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The Play’s The Thing (Chekhov course online)

“A good actor must acquire the directors broad, all-embracing view of the performance as a whole if he is to compose his own part in full harmony with it”.

“for the modern theatre all Shakespearean plays should be shortened and scenes even transposed in order to give them their proper tempo and increase their driving force.”

Michael Chekhov . To the Actor.

For the next course, and in a sense following on from the massively enjoyable Directing course Declan Drohan and I have just led online, I want to explore the idea of us being actor and director together, of flexing both sets of artistic muscles. After all when we devise these days, many of us are working alone.

So we will approach this course to begin with as directors then move into the realm of acting with lots of work on Chekhov and voice as we venture into one of the soliloquies of Hamlet in your own fantasy productions . Interestingly when Chekhov himself played the role  he felt he was not the ideal actor for it and he too also directed it. 

Through our Creative Individuality do we mesh our creation as the conductor with our principal actors? and what sensibilities do we as modern director/performers bring to this extraordinary work of Hamlet? How do we want our audience to feel when it is over? what do they take away? As Peter Brook says in his absolutely wonderful book Evoking (and Forgetting) Shakespeare,

“a director can take any play of Shakespeare’s and make it contemporary in the crudest simplest way – one must recognise the gap between a crude modernising of the text and the amazing potential within it that is being ignored.” 

Chekhov’s idea of editing, shortening and transposing is much healthier than the English attitude. Whilst I agree with Brook that every change we make impacts on the Feeling of the Whole and we need to be cautious and conscious about what we are doing and why we are doing it, that does not mean we shouldn’t. Our production might have a very different focus.   

So much of these explorations are discussed with exercises in my new book on Shakespeare, Chekhov and young actors, “What Country Friends Is This?” (delayed by covid) to be published soon by Nick Hern Books.

If you are interested in the course then please email chekhovtpi@gmail.com it runs from June 2- 25th, Wednesday and Fridays 16.00 – 18.00 . 120€ waged /90€ low waged/ 75 unwaged (16 hrs workshop)

My Cup runneth Over – working with Form

It is now our third session on the Feeling of Form and the Feeling of the Whole 

When we explore these particular elements of Chekhov Technique I always ask the question first, “What is – (whatever we are exploring)?” and gear all the initial practical exercises towards that. As one of my master teachers, Ted Pugh said in one of the first Chekhov classes I ever took, “Your job is to find out!” For me this is not only for the student but for the teacher too. If I do not keep alive my own feeling of ‘astonishment’ how can I expect the participants to be astonished? As Mala Powers writes  (and I paraphrase because I cannot find the quote!) when people say the Chekhov technique is esoteric, it isn’t. It might seem that way  but as soon as you try it , it blossoms into something inately practical and experiential.

In week one I asked everyone to bring in a cup. Everyone’s cup was different but when I asked people to tell us about their cup with a feeling of beauty we found something different about each cup which we shared and  really experienced. Form suggests both a specific structure and yet also a malleable thing; that a form is not restrictive but it gives depth through a deeper ‘knowing’. In other words the form works for us many different shimmering levels. 

So my cup has a shape, a texture, a size, a pattern a history, a purpose. It may awaken memories and connections. It has a FORM. It is so much more than a container, yet it is also simply, a cup. It has its form of ‘being a cup’. How we drink from it tells us whether we are like a bee sipping nectar, taking our coffee quickly as we fly around the kitchen preparing to go to work, or whether we huddle around it, ruminating holding the precious hot liquid as a sustenance and comfort….looking out onto the world. In other words, how that form is employed creates worlds for us right then and there. 

When we look at our own bodies, our own forms, they seem specific and limited in their ability to channel our creativity, to play a character. But this is far from the truth when the body and imagination ally together to work through the form of the body. And yet we know that parts of us regrow and change as we age. We are not in charge even of our own form. It is in constant movement.

Suddenly the space and even my own frame seems infinitely malleable. In these classes I have been keen to get people to acknowledge their own form within the form or vessel of their room. It’s specific , and yet through the imagination we can extend, stretch and develop these forms.

And yet – the form provides a structure, as someone said in class, a kind of scaffolding on which to build our character .

If the cup were your character, what would you fill it with?