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.
This page will be updated as this work-in-progress develops toward production and completion.
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.
Romito feels responsible for Lucy, unaware that she is on of the new breed of human, part of the third division of labor – creatives, dreamers, experimenters, proto-shamans trying to make sense of the world. Lucy can take care of herself, although she accepts Romito’s protection. Healthy in spite of her age, having survived all 11 of her children and numerous mates, Lucy is not afraid of the world because her spirituality empowers her in the belief that if she can understand the world as she knows it, she can control it. Lucy is the holy mother of religion, as well as a mother of invention. She is an Anthropocene deaconess. Considering the current state of the Environment, perhaps Lucy also is a founder of climate change.
My projects have 3 phases: 1) story and character development through acting improvisation; 2) scene rehearsal and production design; 3) production with continuity.
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 STORYBOARD: Lucy’s Trance.
Before leaving her mate’s body behind to go with Romito, Lucy performs a ritual to connect with her mate’s spirit and make sure he understands why he is dead and can be at peace with it. Once Romito witnesses the ritual and knows that Lucy is a shaman, he is anxious for her to help his people stop losing their children.
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.“
For depicting a shamanistic character, there seems to be no way around showing the character experiencing trance — i.e., a shaman is “a person believed to achieve various powers through trance or ecstatic religious experience” (Brittanica.com); is
“someone who uses trance to commune with the supernatural and effect real-world change” (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/12/study-suggests-shamans-acted-as-the-first-professional-class-in-human-society/; “The distinguishing characteristic of shamanism is the ecstatic trance the healer enters in order to communicate with spirits, rescue souls, battle with ogres or reconcile an offended nature spirit” (https://www.pbs.org/splithorn/shamanism.html). As an actor, I’ve been worried whether I could play “altered state of consciousness” (Wikipedia). I do not like drugs, particularly the “altered state” aspect; and I have never understood why anyone would risk getting arrested to feel that way. My reason?: I am bipolar 1 with psychotic features that over the years since childhood have included: a harassing voice inside my head; a sensation of my body floating in zero gravity; a visual delusion that everything around me had turned the color orange; a sensation that I was walking around inside a kaleidoscope; and my favorite, the gigantic, melon-sized tiger’s eye marble that I hallucinated rolling around the aisle of a BART train on the way to Oakland. No, the marble was not real; and, yes, I really do hate hallucinating because it makes me feel like I’m going about the world while trapped inside a jar.
I was very worried about being able to pull off my character as a shaman until I remembered the worst hallucination that I ever had. (Actually, it was the onset of a psychotic break, the first of five or six over 50 years, I’m sorry to say; though the last one was in 2001. Fingers crossed.)
I was at work alone in a Student Union cafe lounge when suddenly, the floor dissolved and I was standing on the rim of a bottomless cavern. The ceiling disappeared and turned into an oppressively dark sky even though it was 3 in the afternoon. At some point while trying to make reality come back, I was sucked in by the gravity of the cavern and was absolutely paralyzed until I hit the bottom. This hallucination and the feeling that I was going to die is what I channeled for my first improvisation of Lucy’s trance state: Lucy believes she can know and understand all things if she gives her body over to what she believes is a temporary death.
THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy STORYBOARD: Study for Neanderthal woman traveler.
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 STORYBOARD: Study for Grubhunter (background character)
In the second act of THE CAVE, the protagonists Romito and Lucy follow well-travelled paths back home, “animal paths” created by animals that were also used by people for hunting, foraging and migrating. This old woman is a background character who is foraging for bugs in leaf debris near the animal path. These CAVE studies are for working out ideas; and I realized that as hypervigilant as the old woman is, constantly listening and looking around for possible threats, she probably would have at least a staff to threaten predators with. Not only that, I found out as I began to research insect hunting, the best tool is a stick for insects to crawl on and or attach themselves to. What I haven’t found in my research is whether hunter-gatherers would try to protect themselves from insect bites as they hunted. Skin is skin; so this character and I will add skin protecting mud to her makeup the next time I shoot this scene.
THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy STORYBOARD: Study for Quarreling travelers (background characters).
In the second act of THE CAVE, the protagonists Romito and Lucy follow well-travelled paths back home, “animal paths” created by animals also used by people for hunting, foraging and migrating. These character sketches are preliminary — and in the.end one of them will be Neanderthal — but I think it’s realistic that fighting might break out along a thruway where some people are hunting game; or arguing over their ideal spot to camp; or over access to water; or maybe even over better shelter from threatening storms. I’ve been thinking about men’s physical confrontations and watched one of my favorite Shaw Brothers movies this past weekend. I realized that the basic choreography of the fights is similar to the few IRL fights that I’ve seen break out, a roundabout dance in defensive posture that usually ends simultaneously with threats and aggressive chatter but not much, if any, blood. Neanderthals in particular were collaborative; and neighborliness was probably a matter of life and death for Stone Age people.
THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy STORYBOARD: Lucy’s Trance.
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, unaware that she is on of the new breed of human, part of the third division of labor – creatives, dreamers, experimenters, proto-shamans trying to make sense of the world. Before leaving her mate’s body behind to go with Romito, Lucy performs a ritual to connect with her mate’s spirit and make sure he understands why he is dead and can be at peace with it. Once Romito witnesses the ritual and knows that Lucy is a shaman, he is anxious for her to help his people stop losing their children.
THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy STORYBOARD: Toumaï’s garden.
In summer 1975 I was a housemate of Ruth, whose mother owned the house we lived in. Midsummer, Ruth had a blowup with her boyfriend who also lived in the house. Ruth was so angry (I still don’t know why) that she suddenly left Minneapolis and went to stay with friends in Nova Scotia. That seemed very exotic to me, but I grew up in Nebraska when there were only a million people in the entire state. Ruth’s boyfriend was from New York and he assured me, “Nobody goes to Nova Scotia.
Meanwhile, somebody had to tend Ruth’s garden in our backyard, which meant pruning and weeding at dusk when the temperature was tolerable but the mosquitoes were active. Out of spite, the angry boyfriend tried to talk me into abandoning the garden. But I knew I’d feel guilty for the rest of my life if I left the garden unwatered and choked by weeds.
A garden can be a thankless chore until it doesn’t die and your roommate is surprised when she comes back from Nova Scotia. I can’t imagine that the first human farmers weren’t as surprised as Ruth when their crops didn’t wither and die.
THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy STORYBOARD: Rest stop
After accidentally killing her mate, Romito feels responsible for Lucy, an old woman. Having witnessed a ritual that Lucy performed in a trance, Romito knows that Lucy is a shaman. As they make their way on an hours long jog back to Romito’s home, Romito has had to accept that in addition to Lucy moving slowly because she is elderly, she also stops regularly to collect artifacts, leave markers on trees or boulders, notate locations on a diagram that she carries with her and perform rituals to keep their travel safe.
THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy STORYBOARD: Wheat.
As Toumaï tries to figure out in his little garden patch how things grow, the twins are learning how to gather wild grain and process it to make flour. I will have to work on the twins’ business in this scene because the videos I watched about threshing really do not get across the difficulty of separating wheat from chaff. For a closeup to play well in real time, I will need a bit of practice.
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.
THE CAVE by Sylvia Toy STORYBOARD: Fertility ritual.
This is a sketch for the final scene of THE CAVE. All of the characters will be in this scene when it is produced. It likely would be momentous for a shaman to join the group and help them deal with their devastating loss of infants and children. It would be joyous and give the family hope to believe Lucy could facilitate change in their favor. Also, since at the beginning of the movie Lucy and her mate were contemplating suicide, I believe Lucy’s sense of purpose would be renewed by joining a group of people who have faith in the future in spite of life’s harshness and difficulty.