Tag Archives: Core Theatre College

More Light – a play of the past for now

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More Light by Bryony Lavery was written in 1997 for the BT Connections project to provide youth theatre plays written by writers who wrote primarily for adult professional actors and for adult audiences. If I am not mistaken More Light was commissioned in the very first batch of these plays. The story begins when a group of Emperor’s concubines are buried with the Emperor, because they have not borne him any sons. They then seek to survive in the tomb by eating him and many of the other artists and architects buried in the tomb with them. When we add to this that the play involves mutilation, discussion of abuse, murder and is richly laden with images, imagination and poetry which explore society, art and patriarchy, it seems like a tricky ask for a youth theatre to perform. When I decided to use this play for our 10 week Core Performance course in Chekhov and Ensemble techniques I thought it was challenging for adults. In our case doîng the play with a smaller number of actors rather than a twenty strong youth theatre has provided challenges but as always, also provides many strengths. For instance two of our adult actors are playing small children.

Bryony Lavery beautifully explores conventions of oriental literature and theatre to provide us with a theatrical language for this play, yet at the same time I think it is very important to widen the play from an exploration of any particular racial group. The degradation and exploitation of women in the way we see it in More Light exists within many groups, so for instance our high oriental shoes are actually modern high heels sprayed gold.

In a way, More Light has a lot of similarities with Golding’s Lord of The Flies in which a group of shipwrecked schoolboys build their society upon the public school system only to reveal that there is something feral and incredibly violent underneath their polite and rigid system. In More Light the women are locked in a tomb , resorting to violence in order to survive, but from that, creating a society and an art that is beautiful and different to the harsh Art of their Emperor. However, in order to make their society and their art, they still have to eat human flesh. This is their dilemma. In our contemporary world, it reminds me of how we frequently buy unethically produced products, made by people with poor living standards and even endangering the workers that make them .How often do we put this to the back of our minds so we can get on with our lives, feed our children , express our creativity?

Galway has actually seen a production of this play before in 1998 performed by Galway Youth Theatre , and it was performed in Nuns Island Arts Centre directed by Selena Kelly . We perform it there too. I loved the play then and resolved that at some point I would like to direct it.

‘More Light’ by Bryony Lavery plays at Nuns Island Arts Centre Galway from the 14th – 16th May telephone 091 565886. 8 pm start. The play performed by Core T.C. runs for 60 minutes.

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More Light – Imagination and Simplicity

IMG_0780Beginning serious work on a play is for me like jumping into the ocean. You have to be alive and awake to the currents and yet at the same time find your own way. Your way is not only influenced by the writer’s imagination – in this case a spectacular flight of the imagination – the actors’ imagination, the design team etc, but something else, something intangible. Michael Chekhov says that as artists we ” make the intangible, tangible” I love this idea; that something completely unique and unknowable comes from this process, dependent on every single member of the creative team and their alchemical contact with each other , with the characters and the score that is the play. As a director I have to be open and yet focused. It is like living in a dream sporadically through the day.

The students on the Current Core Performance course and I are about to embark on the short play More Light by Bryony Lavery .We are working mainly with Chekhov Technique to produce this work. The play depicts an ancient empire where the Emperor is God. He arranges for a tomb to be built and all the artists and craftsmen who build it are left to die with the Emperor in the tomb. Along with the emperor are the concubines who have not borne him sons. They are expected to tend him, serve him – and die with him. Left in this terrible position the women take a momentous decision.

The world they create is like a crucible for the imagination, not without its terrible compromises and polarities but one in which the women for a while at least survive and thrive. Bryony Lavery constantly describes impossible stage images which only the most well funded company might produce but nonetheless her images make you gasp at her vision when you read them. Her vision is little short of audacious. The images are an important part of the fabric supporting one of the most important themes of the play, the place of Art and imagination in our lives. It seems to me now that we are going to mime many of these impossible images or create them with sound – in other words we are asking the audience to engage their imaginations as much as the writer and the creative team have done, in bringing this play to performance; that it will be a truly collaborative piece of work for the audience as well as for us. Only then will creating many of these extraordinary images, like the flying flock of origami birds become possible. Anyone who has seen a real origami bird knows they are, disappointingly, quite heavy !

So simplicity will be the key. Simplicity in fact is a liberating force. Simplicity and Imagination encourages magic in a way that literal presentation can hardly ever do. This of course does not mean that you eschew the visual aspect, in fact ironically, by simplifying , you can often enhance it. As Peter Brook said in a recent interview, ‘simplicity is not a style’ . You might check this deeply inspiring interview out on   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sx2qHHFS5Yk  if you have not seen/heard it.

Centres – an interesting discovery.

Me Teaching at The michael Chekhov Training in Dublin last year.

Me teaching at The Michael Chekhov Training in Dublin last year.

I taught my first class dedicated to Chekhov’s centres on my performance course the other day. Recently I have become aware that for some people exploring centres is one of the hardest exercises for them, yet in actual fact it can be produce the most fundamental results in terms of character.

For those who have no experience of this work, the idea of centres is to find a centre for the character, usually within the body, which is like the engine or soul of the character , a place from which all their impulses spring. A kind of source. This centre can be a colour or a shape or a concrete image of something ( a lighted candle for Juliet is a good example) . You connect everything to this centre, your limbs and your very being and see what happens as you explore the space, the character and the text operating from the centre. There is no ‘wrong’ thing to do; you just fully connect yourself to this image or centre and respond . It can produce amazingly transformative results.

It has come to my notice though, that this aspect of Chekhov can be hard to grasp. Not only have you to imagine an image but you are also imagining it is inside you and powering all you do. This is quite a lot of imagining to do all at once! There is a lot of explanation in the Chekhov books about inviting an image or an object into you but even then, this is quite advanced. Leave it till later, you might say, but when you are running a short course you have to balance your careful instruction with the fact that there is not much time. Besides which, working with a character centre can change the actor so extraordinarily that it for me goes to the very heart of what Chekhov Technique can do for an actor.

When I was considering this session the other day, I remembered an exercise I had used with Galway Youth Theatre for working on character, decades ago, before I had even heard of Michael Chekhov . I had done a lot of work with the group and they really trusted me – so I risked it. I asked everyone to pick an object in the space, examine it carefully for use and size and texture and where it was within the room and I asked them to BECOME it , to become it as fully as they could, to imagine it had a voice and character . Then I would interview them as the object for a few minutes each and they would tell me about their lives as this object. Some of the work with the youth theatre was truly moving and remarkable, and some very funny. But for some reason I never used the exercise again.

Until last night. I considered that this exercise might be a good bridge to understanding what having a relationship to an object or image might be in terms of character and how it could be useful. It encouraged everyone to have a serious relationship with the object, an absorption and a response in a way they would not have done as effectively if I had asked them to describe it or use it as a centre straightaway. Of course in a way “becoming it” is making the object your centre in a very literal way. I suppose that is it. It cuts out one area of imagining that the actor has to do when creating a centre which makes the process a little easier.

The interviews last night were touching and funny. We then took the same centre into the body, imagined it powering us, moved it to different places in the body and experimented with this. But what I felt profoundly was that stuðents had a much stronger understanding and identification with the image because they had done this bridging exercise of simply becoming the object first. .

When we moved on to exploring centres for the characters we were working on, it was a lot easier.

thanks, group!

Excellent qualities

Whilst doing some of my own work on Chekhov’s qualities at home the other day, I forgot something I am always telling students; to scan your body and find the place in your body where that quality is not reaching and focus on it, for only then can you get the full benefit of the movement and the sensations and feelings it evokes for the work on your character , when these blockages have been eased.SAM_0250

Qualities –  a little definition

For those less familiar with the four qualities in Chekhov, they are moulding, floating, flying and radiating; they correspond to earth, water, air and fire, which you might come across in one or two other trainings, (Lecoq in particular). Allowing these qualities into your body allows you to explore the quality which might be a strong quality of your character. The qualities evoke sensations and feelings and often a whole viewpoint for the character or the world in which they find themselves.

Teaching Qualities

I ask students to imagine that this one tense place in the body is filling up with the quality you are trying to evoke. For me that is often a space between my eternally stiff shoulders; for floating I imagine my eyes are filling with water ( how often do you watch stuðents floating apparently effectively whilst their eyes move round in a staccato fashion because their whole bodies are not engaged? a lot.)

We all find different things that will work. But as teachers it is often hard to find anything other to say than ‘keep practising’. This is a bit like telling young actors to speak louder when you can’t hear them. It is a kind of blocking instruction. They often find the instruction authoritative and useless, because it evokes a kind of terror of ‘am I floating properly’ ?

A Classic Question

A classic question I hear over and over again is ‘ what is the difference between floating and flying’? It’s a hard one. We might separate  them by suggesting that floating involves resistance whereas flying does not. But in flying we are still at the mercy of the air as someone who floats is at the whim of the current. Perhaps flying has more will within it . With flying we know where we are going. In floating we truly surrender. We have to do so or we could not float. any advice on this question would be gratefully received!

Pretending Qualities

It seems to me it is so very easy to pretend to float fly radiate and mould , which often occurs when there is a stiffness or reluctance in a part of the body as described above. But it is the profundity of the whole body movement and how it affects gesture and ultimately the intention of the character that makes it useful. It is not a good plan to pretend. That is rather like  trying to force an emotion out,  like wringing a dry cloth. It is also essential the movement comes from inside. Many times I work with qualities and I am aware initially of someone’s dance training . Rather than the quality coming from inside, it proceeds from trained outer movement.

Discussing the Duchess and Chekhov Technique

Muireann Ni Raghallaigh, Zita McGowan Reidin ni Thuama and Eoin Dillon

Muireann Ni Raghallaigh, Zita McGowan Reidin ni Thuama and Eoin Dillon

I have been discussing the efficacy of the technique with the fabulous students who stage managed my recent production of THE DUCHESS OF MALFI which used the Chekhov Technique as the bedrock of the process. The students only experience of the technique were a few classes with me in a previous module which focussed more on working with nontext physical theatre so they had been very taken with its use in this Jacobean ðrama. We discussed the fact that on the one hand whilst Chekhov was easy once you knew how and could produce fabulous deep and fast results, it was also tricky to get people to commit. They noticed a big difference between my committed actors and some of the students in our class who had found it challenging. It reminded me how you had to have complete faith in the body and imagination in order for it to be successful for you, and also that even with experience you have to keep touching base and practise just like any other technique. As I was doing this morning!

Core Course in Galway

In this year’s Core Performance course starting here in Galway Ireland on March 3rd for ten weeks of fifteen hours per week, participants will have a chance to hone these skills and this magical way of looking at acting, finding feelings and sensations and character choices through imagination and the body through chekhov and other Ensemble techniques. There are still two places left. Check out Courses on this blog or go to http://www.coretheatrecollege.com .

Why, WHY? Masks and Curtains.

The Duchess is admonished by her brother. [Zita Monahan and Darragh O'Brien]

The Duchess is admonished by her brother. [Zita Monahan and Darragh O’Brien]

Whilst rehearsing the scene in Duchess of Malfi last week where the two brothers discover their sister has had a baby, and vent their rage at her disobedience, we first explored the ‘what ?’ And the ‘how’ of the scene; how does the Cardinal respond to his brother, rather than Why. What and How revealed a myriad of possible Whys, some of which were helpful and many which were not. It is so much easier to follow what and how and desperately important when you are dealing with such a labyrinthine story as  Duchess of Malfi. I can imagine if we had been a more table-work type company we could have spent months filleting the text. Months we do not have. And to what avail? To kill the creative impulse by creating a thin ice of intellectual understanding based only upon our direct life experience – a narrow sort of truth. This approach does not mean you ignore the text ( how could you even consider that with such visceral and profound stuff ?) Ultimately the language moulds the physicality, psychology and being of the character. ‘My mind is full of daggers’ says the Duchess, as she despairs and rages against her tragedy. This image alone conjures up her psychological state at that moment – get that into your body by making a stabbing gesture

But why do many actors feel they have to start with ‘Why?’ when it unleashes a whole confusing gamut of unactable facts? Starting with why seems to offer little or no juice, when it comes to playing. What is it that seduces them? WHY? ( Now I am asking why! ) Is it our idealised Method based background as actors? Or our sometimes misguided faith in science where the WHY appears to the outsider to be the only important result? Or is it a desire to make us feel as artists that through exploring WHY first, we are doing something ‘real’ and ‘important’ ‘adult’ and ‘serious’? Anyone who has worked psychophysically knows this process of exploring the piece through Imagination and body  is every bit as serious and a lot more demanding than an intellectual poring over the script at a table for hours where your energy is often finally sapped before you get up to work.

‘Why’ for me is like the ‘masks and curtains’ the Duchess speaks of. It has a place but it is mainly obfuscation . It protects us from the raw feeling and intuition necessary for our work. Also, the ‘Why’ may be labyrinthine but it is logical. Life, character and emotion are often not logical yet as performers we still have to grasp the character’s journey and intentions. As someone said when doing Measure for Measure two years ago, where we used Chekhov Technique as the bedrock of the rehearsal process, working on her journey through gesture rather than discussion,’I could never have put this character’s journey into words but now I understand it.’

A brilliant example of the dubious nature of WHY was Simon Russell Beale’s discussion of his performance of King Lear [The RNT production] where he suggested Lear might have some kind of Alzheimers . Who cares? In this case the WHY actually diminished his performance in my opinion.

I am not suggesting that actors and directors ignore WHY but explore it later in the process. In ‘real life’ we can know why something happens without having any real understanding of it. Nowhere is this more true than in the academic approach to theatre when students are sometimes encouraged to believe they can go out and do it without the real rigours of training. We can understand an approach from a book but without practise and learning through the body we have no experience of it and no learning we can effectively put into practise. Imagine if you read about how to play the violin but hardly did any practise, or learned the rules of basketball assiduously but only played  now and again?

On March 3rd , my co-tutors and myself at CORE theatre college will be running an intense but part time course for 10 weeks in Galway which will include three performances in May. This course puts the imagination, the body and creativity at the centre of the performers work. The HOW and the WHAT before the WHY. The imagination and the body before the intellect. Teachers are trained in Chekhov and Lecoq and there will also be a voice module. There are only a few places left for this course so if you are interested check out http://www.coretheatrecollege@gmail.com . And Theatrecorp’s production of The Duchess of Malfi plays the Black Box Theatre Galway 3rd – 7th February phone 091 569777.