Freedom and Discipline – A visit to Emerson College

Just recently I took a trip to London to visit my publisher, meet my old friends, and visit my friend Sarah Kane, who with Gregors Binch and Geoff Norris, have set up PerformInternational, a new performance training project, which unites the training of Michael Chekhov with Rudolf Steiner. As many readers will know Chekhov was heavily influenced by Steiner’s work, though this influence was diluted, at least publicly, in order to make him more commercial and readily available to a more materialistic public

One of the things I loved about my 36 hour flying visit was the beautiful venue, Emerson College. After a short train journey from London to East Grinstead I was picked up and driven into the countryside. Steeped in its great history of alternative learning and in enormous grounds, some of which were now given over to organic farming, the old White House sits on a slope surrounded by a host of other buildings all of which have their own distinct atmosphere. Many of the buildings house environmental projects, one of them had water purification fountains. There were sculptures at every turn, and I really felt as if I had stepped back in time, and was in a place where art and creativity were truly valued. Sarah took me into a room which was now the centre of the storytelling course, that felt thick and heady with the imagination, with cosy chairs and colourful hangings. It smelt of myth.

The delicious vegetarian food was really wonderful, all made in the kitchens there.

PerformInternational were offering an exploratory week of training in voice and Body. We worked in Eurythmy house, a large warm space. The day was focused and long, and I made my own contribution by leading an hour of centre work and radiating and receiving. A highlight for me was working with some wonderful musical instruments, creating scores and making wonderful sounds together, singing and working with atmosphere, the body and poetry. Something that many trainings ignore is that in order to create you have first to find freedom. Most trainings believe that discipline comes first, but i am not so sure this is true, having seen many instances where the discipline of drama school often alienates the person from their creative nature. Of course you need to create a disciplined  environment where freedom can be allowed to exist, just as you do for a child. Ultimately you have to have discipline in this freedom, but I do not believe it is true that discipline necessarily creates freedom, any more than doing what you want alone creates discipline and focus. Creativity has got to be a balance. Now we can be free, now we can be focused and controlled and now we can do both.

Chekhov trainng in Dartington Hall

Chekhov trainng in Dartington Hall 1936

Later on in the day there was some quite rigorous work on poetry which was the opposite of the day’s work. But this is what I mean, the balance of the polarity of discipline and freedom makes for true release.

At the end of the long day, as  I stepped on the train to head back to London I reflected that where i had been  both physically and spiritually had the feel of those wonderful photos from the thirties of Chekhov training actors at Dartington Hall.


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