Friday, September 24, 2010

A Production History of “Buster Keaton’s Stroll” and “The Maiden, the Sailor and the Student”

Buster Keaton’s Stroll and The Maiden, the Sailor and the Student are two of Lorca’s best-known “impossible plays,” which first appeared in his avant-garde magazine gallo in 1928 (Stainton 177-8). Buster Keaton’s Stroll was written sometime around 1925 while Lorca was living in the Residencia in Madrid. There, Lorca was introduced to Buster Keaton’s films by Buñuel and he and Dalí began thinking about this iconic celebrity and how he could relate to surrealist cinema as well as homosexuality and reversed gender roles (Sawyer-Lauçanno 8). Although these were originally left out of his Obras Completas, the Buster Keaton’s Stroll appeared in a collection entitled Tres Farsas in 1959 (Dardis 281). The Maiden, the Sailor and the Student was written later, in late 1927 to 1928, and moves towards Lorca’s “more highly developed drama,” perhaps taking inspiration for its narrative from a poem in Gypsy Ballads called “the Gypsy Nun” (Sawyer-Lauçanno 9).

It was not until after the 1970s, when Lorca’s plays came within the public domain, that these avant-garde works were rediscovered and Lorca’s lesser-known or unpublished plays began to be performed in Spain and abroad, and both plays premiered in Spain in 1986 as a “5 Lorca 5” season (Delgado 121, 127). Also in 1986, Lindsay Kemp staged Buster Keaton Takes a Walk for Madrid’s Centro Dramático Nacional that fully embraced the many challenges that this play presents its production team. For example, the sense of Keaton’s “dislocation” from his surroundings and himself was expressed by making him a sort of cycling trapeze artist suspended over the stage. This production played with the movement of other characters as well, putting some on roller skates and including dance, emphasizing the imaginative, dream quality of the show (125).

More recent productions of these works include Impossible Lorca: A Theatrical Hat-Trick produced by New York’s Milk Can Theatre Company in its 2006 Scene Herd Uddered seven-week workshop. Under the direction of Melissa Fendell, this workshop culminated in staged readings of Buster Keaton Takes a Walk, Chimera, and The Maiden, the Sailor, and the Student. Based on Caridad Svich’s translation Lorca’s Impossible Plays, these productions focused on the experimental and surrealist quality of the plays and grappled with interpreting the physical and visual challenges presented by these works. It began with a two-day workshop using Viewpoints technique in order to emphasize the importance of physicality and awareness of the body needed by the six actors performing these works and then it grew into a collaborative, movement-oriented piece over the course of the workshop. While there was a sound and a set/costume designer attached to the production, the design elements remained minimal, mainly involving fabric used for both draped costumes and props, and movement was instead the most important storytelling tool (Scene).

In 2005, Buster Keaton’s Stroll was featured at the International Toy Theatre Festival at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY by the Chicago puppeteer Blair Thomas. This show was part of one of Thomas’ larger works entitled Cabaret of Desire that is based on Lorca’s writing and includes, Chimera, The Maiden, the Sailor and the Student, and Buster Keaton’s Stroll, as well as some poems and letters. The Toy Theatre was made of up doll-sized puppets and used objects likea motorized scroll, multiple tubas, and bicycle wheels” (Great). Thomas has produced this work with the help of four other puppeteers and musicians at the Blacksheep Puppet Festival in Pittsburgh in 2002, the Puppeteers of America Southwest Regional Festival in 2008, and the Storefront Theatre in Chicago in 2008 (Touring).

In June 2009, the company Imaginary Beasts premiered “Dream of Life: the Impossible Theatre of Garcia Lorca” at the Boston Center for the Arts. Performed in the Plaza Black Box Theatre, Buster Keaton Takes a Walk appears in the second half of the show, after the audience has been shaken by the direct call for revolutionary action by the poet-playwright persona Lorenzo in Play Without a Title. Described as “action-rich,” Buster Keaton includes an energetic clown cyclist, gracefully maneuvered sun and moon props, and birds vividly evoked through sound. The actors wear full, colorful costumes except for shoes, and the action appears to take place before a plastic shower-curtain-like backdrop (Beckner).

While this somewhat shallow production history tells us little about the history of these two lesser-known plays, it is also exciting because it means that there is plenty of room for imagination and exploration in our own production. The production history also helps us think about these plays not as impossible, but as works ready to be brought to life in the theatre in new and surprising ways.

Works Cited:

Beckner, Jules. “García Lorca’s ‘Dream’ Lives on at the BCA.” My South End News. 17 June 2009. Web. 9-22-10. <>.

Dardis, Thomas A. Keaton, the man who couldn’t lie down. New York, NY: Proscenium Publishers, Inc. 1979. Print. 281.

Delgado, Maria M. Federico García Lorca. New York, NY: Routledge. 2008. Print.

“Great Small Works 7th International Toy Theatre Festival 2005,” Advertisement. Web. 9-22-10. <>.

Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. “Introduction.” Barbarous nights: legends and plays from the Little theater/Federico Garcia Lorca, Trans. Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books. 1991. Print.

“Scene Herd Uddered Workshops 2005-2006 Season.” Milk Can Theatre Company. Web. 4-9-10. <>.

Stainton, Leslie. Lorca: A Dream of Life. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1999. Print.

“Touring Repertoire,” Blair Thomas. 2009. Web. 9-22-10. <>.

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