Tag Archives: Declan Drohan

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.

Simply Playing Cards.. finding Direction with the Chekhov Technique

Last Saturday, in our final class of a series which were about Connecting (to our selves, to each other as people and performers, and the character we played), a group of us explored Connecting to the Play, in our case, Anouilh’s Antigone

For some time we did several exercises getting the sensation of beginning and ending into our bodies through various exercises. We did this through journies across the space. If you think about it, every performance we go to see ought to take us on some kind of journey, ideally some form of transformation, if only temporary. Sadly this is not always the case. If you think about it, beginning and ending something gives it a tremendous significance. Even if we believe that life is formless and pointless (though we know we are born and will die – a pretty profound beginning and end), acknowledging a beginning and an end in a work of art gives it relevance . And it doesn’t necessarily have to be the story that carries it; it can have a beginning and end in feeling or movement of energy. It does not need to be didactic. Once you start playing with energy and images the effect can be incredibly multi layered and subtle.

We began to get involved in the beginning and ending of the actual play. After inviting the group to write down images as I read the beginning and the end of the play aloud to them, I wanted to emphasise the idea that “all art aspires to the condition of music” a quote by philosopher Walter Pater which heads up a chapter in Chekhov’s book. If we consider what that might mean, it emphasises that the performance of a play has an artistic wholeness, whilst at the same time affecting us on many layers at once, just like a piece of music does. One thing Michael Chekhov presses in his chapter on composition is that everyone involved in the creative team has to find ownership of the work in order to find their characters place within it, just like a musician in an orchestra. It has to have a Feeling of The Whole. As those of us who have directed or acted professionally know, the good actor is often considered the one who produces what the director wants rather than being an artist in their own right. Chekhov was never of that view; for him, “The actor is the theatre”.

To emphasise this feeling of the journey, of a transformation, that I spoke of at the beginning I invited the group to work with polarities from the beginning to the end . Of course this is not the only way to use polarities but it was what we needed here. We explored the idea that the play began with one polarity or opposite and ended with another. For instance, there is a brittleness in the beginning as the chorus introduces the cast of characters and a softness at the end as “a melancholy peace” descends. We could explore Light/dark; Life/Death; Avoidance/Acceptance; Noise/Quiet; Conformity/Rebellion… to name a few!

But we had not the time to work on the beginning in any detail; only the end. We made two groups who were going to create an ending or a number of endings for this challenging play. Chekhov was a firm believer in the idea that you could have a lot of starting points for a production. What better, with a play which puts up a challenge to principle and political rebellion to the audience than to focus on the ending? What are we trying to say with this play and how do we say it? When we stop speaking, what settles on the auditorium before the lights go down and the play ends? There were some wonderful examples of that polarised atmosphere that landed on the watching group as we began to explore and present possibilities. You could taste what was filling the room.

Many actors would have the horrors to attend a first rehearsal where you began at the end but for many plays it is completely appropriate. Reassure people that any good endings we find may completely morph into something different but that it would be useful for us all to imagine where we might all be heading. What this approach does is it  allows us to consider what the play might say; what our production might say to a modern audience. The actors need to be brought into this decision as I said because if they are not, the director might be ignoring a valuable energy within the group response. You also might be  making trouble for yourself for later as an actor rebels against your interpretation. 

The only proviso I set for their explorations was that everyone must speak and the chorus speech must be split between the group.

Both groups had an Antigone in their Chorus, though they were played very differently . In One group Antigone seemed the victim ( though less in one polarity/Atmosphere than the other). In the other, Antigone was the moral victor. Suffice to say whatever we decided were we to do the play , you leave the audience with a very different energy. All the pieces they made left an energy hanging in the air. An energy we could feel, consider and discuss.

More subtly, I asked one group to return  with exactly the same choreography they had developed yet play it through two different polarity/atmospheres, and I and the others watched, how this radically altered the ending of the play. It left a different feeling in the air. It said something quite different in the space. This was an incredibly powerful exercise because by retaining the general shape and the choreography but giving it a different impulse we were able to test out different possibilities with ease and speed, then come back and decide which would be better. .

We found a number of viable possibilities for the ending. All were strong visceral possibilities. Thrilling.

Our next few workshops this autumn are as follows.

September 10th/11th Two day workshop in the room on Actable choices auditioning; Declan Drohan and Max Hafler

October 8th/9th Two day workshop in the room on playing Fantastical characters. Declan Drohan and Max Hafler

Nov 1-22nd, 4-6 pm Irish time Online.

To Be Free In The Form. Rena Polley,(Michael Chekhov Canada) and Max Hafler

and in preparation !

Nov 12th One day workshop in the room 

 Max Hafler and Katelyn Ressler (more info to follow)

December 11th/12th. Sligo. Declan Drohan  (more info to follow)

Exploring our Impulse – Chekhov courses

IT STRIKES ME THAT WHENEVER WE LEARN ANYTHING  IT IS USEFUL FOR US TO RETURN TO EXPLORE BASIC PRINCIPLES. And to do it without fear or favour, to treat our exercises with the same openness we found the very first time we did them or even beyond that, with even more spontaneity and wonder.  Practise creates ease but can also create a laziness or lack of attention in the performer rendering the technique nowhere near as potent. The Chekhov Technique is no exception to this rule .

Whilst those of us have felt rushes of imagination and sensation almost from the first moment we began to use the Technique and gasped at how we could find feelings and transform character, I found  myself that it was quite easy to get seduced into adapting a kind of ‘default’ mentality repeating movements moving with stock feelings ; this had to be worked through. Eventually through exercising the Higher Ego as Chekhov described it , what we might consider a kind of artistic eye on our process, we can discern and explore bravely at the same time. Peter Brook the famous theatre director and teacher, likened exercises to the weeding of a garden, how the actor had to continually ‘weed’ their creative patch in order to let creativity flourish. Musicians, dancers do not baulk at this – but actors can be a different story.

The expansive nature of this Chekhov work is liberating for a whole raft of creative activity, not just for acting . What working online with these basic principles can do can really encourage you is to be both alone with yourself working on the technique in parallel to working with the group and discussing what is happening to you when you do the exercises. So often in the room participants can become over- intoxicated with the intensity of it.

So for those of you who are going to join the four introductory online workshops, Practical Magic: Imagination and Body beginning 4TH MAY from 6 – 7.30 Irish Time (GMT + 1) run by my friend and colleague Declan Drohan and myself, we are going to explore Four elements of these beginning principles. The First is Expansion and contraction and the Six Directions, the second the Four qualities of Movement , the third Concentration, Images and Attention and the fourth what is known as the four Brothers, what chekhov saw as the Four basic essential elements for art. 

Join us. If you wish to sign up email chekhovtpi@gmail.com. Our first LIVE DAY is also filling up fast. Thats on May 28th in Nuns Island Arts Centre.

Both of these courses are going to be a joyous remeeting of some of the basics of the Michael Chekhov technique to reawaken and reconnect.

PRACTICAL MAGIC / IMAGINATION AND THE BODY  ONLINE MAY 4/11/18/25TH

A revisiting connecting up the body, imagination, feelings and voice which are at the absolute core of the Michael Chekhov approach.

Wednesday 6.00pm – 7.30 pm cost 85 waged/65 low waged/ 45 unwaged.

THE THEATRE OF JOY MAY 28TH 10-4 NUNS ISLAND ARTS CENTRE GALWAY IN THE ROOM

Activate – Connect – Radiate venue Nuns Island Arts Centre Galway. 

After our long Covid hibernation, Max and Declan invite you to a day long, celebratory return to live engagement.

We will explore breath, connection , energy, playfulness and ensemble . We will stoke the fires of imagination and begin to chart our course for future work….

Expansion with The Chekhov Work – New Announcements, New Courses

Though we are fully intending to start some in-the-room workshops over the summer , including a back-to-the-room studio day on May 28th here in Galway, for the time being there still seems to be a lot of support for online learning . As I have talked about many times on our pandemic journey, there are many pluses to the online situation but also some downsides. Though we are being told we will be able to shed the masks one of the great trials of last year for me was trying to teach voice in the room with masked students. It was completely counter intuitive. Recently I ran a voice class online …it was a delight. It seems to us that what is important is variety and also connection between the participants from all over the globe! Right now, Rena Polley from Michael Chekhov Canada and I are running a course on COMEDY DRAMA and TRAGEDY .

CTPI is making a few changes, one of which is welcoming Declan Drohan my colleague, Lecturer at IT Sligo who teaches on the BA in Performing arts, and the MA in creative practice, as a co partner in the organisation. We have been co-teaching together both in the room and online very successfully for the past few years and hope now to provide online, in the room, projects and hybrid classes teaching, sometimes together and sometimes alone . In addition we are hoping to invite other international teachers to work with us.

‘ I am honoured and excited about my increased role in CTPI. I see our legacy role as being to consolidate and and further deepen the possibilities of exploring the transformative Chekhov work in our live and online projects for our Irish community of actors, teachers, directors and facilitators , and our increasing international audience. I am looking forward to exploring how we apply the technique in all the varied settings our community work in , and exploring the possibilities of directing with the Chekhov tools, and incorporating them into our teaching and workshop practice.

Declan Drohan

NEW COURSES MARCH – JUNE

. MARCH 16/23/30 THE ART OF SOLO PERFORMANCE 

Using Brian Friel’s ‘Faith Healer’ , we will explore solo characterization  through application of core Chekhov technique approaches, including direction, atmosphere and polarity . We will explore the architecture of performance, that is the shape and three fold aspect of beginning, middle and end as it applies to any section of text. The beginnings of characterization – the character as a figure in a landscape, as yet undefined.

This template can be used by you to develop full , rich , embodied characterizations in your future work.

Choose one character and two short, contrasting extracts as a basis for our exploration.

3 2hr sessions , Wednesdays  6 – 8 GMT March 16/2330TH ONLINE

Cost 70 waged / 60 low waged / 40 unwaged. 

Declan Drohan

Declan Drohan M.A H.Dip.Ad.Ed. lectures on Performing Arts Hons Degree Programme at IT Sligo. Former Course Leader of Acting Programme at Conservatory of Music and Drama DIT Rathmines, Declan trained with Gaiety School Of Acting and Michael Chekov Europe. Recent acting work includes award winning short films ‘ The Date ‘ and Mr L’s Limbo. He is a member of the popular Dark Leaves Theatre Co vintage radio company. His directing credits include Cathleen Ni Houlihan at Lisadell House and the Hawkswell Sligo, and Frank Pig Says Hello and Beneath the Bone Moon at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

March 29/April 5/ April 12/ april 19. SPEAKING THROUGH THE BODY. 4 90 MINUTE SESSIONS . Using the Chekhov technique and a short given piece of Shakespeare, participants will use the body as a conduit to find truth and variety, particularly in the voice and text they are speaking .  EXPANDING CONTRACTING /RADIATING RECEIVING  qualities… using the body for Feeling and language….

Tutor Max Hafler Mondays  4.30-6 GMT

cost 85 waged/65 low waged/ 45 unwaged.

MAY 28TH…. 10-4. WE INVITE YOU TO RETURN! The Theatre of Joy (a one day workshop)

Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland

Activate – Connect – Radiate venue TBC

After our long Covid hibernation, Max and Declan invite you a day long, celebratory return to live engagement.

We will explore breath, connection , energy, playfulness and ensemble . We will stoke the fires of imagination and begin to chart our course for future work….

Looking forward to seeing you there ! Venue and cost TBA

4th May/11th May/18th May/ 25th May PRACTICAL MAGIC (IMAGINATION AND THE BODY)   4 90 MINUTE SESSIONS  ONLINE

TUTORS MAX HAFLER and DECLAN DROHAN

A revisiting connecting up the body, imagination, feelings and voice which are at the absolute core of the Michael Chekhov approach.

Wednesday 4.30-6.00pm cost 85 waged/65 low waged/ 45 unwaged.

An Atmosphere For ‘Calvary’

Members of our Full Of Music Class were asked by Declan my colleague and co-teacher, whether we imagined a feeling of Now or biblical times in our creation of Atmosphere for the short play CALVARY; most of the people said, ‘now’. Why? Here is a play by Yeats from the early 20th Century about Christ’s road to Calvary that feels so pertinent to right this minute. And  with the exploratory infinite tool of the Imagination we can build our bridge from what appears to be arcane material and bring it to the world.

Of course one of the great things about using Yeats is his absolute involvement with the polarity between MATERIAL and the SPIRIT. This particular play, rather like RESURRECTION is dealing with similar themes. The world we are shown in both plays is on the edge of an abyss, ready to tear itself apart. Michael Chekhov himself, through the Russian revolution, the uprooting and torturing of populations during the Second World War, the atomic bomb etc etc. was also living in such times. That is one of the reasons I think that Yeats and Chekhov fit so perfectly together. In our own sci-fi / biblical world it seems disturbingly pertinent.

We are co-leading the class and Declan was leading the creation of Atmosphere section which he did in such a way as to keep us completely free. This gave me the freedom  in this bit of the class to explore as a participant. People came up with amazing stuff; stuff you could build into a  whole production which would give you what Chekhov calls a Feeling of The Whole; rich and diverse responses that could bind a whole piece together.

In order to reveal something of how this works, I would like to share what I saw and experienced because as the Atmosphere became specific it created a whole world for me, a way of being and relating this archaic and arcane play to now, without, and this is important, too much intellectual interference. I did not have to think about this ; it emerged from my imagination.

Atmosphere is one of the most powerful elements of the Chekhov work. For those reading this who might be unfamiliar, Chekhov asks us as artists to create atmosphere around us for the play. It creates an Imaginative response to the play which does not involve us talking endlessly about it but is more akin to the alchemical response between reader and the written word. It can often be surprising and deep. 

What did I experience in my Atmosphere of Calvary? ? I felt a heavy dryness. Sometimes blisteringly hot; other times cold. And a road. The place was a flat desert like a Salvador Dali painting. There was also a pavement on each side of this road. This pavement was made of brown warm stones. It was safe and comforting to stand there….. As a member of the mob my energy and focus was into the centre of this road. Between the pavement and the road were dark wooden sleepers and in the road itself where Jesus walked, sharp stones and broken glass. The road was not straight but jagged like a piece of the broken glass of which it was made.  This was the path of Jesus, ,He was walking slowly and had a determined look on his face. His forward energy was strong and lifted though his feet were bleeding. Though he was in pain he was already somewhere else. The mob were terrified of him though they yelled and swore at him, rooting their feet firmly on their warm stones, feeling safety in numbers and their energy rooting them down ; though they were also magnetised towards Christ as if he was taunting them by his very presence. They were afraid that they too could end up on that bloody path. When we were asked to take on the Archetype of the Mother and created a shape for her, I felt one foot on the glass and another foot on the warm stones. This was not my path. I could not take that path and yet I suffered it and felt pulled towards Christ.  

I thought about this a lot when the class was over, realising how much deeper was my understanding of the play through creating this imagery and how particular it was. I considered other characters in the story and with my own work with the group we got more variation and more depth again. It made me consider the other characters, the soldiers, Lazarus and Judas and made me wonder what they were doing there, confronting Christ. were they too on the road of shards or were they running on the pavement , keeping up, accusing him from the sideline as they pushed past the other observers? As i write this, I think of the the road to Calvary suddenly like a river, with everyone else responding from the banks…. a different image which would create a totally different response, a totally different feel, a totally different production. 

Gloomy I know but amazing that the imagination has this power.  

This class continues for two more weeks and then we move on to no small parts, an online class dealing with using Chekhov technique to work on small roles. email chekhovtpi@gmail.com

Magic, Manifestos, Pathways and Learning

After plenty of thought I am keeping our Chekhov Technique courses online until January 2022. I have made no secret of the amazing discoveries we have found in this new format and you can read up on them below in other blog posts if you would like to join us; a way of keeping your creativity open and alive and giving you more of an opportunity to share your discoveries with like-minded others.  One of the things I have found is an unbelievable focus and an easier ability to analyse and flyback after exploring, through experiencing the exercise and sharing what we found there. It feels like a great way to learn and really go deep into certain aspects of the technique.

Aurelie de Foresta working with The Christmas Carol.

Of course it is not the same experience as working in the studio, which has its own visceral advantages; but it’s convenient , cheaper and enables participants to really touch base with like minded others and learn with them wherever they might be in the world. Eventually I want to work with my students both online and in the studio. That would be my ideal.

We can be in no doubt that in addition to all the other things going wrong in our world right now I feel our creativity and imagination is really under attack and under resourced; the cuts to arts in education are a real marker for this. In many academic institutions there has been a real lack of resourcing of proper hours for training as if it was a very low priority to learn how to perform, say, before you start teaching others and researching something you have experienced mainly from a lecture or a book. This  tragic downgrading of imagination, practical training  and the lack of understanding of how to train it is not only in drama but in many other areas too. It is a path of great error. We have to remember that the imagination is revolutionary in itself and is seen as provocative and dangerous because it encourages creativity and individuality.

There was an amazing moment during the First Night of the Proms which I saw on BBC4 last week (before a modest audience this year) when they performed Vaughn Williams’ Serenade to Music conducted by Dalia Stasevska and performed by  the BBC Symphony Orchestra when, after the final bars , a long pause was held; silence fell but the vibrations were still filling the air. It was incredibly moving. It was, to quote Chekhov, the “Intangible made Tangible”. Those vibrations would not have been as powerful had there not been a live audience and even though I was not in the Albert Hall myself I felt that difference. On the other hand, the fact that I could feel them even though I was not at the actual event said something too about our power to reach into the tv or computer screen and make the powerful connection we need to make.

So what have we to do? The road back is so complex. Many artists are courageously training and performing with masks and working with all the restrictions. In my college courses, I will be working in Voice and Chekhov technique in-the-room working within the restrictions. It means, unless protocols change, I will be able to experience my students but rarely see their faces; no one will be able to make physical contact. Performances too need to be courageous, stirring their audiences to some kind of action. In addition pieces are being created online; powerful stirring pieces. I directed one earlier this year, an online project called THE SACRIFICIAL WIND by Lorna Shaughnessy, previously a theatre piece . It has been shown a few times and soon will be presented in a couple more festivals. I was sent recently a short film called LOCKDOWN DROWNTOWN , with a number of dancers in their rooms, expressing and exploring lockdown through amazingly powerful dance.

But in addition to making projects, we need to continue developing the depth of our work. Over the year I have been running online workshops. Like everyone I stumbled a little in the beginning, but from the start I felt that all who participated were doing something for their health, their creativity and in some ways something subversive, united  and powerful, as if we were performing in a cellar with limited rehearsal and resources and modest audience in some repressive regime – and that we were all, and will continue to keep something alive. This might sound grandiose but it isn’t. There is a heroism here however we seek to open our hearts  and practise our art.

Patrick O’Malley as Agamemnon in Sacrificial Wind

COURSES

So the first workshop up is a free intro one on Psychological Gesture on 26th August 5 – 6.30 . All you need to do is let me know at chekhovtpi@gmail.com giving a little information as to your interest and back ground. It need not be a long note but i want to get a feeling of whether the workshop will be something you will feel comfortable with.

Second up starts the next day on the 27th entitled We Have To Be Full of Music which I am running with my colleague Declan Drohan. there are a series of four workshops of two hours each. there is a payment for this one

WE HAVE TO BE FULL OF MUSIC. 

Rhythm, Tempo, Colour and Wholeness

Four sessions online with Max Hafler and Guest Declan Drohan 

4.00 – 6.00 (27TH AUGUST – 17TH SEPTEMBER)

This quote from Michael Chekhov highlights the idea that we need to treat our plays like a piece of music and we want to explore this using the short play by Yeats, CALVARY. Made up with Chorus of Musicians , spoken solos and duets, Calvary is an ideal piece to explore this aspect of the Chekhov work. Rhythm, Tempo  and a Feeling of Wholeness which comes from feelings, images, form and the direction of energy, gives our performances life. Harnessing this energy is crucial to creating work on both stage and film and making connection.  For performers, directors and explorers.

COST 80 WAGED/ 60 part time/ 45 unwaged 

Thirdly there is No Small Parts which is more of an application class for training in the real, more commercial world of the working actor.

A modicum of experience of the Chekhov technique (no more than 12 participants)

4 Sessions : tutor Max Hafler 27TH SEPTEMBER – 18TH OCTOBER

4.00 – 5.30

Small roles in plays or films can be an extraordinary problem for an actor and yet the majority of us are in that situation. Our ego tells us we have loads to offer and yet we have to fit into this project with energy when we may have only a few minutes stage/screen time. Yet our contribution can be enormous and telling under the right circumstances. Looking at Brecht, Shakespeare, Chekhov and a modern TV script, we will explore and share this dilemma using the Michael Chekhov technique to find the balance.

COST 60 waged/45low waged/ 35 unwaged

Climbing Into the Language. Working with Chekhov Technique and Voice 

10-30. – 16.30 29th October

Working with Keats’ Ode To Autumn, we will be exploring the poem by ‘climbing into the language ‘ – a wonderful expression by one of my participants this year. Working with atmosphere and several of the techniques I have developed over my years as a director and voice teacher which mix Chekhov and voice training methods. We will rediscover the power of the word, its direction, colour and atmosphere both alone and then in phrases. 

A limit of ten people for this workshop

35 waged/20 unwaged

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

Playing on the Cusp -Chekhov course Online

Finding these amazing moments in plays when we actually somehow touch the invisible is often missing from the plays that we see because we do not acknowledge these moments as part of life. We dismiss them as sentimental or ‘unreal’, when they are not. Anton Chekhov’s plays in particular are full of these extraordinary moments. And these moments are open to us as artists continually; but, and this is really important, these moments where we cross the boundary are not peculiar to sensitive artistic souls; they happen to everyone . One of the chosen pieces from this exquisite book we are using, To the Lighthouse, involves the servant cleaner, Mrs. McNab remembering the old lady who owned the house. These moments we all have illuminate both character and audience; a quick flash and they are gone. Or they can be great moments of destiny, where the character sees themselves in the whole panoply of history.

If art connects the living and the dead, the numinous and the everyday , then we need to consider  occasionally how on earth we can make this connection happen authentically in a play or film. How do we make this alchemy happen ? Is it always something that only happens by accident? I do not think that is the only way these connections are made. These connections between the tangible and intangible happen to us in life at moments of selflessness or crisis, like when someone endangers their own life for someone else or at times of,instability like the Covid crisis. A moment when this happens is when someone brings a gift. Recently, a neighbour brought four new cups and saucers to the house as a gift. There were many levels on which I experienced this simple act of generosity. I had had a bad day wrestling with the internet company and was quite overwhelmed by his generosity. The fact that somehow I felt the universe was protecting me on some level was quite profound. I am sure some more sceptical people would say this was a delusion but that did not stop me experiencing it deeply. Whether it was the meaning, it felt like it was. Of course on another level a neighbour was simply bringing me some crockery which would be very useful. These levels of experience stirred inside me and created a response.

This search for the intangible requires an understanding in us of how we respond to events and how many things go on inside us at any given moment. I remember the first time I did the Chekhov exercise where you were asked to connect to  an object whilst walking around the room, then chat to a fellow participant whilst at the same time imagining singing a song! What I learned is that it is hard to keep everything going but our minds flit from one focus to another, sometimes accentuating the song and sometimes the object, or sometimes the conversation. That has been my experience in ‘real life’. The exercise illuminates the amazing complexity of multi-layered response.

Declan Drohan and I will be exploring these elements online with PLAYING ON THE CUSP on July 19 between 3 and 7 pm GMT online. email chekhovtpi@gmail.com. Very exciting. As always Chekhov work goes to interesting unusual places. There are still a couple of spots.

Being Real, Feeling Joy and The Dangerous Moments of Emptiness.

Over the last few posts I have been exploring and sharing my experience of teaching the Chekhov Technique online, both the joys and problems with it. When I am planning a workshop I am not trying to replicate an actual workshop. I am constantly looking for points of contact and positive developments, ways of teaching the work, developing opportunities along with the comfort (and issues) of trying to liberate oneself whilst still at home. I have talked about this in the last post.

Whilst most seem to be having a very positive experience, for a few the fact of working online weakens the main thing from which they learn; the sense of community and group experience. In the room this dynamic more-or-less comes naturally but online it doesn’t ; I work hard at fostering that and as soon as I give the opportunity, most people grasp it with both hands.

I was discussing this with my partner the other day, a retired teacher and therapist himself, and a moment he isolated was the ending, when you finish the session. I have been considering this a lot myself and find moments of sharing and breathing at the beginning and end of sessions but he talked about that moment when you turn off the monitor and everyone leaves. That moment can feel rather scrappy. Declan Drohan my colleague here in Ireland in the Chekhov work called it, ‘ the dangerous moment of emptiness’.

Even in an actual workshop there can be a moment of ‘back to reality’ after it ends but online this feeling can be acute. Let’s consider what happens when an actual workshop ends. You do a final exercise which bonds everyone together and acknowledges the work. You finish and there is a sense of completion and high. People say their goodbyes, they hug and thank each other. They maybe come and chat to me about some aspect of the work or come to say thank you. The ending of the workshop is often both sad and beautiful.

If you think about the times (especially in times gone by when communication was more difficult than it is now) when you have been speaking with someone you love faraway on the phone and the long call is over, there is an adjustment required for you to re-inhabit your world. This can stir up a lot of ‘stuff’. It could stir up feelings of frustration, an intensified loneliness; rather than feed us as participants, as artists practising our art, it could make us feel futile. This is, of course, completely the opposite of what we want and why we go to actual workshops in the first place. It’s particularly bad because in order to practise our art we have to treat our room as the studio and be as uninhibited as we can. If you are not careful closing a session can be  like inviting people into your house with a smile, letting them in for an hour then pushing them out of the door, leaving them out on the pavement and slamming the door behind them.

 My partner suggested something and I want to share it because it goes some way to acknowledging this  problem. I tried it this week and it seems to go some way to healing this difficult moment and acknowledge their experience with this group. I asked the participants who had just had their last class that, when they turned the monitor off after saying goodbye, they sat with the monitor and continue the radiating done towards the group in the final moments. I asked them to consider what they had explored through the whole course and moments of connection they had and who they had met and watched working in the course. What could they hear and feel going on in the building, outside, and notice how ‘the world’ came back into their space. I suggested they acknowledge that what they had done was ‘real’ not some diversion and they had learned and experienced things. These things were like Chekhov said, ‘intangible’ yet they did happen and we were affected by them. They could then share their responses if they wanted. I have been given permission to produce one of them here. 

“And just like that, it was over… After saying good-bye to everyone, all the faces disappeared. I was in front of my computer, and I was contemplating the Zoom access page on the screen, that I will later need to shut down.

Suddenly, my roommate was shouting at his video games, people and cars were making noise outside but I stayed in front of the computer screen, watching the monitor, still receiving.

As I put my glasses down, I became suddenly aware of the people who were missing today and how disappointed I was they couldn’t come and how I couldn’t properly say goodbye to them. There was a feeling of ease with a touch of sadness.

My phone started to ring but I didn’t want to see who was calling, I needed one more minute to fully process all this. I wrote down some words regarding polarities on a piece of paper, knowing I will have to keep practicing in order for them to stay meaningful.

As I would do in a theatrical exercise, I shook up, breathed in and click on the red cross of the website, as if it was “saving” these 5 weeks in my memory.”

Working online is real. It stirs my soul and I hope most of my students. There is a connection. It is simply a different kind of real. Not a substitute but not nothing either.

‘We Staged a March Past’Brecht and Chekhov

IMG_6759Every workshop has a different atmosphere and a different flavour. Of course this is down to the teacher/facilitator (in this case two), but also to the participants (in this case a really international group). Other prime variables are of course the elements of the Chekhov Technique you are focussing on, but the other prime ingredient is the text you choose to use for your exploration. Even when I am teaching my MA module in the Chekhov Technique, I shape it to some extent on the text I choose to study for the term. This does not mean that I miss out the basics but there are certain elements we only graze in order to allow for more time to develop others which will be more practical for the text. Even with a module you cannot teach everything (you cannot even introduce everything). I want to guide the participants to apply the work to scenes in some way even with a weekend course; to allow the students to gain some knowledge of the elements of the technique but in a rough way give them an opportunity to apply them to scenes. This does not mean they will apply them perfectly necessarily but I feel I have to give them the chance to go there.

IMG_6758When we chose Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, by Brecht about the rise of the Nazis in the thirties, I could see the advantages of it for a short course. It is made of playlets, almost like ‘turns’ in a cabaret so the actors would not have to look at anything more than a page long. In discussion with Declan Drohan, my co-teacher, we considered (of course) atmosphere, communing with the audience, composition, clowning, energy directions, polarities and some real basics like ideal centre and radiating/receiving (something I feel is essential even in a short course).

The piece offered a lot of variety too so it was quite hard to hone it down to choose particular playlets. We ultimately rejected some of the longer ones though they have an amazing depth and progression. Long scenes are difficult for short courses. We honed it down to six very short pieces. Whilst acknowledging that all the elements we had taught them over the course were in play, each scene was used to explore one primary Chekhov element with another to supplement or oppose it so they could be very focussed in their application of the training. Over the three days, we chose one satirical scene, an apparently normal scene filled nonetheless with the atmosphere of danger and poverty, two of the darkest short scenes in the story, the opening of the play and the final scene. On first reading they can appear thin and didactic but they are powerful; they tell us a lot, not only about this historical moment but the rise of the right now.

When I re read the play, I was reminded of the trick of so much of Brecht’s work; it manages to be both simple and complex at the same time.  The Chekhov work unlocks this for you. Brecht is a master of polarity; leading you one way with a character who then behaves in a perfectly understandable totally opposite way. As many of the short scenes are about moments of crisis where the characters, to protect themselves often, make big decisions to either rebel or comply with the regime.

This course has been quite a rollercoaster because of the nature of the material.

Over the weekend I felt I learned a lot about how Fascism and totalitarianism works. I felt I actually experienced the seductive nature of it; the comfortable sense of omnipotent power where if you are on the right side you can exercise your hatred and your prejudices with such impunity that you can even maim and murder and get away with it. Declan introduced this through exercise by saying it was like a damp mist coming under the door and filling the room. We sometimes created an atmosphere where the characters could either comply or suffer; characters constantly challenged as to whether to put their head over the parapet and suffer the consequences or toe the line and find excuses for their corrupt and cruel choices. I was reminded of Brexit and the way people were given permission to express their prejudice and open the Pandora’s Box of right wing ideology; I was reminded of Donald Trump’s megalomania and how by giving him the space to take charge that the whole of democratic ideology was at stake; I was reminded of how in Ireland homeless children were living in bed and breakfast on the altar of a free market ideology.

IMG_6772We had an exuberant block on our last day where we played with Clown  and Radiating to the Audience before we moved on to examine a section where two comic scientists had contacted Einstein for advice but were terrified they would be discovered. This piece has a pointed satirical lightness, which at the same time can be twisted and turned in the playing of it to tell us that really this is no joke at all.

IMG_6841Chekhov himself lived through WW2 and the lead-up to it. He was in the middle of this and it was affecting his life. He felt theatre had a commitment to address these social and political evils. He said

“It is through the medium of the spectator that we find a full creative approach that links us to the world and its times.”

When we discussed the political aspect of the work and what we have discovered, one of our participants said, ‘we have to be really vigilant, constantly vigilant.’

This play seems to me to be even more relevant than ever – not a historical document – but a warning.

The next course is a weekend, February 21-23rd on Chekhov, Voice and Shakespeare, working with solo pieces (you might like to bring an audition piece). the goal is to make the piece as Chekhov would say, “a little piece of Art.”   cost €100 email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com and check out http://www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com