This post presents two audio files which can be found within the article In Touch and Between: A Tactile Toolkit for Creative Practitioners to Navigate Touch within their Creative Practice under the subheading Acclimatising the Body and Sonic Dominance. They have risen as part of my practice as research which began before the Covid 19 pandemic and has been ongoing throughout. This research investigates how touch can be used as a tool to develop creative practice through a somatic methodology using passive, active and intra-active touch within the solo body and between bodies. This initial enquiry stemmed from research around the displacement of touch in Aristotle’s hierarchy of the senses (1951) and this catch-22 between negative associations of touch and the longing for touch due to the pandemic. It aims to challenge power dynamics between the giver and receiver of touch, in a way that can offer opportunities for the receiver to have agency and attend with their sentient body; present new tactile engagements to deepen our relationship with our practice; and open up suggestions of touch being a collaborative mesh for us to be in touch with one another. This was analysed within my own solo creative practice and case studies including professional practitioners and university students, in relation to artistic identity and creative inquiry within dance and movement. As a result of this a tactile toolkit has been created which offers a variety of scores/ exercises to be explored through improvisation and offers different methods of engaging with touch highlighting the reciprocal interplay between the internal and external worlds.
This post presents two different audio files which you may use for your own inquiry or to facilitate within a studio/ class environment. This first audio (Acclimatising the Body (figure 1)) is a somatic guided offering which prepares the body for somatic practice, whilst the second is a score/ exercise itself for you to respond through improvisation and your sense of touch. Findings have been collated for the second score (Decibel Negative (figure 4)) and are presented in the article mentioned above, however it is not a necessity to have read these as they are just observations. We have our own tactile language and so what we experience will be subjective and significant to ourselves.
Acclimatising the Body (figure 1)
This is a guided offering which aims to prepare the body for somatic practice by drawing awareness to the sense of touch whilst releasing any thoughts or pre-conceptions which may be present. It will enable the body to become more receptive to stimulation and approach the scores/ exercises presented in the article through a holistic presence. This audio can be used for your own creative practice and engagement with the scores/ exercises or within a class environment to enable students to settle. This audio could also be used independent from the article and become incorporated into any form of somatic practice which encourages tactile awareness. It will ask you to find a comfortable resting position and close the eyes so please ensure that you feel comfortable with your environment to do so. It is recommended to be done with stillness so to help draw attention to the body. Throughout, I ask you to listen to the offerings through your sense of hearing but also to notice sensations through the skin and promote a tactile awareness between ourselves and the world.
Decibel Negative (figure 4)
This audio is a soundscape Joe Mathew curated as part of the research and the sound itself is used as a score/ exercise for creative improvisation. The sound uses low frequencies in order to enhance the vibrations and offers awareness on how we perceive this through our sense of touch rather than hearing, also known as ‘sonic dominance’ (Henriques 2010). It will begin to introduce the lived notion of the skin in that our body may respond subconsciously and the creative choices will further highlight our processing of tactile composition (Gunther and O’Modhrain 2003). Due to the low frequency, the volume will need to be turned up to its highest volume to feel the full effect and it is recommended to use a good speaker to become fully immersed in the sound. Headphones can also be an option but the vibrations may be reduced. This can be used for solo creative practice or facilitated within a class environment. Whilst exploring this score I would like to invite you to consider the following and please do share any experiences in the comments:
How can you experience sound as a tactile phenomenon?
How does it infiltrate your anatomy and how do you respond?
How do you move, or perhaps it prevents you from doing so?
How does it affect your relationship to the external environment?
How might it affect your composition?
Knowledge of works
Aristotle. 1951. De Anima. Translated and edited by Kenelm Foster and Silvester Humphries. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
For the second post of this series and as UK drama schools started re-opening for in-person classes the week of March 8 2021, I thought it would be valid to acknowledge the online experience that dominated the past few months. The questions and the nature of the project remain the same, what changes is the context of the practice.
So here we are once again, scattered in the strange intimacy of our own spaces and the camera of our electronic devices. As I shared in an online event organised by the Healthy Conservatoires Network on February 10:
If I can narrow down the challenge [ … ] is crossing the first barrier of transitioning from the studio to moving in front of a screen. The barrier of accepting that yes it cannot be the same, yet it is still a space of relational possibilities. And of course this screen is attached to an actual space which may not be spacious, may be crowded and noisy, may hold memories and other relational dynamics outside the training context that may not be of help for the learning process.
My intention with this post in not to talk you through all the methods I have been developing towards productive online practice. Instead, I would like to welcome you to the intimacy and the atmosphere of an online class while inviting the continuation of your own ‘haptic practice’. To do so, I am using material from the first online class I offered the postgraduate actors in training of the MA Acting course at East 15 Acting School. It is how we began the second term of studies based on the skills developed through the in-person, yet physically-distanced, classes of the previous term.
I choose this class for several reasons. First, it carries my questioning of whether the boundary mentioned above would be crossed: will the actors manage to connect? Both electronically and with the taught material. It also offers a glimpse to how I have been playing around with technology adding the use of a second camera, combined with exploring ways to effectively disseminate the taught material through the screen. For instance, in the case of this class, I quickly share a ‘shape’ of the exercises’ structures before witnessing and facilitating the actors’ own studies.
From cellular contact to cellular text
The exercise from the class I introduce here is called Cellular Text and is inspired by the practice of cellular touch or contact at a cellular level in BMC® and IBMT somatic movement practices. It is part of my work with the actors on multiple ways towards the embodiment of text as part of their acting module on Shakespeare. Most importantly in relation to the project ‘From haptic deprivation to haptic possibilities’ discussed in these posts, the specific version of the exercise includes the study of what can arise when, due to the circumstances, partner work turns solo.
As you can read in this post in which I outline a brief workshop for the TaPRA 2016 conference: ‘The [Cellular Text] process is [normally] developed between the actor-mover and the actor-witness and it is an active dialogue that focuses on the support of the actor-mover’s exploration through the shared visualization of the cellular metaphor’. The basic quality of cellular contact is that it does not intend to change, to guide, to direct, to press or push; it is simply a membrane to membrane contact that aims at ‘listening’.
And it turns out that when this subtle ‘listening’ through points of contact practice is modified as solo work some new exciting observations can emerge. Apart from managing to cross the screen boundary, actors noticed they could develop fuller agency of their physical expressions, awareness of embodied gesturing when moving with the text and solutions to the ongoing acting question ‘what do I do with my hands?’.
In my witnessing and reflections as an educator, I find the necessary alteration of the practice due to the online context very insightful when it comes to the questions around negotiating and learning through/from touch included in the end of the first post of this series. So I am wondering: what if this self-practising contact remains as the first stage of the exercise even when the physical distancing guidelines are lifted? Could this introductory shift offer a productive preparation towards more aware partner work and collaboration?
For your practice
In order for you to develop your own practice and insights regarding these questions, this time I use a video (5:31) and an audio file (7:50), both with added captions if your click on the CC option on YouTube.
The video is a brief introduction to the structure of the Cellular Text exercise and the audio moves on to my verbal witnessing of the actors’ diverse work. Both files come from the Zoom recording of the same class and for reasons that have to do with the sensitivity of the context they focus on my input to the process instead of the dynamic interaction with the actors in training. Nevertheless, I have not edited the files and I am choosing to use these instead of recording separate material for this post to maintain an alternative documentation of the educator-learners dynamics.
Acknowledging that in comparison to the synchronous class I cannot respond to your own experiences through my active witnessing, here is how I would invite the development of your own Cellular Text practice.
Step 1: Choose a piece of text you would like to study in an embodied manner. It may be an acting monologue, a poem or a song. For my quick sharing of the exercise’s fluid structure in Step 4, I use extracts from the Nurse’s prologue in Euripides’ Medea as translated by James Morwood (1998).
Step 2: Designate your movement space and clear it up from any clutter. Choose where you can put your device so you stay connected with the material without losing your comfort. If needed, you may wish to have a copy of your text available nearby, maybe on the floor or somewhere you can reach it with ease.
Step 3: Arrive to a state of present attention by using the connection to your breath and the ‘brushing’ of your skin, as given in the first four paragraphs of The study section in the previous post.
Step 4: When ready, click on the video below. Feel free to respond to the way you are receiving most helpfully the offered information. You may wish to start developing the exercise as I am sharing its ‘shape’ or you may observe how it comes up in my expression before focusing on your own study. As I tend to repeat, please bear in mind that I am only sharing the fluid structure of the exercise, not how it should come up for each one of you. I am using the term fluid structure to highlight that each actor-mover’s expression of the exploration can be and, in a way, should be different.
In the video you may have noticed how I move quickly through the stages of the exercise, how I maintain throughout the awareness of the learners, how the quality of my voice shifts from the attention of the practice to the attention of ‘explaining’ the nature of the study, how I am louder than needed as I am afraid that I may not be heard, how mistakes organically come up as my primary concern is not to take up the learners’ time, particularly within the revisited duration of the online class (1 hour and 30 minutes instead of the normal 1 hour and 50 minutes).
Transitioning to the screen of my laptop I continue with my verbal witnessing included in Step 5 as an audio file. By listening to my input, you can observe once again shifts to my witnessing voice, how I develop my responses in relation to the actors’ explorations, how I allow moments of silent witnessing wishing to support each actor’s fuller ‘self-listening’, how I genuinely motivate the actors praising changes in their physical expressions, how I offer individual input. I should add that for practical purposes the microphones of the actors are muted during the study. Yet, I manage to follow the unfolding of their work attuning to the qualities of their physicalities.
Step 5: Listening to my input, check if it is possible for you to become part of the narrative of the class (please note there is a change in the background noise when I switch to the microphone of my laptop at 1:34). Notice if you could stay connected during the silent pauses, the moments of exciting praising or when I am offering individual notes. Most importantly, feel free to stay at each stage of the exercise as much as you can and wish to, following your curiosity beyond the duration of the audio. The overall sequencing is I touch-I move-I sound/voice-I speak. And by recognizing that you are not really part of the class’s structure and educational intentions, feel free to move from the one stage to the other only when and if it becomes available.
Step 6: When your study comes to a conclusion, as suggested in the end of the audio, the final invitation is reflection. If written, allow the words to come up freely through the attention to your senses. Trust that they will ‘make sense’ and, as always, I would be very excited to go through your observations leaving a reply to the post at the bottom of this page.
Many thanks for your time and practice!
LIST OF WORKS
Euripides (1998) Medea and Other Plays. Translated and edited by James Morwood. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics.
This post offers a first glimpse to a wider practice-research project I started developing since the beginning of the pandemic in the UK in March 2020 and the Covid-19 implemented physical distancing guidelines. It is the first in an intended series of posts on the project, under the umbrella title ‘From haptic deprivation to haptic possibilities’. This research looks at how we can compensate for the current inability to experience haptic interrelations within and beyond actor-training environments, including the exploration of wearable haptics towards tactile ‘translations’. Even though the specific investigations sprang out of the urgency of the current pandemic, it is already apparent that its findings and applications could have a clear impact post-pandemic as well.
Northern Ballet (UK), Misiconi Dance Company (Netherlands) and Psico Ballet Maite Leon (Spain) have developed a free online toolkit for teaching dancers with additional learning support needs, which enables them to fulfil their potential, and is underpinned by safe practice. Funded by Erasmus + with scientific guidance from the University of Edinburgh, the SHIFT Dance toolkit is the culmination of an 18-month research and development project.
The SHIFT Dance toolkit has been launched to share the practices developed during the project more widely whilst raising the profile and skills of dancers with additional learning support needs across Europe. Available in English, Dutch and Spanish, the toolkit is free to access for all but will be particularly useful for dance practitioners at community, educational and professional level. It can be accessed at the SHIFT Dance website www.shiftdance.eu
This is an illustration of how Mike
Medaglia received my practice in the opening of The Somatic in Theatre and
Performance Research Gathering.
When I first saw my illustrated self, I felt
uncomfortable with how I seem ‘bigger’ and ‘higher’ than the group.
Hierarchy, I thought, the exact opposite
of what my work and this project aims at.
I sensed though that my physicality and
my expression (or, in one word, my soma) carry something completely different.
I felt my witnessing.
Now I see me and feel the warmth of
looking back at people and processes that still grow in me.
Now I see me growing and imagine the next steps.
Introducing the project
The above illustration-text dialogue, to which I will return in the second part of this post, is part of the dynamic interactions between modes of practice-research documentation and my reflections on a four-day gathering project that took place from the 23rd to the 26th of August 2018 in Kato Garouna village in Corfu, Greece. It opens this discussion as the intended nature of this post is to allow a form of a present re-enactment of the project through the additional contribution of your own input. It also aims at setting the ground and inform the shaping of a longer reflexive article that will focus on a theme that became mostly present for me during and after the gathering.
I would intentionally like not to name this theme here as I wish to test out if and how it may resonate with your own witnessing. To do so, I use the dynamic potentialities of this blog and more specifically the ‘Leave a Reply’ option in order to invite your witnessing on some visual documentation of the project. I explain how in the second part of this post. The chosen documentation does not aim at conveying the content of the explorations from which is drawn but some overall qualities that emerged from the nature of the project as a whole. Before moving forward to details on how you are invited to offer your input, I wish to go through some information on the context of the gathering.[i]
The Somatic in Theatre and Performance
Research Gathering was the
first of a series of practice-research meetings that I hold as part of my ongoing
research on somatically-inspired practices in the field of theatre and
performing arts, beyond the relatively established dialogues between somatics
and dance.[ii] My curiosity and
investigations are part of a current burgeoning interest in the dynamic
interrelations between somatic methodologies and contemporary research on
embodiment in multiple fields, within and outside scholarly environments (see
among others Shusterman 2012, Farnell 2012, Hockley 2014, Eddy 2016).
was simultaneously a series of workshops offered by nine contributors as well
as a Practice-as-Research (PaR) project developed around two main questions: what
can be somatic in arts praxis? What can be the difference between a body and a
soma? Subsequently, as the title suggests, I am looking at why somatically-informed
research in theatre-performance and beyond may be significant here and now.
these questions to the group in the welcome discussion. Without using any
definition, apart from acknowledging that the word soma in Greek is used to
identify primarily every living body, I invited contributors and participants to
allow the two main questions to be present in their explorations throughout the
activities. In this way, I wished to activate openness to what the practices
would evoke for each individual, beyond what may be already familiar in various
somatic discourses, within and beyond the so-called field of somatics.
I connected my
intentions with three main qualities identified in Performance as Research
(PaR) by Jonathan Heron and Baz Kershaw (2018), which I also find relevant to somatically-inspired
methodologies: 1. the openness to the not-yet-knowing, 2. the significance of un-learning
and 3. the importance of somatically-informed reflexivity (2018, pp. 46-47,
54-55). In resonance to these qualities I also explore various modes of
documenting practice research in order to most productively reflect and
disseminate the distinctive nature of each project.
specific gathering, I used video documentation (with simple means such as a
portable video camera and smart phones), stills, written reflections (by both
contributors and participants) and some sketches. Particularly in relation to sketching,
I invited an additional side documentation by the illustrator and contributor
Mike Medaglia, whose work is included in this post. I was very interested in
Mike’s perception of the activities as his comic arts and design evolve around
practising meditation and mindfulness through a combination of illustration and
writing (Medaglia 2015, 2017).
Apart from the opening image, which will reappear with a different focus later on, for the practice-oriented purposes of this post I also use a short video, two photos and one of my own sketches. Similarly to my intentions in the opening of the gathering, I wish to navigate your attention towards you own understandings of how the chosen documentation of the project might evoke for each one of you perceptions of somaticity and its possible significance within or even beyond artistic contexts. The only piece of information I would like to add here is that I explore the notion of somaticity, the literal translation of which is corporality (the state of being in or having a body), in order to expand upon perceptions of embodiment in the twenty-first century.
Based on the above, this post could primarily be of interest to practitioner-researchers, artists and advanced students in theatre arts and performance practices. The invitation, however, does not require any sort of expertise and it is open to every person that has access to the material of this blog and would be generous to offer their invaluable witnessing.
Introducing the invited witnessing
my work, as both notion and practice, is inspired by processes studied in
Authentic Movement as part of my training with Linda Hartley.[iii] Briefly, witnessing in
Authentic Movement and other somatic practices, suggests an individual’s
integrated perception that is not confined in one’s cognitive understanding or
interpretation. Instead, it aims at supporting an interrelational, multilayered
and experiential reception that draws from one’s intersubjective experience by combining
an individual’s senses, feelings and imagination. Therefore, it is usually
navigated through the following structure, which I will further explain in the
end of this section: I see…, I sense…, I feel…, I imagine….
As practice, witnessing could be applied in multiple dynamic situations and contexts that aim at shifting focus on one’s embodied perception. For instance, in Authentic Movement, somatically-inspired witnessing contains the verbal and/or physical interaction between movers and witnesses primarily towards therapeutic potentialities. In my work, it aims at heightening each actor-mover’s present perception during improvisations and mutual explorations as well as allowing a sensitive verbal interaction between actors while avoiding a possible sense of judgement.
During the gathering, the specific mode of witnessing was used by Fabiano Culora in the second workshop of the first day of the activities. Working on his Orientation Score as embodied and relational practice for interdisciplinary performers, Culora divided the room into performing and non-performing space. Based on this clarification the participants were also invited to become either performers or active spectators and they were offered the structure indicated above in order to navigate their verbal input. In the following video (39 seconds) you could observe the interaction between a moment in performers’ improvisation and an offered witnessing by an active spectator.
Returning to Figure I and the text in italics in the opening of this post, you could notice that I use the exact same practice but in a more flexible and free form. Through my direct experience of the project, I also combine my past and present witnessing of the same illustration. I would like now to invite each one of you to attune to your own present experiences while witnessing the images below.
If you wish to offer your witnessing, you could choose one of the following options or allow a more flexible combination between the suggested modes: a. write a theme that comes up for you as you receive the images b. offer your responses in any sort of mode you would like to. Feel free to play around with words and possibly your own audio-visual material c. use the following verbs in first person and present tense for the opening of your sentences and complete them drawing from your own experience. The questions below could be of help. You may also refer to my own witnessing on the first illustration or the active spectator’s feedback in the video.
I see…: could
you focus on what specifically draws your visual attention?
I sense…: could
you expand your attention to the rest of your senses and any possible physical responses?
I feel…: would
any feeling come up for you?
I imagine…: how
does this trigger your imagination?
You could offer your witnessing on the content of each picture, the ones or the one that draws most your attention using the blog’s ‘Leave a Reply’ feature at the bottom of this page. Feel free to combine your input with attention to practice-research documentation, if this is part of your interests.
Many thanks for
your time and invaluable contribution!
LIST OF WORKS
Eddy, M., 2009.
A Brief History of Somatic Practices and Dance: Historical Development of the
Field of Somatic Education and its Relationship to Dance. Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices, 1 (1), 5–27.
Eddy, M., 2016.
Mindful Movement: The Evolution of the
Somatic Arts and Conscious Action. Wilmington: Intellect.
2012. Dynamic Embodiment for Social
Theory: ‘I Move Therefore I Am’. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Heron, J., and
Kershaw, B., 2018. On PAR: a dialogue about performance-as-research. In: A. Arlander et al, eds. Performance as Research: knowledge, methods,
impact. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 43–61.
2016. Being an actor / becoming a trainer: the embodied logos of
intersubjective experience in a somatic acting process. Thesis (Ph.D). Royal Central School of
Speech and Drama, University of London.
Kapadocha, C., 2017.
The development of Somatic Acting Process in UK-based actor training. Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices,
9 (2), 213–21.
2018. Towards witnessed
thirdness in actor training and performance. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 9 (2), 203–216.
2015. One Year Wiser: 365 Illustrated
Meditations, London: SelfMadeHero.
2017. One Year Wiser: An Illustrated Guide
to Mindfulness, London: SelfMadeHero.
2012. Thinking through the Body: Essays
in Somaesthetics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Participants from the In-Character workshop sharing their devised character scenes
This post concludes my current journey of exploration of movement training for Motion Capture performance, specifically for Film and Video Games. In May 2017, I created a workshop series entitled Embodying Your Mocap and began running movement sessions that explored ways for the actor to become more receptive to a Mocap working environment. It would also prepare them for the type of physical awareness and performance work that would be required, based on the needs of the technology. During reflection upon completing The Virtual Body and Space workshop in September, I had discovered that participants were beginning to use their exploration of movement to connect with the psychology of characters that were starting to emerge throughout the session. Through this, I created the third and final In-Character workshop that would consist of exercises particularly focusing on ways to create and access character types and how certain movement tools could be used to help maintain thorough, connected and in-depth performances.
As mentioned in my first blog post, the first workshop was created and based around the movement components that I felt solidified a well-executed Mocap performance. In-Character was structured with the same objective where the workshop consisted of areas that I felt demonstrated a strong and embodied understanding of performance supported by clear knowledge of how it is read and transmitted through the technology. One of the areas explored had a significant focus on the breaking down and close analysis of physical components that would stem from, for instance, an emotion, a physical state or a neutral walk. This particular method was the starting point of the final product and worked backwards, discovering and identifying the working mechanisms of the performing body. This would allow the participant to knowingly highlight certain aspects of their physical work and adapt them accordingly to effect distinct changes to their performances. An example of this was evident in an exercise that explored stance, body shape and positioning. The participants were given a number of adjectives that described an emotion or type of personality and were asked to explore different physicalities drawing attention to their body outline, making an impression in the space and the silhouettes created (as seen in Image A). As they began working in pairs, they were then able to find positions that felt accurate and could then discuss how it looked and why the physical choices were made (as seen in Image B). Through the discussions and exploration, the participants could distinguish what specific physical components could define a type of character. They were also challenged to consider the data being captured from their physicalities, restrictions that may arise from a Mocap suit with protrusive reflective markers and then see how the choices made could be adapted but still have the same effect.
As a movement practitioner coming from a dance background, my practice has been deeply shaped by the notion that changes to the external can affect the internal. By this, I mean that I instinctively approach creative work by looking at the exterior body, such as form and shape, and work with its connection with the interior body such as mood and emotion. I thought this might be an interesting relation to work from, as it would enable the participants to experience a highly visceral and organic method that would then begin to produce productive and thorough physical performances. In the workshop, I used this as a basis to help create an exercise that looked at a simple pedestrian movement – the walk. I had dissected the universal sense of the walk into elements and instructed the participants to subjectively analyse their own walk. Once this was established, they then continued to explore different variations of a walk referring to these elements. For example, as seen in Images C and D, they combined weight placement with foot position, discovering what character(s) emerged and how this effected their full movement. They were also encouraged to consider the subtleties of their physical choices to begin to understand the detailed level at which the motion capture technology works from when capturing data from physical action and movement. It was essential for the participants to recognise the importance of how minor subtleties drawn from their performances could be manipulated and altered to transform a character’s physicality and expression. I felt it was also significant for the participants to allow their bodies to work articulately and with creative precision. Through this exploration, we were finding that there were efficient ways to access an organic psychological connection to emerging characters. One of the participants expressed that by focusing on different ways of using her breath, she was discovering that she would experience feelings and internal thoughts connected to the breath. It became clear that this could be useful for Mocap performance as a quick tool for character building effectively engaging with the character’s internal world and letting that manifest physically into the external world.
The overall intention of this workshop was to provide a space that allowed participants to immerse themselves into the characteristics of their created characters. This could allow them to remain “in character” and maintain the physical components that essentially create the foundation of their characterizations. Once this is established, it would then create a self-initiated process that the participant could further utilize when building more complex characters. This work, in conjunction with the previous workshops with areas explored on space, environment and basic technical knowledge, could be used as a device to help an actor enter Motion Capture work with clarity and basic understanding of how their physical creations work in relation to the technical processes. These workshops have further proven the creative and dynamic benefits of this type of movement practice for Motion Capture. Through the movement training I am developing, I aim to highlight the bodily elements of performance, opening up creative flexibility to invent identities, stories and worlds that can be executed and delivered through the technology and enhanced by the animation.
It is very clear that deeper knowledge of the mechanics of the technology is required in order to completely comprehend how a movement practice could strengthen and support character and overall motion capture performance. Therefore the next steps of my journey would suggest spending significant time in a Motion Capture studio. I believe it would be very informative to explore various levels of nuances within a type of physical performance and discover how this can begin to be translated into film or video game content. I would like to work closely with various environments and virtual settings using technology, such as pre-visualization cameras and screens. I’d use the material explored in the Virtual Body and Space workshop as a stimulus to further develop an understanding of the body’s relationship to space and assisting the actor to creatively maneuver and exist within a digitized world. I would also continue to explore character building techniques and adding context through the use of 360-degree camera awareness, Mocap suits and markers.
In conclusion, it is clear that the curiosity and interest in Motion Capture has considerably increased throughout the years through its expansive use within the arts (theatre, live art, dance, TV dramas). Also through personal experience in the last year, I have discovered a growing interest among artists just through running the Embodying Your Mocap series and teaching independently in institutions. On reflection, I look back on my initial enquiry where I questioned the acknowledgement of the actors’ work in this field. Through this the question arising now is whether the implementation of these types of movement practices will create a wider awareness of the performance work involved in Motion Capture. Consequently, will this affect the way the Motion Capture process is publicly viewed and in turn offer opportunities for the actors’ work to be further recognized, celebrated and awarded?
Photo Credit: Sarah Ainslie
Workshop Venue: PQA Studios (formerly The Poor School)
This is an accompaniment piece to an essay due to be published in the Special Issue 9.2 ‘Training for Immersive, Interactive and Participatory Theatre’ of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training Journal.
The Real Health Center was an immersive and participatory performance in a forest in Helsinki, Finland in August 2016. In the heart of that performance was a one-on-one scene, where a ‘doctor’ (actor) in a forest met a ‘patient’ (participant), whilst at the same time the forest was also acting as a doctor. The one-on-one lasted twenty minutes.
The essay due to be published in the journal as well as this post aim to shed light on the actor’s technique in participatory and immersive performances – this post will do so through the use of audiovisual material. The material who will watch below was captured with two GoPro action cameras that were attached to the foreheads of both the actor and participant. This allowed recording the points of view of both the actor and the participant in a one-on-one scene and so nobody else needed to be present in the scene for the recording.
Impulse is one of the core concepts I use in my research. I’m trying to capture it on video to show how it relates to the actor’s technique in this kind of performances. In these videos you can see some impulses at work – such as can be seen in the very beginning of clip 2 – , but that is not the main reason I have chosen these videos. I have chosen them because they show a through-line from initial sensing phase to a final phase of meaning emerging, which in the instance of these videos is also articulated in words by the participant. The videos show how the actor can open up sensing pathways for the participant and how the meaning can be considered as being initiated by the participant and not the actor – despite the path to meaning being opened up by the actor’s technique.
In this particular scene, the specific form of interaction between doctor and patient is to be developed from each participant, in the way that they want it to be developed. There is no fixed form, but the form is to be searched for and created with the participant to enable a unique meaning in a unique form for each unique participant.
The actor and the participant are meeting for the first time in the scene. The video is about five minutes into the scene. They have found their way under a big fallen tree. The video begins with the actor sensing the environment and opening pathways for the impulses of the participant to move through. She’s at first opening up pathways through the senses of sight, sound, smell and touch which invite a meaning to emerge.
The point of view of the actor is on the left and the participant is on the right.
Clip 1 (4.04) SENSE OF MEANING
In the instance of this scene, one impulse on a micro level is the impulse to move the focus of the eyes. It is a good starting point for interaction, because it’s something that we almost always already do. This way the actor doesn’t need to ask for anything extra from the participant in order to start developing an impulse towards meaning. In these videos we can’t see for sure whether she picks up the initial focus from the participant, but we see later developments: how an action emerges, is shared and leads to a meaning. Even though the actor helps to open up the pathways, it’s the meaning of the participant she is inviting to emerge.
The question ‘Why have you come to see the doctor today?’ is asked when the shared action is simultaneously unfolding and thistakes the co-developed action further. At this fork in the path the connection between the actor and the participant transforms into touch. Towards the end of the first video it’s possible to already see a clear shared action and sense a meaning emerging.
The environment as a mediator is crucial in the interaction, but in this post I’m leaving it out in order to better focus on the actor and the participant and how their co-created action develops into a meaning.
The following video shows the situation just a few moments after the previous one. The shared action has developed into a situation where the participant is resting on the spot where his hand was previously buried.
This video is shown from the point of view of the actor.
Clip 2 (1. 52) ARTICULATION OF MEANING
In the beginning of the video it’s possible to see one clear moment where the impulse of the participant is picked up and developed by the actor. While lying on the ground the participant reflects on how there are some kind of eggs on the underside of the fallen tree. This observation is later developed into a reflection about mortality.
When developing the impulse the actor is searching for a meaning that she interprets as the most important for the participant. Impulse as such is not limited to sight and it doesn’t need to be articulated in words. It can arise from any of the senses. In my essay in TDPT Issue 9.2 you’ll find a description of an impulse through touch. The impulse you see on the video I have chosen as another example, because it’s such a clear one.
At a point in the discussion the participant introduces the concept of his own grave. It’s a meaning for the scene which has emerged through the shared action – through the action of burying his hand earlier. A grave hasn’t been an image we have worked with in the rehearsals or an image the actor is trying to convey to the participant. It’s an image that emerges from the participant as a result of a precise shared action of burying his hand earlier combined with the reflection in a new bodily situation where he’s enveloped by a blanket and the fallen tree.
Because we can’t see everything that has happened in the scene in the videos, I can’t say for sure whether the earliest possible starting point for the action has been the participant – if indeed it can ever be stated – , but I can say that the meaning has emerged from a clear shared action between the actor, the participant and the environment. This is what we are trying to train: an actor’s technique in which the meaning would be allowed to emerge from the participant (and from the environment), but the precision of the actor’s technique enables it to emerge. Precision creates meaning in our forests of impulses.
Clip 3 (2.25) CODA
Actor in the videos: Emilia Kokko. For credits of the final performance, go here.
I went through pregnancy and became a mother over the course of my MA Creative Practice degree, an experience that encouraged me to think about the meaning and character of training. This experience led to the Motherhood In/As Training film project as I wanted to explore the tension I felt between developing my creative practice and being a mother of a young child. In my first two films of the project – I don’t want to dance and 1, 2, 3… 4 – ‘training’ was conceived in opposition to ‘motherhood’. I began the project feeling there was a dichotomy between the two states: my training in dance required a physical body-mind dedicated solely to the creative work but motherhood meant that time and space were not exclusively at my own disposal. This was expressed in different ways in the two films, posted in May and July 2017. In the first film, I don’t want to dance, training was disrupted by the obligations and demands of motherhood, as my daughter, Lisa, pushed her way into the centre of my film. For the second film, 1, 2, 3… 4, motherhood challenged the temporality of training, as the film considered the notion that training is ‘for the future’ where motherhood is ‘for now’.
This project has progressed over seven months, during which I have interrogated an assumption that time and space for training can be achieved only in a specific environment and at the appropriate moment. The making of I’m right there and you’re there puts this assumption to the ultimate test: this film and essay is created in the turmoil of moving from one country to another, settling into a new place and adhering to a different daily rhythm. Creating the final film under these circumstances meant there was no choice but to be ‘in training’ and creative development in the times and spaces available with or without my daughter being present. As a consequence, I’m right there and you’re there steps out of the dichotomy of ‘training’ and ‘motherhood’: the oppositions and tensions I had conceived between them cease to be relevant when I learn that training and motherhood are interdependent and that they continuously co-exist in my everyday life.
I’m right there and you’re there
My final of the three films under the title Motherhood In/As Training has been created over an extended period of time due to my changing circumstances. I relocated in October 2017 from Leeds to Denmark (where I grew up) and I now live in Horsens with my daughter Lisa, to be joined after a time by Alan, my partner and Lisa’s father. The transition has brought up many questions for me about how I relate to the idea of ‘home’ – in the sense of belonging to a place but also belonging to a family, family being implicit in motherhood. The film seeks to define and to reflect on what home means when places and people must disconnect and then reconnect. And while the focus of the film is directed towards ‘home’ I learn that training is happening in every step of the process of making this film.
The Place of home
During the summer of 2017, during a holiday visit to Denmark when I was preparing for my definitive move, I tried to pinpoint places and times where home could be said to be present. Was it possible for me to define an area which was only home? Should our flat in Leeds or the place I was born be exclusively defined as home? Could my body, which is home to my dance training and yoga practice and was home to my daughter Lisa when I was pregnant with her, be the boundary of home? Or did ‘being home’ simply mean being with certain people, loved ones?
Cycling between home
I started the investigation for my film by cycling through Leeds and, later, Horsens in order to record ‘my’ cities. It became apparent, as I was enjoying the cycling, that I was less interested in arriving at places or landmarks and more curious about tracing the trajectories my body had made over the past years. What felt like home were the journeys that connected the destinations. I was tracing time, paying homage to the city by highlighting the ‘in-between’, connecting physically with the place by climbing hills, revisiting paths and negotiating traffic, by putting my body into the familiarity of cycling.
Home between other activities
The more I failed to trace a precise boundary of home, the more I came to describe home to myself as an experience less in its own right than as an interlude, a place that connects other activities – but that seemed to mean that home didn’t have its own space, didn’t even have its own time. Was home, therefore, failing to be seen or heard? I thought: perhaps if I started a dialogue with home, this could be a way to give home shape and to acknowledge its existence as an entity in itself? I wanted to address ‘home’ by speaking to it directly: Dear Home…
As I was figuring out how home could exist in its own right, I came to think of a moment I had been part of in a large group dance improvisation: this was a moment when all the participants were reluctant to be on the edge of the group. This phenomenon of preferring to move towards the middle of a structure was pointed out by science writer Philip Ball, who was witnessing the improvisation. He described how, in physics, edge positions are considered vulnerable as they always have to be ready for change. The molecules on the edge of a closed system (e.g. a drop of water) have high energy relatively to the molecules closer to the centre, leaving those near the surface more unstable then the ones in the middle (this is surface tension).
The image of the drop of water, and the idea that molecules are closed systems with a constantly shifting surface, helped me to clarify my relationship with home. I came to understand that perhaps home is not the absence of other activities, it is the sum of them, it is the sealing material that touches them all. The power of home is, in fact, that it accommodates all aspects of my life: its identity includes family, friends, my body, Leeds, Horsens, training, dance. It’s a system that joins those places, people and experiences together. This makes home malleable and in constant change.
Home: a system of falling
Training, like motherhood, relates to home in the way H2O relates to O2: they are different elements that serve different purposes (for us) yet they share a basic component. Motherhood presumes a devotion to being present with Lisa in everyday life, while training depends on a dedication to challenging the state of ‘knowing’, but they share the same foundation; both take place in my body, in Leeds, in Horsens and with friends and family. The changing circumstances of daily life mean that motherhood and training take turn being at the surface of my awareness even as they co-exist.
Home: an ecology of mutually determining relations
My investigation for the film started as an experiment on my bicycle in Leeds and Horsens as a sort of ‘training for’ the film itself. As the cycling footage features in the film, the ‘training for’ and the ‘outcome of’ the film are indistinguishable, and the edges between maker (me) and product (film) start to blur. The editing of the film, the writing about it and even the film itself as an outcome, form an ecology: a complex network that consists of numerous co-dependent and mutually determining relations. Motherhood and training are precisely co-dependent elements that, like molecules at the surface of the water drop, continuously meet and part and find new ways to co-exist. Like a group of people improvising together.
Home: the sealing material of the film
I shared the idea of writing a letter to home with my partner Alan (an academic who works on cinema) and he pointed me to the essay film Sans Soleil (1983) by Chris Marker. The script of Sans Soleil takes the form of letters which are narrated as voiceover by the woman who receives them. The beginning of the film came to inspire the format for I’m right there and you’re there. Its first minute shows two unrelated pieces of film footage with the following voiceover:
‘The first image he told me about was of three children on the road in Iceland in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images but it never worked. He wrote me:
‘One day I will have to put it all alone in the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader. If they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they will see the black’.’
The juxtaposition of two unrelated pieces of footage, which seem ‘irrelevant’ to each other, are linked together by the voiceover, asking the viewer to consider them as relational. I thought: are motherhood and training my two unrelated ‘pieces of footage’? When we are asked to ‘see the black’ we are invited to see the ‘in-between’, the sutures, that seal and stitch the film together. As I (re)watch and edit I’m right there and you’re there, I start to tune into the links between the cycling footage from Leeds and Horsens and the sutures in the editing in relation to the voiceover. These cuts are intended to bring to light the sealing material that touches all the other elements: home.
The opening of Sans Soleil gave me licence to include the footage that I really wanted to share, the footage that summarises how home feels, or how I feel home: a summer’s evening in a quiet garden with Alan watching Lisa on a swing. Lisa is in training in her appearances in all three films, using performance, dancing and balancing on a swing as a way of training to be in the world. These images link the works together with motherhood at the centre but with training as the underlying process that feeds and shapes the content of each of the films. I look back at the process of all three creations and observe that ‘training’ is happening in every moment of making the films. I train myself to develop a concept for the films, I train myself to film, to edit material, to write, and not least, how to make a ‘process of creating’ visible.
 I worked with choreographer Vanessa Grasse on dance and performance research project MESH in Leeds in July 2017. As part of the research process Vanessa had invited science writer Phillip Ball to respond to the working process with his theories of formations in nature, critical mass and nature as self-organising.
This post continues to discuss my journey as I run a series of movement workshops for actors in preparation for work in Motion Capture. I have completed the second workshop and the following will be documenting my process and reflection.
When I originally began planning the overall content of the Embodying Your Mocap series, the idea of exploring virtual environments was not a significant part of the preparation process until after I had completed the first phase of the taster workshop. After some reflection, I had realised that a substantial part of the core work I had begun to explore had been centered around Space. However we had only used the explorations as a tool to encourage physical awareness of the working environment. I decided this needed to be explored further and with direct references to realistic shoot considerations in a MoCap context. I wanted to delve deeper into the relationship between the body’s movements and its surroundings, considering both actual and virtual space. This led to the enquiry of ‘how could an actor connect with an environment that could affect or enhance their physical performance?’ I was intrigued to discover ways of how they could transport themselves to an imagined location/virtual scene and what physical implications would emerge.
The second workshop of the series was entitled The Virtual Body and Space. It was important to put an emphasis on the body in relation to the virtual world, and in particular within the context of Video Games but also to indicate the prominence of space as a performance factor as well as suggesting the possibility of exploring the specifics of ‘virtual space’. The workshop was divided into two sections; the first consisted of a detailed exploration of specific video game environments I had created. I wanted the participants to be able to imagine an environment but more importantly the elements within it. In one exercise, the participants were given ‘Environment Factors’, where they were to discover their physical connection to the imagined spaces and experience how this affected their body and movement. In Clip A, you will see the different movement qualities that were created through this exploration. This would later inform more complex character and performance choices.
The second section of the workshop was focused on introducing Idle Poses* and encouraging an embodied understanding of this technical procedure. With it having quite a technical focus, I thought it would be interesting to use a game for the participants to experience a physical state of readiness. I decided to use ‘Grandmother’s Footsteps’ as a way to engage the participants in the physicalisation of readiness. By creating a playful moment, it allowed them to begin to discover a particular essence that was natural and free of inhibitions. As seen in the photos below, the participants began showing evidence of a physical state that was open and responsive with focus on their stance, centre of gravity and placement of breath.
I wanted to use this physicality as a starting point for the participants to develop Idle sequences. In the following exercise, they were asked to put together a sequence of movements or actions that would begin and end with the same Idle Pose. This is similar to a direction an actor would be given in an actual MoCap shoot. In Clip B, some participants can be seen performing their Idle sequences incorporating Environment Factors and movement transitions (such as walking, running, creeping, changing of direction). Through repetition of the sequence, the participant would find proficient ways to move in and out of their Idle, developing a seamless, direct and natural physical performance method.
The workshop participants generally felt that the session allowed them to access their own movement and discover particular movement qualities in a different way. They were able to lay the foundation of character creation and its development using an in-depth and analytical approach but also developing an effective and efficient physical language that enables flexibility within performance work. This supports and strengthens my initial views on movement training benefiting MoCap performance through its applicability. It seems that the participants also picked up on this and one of them commented that the workeshop offered ‘a great opportunity to play and explore a movement quality applicable for Mocap‘.
The main purpose of this workshop was to allow participants to use movement-based approaches to connect their imagination with potential virtual worlds in order to execute thorough performances and gain an embodied understanding of the technical procedure of Idle Poses. I intended for the Virtual Body and Space workshop to explore qualities of movement that reflected certain environments. I wanted the participants to find a physical connection to these elements before contextualizing it within a video game scenario. By doing this, they would have a physical experience and a sensory impression of the ‘space’. However, I had not anticipated that the participants would begin to create characters and scenarios of their own. They had naturally responded to these exercises by creating psychological journeys/stories driven by what was physically initiated to guide them through ‘their’ space. An example of this can be seen in Clip C with the participant on the left. Through his Idle sequence, he has clearly created a character that is moving through a particular environment, and in effect, producing a sequence of actions and a consistent line of intention.
I found this quite refreshing as it was beginning to show evidence of what my following workshop will soon be exploring with building and developing character types. This third and final workshop will continue to utilize technical processes to support and contextualize the performance work created and will be shortly followed by a blog post documenting my discoveries and reflection.
Photography by Sarah Ainslie
Workshop Venue: Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company
* An Idle or Base Pose is a video game animation term, denoting the range of positions the actor performs that will be placed at the beginning and end of an action sequence. For instance, an Idle Pose may be used when the player character is ‘paused’. Each movement would be stationary but still maintain a sense of life within it and would be flexible to move in and out of any action sequence.
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.
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
The title “Motion Capture” suggests there’s importance placed on the motion of the performing body.
In the beginning…
This post discusses my initial interest in Motion Capture leading to the creation of a series of workshops that I have called – Embodying Your Mocap.
My interest in “mocap” began to take form whilst studying at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama for a Masters in Movement: Directing and Teaching (previously Movement Studies). I had initially expressed this interest to my fellow classmates and tutors and in time I had come across a past student’s dissertation on the subject surrounding the actor’s preparation for work with mocap technology. At this point it was evident that there was awareness, however small it was, that actors had to enter this particular field with a slightly different approach than when working in film or theatre and that movement training could be beneficial to mocap performance.
Andy Serkis was, and still is in some respects, the face of motion and performance capture and although his performances are fascinating, I was hoping to find examples of a deeper analysis of his physical work. Looking on YouTube, I found that many clips of motion capture performances featured scenes from Avatar and Lord of the Rings discussing the relationship between performance and animation but not an in depth examination of the aspects of the performance from a physical perspective. There was no real acknowledgement that there might be a different approach to working with mocap, that actors would need to consider how their performance was being perceived or “captured” and how this would affect them creatively. The title – Motion Capture – suggests that there is significance placed in the actor’s movements (motion) and the process of how this data is collected (capture). However, I felt that there was more emphasis on the capturing of the actor’s motion rather than the actual performance itself. I had discovered that during a typical shoot for a video game, it was most likely that any suggestions on the performance would come from the animator/supervisor who would be commenting from a technical perspective. Furthermore, there definitely was not a movement director present in the studio. This was something I had to investigate further and over the next few years I took part in various workshops and intensive courses that allowed me to get a deeper insight into the actor’s performance and what would be required due to the nature of this very unique industry.
Developing the Workshops
The inspiration behind the Embodying Your Mocap workshop series came from the need to create a regular movement training opportunity that concentrated on motion capture performance. Solely the physical performance. With this specific focus, there would be a natural separation from the specialized skills that are usually associated with motion capture in film and video games such as martial arts, stage combat, sword fighting and animal work. I wanted to delve deeper into the aspects of the actor’s physical work regarding the moving, performing body and how this could be utilized to create characters and enhance the general performance. Much like the way I’d approach a regular movement class, I wanted to explore the similarities between actor movement for theatre and motion capture performance. I also wanted to discover if the specific demands of the technology would make an impact on the performance.
As well as researching the more technical side and working procedures of a typical mocap shoot, I began a line of enquiry by sending out a questionnaire to whom I identified as my “mocap contacts”. This consisted mainly of actors who had either experienced a professional shoot or those who were aspiring to enter this industry. The questions were based around the level of experience, what training they were currently doing to prepare themselves for work and the reasons why they felt movement sessions could benefit their on-going training. The response I received was very insightful. The more experienced actors noted the importance of the creative aspects of their work such as the creating of characters, imagining environments and ultimately their physical acting performance skills as a whole. Generally, I learnt that actors wanted specificity regarding the technical requirements of the movements that were captured. They craved opportunities that would allow them to engage in created environments with various characterisations that encouraged full immersion into virtual world scenarios physically and psychologically. Some actors also wanted opportunities that would prepare them for working with physical obstacles such as suits/markers, camera angle awareness, props etc.
On the basis of these responses, I decided that multiple workshops could be more beneficial than trying to squeeze all the material in one session. Only 3-4 sessions, mind you, but nevertheless each one covering a particular area in a fruitful and productive way. These would include exploring movement components such as weight, space and body shape in performance, character types and imagining virtual environments. Thenceforth the Embodying Your Mocap workshop series was created with the taster workshop being launched on 21st May 2017. Within the taster, I wanted to create movement exercises that were influenced and informed by particular mocap procedures so that the material had noticeable reference points. For example, I used the process of ROMs* to create the basis of the warm up, highlighting areas of the body (mobilising joints/strengthening muscles) that would be in use within the work that we’d continue to explore. For instance, lubricating the ankle joint and engaging with the soles of the feet informed the movement seen in the picture below where the participant is jumping during a travelling exercise. The main aim was to release the body, opening the ‘backspace’ and using the floor for take off and landing.
I had also used the T-Pose** (as seen in the picture below), as a way of connecting the participants with the sensations of their movement and drawing attention to the surfaces and core structure of their body.
The overall content of the workshop was based on movement components that I felt were the main factors of a well executed motion capture performance. This included the awareness of the space surrounding the body and performing 3-dimensional organic movement. Using an analytical approach in these explorations, I wanted to provide a space for the participants to investigate their own natural movement to understand how this can be applied to performance and character work in Motion Capture.
Reflections and Future endeavours
The Motion Capture industry is not as accessible as other art forms and because of this, artists and performers are intrigued to know ‘how does it work?’ and specifically ‘how does it work in relation to my work?’ My intention is to develop an accessible approach to motion capture performance and thus, by giving a little insight into the world of mocap, allow performers to stretch their physical performance skills to a new dimension.
My ultimate aim with the Embodying Your Mocap series is to provide a seamless merging of technical knowledge with movement exploration and self-discovery. This then allows the participants to inform their performance through a clear understanding of what the technology requires of their physical work. Furthermore, I am using these workshops as a way to formalise a method to approach motion capture performance that considers significant technical factors which could have an impact on the performance quality. The next workshop I will be running will be looking at using some of the tools introduced in the first session to explore virtual environments and creating in-game content and procedures linked to video games. The blog post will be another sharing of my reflections on the workshop and its outcome. Overall I hope to use these blogs as a platform to start a dialogue with others interested in Motion Capture, actor performance and movement training.
Photo credit: Chloe Knott
Workshop Venue: Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company
* ROM stands for Range Of Motion where the actor moves each body part for the animator to track the markers on the body and see how they move in relation to the rest of the body.
** A T-Pose is the position the actor stands in for the animator to locate the markers on the body in order to create a digital skeleton.
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.
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 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.
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.’
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?
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.
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.
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.
The group makes a circle around the playing area
One person enters the circle and continues to ‘flow’ a line of movement until it is natural for them to leave it
When they leave the circle, they ‘high-five’ the person nearest them who then enters the circle.
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:
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) EncounteringEnsemble, 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) EncounteringEnsemble, London: Methuen Drama for more, esp. Introduction and Chapter 1.
I grew up watching classic films, mostly starring Fred and Ginger, or musicals like Gypsy (1962) and West Side Story (1961). I remember being particularly taken with Fred and Ginger’s famous routine on roller-skates from the film Shall We Dance (1937) performed to Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off by Gershwin and Gershwin. I also vividly recall Marilyn Monroe singing, Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend (1955) whilst a chorus of girls enacted Busby Berkeley style choreography (see 42nd Street,1933) by hanging from and becoming chandeliers. At the time I couldn’t articulate why I enjoyed these films so much. Although now I suspect it has a lot to do with how movement and choreography facilitate a conversation between the performer and the stage design, and how this conversation can be just, if not more interesting than a scripted dialogue.
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.
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.
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 →
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.
This series of video clips offer glimpses of the six Workshop Approaches documented in Dorinda Hulton and Maria Kapsali’sYoga 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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
This series of video clips offer glimpses of the six Workshop Approaches documented in Dorinda Hulton and Maria Kapsali’sYoga 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.