Training as a Ground for Creating Community

Stephanie Arsoska is a theatre maker and facilitator living in Scotland. She is currently studying towards an MEd in Teaching and Learning in the Performing Arts at the Royal Conservatoire Scotland with a focus on ensemble theatre practice and has attended residencies with DUENDE for the last three years.

‘We must find the conditions that make it possible to grow, because so many things in the world conspire against growth.’ (Chaikin, 1991, p.80)

I wanted to start with the above quote because three years ago I found myself in a place where I was failing to find the conditions that would make growth possible.  For ten years I have worked in the youth theatre sector and have run several youth companies. I love young performers, their curiosity, their energy, their willingness to try out all the strange stuff that I throw at them, and yet I always felt a sense of dissatisfaction at the space I was creating with them.  It did not seem to matter how seriously we took our work together, and I have been lucky to work with some very highly committed groups, the space still felt superficial.  I could never quite create the conditions where the qualities of risk, permission and playfulness could fully emerge.  Yet when I looked back into my own training for a way of working with them that might help generate the openness, trust and creativity I was looking for, I found my own foundation had been very poorly constructed. In fact my own training had left me full of feelings of fear, insecurity and failure. It was therefore hardly surprising that I was unable to generate the conditions of growth with my youth theatre, I had never experienced them myself. It was from this place that I found Self-With-Others. Continue reading

Tuning: Preparing to Perform Gaudete with OBRA Theatre Co.

This post has been compiled and edited by Eilon Morris with contributions from Kate Papi, Oliviero Papi and Fabian Wixe.  

Each night, prior to performing Gaudete with OBRA Theatre Companymy last task before vacating the stage was to tune my dulcimer. I needed to be sure that the wires had not loosened or tightened, that the strings would ring true in relation to each other when I came to play them in the performance. In much the same way, the last thing we did as an ensemble was to ‘tune’ ourselves; to the space, to each other, to arrive in that particular moment and place, to rediscover a shared quality of being together.

Photo by Linnéa Pettersson – Eilon Morris tuning dulcimer in rehearsals, 2010

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Practice, Reflect, Share Event at Rose Bruford College

Dr Joseph Dunne, Research Assistant at Rose Bruford College

The impetus for organising the Practice, Reflect, Share at Rose Bruford comes from a recognition that the research culture in UK HEIs is undergoing significant changes. The program for the day included a keynote presentation by Miguel Mera, a plenary, and round table discussions on the subjects of mentoring, networking and publishing, collaborating, and practice and research.

Taken together, the REF, the increasing student demands on resources and contact time, technological innovations, new government funding formulas, and the as yet unknown impact of Brexit compel academics to reappraise the ways practice, teaching and research activities can co-exist and, indeed, enhance each other. The definition of “practice research” will remain ongoing, fuelled as it is by innovative methodologies and diversifying outcomes of projects. However, it is important that we try to articulate some common understanding of the term in order for genuine knowledge exchange to take place.

In his presentation, Miguel cited Nicolas Till’s critique of artistic practice as research. It is well worth reading for its highlighting of the dangers inherent for artists in justifying their process in terms of theoretical investigation in order to work in a university. This runs the risk of artistic practice being subsumed into a system that overwhelmingly values text-based products over embodied or visual material. Moreover, argues Till, many of the activities described in the rubric of practice research are in fact examples of professional practice, not research. He concludes that a new method of evaluation is required for practice research distinct from theoretical scholarship.

Till’s analysis is intertwined with questions relating to how the value we attribute to knowledge is dependent upon the form such knowledge takes. In order to prove one can ride a bike it is not sufficient to merely state it, it must be done. Books and articles remain the dominant form of evidence in the academy that a research process has been carried out and knowledge has been produced as a result. But documents are more than evidence of a past process; for the reader, they often come to constitute the research because it is the only material made available to them. The means by which the author produced it are not usually made public. For many disciplines this is entirely appropriate; it is in fact difficult to see how a historian or a physicist could open their work out. But all artists know that much of their process is the work itself and so attempts to transcribe the sometimes messy, random, and – especially for performance practitioners – collaborative nature of investigating through practice into text can distort the knowledge they have generated into a codified system that risks distorting it’s meaning.

Issues pertaining to documentation of process and dissemination of outputs was a subject that came up consistently. There was a general recognition that the internet create many exciting new avenues of public engagement but a culture shift needs to occur if it is to be fully utilised. Specifically, the authority of written text acts a barrier to experimenting with the visual formats of video and photography as a means of positing a theory or citing evidence of process. A related issue concerns the publics to which research targets and reaches. Open access online publication platforms are a potential way of increasing the impact of one’s research, but there are risks involved. The inability to oversee the transmission of the knowledge one has generated can lead to its distillation. Moreover, it is worth asking what the other functions dissemination can fulfil beyond impact. Ben Spatz opined that an awareness of the publics a piece of research is intended for can enable academics to build constituencies and communities. This approach certainly increases the likelihood of research being a catalyst for collaborations between different disciplines. It was also mentioned that dissemination can be expressed as a form of inviting people into an ongoing process into knowledge production. The public, in this context, have a reciprocal relationship with an author’s developing corpus.

A page on RBC’s Theatre Futures website has been set up for delegates to share information.

The Wardrobe Ensemble: Working as a Collective Part 2

This is a continuation of the article The Wardrobe Ensemble: Working as a Collective. It takes the form of a diary, loosely following the process of making our new show Education, Education, Education. In tracking our progress through this creation and rehearsal period, I hope to identify some of the techniques we have developed over six years of working together. Continue reading

Reflections of a First Year Acting Student – Part II:

 

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – BA Acting

 By Harri Pitches

This is the second installment in a serialized account of a First Year BA Acting student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS).  It is a first-hand account of the experience of embarking on the rigorous and holistic training offered at that institution and intends to provoke responses from students who undergo such training, or those who teach them.

The End of the First Term

As I come to the end of my first major ‘chunk’ of time at the RCS, ready to throw myself into the challenges and renewed excitement that 2017 at the conservatoire will doubtless bring, I find myself reflecting on what I have learned, and how I’ve found the whole drama school experience so far. The question everyone has asked me since I’ve been back in my Yorkshire hometown for the Christmas holidays has been ‘Is it what you thought it would be?’ The answer to this is not as simple as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Continue reading

Developing a Risky Practice: Teaching and Facilitating – Reflections of a Creative English Trainer

‘This notion that the leader needs to be ‘in charge’ and ‘know all the answers’ is both dated and destructive… Fear leads to risk aversion. Risk aversion kills innovation.’  Peter Sheahan in Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.

In my first few weeks as a teacher in a private English language school in Italy, the Assistant Director of Studies ushered the first-timers into an empty classroom, and gave us some advice.

‘Never, ever respond to a question from your students with the words ‘I don’t know.’ Never tell them you don’t know something, and never tell them that you’re new to this. I know. It’s not fair. Everyone has to start somewhere right? But if they doubt their teacher, then they doubt the school. In their eyes at least, you must know everything.’

At the time, I took this as sound advice from a far more senior and experienced colleague who wanted the best for both us and the school. I mean…it makes sense, right? No student wants their teacher standing in front of them lamely doing a goldfish impression when there’s an important exam looming. What I see now, though, is that this ‘advice’ potentially killed a lot of the creativity and spontaneity I may have started to cultivate in my early teaching career, and instead cultivated an aversion to risk in my teaching practice that would prove very difficult to shake off. I quickly gained a reputation for my results-focused meticulousness and for always having a ready explanation. Continue reading

Reflections of a First Year Acting Student – Part I:

 

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – BA Acting

 By Harri Pitches

This is the first installment in a serialized account of a First Year BA Acting student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  It is a first-hand account of the experience of embarking on the rigorous and holistic training offered at that institution and intends to provoke responses from students who undergo such training, or those who teach them.

The First Lesson – 26/09/2016

My introduction to the RCS in the first ‘official’ week of my training has given me a fantastic idea of the kind of actors this institution hopes we will grow to be.  I have already had the pleasure of the revered ‘freshers-week’ meeting and greeting the wonderful people with who I will share the next three years of my life. Continue reading

Phillip Zarrilli: Pre-Performative Psychophysical Training of the Actor/Performer

Inspired by Jerzy Grotowski but seeking his own pathway as a young theatre director working in Minneapolis, over forty years ago Phillip Zarrilli began a life-long project of exploring an alternative approach to the pre-performative training and preparation of the actor/performer using the techniques and underlying principles of Asian martial arts (taiqiquan/kalarippayattu) and yoga which would move actor training beyond Stanislavsky.

Over the years, Zarrilli developed a rigorous, in-depth, immersive process of training and preparing the actor’s bodymind for performance through the in-depth use of these traditional exercises—applied specifically to acting/performance problems. Continue reading

The Wardrobe Ensemble: Working as a Collective

Background

In January 2017 The Wardrobe Ensemble began work on our fourth full-scale ensemble show, Education, Education, Education. The company occupy a fairly unique space in the UK’s contemporary theatre landscape due to our size (nine-strong, plus a producer and a large pool of associate artists) and collaborative way of working – we have “directors” for project, but the “artistic direction” of the company is shared by all of us. This stage of our creation process, with all or most members of the company Researching and Developing (R&Ding) a large-scale show, is one that comes around roughly every two years. Continue reading

A Response to DUENDE’s Pedagogy: Giving Yourself Permission

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Judita Vivas is a performer, director and theatre-maker, originally from Lithuania, who recently completed her PhD at Kent University. She has attended a number of residential workshops with DUENDE and recently created her first solo show – ‘7 Petticoats’, a poetic response to the life and legacy of Mary Wollstonecraft – in collaboration with John Britton.

 

During a second encounter with John Britton and Duende in 2014 at AuBrana
Cultural Centre in Southern France, I made one of the most significant discoveries in
my professional theatre life. It is a very simple discovery, yet it has had a profound
impact on how I view myself as an artist and how I view my work.

I discovered the significance of giving yourself permission to do things… Continue reading

Featured Companies

Click on the tiles below to navigate to all of the posts discussing our featured companies:

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The inspirational DUENDE is our first Featured Company in the My Training section, and more will follow in the coming weeks.

Training with Ensemble, a journey to meet myself.

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Mei JiaoYin is a  PhD candidate in “Theory and Research in Education”, at The University of Roma Tre, Italy. Her first 20 years of life were in Hangzhou, China, where she studied “Art Education” in Zhejiang Normal University. For the last ten years she has been living in Italy and teaching creativity dance. Mei recently attended one of DUENDE’s training & performance residencies and is now at The DUENDE School for just the first two weeks of the course, before returning to Italy to complete her PhD.

I started to observe my state of body, emotion and movement, without judgment, just simply observe all that is there: fear, qualities and aliveness.

I accept everything that appears though observation, just like an adventure, I don’t know where it will take me, but every moment is so exciting to explore myself. For example, these days in the Ball Game, I notice my body when I react in the moment of catching the ball: breathing becomes rapid, toes grip the earth, sometimes I try to beat the ball. By simply observing the body I can connect with my fear and it is interesting to play with fear. When is the next ball coming? I just focus on my breathing, and a new feeling comes, that moment is so wonderful! This experience gives me the opportunity to discover myself.

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Self (Criticism) with Others

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Hannah Waters is a UK-based performer. She studied both BA and MA (Physical Acting) at The University of Kent. Her Masters dissertation explored ‘Applying the systematic principles present in constructivist artwork to a method of physical theatre composition’. As part of her time at Kent Hannah also studied at the University of California.


I came to the DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre this autumn dragging all the traits of a life spent in formal education in the UK with me, traits that I am beginning to address, unpick and challenge as I approach my third week of training at DUENDE.

This is my first foray into vocational training after four years at university: I previously undertook a BA in Drama and Theatre Studies and an MA in Physical Acting, the latter of which I completed a matter of weeks before I made the journey to Athens to begin my work. And so I have made the leap from the world of academia to another, very different world, where my perceptions of myself and my work have suddenly been challenged in ways they never have been before.

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Educational Applications of Ensemble Physical Theatre Training (DUENDE)

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The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre is meeting in Athens, Greece, through the autumn. Each week a contributor to the school will write a short reflection for this blog.

This week’s post is written by Manjari Kaul. Manjari studied Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi before becoming a Primary School Teacher, Performer and Director.

Manjari attended The DUENDE School in 2015 and has returned in 2016, at the School’s invitation, to explore in more detail the pedagogy of the work – with a view to running DUENDE training sessions in India and perhaps organising an iteration of The DUENDE School in India in the future.

Manjari is one of DUENDE’s Associate Artists.

This post is an attempt to understand how my training in Ensemble Physical Theatre might be used as a tool by school teachers in the classroom. I will explore the possibility of viewing a Primary/Middle School classroom as akin to an ensemble that must be alive in the here and now, responding to ever evolving dynamics.

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Futures (and pasts) of Performer Training: by Murray, Evans and Pitches

Anyone attending the Future of Performer Training conference at Coventry on November 4th and 5th 2016, might want to take a look at this joint paper by Simon Murray, Mark Evans and Jonathan Pitches.

And if you’re not coming, then we’d love some feedback. It’s a layered vision, imagining the pasts and possible futures of performer training.

Download it here: theatre_training_beyond_theatre_ideas_ch

 

DUENDE & The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre

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I set up DUENDE in 2010 – intending to nurture a loose collective of artists who shared a core training (Self-With-Others) and yet brought distinct and individual skills to the company. From the start DUENDE was committed to international and intercultural exploration and to a core belief in the idea that principles of ensemble lie at the heart both of live performance and of the pedagogy through which the skills of performance might be passed from generation to generation. DUENDE is committed to honouring and extending lineages across generations and collaborations across borders.

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National Centre for Circus Arts

We’re pleased to be able to link our community to the National Centre for Circus Arts. Formerly known as the Circus Space, the National Centre for Circus Arts is located in London and one of Europe’s leading providers of circus education. Their Acrobatic Symposium Video Gallery can be accessed online here:

http://www.nationalcircus.org.uk/professional-artists/acrobatic-symposium-20151/acrobatic-symposium-2015-videos

We’d love to hear about other circus arts training courses, or readers’ thoughts on how these videos link to other trainings on the site, in the journal, or in your own practice.