UNDRESSED the mini-series
UNDRESSED: A Social Experiment
by Laura V Rivera (Victoria, from Undressed ep. 1 and 14.)
What happens when you throw a bunch of strangers together in a strange house and record their every move and conversation for a two day period? What if those strangers are playing a character, how much of the actor's nature will prevail over her characterization when interacting with other characters? What drives them as actors playing a part to form allegiances or romances if their interactions are built upon a false premise?
These are questions that arise as one watches the Undressed mini series, driven by the spontaneous interactions of actors fulfilling their roles. One is a conventional Midwestern actress, another a depressed clerk from Los Angeles, a weirdo toting a gun who allegedly held a woman hostage, and other bizarre or very typical characters attempting to form relationships as they unfold before a camera.
Although they are told to ignore the film crew, their presence before a camera reinforces the necessity to resist breaking their character, allowing actors to retreat into their created persona and thus to enact the persona's desires, presumably ignoring the ego's need to be heard. However, the line between the fiction and the truth is purposely confounded by a premise in the director's concept, that all characters must become "undressed" before the camera at one point or another, revealing their true nature, be it the nature of the persona or the ego behind the persona.
These reversions cause a dilemma for the actor. What is truth when the interaction has been presumed false? What is a true reaction when the interactions are interpreted as being purely farcical for the benefit of good screen time?
The drive in the actor's interactions is to build relationships. Each character has his or her own interaction style, together with an invented history to provide for the motivation. The process is the same for the actor as it is for the viewer--the essence itself unfolds before the camera, without a script or a real map, lead only by the deepening awareness of the other actor and viewer.
The mini-series is a cluster of attempts to form relationships and the enactment of these relationships. The event is the Party. Although at first each attempt at building relationships appears to come from a necessity of acceptance, rifts occur between characters arising from boredom, a sense of being threatened, or a miscommunication. Likewise, alliances are formed based on physical attraction or ease of communication. These structures occur in our real world interactions and are not unusual or revolutionary, but the format of the mini-series allows for a study of the elements which play in forming relationships in a visible short span.
The mini-series does not cut much out of the interaction, thus we see a somewhat actual progression of relationships in the span of two days, plainly as if one were intimately involved in the conversation. Not only can one see the elements that come into play, but also note the changes that a character assumes when interacting with different characters in the party--a knowledge that is invisible in our real world interactions, since we are limited only to the perception of a persona in time and space. The result is a complex, entangled, and naked reveal of human intentions and interactions that expose how variations in interrelationships emerge and how they are hindered.
The play of fictional characters learning how to interact with other fictional character whom they do not know (in "Undressed" no scripts expressed the purpose or the nature of other characters or what relationship should be formed and how) is closest to resembling how relationships are formed in the real world. Documenting the creation of such relationships in the real world is complicated, however, by the presence of a camera. Presumably, non-actors would be self-conscious of their actions and words to a different degree if they are aware that their actions would be evaluated by others after the fact. To give the actors a persona, allows for a freedom of interaction which disguises the truth, if there is any truth to it, as farce, thus making it more palatable for the actor to act freely.
"Undressed" not only documents relationships unfold among strangers in real time, but it presents us with the multitude of elements in each persona, invisible to the actors as they build those relationships, but not to the voyeur. By giving each actor a new name and persona, it neutralizes (partially) their self interest in preserving their image.
The experiment must extend to the viewer, who is confronted with a new dilemma--to discern how much of the relationship building is part of reality and how much of it is part of the farce. When does the actor really slip up and break the role? And lastly, does it even matter? If the series is simply part of our entertainment, the division between the real and the false is inconsequential as long as it is engrossing. Yet, the viewer's nature, knowing that the interactions are improvised but also unedited, cannot help but attempt to discern.
This discernment is allayed in many of our real world interactions, especially in the event of a party, in which strangers are pushed to make fast relationships with one another along with forming allegiances that normally only last within the context of the party, unless, of course, something of the real is exposed that is viewed as desirable in a different context.
It is often based on a fantasized or idealized quality that we perceive as valuable in a grander social context. But the party allows for the experiment, what we call mingling, that permits us to sample from a variety of personalities in order to select those qualities which we want to enjoy periodically. Or, they allow for the self-expression of a trait or persona that can only exhibit itself within the constraint of the party (often drawn out by the acceptability of the influence of alcohol).
These things in mind, there is very little difference in the formation of relationships among actors and among non-actors when in the midst of strangers in the context of a party. The elements of mingling, persona, alliances, and the influence of intoxicants must take place in the farce just as they take place in the real. This is what makes "Undressed" the mini-series a pseudo-fiction and also a pseudo-documentary.
The concept is not unlike the process used to create reality television series, with the exception that "Undressed" does not presume to take the form of reality. The shape of fiction allows it to tell the truth without the audience member knowing it is true. It does not aggrandize a person as a brand, but instead it simplifies the person into a type, an amalgam of attributes, stories and histories, regardless of their verity, simulating real life in its uncertainty. It's really the anti-reality show.
Viewer, I hope that you come up with new questions and ideas as you form your own impressions and relationships to these characters. It is exciting to be the viewer who does not know, alongside characters who have no idea where their own relationships are going. The unknown makes a new strange relationship between the series and you. Have fun and welcome to the party!
lauravrr [at] gmail [dot]
July 13, 2014
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