The Art of Collaboration

‘Find something that brings you together’

Here are some helpful thoughts which Anne Bogart and Siti company members shared on collaboration.

Who to collaborate with – its the people who stay in the room time after time, and it’s a gut thing. You realize you have something you want to say together and that you want to train together.
On the initial first meeting lay out all the ideas, all the ‘stupid’ stories and let go of it.
Take off the pressure to make something happen.
Find something that brings you together.
Ask yourself what are you finding rather than what are you making.
Its not so much about the idea. Ideas are cheap. Its about the development of an idea, where is goes.
Wipe your feet on the mat before going into rehearsals and see what the adventure of the day is.
Try every day to let go of assumptions from the day before.
Come in with a question to answer or some knew information from the day before.
Train in the space before a show.
Be aware how you communicate in rehearsal. Rather than ‘I have an idea’, say ‘I’d like us to get up and try this.’ Think about your bedside manner.
You can see in a person’s eyes whether what you have said has landed.
The actor should not wait for the director to dictate all the time.
You can transform a situation by how we attend, how we listen.
Respect someone enough to give or receive criticism.
You need an outside eye to figure out disagreements.
Its good to step out of your own viewpoint or role in rehearsal and see in another persons to change your perspective. For example an actor seeing as the sound artist, producer, lighting designer or director and each role vice versa. You don’t own the role; you step into it. Dis-ease is a possession of our roles. Be flexible.
When sharing ideas, let people get to the end of their sentences. 99% of the time the best stuff and the actual point is at the end of the sentence as often people are thinking about their idea and shaping it as they are speaking their idea out. Have patience.

 

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Viewpoints/ Suzuki & wise words I heard from SITI theatre company

‘An actor is someone with a message (Suzuki)

It is through the dialogue between Suzuki and Viewpoints, these two, very distinct, yet complimentary approaches to the art of acting that the philosophy and technique of SITI Company is continually explored, revitalized, and articulated. SITI company believe actors need to have a life long commitment to training as a lifestyle not an education.

The Viewpoints is a technique of improvisation that grew out of the post-modern dance world. It was first articulated by choreographer Mary Overlie who broke down the two dominant issues performers deal with – time and space – into six categories. She called her approach the Six Viewpoints. Since that time, Artistic Director Anne Bogart and SITI Company have expanded her notions and adapted them for actors. The Viewpoints allows a group of actors to function together spontaneously and intuitively and to generate bold, theatrical work quickly. It develops flexibility, articulation, and strength in movement and makes ensemble playing really possible.

Six Viewpoints:
Space
Shape
Time
Emotion
Story
Movement

Nine Viewpoints:
Tempo
Duration
Kinesthetic Response
Repetition
Shape
Gesture
Architecture
Spatial Relationship
Topography

In addition, Bogart added the Vocal Viewpoints which are Pitch, Dynamic, Acceleration/Deceleration, Silence, and Timbre. The Viewpoints represent not only a physical technique but also a philosophical, spiritual, and aesthetic approach. When you work in viewpoints its like you choose to switch the artist brain on.

SUZUKI METHOD Developed by internationally acclaimed director, Tadashi Suzuki and the Suzuki Company of Toga, the Suzuki Actor Training Method’s principal concern is with restoring the wholeness of the human body to the theatrical context and uncovering the actor’s innate expressive abilities. A rigorous physical discipline drawn from such diverse influences as ballet, traditional Japanese and Greek theater and martial arts, the training seeks to heighten the actor’s emotional and physical power and commitment to each moment on the stage. Attention is on the lower body and a vocabulary of footwork, sharpening the actor’s breath control and concentration. It works on many levels. Emotional, physical, psychological, mental, spirit, mind, heart, body. It all comes together in the training.

Three things to make good theatre:

  1. Technique
  2. Something to say
  3. Passion

Theatre in descending order of importance:

STORY
CHARACTER
RELATIONSHIP
EMOTION
SET
COSTUME

Through postmodernism/ deconstruction all of this vertical hierarchy was thrown around and subsequently theatre went all over the place, putting it more on a horizontal level. You can pick them all up individually and study/ grasp each one and then form your own hierarchy of importance and change them around. This is what happens when improvising in Viewpoints. The horizontal place means one thing is not more important than another. They can all co-exist. Everything is just another thing existing in time and space which is very liberating. It is infinite. We can put on our postmodern glasses and go deep about everything. We can be overwhelmed by the detail. We can work on the engine within. Through this we find vulnerability, adventure and bravery. We find out whether we can just stand in space. Being able to just stand in space is the point we are trying to get to. This is beautiful. This is enough. This is all we have when everything is taken away, ie: the lights, the set etc. And you are never alone on stage. You have time and space. Even when you are alone on stage your brain is still speaking to your heart.

Everything is connected. The world is infinite. Once you realize this there is no self, no ego, no judgement.
Be interested. Don’t try and be interesting.
An actor is much like a cultural and spirtual shamen; doing things so the audience don’t have to.
An actors job is to direct the role.
Understand God’s choreography as part of the work.
Take 10mins a day and look at everything you see in those 10mins as art.
‘We shape our buildings and then they shape us.’ Winston Churchill. Look at the architecture around you. Let it intrigue you. Really see it. The dimensions, all the little details.

Think about the KNOWNS and INTUITS of a character.
Knowns – information about a character you can find proof for in the text. Things the character says or does OR is said about him/her.
Intuits – to know or grasp by intuition or feeling, to perceive or sense.

Grotowski said there are four kinds of energy.

  1. Vertical – upwards. You and God.
  2. Horizontal – connection to what is around you. ie: trees.
  3. Light
  4. Heavy

Eugene Barber talks about the space before an impulse, like the unconscious conscious. Like the moment before going on stage.
We need to celebrate the wrong in the best possible way. For example playing with voice quality rather than making something pitch perfect. The Rolling Stones – when they sing its very nearly wrong; but its brilliant because they know when to stop experimenting before it is really wrong.
Concentration of performance needs to meet the space you are performing in. The body’s imagination needs to be present in the space. This is more important than content – showing the body’s imagination.
Empty out – don’t act – just bring it.
Each step on the stage should reveal something new about the character.
Peter Sellers once said ‘What gives you the moral authority to be on stage?’ There is no degree of bad or good acting; its different degrees of performative authority.
Need to give yourself permission to be completely obsessive about the role – every detail.
Need to find freedom and experimentation in creating character. Send ‘pings’ out into the universe and see how they come back. Actors think faster in the crisis of the moment.
Suzuki said, ‘An actor is someone with a message’. This creates the actors energetic situation.
You have an antennae in your ear and you transport what you hear.
Speaking needs to top the physical gestures.
Go for the rainbow of different relationships around you. See what comes at you and give more back. Tempt connections and build from there.
Don’t underestimate the energy you need to play a ‘normal’ person.
Play with your inner focus, outer focus and far focus.
You need the visual intensity but also the inner intensity.
Whats the authors message? What are you saying to the world?  Important how the world of the play begins to take the audience on an adventure.
Beckett said ‘It is my intention to create as deep and wide a gulf as possible between the stage and the audience and then jump over it’.
Sometimes its important to ask a question; propose a question to the audience, rather than an answer. Leave a gap for the imagination between the audience and the artist.
Getrude Stein – the mother of repetition. She proved it is possible to make a story with five words.
Don’t let a space get boring. Audience loses consciousness very fast so a space has to be constantly renewed.
When your out of control you get a bigger sense of control. Robert Altman said ‘Think about any five of the best moments from my films – they were probably accidents.‘ If you have overload it opens up the possibilities of what can happen with the work. Like cooking a dish…having everything at your fingertips to try out.
When music is played don’t just respond to it. Let it come out of you and change the space. And don’t put music in unless you know how to take it out.

Various helpful ways into movement:

  1. Angles/lines
  2. Falling/ gravity
  3. Curves
  4. How you use feet/ floor pattern
  5. Spasm gesture
  6. Contracting/ expanding
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Anne Bogart – SITI Company Q: What are we doing?

Actors are like astronauts going out to space to explore and then report back to earth’

After having received a scholarship for the SITI company intensive training in Saratoga Springs, New York, I lept at the chance to learn from the legendary Anne Bogart aswell as her phenomenal company members; Ellen Lauren, Barney O’Hanlon, J.Ed Araiza, Akiko Aizawa, Leon Ingulsrud, Will Bond, Gian-Murray Gianino, Kelly Maurer and Stephen Webber.
The month comprised of Viewpoints, Suzuki, Dramaturgy, Speaking, Movement and Composition classes aswell as each week devising a short play which was performed to an audience.
Anne Bogart is a generous, wise, sensitive, intelligent, compassionate human being who has an infectious passion for theatre.
She posed the question to us as artists: ‘What are we doing?‘ And these were her suggested answers:

1. Creating a model society

Theatre is the only art form which asks about social systems. How can we get along better? Music and art do not ask these questions. How we are with one another. You cannot hide the politics of rehearsal from performance. In rehearsal it matters what world you create. It matters how you speak to one another. We are trying to find balance from a sense of imbalance and this is mirrored in most plays.
A neuroscience nurse once went to see a viewpoints class and afterwards remarked ‘That’s the way the brain works.’
Viewpoints is a different way of being on stage.

2. We are meeting in the violence of the present moment

An actor speaking a monologue is under more stress than an olympic jumper.
Training and rehearsal is about finding the right energy to meet an audience. To be free and changeable under that stress. Its about how to handle being that target.
James Joyce said there are two kinds of art. Proper art being static art because it stops you and improper art being kinetic art because it moves you. You would think it would be the other way round – proper art moving you, but no… Improper art has a ‘kinetic’ quality – it excites rather than stills the mind. The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic – desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. The arts which excite, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. Proper art upholds the value of the static art of ‘the spiritual’ for here the mind is arrested, and raised above desire and loathing. For example a Cezanne painting of apples stops you, you do not desire to eat the apples.

Its easy to get people to feel the same thing in theatre. Its really difficult to get people to feel something different. We don’t just want a general wash of desire.

To create intensity in theatre, not tension. Some theatre is just to weak – it can just be blown over. The present moment is where you find the power.

Show two opposites and the truth will be in the middle. Don’t just show the truth. Set up the thing and show it between two other things and then you set up the violence of the present moment.

Play the logic not the emotion.

Feed forward (be eager, go out to find).
Feed back (the info coming back at you).
Bad actors use too much of both. Good actors seem to balance it. Having the ability to reach out to then get the feedback, the sensation.

3. Raiding the graveyard

Theatre stages were originally made over graveyards. In Noh theatre the stomping was to remember the dead. ‘To re-member’. Completing sentences that dead people did not finish. Bringing issues to the stage which need to be re-membered; giving the dead people a voice.
The theatre is an act of mourning.
A book or a play on a shelf is still, it is dead wood. We need to wake it up, bring to life the issues and let it speak. Give the dis-ease to others. Creating a space of spiritual otherness.

4. We are following the pulse

The word ENTHUSIASM in Greek means filled with God. We are cultivating enthusiasm – a love for the art form. There is a question on how to handle criticism. If your blood boils when someone is giving you criticism then they are most probably right. The body is a barometer. Pay attention to the blood boiling or the goosebump factor. The body can help you choose what play to work on, what character to play. This sense of the body telling you will be what then can pull you through the many obstacles. Listen to the barometer - attend and listen to the pulse as an artist.

5. We are reifying courtesy

Choose a play larger than you.
Choose a character more complex than you otherwise you will make that character smaller than you.

As an example of courtesy: When in an art gallery resist the urge to photograph the piece you are looking at; resist the urge to own it and capture it as something miniature. Instead just spend the time really looking at it as it is.
The word chivalry – based on the idea that the other person is dangerous. Don’t treat the other person on stage as not dangerous. They need to be dangerous. Actors need to make the space chivalric – the codes are reinvested with original meaning.
How do you allow the world to be dangerous? You undefine it. For example, a piano is not just a piano. Wake up what you have defined.
How do you approach and enter the arena you are rehearsing or performing in? Don’t let the space be messy.e.g. people eating lunch or leaving items of clothes and bags untidy in the space. Don’t wait for the audience to make the space dangerous…do it right away.
How are we speaking to one another in rehearsals? The word WANT is killing theatre. It sets up parent/child relationships. For example an actor saying to director ‘Is this what you want?’ Normally nothing to do with the play and normally something perverse. Rehearsal room should not play out family dynamics.
Often people do not finish sentences. It is very powerful to finish a sentence, and a courtesy to allow someone to do so. Often when someone is sharing a thought or an idea it is most richly articulated and found in the end of the sentence. How do you cultivate attitude? This can be seen as a bad thing, but it is not. How do you carry yourself? Your posture is an active thing. Posture matters when you walk into a rehearsal room.
Theatre artists often have the wrong attitude. We need to see ourselves in the right way. Having the will to go out and the grace to receive.
How do we cultivate courtesy?
a. Be articulate in the face of uncertainty.
b. Find your words. Words are keys to unlock doors. Sometimes our words don’t work first time but we must keep going. We must finish our sentences and choose words wisely.
c. Describe what you want to happen.
Talk your projects into existence.

6. We are cultivating neuroplasticity

We have reached the end of post modernism. We have deconstructed so much that there is nothing left to deconstruct – to the point of nothing.
The brain changes until you die. Stories are an access to neuroplasticity. How we tell stories is determining who we are becoming. If we can change the way we speak with feeling which is linked with new understanding we can change the outcome. We escalate until violence. We need to deal with time because time has become a social problem.
We need to cultivate patience and confusion at the same time instead of avoiding them. It leads to creative and imaginative acts.

7. We are eating the world

Whatever you hear you own. If we don’t eat the world we have no content. Influence as influenza. What am I passing on? Own what you just ate. We are pressured to come up with new ideas for the future, but what about the past, looking to the shoulders you are standing on. Make it a point to study and travel more.

8. We are making gifts

a. Survival instinct. We make choices based on survival/ food and water.
b. Gift giving instinct. This one is a gift for someone else. Take care of this one as this is important. Once we have taken care of survival then we can operate in the gift giving.
We need to cultivate both. Need to be a producer and a gift giver. Work dies if it gets messed up. It happens in career choices too.

An American playwright who was once bogged down by the industry and considering going into mission work as she had a longing to do good in the world. She talked to Mother Theresa who said this to her:
‘In my country we have a famine of the body. In your country you have a famine of the spirit. You must continue doing what you are doing’.

 

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Dr. Vayu Naidu – Storyteller

18th September 2011

‘Words are symbols that crack open meaning’

I walked into this RSC workshop hearing uplifting Indian music playing which was to ‘energize’ the room. I met Vayu Naidu who is a very warm, open and generous woman. She has a company dedicated to the art of storytelling which comes from the Indic oral tradition. Its energy comes through the telling, not reading, of a story to create dense imagery and triggering emotional resonances.

‘It is not about reading a story, but telling it. It could be anybody’s story, or from anywhere, but in the telling it becomes real and touches you as a listener and shifts something in your understanding of people and the world around you. The Storyteller ‘lives’ the story to make it real for you. Like an anchor person of the news, the storyteller must connect with different parts of the world. But unlike reporters, the Storyteller must also become the characters, and report the action of the story as it is being told.’

Vayu Naidu Company’s signature of storytelling is the reliance on two things: Oral imagination and Total presence.

Vayu explained to us that words are symbols that crack open meaning; and when we tell a story to have a relish for language and a taste for telling. We learnt about RASA which means JUICE and the 9 principles which are love, anger, compassion, fear, humour, disgust, peace and wonder. Rasa is an Indian philosophy of art where the goal is that the artist and the audience experience shared emotions. So the responsibility of the performer is to be sure what it is you want the audience to feel at any given time.

To ‘clean’ the channel from the gut to the words coming out of our mouths we learnt ‘The Lion’. This is a move of the body with a guttural release of the voice. Quite extraordinary.

First we worked in pairs telling a short personal story using one of the Rasa principles. We then were asked to tell a story from either a favorite fairytale or Shakespeare play. I chose to play Lady Macbeth when she is waiting alone while Macbeth has gone to kill Duncan. She helped us tap into our imagination using all the senses and convey this to the audience with connection and presence.

Vayu talked about Storytelling and what its function was in the first place. She explained that a long, long time ago  when people developed language and formed social groups that then grew larger into civilizations, the shape of the society was like that of a pyramid. Diverse people and their functions or professions of hunting, defending, sowing and harvesting, providing and bartering were all independent strands that were held together by a Chieftain. Women had diverse occupations within these professions and storytelling was a chief way of embedding continuity and values. The professional aspect of Storytelling was taken by men who were effectively commissioned by the chieftain and the keepers of ritual. The stories of birth, rites of passage such as puberty, marriage, children, wars, victory and defeat songs, lament,  death, burial, cremation, and afterlife, were told, sometimes in song, and remembered. This is the premise of an oral tradition as early societies were nomadic or lived by rivers. In time societies established themselves through powerful chieftains and his fighting forces, and more than being defensive, societies expanded through trade, and exploration, and conquest. Today we have different traditions ascribed to the Storytelling from diverse regions around the world.

Vayu is interested in myths, folk and fairy tales from world cultures and presents them to contemporary audiences by making the past significant to the present. The storytelling here is about metaphor. What myths reflect our contemporary concerns? How do folktales enable children to understand between what is good and what is harmful? Why do fairytales tell us something about our wildest dreams and darkest fears?

I am looking forward to learning more about the art of storytelling as I endeavour to enjoy telling more and more stories.

 

 

 

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Teatr Zar

17th September 2011

‘An actor is a chord of sounds’

I first saw the work of Theatre Zar at The Barbican in September 2009 with their show, Gospels Of Childhood: The Triptych. I remember the three-part ritualistic show being a spiritual and sensual lamentation on birth, death, pleasure and pain, told through song, chanting and movement. The stirring harmonies and dissonance created powerful, mesmeric theatre. Back then, I was taking part in a two day intensive workshop at The Barbican investigating and extending notions of the Grotowskian actor drawing on the ideas from Grotowski’s key writings (notably Towards a Poor Theatre) as well as practices derived from his former collaborators and especially Gardzienice Theatre Association. We addressed the work of Theatre Zar, who were performing their Triptych show at the time. It was an extraordinary weekend of movement and vocal explorations, led by Paul Allain, Professor of Theatre and Performance and Head of Drama at the University of Kent, Canterbury.

So two years later I jumped at the rare opportunity to take a workshop and discover more about this celebrated Wroclaw company.

The work of Theatre Zar is an attempt to persuade that theatre is not only the Greek thea – seeing – but something that above all should be heard, and where from such ‘hearing’, deep images are born that would be impossible to create even by the means of the most modern theatre technology; where even the body of a singing actor shines and emanates with the energy of sound, of the singing that is within it. Zar’s founder and director, Jaroslaw Fret (who is also director of the Grotowksi Institute in Wroclaw), together with actress Kamila Klamut, carried out a three-year series of expeditions to Georgia, Armenia, Greece and Iran, conducting research into the oldest forms of religious music of Eastern Christianity, the essence of which are polyphonic songs of centuries-old traditions that have their roots in the beginning of our era and are probably the oldest forms of polyphony. These old songs are performed in a language which is no longer understood by Svans themselves and are the oldest form of polyphonic singing in Georgia and perhaps in the whole world.

We were shown how to practically prepare; loosening and stretching the spine, releasing tension and keeping the knees unlocked and slightly bent. We gently hummed which then led to the intriguing and strangely soothing chanting. We were taught to use our arms for guidance, moving them in sequence with the notes. Everything they learn is from observation and listening, nothing is written down. This progressed into using the body as a metronome marking out with our feet various notations. This allowed for the sound to move more freely through the body.

They have a passion for bringing the humanity back to the centre of theatre. Jaroslaw emphasized how everyone has a unique sound, that we are the water and through the vibrations of sound within us we make the waves; and from there to become like fish in the water. He referred to an actor being a chord of sounds. The variety, colour, mood and atmosphere within the sounds was utterly moving, emotive and beautiful. It was incredibly profound to be a part of it.


Jaroslaw Fret

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Urban Arvon – Bloomsbury

15th – 17th July 2011

After having received a writing grant award from Arvon I set off with a notepad and pen on a three day adventure to the historic Gordon Square; the former home of Virginia Woolf. I wanted to get back to basics with the craft of poetry and define my voice within it.

In the first few hours Aoife Mannix had cleverly managed to guide me into being vulnerable in my writing, helping me realize the importance of who you are and where you come from as this is key in having a unique voice. Exercises into writing included what kind of animal I am and why, what kind of animal is the place I live and why, looking at the importance and significance of my name, things that I love or make me angry, my fantasy bed, how my perfect kitchen would taste, my perfect garden would smell, what I would wear and how I would arrive to a party on Venus! Also a great exercise for a playwright or fiction writer: Writing a monologue of a character getting undressed, which is a direct and personal way of embodying that character. I thought this would be particularly useful as an actor.

Aoife helped me realize that I had been hiding behind abstract language and emotive words. Through her challenging and inspiring tutoring she helped me see that poetry is about connecting not alienating. Its about being brave and vulnerable and just saying it as it is. I also now see the importance of editing – to write and rewrite, making sure every word is vital.

Afternoons were spent writing in the beautiful square or exploring art galleries and museums or finding objects for imaginary characters. In the evenings we had the opportunity to hear established writers and poets performing and on the final day we were all given a five minute slot to perform something we had written over the weekend. It was thrilling to hear everyones distinct styles, and the quality of the writing in three days was extraordinary.  When I read two poems I wrote over the weekend the difference was revelatory. The connection I experienced to everyone through my words in that room was unforgettable. A huge, transformative lesson!

I’ve decided to explore performing my poems at The Poetry Cafe and ‘Jawdance’ at Richmix next week!

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Mike Alfreds Workshop

23rd-27th May 2011

A thorough and illuminating week long intensive workshop looking into ‘the world of a play’. I highly recommend his book, ‘Different Every Night’. The roots of the week were based in Stanislavski , explained in vivid clarity aswell as his own methods worked out over his years as a director.

The way he explains actioning, units, beats, objectives, through-lines, points of concentration is very freeing for the actor. He gave a lovely picture about the text being on top of an orchestra, where many instruments need to be playing underneath, varying upon the subtext. We explored Lorca, Coward, Shakespeare, Hellman and Gogol. He has a wonderful way of allowing and giving the actor time to explore and enter a world with their whole body, mind and spirit; not just their head. He reminded me of the freedom and accessibility within the Laban efforts in creating a character aswell as the psychological gesture(M.Chekhov). And to trust in the simple act of talking from a place of need to the other person, and in doing so to trust you are showing the humanity and avoiding cliches. The world of the play and character work feed in through rehearsals to the text until all three are working together. I enjoyed his analogy that theatre acting is much like a game of football. We go out onto the stage as footballers to the field, and from our on-going training we must use and trust our skills to then play and improvise. I loved the freedom and creativity from playing without being ‘blocked’….so often ‘Move there, say that line, then move there etc..’ He says there is a reason it is called ‘blocking’ – that is exactly what it does to the actor. He likes to see new things tried, new choices made every time…..otherwise what we have is DEAD theatre. What we want is theatre that is ALIVE!

‘The art is asking you to be vulnerable, however the profession is asking you to have a thick skin’.

 

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