Using a Painting – Chekhov course online

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Paintings are magic. I always remember as a young child being fascinated by the Pevensie children being overwhelmed by a painting of the Dawn Treader on the Narnian Sea and being swept into the water.

When I was a drama student we were given a summer task to prepare a talk about a painting. Of course there was no internet then so you had to find your paintings from a book or a gallery. I daresay it had the highly laudable aim of creating rounded artists. One of my fellow students had many art books and I stayed with him for a few days as I looked through the books to find a suitable painting to talk about. I decided suddenly that rather than discuss the painting or the artist, I wanted to fully enter the painting, its atmosphere, and at least one of the characters within it. As I decided this the whole idea filled me with joy as a truly creative task blossomed from something that had felt incredibly like worthy homework.

Hieronymus Bosch: <i>The Wayfarer</i>, circa 1500–1510The painting I chose was THE WANDERER by Heironymus Bosch. I had never seen his paintings before and I was transfixed by them… horrible grotesque fantasies of hell and heaven, and this picture, though less dark, offered me something powerful. Looking at it I was immediately reminded of the Bedlam beggars and Poor Tom in King Lear.

After examining the picture in detail, I thought my first step would be to examine the man’s physical position. I found a stick, a hat and a pack and put myself in his position. I remember I also took a shoe off to give myself the feeling of the odd shoes he was wearing. It was amazing how having odd shoes made me feel unwanted, off-balance, bitter and unhinged. Looking back over my shoulder as I pushed forward immediately made me feel a longing and a bitterness. I was either being driven away or I was longing for a more settled life for some reason. I started to feel a little like a beaten dog.

The house behind me, and from which I had just come, was broken-down and clearly a place of some conflict. The house delapidated and uncared for, the man pissing against the wall, the young woman, blocked by a young man from looking at me and another looking out of the broken window, after the beggar.  Was my itinerant beggar part of this life or not? I got in position, turned on a tape recorder and began to speak. a harsh rasping voice came out. The beggar spoke of a longing for stability and yet despising that stability the living in the house might have provided.  I created a world and psychology from the atmosphere of the painting, its characters and principally the rather gentle faced man who was walking away. It is true that the radiation from his face did not match my bitter monologue (which came more from the background characters and the general dishevelled nature of the house, and also the main character’s predicament). However it was the turning back to look which gave me the main thrust along with the image of what I could see.

It was an exciting ,creative project which was very rich for me. Now in my Chekhov work,  I often use  a painting as a starting point for a dramatic piece. We engage concentration, the Feeling of Form, Movement, Atmosphere and our imaginations. That’s the subject of one of the new courses, THE PICTURE SPEAKS which runs for five 90 minute sessions on July 6th online.  We will create a speaking gallery of paintings.

Email chekhovtpi@gmail.com to book your place

Being Real, Feeling Joy and The Dangerous Moments of Emptiness.

Over the last few posts I have been exploring and sharing my experience of teaching the Chekhov Technique online, both the joys and problems with it. When I am planning a workshop I am not trying to replicate an actual workshop. I am constantly looking for points of contact and positive developments, ways of teaching the work, developing opportunities along with the comfort (and issues) of trying to liberate oneself whilst still at home. I have talked about this in the last post.

Whilst most seem to be having a very positive experience, for a few the fact of working online weakens the main thing from which they learn; the sense of community and group experience. In the room this dynamic more-or-less comes naturally but online it doesn’t ; I work hard at fostering that and as soon as I give the opportunity, most people grasp it with both hands.

I was discussing this with my partner the other day, a retired teacher and therapist himself, and a moment he isolated was the ending, when you finish the session. I have been considering this a lot myself and find moments of sharing and breathing at the beginning and end of sessions but he talked about that moment when you turn off the monitor and everyone leaves. That moment can feel rather scrappy. Declan Drohan my colleague here in Ireland in the Chekhov work called it, ‘ the dangerous moment of emptiness’.

Even in an actual workshop there can be a moment of ‘back to reality’ after it ends but online this feeling can be acute. Let’s consider what happens when an actual workshop ends. You do a final exercise which bonds everyone together and acknowledges the work. You finish and there is a sense of completion and high. People say their goodbyes, they hug and thank each other. They maybe come and chat to me about some aspect of the work or come to say thank you. The ending of the workshop is often both sad and beautiful.

If you think about the times (especially in times gone by when communication was more difficult than it is now) when you have been speaking with someone you love faraway on the phone and the long call is over, there is an adjustment required for you to re-inhabit your world. This can stir up a lot of ‘stuff’. It could stir up feelings of frustration, an intensified loneliness; rather than feed us as participants, as artists practising our art, it could make us feel futile. This is, of course, completely the opposite of what we want and why we go to actual workshops in the first place. It’s particularly bad because in order to practise our art we have to treat our room as the studio and be as uninhibited as we can. If you are not careful closing a session can be  like inviting people into your house with a smile, letting them in for an hour then pushing them out of the door, leaving them out on the pavement and slamming the door behind them.

 My partner suggested something and I want to share it because it goes some way to acknowledging this  problem. I tried it this week and it seems to go some way to healing this difficult moment and acknowledge their experience with this group. I asked the participants who had just had their last class that, when they turned the monitor off after saying goodbye, they sat with the monitor and continue the radiating done towards the group in the final moments. I asked them to consider what they had explored through the whole course and moments of connection they had and who they had met and watched working in the course. What could they hear and feel going on in the building, outside, and notice how ‘the world’ came back into their space. I suggested they acknowledge that what they had done was ‘real’ not some diversion and they had learned and experienced things. These things were like Chekhov said, ‘intangible’ yet they did happen and we were affected by them. They could then share their responses if they wanted. I have been given permission to produce one of them here. 

“And just like that, it was over… After saying good-bye to everyone, all the faces disappeared. I was in front of my computer, and I was contemplating the Zoom access page on the screen, that I will later need to shut down.

Suddenly, my roommate was shouting at his video games, people and cars were making noise outside but I stayed in front of the computer screen, watching the monitor, still receiving.

As I put my glasses down, I became suddenly aware of the people who were missing today and how disappointed I was they couldn’t come and how I couldn’t properly say goodbye to them. There was a feeling of ease with a touch of sadness.

My phone started to ring but I didn’t want to see who was calling, I needed one more minute to fully process all this. I wrote down some words regarding polarities on a piece of paper, knowing I will have to keep practicing in order for them to stay meaningful.

As I would do in a theatrical exercise, I shook up, breathed in and click on the red cross of the website, as if it was “saving” these 5 weeks in my memory.”

Working online is real. It stirs my soul and I hope most of my students. There is a connection. It is simply a different kind of real. Not a substitute but not nothing either.

Chekhov Online

IMG_6132AS I get more used to teaching Chekhov technique online, I have started to feel something of the buzz I feel ‘in the room’. I could be fooling myself but I am beginning to see a transmission of something between myself and my students which I feel in real time. Part of that is a sense of trust which is building not just between them and me, but between me and the technology, which though it is limited, has its spin offs. Radiating and receiving cannot quite happen the way it does in actual life, but it can happen.

Chekhov Technique is so much a technique of Energy, Imagination and Body, When I started teaching online I wondered how I would have to scale everything down, but the more I am practising, the less I feel it is necessary or desirable. With Chekhov you have to start big but authentic, before you internalise, ‘veil’ it, at the same time as keeping whatever your gesture or image is giving you, strong. Bringing your discoveries to the monitor is a great way to actually assist the understanding of this internalising within the body. I find the sight of people exercising their bodies in their own rooms using their imaginations to create a sense they are in a much bigger space than they are, still something quite magical to behold.

What is essential for me is to acknowledge where everyone is and that their room is their studio and a place where they can create. Rather than deny where they are it is important to acknowledge it and then encourage them to transform it. This can be very hard when they are home depending on what is beyond the door of their room; neighbours, parents, partner, flatmate. When participants enter an actual  workshop they are each in a different space both emotionally and psychologically and it is easy to forget that as the teacher/facilitator. Online, there is no escaping it.  In an actual workshop they have entered a dedicated space and left their homes, to some extent , behind.What has brought them together is the love of the work. The very act of coming to an actual workshop creates a strong bond between the participants and I always feel a special bond with someone I actually trained with. Online much of that is gone, so a little time needs to be spent in that bonding process if possible. On the other hand, the diversity of the participants can be extraordinary online and can only occasionally occur in an actual workshop. In the new House Arrest Group on Chekhov and devising,  creating imaginative responses to the idea of quarantine, imprisonment, whatever you want to call it, there are people from The Netherlands, Uruguay, US, Canada, Ireland and France. This is one reason I will continue to teach some classes online when the pandemic is over.

Thanks to attending other online classes and discussing with colleagues I am learning the positivity of giving people the space to work alone with camera off.

Groups are small. I cannot work with more than 8-10 people if i want to give constructive feedback, though I might get more easy about it when I possibly have to do it later in the year at the university! The group sessions right now are only an hour  (they always overrun a bit) and from the next group we will be making 90 minute sessions. This gives time for people to meet and exchange pleasantries approaching the way they might in a workshop. I am still playing with ways to end. To make the link with the whole group meaningful to each and every one of them.

Individual coaching online is a beautiful activity in many ways. It is personal and you can give the participants your full focus. It is true you cannot always fully sense the person of course which can sometimes be frustrating. I as the teacher have to work harder to make that intangible connection which feels effortless when you are both in-the-room but I feel I am having some success with it.

I am running a three module one to one project on the introduction to Chekhov for Beginners on which there are always some spaces.  I think it is quite a good way to learn principles because it puts the focus on the individual meeting and practicing the technique and going off to practise during the week. For more info contact chekhovtpi@gmail.com

  • Currently Running : advanced Groups (those with some Chekhov experience) Focussing and Discovery Group: 5 weeks/ 1 session per week. Imagination/concentration/General Atmosphere
  • Currently running : House Arrest.Devising/ The Feeling of the Whole/Atmosphere/Polarity. 5 weeks/ 1 session per week.
  • Beginners One to one : First Principles/ Character work 1/ Character Work 2 (four weeks each one session per week)

To Come :

  • ‘To Whom Shall I Complain?’ MEASURE FOR MEASURE .Chekhov and Shakespeare. 8 weeks/ 1 session per week.
  • HOUSE ARREST (GROUP 2)
  • Focussing and Discovery Group 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

House Arrest: Devising with Michael Chekhov Online

IMG_5839In the next Chekhov course exploration starting on May 14th @ 3pm we are going to look at our response to the pandemic in a very imaginative and broad way by considering those under house arrest or imprisonment and making some solo work about them which we may or may not sew together into something more substantial at the end. I want to encourage people to look at the wider implications from the imagination rather than telling their own stories, as extraordinary as they may be. Maybe through that we can start to examine where we want to go afterwards…. In any case, to start with, we are just exploring and everyone is going to make a solo piece using the broad theme of house arrest and use elements of the Chekhov technique to create it.

Preferably these individual pieces might be either abstract or poetic or dealing with characters who are not stuck in the covid lockdown but in other imprisoned scenarios from mythical characters, to real people, political prisoners, teenagers grounded for misdemeanours, anything where the person is held in, either by circumstances or their own will. I wonder whether we might find some answers there rather than writhing around in the labyrinth of the covid reality…

What does it mean to be imprisoned? We are stopped in our tracks. The will is redirected, refocussed or the person will burst. And I started to consider this in a wider sense; are we not all trapped by circumstances, our appearance, our opportunities, our families, the luck that befalls us, where we are born, whether we are a beggar or a king. Life is full of limitations. We can defy many of them but some we cannot dodge. We can call our gaolers,’ Fate”; we can rage against them or we can work within our boundaries.

What are the polarities we find in this strange time? Where do we start? I remember a playwright coming to speak with the university about a time when he was commissioned to write a play for a company and they carried in a large rock. They said, ‘we want you to be inspired by this rock in whatever way it inspires you and write a play for the company’. This is an amazing idea and not dissimilar from Chekhov’s use of imaginary centres.

And what occurs when we are released from this atmosphere of imprisonment? Do we explode back into our old frame of reference, into our ways ? unfair, unbalanced, cruel….do we drown out the birdsong again?

All imprisonment brings its lessons. I am so looking forward to running this short course to get us started with this.

If you are interested in taking part please email chekhovtpi@gmail.com. It is a course so there is a small charge. No more than 10 participants and you need to have some experience in the Michael Chekhov technique. there are a few places left only.

 

 

 

Zooming with Chekhov

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Michael Chekhov.

I want to begin with an extract of a note I sent to my group of Chekhov students yesterday after a Zoom session.

‘First of all thankyou again for a committed session on atmosphere. There were three big plusses for me, one in that sense of commitment, two when you all crossed the threshold into your room between the hallway and your room, reminding us that for now your study was your stage; and three when,  in the movement exercise, I suggested you imagine the walls of the room were not there. In that moment, it was as if everyone’s walls vanished, rather like in the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are.’

A polarity within this strange time in which we find ourselves is whether the work we are doing is primarily for the ease and betterment  of the people who come to the virtual class or to be really teaching the technique to actors for the enlightenment of an audience. The virtual workshop puts this dilemma up front and centre. everyone has a different focus but I would say myself that the work is always a balancing act and has to be both.

When I saw that moment in my workshop, when I asked people to imagine their energies were pulsating out through the walls, I felt something happened. Something very powerful was communicated to me very strongly through those little zoom squares. And that thing was even more powerful exactly because they were working within their rooms rather than the studio. It made me connect with prisoners in darker situations than most of us and how the imagination liberates and compensates us all when in difficult situations provided our will is not broken by the weight of what is happening to us;  when we are not actually ill or oppressed or struggling financially so much that we are in danger.

Today in the class for the first time I encouraged a lot of work in their rooms away from the monitors, and above all to not always allow the monitor to be the focus of their radiation, to trust the participants more to commit for themselves; to allow the cord of energy from the monitor to link us together rather than them (and I) feeling like it was a rope we had to hang onto for dear life. Of course there are distractions where they were and we did talk about that a bit. It is not dissimilar to when you are working on a film and a whole pile of things are going on around you, but you have to be there in your reality and your truth with your fellow performers.

I personally feel like an artist who has to kind of work underground, like Shakespeare and his company hiding out during the plague years or theatre in times of war and oppression.

I particularly wondered about theatre companies in the English Civil War when theatre was banned as ungodly. What did the actors do during this strange and difficult period of many years? What was lost? Who died in penury, their living and their creative talent and opportunities wasted?  I want to keep this Chekhov work vibrant while we are in lockdown because it is a unique way of seeing the world and creating art; because even in this difficult time we have a duty to preserve our artistic wholeness.

“The artist of today cannot be an artist if he is disconnected from real life; it has never been possible in any ethos, in any culture.”  Michael Chekhov Lessons for Teachers

Ironically, whilst Zoom is strange, for now it is a reality. I have been surprised at sometimes just what comes through. We have to stay awake.

One thing that is lovely is that I am much more in contact with international colleagues, and that people from all over the world are coming to study with me. That is fun.

(email chekhovtpi@gmail.com for courses)

 

Give Me Your Hands

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On adaptation and versions of Shakespeare and particularly Russell T Davies Adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on BBC4. This I discover was actually made in 2016.

 

There are lots of reasons to edit and transpose in Shakespeare. I am certainly not averse to it and have a whole chapter on the subject in ‘What Country Friends Is This?’ my new book to be published by NHB later in the year. Michael Chekhov wrote, way back in the middle of the 20th century, that Shakespeare often needed editing and shaping for a modern audience. But as Peter Brook warned in Evoking (and Forgetting!) Shakespeare, to modernise, cut or transpose meant that you had to be fully aware of the consequences.

There are lots of things we might challenge in the Dream; the over-arching idea that heterosexual love and marriage was the natural and only way out of conflict; that it is ok for the ruler Theseus to conquer  the Amazons and then to marry their queen whilst the blood is still soaking into the battlefield; that it is ok to have the king of the Fairies to destroy the environment and fight with his queen over possession of a changeling boy and then to get his revenge by bewitching her into having sex with (essentially) an animal.

All of these problems were faced head-on in a feast of pyrotechnical skill and pace with clever editing and truncating of plot, and some very nice use of language (though of course the edits were enormous). It opened us to different sorts of love, which was great. But for me it did not fully work in a very fundamental way. I want to look at just a couple of things.

At the centre of this problem are the roles of Theseus and Hippolyta, to my mind two of the most underwritten parts in Shakespeare. Unless they are played by the same actors playing Titania and Oberon who play out the warring conflict of Theseus and Hippolyta in a poetic way, then they are nearly always unsatisfactory. Davies’ solution to this was a bold one. He made the kingdom of Athens a totalitarian state, Theseus a fascist madman and Hipployta a kind of fairy creature (I won’t elaborate in case you haven’t seen it) . I remember when I worked on this play in ’08 I toyed with something similar but felt that unless I changed the play completely, it simply would not carry through. In the TV adaptation it meant (and this is not a bad idea) what happens in the forest somehow liberates and frees everyone in Athens itself. That is intrinsic to the play but somehow does not always happen in production.

The speech of Theseus in Act V “I never may believe these antique fables” where he decries and rubbishes the lovers’ story of the forest and love and imagination in total is the complete opposite of what the play is telling us. Shakespeare had great faith in romantic love, even though everyone does not end up a winner (look at Twelfth Night). So, if we are looking for a polarity, this cynical, superior, materialistic speech is a dynamic to explore and set against the thrust of the play. When I did a production of this play in 08 I gave that speech to Egeus, who is the one person in the original who is not happy about the young lovers’ decision. He was mobbed and pursued by the fairies and chased from the stage. To keep the speech with Theseus makes it completely unbelievable that he would pardon the lovers for the transgression and have them marry with him.  In answer to this criticism you might say to me, “this is a fantasy”. Yes it is a fantasy but one that needs an emotional logic for the actors to play. For John Hannah I really felt for a moment his characterisation was squeezed by the demands of the adaptation.  Had he somehow made it look that his decision to pardon them was in order to make his own marriage look acceptable, I feel this would have gone with the concept. In other words, that he needed those young lovers to legitimise his own marriage.

A similar problem occurred with Titania and Oberon. By cutting the changeling child and making the argument between Titania and Oberon about Titania’s love for Hippolyta (a neat idea considering how badly Theseus treats her), that idea needed to be followed through in Oberon’s character trajectory. Despite some beautiful moments, the character of Oberon who should go on this big journey in the adaptation was lost. A key moment was a line change in Act 4 Sc3  “Oh how mine eyes do loathe his visage now” which Titania says when she awakes from the enchantment when she sees her ass-headed lover, but it was changed to “Oh how mine eyes do loathe thy visage now” as a jibe to Oberon but said as a joke…. So hey presto, he puts her under a spell to humiliate herself and she says, ‘ha, fair cop,love!” It was another moment where a decision made in the adaptation did not for me sit well with the actors.

Like many adaptations, I felt somehow that in some of these crucial journies and atmospheres director, writer and actors were not quite on the same page. So despite some great energy, for me this made it rather superficial. Why, for instance were the mechanicals not terrified at the Duke’s Palace when they did the play? An atmosphere was explored here later in the scene but they should have come in with this expectation that, though this was an honour, it was dangerous. Having said this, the adaptation and the acting hit some really good notes, not least Flute’s final speech as Thisbe (Which, by the way, we would have been much better to stay with rather than constantly cutting back to the demise of Theseus – you need to see it).

Though I liked Maxine Peake (Titania)  and  Nonso Anozie (Oberon) for me the acting that sat best with the adaptation was Puck (Hiran Abeysekera) , Lysander (Matthew Tennyson), Hermia.(Priska Bakare)  and finally  Flute(Fisayo Akinade).

The one thing that really annoyed me though was the continual music track. For me the words are music enough, at least for some of the time.

 

 

 

 

The whole world can come!

IMG_5906.JPGIn the meantime…… whilst online learning is far from ideal there are aspects of the Michael Chekhov technique we can explore and it means THE WHOLE WORLD CAN COME!!!!

ONLINE TEACHING FOR CHEKHOV TRAINING AND PERFORMANCE IRELAND

One to One sessions- Let It Begin.

If your connection to the Chekhov technique is fairly new then these 4 / 45 minute sessions will act as something for your understanding and practise. Perhaps you want to reconnect with the work after an absence. Above all we have to remember that Chekhov Technique is an experiential practise so much of our time together will be working on Spy back or Flyback, that is looking back on the experiences you have had when practicing the technique, though we will do SOME exercises in our face to face time together. Clearly we will be restricted somewhat but for now that has to be ok.

You will need to have learned an 8-10 line speech from a play you know well. I would prefer it not to be from a movie.

Session One: Qualities of movement and an introduction to Gesture
Session Two: Ideal centre. Directions of Energy/ radiating and receiving.
Session Three: General Atmosphere
Session Four: Psychological Gesture.

please email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com for information on how to register and book.

FOCUSSING SESSIONS FOR THOSE ARTISTS WITH SOME CHEKHOV EXPERIENCE (GROUP)

This pause in our inability to meet together to practise and develop our acting skills through the Chekhov technique, is also an opportunity to really focus on our practise in the technique, to take more responsibility for it rather than simply getting a buzz from the workshops, which I know is a massive learning tool in itself but it is not everything . So yes, in a sense this might give us a breathing space to give us a chance to focus personally on our relationship to the technique and how it lives in us.

Each week each participant will undertake to do at least 20 minutes per day practising and focussing on a principle of the Chekhov Technique and keep some notes of their discoveries which we will share in our on-line sessions. these on line sessions might be 40 minute checking in sessions and talking through our discoveries. (it’s ok if you don’t have any) For this first four weeks I propose that I suggest the four topics and suggest a few exercises to go with them.

I will not charge for this organising and facilitation for this first month because I want to see how it works! We will start by using Skype I wantabout 8 people but may expand it later and do longer session discussion groups. There are a lot of possibilities here and we should not be downhearted about it.
WEEK ONE : The Dramatic Imagination. Developing our imagination for creativity …working with novels , short stories. Chekhov’s image work with fairy stories.

WEEK TWO Concentration on working with object images to create character. ‘Falling in love’ with the object. Working with images. Making the image larger or smaller

WEEK THREE Working with Energy. energy body. Expanding and shaping the centre.

WEEK FOUR General Atmosphere. Working with a short poem or song . noticing atmospheres in your daily life… The Atmosphere of Quarantine for instance.

email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com

Being In The Room

51090851_617034175402228_8035195185824530432_nThe Michael Chekhov acting technique, with the movement of energy in the body as one its central tenets, requires you to really be ‘in the room’ when you are working with people. It is hard to express the sensation I feel when teaching, as if I am moulding the session with the help of the participants, or like a boat, steering the class into the wind but aware that some discovery by either myself or the group can send us off into different waters. It is a communion with every single person in the room.

I have been holding back from teaching online partly because my internet coverage is so inadequate – on a Zoom conversation with colleagues the other day I watched everyone as their faces became degas dabs,  their words turned  into the sound of piano keys, then every so often I caught a sentence or two before finally being  cut off. It was upsetting and frustrating particularly as I thought I had found a way to increase my speed and I am still working on it . I am sure these things can work and be embraced, but for now big classes are not the way forward for me personally. One thing I want to do is develop and make time for my own practise and development in the work as I did when I began to train.

For me right now the tools of the Chekhov Technique are as much about maintaining and expanding our sense of mental well being as they are about developing our skills as performers I have used many of the elements  in applied drama to help people communicate more effectively and importantly to connect up voice, body, imagination and feelings which makes us into more whole human beings. I am making short voice exercise recordings for radiating/ receiving, breathing and voice. I am putting them on my FB page ‘Teaching Voice’ . These will include some Chekhov work. If you are interested, check these out (there will be six).

In addition I am seeking to run four sessions for beginners one to one, These will be on Skype and Face Time,  exploring the very basic principles of some of the work.  They will involve exercises and offline practise. email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com if you are interested.

There will also be an advanced study group which is more likely to be a discussion/ development  group without camera, maybe with audio or just typing. … These will be small groups and be initially free . They will be conducted on Skype.. 

One to One sessions- Let It Begin. 

If your connection to the Chekhov technique is fairly new then these  4 / 45 minute sessions will act as something for your understanding and practise. Perhaps you want to reconnect with the work after an absence. After my own in depth training courses, i would go for months practising alone, before the next one. Above all we have to remember that Chekhov Technique is an experiential practise so much of our time together will be working on Flyback, that is looking back on the experiences you have had when practicing the technique, though we will do SOME exercises in our face to face time together. Clearly we will be restricted somewhat but for now that has to be ok.

You will need to have learned an 8-10 line speech from a play you know well. I would prefer it not to be from a movie.     

Session One: Qualities of movement and an introduction to Gesture

Session Two: Ideal centre. Directions of Energy/ radiating and receiving. 

Session Three: General Atmosphere

Session Four:   Psychological Gesture.

Focussing sessions for those with some Chekhov Experience(GROUP) SKYPE

This pause in our inability to meet together to practise and develop our acting skills through the Chekhov technique, is also an opportunity to really focus on our practise in the technique, to take more responsibility for it rather than simply getting a buzz from the workshops, which I know is a massive learning tool in itself but it is not everything . So yes, in a sense this might give us a breathing space to give us a chance to focus personally on our relationship to the technique and how it lives in us. 

Each week each participant will undertake to do at least 20 minutes per day practising and focussing on a principle of the Chekhov Technique and keep some notes of their discoveries which we will share in our on-line sessions. these on line sessions might be 40 minute checking in sessions and talking through our discoveries. (it’s ok if you don’t have any) For this first four weeks I propose that I suggest the four topics to give us a shape and suggest a few exercises to go with them.  The discussion will either take place in chat or with video or audio, which ever works. what’s important is that we connect together. IMG_4945

WEEK ONE : The Dramatic Imagination. Developing our imagination for creativity …working with fairy stories

WEEK TWO Concentration on working with object images to create character. ‘Falling in love’ with the object. Working with images. Making the image larger or smaller 

WEEK THREE Working with Energy. energy body. Expanding and shaping the centre.

WEEK FOUR General Atmosphere. Working with a short poem or song. noticing atmospheres in your daily life…  

Finally , I have been reflecting a lot about Michael Chekhov himself; how the world was in this completely turbulent and awful madness, violence and cruelty for much of his life. It seems easy to dismiss our work and disrespect the inner artistic development of our lives when ‘there are more important things to think about’.  We must not let that feeling win . Our creative soul is every bit as important as it always was, perhaps even more so. in times of deep crisis.

“The artist of today cannot be an artist if he is disconnected from the real life” Michael Chekhov : Lessons for Teachers

Falling Prey

A play I wrote and performed in the 80s came into my mind today. It was called Falling Prey.

falling prey

Joseph living on the streets

In the mid to late 80s i was living in Central London and we were right in the middle of the AIDS pandemic. For a while many people pretended not much was happening. This is a natural response when something you feel is wonderful and helps define you (in this case, a free-and-easy approach to sexual encounters) is under threat. We tried to brush it aside and say things like, “well don’t have sex with Americans” as it had been rumoured to originate there amongst the gay community. Or you might say there were certain things you could and couldn’t do. A whole raft of theories came up ; some correct, some completely unfounded. Many people would cling onto anything, as long as they could just behave as they had always done, for a while at least. 

On the other side, people were all too prepared to exercise their prejudices and hate. People were blamed immediately; the usual suspects; gay men, prostitutes, drug addicts and Africans.  (I was deeply saddened by the Italian ambassador to Britain pleading with the British population not to target Italians as the corona-carriers the other day.)

In the 80’s  the blaming was overt and inflammatory, because the targets were the object of vilification to start with. AIDS was “The wrath of God” against sexual perverts. Even when it was clarified that straight people could get it too, that vilification did not go away.  The Evening Standard newspaper was one of the worst offenders. Gays should be monitored, tagged, and sent to camps. You could catch it from kissing and from swimming pools they said and a whole raft of rumours spread. It was very very scary.

in 1987 I wrote a play set five years into the future (1992) called FALLING PREY,  presented at the Man in the Moon Theatre in King’s Road London predicated on the idea that the police were given powers to round up the homeless and test them, there was mandatory testing for high risk groups and that only those tested from high risk groups with a ‘clear’ status could work in caring professions.  The play was pretty epic in scope and was as much about Thatcher’s divided Britain as it was about AIDS. Thatcherite policies such as , “There is no such thing as society” one of her particular pronouncements encouraged the kind of division and nastiness such as exists even more at the moment. I already am appalled by the way I feel some politicians are using the current emergency as a smokescreen to consolidate their power.

In Falling Prey, there were three interweaving stories: Mel, (Liz Richardson) an unfocussed lonely middle class housewife who became paranoid about AIDs and became gradually politicised by a right wing group; a soft ‘liberal’ trendy gay spokesperson Colberton (Charles Grant) for the oncoming identity card campaign; and a young primary school teacher Joseph (myself), who because he suspects that he might be HIV positive goes underground and ends up homeless, who endures all sorts of deprivation only to discover at the end of the play that he is not, that he has endured that persecution for nothing. At the end of the ordeal he completely goes mad , attacking the policeman who brought him in saying “you’ve got something! You’ve got something!” Joseph’s journey might be hard to understand today but it spoke very much to how people were feeling at the time. You were dealing with a feeling that you might be guilty of something (after all, the media intimated you were) and there was no cure then, in fact even the remedial drugs were very experimental . I knew a few people who killed themselves rather than endure years of suffering and pain. It is sad and shocking to think of it now.

But whilst there is still no adequate vaccine  for AIDS(though it is getting there) , the ‘holding drugs’ have allowed people to engage in full lives and the prejudice that seemed so imminent then did not manifest itself in quite that way thank goodness. In many respects, not least Ireland, there has been excellent progress. Lest we get blasé even about this however , Poland, a member of the EU no less, is still horrifically setting up LGBT free-zones. (The EU should be threatening them with expulsion for this behaviour in my opinion).

thinking about now,

Right now I feel like a minor character in an Old Testament story in the midst of the Deity’s Wrath:  plagues of locusts, War, out of control Fire and Flood. Globalisation, greed, inequality, murder, rape, trafficking and of course the rebelling angry  climate.

In my house, the Anchorhold, where I live with my partner I have always felt like I live on a ship. (On windy days like today it seems especially so).The first year we arrived here was 94/95 which, for those reading this and alive then, was a wild and fractious winter here in Ireland . Our house feels like the Ark, ploughing through the wind and rain – in movement itself, rather than still. It feels as if we are on a voyage in it,

which of course we are.

 

The Whole of Russia is Our Orchard

UnknownAfter working recently with the same translation of this play in a post graduate class I was struck again by the wonder of Anton Chekhov’s plays, as I always am. When I was introduced to the Three Sisters in my very first year of drama school, the teacher’s love and enthusiasm was something I have kept with me ever since. So I went with a group of students to the production of The Cherry Orchard by Druid Theatre. It was very enjoyable and educational as my students and I had a good twenty/thirty minutes afterwards discussing the production of a play we had studied practically on our feet in acting class last semester.

Chekhov’s plays are not realistic, they only appear to be. When played totally realistically the characters appear aimless and merely stupid. But these plays are poems that appear to be plays. In actual fact all the characters are being torn apart and what is so powerful about the plays is that everyone has these polarities within them. if the actors do not play these conflicts fully then the play seems pointless. The Cherry Orchard becomes a long play about selling a house (as my partner remarked on the drive home).

Everyone is pulled in many directions from the beginning. Lopahkin is conflicted because he really wants to help Lyubov. He owes her; she saved him from a difficult childhood. This is in the script, not something I imagined. It is an extremely frustrating position for him; part of him is hungry to buy the orchard and part of him feels he is not worthy. In his big speech this should tear him apart. He is drunk and when you are drunk things come out. His big speech gives ample opportunity to explore this and reveal more of the character. Lyubov, in her turn, is selfish, manipulative and confused but as maddening as she is, she has at her heart the idea that she is a terrible mother and deserves to be punished. (there are other places you can go with this but that’s a good engine). Is not perhaps her constant profligacy to give away money a way of showing how generous and guilt-ridden she is? Yasha is not just a kind of upwardly mobile cruel servant but someone who feels the pull of his peasant background and is rebelling against it. There is a wonderful scene in the play where Yasha is left alone with Lyubov for a moment and he begs her to take him with her back to Paris. This is a very short scene but for Yasha’s character it is crucial and I feel I want to see his desperation. Petya, the student, shows many signs of political dilettante behaviour in the play but his ‘The whole of Russia is our orchard’ speech has to lift us to counteract his immature behaviour later. For that moment I as an audience member really have to feel that the world can change. What I am saying here is that everyone in this play has a lot at stake and without that, nothing can happen and the play is just a lot of silly people struggling.

Additionally all the characters have to have a journey because at first glance, the production will not have a trajectory other than, as I say, the house is sold.  Having said that, there were several excellent performances. I especially liked Varya (Siobhan Cullen), Firs (John Olohan), Carlotta (Helen Norton) , Pischik(Garrett Lombard)  and especially Gayev(Rory Nolan); they impressed me a lot but good acting (as much as actors might believe it) cannot provide this feeling of the Whole (another Michael Chekhov term) by themselves.

All plays need atmosphere but Chekhov’s plays especially. Despite some beautifully atmospheric scene changes I longed for more in the scenes themselves, because the intangible sense of atmosphere as explored by Anton’s genius nephew, the teacher/actor/director Michael Chekhov is one of the most important things that actors (not just designers and lighting designers) have to create and work with. The atmosphere also unites the cast even when the characters do not respond to it in the same way. I remember well in our acting class (and I am not trying to compare a professional production with a class – I am simply giving an example) the atmosphere of the nursery, invading the consciousness of all the characters who entered that room  after their journey and most particularly Anya and Lyubov the two characters to whom it mattered most.

On a more practical note, acoustically there are a lot of problems in the Black Box, where the play was performed. It is a large cavernous space. I know these problems, because with my touring company Theatrecorp I did seven productions in there. Any attempt to speak to the wings or upstage means you need a lot of breath and one or two people were inaudible. It is also important to note that with a very wide stage space even those who sit at the front stage left are almost as far away as those at the back of the auditorium if you are speaking from stage right.