Monthly Archives: March 2014

Theatrecorp and a Question of Technique.

Theatrecorp, which specialises in World Theatre Classics and adaptations is now planning its next production. Go to the link of Theatrecorp on this page to read something of the company history.

When Theatrecorp produced its seventh show, MEASURE FOR MEASURE, last year, it was the first show we had done where the show was created using the Chekhov Technique as the main plank of the rehearsal process. When I say this, I do not mean to say that it was the only way we created the work, but that it was the main theatrical language we used. In fact, I actually excluded very talented people who had had no experience with the Chekhov work, so keen was I to follow this through and use it as a directing process. The first week of this process is well documented in the Michael Chekhov Association  newsletter 2014 which you can access by going to their website so I am not going to go into too much detail here about the nuts and bolts journey of that initial exploration.
What are the drawbacks of using one technique? Might this be restrictive ? I would argue that all techniques have within them certain dangers when they are too solely and too rigorously applied, especially in ensembles where any inherent dangers in the technique are thereby multiplied by the practitioners. However, on the ‘plus’ side, one technique gives a company a basic common language with which to work, putting everyone on the same page and hopefully making powerful work.If you truly believe that theatre is a group endeavour, a technique common to all, at least in part, can only be positive.

Of course , everyone brings their own background and training to any play so that one technique and ensemble is also enriched by the sensibility, training and focus of every person in the room.

Professionally, however, this diversity is often a free-for-all in journeyman productions when actors and director collaborate for only one production,(a common scenario as we all know) because friction can arise through the different working processes of the director and the different actors. I can always remember one actor raging at another in a full rehearsal room ‘ I do not use your fucking technique,and don’t try and make me!’

As an aside, when I was auditioning actors in London, it was often possible to tell where a person had been trained from the way they performed their audition pieces. This is how profoundly technique and training affects your work. This might sound a bit grandiose, but it is very true that acting techniques are very much philosophies which are not just about how they ask us to look at theatre but how to look and react to the world in which we live.

For me, many method-type processes are by their very nature, inward-looking, ego-driven and materialist. They are very craft-driven, with the ‘actor’s tool box’, very much to do with being an effective worker in ‘the business’. Chekhov is much more concerned with the mystery of creation, and a refusal to simply reproduce photographic representations of ‘real life’. He also asserts the status of the actor as a creative artist, as opposed to an interpretive one.

As a director, the principal focus Chekhov offers to me is the shape of a production through his work on composition, exploring themes and polarities and working with atmosphere. Because Chekhov believed that atmosphere, was the ‘oxygen of a performance’ in which the characters lived and told their stories, to explore these general atmospheres thoroughly can only really be done through an ensemble which uses the technique. Exploring these atmospheres thereby gives a ‘score’ for the play, which all the participants can share as they work on their roles. This score can be alarmingly and magically  different to any conceptions I as a director may have had at the start. And for me, that magic, for which I mean transformation, is what makes this way of working so special, producing surprising artistic choices.



Connecting the Voice to the Imagination

I write this after running a Voice workshop In Galway this last weekend. It always gives me the greatest joy to watch, as people start to connect their bodies, voices, imaginations and feelings. To realise how the tensions in their bodies can be melted with imagination, how the breath really is the fuel of the body, how life is all about radiating and receiving energy from one to the other, how words have energy and a direction of their own, before we even embark upon character, and how learning can be much more visceral than when writing an essay or passing an exam. As we worked on a chorus from Thebans,a retelling of the Oedipus/Antigone story, by  Liz Lochead, soon to be visiting Galway for the Cuirt Literature Festival, we found wonderful moments of power .

When people come initially to a voice class, I feel they sometimes expect to experience something from a dimly remembered Speech and Drama class , which is not where I take them. Without marrying the technical practise with an imaginative psychophysical response, technical proficiency alone is almost worthless. Watching some of the participants in my course finding a powerful expression of language and feelings through voice and the body this weekend empowered not only them, but me.


The photo, a rehearsal shot by Jim Hynes, shows Aoife Corry , as YERMA, with Claire Keating and Marie Hegarty in the background. The production, a collaboration between NUI Galway and Core Theatre College, was performed in February 2014 at the Mick Lally Theatre Galway.

The production occurred in such an amazingly organic, flowing  way. Whilst interviewing for stage management, I met a student who happened to be a singer, and who was studying Spanish. This student ended up creating and singing the music, teaching it to the student/ actors and in finding a guitarist who played Spanish guitar who played live. This in turn  made me fully realise the general atmosphere I wanted to create was as if the audience was attending  a Spanish music session rather than a Play. The person who was organising sound was shifted to the lighting as we went further to develop this ambiance and have only live sound.  The central area where the main action took place had the feel of a small stage where someone might have got up to dance flamenco rather than perform scenes..

The rehearsal process eschewed text analysis, other than when we worked through the scenes. I find too much analysis destroys spontaneity and creativity, and it was for this reason that I chose a very direct actable translation by Peter Luke. I would like to talk about this issue of text analysis more.


Michael Chekhov talks eloquently about the relationship between the Intellect and the Imagination . The lntellect is the lab assistant, working for the Professor of the Imagination. You mine your imagination first, then consider how that might affect the emotional AND intellectual understanding of the character and the play.

I was brought up on the idea of high and long scrutiny of the text before you got up to work; to only learn your lines when you had actioned them in some way, when you had pored over every phrase and sentence. Now I know that can result into falling into a bog that becomes harder and harder to get out of . The thing is,Intellectual knowing  might be reassuring but does not really help you act.  Acting is a different sort of knowing: it is instinct; Imagination; sensations. It is not that the Intellect plays no role at all, it is vital, but it cannot come first , other than for research and for reading the text.

Because people are so often trained in a more text-oriented way, I was a little nervous about pursuing this process so radically with students whose experience of Chekhov technique was stronger for some than for others, but I need not have worried. The approach really freed many of the actors for whom this work was new to go places, way outside of their ‘comfort zone’.

Our first week of rehearsal involved only one serious discussion of the play and one readthrough. What was interesting from students’ feedback subsequently was how much they felt they knew about the play without having had much discussion. Of course they had read the play and done some background research prior to the beginning of our work, but we did not engage with that overmuch. Later when we worked on the poetic sections we worked extensively physically on the images.

Had we been doing a Shakespeare or a Jacobean play ,  a more intellectual examination of the text to explore meaning would definitely have been necessary , as it is often hard to understand,  but actors would have been encouraged to do as much of that work as they could at home. Language in Shakespeare is everything; story;character; psychology; set .When doing a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream with young people, I got a fabulous MA student to meet the students separately to go through the meaning of the language with them , and the myriad of mythical stories which the characters tell, before they came in to work in rehearsal.

If you eschew the intellect altogether of course there are dangers. The production can be shapeless, the story fuzzy, the language disregarded. But I would argue that without atmosphere, radiating and receiving energy, and a full unfettered, emotional and imaginative response first,  the real core of a piece is harder to dig out.