The Actor-Director Dialogues
an ongoing correspondence on the play and its implications between actor Jeff Merrifield and director Jon Lee –
What about the man himself, Galileo Galilei? What are your thoughts on the way we should interpret this man? My head has become quite addled. Every time I look at the play Brecht takes we on another journey. Which is exactly what he had intended, I know. The depth possible to perceive in the play is as infinite as the universe Galileo sees through his telescope. It wonderful to imagine, and somewhat frightening.
For the audience, there are questions that must remain unanswered concerning Galileo’s actions, it is not for us to judge, only to present the facts (as Brecht would have us), but this we wish to do with truth. How do you see him?
If you have the time, I think it would be great to get a bit of a discussion going on this.
Right, Galileo. The reason I want to play him is because I am fascinated by heretics - people who cut against the grain and are prepared to suffer for it. My books are largely about heretics or highly individualistic people, bearing in mind I've written about Cathars, Templars, The Florentine Camerata, Damanhurians, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, Ian Dury and Ken Campbell. When I do my talk about heretics on the 20th, I'll be mostly telling stories of Cathars and the people of Damanhur, but I'll also be talking about modern scientific thinkers who have been ostracised from the orthodox scientific community – people like Jean Benveniste, who researched homeopathic medicines and found that water had memory, or twice Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling, who was branded heretic for his claims about Vitamin C, or Rupert Sheldrake, who claims particular interactive sensitivities for plants and notions that animals know in advance when their owners are coming home. Great men, great scientists, great thinkers all - yet all branded heretical.
Galileo was also great man, scientist and thinker - accused of heresy and banished into exile. Like Giordano Bruno, he could have easily been burned, yet wasn't. Brecht has him being much cleverer than the Inquisition - and I like that. Many have seen his capitulation as self preservation or even cowardice. It may have been, but I side with Brecht.
I see Galileo as a bit of a jovial jester, a man of passion, bluster and not without a hint of the charlatan. He's a man who loves life and who wants life to be better than it was perceived to exist in his time. He wanted there to be life out there on the other planets - a view regarded as blasphemy to a race of people who saw themselves entirely conceived
in the image of God. Life was far more important than God for Galileo.
Life was God.
Got a wonderful girl on board to play
Just a quickie as I'm dashing off - we are being Offstedded this week, if that's a verb, HM inspectors in, you know.
Will write at length later, but great news all round. No probs at all if a small sum needed for rehearsal space.
I'm working hard at shoving lines in - feel I'm BECOMING Galileo!!! (I even backed a horse named Galileo yesterday - but it lost (of course. Will be getting the website up this weekend. Jane has started work searching costumes and props out.
Finally put translations behind me and am now
dedicating all energies towards Jupiter’s orbiting moons! I have spoken to a
whole bunch of actors this morning, friends of mine and those recommended and
had a good response. Out of the eight or so called so far, I’ll probably meet
five who are free, willing and able.
I liked very much your ideas on Galileo the heretic, I think the gritty nature and spellbinding passion of such outsiders are central characteristics, well worth exploring. I am also drawn towards his intense and meticulously detailed work; the practical doings of experimental science, expressed physically, and the child who remains in his heart. I think he shares a lot in common with Azdak from Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle, and with Mother Courage; compelling antihero's, who at first almost repel us with their behaviour, so different from our preconceived ideas of social conformities, but whose belief, passion and inner vision beguile and seduce us. They speak of truth beyond where we comfortably like to imagine; from eternity???
What do you think of performing the play in traverse? There is something about the thrust stage space which seems to limit the strong stage positions to a minimum; it seems a little catwalk-like; not offering many positions where an actor can be seen by everyone. In traverse, we would, I believe, have stronger sight lines and as so much of the play is didactic, able to employ the two sides themetpreconceivedstage space would give us two ends which could suggest the two different worlds of the guilt framed church authority and that of the heretic, bare and empty, almost untheatricalised. This would add, I imagine, a powerful dynamic to the action. We could also utilise the two audience sides maybe, in direct address, get them taking sides???
The hole space could in some ways reflect a church, with the audience as the choral galleries, the church having the alter end, and the sinners, g as mankind, the other. I was looking at the illustrations of Dante's books, the pictures of his descent into hell and got to thinking about how frightening g's ideas must have been at the time. I see him as being quite frightening at times too.
I know that in traverse we will loose the use of the cinema screen, a powerful tool, but I am still keen on using the projectors, maybe one at each end of the stage. Your glass screen perhaps dressed in a gilt frame at one end, and a hanging sheet/cyclorama/veil at the other. Lots of juxtaposing of images, for many purposes including the comical/political.
Setting wise I have been drawn towards the idea of doing it in period costume but blended with stylised modern technology. For example, in scene 3, Galileo and Sagredo work with a period telescope connected to a modern laptop and projector, yet next to the computer is quill and ink. These are just thoughts mind, let me know what you think. I think that it would be good if the play resonates strongly with our present situation. Perhaps the authorities of the time could be connected in some way to the present American-led consumer dogma and political bullying. Galileo's telescope is sold as a weapon for war to the senate in sc2 and perhaps a Pope/President???
Let me know what you think of all this stuff