Monthly Archives: February 2019

The Invisible Voice

IMG_5579The voice is invisible. And, as Michael Chekhov technique is about “making the intangible, tangible”, there is something which connects it to the creation of voice, even though Chekhov did not address voice too specifically in his writings. Through my work I am attempting to further these connections as I feel there is something magical about these sounds that come from the caves of our bodies.

Words are vehicles for energy, thoughts, feelings and concepts. Through the breath and the body we express all of these things. There is an alchemy that happens between people and words. In order to achieve this alchemy, we need to connect voice, body, feelings and imagination. To have a full voice, we need to make this holistic connection, with each of these elements influencing and feeding the other.

That was what we set out to explore and express in this workshop, The Epic Voice which was held this weekend with twelve artist/explorers as part Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland’s Spring season of Weekend workshops.

The question for me was; what is it that colours the language and makes it so profound and full of meaning? Is it what the word sounds like? Is it the rhythm? Is it our response to it? is it an image we have when we imagine the word? The answer we came to is that it can be any or all of these things, but one thing is for sure, that if your whole being isn’t involved in its expression then, especially in poetic drama, the performing artist is missing something fundamental. We explored physically and through sound, several single words. We discovered that if we explored a word merely by its sound or rhythm, it did not always take us to an authentic place. Sometimes it was our response to the word that was more important.

Then there is the actual direction of the word. So much of my exploration of directions, (A Michael Chekhov concept) has been stirred by Lenard Petit’s exploration of directions of energy. Words are expressions of energy as much as a gesture or movement. If we express the word ‘Hope’ through movement alone, we automatically make a move forward and upwards. If we make a movement for the word ‘memory’, we are dealing with the backspace.It is something coming to us from behind. If you get a sense of the direction of the word in your body as you speak it, you can feel a new dimension to your text.

Working with voice is so much more than technical dexterity and diaphragmatic breathing. Without breath we have no power to radiate anything. Whilst we need the technical tools, they are very far from being the whole thing.

IMG_5608We worked on two pieces primarily on our workshop; ‘Afterwards’ by Thomas Hardy, a poem which on the surface seems slight and whimsical, about his passing and what the neighbours might say about him when he was dead. For the record, this poem is used as the centrepiece for one of Seamus Heaney’s Oxford lectures, recorded in the book, “The Redress of Poetry” which alerted me to its attempt to build a bridge between the spirit world and the everyday (though wonderful) life of the country. The second piece was a piece of Yeats; the opening speech of the Musician from The Last Jealousy of Emer. Much development of atmosphere was done on these pieces and some interesting work done. Curiously though, what we discovered was that one of the pieces did not hold its power as well, when the group started to ‘set it’. It immediately became a bit mechanical. This gave us a wonderful opportunity to discuss process over product, and how with Chekhov all you have to do is commit to the image, commit to the gesture or atmosphere and the performance power will be there. Rather like Thomas Hardy you will be bringing these extraordinary spiritual elements to the mundane concerns of the everyday world.

And then, in true alchemical style due to someone having to leave the workshop early, I found we had an hour to explore something else. i had intended to do this earlier, but had not found a place for it. in two groups, the participants  take the piece and then create a musical soundtrack of it, using instruments and sound alone. No words from the poem were allowed.You had to more or less follow the form of the piece you were using. This exercise gives you a sense of what is important, what is the form, what images are important and what is the general mood or feel in a way that just reading or intellectualising it can never do. it gives you a strong sense of a direction for the piece, that, had we time to return to the original spoken work using the poem, would have influenced it a lot. it was fitting end to our exploration.

IMG_5585The next workshop Imaginary Body,Character Centre, will be working with a well known play and using two elements a performer can explore in their private work developing character. To book your place, email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com or info@chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com the workshop is March 29-31 and will be held in Galway.

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The Vessel and The Soul

Imaginary Body and Centre through Michael Chekhov Technique.

People often ask me, “How ca51090851_617034175402228_8035195185824530432_nn I use Chekhov training in my everyday rehearsal preparation, when no one else in the room uses it?”

Of course as actors we have our private work, and in that space we can easily use the technique to help us find the character, whatever others might be doing.

I have often encountered intransigent actors using more dogmatic approaches than Chekhov Technique who announce in rehearsal “the character would not do that”, effectively stone walling the creativity of their scene partner and the director and writer too. I personally find this a rather puzzling and insulting approach but it partly comes I believe because the professional actor so often has to compromise his art and therefore his whole belief in himself due to circumstances (bad directing, no money, bad script) so he digs his heels in and just says ”no”.  He has decided on his character through his private work, and that’s it.

Private work can start with some premises but has to be developed when you radiate/receive with your scene partner. If you had a different scene partner they would radiate/receive respond/differently and so you would have to change your performance or risk ending up looking as if you were “acting in a box”.

Unlike some other techniques, Chekhov technique allows a more labile approach. It allows you profound private work but does not build walls around you. It accepts and encourages flexibility.

Imaginary Centre is an extraordinary element of the technique which asks you to incorporate an image into your body through imagination; a lighted candle; a fizzy drink; a lonely person at a street lamp; a paper bag. This image is something core as to how the character behaves and feels; how they see themselves. It can be inanimate or animate, whatever helps the actor connect with the character. Furthermore this image changes the impact on the actor profoundly if it is put into different parts of the body. For me, at some level, this image is the character’s soul.

The soul is clothed in the character’s Imaginary Body; a detailed body; not just their height, colour, hair and age; but their scars, hands, eyes, the way their body breathes, where their tensions might be. You cannot change your body completely, but you can imagine what it might be like to have such a body. And what I love about this, is it acknowledges that what your body is like affects how you behave.

And this is not observation, traditionally used in acting but the use of your imagination. Chekhov says that observation is useful and has its place, once you know what you are looking for.

“The desire and ability to transform oneself are at the heart of the actor’s nature.” Michael Chekhov.

These two elements alone can transform a character and create a dynamic within the actor’s body which makes an exciting character. The body especially can make for miraculous changes where the person absolutely feels they have inhabited the character.

For me, of course, it is not only the body which can change, but the voice also does not have to be the actor’s usual voice , and to that end we have a full house for The Epic Voice which starts this evening for the weekend.

Imaginary body, Character Centre is being held at the end of March, (29-31) here in Galway. If you wish to apply, email info@chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com or chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com.

 

 

Team Teaching

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Photo courtesy of Michael Chekhov Europe

Last summer I attended an International Conference for Michael Chekhov teachers in Grozjnan ,Croatia, hosted by Michael Chekhov Europe and the Michael Chekhov Association. Grozjnan is an extraordinary medieval village set on top of a modest mountain with stunning views of the countryside. The weather was extremely hot and we spent the first part of our trip exercising and sharing practically and in the second part of the conference, sharing our work either through discussion or exercises. It was truly international and well attended.

Most importantly of all it enabled us to meet and talk. I met many of the teachers who had taught me, and some of those I had trained with. I am sure I am not the only person for whom it drew together a lot of strands of our lives. We had talks by many of the amazing artist practitioners and the way in which they had employed the Chekhov work in professional theatre and applied drama.  I also became aware of many new translations of Chekhov’s seminal works To The Actor and On The Technique of Acting in different languages. It was a truly inspiring week.

Most of all it gave me a sense that I was not so isolated in teaching this work. It is strange, tucked away on the west coast of Ireland feeling as if, for the most part, you are really ploughing a furrow alone. Importantly too, it stopped me feeling an eccentric, or some kind of exotic fruit.  But now we see that this work is being taught more extensively in theatre schools and universities in the UK, the rest of Europe, the US, Asia and South America . It is also wonderful to see a new wave of books being brought out either directly about the technique,  or books like my own Teaching Voice and the one in preparation which, whilst not being about Chekhov in total, uses it as the bedrock of all of the work.

Furthermore I feel the Chekhov work is more than an acting technique (in fact all acting techniques are more than that) it is a way of seeing and experiencing the world. It makes you more sensitive to image, atmosphere, to the energy in your body and to the way you respond to others and they to you. As it emphasises the role of the artist as someone who “makes the intangible, tangible”, it affirms that the ‘intangible’ actually is something that can be experienced, felt and transmitted.

Chekhov technique involves us in a very different idea of what the actor is; an instinctive artist who delves deep into the imagination; that acting is not solely interpretive but creative in the way a sculptor, composer or a painter is creative; the action of the character is like the clay or the paint for a sculptor or painter. This sits well with many theatre makers who are often the authors of their own work, but even when this is not the case for you, Chekhov Technique gives you the feeling that you are creating your own totally original version of the character.

I have not team taught since I did a youth theatre project some years ago. I was a bit nervous about it. But I need not have worried about it . It was a great experience. I met Declan Drohan who works in the Institute of Technology Sligo teaching theatre, at Grozjnan. We thought it was weird that we had only chatted on Facebook, considering we lived only two hours or so away from each other. We resolved to run a workshop together. We settled on using Chekhov Technique for Solo Acting,

Team teaching, it seems to me, is like jamming in a musical duet. But you also need to be really organised, respectful of the other and above all, to be aware of the rhythm of the other person. You need to be careful not to undermine or ‘pull focus’ when the other teacher is in full flow. and remember that the students are making the connection with the other teacher when they are teaching and not to disturb that too often, as it can be very irritating to the student. I think there needs to be an acknowledgement that the two teachers are sharing that connection with the class. If there is something you feel needs to be said about something the other person is teaching, you bide your time until an opportunity appears when you are leading or you forget about it because it is not the end of the world if, at that moment, that piece of information is not passed.

The students get more contact time,  because you have more time to side teach a little. When there is only one teacher and you focus on one person you are very limited as to the time you can spend with them, because you need to be mindful of the atmosphere and focus in the whole room. When you are team-teaching you can absolutely relax.

Declan and I are hoping to do another workshop together some time this year. Thanks and gratitude to him and also to the exciting full-throttled group who came to Enter,An Actor and produced some powerful and invigorating work.

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actors working on atmosphere.

The next workshop is The Epic Voice, February 15-17 and Imaginary Body, Character Centre March 29-31. There will be workshops in May, June and a summer school in August. email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com