Monthly Archives: June 2016

Teaching Chekhov Technique

I always feel profoundly humbled when teaching an Intro to Chekhov weekend, at what I consider the enormity of opening this imaginative and visceral world to the participants. This last weekend they did not disappoint me. What was exciting was that all the participants were meeting the work for the first time, but for one who was revisiting it after a long absence.

Teachers reading this are all too aware I am sure that often we do not have participants at the same stage on short courses and this can be frustrating for the participants and tricky for the teacher. There was no such problem this weekend, and it was a true delight to watch people open and develop as the weekend progressed. The development was really palpable as people got braver and bigger and deeper. It was a real opening up. Ultimately people were performing short scenes which had depth and power.

Another issue with introductory weekend courses is whether to work with an actual play or not. It would be simple of course with Michael Chekhov Technique to not touch a text for a long time. It is probably the purest way to do it. After all, when you first encounter psychophysical work the most important thing is to experience it. Then you need to practise, to really get it into the body. It was interesting how everyone said that repeating a particular exercise made it so much easier. The group seemed to grow together in the moment that feeling was voiced, as they all agreed.

However, whilst on the one hand it is important to move slowly, I think it is also important to give those who are meeting the work for the first time an opportunity to see where the work might be going once they achieve proficiency so they can not only feel it in their being but also experience how they might use it as actors. That also gives them the incentive to go on, practise alone, come to more courses, and deepen their learning.

IMG_2033 copyIt is so easy when you feel as passionately about the work as I do to go into really serious intricacies which are not at all appropriate for participants opening to the work. I caught myself doing this once or twice and inwardly laughed at myself. The more experienced I get, paradoxically, the harder it is to stick to fundamental basics and riff away on some detail. I guess it is the teacher’s excitement and ego getting the upper hand. I have sometimes been in classes like that myself as a participant where the teacher has let that happen and it is not edifying or helpful. In fact, as the student, it can be deeply annoying. On this weekend we were exploring strong first principles and those were what I needed to impart. It reminds me strongly of the quote from Lessons For Teachers by Michael Chekhov, that I have in the front of my book, Teaching Voice.

“If you are teaching you must be active…. Try and speak as if from your whole being.”

When you do that, you do not digress. But following that principle requires an incredible concentration from the teacher. You have to be fully open to the students and yet at the same time, guide them. And you have to speak clearly and give instructions as clearly as you can. When we are asking the students to open themselves up to different stimuli , an uncertain instruction that confuses can feel like a kind of betrayal, if that isn’t too strong a word. This requires a phenomenal degree of focus.

This weekend has made me feel it even more important to start defining beginners and those more developed, so in the Autumn term I am intending to run an opening class , and an intermediate class in an effort to provide a structure.

For those coming to the August Workshop EXPRESSING THE INVISIBLE August 18-21, some basic understanding of the principles is required but the workshop will have a wide arc and is being planned for that. That workshop if filling up fast , so if you are interested then please email . There’s more info on the Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland FB page and on the CTPI page on this blog.


Ask Questions Later! Starting the Chekhov Work

It feels like a big (but extremely pleasant) responsibility.


As I begin with a new Chekhov group this weekend, most of them completely new to the work, hoping to excite and enthuse them about what is the most creative acting technique I have experienced, I am trying to consider the advice I might give them.

Some people find the technique challenging – all techniques are – everything that is worth doing has its periods of challenge. Any challenges there might be, however, are nothing compared to the incredibly rich creativity the technique can unearth in an artist, and Michael Chekhov always worked from the idea that that is what we ARE – artists; to say nothing of what using this method of exploring creativity can develop in the person.

IMG_1970 copyBe ‘in your body’ and ‘in the moment’ as much as you can. If you are, then the work of gesture will be thorough and complete and all the sensations and feelings your body offers up can be open for the character. Some people come to this very very easily, but just because the results can be immediate, the work has only just begun!

When asked to use images, invite them into you. When asked to concentrate on an image don’t treat it like an examination or a memory game. Invite the image into you, Let it engulf you, as if you were in love with it. Always respond to the images truthfully and completely, with your whole being. The only thing you can do wrong is to not respond truthfully and with too much intellectual interference.

‘Ask questions later’!  When working on an exercise just do it. don’t think, don’t procrastinate, embrace the exercise with joy, don’t consider exactly what you are going to do before you do it; if you are working with a character don’t intellectualise or over complicate; just commit to the quality, the centre, the atmosphere whatever you are working with. Do it! When an exploration is over you can think and talk about what you did. There will be plenty to talk about, believe me.

Develop and fully explore the feeling of ease, one of Chekhov’s guiding principles. As young or new actors we tend to hurl ourself into stuff and whilst he demands serious commitment we also need to somehow keep a hold of this feeling of ease which is somewhere in the base of anything we might do. The feeling of ease sounds like a contradiction to the will of the character and the intensity of feeling which some of the work brings up but paradoxically it isn’t. As actors (and indeed as people) we are working on so many different levels at once .Remember that working with Chekhov involves us admitting and exploring a multilevel approach to work, artistically at least. Remember when you are acting you are not wholly being the character; part of you is, but other parts of you are picking up on the audience, entering and leaving and speaking on cue.

Which leads us on to higher ego and energy body – don’t be afraid of these things. They are not weird, they are creative realities.

And finally, when you are concentrating , don’t forget to breathe.