Tag Archives: Lenard Petit

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

“Of Imagination all Compact.”

IMG_6045For me, A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM has at its core the speech of Theseus in Act V where he basically demolishes the story of the lovers’ magical night in the forest. His materialistic attitude attempts to invalidate the great power of the Imagination.

In defiance of the materialist Theseus, this last dismal damp weekend was transformed by the work of the twelve participants in Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland’s weekend workshop who together explored Archetypes and Atmospheres using Chekhov Technique with Shakespeare’s magical play.

Lenard Petit’s The Michael Chekhov Handbook speaks eloquently and clearly about the use of Archetypes. It is an area that can be confusing. It is challenging for us in this individualistic world to trust the power of archetypes, the names of which appear to belong to a fairy tale rather than actors in the 21st Century. Perhaps we fear that involving them in our creative work is going to make cartoon characters rather than characters who are fully rounded. Handle them well and this fear is utterly unfounded. Basing your character on an archetype or at least having this archetypal energy as a kind of unconscious pool does exactly the opposite. Working with the archetype gives the character added depth and the performer incredible freedom.

To recap on the previous blogpost, an archetype is an energy or set of energies which constellate around a type or idea: The Lover, The Soldier, The Coward, The Queen, The Wizard. The archetype is not all a character is, but it is a set of energies or way of behaving which penetrates our lives at moments or in particular situations. As esoteric as this might sound, think of times when you have on the spur of instinct, as if from nowhere, acted in a particular way, perhaps heroically, or aggressively, or maybe subserviently. this is what I understand by archetypal energy. As with all the concepts we explore through the Chekhov Technique, we can always focus it on an actual real way of experiencing our world as it is.

By creating moving statues of the Archetypes, we began to understand the direction the energy of the archetype was moving in. Several participants noticed something interesting with regard to this; that though The Lover, say, may have a forward energy, reaching forward and looking to the object of their love, there was also a pull downwards to keep them grounded and on their feet, which made for a feeling of egotism and selfishness in love. By really experiencing this polarity of feeling, the energy of the beauty and agony and unsettled nature of love came into their beings. Whilst being “in love” is empowering, it can also make a person incredibly vulnerable. Using this example alone tells us that basing your character on an archetype provides you with a number of conflicting feelings the actor can really experience and play with.

One of the most interesting discoveries of the weekend was the idea of Hermia being The Rebel. Very often Hermia is played as sweet and good, rather than a feisty young girl who is willing to defy society to get the man that she loves. This was a very exciting revelation to me. Suddenly an angry Hermia and Lysander were really partners making plans to have a life together.

Playing the Archetype can of course initially make for overblown playing: it is a stage you have to go through. Looking at the scenes and radiating/receiving between the acting partners first, then adding the archetype and radiating and receiving that towards your partner, you finally start to play the scene moving freely using the archetype. You commit fully and wholeheartedly to the archetype, playing your scene. After that, you just use it as a basis and let your own creative instincts and responses to your acting partner come to the fore, with the archetype falling back and then intensifying at moments through the scene. Even more than centres or psychological gesture, which are fantastic elements but more forensic, using archetypes in this free way is a truly liberating experience for the performers.

Having explored that, we started to look at moments where other atmospheres or driving forces needed to be strong, for instance in the scene between Titania and Oberon when he removes the spell.  I asked for an atmosphere of magic to fill the space. This was a lovely moment.

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Next up is the fast-filling up 4th Summer School, August 15-18 working with Buchner’s Woyzeck led by guest tutor Declan Drohan and myself. It is four days training 10-5 .For more info visit http://www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com ,visit the fb page or email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com to express interest and pay a deposit.  The cost is €200 for four days training.

The Path is Made by Walking – graduating from youth theatre

openskyThe idea of a youth theatre ‘ graduating’ may seem to some extraordinary and rather grandiose, but it is an essential marking of something finished and something beginning, of the ending of an experience and the beginning of new ones. It encapsulates a sense of achievement, fear, time passing, letting go of old friendships or at least modifying them, and looking to new worlds and to the future. Galway Youth Theatre with which I was heavily involved for many years for a while had graduation dinners and gave certificates at the end of the two year programme. At the time I wondered about the wisdom of this because the kind of experiential learning in the programme was very different to college and eventually the graduation was dropped for a number of reasons, but it made it even harder for some people to leave and many I felt, overstayed their time there. Youth theatre has after all the identifying factor of youth in the title, and probably needs defining as such in order to maintain its integrity.

I was recently asked by an out-of-town Youth Theatre to lead a workshop of people who were on the cusp of finishing their time there, and I decided to  develop this theme of departures and new beginnings to help facilitate or at least open up this question of saying goodbye and to hopes for the future. The workshop, though defining its remit as a Chekhov Technique workshop ( a powerful technique which involves finding sensations and feelings through the imagination and body) had this other, dare I say it, therapeutic remit in equal measure with the skills focus.

Rather than defining the journey of the workshop with the particular skills which is what i would usually have done, I split the day into three aspects of this kind of developmental change we were seeking to explore . DEPARTURES was workshop one. In this workshop in addition to our on-the feet skills, we looked at the opening of Act 4 from THREE SISTERS. Workshop two, JOURNIES culminated in The Machado poem, ‘Traveller there is no way.’ and NEW WORLDS/ THE FUTURE was workshop three which culminated on a prospective arrival, goal or issue up ahead for each individual, through short devised pieces. It was extraordinary in its variety. What was challenging as a teacher/ facilitator was to unite the two goals of the day, the therapeutic and the drama skills in equal measure.

Besides being an incredible joyous acting technique, Chekhov Technique is also therapeutic. It has many similarities with body therapies and emphasises a unification of voice, body and imagination which can only be a step towards holistic health for the actor. This does not weaken the technique’s power to enable us to create artistically; rather it strengthens it. Ideally all art is therapeutic in the broadest sense of the word. With Chekhov we are invited to experience aspects of our world we are frequently unconscious of – like atmospheres for instance, or radiating and receiving energy. The fact that you can use an exercise like the ‘Ideal Centre’ exercise for your own sense of confidence in everyday life, in addition to it being a springboard for the energy of your character, is enriching.  I would hesitate to call such an ability a ‘transferable skill’ but if you want to see it that way, I suppose that is what it is. There are a whole range of Chekhov skills to be used in Applied Drama in just this way.

One very effective exploration we did in this workshop was an adaptation of the timeline exercise suggested in Lenard Petit’s excellent book. THE MICHAEL CHEKHOV HANDBOOK [published by Routledge}. i made a line on the floor. It was the line of the present moment . You had to imagine what it felt like behind this line, in the past. What was the atmosphere like there? Was it comfortable or not? Was there a pull to stay there? Was there a texture, smell or taste to this past atmosphere ? Did you have to work hard to consider moving on ? Were others pushing you forward? What was your relationship to the line itself and what did it feel like to step over it? you were asked to step into that atmosphere of the past. Then, what was the atmosphere of the future like? Finally you were invited to step forward into the future. In discussion afterwards, the  exercise allowed us to discuss safely the whole question of moving on, how the past or some of it stays with us, feelings of wanting to stay where you were and not move forward until you had no choice. some people rushed towards the future; others were a little tentative.

If the workshop held something for the young participants, in addition to the skills, acting techniques and coping exercises we worked on, I hope it gave them a sense they were on a journey , their own journey; that the day we had just had together was part of a bigger journey they were making, but with its three components of DEPARTURES-JOURNIES-NEW WORLDS the day we had together exploring these things was also an end in itself.