Much of an actor’s best work happens in the studio. It is the most exciting thing I can imagine, when you see someone transmit a discovery, which completely takes them and the rest of the group by surprise. Over my teaching this year I have seen these things happen with dazzling frequency, in particular in my Michael Chekhov acting weekend workshops and courses. A main plank of the Chekhov philosophy is that actors have an inate desire to transform, but this can only be true when we understand that we must not let the ego get too much in the way; that we do not make the character as much like ourselves as possible but, instead, accept that we are capable of a massive palette of emotions, characters and energies.
Sometimes people see this studio work as being ‘wasted’ because no one sees it, but the truth is that not only does the actor experience this transformation, not only do I as the group leader feel enhanced and delighted, but as importantly the audience of other participants see it too. I feel also that it gives us all the courage to plough our furrow as creative artists in a deeper and more significant way in a sometimes indifferent, commercial world.
On the other hand, there is something elusive about an actor daring to put what they have learned into the professional realm, especially when it comes to Chekhov. Actors are afraid people will feel others will think it is weird or ethereal, and only some of the Chekhov elements can be fully used in the commercial jobbing world. Actors often do not trust the amazing work they have done, considering it a ‘one-off’ in the magic toyshop that is the studio. They have to make that leap and understand that is not the case.
Of course, these acting tools are elusive and take practice. How many times as actors, teachers or simply human beings have we tried to replicate an experience that falls short of the initial occasion of discovery. That is what technique is about, of course. It gives you the pathway to be fresh.
More than technique, this is about an attitude to life, art and the pathway you follow for that work. In acting, it is about saying to the universe, ‘let me see where these Chekhov pathways take me’ then going there; being open. It is about never being complacent when you practice, that every time you step into the rehearsal room or studio or perform that it is always new to you.
This is the last CTPI workshop until late January [25th-27th] which I am doing with my colleague Declan Drohan, as I finish term, enjoy Christmas and make space for my new book. The monthly weekends in 2019 will include one on Voice and Chekhov, one on Shakespeare and Chekhov, and a beginners workshop on Body and Imagination.
The photos are from the recent workshop The Rest Is Silence.