Monday, February 23, 2009

First Readings of Waiting for Godot

The assignment for tomorrow's class is to read Waiting for Godot twice: once just to get an initial reaction, and then a second time to develop a sound knowledge of the physical requirements of the set. I'll record both of those things here.

Apparently, Samuel Beckett is really into creepily isolated and semi-fantastic or ambiguously-fantastic settings. Both Endgame and Waiting for Godot take place in vague locations, and the reader (or viewer) is never quite sure if it even really exists, or if it does, if it exists in this universe or this dimension.

When I read the play, I found it hard to really picture the set. Part of that, I think, was because I was also reading the stage directions. Sometimes I would imagine the actual scenery of the location- a huge, barren wasteland with a single tree. (It's actually almost the exact same mental image I have of the opening scene of Grapes of Wrath.) But then I would read the stage directions and be "taken out" of the scene. When I'd read something like "exit stage left" I'd just picture Little Kresge with one sad looking tree, just right of center. It's hard to imagine what "nothing" looks like when made into a set that can fit onto a predetermined size stage.

The biggest challenge I see in this play is the idea of space. The characters are supposed to run back and forth, away from each other and then back again, see people off in the distance that they can't quite identify, and so on. The set somehow has to give the impression of all of this space. It's not just nothing, it's a whole lot of nothing.

Physical Requirements
The location of the play is described in the stage directions as simply, "A country road. A tree. Evening." (Both acts take place at the same time.) Vladimir describes the location to Pozzo in Act II: "It's indescribable. It's like nothing. There's nothing. There's a tree."

Elements of the set
  • country road: Pozzo and Lucky may or may not be using the road (I don't think it's ever specifically mentioned.)
  • mound: where Estragon sits and takes off his boots
  • bog: the audience
  • ditch: mentioned as where Estragon sleeps, not necessarily onstage.
  • tree: is barren in Act I; suddenly has leaves in Act II; Estragon and Vladimir argue over whether it looks like a bush or a tree, and discuss hanging themselves from one of its branches
  • sun/moon: From the stage directions: "The light suddenly fails. In a moment it is night. The moon rises at the back, mounts in the sky, stands still, shedding a pale light on the scene."
Action of the play
Below is a list of some actions which occur during the play. Some of them might influence the design of the set.
Characters enter and exit from both sides of the stage.
Lucky dances.
The characters fight physically (when Lucky is thinking).
Vladimir and Estragon "scrutinize the sunset."
In Act II, the characters fall and can't get up, and therefore spend a considerable amount of time rolling around on the floor.

A large number of props are used.
Estragon: hat and boots
Vladimir: hat, miscellaneous "rubbish" in his pockets, lots of turnips, 1 carrot, 1 radish
Pozzo: whip, watch, glasses, pipe, matches, vaporizer, and handkerchief
Lucky: hat, rope (which becomes shorter in Act II), heavy bag (claimed by Pozzo to be filled with sand), folding stool, picnic basket (which contains pieces of chicken and a bottle of wine), Pozzo's coat

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