Tag Archives: Michael Chekhov Technique

Exploring Higher Ego (more)

In the third exploration of the Higher Ego classes with our intrepid group searching to identify , trust, and place their Artist in the comedic space, we embarked on a joyous series of ensemble  games which made us explore what we felt the act of performance was and how we connected to the Artist/Higher Ego, working with it in a practical way. Michael Chekhov talks quite a bit about this, how we give in performance and what act actually is, and through a series of gesture/statues we explored what the act of performing meant to us individually.

All our exercises have invited questioning about performance and the way we operate as artists.

Does connecting the Higher Ego and a sense of joy let the evil characters off the hook  when we perform them with this sensibility? Or does feeling this Artist’s mission to present and explain a tyrant’s motivation allow us this joy, without exonerating the character?  When I play Macbeth am I exonerating him if I play him with some degree of compassion or understanding? Does this lightness in our Higher Ego allow us to make definite comment and criticism of the character or not? In a Brecht play for instance, like Arturo Ui I would say it does, in Macbeth I am not so sure…

We did not have answers for these complex questions just possibilities.

Someone said they felt that acknowledging the lightness freed them to express heavier atmospheres around them; but then, did allowing this lightness to live whilst we tried to express some darker qualities,  somehow belittle or devalue those darker feelings , betraying them and making them superficial?

I would say that in my own acting training (many moons ago) that the idea of Higher Ego, the objective eye, the inner artist etc. would have been frowned on by many as something which sounded dangerously superficial. You had to be ‘in’ the role. This I now understand (and have discussed in earlier pieces) to be a difficult and actually fraudulent position because you are never wholly  ‘in’ the role, only for certain sections of the play to a lesser or greater degree when you are drawn to be. It is all about how you play your instrument. It seems that what the exploration of the Higher Ego suggests to us is that the Art of Theatre is an amalgamation of many levels of experience going on at once (I am sure there have been several PhD studies about this) and in order to explore them and how they work in you you need to do many practical exercises, really listening and experiencing your subtle movements of energy. This class is teaching me that finding out how we all personally play our instrument is what is the most important joyous and empowering thing of all, releasing our creativity to our audiences and ourselves. What an acknowledgement of the Higher Ego can do is give to the artist a strong sense of self when navigating and expressing the character without sacrificing the character’s authenticity. 

Next week we focus on Creative Individuality.

Tangible Atmosphere

If a piece has no atmosphere it has nothing. An atmosphere is the place in which a character or situation lives. Without an atmosphere I do not believe a play or film can transmit much of anything.  Atmosphere can give you everything, psychology, character journey, motivation, a deep understanding of the world the writer has created. It is one of the great ‘intangible’ gifts given by the Chekhov Technique to illuminate and grow your performance.

I have been working with my Atmosphere/ personal atmosphere group online,  with A Christmas Carol . For those unused to this terminology, the Personal Atmosphere is one we carry around with us; it can be as modest as a passing mood or as strong as a sense of fate or destiny which fills and surrounds us. The General Atmosphere is one which permeates the environment we are in. It is more than this but let’s leave it there for now. 

In a previous session we had explored a personal atmosphere of meanness with a general one of abundant generosity surrounding the character which seemed to fill his world. Through this exercise, we began to discover Scrooge’s dilemma and the psychological dynamic (or a possible one) for his response. His rejection of Christmas was for him a matter of holding on desperately to his world view that life was mean and cold and hard.  Generosity was not just a nuisance, but a life-threatening sickness, which might bring his whole world view tumbling down. This incredible dynamic went far beyond the standard mean old Scrooge but allowed us to explore how he might lash out at those who refused to believe in the ‘Christmas spirit’. It reminded us all of how we actually relate to our environment and the energies which are around; that when that environment/general atmosphere opposes our view, what we carry with us (our personal atmosphere and world view) can often be the main conflict we carry in life. Interestingly, when I suggested to the group that they change the general atmosphere from ‘generosity’ to ‘grey’, immediately everyone settled . A few said they felt easier with ‘grey’ even though they were still carrying around this personal atmosphere of meanness because the general atmosphere did not rub against it. It almost justified their sourness.

General atmosphere falls for me into three broad categories; the literal environmental atmosphere (library, hospital, beach for instance) ; the visceral sensory atmosphere; (oil, feathers, gravel for instance) and the general atmosphere of feeling (suspicion greed love for instance). All of these categories have pitfalls. The environmental one can be too narrative (“What character am I in the atmosphere?”) the visceral one too literal (“but how can I breathe in oil?) and the third (“so there is an atmosphere of suspicion but why do I not feel suspicious?”).

It is easier to work with directions of energy and atmosphere when we tackle it using a texture or material or even a feeling. A way to find the direction of energy can be to breathe in the atmosphere and through your imagination allow it to shape you into a form or statue. You will soon find the direction and nature of the energy then. To my mind we should always use what is useful for our imagination and our work with the character and not get over caught-up iover-literal responses. By working with the directions of energy alone and experiencing the subtleties of what an atmosphere might be, this opens us to its full impact.

Because as artists we generate the atmosphere which appears to come from outside a much more subtle and powerful response can be gleaned for the character.  To watch how the participants wrestled in their meanness with the open generosity around them was a powerful reminder of what atmosphere can do.

Courses begin in the first week of January with INVITING THE CHARACTER which runs twice a week for a month, and a one-day workshop with myself and Declan Drohan exploring WHAT IS STYLE? email chekhovtpi@gmail.com for more details.

WORKING WITH NOVELS – A CHRISTMAS CAROL

I have always loved the Christmas Carol; the story of how even the meanest closed person can reconnect with the world and in some measure makes some amends, atone for his cruelty. Despite the fact that the cruel and inhuman system of which he is a small but significant cog continues to grind on at the stories end, it is somewhat ameliorated by Scrooge’s more open heart and generosity. 

I have always loved working in workshop with poetry and novels, something not immediately like a play. Dickens’ work, though packed with fabulous characters and dramatic confrontations is still novel in form. It enables you to experience in a truly multi-layered way, what is happening . As the words and images dance in your imagination a whole multi-facetted response can come. If you want to stay with the story alone, with these other aspects lurking beneath, you may, and these images and atmospheres are still at play; alternatively you can give the images and atmospheres a free rein and see what happens and discover a side to the story you only half- believed was there.

In my approach when working with novels I have come to the conclusion that to focus on looking at images and atmospheres before the narrative can bear some rich and powerful fruit. How will that affect how we tell the story? 

In a workshop I led a year ago on Kafka’s The Trial, I decided to use the novel, even though I had done a very successful production of Berkoff’s adaptation in 2004. In the adaptation Berkoff had made a lot of creative decisions for us. As someone who has done a lot of adaptations I knew that choice and filtration is partly the job of the adapter so I am not complaining about this, but what became clear during this Chekhov exploration of The Trial was the facet of alternatives available when you used the novel itself (even in translation). You can read about this workshop on

https://maxhafler.wordpress.com/2019/05/21/like-a-dog-exploring-kafkas-trial-with-chekhov-technique/

Working with Atmosphere as the guiding spirit, the core of the work,  assisted by the images and rhythms  the author provides, the actor/creator can explore the text in a way that foreign companies approach Shakespeare often – through a different lens. This does not mean that the narrative is forgotten but it is not the most important thing – well, certainly it is not the only thing.

From the Trial workshop

There is one place left on this course which begins on Saturday at 12.noon – 1.30 pm. Email chekhovtpi@gmail.com

Creating where you are – My Site Specific Room

I remember when I was a child and played in my room. Areas of my room had a particular atmosphere or feel there . Under a table became a tent or a cave, a place of safety. My bed became a rocket ship . I closed the curtains and used a torch to create lighting. The room disappeared as I dived into my fantasy. The walls melted….

Like Max in his wolf suit in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

In the new course, My Site Specific Room,  starting on the 9th November, we have an opportunity to return to this absolutely crucial element of creation; imagination, atmosphere and energy. When I was a teenager I had a fantasy that I would have an imagining room, completely white, in which I would be free to imagine anything. I loved exploring the imagination; it made me feel fully alive.

As I became embroiled in the business of becoming a professional actor, I paradoxically lost much of my attachment to imagination. Acting became a serious material business. It was only with playwriting , teaching, directing and more especially my fortuitous discovery of the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique which has as its bedrock the Imagination and the Body, when the Imagination reassumed its majesty as a creative tool. Working online, I returned even more to the core values of ‘lets pretend’. This is one of the great plusses of learning online at home, in your room…

 For fourteen years on the NUIGalway Drama MA I taught ensemble and devising, before it was the fashionable thing, and have worked extensively with youth theatre and applied drama on devising. One of the exercises at the Uni  was to give sub groups the opportunity to find a spot on campus they could explore and use and make the venue the inspiration for a short dramatic experimental piece as we brought the audiences to them. Pieces in a squash court, a ladies toilet, a long corridor with stuffed animals in it, a church ante-room… four of the exciting venues that were memorable. 

The Michael Chekhov Technique elements for the course will of course be atmosphere. What is the atmosphere of the room in which you are working? And of course Imagination, so that the piece you create is not about your past life in that room but comes from somewhere else. We will also work with composition elements  and tempo and variety  .

For instance, I use my study. If i sit in a chair in the corner I feel differently to when I stand at the window or sit at my computer.  Note how when you sit in your living room that you probably choose where to sit. You don’t even think about it. This is not necessarily ‘your chair’ per se.. I have a fireplace – how do I feel when I sit at the fireplace? Could this be the start of my story/piece… how does it feel to sit by the fire…maybe there is only a small fire in the stove…i am cold…. my story begins… who am I? who am i speaking to? 

In the course you will craft a 5 minute piece using where you are as your inspiration.  It could come from a corner or a texture or something about the whole room. 

if this is of interest to you then email chekhovtpi@gmail.com . We begin on the 9th. at 4.00pm GMT. there are five workshops! Below is a video link for more info

Video link https://youtu.be/G17m3GsFMzM

A blue sky day – keeping our artists souls alive

“Speaking of atmosphere changes, it’s funny once the zoom chat goes on. It’s like stepping out of the fog and back into a clear blue sky day.” that’s one of many quotes in a similar vein from one of my online students.

There has been some talk lately of the therapeutic nature of the Chekhov technique work in these challenging times we are living in. This does not mean Chekhov technique is a counselling substitute; it is a creative technique for making art, for viewing yourself as an artist and practically creating characters and making work. But I would be lying if I was to say that it did not provide something more. So whilst I do not get involved in the idea that drama is therapy primarily, the therapeutic effect cannot be ignored. An ex-student described Chekhov technique as “the emotional gym”. Like all drama (and music, dance or sports training) it gives a great opportunity for us to find out who we are. Because the Chekhov work is so expansive it opens doors that, for me at least, other acting techniques barely tease open. It is holistic and gives you so much possibility both for directing and performing but also for yourself. This is partly because you are listening to your body and responding to stimuli rather than worrying whether you have ‘got it right’, (something I agonised over when I was training as a young actor, ‘ is this real, is this true?’)

When I started learning Chekhov technique I found I got very emotional a lot of the time. This was not attached consciously to any event in my past per se, but it was, nonetheless,  a very strong emotional response….. it was a release. To begin with I got a bit irritated with it. ‘This has nothing to do with the character!’ I would growl. And of course, I was right. It had less to do with the character and more to do with me. However because I am the instrument I am playing, my instrument needed to be open and clear. Because I did not associate this emotional rush with any event particularly I was not trapped within it and that release became healing and expansive. It was an opening rather than a closing. It helped me to cope with emotion rather than locking me into it. I remembered some of my early training in meditation; I remembered , “I have my feelings but i am not my feelings”. The idea that feelings flowed through you was a useful and powerful one.

Now we do have to treat this connecting-up of emotions, body, voice and imagination together with a healthy respect and now we are working a lot online and in a very difficult world I find myself becoming more and more cognisant of ‘where people are at’. Paradoxically the online experience appears to encourage intimacy in a way and of course your students are inviting you into their homes so I need to tread cautiously. For instance it is important when asking them to explore the atmosphere of the room they are in to be aware that they may be in the family home and the room they are in has a personal history for them which they might not be wanting to tap into. On the other hand, as a student, to allow yourself to fall ‘down the rabbit-hole’ of creativity through the screen and at the same time be playing in your room can only be healthy. In that respect, it is only like working onstage or ‘in the room’. You become conscious of a many-tiered reality. You are talking through a tunnel of signals of waves connecting  to others, at the same time as being in your own space AND using your imagination to take you somewhere else. You move and touch off these different bases to create your experience in the class. It is very empowering.

I am asking them to throw themselves into the class – I am always touched and amazed how much this happens. Time and again people tell me how much more feasible working online is than they expected! As human beings we are remarkably adaptable. This is not to say I am advocating online as the only way of working, or even the best way, but as one of my colleagues said in the teacher’s group I attend, ‘it IS something.’  There is something wonderful about throwing an imaginary ball to America, have them throw it to the Netherlands, back to Ireland, over to France etc…    

What is art, if not communication? I am feeling now that people more than ever are hungry for the kinds of opportunities the Chekhov work in particular can give them; an opportunity to connect to others and themselves, to touch and explore their creativity and to play.   

The new set of courses starts this Friday with Tempo Pauses and Directions . there are several others, one covering Devising , one Atmospheres, and another, Psychological Gesture. there is also a free class in imagination and body which you have to apply for at the above address. email chekhovtpi@gmail.com or have a look at www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com 

A Thing of Beauty

I have always been afraid of The Feeling of Beauty. For those who do not know  it is one of the guiding principles of Michael Chekhov, one of his ‘Four Brothers’ and at the core of what we need to learn to be artists. 

I have always been afraid of it because the word Beauty is very much more subjective than the other principles of Ease, Form and the Whole. It is so loaded. Who is to say who or what is beautiful? Is physical beauty something to be sneered at? Is spiritual beauty the only thing that is worth anything? It appears to be a minefield. So, until last week, I have shied away from exploring it in class. I have always said to students, “oh there is also the Feeling of Beauty,” and sidestepped it. Thats easy to do with the Chekhov Technique because there are always so many extraordinary things to explore. But in consultation with my wonderfully supportive Chekhov teachers group,  who gave me some brilliant thoughts about it, my class embarked on some powerful explorations, statements and feelings..

“ I felt when I found some beauty in my chair, that I realised all the people that I was connected with through it, the others who sat in it, the people who made it, it connected me……” 

And as always when you commit to something in this extraordinary Chekhov work you take on that quality yourself. You become beautiful as you tell us about it. This is quite magical to see, a transformation. 

The feeling of Beauty requires a serious commitment and that is hard for us. When I was a young adult I was very suspicious of people who were constantly pointing at flowers and birds in wonder when we went out for a walk. Now I am one of those people myself. I didn’t trust beauty,  as if it was too sickly sweet and positive to have any reality in my life. I think this is a common attitude. Lately, especially since the lockdown and since I live in the country I have become much more aware of the world around me. The Chekhov work has helped to bring that about too because it is such a holistic way of working. It is all too easy for us to only see the harsh realities of life or the fantasies peddled to us in the media as if these things are how life is in totality. The Feeling of Beauty is not a cop-out. It is simply part of life. 

One of the highlights, when actors performed their short pieces from Macbeth, provided another fabulous insight. They were doing “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold” , the short soliloquy when Lady Macbeth is nervous, excited, on edge as the murder of Duncan is being committed. Through exploring this speech through a Feeling of Beauty, something extraordinary emerged. We are seeing her very final moments of a kind of innocence, even though she is already an accomplice. it is almost the pinnacle of her expectations. In its way, it is beautiful, naive, tragic.

As someone said in class, “I felt that Beauty is something which is going to be snatched away or evaporate at any moment. and that is part of its Beauty…”

Now taking bookings for Principles: Tempo, Pauses and Directions. email chekhovtpi@gmail.com. starting Friday October 9th for four weeks 4.30 -6.00

Archetype – the Performer’s Powerful Friend

I have found Michael Chekhov’s use of Archetypes one of the most fascinating elements of his acting technique. By using an archetype as one of your core forces  for the character you can create something different in moments. You can find out which feels right. However, they do need internalising and ‘taming’ before you can use them.

Think of HAMLET …. is he primarily  THE COWARD, THE AVENGER, THE PRINCE, THE REBEL, THE INTELLECTUAL , THE DREAMER,  or any number of others? If you put any of those archetypes as one of the primary engines of the character, (and its important to note the archetype is not all the character is!) you change everything fundamentally in moments, however much these archetypal energies are ‘veiled’ from the audience.

In ‘real’ life, when you are in a particular situation, when you feel a particular response to someone or something overwhelms you… that is when an archetypal energy is in play.  It feels as if you cannot help yourself. There feels like a surrender, a loss of control.  This moment is not necessarily your will driving you, but another more forceful energy. Consider moments where people do something which is bigger than them, when they perhaps rescue someone from a dangerous situation when they have never done this before. It is my experience that there is something else driving the person on, besides Will; something harder to control. This of course also goes for less positive situations where a way of behaving kicks in because of some force inside and we ask ourselves where that energy and behaviour came from? Lest anyone think I am justifying anyone behaving badly here let me assure you I am not. This is not a case of “it wasn’t me my Lord, my archetype did it!”  In the ‘real’ world we need to martial and train our archetypal energies to use them for good. That is our responsibility. Whether you believe in the idea of archetypes in your everyday world is not important; if you can imagine that there are energies like this out there they can create a powerful force in your playing.  

When we go on to look at character we might consider the idea that the Will does not always make the character do something but rather that they are gripped by something else which their will can not control. This means that the audience may understand the character on a deeper unspoken level, rather than simply understanding ‘why’ they act like they do.

For those of you worrying that using archetypes for your character is going to make you behave stereotypically, it is not. First of all, the archetype is not a stereotype which is a more superficial thing altogether. I would say that a stereotype is a kind of caricature or concept, whereas an archetype is a set of energies. What is truly magical and prevents bad acting is that firstly, it is the alchemy of you the performer with the archetype that produces both a very particular and a universal response at the same time. And this I would argue is what every artist is trying to do, touch on the intangible and make it tangible, offering something personal and universal at the same time to your audience, be they online, in a cinema, at home watching tv or in a theatre.

Though it is a grim example, let’s look at MACBETH for instance. He does not need Lady Macbeth to ‘corrupt’ him which is a view often put forward. He is in the grip of what we might call the Devil/Tempter and it is driving him on. It is a force within and without him. The three witches are the first characters we meet; that would back that idea up. They put the seed into him apparently, except one gets the feeling it is actually already there. After all,Macbeth kills people a lot. It is his job. So actually killing someone is not the problem. It is who the potential victim is and breaking the taboo of killing his master and his host which produces the main hurdle. Most importantly, though he knows he is committing a terrible wrong, the force of evil, the archetypal devil drives him on regardless. He allows himself to be a channel for it; he is culpable. For me, the speech, ‘Is this a dagger?….’ is a speech not of resolve but of possession. The Devil/Tempter appears to be strengthening him, but is actually dragging him into darkness. imagine if you decided his forceful archetype was The Assassin, how that might make the speech different.

Declan Drohan and I are running an online workshop on Sunday 20th September  exploring archetype and archetypal atmosphere using as our text The Only Jealousy of Emer email chekhovtpi@gmail.com for further details

Distance Creates Closeness. -Teaching Chekhov One-to One online

I used to teach private sessions a lot. For years, troupes of young people trying to get into drama school would come for help. Drama schools said they only wanted ‘raw talent’ and not pieces that had been prepared but this of course is rubbish…… Actors are directed, after all. It was rewarding, helping people follow their dreams and help them to open the next door, as someone had done for me. 

I have returned to teaching Chekhov Technique and voice one to one online, mostly not for auditions but for people  to develop, hone and explore their skills and potential. It is great for people to remember that acting is an art form not just something for ‘the business’. 

Teaching one-to-one is an extraordinarily intense experience for me. It is as if there is a stream of energy , a radiating and receiving between you even through the technology. It involves a huge amount of focus and concentration but it is incredibly rewarding. The monitor in some ways actually emphasises the focus as if you are looking into a tunnel of light which can fly worldwide zooming down on another room perhaps thousands of miles away. That’s kind of magical BUT the danger is that we succumb to this imaginary idea too fully and stay too stuck to the monitor and worst of all, do nothing but discuss when we are meant to practise. It is as if it sucks us down, like Alice, into the rabbit hole! 

Getting people to ignore the monitor and prevent them being like specimens before you, rather than the living breathing things they are, is another issue. It is the conditioning we have before the camera I think, but I often say, “Feel free to move around , I do not need to see you do this, I want you to experience it.” Part of the trick is to make sure they arrange their room as best they can, giving them as much room as possible. With group classes I sometimes let people occasionally turn off the monitor altogether, but with one-to-one sessions I never do because I feel we need to keep the visual connection.

Teaching one-to-one gives you space to tailor make your teaching to the student in a way it is impossible to do within a group, to teach the elements in a certain way, finding which might be the right path for the individual. For instance whilst Imagination and Body are the main tools for the Chekhov work, some people find the Imagination difficult, or, if they are tense or less in touch with the body, they find it very hard  to get into the work that way. Different individuals need different starting points. Being online presents the opportunities and challenges I have already discussed in earlier posts, but there is something very personal about it. This is very paradoxical in a way. The distance creates closeness. not everyone feels this way but those who buy in to the online experience do experience it.

In warm ups, I always lead and do the first exercises with the student. I have been told it is reassuring, that the student does not feel as ‘on the spot’ . It also helps to connect me with the student which is even more important when they are perhaps in another country.

Because there is only one student, I find I need to develop an even stronger sensitivity to their mood or living situation (I am probably ‘in their house’ as it is) . Pets and children may come in or awkward flat mates or relatives might make things challenging. They will be uncomfortable when those things happen. I have to be very very cool and easy about it,  relaxed but at the same time hold the line because any interruption flusters them rather than me.

And every journey is different, teaching the Chekhov work. It is  gratifying. Someone I taught online got into a course recently, people are exploring their art, developing themselves and remembering that life is not just Covid, Trump, and Brexit and I am helping them remember that. I do not want to create a distraction from the real world but to remind them that it is not everything. I hopefully am enabling them to transform so they can tackle the ‘real world’ more robustly.

If you want to discuss developing your acting through the Chekhov work online please email chekhovtpi@gmail.com

Discoveries in Space

an office can be somewhere else –

I had a real moment when I was teaching today online in my second class on qualities of movement .. 

I did not sit down for pretty much one and a half hours this afternoon. If I had something to say I mostly spoke stood up and so did everyone else. It meant that the energy kept flowing, and I felt my body charging and recharging with energy which does not happen when one is constantly parked in front of the monitor.

Try this as an experiment . Sit in front of the monitor for a minute and then stand up. Even if you get an impulse to stand up it takes a tremendous effort. Sit down again. Feel the energy sink into your hips . It feels like work.

Like the read-through of a play, when the actor is sat down, there is a disconnect, a sense of not fully engaging with your whole being. The reason you feel that is because you aren’t connected. We are still over conditioned to the idea of the read-through as some kind of communal starting-point, some kind of reverence to the text. I remember how boring they were as a young actor, that I was always itching to get on my feet as soon as possible, rather than watching everyone deal with their nerves, try to impress the director or enjoy the adulation of younger less experienced people. The read through was something to be endured. I have always been of the opinion that a read-through has only a value if you are standing up, because the energy flows through you and it is easier to engage with the text and everyone else. 

And Chekhov is all about the movement of energy, and without that physical movement it is hard to bring up the more subtle movement of energy that happens when we are not moving. So Zoom or no Zoom we have got to MOVE!

We did sit for a few minutes to fly back but mostly I really felt like I was in the studio. Maybe i am getting more used to the process of teaching online but maybe it is not just that.

Free movement in the qualities class

My study normally has a bed and it used to double as a guest room. Now there are no guests and the bed is gone which enables me to stand more, to show more. The room is an oblong and much longer one way than the other. When I first moved the bed I planned to turn the monitor round so we could work lengthways but initially I  only turned the monitor occasionally to show things. Today for the first time, i turned the monitor throughout the class and it transformed my energy. . I didn’t want to sit down at all. It changed the focus. This was not a sitting down class where you stood up to do exercises; it was an active movement based class, where you occasionally sat down.  when I gave the class that focus, they gave it too. People were more able to move….  It felt to me like an actual workshop. My energy was clearer and much more like I was ‘ in the room’ .

So where students do their work is absolutely crucial as to how much they get from a class. Of course I know people are often very compromised with space so they need to understand that space and what they need to do to improve on it. This includes lighting (not too much from behind them) and making everyone aware in the house that they will be making noises. It requires removing things that might get broken or personal stuff they do not want people to see. 

That class was a blast. Thanks students

if you are interested in courses from Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland then email chekhovtpi@gmail.com

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.