Learning from athleticism: creating the space for artistic flow

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.

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Contact Improvisation with a monologue from Julius Caesar

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

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


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


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

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

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

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