Tag Archives: Michael Chekhov Technique

The Performance Is The Process (or Part of It)

In the final part of this term, I have been working with a mix of undergrad and MA students here at the University of Galway on a project called the Eurydice Project. We worked on a ‘block week’ from 10-5 and then, after a weekend off, for a full day before presenting to colleagues and a small invited audience. The spine of this project has been three elements of the Michael Chekhov Technique ; general Atmosphere, psychological gesture and imaginary centres with a ‘work-in-progress’ in the end.

What I want to focus on here is how the engine of performance, even if it is for fellow students and friends, can empower and focus students to learn how to employ acting technique more effectively than if there was no performance at all. There are problems with approaching training this way, primarily around whether they can actually use elements of any technique when they have only been introduced to it fairly recently. This is a justifiable concern and some students understandably find it challenging. However if you, as the tutor/director, understand that the goal is to assist with application rather than produce exactly the characterisation you might like for the production then you as the tutor director are less likely to get frustrated with outcome and ironically the actual work from the students is likely to be better. Even in a short space of time, some magical things can happen.

The focus a performance gives is absolutely invaluable because it truly creates an event for the student, an ‘occasion’. Creating a theatrical event is also empowering because it involves an audience, however small. It creates that alchemical dynamic. As leader/director/teachers, we need to balance though;  we must be careful that creating the event of a performance is not the whole story, we have to go back to the learning. I found for myself that I had to balance those two roles very carefully, in other words, let the work come as much as possible from them and their use of the elements of the technique I was teaching rather than me trying to push too much of a directorial concept on them (not something I would do in any case whatever the circumstances, as I prefer hunches [as Peter Brook suggests] rather than concepts). This does not mean that I as the director have no say but it has got to be a partnership.

Giving the students this freedom can be tricky because the structure and form of sessions needs to be quite disciplined, even more than with a ‘regular’ production, as time is of the essence, when you have only a week or so to put together something that has a ‘Feeling of the Whole’, to quote Michael Chekhov .

A common complaint with the immersive project week is this:  “Trying to get them to apply the technique to a performance is too early for them! They won’t be able to do it and they will get confused and dump the technique altogether!” If we consider that trying to apply it is part of the learning process and the actors will have various degrees of success. Application is part of the journey. 

A big problem for me was to try not to teach too many elements of the work. You can of course refer them to the lightbulb diagram in Chekhov’s ‘On The Technique of Acting’  (as suggested to me by colleague, Lisa Dalton) and reassure them that once they have one or two of the techniques under belts then other aspects of the technique will fall into place and, to some extent I believe this to be true. The problem is you have to tailor every element you teach to the piece you are working with.. 

But then you cannot believe that you have to do everything!!!!

However you cannot just dive in to the elements you want to use, because there is such a deep philosophy here, which comes mostly  through the body and all the students have to experience and get some understanding of it. By introduction, we did a lot of work with energy, radiating/receiving, qualities of movement and the ‘Feeling of Form’. I always feel that if your body is pliant (and even sometimes when it isn’t!) getting a sensation from your body through a gesture is easy. What’s hard is to put yourself in a place where you can actually revisit that sensation/feeling. That is the harder part. However as those who teach and work this way know, even these introductory exercises can achieve transformation in the students.

After a few detailed atmosphere exercises, we looked at ‘Above’ and ‘Below’ for the World and the Underworld (terms suggested by one of the students which took any value judgements out of them)  I then asked them to work with either a psychological gesture or an imaginary centre. That was complicated enough! Also because we were focussing on a piece we were able to look at the beginning and end of it and address issues of what we might want our piece to be saying. We did not have enough time to explore it but we did ask the question and some of our questions were answered. 

Ultimately though what comes over to me loud and clear is that performance is essential if we want to teach future directors, performers and yes, academics. Doing this as a project through concentrated time where the students were doing only this work and not having to focus too much on other stuff was invaluable. I thank the college for their support in scheduling this  and wish other schools would embark more on these ‘project weeks’ .

They are powerful forms for teaching.

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Free To Perform

Yesterday I embarked with colleague Rena Polley (Michael Chekhov Canada) to lead a group of intrepid theatre explorers on asking “What is it to be ‘Free in the Form’? in the first of four workshops; how do we prepare ourselves for spontaneity,if that isn’t an oxymoron in itself? How do we keep ourselves fresh and in the moment when we are performing? And is spontaneity, as Rena was suggesting to us, a muscle that we as performing artists need to keep exercising, that if we don’t use, we forget? That we go back to a blocking intellect and become constipated by ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’? 

We played (oh how we played online), our participants from Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, the US and UK. It was my first time back teaching online for a few months and I was reminded of how joyous it could be. Many people feel more secure in their own space and i find there is more time to talk; paradoxically there seems a stronger desire to share experiences. this is because, I believe, that people find it easier to drop the exercise when they have completed it; they are not so overwhelmed by the power of it, so when you ask people to fly back and sit at the monitor and share, they are more able to articulate what just happened to them. Also there is something physiological about it. When you share you are sitting on your seat, and when you work you are usually standing. That is such a great way to learn some aspects of the work. 

On the other hand, when exercising in your own space, there is the temptation to lose concentration. You have to stay free but focussed which can be hard when you are in your home, when notifications of emails nudge into your screen or other people make noise outside your room. However if you let it, the time online can be a really special time where you meet, share views and work with people you might never otherwise meet simply because you are geographically separated. Although the classes are usually shorter there is rarely the feeling online that we have to push on and keep things moving relentlessly. There is no doubt that Zoom is here to stay and that despite its drawbacks it has advantages.

I recall the first time I was back in the live room, without a mask on, earlier this year, I was riding high for about three days afterwards. But that feeling of delight and forward energy can stop us ‘flying back’ and never allow what Chekhov calls the ‘intellectual lab assistant’ to assess our amazing instinctive work in order that we can anchor it and earth it. We also get a chance to see ourselves performing back on the class recording, a massive bonus.

We have to try and do both online and in the room to make the training rounded.

For our next few months

First off in Sligo, The Actor Is The Theatre, an in the room day on Chekhov Technique  held in Sligo run by Declan Drohan December 10th 10-5

Planning our next term we are looking for participants for  six full in-person Saturdays of Chekhov and Ensemble , the first is on January 21st. And they run for every fortnight, the last one being April 1st . Tutors Max Hafler and Declan Drohan and others

and there will also be an online Chekhov and Shakespeare course. 

Email chekhovtpi@gmail.com

Sustaining and suspension.

Michael Chekhov on Autumn and Sustaining:

“We call autumn the sustaining. We experience the same thing when we see a Child, an animal or a plant growing, developing, increasing in size, and then, after a time, slowly wasting away, fading and withering”

What is so wonderful about this is the way Chekhov uses these examples from nature to enhance art, psychology and brings us to thinking about energy, the rhythm of life and art. Whether I believe that autumn is actually ‘sustaining’ in the sense that things are still trying to grow and move forward even as they at the same time start to sink and die is not quite the point. A look at my soggy lawn and falling wet leaves will tell you that things are certainly on their way to dormancy. To me this is beautiful and holistic. It is what puts his acting technique way above any others I have studied because its principles connect so much of how life seems to operate. It seems to encourage us to dig under the surface to experience and generate particular energies for our acting and we do this through the body and through expansion and contraction in particular.

When I was a child I took my Instamatic camera with me to Marineland, a rather inhumane place where dolphins in large tanks were encouraged to jump through hoops and make massive leaps for fish, held out by their keepers. Before I went, I remember watching a science programme on tv that said the way to get an action shot of a dolphin was to wait until it had reached the climax of its jump, the highest it would go; for that moment the animal was suspended, neither going up nor going down. So, there is a moment of impulse and huge effort , followed by a moment of physical stillness before the dolphin begins to dive down.

With the technique, when making a psychological gesture like a reach there is always this moment when the impulse is to pull your arm back; in this case there is an inner movement which tells you to do this as if your arm can no longer reach out with commitment but needs to be retracted and brought down beside your body ( like the tree surrendering its autumn leaves). If you hold out your arm longer than the impulse suggests you can feel your energy retracting even if you keep your arm extended, because the intention and energy to reach has been lost either because you are bored, embarrassed, feel like you are following the orders of the teacher, or are simply thinking about something else. The arm looks and feels dead. It has no spirit in it.

Let’s look at what happens when you imagine your energy flowing from your centre out forward towards that reach you made. You immediately feel committed and connected. If you speak, the reaching gesture affects you. Now try sustaining that gesture; you might have a moment where the will decides to go no further because your arm hurts (for instance) . On the other hand, sustaining might have the opposite effect and actually intensify the feelings and sensations the gesture is giving you. As long as you keep the energy flowing forward with the reach this can happen. Sustaining certainly helps you understand the constant to-ing and fro-ing of energy.

Back to the dolphin, he is never really still; when he gets to the top of his jump he is more than likely grabbing the fish from the keeper; but it appears he is still so you can get the picture. Likewise we are never really still, our energy churns and moves, expands, contracts, especially when we are responding to stimuli….we are in constant inner movement..

COURSES BELOW EMAIL chekhovtpi@gmail.com

NOVEMBER 12TH FROM THE SCENE TO THE SONG  . (MAX HAFLER AND KATELYN RESSLER)

GALWAY

I will be working with Katelyn Ressler which will explore the differences in  demand from the musical ‘book’ to the song it gives birth to. We will be using the Chekhov technique tools to help us explore.

Venue: University of Galway 

NOVEMBER 2nd – 23rd ONLINE.  TO BE FREE IN THE FORM (MAX HAFLER  AND RENA POLLEY) 4-6  IRISH TIME. INTERNATIONAL ZOOM CLASS

ZOOM

This workshop is for those who feel stuck in their head or need to be in control of their audition or performance. Acting demands a feeling of spontaneity and play within the confines of a script. How do you find this freedom within the form? Using elements of improv, play and tools from the Michael Chekhov technique, we will explore how to spark and expand the imagination and then allow this to be alive within the structure of a scene. Online, as we practise, the container is your room, but within it you need to be free. You need to be Free in the Form. You need it for filming especially, as you might be asked to do things with specificity yet still find the much needed freedom and spontaneity within your scene

This online course is taught by Max Hafler from Galway Ireland and Rena Polley from Toronto, Canada. 

DEC 10TH THE ACTOR IS THE THEATRE. 10-5

TUTOR : DECLAN DROHAN 

For the audience, the actor is the living, radiating presence at the heart of drama.

What skills and tools make the performer subtle, responsive and capable of transformation? The ability to transition into someone other than themselves…To convey a character.

Working through the Imagination and the Body, the Chekhov Technique offers a suite of strategies for the actor to achieve exactly this.

The journey begins here. this day long workshop will give you an exploratory look in seeing acting in a different way. 

VENUE SLIGO

What is it to be Oneself? Looking at Peer Gynt through the Chekhov Technique

Over this last weekend I have been looking with the Chekhov Technique at a play I have previously thought opaque and difficult for me, Peer Gynt in the translation by Frank McGuinness.As Mcguinness says himself,  Peer is “this creature I wouldn’t let into my house” and this was a feeling I shared . To be unable to empathise with the main overarching character might have been a problem and yet…….. 

Looking at this play through the lens of Archetypes, Atmospheres and Image Centres (all elements of the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique), I started to come to terms with this difficult play which has struck me with an incredible sense of profundity. 

When we are working with a play only for a weekend, Declan Drohan, my colleague, and I are careful to select particular elements, those we felt would be useful for the play/scenes we wanted to explore. Our subject was Fantastical Characters; how does an actor play a character who is not recognisable in the material world and yet also prevent them from being stereotypical, cliched? If, as Chekhov asserted, all actors are Artists, how do you make your version of the Button Moulder particular to your interpretation? How do we find a depth and a richness for the characters and situation?

From the fifth Act when Peer is an old man we looked at three short scenes. In one scene, we discovered what happens when Peer is confronted by various forms of nature; threadballs, leaves, wind, dewdrops, broken straws; they voice his regrets, taunting him. Even as I write, I realise how challenging this is to envisage; one might be tempted to ‘float off’ into some kind of ethereal mushy madness and use spooky disembodied voices. Chekhov was convinced that with commitment , everything can be found through activity, through the body, and we experimented with a Peer while the whole rest of the group became this group of non-animal objects. Because of the sheer commitment of the group what became clear was the way the whole of nature was reminding him of his failings and regrets. Each thing which spoke to him we felt was activated by shifting movement; nothing was still. As the group changed from one element to the other it was as if he was surrounded, as if everything he saw was telling him of his terrible mistakes  and every time an element came and went he had the possibility for change and recovery. Then he found some excuse or reason to reject the advice of the various elements of nature and a new group emerged to warn him of his failings.Activating the scene in this way gave us an awareness of the energy in this act ; of these offerings given to Peer that he continually tries to reject or wriggle out of through humour, sarcasm, stubbornness or wiliness. It gave us a profound feeling of the rhythm of what happens when we are trying to force our way through anything. conflicting energies are constantly in play. On the page this scene looks ripe for cutting, worthless, impossible to stage; but at its core there was something incredibly powerful which told us something profound about Peer’s energy. Guilt comes in waves in this short scene as it does in life.

Peer has an archetypal energy; Declan explored  the Hero  and the Fool with the group; later we explored the Joker, to investigate Peer’s wiliness. Archetypal energy is not the whole of the character, but it offers us as performers an insight into something powerful which drives the character, something that can almost consume them. As I said in the group when we were discussing the Archetype , it is an ‘essence’. Chekhov uses the idea of Lion to explain this . There is an archetypal Lion which all lions have. It is not a stereotype but a real energy. One of the actors explored the idea of an old wounded lion in the centre of Peer’s body. This so transformed the young actor that suddenly he was this determined figure, weakening more and more as he searched for his essence in peril of his life.

Peer’s journey in this final act seems to be to try to discover what he essentially is as he does in the famous onion speech where he peels the layers of an onion to try and find its core. It has occurred to me that this is what we all do as we get older. Who are we? What really matters to us? Are we not all in our older days, trying to discover our essence, to find out what matters? It certainly resonates with me. This idea is more often referred to as ‘coming home’ but it is the same thing. 

My partner, Tony, had a dream on the night the course was finished. In the dream, he was trying to walk home from a night out as he had many times when a young adult. It would have been bitterly cold, as he grew up on the North West coast of England. In the dream he struggled to reach his goal, exhausted, and was presented with various archetypal figures and a strange tower. It reminded me of Peer on his journey to find his essence, his home place, his humanity. 

Back in the group, we looked at a scene where Peer is on a ship, searching, perhaps sailing home. There is a storm but before the ship capsizes, he is confronted by a Fellow Traveller, an extraordinary, cold scientist/vampire figure. No one else on the ship acknowledges the Traveller’s presence. We explored here the idea of Peer being in the storm while the Traveller remains still, unaffected by the gales and tossing of the bark across the dark sea. 

The deep profundity of this exploration was quite something . It comes from the power of Archetypal characters far removed from our everyday world and our ability, through the technique, to access them in a deep and unique way.

Our next workshops are 

NOVEMBER 12TH FROM THE SCENE TO THE SONG  . (MAX HAFLER AND KATELYN RESSLER)

I will be working with Katelyn Ressler which will explore the differences in  demand from the musical ‘book’ to the song it gives birth to. We will be using the Chekhov technique tools to help us explore.

Venue: University of Galway 

NOVEMBER 2nd – 23rd ONLINE.  TO BE FREE IN THE FORM (MAX HAFLER  AND RENA POLLEY) 4-6  IRISH TIME. INTERNATIONAL ZOOM CLASS

This workshop is for those who feel stuck in their head or need to be in control of their audition or performance. Acting demands a feeling of spontaneity and play within the confines of a script. How do you find this freedom within the form? Using elements of improv, play and tools from the Michael Chekhov technique, we will explore how to spark and expand the imagination and then allow this to be alive within the structure of a scene. Online, as we practise, the container is your room, but within it you need to be free. You need to be Free in the Form. You need it for filming especially, as you might be asked to do things with specificity yet still find the much needed freedom and spontaneity within your scene

This online course is taught by Max Hafler from Galway Ireland and Rena Polley from Toronto, Canada. 

Venue Zoom

DEC 10TH THE ACTOR IS THE THEATRE. 10-5

THE ACTOR IS THE THEATRE -DECLAN DROHAN 

VENUE TBA SLIGO

The Button Moulder’s Breakfast – Tools for Fantastical Characters

I have just finished rereading Peer Gynt by Ibsen, which I understand was a play meant to be read. Its swirling epic nature makes it hard to bring to it any kind of earthy reality. It  has always struck me as a massive problem to stage, especially if you are not familiar with the specific Norwegian culture from which it comes. Declan Drohan and I are using scenes from the play to explore how we approach fantastical characters using the Michael Chekhov technique on October 8th and 9th here in Galway. It is always an exciting by-product that you get to revisit these plays.

The first production of Gynt I saw was unsatisfying because of ‘where I was at’ as a teenager when I saw it, and 60s and early 70s realism was king. I wanted to see the early part of the play as realistic, with Peer as a realistic figure albeit in a mythological landscape, someone with whom I could identify and recognise as the hero.  I wanted to like Peer and saw nothing to like, just a lecherous teenage thug who grows into a tyrannical arrogant monster of exploitation, and then in an attempt to find himself  in later life tries to evoke sympathies he doesn’t deserve. Had I looked at his character in a more mythological archetypal way, the play and production would have had  a holistic feeling and had a lot more power. Had I thought of him as one of the characters from the Ring cycle, or The Fool in the Tarot deck I would have immediately connected better both as an audience or as a character had I been acting in the production.

Paradoxically in a more recent production  (though still a while in the past) I saw  Peer in a shell shock hospital during/after the First World War and his story was a hallucination. To me this proved a disastrous concept, belittling the enormity of the play and literalising (or excusing) the dream like nature of the play. It left the actors with too many things to play. It materialised and belittled  the play, rather like when people say King Lear has Alzheimer’s or Macbeth is a psychopath. This is a very reductive approach to epic literature. It may yield something but it most likely won’t. 

So when we embark on these plays which are inhabited by fantastical characters we need to find something in the character with which we and the audience can relate to without necessarily bringing a feeling that we might meet them at the bus stop, if you you see what I mean. We need to find resources which are more than our personal egos. As actors we cannot use our immediate life directly on these characters. No one cares whether the button moulder prefers eggs or cereal for breakfast or whether he/she has breakfast at all. What they want to feel is the ominous nature of this character, their rage, perhaps their exasperation at waiting for Peer to change before the Button Moulder takes him away to melt him down into buttons to finally be some thing useful to the world in which he lives. they need to find their archetypal power. This does not mean stereotyping but something which unlocks something very deep. At their best, fantastical characters can allow us to explore things we would not have the capacity to explore. That’s why people put them in plays and stories. That’s why there are fairy tales.

Let’s play with Chekhov’s idea of imaginary centres. Perhaps the button moulder has an outworn scuffed button in his centre, at his imaginary heart. When I inhabit that idea, when I imagine that the character has at its heart this old button, the character becomes weak and strained….  holding things together with a few threads and a round circle of wood  as buttons do. He is old and needy. If I truly embody that imaginary idea a whole extraordinary character is created through my imagination if I am open to the image. These are the kind of things we as actors can explore when we learn to trust this process. Or perhaps his heart is a gleaming button, a gleaming black button, polished and shiny. That makes me feel gleaming and cruel. It gives me a different body shape, size and voice.

Often these characters are the bearers of qualities we can easily find through atmospheres archetypes and centres. These characters express intangible qualities and this is what Chekhov talks about, ‘making the intangible, tangible’

Our workshop, “A human heart for me” – playing the fantastical runs October 8th and 9th at University of Galway. email chekhovtpi@gmail.com to book your place. Tutors Declan Drohan and Max Hafler.

Simply Playing Cards.. finding Direction with the Chekhov Technique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our next few workshops this autumn are as follows.

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

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

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

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

and in preparation !

Nov 12th One day workshop in the room 

 Max Hafler and Katelyn Ressler (more info to follow)

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

Connections : Creating a Score in Ensemble.

Our last three in the room workshops have been about re establishing connections ; with ourselves, with an audience, with the character and finally with a play. Of course I, often with my Colleague Declan Drohan (co-director of CTPI) and guest Rena Polley from Michael Chekhov Canada, have been doing that work with people throughout the pandemic, primarily online. Whilst it can often be challenging to make those connections I talk about online it is possible to do it , but I must confess there is nothing like the incredible impact of working live in the studio. Working in the Room is more of an experience than an exploration. It is incredibly energising whereas working online is more thoughtful; satisfying in a different way; it is easier to discuss and consider. Sessions in the Zoom room does not have the same electricity. On the other hand working online does make what we call the’flyback’, reviewing our practical work after we have explored it physically, easier.

That’s why we are going to keep doing both; online and in the studio.

For this last workshop in the ‘Connecting’ up series, we are going to look into connecting to the play and production. How do we all lead as director/teachers without didacticism? How does the actor fit into the ‘score’ of the production? How do we reach into the play and decide on a guiding idea? In this workshop we will inevitably reach into the realm of the creative hierarchy and look at that tetchy question, “What does the director actually do?” To me the director is like the conductor of an orchestra. There is a score and everyones creativity needs to be focussed towards the production. The orchestra has the vessel of the musical score but there are freedoms once you accept that. The symphony can never be about the individual musician and nor should the artists who create a theatrical production ever believe it is anything other than a team effort.

“At best, a director enables an actor to reveal his own performance, that he may have otherwise clouded for himself.” PETER BROOK THE EMPTY SPACE

In terms of the Chekhov elements we will be looking at Form and The Whole and how to experience those sensations in our bodies. We will be looking at Polarities in the play; opposite energies which polarise the play and the characters and how these might play into the score of the production. Deciding how a play might begin and end might give your whole piece a shape, a focus, and of course I do not mean exactly, nor is it set in stone . Through rehearsal you might make a profound sense of direction and that is ok.

Or the spine of the production might make another turn because of the actors. I write about this in my book, “What Country Friends is This?’ (published by NHB 2021) where I discuss a production I did of Twelfth Night with young actors.   I had a middle aged view of love and romance which for me dictated certain elements of the production. I found that, as we worked, I had to jettison many of those ideas because my vision was not where they were at,  though we retained some very dark moments in the production.

In the workshop we will be looking also at General Atmosphere to try and find possibilities for what the texture of the play might be, what the characters might be living and breathing in, and how that affects the way they behave. What decisions could we take together to make this a ‘score’ in the true sense of the word?

As before we will be using the play, Antigone. 

And mostly we will be doing this on our feet.

Connecting to the World of the Play and the Production.  will focus on atmosphere, the Feeling of Form and the Feeling of the  Whole. Michael Chekhov believed that whilst there was a different contribution made by actors director and all theatre artists, that somehow there needed to be something of a unified creative vision. It was an essential component to creating a satisfying and powerful piece of theatre. Again we will use Antigone for this workshop. 

The workshop costs 60 euro runs from 10- 4 and will be held at NUI Galway

 

The Alchemy of Character

discovering

I am looking forward to my next in the room ‘liveday’ workshop here in Galway City which I am running with guest tutor Niall Colleary from ATU Sligo. After the first exuberant ‘liveday’ which I ran with colleague Declan Drohan which focussed on using the Chekhov Technique to connect to ourselves and the audience, this time we are going to spend the day working on connecting to the character and in turn to the other characters in the play.

For this we are mainly going to delve into the psychological gesture, perhaps the signature element of the Michael Chekhov technique. Like all of the elements, pg as it is called, has a phenomenal depth of intricacies and variations, but it revolves around a simple idea, that how and what we feel and the intention of our character, can be illuminated specifically through the body. The wonders of this apparently simple idea can unearth so many choices for the actor. The use of gesture can mushroom out into finding character journeys through scenes and whole plays in addition to our purposes to exploring a particular scene.

Another aspect of this character discovery is the how; how we respond to the other character in the scene with us and what does their gesture (or intention) do to the character we ourselves are playing? Perhaps it even changes the gesture we are doing. But let us imagine that we will not change the gesture for our scene but keep with that same one. Even in a long scene a gesture can hold true (even in a whole play!). It might be more dependent on what qualities or the tempo you invest it with. Let’s consider Macbeth and lady Macbeth in an early scene; do her taunts  ( a poking , pushing gesture perhaps) make him contract his energy? If her poking gesture is slow and deliberate how does that affect him? Is that the way she always taunts him, when he is not ‘manly’? Or Does his refusal to act initially make her more grasping and desperate ( more of a reach)? How does this affect their gestures to each other? How does it change the quality of their gesture? The gesture cannot be used like a frantic emotional fuel pump, it needs some flexibility.

In this liveday during the application section of our day we are going to focus specifically on how to take this element of the technique into practise so that we can act naturalistically but with the power of what we have discovered through the psychological gesture, still stay true to the gesture, the character and our interaction with the other actor, ‘ veiling’ to use Chekhov’s term, or concentrating the essence of the gesture within us so it still moves within us. This approach transforms our acting.

Workshops in the room

The first is called Connecting to the Actor/Character, working with Energy/ Pause/ Psychological Gesture using short scenes and short scenes. This workshop will pay especial attention to applying the work. July 9th. 10-4 tutors Max Hafler and Niall Colleary.

The second will be focussing on Connecting to the World of the Play and the Production.  which will focus on atmosphere, the Feeling of Form and the Feeling of the  Whole. Michael Chekhov believed that whilst there was a different contribution made by actors director and all theatre artists, that somehow there needed to be something of a unified creative vision. It was an essential component to creating a satisfying and powerful piece of theatre. August 13 10-4. Venue NUIG tutor Max Hafler

Each workshop will cost 60€ singly , €100 if you book for both.

email chekhovtpi@gmail.com

Exploring our Impulse – Chekhov courses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expansion with The Chekhov Work – New Announcements, New Courses

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

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

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

Declan Drohan

NEW COURSES MARCH – JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

Cost 70 waged / 60 low waged / 40 unwaged. 

Declan Drohan

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

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

Tutor Max Hafler Mondays  4.30-6 GMT

cost 85 waged/65 low waged/ 45 unwaged.

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

Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland

Activate – Connect – Radiate venue TBC

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

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

Looking forward to seeing you there ! Venue and cost TBA

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

TUTORS MAX HAFLER and DECLAN DROHAN

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

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