Stephanie Arsoska is a theatre maker and facilitator living in Scotland. She is currently studying towards an MEd in Teaching and Learning in the Performing Arts at the Royal Conservatoire Scotland with a focus on ensemble theatre practice and has attended residencies with DUENDE for the last three years.
‘We must find the conditions that make it possible to grow, because so many things in the world conspire against growth.’ (Chaikin, 1991, p.80)
I wanted to start with the above quote because three years ago I found myself in a place where I was failing to find the conditions that would make growth possible.For ten years I have worked in the youth theatre sector and have run several youth companies. I love young performers, their curiosity, their energy, their willingness to try out all the strange stuff that I throw at them, and yet I always felt a sense of dissatisfaction at the space I was creating with them.It did not seem to matter how seriously we took our work together, and I have been lucky to work with some very highly committed groups, the space still felt superficial.I could never quite create the conditions where the qualities of risk, permission and playfulness could fully emerge.Yet when I looked back into my own training for a way of working with them that might help generate the openness, trust and creativity I was looking for, I found my own foundation had been very poorly constructed. In fact my own training had left me full of feelings of fear, insecurity and failure. It was therefore hardly surprising that I was unable to generate the conditions of growth with my youth theatre, I had never experienced them myself. It was from this place that I found Self-With-Others. Continue reading →
This is a continuation of the article The Wardrobe Ensemble: Working as a Collective. It takes the form of a diary, loosely following the process of making our new show Education, Education, Education. In tracking our progress through this creation and rehearsal period, I hope to identify some of the techniques we have developed over six years of working together. Continue reading →
In January 2017 The Wardrobe Ensemble began work on our fourth full-scale ensemble show, Education, Education, Education. The company occupy a fairly unique space in the UK’s contemporary theatre landscape due to our size (nine-strong, plus a producer and a large pool of associate artists) and collaborative way of working – we have “directors” for project, but the “artistic direction” of the company is shared by all of us. This stage of our creation process, with all or most members of the company Researching and Developing (R&Ding) a large-scale show, is one that comes around roughly every two years. Continue reading →
Mei JiaoYin is a PhD candidate in “Theory and Research in Education”, at The University of Roma Tre, Italy. Her first 20 years of life were in Hangzhou, China, where she studied “Art Education” in Zhejiang Normal University. For the last ten years she has been living in Italy and teaching creativity dance. Mei recently attended one of DUENDE’s training & performance residencies and is now at The DUENDE School for just the first two weeks of the course, before returning to Italy to complete her PhD.
I started to observe my state of body, emotion and movement, without judgment, just simply observe all that is there: fear, qualities and aliveness.
I accept everything that appears though observation, just like an adventure, I don’t know where it will take me, but every moment is so exciting to explore myself. For example, these days in the Ball Game, I notice my body when I react in the moment of catching the ball: breathing becomes rapid, toes grip the earth, sometimes I try to beat the ball. By simply observing the body I can connect with my fear and it is interesting to play with fear. When is the next ball coming? I just focus on my breathing, and a new feeling comes, that moment is so wonderful! This experience gives me the opportunity to discover myself.
Hannah Waters is a UK-based performer. She studied both BA and MA (Physical Acting) at The University of Kent. Her Masters dissertation explored ‘Applying the systematic principles present in constructivist artwork to a method of physical theatre composition’. As part of her time at Kent Hannah also studied at the University of California.
I came to the DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre this autumn dragging all the traits of a life spent in formal education in the UK with me, traits that I am beginning to address, unpick and challenge as I approach my third week of training at DUENDE.
This is my first foray into vocational training after four years at university: I previously undertook a BA in Drama and Theatre Studies and an MA in Physical Acting, the latter of which I completed a matter of weeks before I made the journey to Athens to begin my work. And so I have made the leap from the world of academia to another, very different world, where my perceptions of myself and my work have suddenly been challenged in ways they never have been before.
The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre is meeting in Athens, Greece, through the autumn. Each week a contributor to the school will write a short reflection for this blog.
This week’s post is written by Manjari Kaul. Manjari studied Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi before becoming a Primary School Teacher, Performer and Director.
Manjari attended The DUENDE School in 2015 and has returned in 2016, at the School’s invitation, to explore in more detail the pedagogy of the work – with a view to running DUENDE training sessions in India and perhaps organising an iteration of The DUENDE School in India in the future.
Manjari is one of DUENDE’s Associate Artists.
This post is an attempt to understand how my training in Ensemble Physical Theatre might be used as a tool by school teachers in the classroom. I will explore the possibility of viewing a Primary/Middle School classroom as akin to an ensemble that must be alive in the here and now, responding to ever evolving dynamics.
I set up DUENDE in 2010 – intending to nurture a loose collective of artists who shared a core training (Self-With-Others) and yet brought distinct and individual skills to the company. From the start DUENDE was committed to international and intercultural exploration and to a core belief in the idea that principles of ensemble lie at the heart both of live performance and of the pedagogy through which the skills of performance might be passed from generation to generation. DUENDE is committed to honouring and extending lineages across generations and collaborations across borders.
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.