Tag Archives: Declan Drohan

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

 

 

Open the Eyes of the Audience

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Michael Chekhov

Political theatre can easily be didactic . It has frequently been lambasted for being artistically worthless. I suppose a criticism might be that it often ploughs a thin furrow; that it expresses one point of view; that it has an agenda –  a spurious argument when every tv show, play or movie has an agenda of some description (even if it is to stop you thinking about anything at all). Of course political theatre can satirise, fight against and keep resistance alive. Michael Chekhov believed that as artists we had to be responsible and had to make our art useful to our audiences. He lived during a terribly traumatic world period (1896 -1955) and after fame in Russia escaped with his life after falling foul of the authorities because of his artistic approach. He  travelled through various theatres in Europe seeking a foothold before he was offered the chance to run his school in Dartington. Even then the school was not able to continue because of World War Two so he started it again in Ridgefield Connecticut before moving to Hollywood, starting a studio and also working as an actor.

What might be the conditions for fascism and what is the atmosphere it thrives in? Why is it so important to find this when we approach plays like Fear and Misery in the Third Reich, to truly be able to build a connection between that time and ours? Because if we cannot build that connection then we are, as artists, not doing much. We are not making people think or consider. We are making them feel worthy or amused.

IMG_6226.JPGIf I look at what is happening now in the world, (Boris Johnson got his big majority a few days ago) I get a sense of negativity and gloom but primarily, impending chaos (largely considering the climate emergency and the apparent refusal to make meaningful change). It seems to have created circumstances ripe for dictatorship. In addition,  there needs to be a sufficient body of unhappy people who can be utilised as long as the authorities press the right buttons. In such times it is easy to manipulate and enrage a people who see themselves under threat.  Fear and Division seem to be effective tools of rulers and that is a place we might consider starting from in our workshop. What is it actually like to live with fear and division all the time?  How does that manifest in the actions of characters?  By getting in touch with some of these archetypal forces through atmosphere, polarities and archetypes, we can immediately enrich both our acting and the message of the plays. We can thicken it and make it complex without simply sounding angry yet still empower our message to encourage change. It seems to me besides scape-goating (the nation’s problems are always someone else’s fault) another atmosphere that is tapped into is the Potency of the Idealised Past; it is the nurturing of a longing for a perfect past that never really existed; it encourages the view that if only the politicians and their people could turn back the clock there would be a rosy heaven in the country. So the problems, forces and tools used to create a dictatorial Fascist state are dense and complex…. A state turning fascist is like a whole people falling into a thick swamp. Ironically the more grotesque a state becomes it is hard to laugh good-humouredly anymore. There is a humour but it is the cold raucous icy humour which is close to tears.

As Chekhov said,”We have to open our own eyes in order that we may open the eyes of our audience. ….. Because of our artistic work our audience will awaken and understand these things anew. This is one of the theatre’s missions.” Lessons For Teachers

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Declan working with the group earlier this year

 

This fascinating  exploration of Brecht and Chekhov Technique with practise and application of the work takes place at NUI Galway between January 10 – 12th for three full days . The leaders are Max Hafler and guest tutor Declan Drohan . The cost is €150. Email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com to book your place. There are still a few places available.

 

A Year of Workshops

It has been an amazing year of Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland workshops. Seven weekend workshop and one four-day summer school all well attended on various aspects of learning the Michael Chekhov Technique and involving some application of the tools. Each workshop has had its own unique atmosphere and feel of the learning we were all undertaking. Participants have really hurled themselves into the work in a most inspiring way and I have been fortunate this year to have a strong consistency in the group. This year also saw a collaboration with Declan Drohan of Sligo IT with whom I taught two of the workshops: Enter an Actor, working with Chekhov Technique and solo performance and this year’s summer school, Blood on Iron, working with Gesture, Archetypes and Composition using Buchner’s Woyzeck.

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Enter, An Actor

In our second workshop, The Epic Voice,  I was keen to offer some of my own developments of the Chekhov work focussing on Voice. Connecting the Voice to the Body and Imagination gives an incredible flexibility to tone and intention; it is so much more playful and surprising than a purely technical approach. We worked with poetry, in particular Afterwards by Thomas Hardy and the opening chorus of The Jealousy of Emer by Yeats. What was a really joyous experience was when I asked the groups to create a piece with sound and instruments based upon the poem, its rhythm and atmospheres.

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The Epic voice

The following workshop in March focused on Imaginary Centre and Imaginary Body and the play we used was Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. One of the things that resonated with me was how creating Imaginary Centres for the characters fulfilled the rules of Chekhov’s chart for Inspired Acting where getting one element of the technique could inform everything – Imaginary Centre could create atmosphere.

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Next up, in May, was a group working on devising and adaptation, using tools of composition, qualities of movement and atmosphere. We worked on the novel of Kafka’s The Trial and in two groups created powerful pieces, one from the beginning and one from the end. A major lesson for me was that instead of trying to create story first, it was more useful to begin by creating the imagery or the underlying world in which the story existed and then add the story later. This for me was quite a revelation and created two pieces of great richness .

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The Trial

In June (on the midsummer weekend) we worked primarily with Archetypes, which felt like a much freer workshop, and of course (finally) we were working with a comedy. The atmosphere was completely transformed in our workshop space. We worked a lot with Imaginative Voice too, marrying Chekhov’s psychological gesture with the way we used the language.

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In August Declan and myself explored composition, qualities and imagination, with a group for four days using Buchner’s Woyzeck. Despite my trepidation that this might be a gloomy choice of play, the mood was decidedly lifted by the dark satirical humour of it .We worked joyously with the Grotesque.  It was also wonderful to explore something short (something I rarely do!) that felt manageable. Declan and I are hoping to explore more in this way when we start to consider Chekhov technique with Brecht for three full days in January, working with Fear and Misery.

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October brought a workshop which primarily dealt with images on a play which was simply conversations and ideas, Churchill’s Love and Information. This workshop was a revelation in that exploring images first allowed the performer to use the imagination to play with the words and the situation in a really free way. It was a development, if you like, of the workshop in which we used The Trial and made me consider even more how to use the Chekhov technique with devised original shows.

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And finally, for our recent weekend, our committed group explored Good v Evil; playing King Lear. I wanted to really explore whether this idea of Good v Evil could be really used as a performance element as Chekhov suggested and in a way that was as nuanced as he described. I felt we most certainly could and that this was important for us as artists in these days when it is easy to obfuscate and confuse. This does not make the morality of the characters simpler but actually more complicated. We explored other polarities too pertaining to the play. We will be exploring Polarities further in the March workshop on Comedy when the whole thread of a character can be based upon the route between pain/pleasure, honesty/ deceit, hot/cold etc. etc.

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One of the things I have really gleaned from my committed groups this year is that the Chekhov process is one of simplicity and commitment from which emerges complexity; it is a complexity which is organic and it comes, not by knotting oneself to the literal limitations of ones own life, but by following the integrity of the Imagination; this process creates for the audience and performers both deep characters and fully rounded worlds.

Thank you to all the participants of this year’s courses.

Next year  –

In addition to our three spring workshops, we are very delighted to run a workshop led by Lenard Petit, director of The Michael Chekhov Acting Studio New York and author of The Michael Chekhov Handbook for the Actor. This workshop will run  May 22 -26th. This is most definitely a date for your Diary !

75429324_2135890316719738_2122911152257105920_oBooking now for our three workshops in January/February and March and Lenard Petit’s guest week,  check out www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com or the FB page or email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com

Apply Generously

IMG_6274Reviewing the recent four day course in Chekhov Technique which I co-led with colleague Declan Drohan here in Galway with 15 enthusiastic and committed practitioners, I was delighted with the amount of scene work we managed to explore from Woyzeck by Buchner. As always the course was joyous and creative but this issue of application was something Declan and I discussed at length as we prepared the workshop.

WOYZECK, is short poetic and political; it mixes expressionist ensemble and naturalism. Grimness jostles with dark humour. But it is, above all, short. What that shortness allowed in our four day workshop was to allow everyone to get a sense of ‘the whole’. The brevity allowed them to feel they knew the play and could access the Chekhov elements which they explored with more confidence. To some extent this knowledge might be illusory because we ultimately were quite selective with our short scenes and only got a few scenes on their feet. But it felt like we did more, because the play was short.

However, you cannot always pick a short work. In the last summer School, ‘A little Piece of Art’ we used The Cherry Orchard ( a very long play) and explored the Feeling of Form and the Feeling of the Whole. I gave short duologues out and we also worked in depth on three short group scenes; one was the arrival of Ranevskaya to the house with her entourage, another was the episode with The Vagrant and we also worked on the final moments when the family leave the house. Applying Form and a Feeling of the Whole to these short passages gave everyone a real sense of where our exploration was going. But we could not get a full sense of the whole play, even though we explored the beginning and the end of it.

If you are going to really approach application then the elements you teach on your course are the very elements you teach as if you were working on the play in reality. In that way the play you pick is a fundamental part of your teaching. Many people come to my courses not just to learn technique but because they are attracted by the play we are going to look at.

However you cannot teach everything , despite the fact that all of Chekhov’s elements are all connected. Sometimes it is a little frustrating to know you cannot do everything all at once (the curse of short courses in particular). There is not time to work on concentration and imagination with the detail and intensity I would like when I have to explore other elements in order for people to use the scenes. The more application I do, the less time there is for that block building. It is a fine balance and different for every course I do.

IMG_6260However, what substantial application offers even in a mixed group, even if it has different layers of success depending on your level is the chance to work with everyone in the group on the play ( especially so when as with WOYZECK, we consciously worked with two or three big ensemble elements in the play). It also offers a freedom for the participant so they do not have to worry quite so much about getting the technique ‘right’. There is a bit less pressure paradoxically through more application.

Some people believe that when learning technique you should not rush into application too soon. Students may mess up. It may not work for them and put them off forever. But this is only so for a few. For others, breakthroughs will happen and, provided you create the right environment, those who are only beginning will be encouraged.

Thanks to everyone who made such a great workshop over the last few days. Next up are two weekends: October 18-20 on Images for Character and November 29- December 1 on Good V Evil, playing King Lear ( there’s a short play!) email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com to book your place.

Team Teaching

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Photo courtesy of Michael Chekhov Europe

Last summer I attended an International Conference for Michael Chekhov teachers in Grozjnan ,Croatia, hosted by Michael Chekhov Europe and the Michael Chekhov Association. Grozjnan is an extraordinary medieval village set on top of a modest mountain with stunning views of the countryside. The weather was extremely hot and we spent the first part of our trip exercising and sharing practically and in the second part of the conference, sharing our work either through discussion or exercises. It was truly international and well attended.

Most importantly of all it enabled us to meet and talk. I met many of the teachers who had taught me, and some of those I had trained with. I am sure I am not the only person for whom it drew together a lot of strands of our lives. We had talks by many of the amazing artist practitioners and the way in which they had employed the Chekhov work in professional theatre and applied drama.  I also became aware of many new translations of Chekhov’s seminal works To The Actor and On The Technique of Acting in different languages. It was a truly inspiring week.

Most of all it gave me a sense that I was not so isolated in teaching this work. It is strange, tucked away on the west coast of Ireland feeling as if, for the most part, you are really ploughing a furrow alone. Importantly too, it stopped me feeling an eccentric, or some kind of exotic fruit.  But now we see that this work is being taught more extensively in theatre schools and universities in the UK, the rest of Europe, the US, Asia and South America . It is also wonderful to see a new wave of books being brought out either directly about the technique,  or books like my own Teaching Voice and the one in preparation which, whilst not being about Chekhov in total, uses it as the bedrock of all of the work.

Furthermore I feel the Chekhov work is more than an acting technique (in fact all acting techniques are more than that) it is a way of seeing and experiencing the world. It makes you more sensitive to image, atmosphere, to the energy in your body and to the way you respond to others and they to you. As it emphasises the role of the artist as someone who “makes the intangible, tangible”, it affirms that the ‘intangible’ actually is something that can be experienced, felt and transmitted.

Chekhov technique involves us in a very different idea of what the actor is; an instinctive artist who delves deep into the imagination; that acting is not solely interpretive but creative in the way a sculptor, composer or a painter is creative; the action of the character is like the clay or the paint for a sculptor or painter. This sits well with many theatre makers who are often the authors of their own work, but even when this is not the case for you, Chekhov Technique gives you the feeling that you are creating your own totally original version of the character.

I have not team taught since I did a youth theatre project some years ago. I was a bit nervous about it. But I need not have worried about it . It was a great experience. I met Declan Drohan who works in the Institute of Technology Sligo teaching theatre, at Grozjnan. We thought it was weird that we had only chatted on Facebook, considering we lived only two hours or so away from each other. We resolved to run a workshop together. We settled on using Chekhov Technique for Solo Acting,

Team teaching, it seems to me, is like jamming in a musical duet. But you also need to be really organised, respectful of the other and above all, to be aware of the rhythm of the other person. You need to be careful not to undermine or ‘pull focus’ when the other teacher is in full flow. and remember that the students are making the connection with the other teacher when they are teaching and not to disturb that too often, as it can be very irritating to the student. I think there needs to be an acknowledgement that the two teachers are sharing that connection with the class. If there is something you feel needs to be said about something the other person is teaching, you bide your time until an opportunity appears when you are leading or you forget about it because it is not the end of the world if, at that moment, that piece of information is not passed.

The students get more contact time,  because you have more time to side teach a little. When there is only one teacher and you focus on one person you are very limited as to the time you can spend with them, because you need to be mindful of the atmosphere and focus in the whole room. When you are team-teaching you can absolutely relax.

Declan and I are hoping to do another workshop together some time this year. Thanks and gratitude to him and also to the exciting full-throttled group who came to Enter,An Actor and produced some powerful and invigorating work.

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actors working on atmosphere.

The next workshop is The Epic Voice, February 15-17 and Imaginary Body, Character Centre March 29-31. There will be workshops in May, June and a summer school in August. email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com