Kernel of Truth

We finally got the group back together and the process has begun.

Before we can get into any viewpoints inparticular we have to go through the warmups – and by warmups I mean Preliminary exercises.

First is Running Stretches, which is basically stretching – but the key to it is that the group must do it together. Moving through the steps and breathing together. The same with the 12 rotations of the Sun Salutations.

That’s right – 12 rotations. They must, as a group, go through a sun salutations phrase 12 times in a row in unison. Usually, if you really thought about it, it does not seem like it owuld be that hard. But it is and it was. They struggled a good bit. We only had 6 people today, but that did not make simultaneous movement any easier. At first, everyone was just trying to get the moves right. Then, slowly but surely, they were becoming more confident in the moves and were focusing outside of themselves, reaching out to the group. The pace was picking up and they were flowing, one move to the next. From 6 – about 9 rotations, they had it. They were together, they were reaching out to one another, and they were cocky about it. I could see in their body language, no matter how still it was – they were all like “Fuck yea! We are doin it!” ANd they felt good, which let them relax, which let them lose focus, which meant 11 and 12 were complete and total disaters!

But the lesson was absorbed. We learned that each person must maintain a split between focus on one’s own body and the group. If at any point someone got content in their downward dog stretch, they immediately fell behind and group starts to lag and get confused. And on the flip side – if one is so focused on watching the group they are not fully engaging in the stretch. When they don’t pay attention to their own stretch they cannot effectively flow with the group.

If we really break down this concept we get a really wonderful kernel of truth about theatre: One must maintain great focus on oneself and one’s own work while at the same time maintaining the same amount of focus on their surroundings and their group – without this balance the actor loses touch with their own work as well as with the world of which they are part.

I have had teachers call this dual conciousness – having an eye in the character and one eye in the world…but it does not exactly translate. This term does not always help an actor. BUT THE SUN SALUTATIONS! They demonstrate and demand this dual way of thinking. These are to be repeated at the top of every meeting.

We also did high jumps where everyone has to jump big at the same time. This got tricky and eventually I had to stop them altogether. Which is fine! This was an exercise in listening – truly listening and trusting and responding to the wants and needs of the group. What it revealed was that they could not simply stay still and listen to the group as well as their own impulses. We must draw them out of their heads.

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Figuring things out.

I am, by no means, new to the theatre scene. But I can never stop asking the question: “why the hell do I do this?”

We have all thought of the same things: to explore human nature; to be someone else for a while; for the thrill of performance…

It has never seemed enough. But at the same time it is an addiction. There is a real philsophy to theatre, you know? Laban says that theatre is a dialogue or a current between the stage and the audience – where the actors on stage are the active part of the circuit, feeding energy into the audience and in turn feeding off of their wonder.

But as a director I don’t get that. I live for the rehearsal. Some days I can explain it and other days I can’t. Sometimes it feels completely selfish, working towards this moment of unity, of inspiration, of brilliance with a group of equally inspired people, artists.

Creation…maybe that’s why.

Any opinions or profound ideas? The simple things? It’s different for everyone, right?

And so it begins…

We had our first meeting today. It was only an hour but I go the point across – the point of the project, the basic and beginning skills neccessary for the project, the needed commitment to the project. And then we played a little.

My main goal of the project is to study. I want to expand my understanding of the Viewpoints method and in order to do that (for me) I must do it. We started with the circle. The typical circle with soft focus, a collective breath, and then they must all begin walking at the same time. I, the director figure, cannot tell them when to go. THey must feel it for themselves. The group must come to the consensus that it is time to begin. There is not to be a leader, it must be an organic group decision.

It is always the same for every group that goes in initially. Beginning takes a long time becuase it is a new group, they do not know each other yet (at least they do not know the various energies in the group even if they are their closest friends). So everyone just stands in a circle and tries really hard to feel that impulse, to recieve the divine message that says “GO!” It did not come. But! What did happen was cool. There was a moment with the group all sort of stood up straighter, all of them leaning onto the balls of their feet, ready to go. The floor was creaking with their weight changed and slowly but surely they took that first step. It was not entirely in unison, but it was good for a first time. I did not have to stop them because of an obvious leader. No one was forcing it! That was the beautiful part. They were nervous, afraid of forcing it, but they knew that they were listening for something. We are still working on understanding what that something is.

While starting was hard, stopping was even harder. I had them do this exercise twice, with a different exercise in between, and it was the same both times: they were willing to walk until their feet fell off. No one was going to be the one to initiate the stop and they sure as hell could not trust the impulse to stop as a collective. I could see it on thir faces, this building frustration and terror. About 2 or 3 of them were terrified of doing it wrong (which in this case is really hard to do. Follow your impulse and try to listen and you’re good!). At least 1, possibly 2 others were more confidant in this arena. Both had worked with me before and one of them had done other projects of a similar nature. What was cool was watching the one who had done a lot of this before get very frustrated, knowing that she could lead the group so she could just stop, but also knowing that the group had the impulse and were ignoring it. This will be a point of focus next meeting.

We also played 2 down 3 up, which is an exercise which involves the group maintaining a certain status while, at the same time, the individuals within the group are making choices. The group must maintain 2 people crouching and 3 people standing. An individual is free to choose which one s/he wants to do or when they want to move into it. The lesson is dual: trust your impulses (becuase the tendency is to doubt yourself and change your choice because someone else beat you to it) and to trust your group (which most cannot do right off the bat). What we elarn is, that once the actors give over to the energy of the group they relax, they stop second guessing and the move smoothly through the exercise. The group will take care of me and I will take care of the group; I am me and us all at once. It was the beginning of this groups awareness.

We will be meeting again soon, I hope. And then we will really start to get into the Viewpoints one by one, building this group up!

I am very excited and very thankful that I still have room to play.

the Director-Actor relationship

I am a young director so my experience is with professor and young actors. Not to mention my fellow young directors. One of the main points of interest that was addressed in the directing class was the way to treat your actors. My professor would call actors sacred. That the director must nurture her actors. And though I believe that this is the case, I disagree with so many of the methods I have seen in action when dealing with young actors.

actors

Actors’ Changing Room
Pieter Codde

There are key phrases that I simply do not agree with: “Follow your impulses,” “Listen. You are not listening,” “Make a choice. But not that choice,” “acting is reacting,” etc. etc.

All of these phrases are true, but they are vastly over simplified. These phrases touch on fundamentals of theater that cannot, ultimately, be summed up in such throw-away phrases.

Every actor must be brought into the playworld of each process. It is the job of the director to do this. Tge director must introduce the actors into the type of work they will be working on. For me, I never enter into a project without goals of my own, outside of the goals of the play itself; I do want to tell a story, but my goals also include how I would like to tell that story. I start my rehearsal processes by establishing the environment of this particular world and of this particular process. I recently directed a production of “Life Under Water” by Richard Greenberg. This could very easily be a rather mimetic play. But I wanted to use this play as a spring board for exploring how to create atmosphere with the actors making sounds as well as thier physical responses to their surroundings. This was an experiement I personally wanted to conduct, using the play as a vehicle. This also gave me a very clear playworld with very specific physical needs. Bringing the actors into this world, I would ask them to walk about the space paying attention to their gait and their relation to the rehearsal hall floor. Then slowly we started to layer in the imagined surroundings: sand between the toes, wind blowing off the water, the glare of the sun. Then finally we would add in the presence of the ocean, and that changed all of their choices. This is important because with all the information the explored in their walk they had a tool box of responses and they were getting a sense of their surroundings. When the ocean was introduced they were immediately following their impulses that told them to gravitate towards this massive body of water, they soaked up the sun, they played in wharf… Without further instructions they were following impulses, making choices that were informed, within the playworld, completely acceptable, and at the same time completely free of directorial judgment, and therefore emotionally free. This process was imporant for the actors because it gave them permission to trust their impulses, as well as evidence that they are capable of good choices, and introduced them into the world in which they were living, which helps expediate the choice making process of rehearsal because they are not weeding through what is and what is not within this playworld.

I illustrate this to show that an actor must discover her impulses before she can be told to follow them. And a director instructing her to follow impulses or pay attention to them does not help to discover her capacity for those impulses. She must feel out and discover this fundamental for herself in order to fully understand and employ it. The same goes for “Reacting” and “Listening” notes that so often frustrate actors (and, in turn, directors).

Getting Ready

I am assembling the group now. I have over 7 people I think. I would like to have 10. Mostly women right now, and one man has said yes. I need to ask a few more people. I am in LOVE with the ensemble. When people truly come together there is something magical in the experience. The content of this group is paramount. I have to get people who are open and will not dig their heels in when asked to try or to trust the group. THe individual must both be alone and part of a whole at the same time. If a group member is resistent it is obvious and harmful. Assembling the right group is the first step.

The first meeting is the second.