated.
Nick Kaye: There is an element of task to it.
Moe Angelos: Yes, sure, very much so. I also think about it a lot, because I am in my little world – in Sri Lanka - far away from where the action is supposed to be taking place, in New York, where Jen lives. I think that is partially the character development of the Grandma, just being someone who is older and loosing her grip on reality, nattering on about food, getting really fixated on something like old food - old recipes - which are such a pleasure still. She has her own little world, her magazines, and she seems quite happy there. It is like a little bubble. So I am in this little bubble over there, down-stage right, in my own little world.
Nick Kaye: In this blending of real figures and video figures, the relationship between the light of the projected video and the theatrical lighting seems very important. At times, the video figures and the performers share a similar quality of illumination - sometimes David Pence has that when he is lit. It seems to alter the sense of the materiality of the projected and real people.
Moe Angelos: Also when Rizwan Mirza, the traveller, has the full body scan, there is a live, life-size video image of him standing next to him. You see the real Rizwan lit in profile, while you see a frontal shot of him in video - and it is eerie. Sometimes in rehearsal I will crawl out into the house and watch that part, because it is very compelling. It is him, and the lighting is the same, but it’s - where is the real Rizwan? I also love the end, when he is slowly walking across the stage and the data is falling out behind him, following him. It is a wonderful representation of being followed by these data clouds. It’s a great visual representation of that. These things do trail us.
Moe Angelos: I think that, although I am aware of the camera, I really try and focus on the real. So, because I can’t see her, I listen to Tanya’s voice (...) I guess that Marianne’s intention is to try illuminate in some way how we live with these technologies all the time. How do they affect us?'
Nick Kaye: I think that comes across partly in the performance of the technology itself, in the way the whole story is told and so in the fabric of the piece really. It is as if everything onstage is in transmission. You never walk away from the computers to have another life and come back to it –so you become identified with the passage between those things.
Moe Angelos: Except at the very beginning, when Tanya comes out and does the prologue, which is very, sort of, Shakespearean: ‘Come with us, here we are going on this journey….’ I like that contrast very much – it feels kind of Shakespearean to me – to announce to everyone here is what we are going to do. And the audience loves that, being recognised in some way. It is kind of surprising, because when Marianne had this whole idea about using the actual data from people in the audience, there was a lot of concern about: well, were they going to feel that their privacy was going to be invaded? Except that it is done in a very generalised way – we don’t say you there in seat E32, your phone bill is due, or something like that. It is nice how it has become – it allows people to enter into the world in a certain way and identify with it. Marianne’s precision with that just grows more and more with each show and her sophistication with it is quite high, I would say.
Nick Kaye: It is interesting because, as you were saying, the performance incorporates very traditional theatrical conceits and structures, but they are completely absorbed into a performance that is about technology and transformation.
Moe Angelos: It’s a nice mixing of the two. That is really fun - for me anyway. My makeup is relatively elaborate, but I always enjoy it and like doing it. Many times people don’t recognise me after the show. So that’s fun and I feel very sneaky after the show maintaining my anonymity in the house afterwards in the lobby.