‘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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 JohnBritton.
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 →
A ‘provocation’ presented at the Future of Performer Arts Training symposium, Coventry University, UK, 4-5 November 2016.
Paul Kleiman is Senior Consultant (Higher Education) at Ciel Associates, and Visiting Professor at the School of Media and Performing Arts, Middlesex University and Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.
In the process of thinking about this and putting it together, it appeared increasingly like one of those fiendish jigsaws, in which there are not only loads of pieces, but there are several possibilities, it’s not even certain if all the pieces fit together, as some are located in the past, some in the present and some in the future. In the end I gave up trying to weave a compelling linear narrative and accepted the fractured, uncertain nature of what I was confronting….what we are confronting.
So, what I have are just three of the pieces, which I’ll present in the form of three different narratives: two short ones – one from the past and one from the present – and a longer one from the future, in the hope that some connections and sense might be made.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
(photo of Nikolai Demidov with Konstantin Stanislavsky courtesy of Andrei Malaev-Babel)
Confused, angry MBA students. Even some complaints to the module leader and the MBA Director, about yet another inappropriate, irrelevant teaching experiment, use of students by staff as ‘guinea pigs’, while paying expensive fees for the privilege.
Choleric: from Mike Chase mask set: ‘The Temperaments’
Me: bruised, disappointed, humiliated….
After all that hard work… To secure a Westminster Business School (WBS) teaching and learning grant to buy masks from maskmaker Mike Chase. To research and carefully design the workshop for a professional development module for MBA students, using tried and tested theatrical maskwork techniques and exercises that I know from experience are useful for actors. Using Mike’s sets of masks based on ‘The Temperaments’ and ‘The Planets’, masks he has used in the past in workshops for therapeutic and leadership development purposes.
Jen Harvie argues in Fair Play: “social, economic and political contexts, in England in particular but also more widely in the United Kingdom, are radically reconfiguring what an artist is expected to be and, in so doing, putting the value of being an artist at serious ideological risk” (Harvie, 2013:62). How can learning experiences which focus on creativity, community, and social engagement exist within a culture that “obliges art relentlessly to pursue productivity, permanent growth and profit”? (Harvie, 2013:63).
I am beginning to co-write an article about performance pedagogy and am interested in hearing from other arts educators about the following:
How do you “teach” creative practices within your institution?
What are the limits or challenges facing practitioners and academics who deliver performance training?
How do the wider institutional aims and objectives relate to the pedagogical approach of specific performance programmes?
Do you feel the “value of being an artist is at serious ideological risk”?
Do “growth and profit” models affect pedagogical approaches towards the training of artists?
Are academic structures “creatively constraining” or limiting?
As the TDPT blog editor I am also keen for this site to generate discussion and debate over some of the issues facing practitioners and academics working in the field of theatre, dance and performance training so please do “reply” to share your responses.
My work is primarily site-specific and last month as part of a wider experiment (http://www.eyecontactexperiment.com) I stood on the high street of my relatively small commuter town in Hertfordshire with a cardboard sign which read, “Where has the human connection gone? Share one minute of eye contact to find out.”Although I didn’t have many takers (you can read all about the details of my experience here http://ant179.wix.com/newnessyoga#!Wheres-the-human-connection-gone/cz7q/5620fe590cf2c3576e616661); it was fundamentally an immediate, meaningful connection shared with others. From the perspective of performer (and specifically contemporary dancer) training my concern is the cultivation of human connection. My research to date has framed this connection within the idea of phenomenological intersubjectivity; but big words aside, what really matters in training to me is a way to get at the fleshy, immediate, shared, open experience of our human-ness.
By implementing core stability exercises in voice training, the actor not only obtains more awareness of their own bodies, they develop the important muscles needed for breath control and stability. Pilates has been embraced by dancers for many years, and, like the Alexander technique, Suzuki Actor Training Method and Feldenkrais, has been incorporated in many performing arts programs. Pilates has also been incorporated with other methods in movement training for the actor in order to ‘improve posture [and alignment, to] gain strength and avoid injury’. (Smith, Kelly & Monks 2004, p. 51) However, core stability training has been ignored in voice training. The method was created by Joseph Pilates (1880 – 1967), and since his death, many teachers have modified the 34 exercises and made them more accessible. It is now commonplace in most gymnasiums and health and fitness centres, and is now as popular as ever as an exercise method to tone and lengthen muscle, increase flexibility and improve general well being. The other crucial factor of Pilates work is breathing. ‘The most active part of the body as we vocalise is the breath system’ (Rodenburg 1997, p. 6) and without breath, we do not have the power to carry the sound through.
Pilates and other core stability exercises are usually taught in movement classes in a performing arts curriculum and are generally ignored in voice classes. Joan Melton, renowned practitioner of voice and movement integration and the Director of the One Voice Centre, believes that ‘communication among voice and movement specialists can be a critical factor is the success of [a] program’ (Melton 2001, p.2). The lack of communication creates confusion amongst the students’ as the specific technical methods of each discipline are in fact, contradictory. In relation to movement, order for the actor to maintain their alignment actors need to activate their ‘postural muscles, such as the deep abdominal muscle…the transverse abdominis’ (Smith, Kelly & Monks 2004, p.53) to support their lumbar and sacral spine in order to maintain stability. This core stability is crucial for basic movements such as running, throwing, bending down and walking. In voice work, this notion is dismissed. For example, in self breath observation when the actor is in a standing position, they may be encouraged to release the abdominal area and solely rely on the spine for alignment. If this is the notion, what is supporting the spine?
I’d like with my first ever blog entry to offer a challenge to the field of performer training. Let’s face it the current state of secondary drama education is in crisis. Much quoted figures include a drop of 23% in GCSE numbers in Drama from 2003-13, an 8% drop in Drama teachers in schools since 2010 and a 23% drop where an arts subject has been withdrawn. All of us will have anecdotal evidence from our colleagues of falling numbers at A Level and of systematic closures of (very successful) courses. How are we to arrest what many have called an ideological attack on the creative arts through changes to education? How are we to respond to the assessment of the Chair of the Warwick commission’s report on cultural value, that: “not enough is being done to stimulate or realise the creative potential of individuals, or to maximise their cultural and economic value to society. Improvement requires a greater degree of investment, participation, education and digital access’ (2015: 9)?
In this context, my assessment is stark:
Performer training will not survive in any guise of inclusiveness unless it diversifies its infrastructure and fully embraces the rise of digital culture.
Let’s consider this statement by considering the development of Massive Open Online Course, and specifically, one I have recently run on Meyerhold’s Biomechanics.
Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs – short, free-to-access, learning modules, delivered entirely online – are particularly interesting in terms of their organisation of ‘studio’ time. MOOCS are first and foremost ‘an EVENT’ and yet they also endure in perpetuity, contributing to students’ lifelong learning. This interesting mixture of momentary eventness and longitudinal impact is one of a number of temporal idiosyncrasies associated with Massive Open Online learning or what I have called elsewhere digital training. These include
Time as it is constructed within the MOOC platform (e.g. FutureLearn).
Time as it is designed by the educator (including the improvement of user engagement using learner analytics).
Time as it experienced by the teacher during the MOOC.
Time as it experienced by the participants during the MOOC, within and beyond the MOOC itself.
Differing time zones of the participants.
Differing ages, backgrounds and trainings of the participants.
Time as it is experienced after the MOOC finishes.
Time as historical content in the MOOC itself.
For now, let’s focus on points 3-6.
The eventness of MOOCS is created by the time-limited delivery of the courses – normally anywhere between 2 and 8 weeks, with specific content associated with each week. In some platforms this content is no longer available after the the course has concluded; in others, including the FutureLearn platform I used, the materials are available indefinitely – to review, download, rehash and reuse without restriction. The time-limited delivery of the course, allows for students to have a level of parallel experience, building to the same goals at the end of each week and opening up conversations about the same learning materials in the comment threads alongside materials: