“Speaking of atmosphere changes, it’s funny once the zoom chat goes on. It’s like stepping out of the fog and back into a clear blue sky day.” that’s one of many quotes in a similar vein from one of my online students.
There has been some talk lately of the therapeutic nature of the Chekhov technique work in these challenging times we are living in. This does not mean Chekhov technique is a counselling substitute; it is a creative technique for making art, for viewing yourself as an artist and practically creating characters and making work. But I would be lying if I was to say that it did not provide something more. So whilst I do not get involved in the idea that drama is therapy primarily, the therapeutic effect cannot be ignored. An ex-student described Chekhov technique as “the emotional gym”. Like all drama (and music, dance or sports training) it gives a great opportunity for us to find out who we are. Because the Chekhov work is so expansive it opens doors that, for me at least, other acting techniques barely tease open. It is holistic and gives you so much possibility both for directing and performing but also for yourself. This is partly because you are listening to your body and responding to stimuli rather than worrying whether you have ‘got it right’, (something I agonised over when I was training as a young actor, ‘ is this real, is this true?’)
When I started learning Chekhov technique I found I got very emotional a lot of the time. This was not attached consciously to any event in my past per se, but it was, nonetheless, a very strong emotional response….. it was a release. To begin with I got a bit irritated with it. ‘This has nothing to do with the character!’ I would growl. And of course, I was right. It had less to do with the character and more to do with me. However because I am the instrument I am playing, my instrument needed to be open and clear. Because I did not associate this emotional rush with any event particularly I was not trapped within it and that release became healing and expansive. It was an opening rather than a closing. It helped me to cope with emotion rather than locking me into it. I remembered some of my early training in meditation; I remembered , “I have my feelings but i am not my feelings”. The idea that feelings flowed through you was a useful and powerful one.
Now we do have to treat this connecting-up of emotions, body, voice and imagination together with a healthy respect and now we are working a lot online and in a very difficult world I find myself becoming more and more cognisant of ‘where people are at’. Paradoxically the online experience appears to encourage intimacy in a way and of course your students are inviting you into their homes so I need to tread cautiously. For instance it is important when asking them to explore the atmosphere of the room they are in to be aware that they may be in the family home and the room they are in has a personal history for them which they might not be wanting to tap into. On the other hand, as a student, to allow yourself to fall ‘down the rabbit-hole’ of creativity through the screen and at the same time be playing in your room can only be healthy. In that respect, it is only like working onstage or ‘in the room’. You become conscious of a many-tiered reality. You are talking through a tunnel of signals of waves connecting to others, at the same time as being in your own space AND using your imagination to take you somewhere else. You move and touch off these different bases to create your experience in the class. It is very empowering.
I am asking them to throw themselves into the class – I am always touched and amazed how much this happens. Time and again people tell me how much more feasible working online is than they expected! As human beings we are remarkably adaptable. This is not to say I am advocating online as the only way of working, or even the best way, but as one of my colleagues said in the teacher’s group I attend, ‘it IS something.’ There is something wonderful about throwing an imaginary ball to America, have them throw it to the Netherlands, back to Ireland, over to France etc…
What is art, if not communication? I am feeling now that people more than ever are hungry for the kinds of opportunities the Chekhov work in particular can give them; an opportunity to connect to others and themselves, to touch and explore their creativity and to play.
The new set of courses starts this Friday with Tempo Pauses and Directions . there are several others, one covering Devising , one Atmospheres, and another, Psychological Gesture. there is also a free class in imagination and body which you have to apply for at the above address. email firstname.lastname@example.org or have a look at www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com