Thursday, October 30, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

An interview with Gavin Kostick about memory

Gavin Kostick
Photo of Gavin Kostick by Juno Lily Kostick.

My pal Gavin Kostick has recently been memorizing and reciting Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In 2007 he did this as part of the Dublin Fringe festival, and this year he was promoted to the full Dublin Theatre Festival. To do this means learning a book that takes five and a half hours to perform. The performance was a great success by all accounts. I was interested in the effort required in this feat of memorization and Gavin agreed to answer a few questions.

How did you decide to do Heart of Darkness?

Started on an impulse. Then I read it, and realised it could be performed in 5½ hours which is manageable, both for me, and with some structuring, for an audience. It was an interesting challenge.

Then I checked there are no boring sections, which would have killed it. There aren't. it's always interesting at the very least. And astounding at best.

Other advantages:

  • It's a first person narrative, so I simply have to tell it direct.
  • It is a story told to friends - like one lad to another, so it is colloquial, intimate and trusting.
  • The story transforms the teller and the listener, always a good thing in drama.
  • It's a physical journey.

Then there's the politics. For me it's the classic anti liberal-imperial novel by an imperial insider. It is a savage political denunciation of Belgian crimes in the Congo. It's an anti-racist novel, though of its time and this can make some of the words hard to say and hear (Like Huck Finn), but worth it for the key drive, which is Western Countries going around invading places is to be condemned.

It did it for the same reason Coppolla used it to talk about Vietnam.

How long did it take you to learn it?

9 months from December 2006 to September 2007. I paced myself.

What methods did you use to memorize it?

Brutal repetition. I didn't use any visualisations as they would have hampered the telling. It can't be done while 'seeing' the wrong things.

I broke it up into 12 sections (4 for each of the 3 parts of the book as it was originally serialised). Each section is about 20 minutes or so. I took 12 new lines a day, Monday to Friday, and read each sentence 3 times over until I could say it without looking. Then I went on to the next sentence. Eventually I would complete a section. Once I had a section done I would repeat it at least twice a week, so it didn't fade, while I went on with the next section. So I had the first 20 minutes., done by January, and simply kept repeating it so it was still there, right up to September.

So for 9 months I was both keeping up on what I had done, as well as working on the new bit.

I say them to myself as I walk in and out of town each day, which is a 30 min walk. So I get 2 a day in that way.

Eventually it's like that plate spinning trick where the man has to run from one plate to another to keep them going. I have 12 plates to keep spinning.

I found that at first I "saw" the words on a page, but eventually I would hear it like music. So when I said the wrong thing in my head it was (and is) like hitting a bum note.

Occasionally I would use a simple alphabet system or anagrams to remember lists within the story I remember I got "foolish and cheery" as reverse alphabetical. But very little.

Also Conrad is very meaningful and precise in his use of words, so it's easy to remember as you understand everything that is being said. It's not like learning a telephone directory. Of course, it's easier to memorise things that at worth saying.

I also essentially use a bit of CBT on myself. A can-do, positive outlook and visualistion helps.

In the end the only reason to learn it, is to perform it, so I got more and more into the telling aspect.

In normal life do you think you have a good memory?

No. I think any human memory is amazing. After all, entire legal systems were once memorised in some cultures before the invention of writing. As Conrad says, "the mind of man is capable of anything, for everything is in it".

Have you noticed your memory declining as you get older?

Yes. Part of this is simply to keep in trim. My memory was once savagely clear. After 30 it softened a bit.

If you don't practice, how long does it take before you can't recall it all perfectly?

I have it very clear now. I'd say about 4 days and I'd lose a line or two. A week and I'd definitely get the odd missing part. But I'd probably still be able to think it through - it just wouldn't be on the tip of my tongue. I did the first performance in September 2007 and started rememorising in February 2008. Very large amounts were still there, just rusty.

What was your experience preparing for the second set of performances of Heart of Darkness? How was it different?

Odd. Apparently 80% of people who run one marathon don't run another. Yes you know you can do it, but you're also aware of things like how hard it's going to be, like the wall coming. So, yes it was much easier for the words to go in - sometimes I simply read it a couple of times off the page and there it was - but sometimes it was a little hard to face just doing it.

I am actually proud of myself on rainy days, when there were lots of distractions, when I put the work in. Now I'm actually performing it I tell myself I owe it to all the days I put in in training, as it were, to do a good job.

Quizzes are a good way of making it look like you haven't abandoned your blog

Your result for The Doctor Who Companion Test...

The Brigadier

You are The Brigadier. Strong, Intelligent and generally friendly, you are a loyal ally to have

Friday, October 03, 2008

Hello Andrew, do you speak English (UK)?

Facebook has heard about my fluency in British and American English!

Thursday, October 02, 2008