“Our artistic natures have two aspects, one that is merely sufficient for our ordinary existence and another of a higher order that martials the creative powers in us..” Michael Chekhov
With that sentence, Michael Chekhov introduces this idea of the Higher Ego into our acting training. There is something in me which baulks at this. Life is not ordinary, far from it. In addition this idea of Higher and Lower is something of a concern because if we are not careful we can start to make value judgements of one over the other. It is silly to say that washing the dishes is a higher ego activity but I CAN say that I learn more about the experience of atmosphere for instance, by dipping my hands slowly into the dish water.
I began my first four sessions with an enthusiastic group this week on this topic of the Higher Ego. I wanted to explore it not as some kind of esoteric concept but something we can actually use to expand our art.
I wanted a grounded (if that isn’t a startling polarity!) exploration, almost scientific I suppose, a kind of “What is it? How does it work for me as a creative artist?” Is it a kind of Artist guide within us who nurtures, guides and focuses our creativity? Is that all it is?
Can it be really defined, or is it like beauty or virtue or any of these other multi-faceted named qualities which are usually defined by how we experience them? If we cannot label it, does that mean we can develop it? Pay attention to it? Is it OBJECTIVE EYE/ ARTIST/ SPIRIT GUIDE/UNFETTERED IMAGINATION/ CONTROLLER? Or what? and can any of these grand concepts encapsulate it?
I asked everyone in the group to suggest things they wanted to find out about HIGHER EGO.
Is it a matter of connection with each other, to the work, to our audience , our collaborators, but also to enable us to be open to ourselves and, in that way, be available to the universe and to each other? Breathing, Voice, Imagination, Feelings, Body all connecting up together.
I observed that even after our initial ‘crossing the threshold’ and warm-up that these exercises were already opening us to the Higher Ego as we explored things on many levels. The Chekhov Technique is about ‘making the intangible tangible’ in the first place. We were already preparing.
I wanted us to play with the question of what the Higher Ego can offer us as Artists? In one exercise we built up a series of movements then added text, then added that place of space which monitors, observes and guides. I think it is important to remember that the Higher Ego is part of us. It is OUR Higher Ego it belongs to each individual but it also enables us to connect collectively.
In case you are thinking you might stop reading as this is far too hippy dippy…..
This sensation of the Higher Ego is not weird it is something that is happening to us all the time. Our mind is continually multi-tasking. Our attention flits from one focus to another, yet somewhere there is something holding it together, despite the ‘noise’ around us and, of course, the noise we generate ourselves in our own heads..
Let’s imagine you are appearing in a film or a play. You know your lines. You have, with your colleagues and the writer, created the character. You live a theatrical reality and yet you are before an audience or surrounded by camera people, you have rehearsed, what seems spontaneous is mostly planned, you are sensitive to the demands of the audience, and you know when you have to turn or pick up a cup and enter or exit. And yet there is something above you, something that none of these activities is touching (you can call it your higher ego, your artist whatever) it is keeping the pathways open to feeling, inspiration and a sense of who we are as performers. It enables freshness.
It might be hard to control. It is expansive like a balloon filled with helium on a string. Chekhov says if we let this Higher Ego go, it can run riot. The performer holding the string needs to keep it grounded.
Really looking forward to the next three sessions on Higher Ego.The next block of sessions for after Easter will be available for booking next week.