Monthly Archives: March 2016

Inspired by Chekhov

magic jer off

photo : Jerry Fitzgerald. photographer Sean T O’Meallaigh

When I first started working with the Chekhov Technique, it felt incredibly familiar to me. I had been using the body to find the emotions and voice of the character, and helping others to do so, for years and years. But when I discovered there was a technique which embraced fully the idea of connecting Voice, Feelings, Body and Imagination, a holistic approach to acting, it felt like I had ‘come home’. The word ‘technique’ implies rules and regulations and whilst there are some, there is an incredible flexibility within it, which opens up its use to a whole range of work. I have used the work in devising, scripted plays, applied drama and voice work. It is open to use in everything. It expands our sense of who we can be and what we can create.

Chekhov asks the question, ‘How often have we been to see plays and leave unmoved or unchanged, and yet we do not know why?’ In my case it has happened far more times than I can care to mention. When I look back, the play may have had good actors, lots of money thrown at it, good production values etc, but there is something within it which is essentially hollow. There is little or no real exchange between performers and there is not this concept of a shared experience.
I started wondering if the dissatisfaction with so many performances I saw, was me, expecting too much? But whenever I remember the massive amount of work, feeling and sacrifice that goes into making a piece of work, I remember that everything I want from this experience of watching a performance is valid. I am looking for this ‘intangible’ that Chekhov speaks of, and if it is not there I am disappointed. When I said ‘exchange’ earlier I meant the real exchange of energy between performers not just a kind of ego driven fake ‘listening’ which passes too often as acting. As an experiment, take a moment with someone you know well and look into their eyes. Hold that exchange for longer than feels comfortable and you will understand what I mean. You will feel the energy flow between you quite naturally. You might want to look away or get giggly, but you most definitely feel it. This passing of energy can have many forms and feelings, but it is happening all the time.
Michael Chekhov technique really explores the intangible invisible ingredient in depth through exploring atmosphere for instance, and puts it at the front of creation, rather than as something which might just happen if we intellectually understand our roles and can play the scenes ‘realistically’. This is what makes it very effective for devising. It encourages us to listen to our inner creative voice. Nay-sayers might suggest this approach sounds self-indulgent because we are listening to the creative spirit rather than leading with the intellect, but this is not so. It is free, but it has a discipline within it. The main part of this discipline is to honour your creative spirit and train your voice body and whole being to follow it rather than put things in the way. It gives us a new way to look at creativity and how to engage with it.
I was very inspired the other day by two things. I met a young woman artist in the street who had trained in Chekhov technique who reminded me about how important it is to share this way of working. I do not know if she realised it, but it reminded me how important it was for me to run Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland here in Galway, and create somehow a hub for this work.  Then I saw this video on my FB newsfeed where one of the people who has taught me so much about the work, Fern Sloan, from America was speaking. Check this link for an inspirational few minutes.

https://michaelchekhovschool.org/…/…/04/lineage-legacy-fern/

Our first workshop of Spring is CHEKHOV AND DEVISING (APRIL 8-10) here in Galway City. Check here on the CHEKHOV TRAINING AND PERFORMANCE IRELAND page for more info or email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com or phone 0863307325.
The second CHEKHOV FOR DIRECTING ( AND INEVITABLY, ACTING) is being held May 13-15. The third , IMAGINATION AND THE BODY is being held 17-19th June.

A website is coming . For now we have the FB business page
http://www.facebook.com/chektrainperformireland
and the particular page on this WordPress blog.

 

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‘That it shall bear fruit’ Chalk Circle final act

Before I finally let go of my production of the Caucasian Chalk Circle I would like to share some discoveries that came because of my exploration into Chekhov’s laws of composition, along with my own experience and common sense.

In my experience it is always a massive wrench for the audience when we leave the story of Grusha suspended in the narrative, and take a step back in time to follow the story of Azdak, the man who will become her judge in the case of the child. This is inevitable given we feel we know Grusha, have followed her story for three acts, and understand what she has given up in order to keep the child. We identify and empathise with her and suddenly she is gone from the play. Ironically I know all this flies in the face of the idea of Brechtian alienation but I feel, as did one of my student actors, that Brecht fails miserably in his attempt to alienate in the Chalk Circle because Grusha, Simon and Azdak are such sympathetic characters.

So back to the wrench the audience experience as they move not just from one story to the other, and one lead character to another , but to a different style of playing as well. They move from an epic tale to a cabaret. 

In exploring the play through the principles of composition of Michael Chekhov I looked at the shape of the play with the cast as to its beginning, middle and end. The whole of the first three stories concerning Grusha and her escape and her sacrifice in order to protect little Michael, belonged to the beginning .It seemed,in our exploration, that the Story of the Judge, the section in which Azdak is introduced and,through a fluke, becomes the judge throughout the chaos which follows the revolution, was like a party; an anarchic time through which fairness and justice occasionally shone through on those poor and disenfranchised people who were usually ignored, abused and spat upon. We felt this section had the atmosphere of a party. This party section was the middle. 

Before the end of this act though, the rulers from the beginning were back, and order (and repression) was restored. This was beginning of the end section.

So we reach the Trial, a heady atmosphere where the forces of repression and anarchy struggle in the courtroom. There is a great temptation in this final act to fall into the ‘fable trap’. What I mean is an assumption that everyone knows the end so we just play the act with strength and pace. The act however is full of moral twists and turns.

What is interesting for me is how Azdak gives Grusha such a hard time for nearly 30 minutes before eventually being courageous enough to award the child to her. Is he just a boor? What is clear is though he knows full well the Governor’s wife wants the child for her own material reasons, he is rude to Grusha and appears to side with the nobles. His life has just been saved and he has been reappointed as judge through his own random act of kindness. 

It seems to me that Grusha is his conscience; through her sacrifice and endurance and love for this child she moves from being an obedient servant to being an outspoken revolutionary. For me though this is less interesting than what is happening to Azdak, who has a decision to make. Is he going to side with the rich, compromise his principles and save his life? Or is he going to side with Grusha and move into a very dangerous future? It is easy to justify giving the child to the nobles. After all, Natella is the real mother, but it is not the moral decision. We all make these compromises every single day of our lives, and for me this courageous decision of Azdak, along with the fact that both he and Grusha perform acts of generosity which result in transformation is what makes this a really great uplifting yet unsentimental play.