Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Chart

This is The Chart.

Auden had sloppy penmanship.
Specifically, it's W. H. Auden's Romanticism chart. However, one of my literature professors at Wheaton called it The Chart with some amount of reverence, so that is how I think of it. (You can read a more legible PDF here.)

The basic idea of The Chart is that hell is getting what you think you want to an extreme degree. It is taking a good thing so far that it becomes an obsession. In the middle of the chart is balance, everything in its right place.

Another way of putting it is that one side of the chart wants Earth to return to being Eden/Arcadia, to return to nature and freedom; the other side wants Earth to hurry up and become Zion/Utopia. Neither extreme really lives in the present. Both take a good practice so far that it loses its context and becomes a bad practice.

Which, of course, makes me think of improv.

This is my improv extension of The Chart:

My handwriting typing is better than Auden's.

I find it helpful to check in once in awhile and notice where I'm defaulting in my scenes. For me, I find myself hanging out mostly on the left hand side of that chart, particularly when I'm tired or distracted. If I can be honest with myself about that, then I know what to work on. 

If I notice I've been basically myself in every scene lately, it's time to be a character so totally different from me that she (or he) might not even be sane. Or if I've been defaulting to high status, it's time to try being varying degrees of low status characters for awhile. And, incidentally, I notice that if I've veered way to one side for a long time, I'm probably sabotaging myself by playing out of fear.

It's awesome if you have a director who can tell you honestly what he sees and guide or shove you out of your comfortable default. Unfortunately, I'm my own director at the moment, so I have to trust my gut and shake up my own playing. This works better some days than others.


If you have the patience to read a couple of poems, you can see Auden's application of this idea that we all tend toward one end of this spectrum in "Under Which Lyre" and in the Vespers section of "Horae Canonicae." I hope you do have the patience sometime -- those are two of my favorite poems in the world, though I suspect I only half-understand them.

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