Tag Archives: max hafler

Lifting me Higher – exploring Chekhov’s Higher Ego.

“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. 

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.

House Arrest: Devising with Michael Chekhov Online

IMG_5839In the next Chekhov course exploration starting on May 14th @ 3pm we are going to look at our response to the pandemic in a very imaginative and broad way by considering those under house arrest or imprisonment and making some solo work about them which we may or may not sew together into something more substantial at the end. I want to encourage people to look at the wider implications from the imagination rather than telling their own stories, as extraordinary as they may be. Maybe through that we can start to examine where we want to go afterwards…. In any case, to start with, we are just exploring and everyone is going to make a solo piece using the broad theme of house arrest and use elements of the Chekhov technique to create it.

Preferably these individual pieces might be either abstract or poetic or dealing with characters who are not stuck in the covid lockdown but in other imprisoned scenarios from mythical characters, to real people, political prisoners, teenagers grounded for misdemeanours, anything where the person is held in, either by circumstances or their own will. I wonder whether we might find some answers there rather than writhing around in the labyrinth of the covid reality…

What does it mean to be imprisoned? We are stopped in our tracks. The will is redirected, refocussed or the person will burst. And I started to consider this in a wider sense; are we not all trapped by circumstances, our appearance, our opportunities, our families, the luck that befalls us, where we are born, whether we are a beggar or a king. Life is full of limitations. We can defy many of them but some we cannot dodge. We can call our gaolers,’ Fate”; we can rage against them or we can work within our boundaries.

What are the polarities we find in this strange time? Where do we start? I remember a playwright coming to speak with the university about a time when he was commissioned to write a play for a company and they carried in a large rock. They said, ‘we want you to be inspired by this rock in whatever way it inspires you and write a play for the company’. This is an amazing idea and not dissimilar from Chekhov’s use of imaginary centres.

And what occurs when we are released from this atmosphere of imprisonment? Do we explode back into our old frame of reference, into our ways ? unfair, unbalanced, cruel….do we drown out the birdsong again?

All imprisonment brings its lessons. I am so looking forward to running this short course to get us started with this.

If you are interested in taking part please email chekhovtpi@gmail.com. It is a course so there is a small charge. No more than 10 participants and you need to have some experience in the Michael Chekhov technique. there are a few places left only.

 

 

 

Falling Prey

A play I wrote and performed in the 80s came into my mind today. It was called Falling Prey.

falling prey

Joseph living on the streets

In the mid to late 80s i was living in Central London and we were right in the middle of the AIDS pandemic. For a while many people pretended not much was happening. This is a natural response when something you feel is wonderful and helps define you (in this case, a free-and-easy approach to sexual encounters) is under threat. We tried to brush it aside and say things like, “well don’t have sex with Americans” as it had been rumoured to originate there amongst the gay community. Or you might say there were certain things you could and couldn’t do. A whole raft of theories came up ; some correct, some completely unfounded. Many people would cling onto anything, as long as they could just behave as they had always done, for a while at least. 

On the other side, people were all too prepared to exercise their prejudices and hate. People were blamed immediately; the usual suspects; gay men, prostitutes, drug addicts and Africans.  (I was deeply saddened by the Italian ambassador to Britain pleading with the British population not to target Italians as the corona-carriers the other day.)

In the 80’s  the blaming was overt and inflammatory, because the targets were the object of vilification to start with. AIDS was “The wrath of God” against sexual perverts. Even when it was clarified that straight people could get it too, that vilification did not go away.  The Evening Standard newspaper was one of the worst offenders. Gays should be monitored, tagged, and sent to camps. You could catch it from kissing and from swimming pools they said and a whole raft of rumours spread. It was very very scary.

in 1987 I wrote a play set five years into the future (1992) called FALLING PREY,  presented at the Man in the Moon Theatre in King’s Road London predicated on the idea that the police were given powers to round up the homeless and test them, there was mandatory testing for high risk groups and that only those tested from high risk groups with a ‘clear’ status could work in caring professions.  The play was pretty epic in scope and was as much about Thatcher’s divided Britain as it was about AIDS. Thatcherite policies such as , “There is no such thing as society” one of her particular pronouncements encouraged the kind of division and nastiness such as exists even more at the moment. I already am appalled by the way I feel some politicians are using the current emergency as a smokescreen to consolidate their power.

In Falling Prey, there were three interweaving stories: Mel, (Liz Richardson) an unfocussed lonely middle class housewife who became paranoid about AIDs and became gradually politicised by a right wing group; a soft ‘liberal’ trendy gay spokesperson Colberton (Charles Grant) for the oncoming identity card campaign; and a young primary school teacher Joseph (myself), who because he suspects that he might be HIV positive goes underground and ends up homeless, who endures all sorts of deprivation only to discover at the end of the play that he is not, that he has endured that persecution for nothing. At the end of the ordeal he completely goes mad , attacking the policeman who brought him in saying “you’ve got something! You’ve got something!” Joseph’s journey might be hard to understand today but it spoke very much to how people were feeling at the time. You were dealing with a feeling that you might be guilty of something (after all, the media intimated you were) and there was no cure then, in fact even the remedial drugs were very experimental . I knew a few people who killed themselves rather than endure years of suffering and pain. It is sad and shocking to think of it now.

But whilst there is still no adequate vaccine  for AIDS(though it is getting there) , the ‘holding drugs’ have allowed people to engage in full lives and the prejudice that seemed so imminent then did not manifest itself in quite that way thank goodness. In many respects, not least Ireland, there has been excellent progress. Lest we get blasé even about this however , Poland, a member of the EU no less, is still horrifically setting up LGBT free-zones. (The EU should be threatening them with expulsion for this behaviour in my opinion).

thinking about now,

Right now I feel like a minor character in an Old Testament story in the midst of the Deity’s Wrath:  plagues of locusts, War, out of control Fire and Flood. Globalisation, greed, inequality, murder, rape, trafficking and of course the rebelling angry  climate.

In my house, the Anchorhold, where I live with my partner I have always felt like I live on a ship. (On windy days like today it seems especially so).The first year we arrived here was 94/95 which, for those reading this and alive then, was a wild and fractious winter here in Ireland . Our house feels like the Ark, ploughing through the wind and rain – in movement itself, rather than still. It feels as if we are on a voyage in it,

which of course we are.

 

‘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

index

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

IMG_5561

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.

IMG_5544

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.

IMG_5585

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.

IMG_5698

 

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 .

IMG_5791 copy

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.

IMG_5975

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.

IMG_6128

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.

IMG_6474

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.

IMG_6645

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

Adapting with Chekhov

office copy

In 2003 I directed a production of  Kafka’s The Trial in an adaptation by Steven Berkoff for the Cuirt Festival of Literature with Galway Youth Theatre. It was a success. We revived it, took it on tour to England and got an incredible review in the Irish Times by the late Eileen Battersby.

Berkoff’s stark version is intensely theatrical, a full throated ensemble version of the text and the young actors threw themselves into the performance with enthusiasm and precision. Berkoff demands an ensemble be onstage throughout and be focussed, disciplined and inventive. In that we were extremely successful.  However, looking back, the adaptation itself has a hard unbending edge to it from the very beginning and affected where we went with it.

I remember reading the novel before I did the production and really missing the kind of mysterious depth I feel is in it, a kind of overwhelming onset of thick darkness as if the unfortunate Joseph K is drowning and cannot escape. There is the feeling of a labyrinth in it, different from the empty doorframes Berkoff used in his adaptation and we used for ours. In the novel K is a much more likeable chap than the uptight guy created by Berkoff. I never saw his own production so maybe I am misjudging it. But for me that harshness in the adaptation meant that the production was hard to evolve. It was hard to make a journey. Indeed, the way it seems in the adaptation it seems like it is K’s nightmare which does not give the other characters anywhere to go. As we were working from that adaptation, I got the actors and designer to embody that view, which was theatrically effective, but also lost something.

Maybe you always lose something when you adapt. I have been interested in adaptation for a long time, having, in another period of my life, written a lot of plays and made a number of adaptations for theatre companies in Ireland and the UK. Right now I am writing a book about Shakespeare and part of it is about editing and transposing; how it can be successful and how it can be a disaster.

I was teaching Ensemble and Devising at NUI Galway for many years and over my final years with Ensemble, more and more of my Chekhov training was coming into my approach; imagination, qualities of movement, atmosphere, gesture and composition were incorporated as other things were let go. Composition and Form are particularly important as there is such a danger in adaptation and devised work that a piece can lose its thread and become shapeless.

I have always been a big believer that the Chekhov Technique is not only for regular plays but for a much wider body of work, and more people are using the work in that way. So in the weekend of May 17th -19th for Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland  I want to look at episodes in this novel, The Trial, and explore them through the Michael Chekhov technique, to see if we can find something different, something deeper. One thing I have found with the Technique is that I always discover something new with anything we look at in these courses.

If you wish to attend, email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com to place a deposit and book your place. The weekend is being held at NUI Galway, runs from May 17-19 (The 17th is only a short evening session). The cost is €90 for the weekend.

 

 

Acts of Love

IMG_3514

radiating and receiving exercise

Through June here in Galway, I am running a series of evening workshops called Chekhov and the Carousel of Love applying aspects of Chekhov
Technique on scenes of love, in the widest sense. The next bit is going to be a little philosophical but rest assured [if you are planning to come!] the class will be practise and application and not too much talk!

Love is a way of emanating our energy; whilst there are all sorts of different kinds of love I suppose I like to believe that love is an openness, a generosity of spirit , in Michael Chekhov terms a generous open gesture to a person, a belief or the world. I think it was Leonard Bernstein who said that teaching was like an act of love. What I understand by that is that when you have a real connection with students, you are sharing in a very deep way. You are ‘radiating and receiving’ to use Chekhov’s terms.

I feel this sometimes quite extraordinarily after I have been teaching, as if a weight has been lifted from me and I feel more open and connected to everyone. This happens to many people I am sure. Particularly, there is something that happens to me when drawing my students into focussing on radiating and receiving, that I feel a light go on more strongly in myself.

From a performance point of view I actually feel this movement of energy is a visible-invisible thing, like atmosphere. When used effectively, the audience get a sense of something which the actors generate and enliven. No one can see it exactly but it is there in the room.

Love of course is very complex, and there are many types of love, but this ‘how’ you are in love, does not negate or invalidate the power of a particular state of being, called ‘love’.

Chekhov speaks of Romeo and Juliet and asks how the performers can perform the balcony scene without the atmosphere of love, this movement of energy between the two. This might sound fanciful, but I can certainly recall those love-filled conversations of my youth where absolutely no one or no thing was relevant to me but myself with the other person. It is quite literally a bubble, or an atmosphere, if you like. All things can exist within that bubble; jealousy; sex; warmth; rage; vulnerability but these things do not negate the bubble itself, which is filled with love.

I suppose where this idea of focussing on scenes of love came from was that in the recent production I did of Twelfth Night I was moved and overwhelmed by the young actors’ energy and commitment to romantic love. Twelfth Night explores love in many of its connotations; gay; straight; devotional; romantic; lustful but with that openness of love comes attached the other energies; doubt; fear; confusion; idealism; devotion to name but a few. This focus on ‘love’ did not negate the frantic behaviour but it acted as a motor for everything that happened.

IMG_3934

Malvolio observed by the clowns

Chekhov and The Carousel of Love is running Tuesday and Thursday nights through the month of June in the Blue Teapots in Galway City . email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com for more details. the first session is on June 5th.

Making an Entrance

IMG_3462

Ronan Cassidy, John Cullen and Mary Monaghan in workshop

‘She really made an entrance ‘. We all know and understand this saying instinctively as we have all entered a room for a party or an event and felt eyes on us. I am fascinated by this element of performance and my next workshop MAKING AN ENTRANCE, LEAVING THE STAGE NOVEMBER 24TH – 26TH is going to consider and explore it with the participants.

In the past, in what are euphemistically called ‘well made plays’ often bound for the West End or Broadway, these entrances and exits were often punctuated with histrionic moments as characters came and went. A particularly campy exploitation of this power is present in James Goldman’s hit play THE LION IN WINTER from the 1960s . This comedy, based on a fictional meeting between the royal family of Henry 2 (which was later made into a movie) gloried in outrageous witty remarks made as people came in and out. Ultimately this process became formulaic and was often not rooted sufficiently in the reality of the situation nor did an entrance move towards an exit emotionally. The movie tried to redress this balance by setting the whole thing in a freezing castle and offering some more in-depth performances. However, the play for me is superficial and little more than a series of witty exchanges. However, it tells us something. It tells us that something happens to the character as they pass through the scene and that movement must be a genuine movement even if they do not make their objective. The fact they fail in their objective is an emotional movement in itself. It is a journey. As Michael Chekhov would say, it is “a little piece of art” from entrance to exit. Chekhov’s exercises which explore this element of form help the actor to give full meaning to the entrance and exit as a small beginning and ending to a journey we the audience are privileged to observe.

So how do we make the entrance meaningful and yet not melodramatic, taking advantage of the moment when we come in to the space as the character?  After all the audience is full of curiosity about who we are , where we have come from, what we might do and how the characters already onstage respond to your presence. the way we do it is by radiating our energy, not necessarily in a grand fashion but in the subtler way of imagining the energy emanating from our entire being.

I remember Philippe Gaulier saying in a workshop I attended, that when you entered the space, even if you did nothing more than bring in a message, for a moment you were the most important person on the stage. I am not always sure that it is quite true for every entrance or character but frequently it is so, if only for a few seconds. Certainly the audience is highly interested in a new character, a new energy entering the space. Their curiosity is aroused, even if what has been happening up to your entrance is pretty interesting. A new energy, a new dynamic opens to the audience; a new perspective. When the new actor is somehow not tuned in, the whole performance can be mortally wounded, because it is really disappointing. Your entrance is like your part in the relay, your piccolo solo in the orchestra, your dive into the swimming pool. You have to be sensitive and ready.

I think more than anything you have to bring on the atmosphere of the next room or wherever is immediately off stage. When I say the atmosphere, that’s what I mean. I do not mean the colour of the carpet or what pictures were on the wall necessarily, but what it feels like to have walked through that outer room. I remember seeing a really good actor coming onstage as if coming from a snowstorm, hanging up his overcoat, shaking it, shivering a bit, chatting away rubbing his hands etc. Despite all this carefully observed detail, all I could think was, ‘wasn’t that clever?’ At the time I did not know why but now I think I do. The details meant nothing without bringing on the atmosphere of the street. What he did felt to me studied and external, however accurate it might have been.

And then there is the past. I remember watching an exercise where actors were asked to imagine the past of their characters in a long chain behind them as if they were at the head of their life parade as they made their entrance. it reminded me of Marley’s chain in A Christmas Carol. Of course, what is in your ‘life parade’ might be holding you up and propelling you into the room rather than holding you back.

Then there is the impact your entrance makes upon the others in the room, to say nothing of the audience. Right now I am working with some students on the opening of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Something came up where we had to consider how everyone tolerated the strange Solyony. He enters making an irritating remark. |These continuous objectionable and insensitive remarks exacerbate an atmosphere thick with the past even though everyone is attempting to celebrate Irina’s birthday. We should immediately consider him an outsider. For me, he has a personal atmosphere which collides with the general many times. The connection between the personal atmosphere of the character and how s/he adapts to the atmosphere in the room is an absolute key to making the first moments true for yourself.

Making an Entrance, Leaving the Stage is now taking bookings. It takes place on November 24-26th [ a weekend]. email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com and check out the website http://www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com