Tag Archives: Chekhov Technique

The Actor and the Audience

I have just come off an exciting Zoom call with colleague and guest Liz Shipman. We discussed and planned our course The Shakespeare Connection which begins online on April 15th. The discussion was very exciting , focussing as it did on the character of language and the relationship between the audience and characters in Shakespeare. In my preparations I decided to have a look at my second book, “What Country,Friends is this?” which explores directing Shakespeare with young people using (primarily) the Michael Chekhov technique. 

Chekhov technique and Shakespeare’s plays seem to me to have a few things in common. They are both transformative in the way true artistic processes are. Like Chekhov, Shakespeare believed in atmosphere, in his case created by the amazing imagery of his text. Both believed in Theatre and the Power of the Actor. Although Chekhov was keen to edit and transpose speeches from Shakespeare when doing a production to make the work flow in a way more akin to what he believed were modern sensibilities, there is no doubting his respect for the work of Shakespeare.   

A few years ago, I went to see a rather annoying production of Julius Caesar at the Globe Theatre in London and I remember only one excellent moment. After Caesar is killed the conspirators come around the body, all of them covered in blood. Suddenly, they are completely alone as all the Roman crowd have fled. Because I was sitting at the side of the Wooden O, I was seeing the backs of the actors and beyond them a sea of audience. 

Brutus and Cassius are speaking:

Cassius: How many ages hence

Shall this our lofty scene be acted over,

In states unborn and accents yet unknown!

Brutus:  How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport,

That now on Pompey’s basis lies along,

Now worthier than the dust?

This for me created such a timeless moment and I realised the immense power of the theatrical metaphor, used so much in Shakespeare’s plays. It made me feel we were in the world of the play, the world of the modern theatre at that precise moment, as well as having a strong connection to a performance in the 16th Century. It gave an incredible sense of Time and History. I was very moved. We, the audience became more than observers; we were participants. In a darkened modern theatre when you do not feel at one with audience other than as an observer this collaborative feeling is much harder to bring forth. In Shakespeare’s Globe, in the seventeenth century, as was apparent to me here at this moment, it seemed much easier.

These dichotomies where an audience is actively involved in the play at the same time as being the observer is something which was absolutely imperative in the Elizabethan theatre and this dramatic shift in the audience’s role still has an emotional effect. Sadly and too often, characters addressing the audience for advice and counsel make a generalised ‘zoning out’ (often over compensated for by loud shouting!) When you commit as a performer to an involvement that the audience is there and their views actually matter, the atmosphere becomes charged.

The other key to this multi layered experience is the language and the imagery and the effect this has on the imagination without which the story and psychology of the characters is empty.

In my book, “What Country Friends is This?” (Nick Hern Books 2021) which gives help and guidance on working with young actors on Shakespeare, I emphasise working with the language through the body. I also talk a lot about this relationship with the audience. Is the audience actually a character in their own right? Usually not, or not exactly, because it’s important that their participation allows them to retain their identity as an audience. The key is the duality of this identity. If you make it too specific, let’s say the audience are the people of Rome, the chances are the audience are going to let you down. Like unsuspecting stooges plucked from the audience by a comedian they are never going to facilitate your performance. It is wrong to expect it. I saw one disastrous experiment of this whilst I was still living in England of Coriolanus directed by Sir Peter Hall with Ian McKellen as Coriolanus. The poor audience, some of them co-opted to be onstage as the incredibly important force of citizens, were expected to shout and yell on cue; it made for an embarrassing spectacle. The rage of the people on which this play actually rests was inevitably absent, leaving egg on the faces of all concerned!

The soliloquy especially is a bridge to the audience:

“You are both your character in his world and addressing the audience. You are doing both simultaneously, talking to yourself and talking to them”

(“What Country, Friends, is this?” 2021.p177.)

So what is this ‘character’ that we might give to the audience when we are speaking to them? Ask yourself, “What has the audience to offer me?” What is their role? In Macbeth for instance, I get the feeling that the audience are his judges, or accusers, maybe his conscience.  

On April 15th I am beginning a set of online weekly workshops called The Shakespeare Connection which run till May 6th with guest tutor Liz Shipman who runs The Integrated Meisner and Chekhov Training in California. We will be looking at some opening and closing text from Richard III, a character who initially at least seems to have a real need of the audience. We will be using practical physical work, Chekhov exercises and doing examination of the text.

It costs 120€ for the four sessions. email chekhovtpi@gmail.com if you wish to book a place or have any questions to ask.  


What Did You Find Out? ‘Connecting Up’ in the Chekhov Technique.

There is something extremely profound and magical about running specifically online workshops in Chekhov Technique. Despite the distance, the occasionally grainy pictures,  the different rectangular universes you see into; despite the fact I must have run many workshops online in the Michael Chekhov Technique there is still a sense of wonder and a sense of intimacy as you send  your energy towards the monitor down this tunnel across countries and continents.

At present I am leading a workshop called Connecting Up from my online studio in rural Ireland . It has always felt to me that the Voice and its power to radiate its own energy has not been focussed on enough within the Chekhov discipline. When I started my training I was always disturbed watching people find a gesture and then when they spoke on that gesture the words were often strangled or disconnected from the truth and energy of their gesture. I learned the principles of Psychological Gesture particularly from Joanna Merlin who was always keen for you to see if the gesture brought out a sound from your body as you were moving and to speak on that sound. This was such a helpful tip. 

Nonetheless I still found that people’s voices and bodies were often disconnected and furthermore that the Imagination, the other main element of our instrument , can, despite wonderful imaginings, be separated from the body too. One of the great things about Chekhov is that it is a genuinely holistic process.

Ultimately, while you have got to be selective when dealing with your artistic work and choosing Atmosphere, Centre, Gesture etc, your body,voice and imagination are the clay with which you work and they all have to be open to influences not only to the outer and inner worlds, but also to each other. They have got to be Connected Up.

It is, as they say, about ’getting out of your own way’.

I thought about how to introduce this workshop a lot before I started leading this. Would I focus on the ‘connecting up’ aspect or simply explore the three elemental pathways in various classes? I decided to work first with the body primarily and whilst of course words sound and imagination all came in, I decided to accent the body first. We also explored a little work on the energy body. I accented the individuals’ access to their own bodies for their psycho physical work and we worked with a little piece of text. What I found out almost immediately is that it is impossible to disassociate one pathway from the other for long without expressing through the other two (voice and imagination). However, you can accentuate  one of these elements to explore more fully what it means to clear away the blocks in your body work, say.

This week the accent was on Voice; finding the voice, connecting it to the body. In addition to some imaginative exercises we also did a degree of technical exercises. Of course , voice work IS body work which is perhaps a fact we need to focus on. Without breath and a consciousness of the breath you cannot radiate your voice. It is amazing how we all know this instinctively; yet for many people this is a big discovery because of stress (perhaps) and learned tight patterns of breathing. I have an exercise in my book, Teaching Voice (2016) called Blue Voice/Green Voice where you imagine your belly is blue and your breath is blue. You start to make a blue sound. How does that make you feel…what does it say about you (or your character)? How would it be to start there when researching your character? Change the colour to orange how does that feel? Or to pink. Try and say your speech and change your voice colour from blue to orange…

There has been much debate of late in the Chekhov International Studios Collective that I am a part of, about the difference between teaching and research. The more I teach and plan courses the more I feel that teaching is research. The more I teach the more I want to find out. I want to find out and I want my students to find out. It is like opening a fascinating new book that whilst you have some idea of what you might find, you do not fully KNOW. Of course it is important for me to retain a balance; the goal is for the students to find out .

The Shakespeare Connection: with guest tutor Liz Shipman and myself starts online on April 15th. four, one weekly sessions on how we connect with the audience and their role in the play

Inspiration and Impulse: Colleague Declan Drohan is leading an in-the-room class in Sligo for creatives and makers, also April 15th from 10-4

For more information about these courses email chekhovtpi@gmail.com

The Performance Is The Process (or Part of It)

In the final part of this term, I have been working with a mix of undergrad and MA students here at the University of Galway on a project called the Eurydice Project. We worked on a ‘block week’ from 10-5 and then, after a weekend off, for a full day before presenting to colleagues and a small invited audience. The spine of this project has been three elements of the Michael Chekhov Technique ; general Atmosphere, psychological gesture and imaginary centres with a ‘work-in-progress’ in the end.

What I want to focus on here is how the engine of performance, even if it is for fellow students and friends, can empower and focus students to learn how to employ acting technique more effectively than if there was no performance at all. There are problems with approaching training this way, primarily around whether they can actually use elements of any technique when they have only been introduced to it fairly recently. This is a justifiable concern and some students understandably find it challenging. However if you, as the tutor/director, understand that the goal is to assist with application rather than produce exactly the characterisation you might like for the production then you as the tutor director are less likely to get frustrated with outcome and ironically the actual work from the students is likely to be better. Even in a short space of time, some magical things can happen.

The focus a performance gives is absolutely invaluable because it truly creates an event for the student, an ‘occasion’. Creating a theatrical event is also empowering because it involves an audience, however small. It creates that alchemical dynamic. As leader/director/teachers, we need to balance though;  we must be careful that creating the event of a performance is not the whole story, we have to go back to the learning. I found for myself that I had to balance those two roles very carefully, in other words, let the work come as much as possible from them and their use of the elements of the technique I was teaching rather than me trying to push too much of a directorial concept on them (not something I would do in any case whatever the circumstances, as I prefer hunches [as Peter Brook suggests] rather than concepts). This does not mean that I as the director have no say but it has got to be a partnership.

Giving the students this freedom can be tricky because the structure and form of sessions needs to be quite disciplined, even more than with a ‘regular’ production, as time is of the essence, when you have only a week or so to put together something that has a ‘Feeling of the Whole’, to quote Michael Chekhov .

A common complaint with the immersive project week is this:  “Trying to get them to apply the technique to a performance is too early for them! They won’t be able to do it and they will get confused and dump the technique altogether!” If we consider that trying to apply it is part of the learning process and the actors will have various degrees of success. Application is part of the journey. 

A big problem for me was to try not to teach too many elements of the work. You can of course refer them to the lightbulb diagram in Chekhov’s ‘On The Technique of Acting’  (as suggested to me by colleague, Lisa Dalton) and reassure them that once they have one or two of the techniques under belts then other aspects of the technique will fall into place and, to some extent I believe this to be true. The problem is you have to tailor every element you teach to the piece you are working with.. 

But then you cannot believe that you have to do everything!!!!

However you cannot just dive in to the elements you want to use, because there is such a deep philosophy here, which comes mostly  through the body and all the students have to experience and get some understanding of it. By introduction, we did a lot of work with energy, radiating/receiving, qualities of movement and the ‘Feeling of Form’. I always feel that if your body is pliant (and even sometimes when it isn’t!) getting a sensation from your body through a gesture is easy. What’s hard is to put yourself in a place where you can actually revisit that sensation/feeling. That is the harder part. However as those who teach and work this way know, even these introductory exercises can achieve transformation in the students.

After a few detailed atmosphere exercises, we looked at ‘Above’ and ‘Below’ for the World and the Underworld (terms suggested by one of the students which took any value judgements out of them)  I then asked them to work with either a psychological gesture or an imaginary centre. That was complicated enough! Also because we were focussing on a piece we were able to look at the beginning and end of it and address issues of what we might want our piece to be saying. We did not have enough time to explore it but we did ask the question and some of our questions were answered. 

Ultimately though what comes over to me loud and clear is that performance is essential if we want to teach future directors, performers and yes, academics. Doing this as a project through concentrated time where the students were doing only this work and not having to focus too much on other stuff was invaluable. I thank the college for their support in scheduling this  and wish other schools would embark more on these ‘project weeks’ .

They are powerful forms for teaching.

Free To Perform

Yesterday I embarked with colleague Rena Polley (Michael Chekhov Canada) to lead a group of intrepid theatre explorers on asking “What is it to be ‘Free in the Form’? in the first of four workshops; how do we prepare ourselves for spontaneity,if that isn’t an oxymoron in itself? How do we keep ourselves fresh and in the moment when we are performing? And is spontaneity, as Rena was suggesting to us, a muscle that we as performing artists need to keep exercising, that if we don’t use, we forget? That we go back to a blocking intellect and become constipated by ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’? 

We played (oh how we played online), our participants from Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, the US and UK. It was my first time back teaching online for a few months and I was reminded of how joyous it could be. Many people feel more secure in their own space and i find there is more time to talk; paradoxically there seems a stronger desire to share experiences. this is because, I believe, that people find it easier to drop the exercise when they have completed it; they are not so overwhelmed by the power of it, so when you ask people to fly back and sit at the monitor and share, they are more able to articulate what just happened to them. Also there is something physiological about it. When you share you are sitting on your seat, and when you work you are usually standing. That is such a great way to learn some aspects of the work. 

On the other hand, when exercising in your own space, there is the temptation to lose concentration. You have to stay free but focussed which can be hard when you are in your home, when notifications of emails nudge into your screen or other people make noise outside your room. However if you let it, the time online can be a really special time where you meet, share views and work with people you might never otherwise meet simply because you are geographically separated. Although the classes are usually shorter there is rarely the feeling online that we have to push on and keep things moving relentlessly. There is no doubt that Zoom is here to stay and that despite its drawbacks it has advantages.

I recall the first time I was back in the live room, without a mask on, earlier this year, I was riding high for about three days afterwards. But that feeling of delight and forward energy can stop us ‘flying back’ and never allow what Chekhov calls the ‘intellectual lab assistant’ to assess our amazing instinctive work in order that we can anchor it and earth it. We also get a chance to see ourselves performing back on the class recording, a massive bonus.

We have to try and do both online and in the room to make the training rounded.

For our next few months

First off in Sligo, The Actor Is The Theatre, an in the room day on Chekhov Technique  held in Sligo run by Declan Drohan December 10th 10-5

Planning our next term we are looking for participants for  six full in-person Saturdays of Chekhov and Ensemble , the first is on January 21st. And they run for every fortnight, the last one being April 1st . Tutors Max Hafler and Declan Drohan and others

and there will also be an online Chekhov and Shakespeare course. 

Email chekhovtpi@gmail.com

Sustaining and suspension.

Michael Chekhov on Autumn and Sustaining:

“We call autumn the sustaining. We experience the same thing when we see a Child, an animal or a plant growing, developing, increasing in size, and then, after a time, slowly wasting away, fading and withering”

What is so wonderful about this is the way Chekhov uses these examples from nature to enhance art, psychology and brings us to thinking about energy, the rhythm of life and art. Whether I believe that autumn is actually ‘sustaining’ in the sense that things are still trying to grow and move forward even as they at the same time start to sink and die is not quite the point. A look at my soggy lawn and falling wet leaves will tell you that things are certainly on their way to dormancy. To me this is beautiful and holistic. It is what puts his acting technique way above any others I have studied because its principles connect so much of how life seems to operate. It seems to encourage us to dig under the surface to experience and generate particular energies for our acting and we do this through the body and through expansion and contraction in particular.

When I was a child I took my Instamatic camera with me to Marineland, a rather inhumane place where dolphins in large tanks were encouraged to jump through hoops and make massive leaps for fish, held out by their keepers. Before I went, I remember watching a science programme on tv that said the way to get an action shot of a dolphin was to wait until it had reached the climax of its jump, the highest it would go; for that moment the animal was suspended, neither going up nor going down. So, there is a moment of impulse and huge effort , followed by a moment of physical stillness before the dolphin begins to dive down.

With the technique, when making a psychological gesture like a reach there is always this moment when the impulse is to pull your arm back; in this case there is an inner movement which tells you to do this as if your arm can no longer reach out with commitment but needs to be retracted and brought down beside your body ( like the tree surrendering its autumn leaves). If you hold out your arm longer than the impulse suggests you can feel your energy retracting even if you keep your arm extended, because the intention and energy to reach has been lost either because you are bored, embarrassed, feel like you are following the orders of the teacher, or are simply thinking about something else. The arm looks and feels dead. It has no spirit in it.

Let’s look at what happens when you imagine your energy flowing from your centre out forward towards that reach you made. You immediately feel committed and connected. If you speak, the reaching gesture affects you. Now try sustaining that gesture; you might have a moment where the will decides to go no further because your arm hurts (for instance) . On the other hand, sustaining might have the opposite effect and actually intensify the feelings and sensations the gesture is giving you. As long as you keep the energy flowing forward with the reach this can happen. Sustaining certainly helps you understand the constant to-ing and fro-ing of energy.

Back to the dolphin, he is never really still; when he gets to the top of his jump he is more than likely grabbing the fish from the keeper; but it appears he is still so you can get the picture. Likewise we are never really still, our energy churns and moves, expands, contracts, especially when we are responding to stimuli….we are in constant inner movement..

COURSES BELOW EMAIL chekhovtpi@gmail.com



I will be working with Katelyn Ressler which will explore the differences in  demand from the musical ‘book’ to the song it gives birth to. We will be using the Chekhov technique tools to help us explore.

Venue: University of Galway 



This workshop is for those who feel stuck in their head or need to be in control of their audition or performance. Acting demands a feeling of spontaneity and play within the confines of a script. How do you find this freedom within the form? Using elements of improv, play and tools from the Michael Chekhov technique, we will explore how to spark and expand the imagination and then allow this to be alive within the structure of a scene. Online, as we practise, the container is your room, but within it you need to be free. You need to be Free in the Form. You need it for filming especially, as you might be asked to do things with specificity yet still find the much needed freedom and spontaneity within your scene

This online course is taught by Max Hafler from Galway Ireland and Rena Polley from Toronto, Canada. 



For the audience, the actor is the living, radiating presence at the heart of drama.

What skills and tools make the performer subtle, responsive and capable of transformation? The ability to transition into someone other than themselves…To convey a character.

Working through the Imagination and the Body, the Chekhov Technique offers a suite of strategies for the actor to achieve exactly this.

The journey begins here. this day long workshop will give you an exploratory look in seeing acting in a different way. 


The Button Moulder’s Breakfast – Tools for Fantastical Characters

I have just finished rereading Peer Gynt by Ibsen, which I understand was a play meant to be read. Its swirling epic nature makes it hard to bring to it any kind of earthy reality. It  has always struck me as a massive problem to stage, especially if you are not familiar with the specific Norwegian culture from which it comes. Declan Drohan and I are using scenes from the play to explore how we approach fantastical characters using the Michael Chekhov technique on October 8th and 9th here in Galway. It is always an exciting by-product that you get to revisit these plays.

The first production of Gynt I saw was unsatisfying because of ‘where I was at’ as a teenager when I saw it, and 60s and early 70s realism was king. I wanted to see the early part of the play as realistic, with Peer as a realistic figure albeit in a mythological landscape, someone with whom I could identify and recognise as the hero.  I wanted to like Peer and saw nothing to like, just a lecherous teenage thug who grows into a tyrannical arrogant monster of exploitation, and then in an attempt to find himself  in later life tries to evoke sympathies he doesn’t deserve. Had I looked at his character in a more mythological archetypal way, the play and production would have had  a holistic feeling and had a lot more power. Had I thought of him as one of the characters from the Ring cycle, or The Fool in the Tarot deck I would have immediately connected better both as an audience or as a character had I been acting in the production.

Paradoxically in a more recent production  (though still a while in the past) I saw  Peer in a shell shock hospital during/after the First World War and his story was a hallucination. To me this proved a disastrous concept, belittling the enormity of the play and literalising (or excusing) the dream like nature of the play. It left the actors with too many things to play. It materialised and belittled  the play, rather like when people say King Lear has Alzheimer’s or Macbeth is a psychopath. This is a very reductive approach to epic literature. It may yield something but it most likely won’t. 

So when we embark on these plays which are inhabited by fantastical characters we need to find something in the character with which we and the audience can relate to without necessarily bringing a feeling that we might meet them at the bus stop, if you you see what I mean. We need to find resources which are more than our personal egos. As actors we cannot use our immediate life directly on these characters. No one cares whether the button moulder prefers eggs or cereal for breakfast or whether he/she has breakfast at all. What they want to feel is the ominous nature of this character, their rage, perhaps their exasperation at waiting for Peer to change before the Button Moulder takes him away to melt him down into buttons to finally be some thing useful to the world in which he lives. they need to find their archetypal power. This does not mean stereotyping but something which unlocks something very deep. At their best, fantastical characters can allow us to explore things we would not have the capacity to explore. That’s why people put them in plays and stories. That’s why there are fairy tales.

Let’s play with Chekhov’s idea of imaginary centres. Perhaps the button moulder has an outworn scuffed button in his centre, at his imaginary heart. When I inhabit that idea, when I imagine that the character has at its heart this old button, the character becomes weak and strained….  holding things together with a few threads and a round circle of wood  as buttons do. He is old and needy. If I truly embody that imaginary idea a whole extraordinary character is created through my imagination if I am open to the image. These are the kind of things we as actors can explore when we learn to trust this process. Or perhaps his heart is a gleaming button, a gleaming black button, polished and shiny. That makes me feel gleaming and cruel. It gives me a different body shape, size and voice.

Often these characters are the bearers of qualities we can easily find through atmospheres archetypes and centres. These characters express intangible qualities and this is what Chekhov talks about, ‘making the intangible, tangible’

Our workshop, “A human heart for me” – playing the fantastical runs October 8th and 9th at University of Galway. email chekhovtpi@gmail.com to book your place. Tutors Declan Drohan and Max Hafler.

Connections : Creating a Score in Ensemble.

Our last three in the room workshops have been about re establishing connections ; with ourselves, with an audience, with the character and finally with a play. Of course I, often with my Colleague Declan Drohan (co-director of CTPI) and guest Rena Polley from Michael Chekhov Canada, have been doing that work with people throughout the pandemic, primarily online. Whilst it can often be challenging to make those connections I talk about online it is possible to do it , but I must confess there is nothing like the incredible impact of working live in the studio. Working in the Room is more of an experience than an exploration. It is incredibly energising whereas working online is more thoughtful; satisfying in a different way; it is easier to discuss and consider. Sessions in the Zoom room does not have the same electricity. On the other hand working online does make what we call the’flyback’, reviewing our practical work after we have explored it physically, easier.

That’s why we are going to keep doing both; online and in the studio.

For this last workshop in the ‘Connecting’ up series, we are going to look into connecting to the play and production. How do we all lead as director/teachers without didacticism? How does the actor fit into the ‘score’ of the production? How do we reach into the play and decide on a guiding idea? In this workshop we will inevitably reach into the realm of the creative hierarchy and look at that tetchy question, “What does the director actually do?” To me the director is like the conductor of an orchestra. There is a score and everyones creativity needs to be focussed towards the production. The orchestra has the vessel of the musical score but there are freedoms once you accept that. The symphony can never be about the individual musician and nor should the artists who create a theatrical production ever believe it is anything other than a team effort.

“At best, a director enables an actor to reveal his own performance, that he may have otherwise clouded for himself.” PETER BROOK THE EMPTY SPACE

In terms of the Chekhov elements we will be looking at Form and The Whole and how to experience those sensations in our bodies. We will be looking at Polarities in the play; opposite energies which polarise the play and the characters and how these might play into the score of the production. Deciding how a play might begin and end might give your whole piece a shape, a focus, and of course I do not mean exactly, nor is it set in stone . Through rehearsal you might make a profound sense of direction and that is ok.

Or the spine of the production might make another turn because of the actors. I write about this in my book, “What Country Friends is This?’ (published by NHB 2021) where I discuss a production I did of Twelfth Night with young actors.   I had a middle aged view of love and romance which for me dictated certain elements of the production. I found that, as we worked, I had to jettison many of those ideas because my vision was not where they were at,  though we retained some very dark moments in the production.

In the workshop we will be looking also at General Atmosphere to try and find possibilities for what the texture of the play might be, what the characters might be living and breathing in, and how that affects the way they behave. What decisions could we take together to make this a ‘score’ in the true sense of the word?

As before we will be using the play, Antigone. 

And mostly we will be doing this on our feet.

Connecting to the World of the Play and the Production.  will focus on atmosphere, the Feeling of Form and the Feeling of the  Whole. Michael Chekhov believed that whilst there was a different contribution made by actors director and all theatre artists, that somehow there needed to be something of a unified creative vision. It was an essential component to creating a satisfying and powerful piece of theatre. Again we will use Antigone for this workshop. 

The workshop costs 60 euro runs from 10- 4 and will be held at NUI Galway


‘But goes thy heart with this?’

Yet again I was dazzled yesterday by the power of the Michael Chekhov Technique in my Masters class which gave me a different take on the play we are working with King Lear.  We did an exercise around the image centres of the character first taught me by the wonderful Dawn Arnold many years ago.  I remember saying at the time after we had done this exercise that it felt like the characters had come into the room and met each other, that the room at moments was full of the play we were working on. Many of my students, despite masks and social distancing had the same response yesterday.

The exercise is the culmination of a whole number of exercises, so if you are reading this as someone new to this work it may not work for you if you just jump to this exercise, without doing the earlier ones. But listen to what happened and you will get an impression of the discoveries made.

It involves finding the character’s centre, by imagining an image in a part of your body which for you represents the character’s centre, their soul, their engine if you like; what is powering them inside. You work with that image and react to it and it stirs the character’s sensations , energy and feelings. For instance, if you are playing Juliet and imagine she has the image of a lighted candle in her chest, you might get a sense of her determination and fragility. Imagine you are radiating that energy and if you are sensitive to it, , you will immediately feel different; you might even move differently. What I mean by that  is that it makes you feel like a different person in a very deep way.

Back to Lear. Each character working from their character centre entered the circle and slowly looked and exchanged their energy with each of the other characters; they radiated and received. I immediately got a sense that the people in the room were not the people in the room. They were a version, often a powerful one, of the characters in the play.

Once you can commit to this imaginative process, something can happen as you start to realise the possible relationships, resentments and passions which each character excites in the other. This can be really thrilling .

Yesterday, the most powerful one for me which opened up a lot of doors to the play was the moment Goneril met Cordelia. Cordelia was strong but still vulnerable. You could see Goneril really hated her . I felt the elder sister tried to dominate her but the longer they exchanged energy the weaker Goneril got. She kept trying to rally against her ( all this was incredibly subtle, there was no actual physical action) but Goneril could not win. When the actor playing Lear entered the space bringing the feeling of a repressed time bomb and really yelled at Goneril, I started to get a strong view of the family dynamic, of this raging volatile parent who could just explode in a moment, and who was incapable of really giving his love. Later I wondered whether everyone hated Goneril.

It made me consider that in this play perhaps the dynamic is actually about love and all the things that spring from it, selflessness, selfishness, jealousy, rage…when it has not been tended and acknowledged.

So my thoughts turned to Edmund and Edgar. In what seems like an insignificant lead up to the big first scene , Gloucester presents Edmund, his illegitimate son, to Kent, on the one hand boasting and on the other deeply embarassed by the young man. He barely lets Edmund speak. Could it be that Edmund’s revenge is also about a childhood with no love or respect? I have always considered Edmund a glorious Machiavellian villain, but this suggestion of a lack of love takes me and the play somewhere else.

It’s funny these discoveries sound very much like an acting technique which focusses on the intellect and the character biography and yet these discoveries were not thoughts but came from actions; ways of behaving, they sprung from interaction, images; and all this in spite of masks and social distancing. I am still surprised when these things happen to me and my students during Chekhov exercises, without much discussion where a new window to the play is suggested by a powerful exercise courageously performed.

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. 

Using a Painting – Chekhov course online


Paintings are magic. I always remember as a young child being fascinated by the Pevensie children being overwhelmed by a painting of the Dawn Treader on the Narnian Sea and being swept into the water.

When I was a drama student we were given a summer task to prepare a talk about a painting. Of course there was no internet then so you had to find your paintings from a book or a gallery. I daresay it had the highly laudable aim of creating rounded artists. One of my fellow students had many art books and I stayed with him for a few days as I looked through the books to find a suitable painting to talk about. I decided suddenly that rather than discuss the painting or the artist, I wanted to fully enter the painting, its atmosphere, and at least one of the characters within it. As I decided this the whole idea filled me with joy as a truly creative task blossomed from something that had felt incredibly like worthy homework.

Hieronymus Bosch: <i>The Wayfarer</i>, circa 1500–1510The painting I chose was THE WANDERER by Heironymus Bosch. I had never seen his paintings before and I was transfixed by them… horrible grotesque fantasies of hell and heaven, and this picture, though less dark, offered me something powerful. Looking at it I was immediately reminded of the Bedlam beggars and Poor Tom in King Lear.

After examining the picture in detail, I thought my first step would be to examine the man’s physical position. I found a stick, a hat and a pack and put myself in his position. I remember I also took a shoe off to give myself the feeling of the odd shoes he was wearing. It was amazing how having odd shoes made me feel unwanted, off-balance, bitter and unhinged. Looking back over my shoulder as I pushed forward immediately made me feel a longing and a bitterness. I was either being driven away or I was longing for a more settled life for some reason. I started to feel a little like a beaten dog.

The house behind me, and from which I had just come, was broken-down and clearly a place of some conflict. The house delapidated and uncared for, the man pissing against the wall, the young woman, blocked by a young man from looking at me and another looking out of the broken window, after the beggar.  Was my itinerant beggar part of this life or not? I got in position, turned on a tape recorder and began to speak. a harsh rasping voice came out. The beggar spoke of a longing for stability and yet despising that stability the living in the house might have provided.  I created a world and psychology from the atmosphere of the painting, its characters and principally the rather gentle faced man who was walking away. It is true that the radiation from his face did not match my bitter monologue (which came more from the background characters and the general dishevelled nature of the house, and also the main character’s predicament). However it was the turning back to look which gave me the main thrust along with the image of what I could see.

It was an exciting ,creative project which was very rich for me. Now in my Chekhov work,  I often use  a painting as a starting point for a dramatic piece. We engage concentration, the Feeling of Form, Movement, Atmosphere and our imaginations. That’s the subject of one of the new courses, THE PICTURE SPEAKS which runs for five 90 minute sessions on July 6th online.  We will create a speaking gallery of paintings.

Email chekhovtpi@gmail.com to book your place