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Purdue University Theatre Division
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Lear's Fool

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A Fool for our times.

Lear's Fool as Virtual Real-time Avatar with an "Eminem" attitude. This was the seed of the conception. A synthesis of timeliness which was rooted in my explorations of emerging web technologies and on-line 3D to be deployed as real-time entertainment tools.

I was informed that a project was being put together in Purdue's Theatre Division that had to do with designing a production of King Lear. Since Fools, Jesters, and Clowns are a keystone group in my academic endeavors, I was instantly drawn to the possibilities of working on Lear's Fool. I had a minimial familiarity with this Fool and thought it a wonderful opportunity to explore. Things panned out well and before I knew it, Lear's Fool was looking at me in his 3D form, with all of his primary digital marionette strings attatched and ready for me to start pulling for him--but not until he pulled on a few of my strings first to test my worthiness. For Fool's are a tricky business in the theatre, particularly Lear's Fool.

Given the timeliness of his new release "The Eminem Show" as well as the particular conceptual framework of our production, A Lear for our Times, Eminem emerged very early on as an apt and primary "role model" for developing Lear's Fool. With his aggressive, "high profile", and arguably "unconscious" approach to expressing raw, all-licensed, "truth", Eminem slipped quickly and easily into the hightly-protean, metaphoric costume of modern "court fool" in the service of Uncle Sam--America's symbolic and mythical old patriarchal "King".

With the fresh and timely release of his "Eminem Show", nearly all of the source material that was needed to develop Lear's Fool was contained in cover images and from the first two songs of the release. Those 3 or 4 primary sources have so many relevant elements to begin the conceptual design of our fool...the bare, suggestive stage with its deep and sexy crimson colors--which suggest the lurking dangers and weaponry of art and theatre--the solitary microphone, the subtle introduction track, and of course, the full musico-socio-political attack of "White America", which ends with one of the most familiar gags in the trickster bag, the "180"--"I'm just playin' America, you know I love you."

My first task then was to figure out the essentials of this "fool show". Of course, Lear's Fool would be virtual so there would have to be some 3D modeling... would he be on a set like David Letterman? Behind a desk of a high-tech, network television, news anchor set as breaking-news announcer? Or what about a small, simple, one-man comedy stage where he interacts with his audience? What about using two or all of these images for different purposes related to the text? That would be best, but would perhaps introduce a lot of scope-creep.

While searching for images of the Eminem Show cover, I stumbled upon three images that served as the foundation for my conceptual design endeavor. The eminem in diapers painting (above) and these two:

I decided that I would start simple with these images as the driving force behind the design.

I began with a default model in Poser 3, threw a quick image of a stage curtain behind as a drop and modelled 3 conic party hats for him--a red one a white one a blue one--

Once costumes were decided for the Fool, I would add the default business suit to the character--which worked well given the costume design concept for him. However, the default character's dark business suit was unacceptable, so the texture maps needed to be changed.

I consulted the costume designers and we talked about them designing costumes over the 3D geometry texture maps. I printed out the original texture maps for the business suit to scale and gave them to the costume designers as a to-scale template for their custom renderings--see Fool's 3D Costume--

Then there was a "MONUMENTAL" breakthrough in the design and location of the first performance space of Lear's Fool. While keeping in line with the major symbols and metaphors of this particular conception of the play, I resolved the problem of "where is this little stage? Modelling a complete theatre interior is beyond the scope of this phase of the project!" So I began thinking about where a King's fool would have his little theatre in a modern context, and again, paying close attention to the context of the play. I decided that the little stage would be carved into a face on the Washington Monument 333ft off of the ground (the monument is over 550ft tall).

The Washington Monument--being based on an Egyptian-styled obelisk--clearly mixed up with all of the "masonic mystery" that finds its way into the pracitces of the founding fathers as well as all sorts of fun and interesting "stuff" ancient, futuristic, and marginal--serves as a wonderful environment to further shroud the fool in mystery and power while simultaneously communicating with the huge exchange of symbolic dialogue between the characters in the play as well as to the gigantic themes and metaphors being explored in the production. For some interesting coverage of the symbolism of the Washington Monument, see http://www.capcomgroup.com/washington.html for more details.

If King Lear is too huge for the stage, we might as well "go with it" and puff it up to absurd proportions to make a work of art out of its hugeness.

Immediately I began some basic sketches of the size and shape of the theatre based on the size and dimensions of the Washington Monunent and passed them on to CGT grad student Kevin O'Neal who modelled and rendered the theatre in 3D Studio Max.

Now, I had to face the practical issues involved with the playing of the fool. Originally the plan was to make him a mocap actor off-stage with real-time interactivity with the action. But as the concept of the play shifted and practical considerations of actually putting on the play emerged and a solution was brought up as to Lear, himself, playing the fool. This could be done quite wonderfully by taking full advantage of the text and technology which would add many fascinating layers to the play and all characters involved. If the fool is not present in the opening scene, he does not show up until invoked three times. I propose that shortly after his first invocation, several of Lear's servants rush onstage [with Knight] and begin dressing Lear in his mocap suit--the ultimate symbol of remote control--and because of the time and difficulty of "setting lear up" with the suit (as well as a suggestion, perhaps, that maybe the "dressers" are new to this because the specialists had left when Cordelia left), mixed with his regal impatience, Lear keeps asking for his fool of the dressers...they are taking too long. He want's his fool NOW! Finally they get it working and the Fool enter's as lear begins his remote controlled puppet-show. This regal, yet strange behaviour works well in the context of the story. He is king, so everyone allows for his little game of puppetry and ventriloquism and plays along because they know it keeps him "entertained" and thus off thier backs, much like an unruly boy-child that can be "controlled" by setting him in front of an immersive computer game. This can make clear that Lear's old age and his return to strange childishness [see Shakespear's 7 Ages of Man] is obviously an "issue" with the politics of the time and perhaps a presentational semiotic sign that Lear is suffering an excessive identity crisis that is leading him towards madness and total loss of control. Once Lear has given away his kingdom, those in power begin to grow weary of his little puppet game and slowly pull the plug on it, thus giving the daughters more weight in their motivation to take away the distruptive, resource intensive, symbol of his plaything. There are moments when Lear is off-stage and the fool is onstage. This is a great opportunity to see lear's "remote control" in action as he talks with Goneril and Kent at interesting moments. And the scenes with Tom, Lear, and Fool! Amazing! I am excited, can you tell? It also gives the characters that interact with the fool a license to speak directly to the king without getting in trouble, thus making them all fool's with license too. What I find most facinating is how the wisdom of the fool is in fact coming from the king himself and is very self-perceptive, but in this representation there must be a strong, almost schitzophrenic dimension to his relationship with the fool. If this division of identity is played out strongly enough, it can point to a strange mixture of wisdom/knowledge and madness. Somewhat like the Hannibal Lecter character, he is very wise and knowledgeable, but he is also insane... This representation of the fool gives much weight to the onset of his full-on madness as he "talks to himself" through many poignant scenes. I find the exchange between King and Fool in I.v in this context absolutly fascinating! And the pregnant meanings in I.iv when he (his fool) tells Goneril he loves her. and then as Lear, says, "Does any here know me? This is not Lear. Does Lear walk thus? Speak thus?...Who is it that can tell me who I am?" and of course, he responds as fool, "Lear's shadow". So much of this can plunge into strange new waters and explorations of this play as we explore fully the split in his identity which enventually disintegrates and Lear becomes "whole" as the fool disappears and reveals Lear as now "complete" and mad because of it. I have not explored the text fully to discover the thematic and practical problems this may cause to the rest of the production, but I'm confident that it would be an experiment that would certainly prove that gigantic dimentions of this old play can be revealed though the use of modern technology. Certainly one of the most interesting deployments of Lear's Fool in a very long time, if ever (grin). Definitely worthy of a contemporary, small scale, focused, adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear that uses this mocap model as a conceptual starting point. Even if Lear becomes someone completely different, say an old media tycoon that becomes ensnared in the narcotic effects of new technology and because of his vast power and iron-fisted attitude, causes the dissolution of his media empire.

Work has begun on the collaboration of costuming the fool. I have figured out how to manipulate the texture maps of the Poser Model and have met with the costume designers to describe how they can design the clothes of the Poser Fool. I print out the texture map, hand it over to the costume designers, they onion-skin it or white out the existing patterns and overlay their own designs. I then scan their designs into photoshop, touch it up, and import it back into Poser for fitting and map-tweaking. This will be fun and a good portfolio piece example for the costume designers.

Once Kevin sent me a couple of preliminary renderings of The Monumental Obelisk Theatre, I began compositing between Poser Fool and MAX renders in Photoshop. And maybe a few quick animations if time permited.

All discussions of the application of a motion capture system are on hold until the possibility of a real production comes to life.



Preliminary Screen Shots


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