When I run a weekend course in Chekhov technique (or anything for that matter) I want to feel that I am exploring something with the group, that it is not me merely imparting, but it is a traffic between them and me and them and each other.
I am aware that sometimes when running short courses it becomes easy for the teacher to either stay in the basics (which can irritate your faithful participants who come back for more advanced work) or to move too quickly to certain elements of the Chekhov work to encourage application of the work without providing the building blocks required for everyone, teaching with a kind of vague hope that everyone will ‘get there in the end’.
I feel I have found something out. When I structured this weekend on incorporating images I focussed almost totally on the imagination. Of course when you visit centres or atmospheres or almost anything in the Chekhov work you are heavily engaging the imagination. By learning how to use a particular element you can get a lot of focussed power. However if you do not give a space to awaken the imagination first, it makes exploring those elements much harder. We began the workshop with me asking the group, without thinking, to each create a statue of concentration and then imagination. The former produced narrow, focussed downward-looking shapes (with most people frowning) whilst imagination produced upward, open shapes (with most smiling) . This provoked immediate discussion on how we felt about these concepts and the differences between them as Chekhov described them. This gave us a great physical springboard into some of the early exercises in concentration and imagination.
So we spent a lot of time engaging the imagination first with a myriad of stimuli and then moved on to only an exploration of Ideal Centre and then imaginary centres (only making an image in the heart centre). We also did a brief exploration of General Atmosphere, but again in the preliminary sense of working with environments (the beach a library etc) rather than exploring abstractions and colours and feelings through atmosphere to introduce the concept more broadly.
The more I explore teaching this work, the more I realise that, rather than being a hindrance, an attempt to apply the training, even when you have not wholly grasped it , gives the student a feeling of where things are going and that, with guidance, you can help out when the stuðent is not following the image, the gesture or the atmosphere as faithfully as they might. After all one of the main rules is that you simply are faithful to your imagination or the sensations your body gives you and follow them in trust and faith. That is it.
We worked with a play called Love and Information by Caryl Churchill which has a number of short scenes powered with themes and conversation but not, immediately at least, with imagery. Working with images first enabled us to create scenes which were much deeper and multilayered than going immediately for the obvious, materialist telling. They were fascinating, sometimes dangerous and people used the images to create powerful dynamics between the actors.
As Chekhov says in On The Technique of Acting “what is the reward of artists brave enough to acknowledge the objectivity of the world of the Imagination?” We found that the answer was to open a text to a whole different layer of exploration through image first and logic second.
The next workshop explores a world that tips into chaos; we question in some measure the purpose of art in these difficult times (as Chekhov did himself) The next workshop here in Galway is on polarity, good vs evil and we will work with King Lear. It is November 29th-Dec 1st. email firstname.lastname@example.org for one the remaining places.