Monthly Archives: August 2020

Distance Creates Closeness. -Teaching Chekhov One-to One online

I used to teach private sessions a lot. For years, troupes of young people trying to get into drama school would come for help. Drama schools said they only wanted ‘raw talent’ and not pieces that had been prepared but this of course is rubbish…… Actors are directed, after all. It was rewarding, helping people follow their dreams and help them to open the next door, as someone had done for me. 

I have returned to teaching Chekhov Technique and voice one to one online, mostly not for auditions but for people  to develop, hone and explore their skills and potential. It is great for people to remember that acting is an art form not just something for ‘the business’. 

Teaching one-to-one is an extraordinarily intense experience for me. It is as if there is a stream of energy , a radiating and receiving between you even through the technology. It involves a huge amount of focus and concentration but it is incredibly rewarding. The monitor in some ways actually emphasises the focus as if you are looking into a tunnel of light which can fly worldwide zooming down on another room perhaps thousands of miles away. That’s kind of magical BUT the danger is that we succumb to this imaginary idea too fully and stay too stuck to the monitor and worst of all, do nothing but discuss when we are meant to practise. It is as if it sucks us down, like Alice, into the rabbit hole! 

Getting people to ignore the monitor and prevent them being like specimens before you, rather than the living breathing things they are, is another issue. It is the conditioning we have before the camera I think, but I often say, “Feel free to move around , I do not need to see you do this, I want you to experience it.” Part of the trick is to make sure they arrange their room as best they can, giving them as much room as possible. With group classes I sometimes let people occasionally turn off the monitor altogether, but with one-to-one sessions I never do because I feel we need to keep the visual connection.

Teaching one-to-one gives you space to tailor make your teaching to the student in a way it is impossible to do within a group, to teach the elements in a certain way, finding which might be the right path for the individual. For instance whilst Imagination and Body are the main tools for the Chekhov work, some people find the Imagination difficult, or, if they are tense or less in touch with the body, they find it very hard  to get into the work that way. Different individuals need different starting points. Being online presents the opportunities and challenges I have already discussed in earlier posts, but there is something very personal about it. This is very paradoxical in a way. The distance creates closeness. not everyone feels this way but those who buy in to the online experience do experience it.

In warm ups, I always lead and do the first exercises with the student. I have been told it is reassuring, that the student does not feel as ‘on the spot’ . It also helps to connect me with the student which is even more important when they are perhaps in another country.

Because there is only one student, I find I need to develop an even stronger sensitivity to their mood or living situation (I am probably ‘in their house’ as it is) . Pets and children may come in or awkward flat mates or relatives might make things challenging. They will be uncomfortable when those things happen. I have to be very very cool and easy about it,  relaxed but at the same time hold the line because any interruption flusters them rather than me.

And every journey is different, teaching the Chekhov work. It is  gratifying. Someone I taught online got into a course recently, people are exploring their art, developing themselves and remembering that life is not just Covid, Trump, and Brexit and I am helping them remember that. I do not want to create a distraction from the real world but to remind them that it is not everything. I hopefully am enabling them to transform so they can tackle the ‘real world’ more robustly.

If you want to discuss developing your acting through the Chekhov work online please email

The Most Important Thing

As I wind down my recent bank of online classes I reflect on what I have learned, most of which has been discussed in previous blog posts. It has been challenging and testing but extraordinarily rewarding ; finding ways to accent differently, aspects of the Chekhov Technique; to still be creative and exploratory. Now my groups will stop until September when a new batch will begin. This gives me a little chance to reflect. 

What am I doing? This question has been asked in our wonderful international group of Chekhov teachers which meets weekly as we consider more and more about what this shutdown means and our response , not just to the pandemic but to other issues in the world. The assembly of this group has been one of the more exciting things that has happened in the pandemic to me as we discuss everything pertaining to our work, comparing approaches, philosophy and more practical issues. It is a strong support and a fountain of wisdom.

I wrote something to the group …

We are hampered in our art because we cannot perform or teach in an actual space. So we are teaching (many of us online) like all artists in times of plague anyway we can. That is kind of revolutionary in itself. And it seems to me that if our purpose is to make the intangible tangible we can do that online almost as well as in the room. In some ways better than in the room because the participants are committing in their own space. In some ways it is more ‘out there’ but in a smaller more personal way…….This is not wasted activity but it is not going to topple Trump or Johnson or Bolsonaro. This seems to be one of the dilemmas. How do we affect change? Can we? What I am saying I think is that we can affect change but it is perhaps smaller and personal than we would like.

I thought back to when I was living through the AIDS pandemic. I am not trying to compare the pandemics here; but the challenge of facing into changing behaviour or dying was there. However, it is not the purpose of the story. In 1984 I was sitting in a sunny London park and someone I had worked with in a tv show cycled up to me. I had not liked him much and I didn’t want to talk but I could see that something had changed for him. He looked sour and stressed… he told me through a tight scornful mouth he had AIDS. Death strode through the bright sun, through the people lounging and playing in the park, towards us. He told me he had decided to stage a one man show because he did not know how long he would be alive. There was no cure for AIDS ( as there isn’t now). I listened inwardly with a fist of fear in my stomach as he spoke. I floundered awkwardly. I asked him why he wanted to put his energies into a show that would be poorly attended (as many one person shows are)? He said with great determination, “ because I believe the most important thing is to ‘do it’. That’s it. It doesn’t matter where you do it or how many people see it but that you do it.”

I have remembered that meeting since that moment. I do not remember how our conversation ended, nor whether he got to do his show. I did hear he had died.

So in answer to the question, ‘what am i doing?’ I answer, ‘I am doing it, because that is the most important thing’.

A final extract from my note to the group:

I think we are all in our ways trying to improve the perception and response of people; to get them to develop, transform, enrich and explore their spirit, in the way J – described towards the end. And this is not nothing. It is worthy of the ‘fire’ of which we were speaking. It is championing the spirit.