Lately I have been thinking a lot about directing through Chekhov Technique and how to help people make choices, given the myriad opportunities offered through the Chekhov elements you can apply to a role or production. How does one make these choices? It can be confusing! These confusions are in all acting techniques of course, but with Chekhov the palette we create with is so utterly rich that it can seem overwhelming. When I first started with the Chekhov technique I was extremely daunted by all available possibilities for the character and when I asked one of my extremely wise teachers, they said, “there will just come a time when you will know what to use.” To some extent over the years, I have found this to be true but when you are teaching the technique in short courses or for a production, people need to feel some confidence quickly or the technique they learn may well stay locked in the workshop (or Zoom) room. It is a leap that people have to make between understanding and trusting themselves and the technique, and then learning to filter out what works for them for a particular character or production. It is something I am working with a lot with my Hamlet class.
In The lightbulb-like Chart for Inspired Acting in Michael Chekhov’s On The Technique of Acting, it is suggested that once we find one element and light then lots of the other bulbs will ‘go on’ automatically. There is some truth in this I think; when you discover an atmosphere for a character , an imaginary centre may come automatically or a vision of the physical body of the character. However, I would suggest that starting from an atmosphere, for instance will not necessarily yield the same results as when you start or express the character through psychological gesture. The character might have a different sort of base line or emphasis.
I wondered if there might be a way of actually putting the exercises into further categories to help us make decisions about what to use. Whilst on the one hand this feels horribly compartmentalising it might feel something like clarity. Forgive me because you will need to know something about Chekhov Technique to get the most out of this.
When I am directing I look at the play, consider my available timetable and then decide what elements I have to focus on. I would not focus on the same elements if I was directing The Importance of Being Earnest as opposed to Othello. Of course there are other considerations; the level that the actor is on, and how comfortable they are working with the technique. There is also the issue of time constraints.
It seems to me there are overall three types of Chekhov elements (I try to avoid the use of the word ‘tools’ which does not feel right for me). The first covers the basic range of the instrument; the Four Brothers; opening oneself to the power of imagination: radiating/receiving (which includes centres); understanding and developing sensitivity to directions of energy(understanding the body as a membrane or vehicle for energy) ; listening and acting on the sensations and feelings thrown up by gesture in the body (looking again at directions and qualities of movement) ; understanding and being able to use these elements of the work by concentrating their effects within the body and letting them act on you.
Secondly there seem to be the elements of the work which are primarily expansive and imaginative like atmosphere , both personal and general , archetypes, imaginary centres; elements which puts the performer and character in a kind of imaginative vortex, more powerful than we ourselves, whilst at the same time with us being the creators of it. General atmosphere appears to come from outside us yet paradoxically, we are the creators. In this second group i might suggest that the imagination leads the Body
Finally there are those elements which give us structure; psychological gesture, Form, basic centre, triplicity, form and polarities. These are elements which seem to provide a somewhat structured understanding to our creative endeavours and give some of the more imaginative and expansive elements, a definite focus. In this case the Body tends to lead the Imagination.
If this is true, and I would be interested to hear your comments, then I wonder whether this helps in any way to assisting with choices for actor or director. If you ask the question what do you need for the character/production most importantly at the start, putting the exercises into three basic types might be helpful.