Monthly Archives: March 2021

Exploring Higher Ego (more)

In the third exploration of the Higher Ego classes with our intrepid group searching to identify , trust, and place their Artist in the comedic space, we embarked on a joyous series of ensemble  games which made us explore what we felt the act of performance was and how we connected to the Artist/Higher Ego, working with it in a practical way. Michael Chekhov talks quite a bit about this, how we give in performance and what act actually is, and through a series of gesture/statues we explored what the act of performing meant to us individually.

All our exercises have invited questioning about performance and the way we operate as artists.

Does connecting the Higher Ego and a sense of joy let the evil characters off the hook  when we perform them with this sensibility? Or does feeling this Artist’s mission to present and explain a tyrant’s motivation allow us this joy, without exonerating the character?  When I play Macbeth am I exonerating him if I play him with some degree of compassion or understanding? Does this lightness in our Higher Ego allow us to make definite comment and criticism of the character or not? In a Brecht play for instance, like Arturo Ui I would say it does, in Macbeth I am not so sure…

We did not have answers for these complex questions just possibilities.

Someone said they felt that acknowledging the lightness freed them to express heavier atmospheres around them; but then, did allowing this lightness to live whilst we tried to express some darker qualities,  somehow belittle or devalue those darker feelings , betraying them and making them superficial?

I would say that in my own acting training (many moons ago) that the idea of Higher Ego, the objective eye, the inner artist etc. would have been frowned on by many as something which sounded dangerously superficial. You had to be ‘in’ the role. This I now understand (and have discussed in earlier pieces) to be a difficult and actually fraudulent position because you are never wholly  ‘in’ the role, only for certain sections of the play to a lesser or greater degree when you are drawn to be. It is all about how you play your instrument. It seems that what the exploration of the Higher Ego suggests to us is that the Art of Theatre is an amalgamation of many levels of experience going on at once (I am sure there have been several PhD studies about this) and in order to explore them and how they work in you you need to do many practical exercises, really listening and experiencing your subtle movements of energy. This class is teaching me that finding out how we all personally play our instrument is what is the most important joyous and empowering thing of all, releasing our creativity to our audiences and ourselves. What an acknowledgement of the Higher Ego can do is give to the artist a strong sense of self when navigating and expressing the character without sacrificing the character’s authenticity. 

Next week we focus on Creative Individuality.

SACRIFICIAL WIND online. March 19th-21st

2016 – I had been looking for a project that was both private, poetic and political, and when it was suggested to me that I look at Lorna Shaughnessy’s poems, written around the story of Iphigenia, I was immediately drawn to them. they encapsulated this mixture of personal and epic. I was drawn by the contemporary pain of these characters involved in the sacrifice of Iphigenia which both encompassed the Trojan War and also the wars current in our troubled world. 

It was first conceived as a stage piece.  It was to be like a storytelling event but at the same time, a drama. It was performed onstage at the newly created ODonoghue centre in NUI Galway by only three actors (Michael Irwin, Catherine Denning and Orla Tubridy)  who played the twelve characters between them; bitter soldier; god, hero; King; Priest; Queen ; Princess ; Playwright. Our presentation borrowed a lot from Greek theatre; occasional masks, percussion and the fact that our trio of actors played all the speaking characters, just as in the Greek Theatre tradition. The piece had a courtroom feel as one by one the characters sought to justify their place in the sacrifice of the young princess. It had a strongly powerful collective feel to it, which it also received in birthright as a live event.  The audience were taken into the characters confidence, asked to judge. This created a very powerful dynamic, not unlike the soliloquies in a Shakespeare play which pull the audience into the dilemma of the soliloquising character and make the audience somehow culpable in the character’s actions. This is not logical , it is visceral, mysterious and dynamic. 

When I was asked to re-imagine this piece online, I immediately started to consider what we could realistically do given the situation we find ourselves in right now. I took the opportunity  to invite another seven actors to take part to increase its sense of epic charge (Kate Murray, Eilish McCarthy, John Rice, Conor Geogeghan, Sarah O’Toole, Sam o Fearraigh and Patrick O’Malley) . The actors rehearsed with me on Zoom at first in a group as I felt it was important we got a sense of the ‘Feeling of The Whole’ even though the pieces were monologues. Then we rehearsed separately. Then, separately, they filmed themselves. The instructions for filming were strict but it was important that there was as much uniformity in atmosphere and style as we could get. The sense of atmosphere was paramount to me.  This was of course down to the actors creating the atmosphere as much as it was the lighting and the sensitive soundscapes created by Barra Convery which help to evoke much of the world of the piece.

The piece lasts 48 minutes and is available Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8-10.30. You need to get tickets from Eventbrite but they are FREE.

The Sacrificial Wind was first produced by NUI Galway’s Arts in Action programme in conjunction with Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland

Here is the trailer  for The Sacrificial Wind by Lorna Shaughnessy online performance video.Director Max Hafler

 tickets Free.  March 19-21st  between 8 pm – 10.30pm GMT book through Eventbrite

Order your tickets at Eventbrite 

https://www.eventbrite.ie/…/the-sacrificial-wind…

. Video link

Lifting me Higher – exploring Chekhov’s Higher Ego.

“Our artistic natures have two aspects, one that is merely sufficient for our ordinary existence and another of a higher order that martials the creative powers in us..” Michael Chekhov

With that sentence, Michael Chekhov introduces this idea of the Higher Ego into our acting training. There is something in me which baulks at this. Life is not ordinary, far from it. In addition this idea of Higher and Lower is something of a concern because if we are not careful we can start to make value judgements of one over the other. It is silly to say that washing the dishes is a higher ego activity but I CAN say that I learn more about the experience of atmosphere for instance, by dipping my hands slowly into the dish water. 

I began my first four sessions with an enthusiastic group this week on this topic of the Higher Ego. I wanted to explore it not as some kind of esoteric concept but something we can actually use to expand our art.  

I wanted a grounded (if that isn’t a startling polarity!) exploration, almost scientific I suppose, a kind of “What is it? How does it work for me as a creative artist?”  Is it a kind of  Artist guide within us who nurtures, guides and focuses our creativity? Is that all it is?

Can it be really defined, or is it like beauty or virtue or any of these other multi-faceted named  qualities which are usually defined by how we experience them? If we cannot label it, does that mean we can develop it? Pay attention to it?   Is it OBJECTIVE EYE/ ARTIST/ SPIRIT GUIDE/UNFETTERED IMAGINATION/ CONTROLLER? Or what? and can any of these grand concepts encapsulate it?

I asked everyone in the group to suggest things they wanted to find out about HIGHER EGO.

Is it a matter of connection with each other, to the work, to our audience , our  collaborators, but also to enable us to be open to ourselves and, in that way, be available to the universe and to each other? Breathing, Voice, Imagination, Feelings, Body all connecting up together.

I observed that even after our initial ‘crossing the threshold’ and warm-up that these exercises were already opening us to the Higher Ego as we explored things on many levels. The Chekhov Technique is about ‘making the intangible tangible’ in the first place. We were already preparing.

I wanted us to play with the question of what the Higher Ego can offer us as Artists? In one exercise we built up a series of movements then added text, then added that place of space which monitors, observes and guides. I think it is important to remember that the Higher Ego is part of us. It is OUR Higher Ego it belongs to each individual but it also enables us to connect collectively. 

In case you are thinking you might stop reading as this is far too hippy dippy…..

This sensation of the Higher Ego is not weird it is something that is happening to us all the time. Our mind is continually multi-tasking. Our attention flits from one focus to another, yet somewhere there is something holding it together, despite the ‘noise’ around us and, of course, the noise we generate ourselves in our own heads..  

Let’s imagine you are appearing in a film or a play. You know your lines. You have, with your colleagues and the writer, created the character. You live a theatrical reality and yet you are before an audience or surrounded by camera people,  you have rehearsed, what seems spontaneous is mostly planned, you are sensitive to the demands of the audience,  and you know when you have to turn or pick up a cup and enter or exit. And yet there is something above you, something that none of these activities is touching (you can call it your higher ego, your artist whatever) it is keeping the pathways open to feeling, inspiration and a sense of who we are as performers. It enables freshness.  

It might be hard to control. It is expansive like a balloon filled with helium on a string. Chekhov says if we let this Higher Ego go, it can run riot. The performer holding the string needs to keep it grounded.

Really looking forward to the next three sessions on Higher Ego.The next block of sessions for after Easter will be available for booking next week.