Stanislavsky and The Media

The S Word and The Centre for Digital Storymaking, London South Bank University presents

The 2020 S Word symposium: Stanislavsky and The Media

@ London South Bank University, Thursday 23rd to Saturday 25th April 2020.

We aim to explore Stanislavsky’s relationship with and impact upon all aspects of the contemporary media – film, television, radio, electronic media, print and journalism, and via still and moving images, sound and music.

We now invite proposals for papers (20 minutes duration), practical workshops (40 minutes duration) and panel presentations (60 minutes duration with a minimum of three speakers). Please send a brief abstract (not more than 300 words) and a short biography to Professor Paul Fryer – (paul@paulfryer.me.uk), to arrive no later than Friday 29th November 2019.

Information on keynote and guest speakers, and details of booking arrangements will be published shortly.

Selected papers from this event will be published in the Spring 2021 edition of Stanislavski Studies (Taylor & Francis).

Please join us for our London 2020 event.

The S Word is an international research project that explores the relationship between Stanislavsky, his work and legacy, and all aspects of contemporary theatre and performance.

Call for Proposals: Actor Training, Teaching, and Specific Learning Differences/Disabilities

(Dr Petronilla Whitfield, Arts University Bournemouth UK)

Deadline for Proposals 30th November 2019

Call outline

This is a call for expressions of interest and proposals for chapter contributors in an edited book on actor training, voice, movement, education and learning differences /disabilities, neurodiversity. Following the recent publication of my book ‘Teaching Strategies for Neurodiversity and Dyslexia in Actor Training’ (Routledge 2019), I am now seeking ideas for potential chapters from teachers/ practitioners/authors regarding the development of their teaching in the support of Acting and Performance students/individuals with Specific Learning Differences/Disabilities. In particular, dissemination of practice is sought where the teaching directions are underpinned by research, theory, and scholarly investigation. It is important that Specific Learning Differences/Disabilities are not generalised, but detailed with specificity of their characteristics. Early researchers in this field are also invited to submit a proposal, as they are potentially important contributors to emerging pedagogical discussions and approaches.

Themes could include (but are not limited to):

• Descriptions of teaching interventions, rationale, process and outcomes, where teachers have recognised a problem or challenge and have carried out research, trials and transformation of their practice to support the neurodiverse, SpLD student’s/individual’s needs. (Descriptions of perceived failures are as valuable as successes).

• Critical analysis of pedagogy in actor training environments, historical and cultural contexts of actor training, and how Specific Learning Differences and neurodiversity is situated within that context

• An in-depth analysis of the arts-based discipline involved, and how the learning difference/style/disability can impact on embedded or adapted practice in that discipline

• The ethical and political concerns regarding the labelling of an individual with a SpLD, and how this might influence your practice/approach

• The foregrounding of the student voice and experience of those with SpLD, platforming student-led methods, autonomy, research and student- led teaching practices

• If you are a teacher with SpLD, (such as being dyslexic for example) , how that might inform/affect your teaching and your understanding for the individual student with learning challenges

• Development of inclusive assessment strategies, that do not unfairly disadvantage those with SpLD/neurodiversity and differing modes of learning

• The experience of Learning Support teachers/staff who have been involved in the teaching of acting performance students with SpLD and are researching and developing new practices in their field

• The experiences of coaches/teachers working with professional actors with SpLD and a dissemination of developing methods and reflection on endeavours to support those actors

Submitting a proposal

Preliminary conversations with potential contributors will help to develop the contents of the book, to submit to the publisher for review.

To signal your interest in making a contribution please contact Petronilla Whitfield for an initial exchange of ideas/thoughts, or email a proposal of 500- 1,000 words in length. Firm proposals must be received no later than the 30th November 2019 and sent, with a brief author biography, to the book’s editor, Dr Petronilla Whitfield (pwhitfield@aub.ac.uk)

‘Moritz to Fritz’ A Response to Performer Training Reconfigured: Post-Psychophysical Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century by Frank Camilleri

This blog post is based on a presentation for the Asian book launch of Performer Training Reconfigured, organised by the School of Dance and Theatre at LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, 28 August 2019.

When I, Maiya, a performer-trainer-researcher focused on movement- and body-based approaches to theatre, started reading Frank Camilleri’s book, Performer Training Reconfigured: Post-Psychophysical Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century, I felt thrilled: ‘what comes next in this world of performer training?’ This is the first thing that the ‘post’ in the title suggested for me.

But then as I continued reading, I began to shift uncomfortably in my seat, ‘am I being asked to give up my commitment to embodiment as a primary point of departure both creatively and theoretically?’ The chair suddenly felt too hard, the back rest at the wrong angle, the air conditioning too low, my breath shallow.

Camilleri assured me, the Lecoq-based creator, trainer, and writer, that his work is indeed a development of the psychophysical commitment in performer training. And then, instead of just being uncomfortable in my seat, I took up Camilleri’s challenge and thought ‘well, if I am uncomfortable here it is only because there is a chair to shift in, there is a floor for my chair to stand on, and there is an air conditioning unit to control the temperature which is high because I live near the equator’. Quickly I started understanding myself not as confined within the border of Maiya’s embodiment but as one of Camilleri’s assemblages, which he takes up from Deleuze, Guattari, and DeLanda. An assemblage is a network of dynamic relations and connections which encompasses physical embodiment but extend outwards. Where this network ends, I can’t quite see… And it keeps changing …

Camilleri’s post-psychophysical approach moves forward and outward theoretically speaking, using a variety of disciplines and voices to point toward an ever-expanding notion of what exactly is being trained in 21st century performer training. Indeed as Camilleri notes, for a long time performer trainers have expressed how training tools and environments are essential to the training process. Masks, sticks, suitable studios are all important details for the training process. Any trainer or trainee has also experienced it. When you have to ‘make do’ with non-optimal spaces or tools you know the line between when you can make a plastic Friday-the-Thirteenth-Horror-Movie Mask work in actor training, and when it just simply won’t do what a Sartori leather neutral mask can do. Camilleri addresses this, but he is even more bold and goes beyond what other trainers have articulated: he looks to broader training conditions and the factors that make those conditions possible, he takes note of the affectivity in the process that is constantly moving through, from, and around objects, people, spaces, and relations, and he anchors this web of relations in a recognition that nothing, absolutely nothing, exists in psycho- physical- affective or social- isolation. This is how he argues for a necessary turn to assemblage theory.

I find a deep kinship between this book and my own interests in intersections of body-based actor training and cognitive scientific approaches. Camilleri engages some of these, including the enactive approach, which I use to consider the cognitive dimensions of the Jacques Lecoq’s pedagogy in my book Enacting Lecoq (2019). Through enaction, I argue how Lecoq pedagogy – and by extension, many performer training practices – are processes that transform our bodymindworlds to fundamentally cognitive ends. In this instance, I also see ‘cognition’ as a capacious category in line with enaction.

In my own journey to take seriously Lecoq’s commitment to movement, along with the enactive approach’s commitment to cognition as fully embodied, extended, embedded and affective, I had to drill down into many discourses and theories of embodiment. While the enactive view takes embodiment as a core tenet, scholars disagree over whether it should be a ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ embodiment. Matthew Bower and Shaun Gallagher[i] (whom Camilleri references) argue that a weak embodiment sees the body in an outdated conception of cognition, where corporeal software of the ‘body’, however important and active, fundamentally responds to the mental hardware of the ‘brain’. In this sense, even an active interest in foregrounding embodiment can bear the ghosts of Cartesian dualist bodies and minds. When they advocate for a strong embodiment, the body is the mind – the entire psychophysical unity makes cognition and makes mind. As someone who generally argues for a strong embodiment, I’ve realized that taking such a strong approach to embodiment opens up unexpected avenues.

If cognition is fully embodied, and knowing, doing, understanding, imagining, and learning are deeply related activities in an expansive holistic psychophysical process, then I would have to agree with scholars who suggest that reading is also an embodied practice, just as is training in so-called physical theatre practices. Indeed, if you follow the strong conception as far as it goes, humans can never escape embodiment. It is the only way of existing. If a strong embodiment is the human way of being in the world, then it cannot be limited to large physical movements, it must also include the fine-grained ways that we are bodies in the world – when we are still, when we are sitting at our uncomfortable chairs, when we are sleeping, when we are watching, when we are reading Deleuze and Guattari, when we are pondering even the most theoretical of theoretical physics. Or, most importantly to Camilleri’s discussion, when, like Fritz, we are writing in complement to studio work. The character of Fritz is Camilleri’s nod to Clark and Chalmers’s explanation of extended cognition.[ii] This explanation recounts a story about a man named Otto in comparison to a woman named Inga who both want to go to the museum. Inga simply remembers the way, where Otto must write down directions on a notepad because he has Alzheimer’s. According to the extended cognition hypothesis, the effect is the same because Otto has simply extended his cognition into the notepad. Camilleri playfully introduces this character named Fritz who is a practitioner and regularly writes journal-style about his practice. (Now, I don’t know about those of you others who have read this book, but I think Fritz and Frank have quite a lot in common…) He uses Fritz to argue that the studio work is extended into Fritz’s writing practice and should be understood as such. While Fritz purposefully handwrites with a fountain pen for a specific manual engagement with paper, even if he wrote on a keyboard, or like Stephen Hawking, used cheek movements to designate every letter, he is involved in an embodied activity. I’m not sure that we have found any living examples of escaping a strongly embodied condition, even if we are in some sort of fully technologically sustained state of extended cognition.

Camilleri is clear that the ‘post’ in ‘post-psychophysical’ refers to moving through and beyond the psychophysical tradition and discourse, rather than rejecting it. I do sense, however, that in the need to define and distinguish the ‘post’ part of the term, more attention is paid to how and why, ‘post-psychophysicality’ is different than ‘psychophysicality’. This is logical. What I wonder about in Camilleri’s turn, however, which I would be curious to hear more about, is just how the post-psychophysical exists because of and builds upon the psychophysical: how the ‘post’ comes into being through the ‘psychophysical’. Perhaps I am making Camilleri’s point about folks who are so committed to the psychophysical that we cannot see outside of it (me?). But as a person who has been trained, trains others, and continues to train myself, so far, I have experienced how we must address the complexity of performing by first circumscribing small tasks and issues, and then gradually collaging them together. This takes time. Activities to match breath and simple movement are not the whole picture, but it gives the performer a point of departure from which to develop. Of course there are countless other points of departure. To face the vast complexities of our interconnectedness may be overwhelming in practice – and there may be constraints on the human bodymind that keep us anchored in a kind of first-person perspective when initiating action. What if our profound interconnectedness and extension into the environment can only be experienced and made use of in bite-bite sized pieces? In other words, the psychophysical as a point of departure for action and for deploying agency has been extremely useful. In some philosophy of cognitive science, the question remains: is the human psychophysical body somehow the only agential point of departure for humans?[iii] 

I see one possible aspect of the post-psychophysical as a development of the mere psychophysical in this idea of taking a strong embodiment seriously, at least through an enactive perspective, with its grounding in embodied biological and cognitive processes. If you take a strong embodied cognition toward its limit, it actually goes beyond the limits of the flesh – it has to – the enactive holisitic bodymind’s cognitive apparatus emerges only from and through the entity’s interaction in the world – the extended space marked by Camilleri’s term ‘bodyworld’. Some enactivists like to quote philosopher Hans Jonas who suggests that life is in a constant state of ‘needful freedom’ where the entity only exists (it is free as a distinct entity) through taking what it needs to exist from its externality (the environment that sustains it).[iv] In a sense, I might suggest that finding yourself plop in the middle of assemblage theory is an inevitable consequence of the strongest commitment to embodiment there is – embodiment in inextricable entwinement with the environment. I’d like to know more about how Camilleri might trace this path.

This book is one of those rare animals that simultaneously engages with highly theoretical material – or ‘Theory with a capital “T”’ as I like to call it – while still retaining the in-the-trenches gravity that comes from an author steeped in lifelong practice. This is important to our fields of theatre and performance as many of us still fight to resist binaries of thinker and doer, scholar and maker, objective analyzer and subjective practitioner. One of the ways Camilleri accomplishes this is by providing a recurring feature: ‘tips for practice analysis’, or small practical exercises that engage a participant in the issues addressed in that chapter. It’s a way to remind the reader – you also have to ‘do’ to understand. This points to another aspect of the book that makes me hungry for more. On the one hand, Camilleri shows how training-as-assemblage may be considered to have always existed. On that view, we have just been slow to theorize it. On the other hand, it also feels like Camilleri is positing his post-psychophysical as a clarion call ‘Assemble!’ In other words, it feels like he is suggesting that by overtly acknowledging training as an assemblage that moves from, through, and beyond the psychophysical, we can envision and make something new together in the realm of performer training. Camilleri’s discussion on ethical approaches to performer training points in this direction. While this book is sweeping and attentive to the practical dimension, I want to know more – what is it like, or what has it been like for Camilleri to overtly develop a training system as assemblage? Does it look like anything beyond acknowledging what is already there and giving value to it? Or does that act of acknowledgment then transform the practice, transform the way practitioners think/move/act and train? In other words, at this moment, is the post-psychophysical descriptive or activist? I suspect both, and I am curious to know more about those details and their consequences. So if moving from bodyminds to bodyworlds, how, on the ground, in the studio, do we find purchase in an expansive new network way beyond the borders of our bodyminds? What does it create? Are practitioners overwhelmed by the new, expansive vista? How do we, in the act of performer training, take action in this new web of relations?

But I leave you with a short hand-written letter that I wrote I found from a fellow practitioner-researcher who makes theatre, trains performers, and writes about the process. I found it on 28 August 2019 when I was presenting this response to Camilleri’s book at LASALLE College of the Arts:

Dear Fritz,

Thank you for showing me how to assemble. I am enjoying it very much.

Now I have a new question: my training bodyworld is so vast that I feel paralyzed. What do I do?

Sincerely,

Your friend in post-psychophysical futures,

Moritz

PS: Here is a map from LASALLE College of the Arts to the National Gallery Singapore. I have the path memorized since I live here. You might need a map since you are new to the city. I’ll meet you there?


[i] Bower, Matthew, and Shaun Gallagher. 2013. ‘Bodily affects as prenoetic elements in enactive perception’, Phenomenology and Mind 4, no. 1:108–131.

[ii] Clark, Andy and David Chalmers. 1998. ‘The extended mind’, analysis 58, no.1: 7-19.

[iii] See Varela, F.J., Thompson, E. and Rosch, E., 2017. The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press and Stewart, J., Stewart, J.R., Gapenne, O. and Di Paolo, E.A. eds., 2010. Enaction: Toward a new paradigm for cognitive science. MIT Press.

[iv] Jonas, Hans. 2001. The phenomenon of life: Toward a philosophical biology. Evanston: Northwestern UP.

Reclaiming land- Rediscovering body

Sandhiya Kalyanasundaram

This post describes a class that I co-taught at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, India during Aug-Nov 2018.

The students explored the idea of time as paradox and creating dance through site- specific gardening and land reclamation. Gardening creates a new order of mind-body connections and a new experience of time as the gardening process is internalized. The students who chose to create dance were previously untrained in any dance form and it was an experimental process for me as I tried to deepen and shape their mind -practice through the viscerality of gardening and being actively in touch with their emotions while creating movement sequences. Through the post, I also wish to open the discussion to how embodied dance practice can contribute in creating an ethical ecological consciousness in the individual amateur student and the question of process versus outcome oriented teaching of dance.

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Emotional Preparation in Performance Art

This is the part of the research I am doing on the use of Meisner Technique in performance art and I want to here look at a performance experiment I recently did in the Art Now Live Tour, Tianjin, China.

I was invited to participate in the Art Now Live Tour, a Chinese performance art festival that took place in Tianjin and Cangzhou. A feature of Chinese performance art festivals is that they often encourage the artists to create impromptu performances in non-art spaces.

I wanted to try using what Meisner describes as an emotional preparation to see how it might work in practice and what effect, if any, it would have upon my performance. To go about this I first spent a good while in the space sensing how it influenced my mood. I found that it induced claustrophobia and disquiet, it insinuated me into a world I wanted out of and offered no alternatives. I then came up with the basic line of a performance which was to follow a movement from incarceration and accusation to escape.  

Meisner describes emotional preparation as, “daydreaming which causes a transformation in your inner life, so that you are not what you actually were five minutes ago because your fantasy is working you.” (1987: 81)

I had heard from a friend of mine living in China, that he had been followed and threatened by a gang of four thugs hired by his estranged wife. I tried to imagine what sort of circumstances could lead to me into a similar situation. It required some creativity but, standing alone in the performance space, I came up with a plausible scenario that tapped into quite genuine fears and desires of mine. I went through the scenario in detail to the extent that I started to feel it was not merely an exercise but was something I should be seriously concerned about. 

The festival officially opened and, after the first show, I was next. I had around ten minutes to prepare and went directly to my performance space, which was unoccupied. Standing still and surveying the gloomy surroundings, I went through my story. I imagined receiving a phone call in the room itself. I could hear the threatening tone of vulgar, rapid-fire Chinese that I could barely understand. Now and then, I’d close my eyes to better picture the faces of the people involved. I pictured them surrounding me at night in a place near to where I live. One of the gang had a knife and I imagined myself stammering a reply in response to their threats. I went over this scenario slowly, dwelling on some moments in order to fully picture them and take them in. I prepared in this way for about five minutes then stepped outside. 

Waiting a minute or two for the audience to gather I continued in this train of thought until they started making their way over to me. I did not speak to them but simply beckoned the audience into the performance space then bolted the door shut behind us. The rusty bolt made a painful grating noise, it couldn’t have been used in years. 

I slowly made my way through the space looking at each and every audience member in the eye. I projected onto them the role of the imaginary thugs confronting me so that my stare back at them contained an unstable mix of fear and defiance. This gaze of mine was somewhat responsive to the reactions I received from each person so that if, for example, I received a cold stare I might meet it with greater bluster while a blank stare might elicit a more contemptuous response. I did not predetermine how I would respond, I simply let the emotional preparation and task of looking at each member of the audience carry me. I restricted my reactions to how I stared back and did not allow myself to let my responses become so free that I could start speaking or waving my fists, for example. In this way there was no anonymous audience space, they were all an integral part of this uncomfortable spectacle. I later heard that some of the audience were frightened of me, though later still, I also heard some saw dry humor in the work too. 

After I had made my way around the space and looked at everyone in the eye, I returned to the person who I thought had the most sympathetic response. This was a Singaporean woman who returned my nervously aggressive stare with a steady and compassionate gaze. I stopped in front of her and offered her one key after another from my pocket. This continued for a while, the gesture becoming more pathetic as the keys scattered into a small pile on the floor in front of her. I finally fell to my knees.

Crawling to the far end of the room I then took the ladder, which was far too tall to stand upright, and maneuvered it around the space. I rested it in a diagonal position and started to climb. All of a sudden, one of the wooden steps gave way and I fell a short distance to the floor. Trying again, I finally managed to stand upright with my head touching the ceiling. I was not consciously thinking about the emotional preparation anymore, it had played its part and set me off. I now had an objective and that was to rise above and away from this scene. 

Placing the ladder through the narrow window I squeezed my way out with great effort, swung the ladder out and climbed up it onto the roof. The roof turned out to be very fragile and I had to very carefully make my way across it, walking above the audience and dragging the ladder with me. Inside there was confusion and some panic: the audience wanted to escape too as it was unbearably hot and there was some danger of me crashing down upon them. The performance ended with me climbing down the ladder on the far side of the space and the audience managing to break out and meet me. 

Complete Performance Video (20 minutes)

This was quite definitely an intense and focussed performance in which the actions were invested with strong emotions yet remained focussed around physical tasks. The same actions, performed in a matter of fact way, would have been understood quite differently because it was clear that there was something at stake here. This made the performance much more liable to be seen and felt to be a metaphor and it coloured some actions, such as staring aggressively at the audience, with specific resonances. I did not attempt to narrow down the meaning of this metaphor in the sense of “I am doing this in order to mean that,” it remained somewhat open to interpretation. My sense then is that the use of Meisner technique, and also some corporeal mime, in which I am formally trained, did not only make the performance more present or alive, it colored the actions with meaning.

The use of Meisner technique in this context was not so typical as I did not conceive of my role as a character separate from myself. I was present as myself, performing actions that I had myself chosen and the disciplinary frame for this was performance art. The scenario I used for the emotional preparation was one that was drawn from my life and its purpose was to put me in an appropriate mood for this performance. It is the case that, just because you make and perform a piece yourself, it does not necessarily follow that however you feel when you start the performance is equally fitting. The self is broad and one’s emotions are constantly changing. For the performance, I wanted to return to the feeling I had when I conceived the piece and so made this experiment with emotional preparation to do so. While this would probably not be appropriate to every sort of piece, some works depend upon a more flat delivery, it was entirely fitting here.

I am very encouraged to see that emotional preparation, a side of Meisner technique which I thought might be a more problematic one to integrate with performance art, can also be useful, at least in this particular instance. One of the potential pitfalls of using it, as far as I see it, is for the performer to appear to be in a separate here and now to that of the audience. This is often very necessary in theatre in order to bring a fictive setting to life but performance art, which typically stresses a shared here and now, has little room for this. I was able to deal with this tension by situating much of the initial action upon my interaction with the audience and using this emotional preparation in my efforts to connect with them. This brought us into a shared sense of here and now that was arrived at mutually through a reciprocal gaze. 

I will next turn my attention in a more systematic way to dealing with objects and making a direct to camera performance video. I am interested in the intimacy that the camera can provide and in making a document of this research with considerably better lighting than that of the dingy room in an abandoned Tianjin steelwork. 

Meisner, S. (1987). On Acting. New York: Vintage Books. 

Video: Jin Gang

Photos: Yi Ti