Forest of Impulses

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 this takes 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. 



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.

This entry was posted in The Studio and tagged , , , , by Sami Henrik Haapala. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sami Henrik Haapala

Sami Henrik Haapala is a Finnish actor FIA, dancer, live art maker and dj. They are also a doctoral candidate in artistic research at the Performing Arts Research Centre Tutke in the University of the Arts Helsinki. In addition to having degrees in both acting (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, UK) and dance (North Karelia College, FIN) they also hold a BA in Cultural Anthropology (University of Helsinki, FIN). They have worked as an actor and a dancer both in Finland and internationally. In their doctoral research Haapala focuses on how the actor and participant co-create meaning in participatory and immersive performances. Haapala’s own works cut through theatre, dance and live art. They are also the artistic director of a performing arts company The Center for Everything (