About Bryan Brown

Former Executive Director of Schkapf, performance incubation house in Los Angeles, California, Bryan is a theatre practitioner and scholar. He is co-artistic director of ARTEL and Lecturer in Drama at the University of Exeter. His forthcoming book “A History of the Theatre Laboratory” (Routledge 2017) investigates the organizational processes of curious practitioners in science, visual art, and theatre.

Launching the Special Issue

On 3 November 2018, the special issue of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training “Training Places: Dartington College of Arts” was launched at Dartington. As an editor of the special issue it feels odd to write about the event in any depth or with any modicum of critical distance, so I won’t attempt it. However, given the reach of DCA, and the particular placement of Dartington in the rural southwest of England, it seems appropriate to mark the launch with this post and provide some traces of the event for those unable to attend, or for those attendees that may in the future wish to revisit.

The day encapsulated the spirit of the special issue: reflective and celebratory, with a pinch of mourning and a dash of optimism. After a few introductory remarks by the editors (some of which are available here),

 

Karen Christopher (Haranczak/Navarre Performance Projects) performed a heartfelt response to the issue, incorporating various approaches to performance and textual interplay the Drama and Dance fields at Dartington College of Arts promoted and challenged. Her dripping and disappearing ink and the audience singalong simply and poignantly evoked the lifeblood and ethos of the College for me. [Note: this is a long clip, as it is her response in full, nearly 50 minutes.]

 

Following Karen’s response, the audience was split in two. One section following walking artist and a core member of Wrights & Sites, Simon Persighetti as he guided us through a variety of “Thresholds” in a multisensory and multihistories stomp of the former DCA grounds.

The other section, in groups of three, shared their own reconnaissance of Remembering for the future in an activity organised by Simon Murray.  Given advance warning, attendees were asked to share moments of their time (or imagined) at DCA with each other that either was a/ troubling, disquieting, problematic, counter-productive and harmful, or b/ productive, positive generative and affirmative. This experience was then discussed for its power to stay with the person down the years, and why and how it might inform creative and pedagogical practices today and in the future.

I compiled this visual essay from various social media posts after the event to capture some of the feelings and experiences of these walks and the day itself.

DCA Launch Visual Essay

With walks concluded, Rhodri Samuels (CEO Dartington Hall Trust) spoke at length about the loss of the College for Dartingon today, the renewed Trust and a future for Dartington that hopes to reclaim the holistic mission of its founders, Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst. While the devastation caused by the previous Trust remains, many former staff and students agreed that Dartington finally appears to be in good hands. We look forward to new blooms from painful compost, some of which I am sure will come from the work of Alan Boldon and Tracey Warr (both former DCA staff) who have recently been hired to rebuild the educational priorities and opportunities of Dartington by developing the Learning Lab programme.

The afternoon concluded with four brief responses to the day by David Williams, Sue Palmer, Tracey Warr and Jonathan Pitches. These very different comebacks captured the range of discussions, emotions, and ghostings the day conjured.

 

While a number of attendees imparted to me over drinks and dinner that the day had provided a sense of coming (perhaps not full, but at least positively) towards a sense of circle in their experience of DCA, the launch was just that: a moment to celebrate the release of this issue. Its ability to now be something in the world is up to those who use it.

There are currently a few free articles available for download on the TDPT website. If you like what you are reading and would like your own copy of the special issue, we have a limited number of hard copies still available for £5 + postage. Please contact me at B.Brown@exeter.ac.uk to purchase a copy or three today.

Peter Hulton on Dartington College of Arts

Theatre Papers: The First Series. Number 4 was Steve Paxton.

In February of 2018, Peter Hulton generously came into my office at the University of Exeter to provide an interview on Dartington and the College of Arts. In true style, this was not so much an interview as a well-planned riff by Peter on three primary themes: training, the Dartington project, and the Drama and Dance field. Having been a key member of staff since the inception of the three originally certified degree programs at the College, Head of Department and Principal of the College, Peter offers a unique context and perspective on the pedagogy and structure of DCA. Moreover as creator of Theatre Papers and Arts Archives, Peter Hulton has influenced the entire discipline and methodologies of practice research and he touches upon these projects in the second half of this recording.

A succinct version of this interview can be found in the Special Issue of TDPT (9.3) “Training Places: Dartington College of Arts”.

STREAM event to celebrate Dartington College of Arts

Friday 7th – Sunday 9th September 2018 at Dartington Hall, Devon, UK

http://www.soundartradio.org.uk/projects/stream/

dcastream.eventbrite.com

Eight years after its controversial closure ex-students are planning a celebratory festival to bring the world famous Dartington College of Arts back to life.

Dartington College of Arts is an internationally renowned progressive arts education institution founded in 1961. The Totnes site closed in 2010 following the merger and relocation to Falmouth University.

Festival organiser Sarah Gray, Director of Soundart Radio, who was the last Student Union President at the college said: “The closure of the college was heartbreaking and caused a wound that many feels need healing.

“Since the college left, the local area has changed a lot. The Dartington Hall Estate and even Totnes town at first felt quiet, grey and ghost-like compared to the lively, vibrant atmosphere created by hundreds of young artists and musicians. There has been a lot of anger and sadness among people who went to the college and even those who didn’t.

“Years later, after an organisational change at Dartington Hall Trust, it felt like the right time for this reunion to happen. There’s a sense that the Trust is more permissive and celebratory of its rich educational heritage”.

The festival, which is supported by Dartington Hall Trust, in September is called Stream – an acronym for – a Series of Transdisciplinary Rituals and Experiments in Art and Music.

Amy Bere, Executive Director of Arts says: “The Dartington Hall Trust is thrilled to be supporting Stream and honour the incredible creative legacy of the Dartington College of Arts. Many of the artists and alumni returning for this event were deeply impacted by the closure of the art college, and this is a great way to honour their contribution to the estate and Trust. We are inspired on a daily basis by the history of arts at Dartington – and in particular the Arts College – as we develop our current arts programme. Supporting the Stream initiative is a small way of recognising the sadness of the closure and finding ways to move on. Our hope, with the team now in place at Dartington Hall Trust, is that we can build something new and wonderful in the arts, but never forget the great work that came before.”

This festival will provide a platform for alumni’s voices to be heard and the stories of the college to be shared whilst there is an opportunity for us all to come together, from the earliest attendees to the final intake.

Sarah explains: “This is a chance for social celebration, professional networking and community catharsis. I want the alumni, from the very beginning to the end of the College’s history, to gather together and make positive change. I feel as a graduate and the last Student Union President in those final years of the College that our community has been dispersed and marginalised, even mythologized.”

Following a call out for works, the Stream festival committee has been excited to receive over 100 proposals from ex-staff and students. With an online Facebook group over 1,500 people and fewer than 500 tickets available, Stream is fast selling out, so get your tickets now!

The festival is primarily aimed at ex-students and staff, but the invitation to attend is open to anyone who has had a connection with the College of Arts.

Call for Blog Content

Call for Contributions to Theatre, Dance and Performance Training Blog

Training Places: Dartington College of Arts

This Autumn will see the publication of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training’s Special Issue “Training Places: Dartington College of Arts” (9.3). Due to the multi-faceted nature of Dartington College of Arts, the Special Issue has, since its conception, operated with the journal’s blog as a space that allows for more complex content than a traditional academic journal. We have been working with some authors for over a year on blog content to be posted in the run up to the Special Issue’s publication, but we are well aware that there are still many voices we have not heard from. We would very much like to hear from any former DCA staff or student, or anyone connected to the College in other ways that would like to create blog content around the issue of DCA and training (in its broadest sense). This might be a critically reflective piece on a particular aspect of DCA, a reflection on how DCA continues to operate in performance spheres – how DCA and its notions of ‘training’ might be informing performance making or training today? for instance – or a response to the Special Issue (once published).

If you are interested in developing content for the blog around DCA, please contact Bryan Brown.

Symposium Launch for special issue on Dartington College of Arts

The guest editors of the special issue (SI) of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training on ‘Training Places: Dartington College of Arts’ are delighted to invite you to the symposium and launch event to celebrate the issue’s publication. After three years imagining, planning and curating, the SI devoted to Dartington College of Arts (DCA) will be published in the early autumn of this year and marks the 10th anniversary of the agreement to ‘merge’ the College with University College Falmouth in 2008.

The SI reflects the diversity of art forms, writing registers, pedagogies and images for which Dartington was renowned, and includes contributions on and from: Peter Hulton on context and development of DCA, Chris Crickmay on Arts & Context, Jacky Lansley and Fergus Early on the Dance festival and X6, a roundtable reflection on Music, Gregg Whelan (Lone Twin) on Performance Writing, as well as multiple images and voices included in Donna Shilling’s record of the walk back to Dartington and Kevin & Kate Mount’s timeline photo essay.

The symposium launch will be held on the Dartington Hall Estate on Saturday 3 November from 12.00 – 15.30. The afternoon will include a response to the special issue by Karen Christopher (ex-Goat Island and now of Haranczak/Navarre Performance Projects); Thresholds, a group walk around the Dartington grounds led by Simon Persighetti (Wrights and Sites & DCA lecturer); a critical memory project in and around the Dartington estate; and a presentation by Rhodri Samuel (CEO of Dartington Hall Trust since 2015) on Dartington’s plans for the new Elmhirst Centre. More details will follow.

Details of the special issue, the launch event and booking information (cost £10.00) are all available through the link below to the eflyer.

To register your interest &/or purchase a hard copy of this SI (£5.00 tbc plus p&p), please visit:

https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/media/5920/special-issue-final-flyer.pdf

We hope to see many of you in Dartington!

Bryan Brown, Dick McCaw, Simon Murray and Libby Worth

Guest Editors TDPT SI on DCA

Call for Contributions Special Issue Training Places: Dartington College of Arts

CfP for Dartington Special Issue

We are very pleased to announce the following call for contributions for a special issue of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, focusing on Dartington College of Arts.

Theatre, Dance and Performance Training (TDPT) 

Special issue on Training Places: Dartington College of Arts to be published October 2018. Call for contributions, ideas, proposals and dialogue with the editors.

Guest editors: Dr Bryan Brown, University of Exeter, Dr Libby Worth, Royal Holloway, University of London, and Editorial Consultant Professor Ric Allsopp, Joint Editor Performance Research

The Training Grounds section of the issue (see below) will be guest edited by Dr Simon Murray, University of Glasgow and Dr Dick McCaw, Royal Holloway, University of London

Background and context

This will be the ninth Special Issue of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training (TDPT) following issues on sport, Michael Chekhov, politics, Feldenkrais, showing/writing training, interculturalism, popular performance and immersive, interactive and participatory performance. TDPT is an international journal devoted to all aspects of ‘training’ (broadly defined) within the performing arts. The journal was founded in 2010 and launched its own blog in 2015. Our target readership is both academic and the many varieties of professional performers, makers, choreographers, directors, dramaturgs and composers working in theatre, dance and live art who have an interest in and curiosity for reflecting on their practices and their training. TDPT’s co-editors are Jonathan Pitches (University of Leeds) and Libby Worth (Royal Holloway, University of London).

Dartington College of Arts: pedagogies, contexts, people, performances and experimentations.

This is the first time that a place of performance training has been taken as the subject of a TDPT special issue and although it and other centres of performance training have been addressed in specific articles, this singular focus for a whole issue calls for some explanation.

Why Dartington and why now?

Over the near 5 decades of its history, Dartington College of Arts, established an international reputation for innovation in performance making, spawning new directions in dance, theatre, devising, music and visual performance that continue to influence current artists and scholars. Based on an 800-acre estate on the River Dart near Totnes in rural Devon, its staff and students explored ways of working that emphasised learning through doing and questioning, working across arts disciplines, paying attention to the social impact and context of their artistic output and encouraging robust and engaging international contacts and exchanges.

The publication date for this special issue (2018), marks ten years since the college merged with Falmouth University, resulting eventually in a controversial move from the Dartington Hall estate to a purpose built complex at what was then University College Falmouth in 2010. This, perhaps, is a good time therefore to re-examine Dartington’s ecology, its people, its sites and its continuing influence within the arts world. In the current national and international climate with political uncertainties, the rise of nationalism and the new right, and the steady undermining of the arts in UK educational curriculum, it could be the appropriate moment to re-assess what Dartington College offered and its legacy continues to offer. Those who participated in the life of Dartington College of Arts are active internationally and continue to develop new working practices inspired and influenced by the “Dartington ethos”. Articulating how places inform training (pedagogy, practice, conversations, ways of being) through the fostering of a complex ecology and ethos is what this special issue aims to attempt.

Echoing Dartington’s fluid approach to training that positively encouraged experimentation in form/structure to better reflect artistic concepts and practices, this issue welcomes a variety of ways of responding to the call and actively encourages co-authoring, embedding of images, diagrams, drawings within critical articles. These could include offering additional visual/audio media on the TDPT blog or directly linked to an article. The issue aims to include writing/images representative of all the College’s training disciplines (theatre, dance/choreography, music, performance writing and visual performance) and of its different eras.

We are particularly interested in (but not limited by) responses to the following set of questions:

  • How did the social/political context of each of the College’s eras contribute to the training ethos?
  • In what ways did the college ascribe to a form of ‘un-training’ or ‘de-training’ and how was this structured? What did it generate?
  • How might have the environment of diverse buildings and countryside influenced the type of training that happened at Dartington College of Arts? And how did this geographically isolated experience sit with student international placements and commitment to international artists’ residencies?
  • What were significant strands in Dartington Hall’s history that contributed to the philosophy and practical components of the College programmes?
  • What was left out in the training offered at the College and why?
  • What remains important of the mystiques, fantasies, hauntings and residues triggered over the life of the college?
  • What was shared within the training processes but not articulated?
  • What has gone missing that matters outside of this community?
  • If Dartington College is seen as an ecology and not merely a place, how is this still growing?
  • What roles did Dartington College take in nurturing innovative practices – New Dance for instance?
  • What sources from the college’s history might be timely to reprint in order to generate contemporary responses?
  • What were the cultural, economic, pedagogical, political and psychological circumstances of the College’s closure in Devon and the merger with University College Falmouth in Cornwall?
  • What are the legacies and implications of the DCA educational experience for other performance training ecologies?

We welcome submissions from potential contributors, both inside and outside academic institutions, who may have been students, academic and non-academic staff, and visiting artists/tutors at the College over its 50 year history in Devon. Equally, we welcome potential contributions from anyone associated with Dartington or who has been influenced by its history in one way or another.

To signal your interest and intention to make a contribution to this special issue in any one of the ways identified above please contact Bryan and Libby for an initial exchange of ideas/thoughts, or email an abstract (max 250 words) to: Bryan Brown at b.brown@exeter.ac.uk and Libby Worth at libby.worth@rhul.ac.uk Our first deadline for these is 20th April 2017.

 

Training Grounds sections for Dartington College of Arts special issue.

Training Grounds (TG) is, and has always been, an alternative space within the journal to encourage contributors to use the kind of languages and forms that seem most appropriate to their own practice. It is a space for shorter contributions which may experiment with different writing registers, and be passionate, provocative, poetic or rhetorical. A space for lists, for saying awkward things and offering up difficult and perhaps unfashionable ideas. A place, nonetheless, for generosity and big-heartedness. TG editors for this special issue are Simon Murray (Simon.Murray@glasgow.ac.uk) and Dick McCaw (Dick.McCaw@rhul.ac.uk).

For this special issue we are looking for contributions to cover all the Dartington fields (Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, Performance Writing, Choreography/Dance, and Cultural Management) within each of the following categories:

1/ POSTCARDS 1: A description of a startling/challenging/rewarding moment of teaching or learning from your Dartington experience. Possibly, a Eureka type moment, or one of clarity, astonishment, insight or understanding. A sense perhaps of the feelings generated by the experience. 125 words or image/graphics to fit into a postcard size space.

2/ POSTCARDS 2: A contribution which succinctly describes (without comment, analysis or evaluation) a particular teaching exercise you used or experienced. 125 words or image/graphics to fit into a postcard size space.

3/ ANSWER THE QUESTION (ATQ): For this area we are suggesting either of two (inter-related) questions.

Question 1 (for ex-Dartington teachers and other staff):  What was Dartington training or educating for?

Question 2: (for ex-students of Dartington): What in retrospect do you feel the Dartington experience trained you for and what did it leave out?

With these two ATQs we would aim to carry 4 or 5 examples for each question and as far as possible these would reflect the different subject areas and timelines over the College’s history. You could either send us a draft of your response to one of these questions, or arrange for a conversation with either Dick McCaw or Simon Murray. This might be in person or via Skype or phone. We would transcribe and edit your responses and agree any text with you before publishing. Responses to ATQs should be between 500 and 750 words (max).

4/ IMAGES: We are planning to carry at least one photo-essay and will be commissioning this for Training Grounds. However, we would welcome other photo images, sketches, paintings and drawings from contributors. In the first instance please contact either Simon or Dick, briefly describing the image(s) you are proposing. If you have enough to constitute an interesting and revealing photo essay please do write to us and we will have a conversation with you. All images must be at the appropriate resolution: 1200 dpi for line art, 600 dpi for grayscale and 300 dpi for colour.

Please contact Simon Murray (Simon.Murray@glasgow.ac.uk) and Dick McCaw (Dick.McCaw@rhul.ac.uk) if you wish to contribute to this section or have other ideas and suggestions. Either of us will then discuss your possible contribution as we begin to curate Training Grounds. The final deadline for this initial conversation is August 30th 2017, but let’s start the exchange going as soon as possible please. Some materials and contributions may be more appropriate for the TDPT blog and we will encourage these to be developed for the lead up to the special issue as well. The deadline for final delivery of all TG materials is January 31 2018.

Approximate timelines for this issue

January 2017: Call for papers published

20th April 2017: Abstracts and proposals sent to Bryan Brown and Libby Worth

End June 2017: Response from editor and, if successful, invitation to submit contribution

July to mid December 2017: writing/preparation period for writers, artists etc.

August 30th 2017 – deadline for discussing TG contributions with Dick and Simon

Early December to Early Feb 2017: peer review period

January 31 2018 – deadline for submission of all TG material to Simon and Dick

Mid Feb  –  end April 2018: author revisions post peer review

End April to June 2018: All main articles into production with Routledge

Early July 2018: Training Grounds articles into production

July to September 2018: typesetting, proofing, revises, editorial etc.

October 2018: publication as Issue 9.3.

 

We look forward to hearing from you.

Ric Allsopp, Bryan Brown, Dick McCaw, Simon Murray & Libby Worth

 

 

Devising a Playground: ARTEL’s Strategies for Embodying Research and Text

The videos in this blog entry were filmed in 2006 purely as documentation for ARTEL (American Russian Theatre Ensemble Laboratory). They are part of a larger article being developed for publication and are currently being used to discuss the ways in which training develops or responds to text and other research as part of the Working Group at TaPRA (Theatre and Performance Research Association). This entry will be updated in the near future.

A decade ago, ARTEL, the American Russian Theatre Ensemble Laboratory, was created in Los Angeles, a city where the majority of theatre companies operate(d) as amateur dramatic societies that stage classic or new playscripts from a “page-to-stage” approach to text.  In opposition to this dominant practice, and modeled on the laboratory theatre tradition, ARTEL aimed to create an ensemble[i] of actor-creators that approached research, text, and staging from a collectively embodied process.  Using as source-texts the life and works of Mikhail Bulgakov, historical and cultural research on Russia and the USA, and traditional songs, ARTEL generated a series of strategies for embodying and sharing research as text.  These strategies merged and built upon multiple training and devising practices, such as the Polish Laboratory Theatre’s plastiques, Viewpoints, Roy Hart work, Michael Chekhov work, and contact improvisation.  From these strategies, two primary training/devising processes were distilled: BodyStorming and PlayStorming.  The first is a free form physical and vocal improvisation of sharing and colliding texts.  The second is a way to analyse playscripts through the performance of them immediately, while holding a script in hand.  Both processes develop an iterative means for saturating individuals and ensembles with associations, understandings and passions for the source-texts that are later enacted as physical expression, vocal delivery, compositional images, or scenographic choices.

All of the video extracts are slices of much longer processes. I have purposefully chosen to have them be a bit longer than we might be used to watching on a blog in order to remind the viewer that a main tenet of this training is what ARTEL refers to as “saturation”.  Our aim in developing these approaches to text and research was to re-embody ourselves in a culture far too dependent on cars and other forms of “chair prisons”. It was also to explore other ways of understanding, conceptualizing, and sharing research, text and our own psychophysical impulses.

The first two extracts are from Playstorming “Crimson Island” by Mikhail Bulgakov. The text is a layered one in which a Russian theatre company is rehearsing a new production about the Revolution for a censor. The production is more of an allegory on revolution and takes place on a non-European island. These clips highlight the playfulness and the struggle of performing a play while reading a text (often for the very first time). They also hopefully reveal how this type of training allows an actor to listen to full-bodied impulses while reading a text and how much camaraderie and development of non-textual relationships can be created in a “first company reading”, particularly around the character of the censor who is sitting on top of the latter in the second clip. In the background is also shown clearly the wall ARTEL used as inspiration throughout its training and devising process.

The second Playstorming clip is from “Flight” by Mikhail Bulgakov. This clip illustrates the scenographic choice of representing bodies with pillows and how exploring these and the wider themes of Civil War as grotesque and embodied characters allows for more playfulness/exploration in each actor and begins to saturate them in the atmosphere, relationships, and moods of the text in ways that a table reading might not.

This first Bodystorming video is part of a much longer improvisation in which the ensemble was developing a shared vocabulary and focusing in particular on listening and exploring from a place of silence (something often underappreciated in fast-paced, car driven cities).  The texts are from Bulgakov’s oeuvre and explore in part a recurrent theme of “no document, no man”. The implications of bureaucracy and authoritarianism that ARTEL was exploring through these Bodystorming sessions from prompts presented by Bulgakov and the Russian Revolutions seem to me today even more relevant to explore now in 2016 than they were in 2006.

The second Bodystorming video shows a use of text as song and the improvisational use of dances and gestures the ensemble had been creating and sharing from directorial prompts to imagine the final production as a dance. The music is also being improvised by ensemble members and was part of the ongoing exploration of how much we could generate as ourselves without recruiting other artists into a finalized production process. Near the end of the video is a wonderful example of the ways in which the company was embodying Russian cultural forms through dance training with a Russian dance master.

This final video “Now is the time” is from a Bodystorming session that was directed towards composition.  Here the use of lights, objects and song, develop into an improvised ritual. This typifies a celebratory training ARTEL developed around ensemble members birthdays. I have written briefly about this in:  Britton, John (ed.) (2013) Encountering Ensemble, London: Methuen Drama Snapshot #16 “Birthday’s Make the Best Training”.

[i] We use ‘ensemble’ as signifier for a processual relationship, a daily commitment to togetherness. See Britton, John (ed.) (2013) Encountering Ensemble, London: Methuen Drama for more, esp. Introduction and Chapter 1.

Enter into a Larger System: The Actor-Creator Pedagogy of Nikolai Demidov

 

As his book on Nikolai Demidov is on the brink of publication, director-scholar Andrei Malaev-Babel visited the UK to share his revelatory practical and historical investigations into the long suppressed Russian master pedagogue.  I don’t use the term revelatory lightly. Nikolai Demidov’s work radically challenges our conceptions of Stanislavsky and the creation of his System.  A collaborator and provocateur of Stanislavsky’s, Demidov approached acting from within the rich milieu of spirituality, philosophy and science that was the Russian Silver Age.

As Malaev-Babel explained in a seminar at the University of Exeter, Demidov was a practitioner of yoga and his approach to acting is permeated with a sense of breath, of clearing the mind-body receptacle for inspiration, and what he termed a ‘culture of calm’.  Despite all the hoopla about Sulerzhitsky and his time with the Doukhobors – a schismatic group of Christians that were purported to have taught Suler yoga – Demidov is clearly the person who introduced yoga to Stanislavsky.  And not just the books by Ramacharaka (William Atkinson), but through first-hand experience.[1]

Demidov was also a trained psychologist, and therefore the only acting teacher of the early twentieth century to have a certified medical insight into the psychophysical processes at work.  In fact it was due to the efforts of medical specialists that Demidov’s book on acting was first published in Russia.  As Malaev-Babel mentioned, this was because the scientific community believed Demidov was a man ahead of his time.  What Demidov was researching with the many actors he worked with was a new understanding of the creative process, the foundations of a new creative psychology.

Figure 8

(photo of Nikolai Demidov with Konstantin Stanislavsky courtesy of Andrei Malaev-Babel)

Continue reading

Variations on a theme: Active Analysis at the “S-Word” symposium

The following post was written by David Jackson but due to IT issues was posted by the current Comeback curator Bryan Brown.

I intended to blog about The S-Word: Stanislavski and the future of Acting symposium soon after the event was held at Rose Bruford College on 18-20 March. I’m shocked to see we are already well into May and I’m only just sitting down to do it. I blame a blizzard of assessments, timetabling problems, teaching commitments and research events at the beginning of the summer term. Clearly, it couldn’t possibly have been my fault. So before memory fades any further, I put fingers to keyboard. At a symposium where three sessions run simultaneously (two panels and one work demonstration) delegates construct their own programme by picking from the menu of papers and workshops. Naturally, we follow a thread according to our own obsessions. So one of the key themes of ‘my’ S-Word was Active Analysis. I was originally taught Active Analysis by the late Albert Filozov, the celebrated Theatre and Film actor who trained under Michael Kedrov at the Moscow Art Theatre School. Filozov led the ‘Russian School of Acting’ summer schools that took place in Birmingham in the mid-90s. If it resonates with you, there is something about Active Analysis that fills practitioners with a missionary zeal, and I certainly went on to make full use of it as a professional actor and subsequently as a teacher in the conservatoire. My first article for Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, published in 2:2 (2011), documents my experiments with the technique in training and rehearsal at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. I frequently use it in my current job as an acting tutor at the Birmingham School of Acting (BSA). The symposium was a rare opportunity to gain an insight into how other scholars and practitioners use Active Analysis.

The S-Word attracted an extremely high calibre of scholars in the field. Arguably all the leading Stanislavski experts in the English-speaking world were present, including Sharon Marie Carnicke (University of Southern California), Rose Whyman (University of Birmingham), Jonathan Pitches (Leeds University), Bella Merlin (University of California, Riverside), Maria Shevtsova (Goldsmith’s University) and Sergei Tcherkassky (St. Petersburg Theatre Arts Academy). Delegates came from all over the world, including Australia, India, Brazil, Mexico, China, Canada and the US, in addition to several European countries.

The programme for the first evening consisted of two keynote speeches, the first by Stefan Aquilina and Jonathan Pitches. Their topic was the transmission of Stanislavskian practice, not just to the obvious destinations of Russia itself, the US and Europe, but to additional territories in Australasia, Asia and Africa. They argued that practice is necessarily inflected by the individuals who engage with it and that this process is entirely consistent with the spirit of the Stanislavski ‘system’, since it is not and never was fixed or unitary. They concluded that it is a living thing that will continue to spread and develop in response to local conditions. The second address was delivered by Sharon Marie Carnicke, one of the most influential Stanislavski scholars in the world, a Russian speaker and expert in Active Analysis. She spoke eloquently of the importance of separating the principles of the system from the historical contingencies of the time. In her own practice, she has applied Active Analysis to situations undreamt of in Stanislavski’s era, including a motion-capture experiment designed to generate a digitised method of reading emotional expression and a performance of a post-dramatic text written by contemporary Russian playwright, Ivan Vyrypaev. 

The whole of Saturday and Sunday morning were devoted to a series of papers and practical demonstrations, with two panels and one demonstration running concurrently. The presentations I saw nearly always illuminated some area of the field in a stimulating and useful way. Stephane Poliakov’s paper was devoted to Stanislavski’s rich use of painting and drawing to generate the ‘obrazi’ or images that informed his set designs and ‘inner images’ of characterizations. Maria Kapsali and Sreenath Nair debated the strong influence of yoga on the development of the system. Two of the less obvious perspectives on Stanislavski dealt with the application of acting techniques in the classroom. Tamara Guenoun’s paper dealt with the use of drama therapy with troubled teenagers. Petronilla Whitfiled introduced new strategies for teaching verse-speaking to dyslexic students. My own paper proposed a novel way of understanding acted emotion, by linking the Stanislavski-Vakhtangov concept of ‘affective emotion’ with Antonio Damasio’s hypothesis of the ‘as-if’ body loop.

Active Analysis was addressed in both formal presentations and workshops. Jay Skelton’s work demonstration explored the integration of Active Analysis with Viewpoints. Knowing little or nothing about Viewpoints, I was curious to see how it might merge with a method that is one of my areas of expertise. Skelton’s session bore little resemblance to anything I would recognise as Active Analysis – which I hasten to add is simply an indication of how the same or similar practice can develop in completely different directions. John Gillett’s popular workshop posed the question, is Active Analysis relevant to Shakespeare? Although I couldn’t attend Gillett’s session, I was intrigued by his research question, as I regularly use Active Analysis in the rehearsal of classical text. The final plenary session was introduced by a documentary made at the University of California, Riverside, about Bella Merlin’s use of Active Analysis. After the screening, an informal conversation with Sharon Marie Carnicke made it clear that her use of Active Analysis was different from all of these models. So my closing reflections were dominated by the thought that an apparently simple technique in the hands of a relatively small cross-section of practitioners can generate very diverse practices and performance outcomes. This observation corresponded with some of the themes that emerged during the weekend. Throughout the symposium, three ‘witnesses’ were stationed in each of the three conference spaces and reported back to delegates at the plenary event. The principal issues they identified were:

  • The transmission of practice and its assimilation into a wide range of cultures
  • Separating the durable principles of acting from ephemeral theatre fashion
  • An appreciation of flexibility and diversity rather than a dogmatic view of the Stanislavskian tradition
  • Cognitive perspectives are often interesting, but how will they affect practice?

The system is now well over one hundred years old. If Stanislavskian practice is to continue to survive and develop into the 21st century, it is essential that it is subjected to a continual process of review and renewal, at conferences, in the studio and through the literature. As I post, two new S-Word events have just been announced: “Translating the Art/The Art of Translation” will be held in June in London and a Spring 2017 Conference will be held at DAMU Theatre Academy in Prague. It’s too soon to tell but as the “S Word: Merging Methodologies” Conference grew out of the conversations had at this future of acting symposium, it may just be the future event needed to specifically address variations on the theme of Active Analysis – there’s plenty more debate to be had on that topic.

David Jackson, 26.05.15