7 August 2022: My current major project


My current major project THE CAVE is a movie about a small group of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers facing dying out because of its low birth rate and child mortality rate. THE CAVE is a surrealistic experimental movie that explores the dark and the light of these characters’ world.

In my movie, DARKNESS is the known because one can either see because there’s fire or not see because there is no fire. DARKNESS is the exact opposite of what was sold to us by 20th century psychology as The Unconscious. In this movie, DARKNESS is the only sure thing in life because day or night, DARKNESS is the same. In contrast to this, LIGHT is the unknown because what is seen and understood is slowly revealed through accident, luck, risk-taking and inspiration.

THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy STORYBOARD: A sketch for a threat by a pack of coyotes.

At the beginning of the movie, the protagonist Romito is hunting and mistakes a sleeping old man’s snoring for animal grunting. The old man and his mate left their group to go out on their. At some point they planned to commit suicide. After killing her mate, Romito feels responsible for Lucy. But she refuses to leave her dead mate’s side. That is, until a pack of coyotes gathers nearby in the brush.

My projects have 3 phases: 1) story and character development through acting improvisation; 2) scene rehearsal and production design; 3) production with continuity.

Lucy and her deceased mate

THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy STORYBOARD: Lucy’s funerary ritual. An improvised sketch.

My parents were very progressive and politically active on whatever edge was sharpest at the time. They rejected many conventions, including organized religion and its many rituals. Until I was in 7th grade at a Catholic school, I had attended very few funerals — in fact, I only specifically remember attending one when I was 7 or 8. Because it was customary at my school for the 7th and 8th grade girls to sing at funeral masses, I’m sure that I attended more funerals during middle school than during the rest of my life. But like everyone, I’ve learned a lot about grief. Grief taught me that my parents’ idealistic “Let the dead bury the dead” philosophy is cavalier and downright glib. Funerary ritual, as far as I’m concerned, helps facilitate acceptance of death. After growing up hundreds of miles away from extended family, the precious gift of two sets of still living grandparents came with my marriage. We don’t have very many details about Paleolithic death rituals; but we know human grief. Having tried to walk in my characters’ shoes thus far, I have tried to imagine how an old woman would deal with her mate’s sudden death.

THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy: 3 handmade props.

These new props are for my Stone Age characters: a birch bark case (with glossy black acrylic paint covering the inside to emulate birch bark pitch waterproofing); a twig spool for holding cord made from dried grass; a short spear or knife. I need the case for Lucy, who is a pivotal character. Lucy is about 70 years old. She has survived all 11 of her children as well as numerous husbands. She has filled every function and has skills in every task, i.e., she has raised children, gathered food, hunted and made things like waterproof containers. She also is a cave painter and has begun carving figures. Her greatest talent, however, is imagination – she is innovative and visionary. To be honest, I very well might have been motivated as a feminist to create a mover and shaker like Lucy. I do not believe humans could have survived the Stone Age without contributions to society by men and women being equally valuable. I am only a Method actor, not a professional researcher. But I have spent at least a few hours daily for the past year researching every aspect of Paleolithic humans and their world that I can find. It seems it’s not just my bias as artist that makes me believe that creative thinking was essential to human survival. Among other research, I was really happy to find “The Evolution of Theory of Mind in the Human Evolution(Chung, D. (2021). Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, 11, 10-26. doi: 10.4236/jbbs.2021.111002.). What I’ve learned from this article has helped me deepen my understanding of my characters and make them more human.

The article states: “The early Homo species with the open habitat developed theory of mind for hunter specialist group and gatherer specialist group. The middle Homo species with complex stone tools developed theory of mind for the cooperative specialist groups in the large production of complex stone tools. The late Homo species with complex social interaction developed theory of mind for mind reading to enhance cooperation and to detect cheaters in complex social interaction. For religion, the unusually harsh Upper Paleolithic Period developed theory of mind for imaginary specialists in terms of supernatural power, guidance, and comfort. Therefore, the three general types of theory of mind are for specialists in division of labor, mind reading in complex social interaction, and imaginary specialists in imaginary division of labor under harsh conditions.

THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy STORYBOARD: Study for Neanderthal woman traveler. 

My current major project is a movie about a small group of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers facing dying out because of its low birth rate and child mortality rate. 

In the second act of THE CAVE, the protagonists Romito and Lucy follow well-travelled animal paths back home. I am still researching whether there’s evidence of cartography or even roads in the Stone Age. I also want to know more about “sense of direction.” I found an article estimating that a 500 or so person group of Stone Age communities would have had a 70 mile range similar to San Bushmen. Romito, wanting to escape family drama, had gone hunting alone; and he was 25 miles from home when he came upon Lucy’s camp and accidentally killed her mate. Romito would have run most of the 25 miles to that point, but now he and 70 year old Lucy were walking back, trying to beat sunset. They would follow paths created by animals that were also used by humans and Neanderthals, some of whom Romito and Lucy encounter along the way. This Neanderthal woman is a background character who is camped near the animal path. 

THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy – Rehearsal with sound: Ardi grieves her dead child and the cave matriarch hears her cries.

THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy – Rehearsal with sound: Ardi grieves her dead child and her male cavemates hear her cries.
I’m guessing that the loss of a child has always been the worst experience that a parent could have.

THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy – This video is an improvised sketch of an establishing scene in which the protagonist enters the cave from the outside and walks all the way through to his spot.

I’m guessing that as soon as there was theory of mind, the need for personal space arose.