Tag Archives: chekhov technique Online

A blue sky day – keeping our artists souls alive

“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 chekhovtpi@gmail.com or have a look at www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com 

A Thing of Beauty

I have always been afraid of The Feeling of Beauty. For those who do not know  it is one of the guiding principles of Michael Chekhov, one of his ‘Four Brothers’ and at the core of what we need to learn to be artists. 

I have always been afraid of it because the word Beauty is very much more subjective than the other principles of Ease, Form and the Whole. It is so loaded. Who is to say who or what is beautiful? Is physical beauty something to be sneered at? Is spiritual beauty the only thing that is worth anything? It appears to be a minefield. So, until last week, I have shied away from exploring it in class. I have always said to students, “oh there is also the Feeling of Beauty,” and sidestepped it. Thats easy to do with the Chekhov Technique because there are always so many extraordinary things to explore. But in consultation with my wonderfully supportive Chekhov teachers group,  who gave me some brilliant thoughts about it, my class embarked on some powerful explorations, statements and feelings..

“ I felt when I found some beauty in my chair, that I realised all the people that I was connected with through it, the others who sat in it, the people who made it, it connected me……” 

And as always when you commit to something in this extraordinary Chekhov work you take on that quality yourself. You become beautiful as you tell us about it. This is quite magical to see, a transformation. 

The feeling of Beauty requires a serious commitment and that is hard for us. When I was a young adult I was very suspicious of people who were constantly pointing at flowers and birds in wonder when we went out for a walk. Now I am one of those people myself. I didn’t trust beauty,  as if it was too sickly sweet and positive to have any reality in my life. I think this is a common attitude. Lately, especially since the lockdown and since I live in the country I have become much more aware of the world around me. The Chekhov work has helped to bring that about too because it is such a holistic way of working. It is all too easy for us to only see the harsh realities of life or the fantasies peddled to us in the media as if these things are how life is in totality. The Feeling of Beauty is not a cop-out. It is simply part of life. 

One of the highlights, when actors performed their short pieces from Macbeth, provided another fabulous insight. They were doing “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold” , the short soliloquy when Lady Macbeth is nervous, excited, on edge as the murder of Duncan is being committed. Through exploring this speech through a Feeling of Beauty, something extraordinary emerged. We are seeing her very final moments of a kind of innocence, even though she is already an accomplice. it is almost the pinnacle of her expectations. In its way, it is beautiful, naive, tragic.

As someone said in class, “I felt that Beauty is something which is going to be snatched away or evaporate at any moment. and that is part of its Beauty…”

Now taking bookings for Principles: Tempo, Pauses and Directions. email chekhovtpi@gmail.com. starting Friday October 9th for four weeks 4.30 -6.00

Archetype – the Performer’s Powerful Friend

I have found Michael Chekhov’s use of Archetypes one of the most fascinating elements of his acting technique. By using an archetype as one of your core forces  for the character you can create something different in moments. You can find out which feels right. However, they do need internalising and ‘taming’ before you can use them.

Think of HAMLET …. is he primarily  THE COWARD, THE AVENGER, THE PRINCE, THE REBEL, THE INTELLECTUAL , THE DREAMER,  or any number of others? If you put any of those archetypes as one of the primary engines of the character, (and its important to note the archetype is not all the character is!) you change everything fundamentally in moments, however much these archetypal energies are ‘veiled’ from the audience.

In ‘real’ life, when you are in a particular situation, when you feel a particular response to someone or something overwhelms you… that is when an archetypal energy is in play.  It feels as if you cannot help yourself. There feels like a surrender, a loss of control.  This moment is not necessarily your will driving you, but another more forceful energy. Consider moments where people do something which is bigger than them, when they perhaps rescue someone from a dangerous situation when they have never done this before. It is my experience that there is something else driving the person on, besides Will; something harder to control. This of course also goes for less positive situations where a way of behaving kicks in because of some force inside and we ask ourselves where that energy and behaviour came from? Lest anyone think I am justifying anyone behaving badly here let me assure you I am not. This is not a case of “it wasn’t me my Lord, my archetype did it!”  In the ‘real’ world we need to martial and train our archetypal energies to use them for good. That is our responsibility. Whether you believe in the idea of archetypes in your everyday world is not important; if you can imagine that there are energies like this out there they can create a powerful force in your playing.  

When we go on to look at character we might consider the idea that the Will does not always make the character do something but rather that they are gripped by something else which their will can not control. This means that the audience may understand the character on a deeper unspoken level, rather than simply understanding ‘why’ they act like they do.

For those of you worrying that using archetypes for your character is going to make you behave stereotypically, it is not. First of all, the archetype is not a stereotype which is a more superficial thing altogether. I would say that a stereotype is a kind of caricature or concept, whereas an archetype is a set of energies. What is truly magical and prevents bad acting is that firstly, it is the alchemy of you the performer with the archetype that produces both a very particular and a universal response at the same time. And this I would argue is what every artist is trying to do, touch on the intangible and make it tangible, offering something personal and universal at the same time to your audience, be they online, in a cinema, at home watching tv or in a theatre.

Though it is a grim example, let’s look at MACBETH for instance. He does not need Lady Macbeth to ‘corrupt’ him which is a view often put forward. He is in the grip of what we might call the Devil/Tempter and it is driving him on. It is a force within and without him. The three witches are the first characters we meet; that would back that idea up. They put the seed into him apparently, except one gets the feeling it is actually already there. After all,Macbeth kills people a lot. It is his job. So actually killing someone is not the problem. It is who the potential victim is and breaking the taboo of killing his master and his host which produces the main hurdle. Most importantly, though he knows he is committing a terrible wrong, the force of evil, the archetypal devil drives him on regardless. He allows himself to be a channel for it; he is culpable. For me, the speech, ‘Is this a dagger?….’ is a speech not of resolve but of possession. The Devil/Tempter appears to be strengthening him, but is actually dragging him into darkness. imagine if you decided his forceful archetype was The Assassin, how that might make the speech different.

Declan Drohan and I are running an online workshop on Sunday 20th September  exploring archetype and archetypal atmosphere using as our text The Only Jealousy of Emer email chekhovtpi@gmail.com for further details