Limits of Training: The Songwork Catalogue

I have previously argued that ‘the concept of training is limiting insofar as it emphasizes the transmission of knowledge over its creation, discovery, or production’ (What a Body Can Do, p. 117) and suggested that we need to go beyond performer ‘training’ if we are to adequately represent the depth and complexity of what takes place in our studios and embodied practices. Here I would like to share a document — actually a catalogue of documents — that for me illustrates both the power and the limits of training as a concept around which to organize sustained embodied practice.

The Songwork Catalogue is a set of nearly two hundred short videos documenting embodied studio practice. Its focus is the various kinds of work — especially psychophysical, interpersonal, and cultural/political — that can be done around and through songs and singing. About half of the videos (‘Songwork II’) were generated during the Judaica project core laboratory phase using a narrowly focused methodology with three practitioners alternative between the roles of practitioner, director, and videographer. In addition to this core set of videos there is an older set of selections from materials dating back to 2010 (‘Songwork I’) and a more recent set of videos produced through an expanded methodology involving the presence of additional guest artists in the laboratory space (‘Songwork III’).

Do these videos document training?

I am certain that the kind of work documented in these videos is precisely what we aim to address when we talk about actor and performing training; and also that the people reading this blog are the most qualified to understand and assess this practice and this archive. At the same time, I am certain that the Songwork Catalogue is not a catalogue of training but of research.

A crucial point of difference is in the method of producing the videos. As seen in the image above, each video has a title. These titles did not exist at the time the recording was made. They do not name the tasks we set for ourselves in the studio. Rather, they name what happened as articulated from a later perspective. Additionally, these short clips were selected from many hours of footage. We did not set up a video ‘shoot’ and choose from one or two ‘takes’. Rather, we thoroughly integrated video into the studio process and then made selections from a large corpus of material, sharing via the Catalogue perhaps only ten or fifteen percent of what was recorded. This reversal of standard videographic practice is crucial in shifting the focus of the Catalogue from performances or demonstrations of established exercises (training) to unexpected outcomes of dynamic improvisational and interactive processes (research).

I know what it means to render songwork pedagogical in a training context and that is not what we have done. I therefore notice a tension between concept and community: Our community is gathered around the idea of training, but on its own this idea undervalues and underserves what we actually do. In emphasizing the pedagogical and transmissive dimension of embodied practice, we risk being complicit with the dominant reductive view of embodied practice today: namely that it is an optimization of the body rather than a mode of knowledge, discovery and thought.

I am not suggesting a simple shift from training to research. Although I am committed to exploring the possibilities opened by an explicit focus on embodied research, there is a risk here too: Without training, research disintegrates and becomes a free-for-all of unstructured voicings. Rather, as I argue in my most recent article, we ought to put more attention on the phenomenotechnical research edge between the technical (known) and the epistemic (unknown); between embodied training and embodied research.

Concretely:

1) All research involves training. We need to acknowledge this, for example by more clearly specifying and articulating the bases and lineages of the embodied training that underpins any given PaR research project.

2) All training involves research. We need to acknowledge this, for example by expanding the kinds of epistemic claims we make for what we do and continually tracking the points at which repetition is interwoven with difference.

How do you trace the edge of training and research in your practice?


Six selections from the Songwork Catalogue:

partner contact through shared associations (J017)
Practitioners: Ben Spatz, Nazlıhan Eda Erçin
Director: Agnieszka Mendel
Videography: Gary Cook
Date: 11 May 2017

perezhivanie or structured delirium (J029)
Practitioner: Agnieszka Mendel
Director: Ben Spatz
Videography: Ben Spatz
Date: 17 May 2017

structure with songs and movement qualities (J032)
Practitioner: Ben Spatz
Director: Agnieszka Mendel
Videography: Agnieszka Mendel
Date: 18 May 2017

five songs, five associations (J043)
Practitioner: Nazlıhan Eda Erçin
Director: Agnieszka Mendel
Videography: Ben Spatz
Date: 23 May 2017

following through voice (J049)
Practitioner: Agnieszka Mendel, Nazlıhan Eda Erçin
Director: Agnieszka Mendel
Videography: Ben Spatz
Date: 24 May 2017

kaleidoscope (J095)
Practitioners: Nazlıhan Eda Erçin, Agnieszka Mendel, Ben Spatz
Director: Nazlıhan Eda Erçin
Videography: Gary Cook
Date: 15 June 2017

1, 2, 3… 4

1, 2, 3: The footage
For this second film, I wanted to think about training as a studio-based activity and set myself the obstruction of using only video footage recorded in a dance studio.

1) Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD), Leeds, June 2005. I recently rediscovered this recording on a Camcorder DV tape. It contains footage of a contemporary class taught by Sue Hawksley and a ballet class taught by Vivien Wood, both for 3rd year students. I had got a friend to film the classes to keep a memory of our final days as students at NSCD.

2) Independent Dance (ID), London, May 2016. The footage shows the sharing from my assessment on the ‘Investigative Practice’ module, the final taught element of my MA Creative Practice at Trinity Laban. The module was a ‘research intensive’ that allowed each student to challenge their own practical research and dance-making through the encounter with the practice and ideas of an artist—in my case Siobhan Davies. The assessment was the culmination of this five-week creative project.

3) University of Leeds (UoL), April 2017. The footage shows my daughter Lisa and myself playing and dancing, and was filmed with the intention of making a record of the negotiation of our relationship in a studio setting. I brought paper, markers, string, food etc., to create an environment where we would want to interact with each other and investigate the materials within the scope of the studio space.

I initially thought this last footage (number 3) might work on its own for this blog entry, to link to and follow up the previous film and post, which has Lisa at the centre of the film. The rediscovery of the NSCD material changed my mind: I seemed to me the old footage had relevance to my theme. Once I managed to get hold of the ID recording, the composition of the studio training film started to crystallise.

1, 2, 3: Types of training
Training in a formal sense of ‘being in training’ usually has an outcome in mind (training for). It has a purpose. It is undertaken with the intention to develop or perfect a skill using a pretested form or structure of activity.

1) The ballet and contemporary classes in the NSCD footage are a good example of the development of technical skills seen as essential to becoming a proficient dancer.

2) With regard to the ID footage: technical dance skills were a prerequisite for the MA Creative Practice, which took these for granted, so that study could focus not on technique but on the develop of artistic ideas. The footage does not directly show the process of acquiring artistic skill, but nevertheless gives an insight into an early stage of the creative development of material.

3) Dancing and playing with Lisa felt like stepping out of training. We played without a specific outcome in mind and came closer to being equals as we took turns to lead play and generate ideas. ‘Being in training’ with a child does not work like formal training. Lisa does not enter a game or play with the intention of ‘getting somewhere’: she simply ‘does’. Momentarily I had the experience that our mother/daughter relationship was suspended and that our usual roles were put on hold. When I look back at this footage I watch myself go along with Lisa’s play and encourage messiness in the studio to a greater extent than I would do at home. The mother/daughter relationship never really ceases, of course – as is evident in a moment in the film – but perhaps in the ‘neutral’ studio setting it was overlaid by another connection between us where we could be creative co-players.

… 4: Mixing time
Playing with the footage in the editing process and confusing the chronological timeline shifted the meaning of the material. By ‘stacking’ the clips, commonalities between footage was highlighted and I stopped seeing training for something and began to see training as play. As the individual bits of material became detached from the timeline, the content of the training was ‘presenced, revealed in itself and not only as a piece of ‘historical’ evidence. The decision to edit extracts of the material together in a non-chronological order, and to compose in split screen, reflected my interest in playing with temporalities. I suspended the temporality of chronology—the sequence and gaps of time between the different footage—in order to favour temporalities of simultaneity and rhythm. I decided to foreground shared timing between images, analogies in the use of space in the studio and matching actions. This, I felt, challenged the idea of training as an activity that always ‘looks forward’ and instead allowed the juxtaposed images to give each other new meaning in the ‘present’ of training-in-itself.

1, 2, 3…. 4: Motherhood talks back
The film revealed to me a paradox that only became clear after its making. I took motherhood into the studio to investigate being with Lisa within the setting of a training space: by doing so a clash of temporalities emerged. Being with Lisa is about being ‘for now’, while dance training is ‘for the future’. The dance studio commonly frames the training that is concerned with a forward trajectory but in the case of Lisa and I, the studio became a playground where training is being-for-now, so being in the studio with Lisa meant the framing of one temporality in the space where another typically takes place. And so, for me, the composition of 1, 2, 3… 4 adopts the structure of motherhood as a non-linear and playful activity, a being-for-the-present. The question then becomes, if the footage of Lisa reveals the playful and being-for-now in the other footage, what does that other footage reveal about the footage of Lisa and I? How does that other footage talk back to motherhood?

Motherhood In/As Training
1, 2, 3… 4 is the second of three blog posts under the title Motherhood In/As Training. This project explores the correlations and tensions between being a dance artist in training and a mother at the same time. To read my first post and get an introduction to the project please read here.

Labours of Creative Love

I would like to address the issue of care and self-care in relation to motherhood. There is a clear schism between different competing needs and demands: the demands of creativity and work life, and the demands of home and care.

The poignant question and problem raised for me in Marie’s post is whether creativity – creative work – can work in tandem with motherhood. How does this work? Can this work?  It is evident that the demands of a child outweigh everything. Yet to excel in the world of creative work is to have to deny the world of home, children, a love life, and health – and cut ‘private’ and ‘domestic’ life adrift – ignore it; make it silent – for it is a barrier, an interruption, a weakness. The problem is addressed by making the centre of motherhood – the child – the focus of the creative process. The product itself.  The labours of love – autonomous creative work and caring for one’s child – are brought together to overcome a painful artificially imposed and inescapable schism.

And yet we are left staring at the child and the mother’s gaze and wondering if this is indeed a concrete possibility. Is this the mother’s realization that in order to put the child at the centre of creativity then the child’s needs at that point need to become irrelevant – the child as a demanding subject now serving as the object of study and reflection. Or we wonder possibly if the child’s demands have ‘won’ and are now being totally met. Is it an acknowledgement that the child and her demands cannot be ignored; the child rightly will not play fiddle to the mother’s autonomy. She will not shift from the centre of the gaze. Of course the work is about exploring how we can address all of these conflictual questions and demands as they pertain to love and autonomy.

Speaking recently at a conference ‘Speak, Body: Art, the Reproduction of Capital and the Reproduction of Life’ at The University of Leeds, Falvia Carnevale, argued that what was needed was a human strike that insists on a radically different version of love. Carnevale is part of an art activist collective made up of two artists known as Claire Fontaine which is based in Paris. What she stressed was necessary was the need for a double yes – ‘yes’ to the private work of care and ‘yes’ to professional work. Our private life of love and care does not operate outside of public professional work. The messiness of being human – emotions, pain, love, joy, trauma, corporeal demands, illness, old age – cannot be extricated from public responsibility. To enforce a schism is destructive and a denial of a range of human needs which span the life cycle. Similarly, we are not outside of the environment; everything should not be at the mercy of capital and therefore cast out into the private sphere as worthless and unproductive.

Rather than saying ‘reproduction’, Carnevale argues what we should be saying is ‘creating life’ – for hidden inside the word ‘reproduction’ is the idea of being put to work. Motherhood is woman being put to work in the private sphere to help man, as the breadwinner, succeed in life. A human strike is needed as a refusal of the atomization of life into public and private, male and female, masculine and feminine, caring and not caring. Making care ‘private’ is to renege on public responsibility. As Nicola Lacey argues in her book entitled The Politics of Community (1993: 97): ‘The ideology of the public/private dichotomy allows governments to clean its hands of any responsibility for the state of the ‘private’ world and depoliticizes the disadvantages which inevitably spill over the alleged divide by affecting the position of the ‘privately’ disadvantaged in the ‘public’ world.’.

Indeed, this was the problem for the keynote speaker, the artist Martha Rosler, who spoke at the same conference. Asked about the idea of care and creativity she responded by saying that there was still a need for feminist rage and she was not yet at the point of being able to move beyond this. Creative considerations of care are still couched within systemic exploitation and imbalance. Care and the home is still ‘naturalized’ as woman’s work. This is therefore undervalued as ‘private’ and ‘feminine’ with woman being infantilized as dependent and reliant on a male breadwinner. These constructed roles and the role of the family is therefore there to service capitalism and patriarchy with this gendered imbalance and exploitation permeating into the representational economy.

The recent incarnation of a sex doll – Harmony – is possibly the pornographic end game of that gendered split between the private sphere of care, love and intimacy and the public sphere of work. This is a robot who is programmed to satisfy sexual, emotional and intellectual needs on tap – with no complications, no comeback, no complaints, no human messiness. She is made with customized detachable washable labia and nipples and will even orgasm during sex. This is a gendered perpetuation and reinforcement of hierarchical division and exploitation – a pornographic one-way street where human care is objectified Sexual satisfaction and touch is extricated from human feeling to subserviently address the messiness of man’s needs…so that he can function better in the public sphere.

Creativity and care is not unique to home nor should it be separated and alienated from work. One should feed reciprocally into the other- it should it be predicated on gendered hierarchical roles. A human strike is therefore a potent idea which rallies against an enforced division; a division which is unhealthy, destructive and dehumanizing both on an individual and a global level. What is needed is a new vision of love which is not atomized into a destructive notion of a work-love divide nor indeed into the notion of separate self-contained family units who care only for themselves. Care should not exist only at home; and work does not exist only in the public sphere.

How would this be put into practice? A philosophy which is not built on concrete material solutions in relation to economic realities is though redundant. One must never forget that that ‘work’ exists because of, not in spite of, ‘home’ and ‘love’. Itemization and alienation is destructive and alienates love from human interaction and productivity. We all have to care and refuse dehumanization at every level. Activism which erodes the system from the inside will allow us to be proactive rather than waking up and realizing that life goes on and nothing changes.

Jacki Willson a University Academic Fellow in Performance and Culture at University of Leeds. She is writing her third monograph on motherhood, performance and the politics of care and self-care.

I dont want to dance: Motherhood In/As Training

Introduction for the viewer/reader

‘I don’t want to dance’ is my first of three blog posts under the title Motherhood In/As Training. Each of the three blog entries is composed of a short film (at the end of the post) and accompanying text. I’m a freelance dance artist and a mother and this series of posts is about being both at once.

I completed an MA in Creative Practice at Laban Conservatoire in London in September 2016 which required me to work in dance training while becoming a mother (my daughter Lisa was born in 2014- my first year as a part time student) at the same time. In this way, the experience of becoming a mother and being in creative development happened simultaneously and that experience is the foundation for this project.

I have experienced a tension between my dance training and training in motherhood. A dance practice traditionally requires time in the studio and a physical body-mind dedicated solely to the creative work. Being a mother affects these aspects: time and space as well as my body-mind are not exclusively at my own disposal. Motherhood pushes me out of traditional working methods in my dance practice and challenges my assumptions of what I believe training to be.

To challenge these assumptions my project asks: What is considered to be ‘training’ and to what degree does training begin or end when I step into or out of the studio? Who trains who in a mother/child relationship? What and how does the artist in me see from the point of view of what I call the ‘motherside’?

Motherhood is not linear and consistent. I respond to my daughter’s needs in the moment they occur, as unexpected and inconvenient as they might be – interrupting me in a train of thought or a meal half cooked. In a similar way, the blog texts and short films aim to give the viewer a sense of fragmentation, of spontaneity, of being stuck in repetition and again and again being interrupted, stopped, confused.

Feminist-academic-artist-mother

In her manifesto Mothernism Lise Haller Baggesen outlines the tension between the various aspects of her identity. ‘As I tried to figure out the relationship between the different aspects of my life (…) defining myself as a feminist-academic-artistic-mother increasingly felt like playing a complicated game of rock-paper-scissors-boob. (…) I felt increasingly provoked at this demand “to check my motherhood at the door.” So much so that instead of “covering” that part of my life , I opted to “come out” as a mother, artistically and academically.’[1]

Following Baggesen, I want to challenge my own assumption of the artist being someone on a lonely individual journey and that the nurturing nature of the mother is in opposition to the romantic ideal of an artist as a singular genius. I want to let go of the idea that in order to lose myself in an artistic process I have to give up motherhood.

Paradoxically, motherhood is precisely a lonely journey where I lose myself as I venture into the unknown. A lonely journey that for me started in the intimate experience of pregnancy where I felt removed from the sense of self that I knew, as my slender agile body was replaced by a grotesque version of me. Giving birth was lonely and unpredictable and although the shared responsibility with Lisa’s dad when she was born was a relief, I was always the last point of call when he was no longer capable of offering her comfort, because only my breast would do.

As I begin to acknowledge the common points of reference between the roles of mother and artist, this polarisation dissolves. If there is no polar opposition between the mother and artist and I can be both equally at once, what creative process and outcome will I have?

What does motherhood see?

Inspired by the documentary Cameraperson (2016), directed by American filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, my thoughts on how to make this investigation happen started to come together. Johnson’s documentary shows footage from her 25 years as a cinematographer, telling a story about her, the cameraperson, almost without showing her in the film. I was fascinated by the idea of using artistic tools of filming without purposely putting the person in question directly in the frame. Cameraperson shows what Johnson sees through the lens but only on a few occasions do we actually see her. It tells a story about the person who is seeing. Could my film show motherhood without the mother in the frame? I was not interested in depicting my experience of being a mother, I wanted the film itself to ‘be a mother’. My project shows motherhood in/as training by letting motherhood look through the camera. What does motherhood see? How does motherhood see?

 Seeing through a viewfinder

The filming is not planned in advance; nothing within the frame is directed. I don’t seek out to film dance but to allow the dance to come through in the juxtaposition of shots, camera movement and pace. For this reason I don’t use complex equipment: being able to improvise my filming means to simply point and shoot.

I review my footage and observe that Lisa is often in the (centre of) the frame. I try and see beyond Lisa and beyond the loving gaze of a mother looking at her child as my film is not intending to be about Lisa, I’m not interested in portraying her. But in reality she is in the viewfinder when I film. She becomes the obstruction for the project: always there, pushing her way into my film, into my consciousness even as I try to see past her, in a way, illustrating how her presence fills my time, my space and my being. I wonder how the process of training is taking place and to what degree Lisa’s presence in my film is an element of her training me to be a mother and /or an artist?

The making of the film becomes about seeing movement and choreography, contrast and colour in the footage I have gathered and not just seeing my child. I allow the choreographer in me to shine through in an interest in framing what I see in the viewfinder in a particular light, in shadows or against a contrasting background. 

Seeing beyond Lisa 

In the film ‘I don’t want to dance’ I try to let the motherside of my daily life merge with the artist. Lisa is dressing up and role playing, using ‘performance’ as a way of training for ‘being in the world’. At the same time she is refusing to be trained as the voice track reveals.

As a consequence of embracing motherhood in the creative process I find the centre of the film becomes about the actual manifestation of motherhood, my daughter. Here lies the tension of the project for this first blog entry: can I make a film that has Lisa in the frame without it being about her? What can my intention to see beyond her show me about how motherhood sees?

[1] Lise Haller Baggesen, Mothernism, p. 12 http://www.spdbooks.org/Content/Site106/FilesSamples/9780988418554.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epistemic Objects: Four Channels

I have been showing versions of this edited montage for the past five years. These four videos document not just highly skilled embodied practice but more precisely embodied research: practices that produce new technique. The ‘objects’ in question are modern postural yoga, aikido, dance/movement therapy, and the plastiques. These epistemic objects did not predate the practices and practitioners shown here, but they have lasted beyond them: Of these four pioneering embodied researchers, only Adler is alive today, but the technique they invented/discovered is still available and taught more or less widely.

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CAGING – Foundational Training for a Performance-Parkour Ensemble

Background

The UPG Team has spent 10 years developing performance-parkour or 2PK; as a distinct language of dance-theatre. Our work has now travelled over five continents and includes several tours for the British Council, alongside UK touring for the Without Walls consortium, commissions from a variety of festival partners, and more recently our own strategic tours working with at-risk communities of young people.

Recently we received a small grant from the Arts Council to spend time as a company, including new members and guest artists, playing and sharing skills. It occurred to me during this process that I’ve never written up a description of our foundational training, what we can describe as the basic or daily training of a 2PK company and one we return to whenever we take stock of where we are as an ensemble or invite new artists and participants to join us.

Caging is the name of a game I first attempted within the informal context of Seafront Freestyle. This was a regular meeting of parkour enthusiasts which took place at different outdoor spots around Brighton and Hove each Saturday morning for around four years from 2005 onwards. Brighton is now considered to be one of the primary parkour cities globally with increasing numbers of PK professionals moving in, and visiting, and the strong community here can be traced back to these informal sessions and their continuation in various guises beyond Seafront Freestyle into Urban Athletics and the current Brighton Parkour Training webpages and the increasing international influence of Brighton based groups such as Storror.

One regular Seafront Freestyle spot was the stairwell at the top of an underground car park in Regency Square. Around the stairwell a foot high wall was topped by a much larger fence. The solidity of its black metal frame gave the appearance of a cage and the game developed there was named for this.

Processed with Snapseed.

But anything can be the cage. The cage is the agreed playing area for the game. It can be delineated by a series of obstacles and is more usually defined by the circle of players. Before I explain Caging though, I want to explain the various trainings on which it was based.

The UPG Team grew from a project of Prodigal Theatre. Miranda Henderson and I founded Prodigal in 1999 to combine her contemporary dance background with mine in laboratory theatre, through physical adaptations of classic texts. As a laboratory actor in Serbia I’d experienced various trainings drawn from the Grotowski and Odin legacies and variously based on Grotowski’s ‘Plastique Training’. Miranda’s work as a contemporary dancer was grounded in the daily classes of various choreographic techniques and she was exploring her own style of release based movement. Prodigal’s company practice took this release technique as the foundation of every day’s work, starting from the floor and slowly building up from individual explorations to group improvisations. We soon developed a complimentary exercise that would follow the floor sessions. We called this ‘The Waiter’s Tray’. It is fundamentally aimed at advancing individual and group spatial awareness, and serves as a ‘blank canvas’ of a training in to which numerous rules can be added for an ever more sophisticated play. Ultimately it becomes a means of playing characters in a pre-textual setting for exploring relationships and dramaturgy, status and hierarchy, extremes of movement and so on.
Alongside the work with Prodigal I had also spent a considerable time studying and teaching Capoeira and remained fascinated by the idea of a ‘joga’ that could capture diverse relationships between human beings through a relatively simple game of shared space. All of this work was present in my practice when I suggested the first version of caging and the success of that first session meant the game entered our company practice quite rapidly. Since then it has been endlessly ‘tweaked’ by the company into the foundational training it represents today.

Caging: The Game

Parkour training can often fall in to repeating single movements, endlessly, whilst one or two practitioners look to ‘break a jump’ or overcome a particular obstacle. This is fine for a couple of people, but not for a larger group. In the early, pre-UPG days of my Parkour practice I often became quite bored when this would occur. A group that had warmed up together, explored a space together, grown excited together, would suddenly splinter in to smaller groupings or pairings in which, at any time, more than half those present would be rendered audience to another’s attempts at ‘getting it right’. Inevitably the youngest, smallest, least experienced would be the most disenfranchised whilst the older, bigger, fitter participants got to taste success. I was never convinced this was how it was supposed to be.

I have a very clear recollection of when Caging started, as we had a reasonable turnout on a very sunny Saturday morning and there was quite a broad spread of ages and abilities. As always, I was the senior by around 10 or 12 years, so when I suggested moving off from the crowded seafront into the quieter Regency Square garden the dozen or so present all followed. The top of the car park, we discovered, represented a great spot. But it was small. Getting in to wasn’t so easy either, and involved climbing over the fence, or opening a door in it which necessarily altered the space. Within the fence was a brief landing, from which a staircase descended to the next level, turning once to create a half landing mid way. The entirety of the staircase was bordered by a handrail in the type of scaffold & KeeKlamp that is now so very familiar to me since our UPG sets are constructed from it. I could see a load of great movement possibilities, but also some real risks. It was important to govern the number of people inside the Cage, without losing the interest of everyone else. So we set some rules.

One absolute aim of parkour training is Flow. It has been described as the holy grail of parkour and whilst flow has come to mean different things in different contexts, for parkour it represents seamlessly transitioning one movement to another with no interruption or loss of momentum, rhythm, or pace. The biggest mistake most make in seeking to attain flow is that they go too fast. Flow can also be found at medium pace and even in slow motion, though slow motion parkour training is tough. Caging is best understood as the training for flow. The fundamental rules are simple, and all were intuited in that first session.

  1. The group makes a circle around the playing area
  2. One person enters the circle and continues to ‘flow’ a line of movement until it is natural for them to leave it
  3. When they leave the circle, they ‘high-five’ the person nearest them who then enters the circle.
  4. Those at the edge of the circle will move to fill gaps and keep the circle balanced, so that there is always someone ready to come in when a player steps out.

What is probably apparent straight away is that Caging depends in part upon a shared vocabulary. At Seafront Freestyle we’d built that up over weeks and months of training together, it wasn’t something we needed to discuss. In the UPG Team where Caging is our basic training, we are constantly working together to find new movements and improve older ones. When a new performer joins the company, Caging is the place they get to unify their knowledge with the group and also present themselves to the company. In Caging no one is meant to do the same as anyone else. No one is meant to look the same as anyone else. You might see another player put together a line that you like, but unless you’re entering from exactly the same spot as them, and have the same kind of physique as them, and the same movement preferences as them; that line won’t make sense for you. More importantly, underlying Caging is a game of invention. In following flow as the aim of the game, we seek to move away from a training based on technical acquisition of prescribed movements. Caging is the game in which the transitions between techniques become far more visible, far more important than those learned techniques themselves.

You can play Caging anywhere. You can apply this set of rules to a chair, a bench, a table, a train carriage or a classroom, a simple coaching block or a complex gym. We have played this game in trees, on rooftops, in designed parkour training sites and as the way of ‘christening’ every new set we’ve worked on for ten years. Over time the rules have developed. We would now say that there are principles – the rules always in play – as well as optional rules, or tasks that can be added.

Some of our principles are:

  • Every player must remain in a position of readiness to enter the cage
  • There is nothing to be gained by staying in for a long time
  • You do not have to stay in any longer than you wish
  • You cannot refuse the invitation or hesitate to enter
  • You must enter from where you are in the circle to the nearest part of the obstacle.
  • Once in you must keep moving until you leave
  • Let the movement lead you, don’t plan your moves
  • There may be contact, but no impact
  • Each new rule is in addition to the last
  • Move in silence
  • Activate your bullshit detector – if you stop flowing; get out, if you have a ‘brain freeze’; get out, if you try something and it doesn’t work; get out. You’ll be back in soon. Don’t worry!
  • Pick up the rhythm & pace of the player before you. Continue their Flow.

Once everyone has had a go, and the means of play are understood, the next step is to add further players. We can, on one of our touring sets, take up to a dozen players moving simultaneously through a shared environment. Obviously it takes a little while to build up to this, often days, but certainly where we have groups to whom we return or with whom we work over an extended residency this can be achieved quickly and with total safety. Adding multiple players requires unpicking some of our principles above:

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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.

Contact Improvisation with a monologue from Julius Caesar

Blake Morris and Kevin Shewey working on a monologue from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Having explored scenes through contact improvisation, we started working on monologues, where one person is speaking their text to a silent, but responsive partner. We found that the physical engagement with that normally invisible “other” allowed a freedom of emotion for the speaker, and a visceral connection to language that was so highly charged that it dictated separation of thoughts.  The text becomes a necessary expression of ideas.   Once a clear commitment to the “other” and the intention of the text is achieved, the silent partner moves away and the actor works on his own.The resulting “realistic” monologue, now done without movement and without partner, is personal and intensely embodied.  Reminded to “share” with the room, Blake delivers a fully committed audition monologue to the audience in the room.This video is an example of a very responsive partnering with a monologue. The text of the scene can be found at the end of this post.

 

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Contact Improv with a scene taken from “Trudy and Max in Love”

DIALOGUE WITH CONTACT

Grace Morrison and Kevin Shewey  in a scene taken from Zoe Kazan’s  “Trudy and Max in Love” (2013)

 Over the years we have explored contact in application to scenes, finding both blocking and unselfconscious intensity of relationship. This is a scene about romantic realization about the push/pull of forbidden emotion. This scene is new for the actors- a showcase scene that is memorized, but not yet blocked.  The contact with the scene dialogue is fueled by their comfort with each other as frequent scene partners, and the emotional content of the text.  They are literally circling around each other, testing.

In this video, first we see an exploration of the scene through contact improvisation while the actors are speaking the text, and then the same scene immediately played out without contact.  I ask the actors to maintain the energy of the relationship explored in the contact session. The resulting realistic scene is physically and emotionally charged and responsive, and it blocked itself, driven by actor intent. The text can be found at the end of the post.

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A different lineage

When I was writing ‘Encountering Ensemble’ (1), I came across an obituary of Joe Chaikin, written by his collaborator Jean-Claude Van Itallie. Van Itallie writes of his first meeting with Chaikin at a rehearsal of The Open Theatre:

‘I go to an old industrial building near Eighth Avenue on 24th Street. … I enter the big dilapidated loft. Unbidden, I sit in a detached row of empty falling-apart theatre seats. Some 10 people drift in – mostly young, mostly from downtown.’ (2)

Some scrappy kids in a dilapidated room. Doing things they did not understand. Making it up as they went along.

I read of Stanislavsky feeling that he should contribute to the growth of ensemble in his new company by helping clean the floor. He had no idea how to do it. I read of Copeau, a conservative Catholic, bewildered by the permissive energy of his youthful cohort of collaborators. Both of them, quite lost.

Odin Teatret emerged from a coming-together of Drama School rejects. Their training began with an assortment of acquired exercises.

Some of this might be apocryphal. Some exaggerated. Yet there is a truth here. Scrappy kids in dilapidated rooms. Continue reading

What are we warming up?

How should we warm up at the start of a workshop or rehearsal?

What is it that we need to warm up?

It’s obvious that performers need to prepare for the physical challenges of a workshop or rehearsal. If a session is likely to involve lots of movement, it is useful to start by increasing  blood flow to the muscles and getting the joints working. But what about those times when the class or material doesn’t involve much physical exertion?

The movement teacher Monika Pagneux makes a distinction between warming up and waking up. It’s a distinction that I’ve found really helpful when structuring workshops, classes and rehearsals, because rather than thinking about increasing blood flow, flexibility and stamina, Pagneux’s term places emphasis on attention and awareness.   Instead of oiling the cogs of a machine, Pagneux entreats us to open our eyes, take a breath and see what’s going on.

For me the best way of waking up in preparation for a class or rehearsal is to set myself (or my students) a task that coordinates mind and movement. At the beginning of each session I like to set a movement pattern that acts as a kind of heuristic puzzle, forcing brain and body to work together.

Complex, whole-body tasks like the one demonstrated in the video can’t be done automatically or mechanically. As such, they prompt students to become sensitive to the timing, shape and quality of their actions.

I guess one of the most important things to think about at the start of a session is where you would like to be at the end of it. A good warm up should lead us to the state of being that feels right for the task we have set ourselves. More often than not, the answer to the question of where I want to be relates to a feeling of embodied attention. While it’s true that any action can be practised mindfully, in my experience, it’s the more complicated patterns that force us to slow down, take stock and actively locate our experiences in our bodies.   Copying a pattern like the one shown above demands an active process of investigation – a kind of kinaesthetically engaged thinking that I find helpful as a baseline for a wide range of performance work.

Where do you like to start? I’d love to see some ideas and exercises in the replies.

Yoga and Actor Training: Imagining and writing a character, by Dorinda Hulton from the DVD/Booklet ‘Yoga and Actor Training’ by Dorinda Hulton and Maria Kapsali (Routledge 2016), DVD filmed and edited by Arts Archives.

This series of video clips offer glimpses of the six Workshop Approaches documented in Dorinda Hulton and Maria Kapsali’s Yoga and Actor Training (Routledge 2016) DVD/booklet that focusses on ways in which the practice of yoga may be applied towards actor training purposes. Six Workshop Approaches are proposed, and contextualised with a historical overview of the use of yoga in the work of Konstantin Stanislavski, Jerzy Grotowski and Joseph Chaikin. Within the six videos, as well as the publication as a whole, two key perspectives are proposed as being directly, or indirectly, helpful to actor training: the first is an understanding of yoga in relation to actor training that does not prioritise, or pit, ‘interior’ against ‘exterior’, ‘mind’ against ‘body’, ‘mental’ against ‘physical’, but recognises their interdependence and interconnections. The second is an understanding that the ‘internalization’ of attention, which may be perceived in aspects of yoga, is not inimical to the creative processes of a contemporary actor, but can contribute to the cultivation of an attitude of ‘alert receptivity’ that is particularly relevant to processes within actor training.

The third video clip derives from Workshop Approach 3 which focuses on an application of the lying down yoga posture Savasana as a pathway towards tapping into the student actor’s imagination. It proposes that the channels within the posture between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ offer effective psychophysical tools that can help student actors to engage with writing, and creating, their own performance imagery. A glimpse of this process may be seen in the clip selected here. In it the student actors are guided in the practice of Savasana, during which there is a shift in attention from placing the body very precisely in ‘exterior’ space towards awareness of the breath and the ‘interior’ body-mind, as well as the sources of energy inside the self (Iyengar 1978).

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The Bench Game

BACKGROUND

The Urban Playground Team is the original performance-parkour (2PK) company. Since 2005 we have toured our performances and teaching over five continents for clients including The National Theatre, Without Walls, and the British Council. The team grew out of a Prodigal Theatre project, and is run by Prodigal co-directors Miranda Henderson and Alister O’Loughlin. The team also features one of parkour’s co-creators and original Yamakasi member Malik Diouf, alongside urban dance specialist Sasha Biloshitsky. In 2013 with support from Pavilion Dance South West and South East Dance the UPGTeam founded the international Performance-Parkour Network ( www.2PKNetwork.com ) to help support and develop the growth of this new art form which sits somewhere in the field of dance-theatre and draws on the core values and movement principles of authentic ‘L’art du deplacement’. The UPGTeam specialise in working with young people at risk of social exclusion.

INDIAN STEAM

In January 2016 the team travelled to Tamil Nadu where, with Chennai based company Parkour Circle, and undertook a 900 mile round trip researching and developing partnerships for a larger project in 2017. If successful, that project will form part of the Arts Council of England & British Council Re:Imagine India season, coinciding with the 2017 year of celebrating cultural ties between the UK and India. During our trip we also delivered as many workshops as we could to ensure that our R&D had real impact, even if the project goes no further. To this end we worked with 565 participants through 11 partner organisations over the course of a fortnight. Continue reading

Commotion– a documentary film

Commotion is a partnership of creativity researchers, professional theatre artists, high school drama teachers and youth from Niagara, Canada. We formed to discover the ‘best practices’ that would enable students to find their voice and create their own theatre. In this ‘How-To’ educational documentary, the group experiences the creative devising process, RSVP (originally developed by Lawrence and Anna Halprin). Students play with resources and, through improvisation, they discover story, characters and issues. Together the group evaluates and selects meaningful moments that make up their theatre. Over Commotion’s twelve-week program, guided by team facilitators, the youth weave the moments into one-act plays. This film documents our ninety young creators at work, our ten original plays being made, and the twelve key exercises that we used.
Music by John Metcalfe.

 

 

 

Technology for Mime Training and Devising of ‘There is No Silence’

There Is No Silence is a two-hour interdisciplinary multimedia performance about the life and work of the French mime artist, Marcel Marceau (1923-2007). It was collaboratively created through a year and half long devising process led by Jeanine Thompson, conceiver and director; Vita Berezina-Blackburn, animation specialist; and Alex Oliszewski, multimedia specialist. It was a partnership between The Ohio State University’s Department of Theatre and the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, and was performed by the MFA Acting students in April 2014.

The video below is an excerpt of the show featuring the setup that included an onstage motion capture system (Vicon, 12 cameras mounted on truss columns) and rear projection screen above the stage that provided the actor with the visual feedback of their performance. Optical mocap markers were incorporated into the costume of the actress, Sarah Ware.

This video demonstrates one of the goals of this work: to create mime choreography that stands on its own merit, visible in the body of the performer, as well as in their driving of the simultaneously projected virtual avatar. Students were also trained in working with technology as an acting partner including motion capture, animation, video and live silhouette.

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About

The Studio is the area of the TDPT blog dedicated to the audio-visual documentation of training practices. We hope that over time the studio will act as a repository of performance training materials, making them available for research and for use in studios and classrooms across the world. Some materials will also provide models of how to document training, possibly with short examples of reflective writing to complement the documentation.
Audio-visual materials should clearly demonstrate a particular aspect of the research/practice. They can be a recording of a training exercise, a series of comments/interviews on a particular approach, or a provocation to adopt, rethink or transform a training example – and an invitation to share these transformations on the blog.

Welcome

Featured

There is great mystery surrounding what really goes on in our acting workshops. Almost a mystique. We hear of particular uses that teachers are making of Alexander [Technique], Tai Chi Chuan, yoga, the work of Slater, Horney, Berne, Laing, May, Lowen, Rogers, Reich, Levi-Strauss; of the exciting things being done with actor training methods with disturbed children, of the extension of theatre games into new areas of gestalt, of new thoughts on Stanislavski System. But little of this work and the ideas, experiences, goals and philosophy which lie behind it, is open to use for sharing. Mostly, there is silence.
Richard Brown (ed), Actor Training I, The Institute for Research in Acting, 1972: xiii.

When I began to think about an introductory statement to the Studio Space, I was reminded of this quote by Richard Brown in a volume, now out of print, that aimed to capture the actor training practices that were developing in the States at the time. What has changed and what has remained the same since then? Which of the observations in the quote above strike a chord today and which ones feel outdated?
To be sure the eclectic mix captured in Brown’s long list is still a feature of contemporary training landscape; some of the names no longer ring a bell, but virtually all of the named disciplines have survived and developed into valid training methods for performance. Partially as a result to this, Brown’s reference to ‘acting workshops’ feels quite outdated, since our instinct today is to speak of ‘performers’ and thus designate the breadth of both training regimes and subsequent work performing artists might be engaged in.
Brown also refers to a perceived silence that is disproportionate to the wealth of experimentation he recognises. This too might be considered outdated; training has since enjoyed numerous publications, conferences, professional bodies and of course a dedicated journal, this blog is part of. And yet a sense of Brown’s ‘mystique’ lingers. The practical and embodied nature of the discipline, its practice in small groups, its potential to effect change over a long period of time often leaves one with the sense that, no matter the number of demonstrations, conferences and publications, there is still a great deal of sharing to be done.
The TDPT Blog then is a step in this direction. The Studio Space, in particular, by testing and harnessing the potential of recording technologies to capture and transmit the tacit, kinesthetic, and practical dimensions that characterise training experiences aims to push the doors of studios around the world further ajar, so that when we are inside them we can look out and when we are outside we can look in. Welcome.

POINTS OF VIEW: Multi-Roling Performance in Ireland in the 1990s, Part 2 (Characterisation)

The 1990s in Ireland saw a series of highly successful theatre productions in which actors played a multiplicity of roles. This has often been attributed to the economic exigencies of the times, but it also depended on the availability of flexible actors with the physical and psychological capacity to embody a wide range of identifiable characters within the one production.

This second of two posts considers the acting techniques required for this style of performance in relation to the differentiation of one character from another. The discussion will focus primarily on my own empirical exploration of the demands multi-roling places on an actor through the direction of recent revivals of Mojo Mickybo for Belfast’s Chatterbox Theatre Company (2013) and Bedlam Productions (2015).

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“Yoga and Actor Training: Movement Improvisation”, by Maria Kapsali from the DVD/Booklet “Yoga and Actor Training” by Dorinda Hulton and Maria Kapsali (Routledge 2016), DVD filmed and edited by Arts Archives.

This series of video clips offer glimpses of the six Workshop Approaches documented in Dorinda Hulton and Maria Kapsali’s Yoga and Actor Training (Routledge 2015) DVD/booklet that focusses on ways in which the practice of yoga may be applied towards actor training purposes. Six Workshop Approaches are proposed, and contextualised with a historical overview of the use of yoga in the work of Konstantin Stanislavski, Jerzy Grotowski and Joseph Chaikin.
Within the six videos, as well as the publication as a whole, two key perspectives are proposed as being directly, or indirectly, helpful to actor training: the first is an understanding of yoga in relation to actor training that does not prioritise, or pit, ‘interior’ against ‘exterior’, ‘mind’ against ‘body’, ‘mental’ against ‘physical’, but recognises their interdependence and interconnections. The second is an understanding that the ‘internalization’ of attention, which may be perceived in aspects of yoga, is not inimical to the creative processes of a contemporary actor, but can contribute to the cultivation of an attitude of ‘alert receptivity’ that is particularly relevant to processes within actor training.

The second video clip derives from Workshop Approach 2 which explores ways in which yoga can be combined with movement improvisation activities in order to train the student actor’s kinetic and spatial sensibility, and proposes that such combinations can facilitate both areas. The approach views possible combinations of yoga postures and movement improvisation as part of a continuum consisting of three frameworks.

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POINTS OF VIEW: Multi-Roling Performance in Ireland in the 1990s, Part 1 (Layering)

The 1990s in Ireland saw a series of highly successful theatre productions in which actors played a multiplicity of roles. This has often been attributed to the economic exigencies of the times, but it also depended on the availability of flexible actors with the physical and psychological capacity to embody a wide range of identifiable characters within the one production. The collaborative work of dramatist Tom MacIntyre, director Patrick Mason and actor Tom Hickey (most notably their non-verbal stage adaptation of Patrick Kavanagh’s long poem, The Great Hunger) had established, in Ireland during the 1980s,  an appetite among both artists and audiences for an increasingly physical style of theatre performance. But it was the emergence of a new generation of performers from the burgeoning youth theatre movement, bolstered by the return to Ireland of the first wave of young actors to have experienced a more physical theatre training in Paris , that created the conditions for a new genre of Irish theatre performance.

This series of posts will consider the acting techniques required for this style of performance with reference to four productions from the 1990s in which two actors took on multiple roles: Frank Pig Says Hello (1992), Co-Motion’s stage adaptation of Pat McCabe’s novel; The Butcher Boy, Corca Dorca’s production of Disco Pigs (1996) by Enda Walsh; DubbleJoint’s production of Stones in his Pockets by Marie Jones (1996) and its subsequent award-winning revival which I produced at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre in 1999; and Kabosh’s production of Mojo Mickybo by Owen McCafferty (1998). The discussion will focus primarily on my own empirical exploration of the demands multi-roling places on an actor through the direction of recent revivals of Mojo Mickybo for Belfast’s Chatterbox Theatre Company (2013) and Bedlam Productions (2015).

This first post will identify the precise nature of multi-roling in these productions, and the psychological demands this places on an actor. The second post, due to appear next week, will look at the physical requirements of distinguishing role from role.

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“Sequence of Four Exercise-Actions” (physical training led by Ben Spatz)

“Sequence of Four Exercise-Actions” is a dense linear video document based on an extract from a session of physical training held at the Centre for Psychophysical Performance Research, University of Huddersfield (12 August 2015). The session was led by Ben Spatz, Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance, and is based on a form of physical training developed by Massimiliano Balduzzi, which Spatz previously documented and analyzed in Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 5:3. This training can be used to enhance a performer’s physical precision and sense of musicality as well as the ability to integrate dynamic movement with interpersonal awareness and imaginative associations. Also participating in the training session are Sobhia Jones (undergraduate alumna) and Chris Lomax (second year undergraduate).

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“Yoga and Actor Training: Four Body Mind Dialogues”, by Dorinda Hulton from the DVD/Booklet “Yoga and Actor Training” by Dorinda Hulton and Maria Kapsali (Routledge 2016), DVD filmed and edited by Arts Archives.

This series of video clips offer glimpses of the six Workshop Approaches documented in Dorinda Hulton and Maria Kapsali’s Yoga and Actor Training (Routledge 2015) DVD/booklet that focusses on ways in which the practice of yoga may be applied towards actor training purposes. Six Workshop Approaches are proposed, and contextualised with a historical overview of the use of yoga in the work of Konstantin Stanislavski, Jerzy Grotowski and Joseph Chaikin.
Within the six videos, as well as the publication as a whole, two key perspectives are proposed as being directly, or indirectly, helpful to actor training: the first is an understanding of yoga in relation to actor training that does not prioritise, or pit, ‘interior’ against ‘exterior’, ‘mind’ against ‘body’, ‘mental’ against ‘physical’, but recognises their interdependence and interconnections. The second is an understanding that the ‘internalization’ of attention, which may be perceived in aspects of yoga, is not inimical to the creative processes of a contemporary actor, but can contribute to the cultivation of an attitude of ‘alert receptivity’ that is particularly relevant to processes within actor training.

The first video clip derives from Workshop Approach 1, led by Dorinda Hulton and filmed by Arts Archives, and  focuses on four body-mind dialogues inherent in the safe practice of the yoga postures and proposes correspondences between these and processes relevant to first steps in actor training. Continue reading

The Stranger by Baudelaire: Embodied Techniques in Youth Theatre Training

In this video clip I seek to show how young non-professional actors make use of embodied techniques by minimizing the expressive vocabulary in the performance but still retaining traces or echoes of extensive training techniques that preceded the rehearsals and shooting of the act. The video was filmed during a series of training sessions that aimed at studying how certain training ideas – developed within the research project Actor’s Art in Modern Times at the Theatre Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki – could be applied in the context of youth theatre training. This work has also been presented at the TaPRA conference 2014. The project did not involve any public performances .

The two actors, Victoria Godden and Jarkko Lehtiranta, had been training with me using a set of embodied techniques, mainly working with ‘states of being’ and transitions between them. The actors were offered signposts for the creation of these states of being in the form of ‘frames’, such as ‘the carrying/being carried’ frame (that establishes the contact between the actors and “embodies” the ethics of care during training), ‘the network’ frame(that highlights the actor’s awareness of the outer world) and ‘the somatic’ frame (that focuses on subtle movements of the body, the ‘feel’ in the body that makes a movement meaningful for the actor). The extensive movement training the actors had had before the rehearsals was organised around the above mentioned frames (that tended to appear simultaneously, as a mixture). For example, the actors were resting on each other’s arms (carrying/being carried frame) but were still very aware of any changes in the situation (network frame), and sensing the subtle feel in the upper torso when making changes in breathing patterns, for example, as if taking a cold shower (somatic frame). The actors used certain techniques at certain points in the text, for example, at the line “Gold?” Victoria “strikes” Jarkko and Jarkko strikes back, immediately, by saying “I hate it”. When rehearsing these lines they actually hit each other with an invisible bat (network frame). In the end, when Victoria asks, “What then, extraordinary stranger, do you love?” Jarkko uses the technique of in-between-ness, hence saying, “I love the clouds” as if he were on his way to some specific thought but not quite there yet. In the video performance the use of these techniques were almost entirely hidden, leaving only traces or echoes to be perceived.

The text used is The Stranger, a poem by Charles Baudelaire.

Video: Otto Färm

 

Body Weather Manipulations No. 1 & 2

The Manipulations were developed in the late 1970s by a group of young artists under the leadership of Japanese dancer/choreographer Min Tanaka. They are one of the main elements of Body Weather performance training practice, frequently (but not always) placed between what is called the M/B (‘mind/body’, ‘muscles/bones’), a rigorous physical work out, and a third section that is variously referred to as ‘workshop’, ‘laboratory’, or ‘groundwork’. This latter part consists of a broad range of exercises and scores that explore the body’s capacity to move with an altered perception in relation to itself and to other (imagined or real) non-/human objects and phenomena.
This video registration captures the beginning of the practice, Manipulations No. 1 & 2. The complete series consists of approximately 90 touch-based hands-on operations structured into a fixed sequence from 1 to 7 during which the roles of giver and receiver alternate. Most of the touch-operations are conducted by the ‘giver’ directing body weight through the hands into and through the body of the receiving partner while audibly exhaling. Usually, the whole practice takes between one and a half to two hours to be accomplished.
As a whole, the Manipulations can be construed as a technology to alter the mental and physical configuration of the body in order to enhance its performability and affectability. Thus, the practice may not only function as a tool for preparing the performer’s body for artistic performance, but, from a research perspective, it can also provide a frame for studying and observing the effect of performance training on the performer’s process of perception and modes of knowing.
This recording was taken in 2008 at Studio Overtoom 301 (Amsterdam/NL) with Ema Nik Thomas and Joa Hug.