Tag Archives: Michael Chekhov Technique

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.

Being Real, Feeling Joy and The Dangerous Moments of Emptiness.

Over the last few posts I have been exploring and sharing my experience of teaching the Chekhov Technique online, both the joys and problems with it. When I am planning a workshop I am not trying to replicate an actual workshop. I am constantly looking for points of contact and positive developments, ways of teaching the work, developing opportunities along with the comfort (and issues) of trying to liberate oneself whilst still at home. I have talked about this in the last post.

Whilst most seem to be having a very positive experience, for a few the fact of working online weakens the main thing from which they learn; the sense of community and group experience. In the room this dynamic more-or-less comes naturally but online it doesn’t ; I work hard at fostering that and as soon as I give the opportunity, most people grasp it with both hands.

I was discussing this with my partner the other day, a retired teacher and therapist himself, and a moment he isolated was the ending, when you finish the session. I have been considering this a lot myself and find moments of sharing and breathing at the beginning and end of sessions but he talked about that moment when you turn off the monitor and everyone leaves. That moment can feel rather scrappy. Declan Drohan my colleague here in Ireland in the Chekhov work called it, ‘ the dangerous moment of emptiness’.

Even in an actual workshop there can be a moment of ‘back to reality’ after it ends but online this feeling can be acute. Let’s consider what happens when an actual workshop ends. You do a final exercise which bonds everyone together and acknowledges the work. You finish and there is a sense of completion and high. People say their goodbyes, they hug and thank each other. They maybe come and chat to me about some aspect of the work or come to say thank you. The ending of the workshop is often both sad and beautiful.

If you think about the times (especially in times gone by when communication was more difficult than it is now) when you have been speaking with someone you love faraway on the phone and the long call is over, there is an adjustment required for you to re-inhabit your world. This can stir up a lot of ‘stuff’. It could stir up feelings of frustration, an intensified loneliness; rather than feed us as participants, as artists practising our art, it could make us feel futile. This is, of course, completely the opposite of what we want and why we go to actual workshops in the first place. It’s particularly bad because in order to practise our art we have to treat our room as the studio and be as uninhibited as we can. If you are not careful closing a session can be  like inviting people into your house with a smile, letting them in for an hour then pushing them out of the door, leaving them out on the pavement and slamming the door behind them.

 My partner suggested something and I want to share it because it goes some way to acknowledging this  problem. I tried it this week and it seems to go some way to healing this difficult moment and acknowledge their experience with this group. I asked the participants who had just had their last class that, when they turned the monitor off after saying goodbye, they sat with the monitor and continue the radiating done towards the group in the final moments. I asked them to consider what they had explored through the whole course and moments of connection they had and who they had met and watched working in the course. What could they hear and feel going on in the building, outside, and notice how ‘the world’ came back into their space. I suggested they acknowledge that what they had done was ‘real’ not some diversion and they had learned and experienced things. These things were like Chekhov said, ‘intangible’ yet they did happen and we were affected by them. They could then share their responses if they wanted. I have been given permission to produce one of them here. 

“And just like that, it was over… After saying good-bye to everyone, all the faces disappeared. I was in front of my computer, and I was contemplating the Zoom access page on the screen, that I will later need to shut down.

Suddenly, my roommate was shouting at his video games, people and cars were making noise outside but I stayed in front of the computer screen, watching the monitor, still receiving.

As I put my glasses down, I became suddenly aware of the people who were missing today and how disappointed I was they couldn’t come and how I couldn’t properly say goodbye to them. There was a feeling of ease with a touch of sadness.

My phone started to ring but I didn’t want to see who was calling, I needed one more minute to fully process all this. I wrote down some words regarding polarities on a piece of paper, knowing I will have to keep practicing in order for them to stay meaningful.

As I would do in a theatrical exercise, I shook up, breathed in and click on the red cross of the website, as if it was “saving” these 5 weeks in my memory.”

Working online is real. It stirs my soul and I hope most of my students. There is a connection. It is simply a different kind of real. Not a substitute but not nothing either.

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.

 

 

 

Zooming with Chekhov

index

Michael Chekhov.

I want to begin with an extract of a note I sent to my group of Chekhov students yesterday after a Zoom session.

‘First of all thankyou again for a committed session on atmosphere. There were three big plusses for me, one in that sense of commitment, two when you all crossed the threshold into your room between the hallway and your room, reminding us that for now your study was your stage; and three when,  in the movement exercise, I suggested you imagine the walls of the room were not there. In that moment, it was as if everyone’s walls vanished, rather like in the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are.’

A polarity within this strange time in which we find ourselves is whether the work we are doing is primarily for the ease and betterment  of the people who come to the virtual class or to be really teaching the technique to actors for the enlightenment of an audience. The virtual workshop puts this dilemma up front and centre. everyone has a different focus but I would say myself that the work is always a balancing act and has to be both.

When I saw that moment in my workshop, when I asked people to imagine their energies were pulsating out through the walls, I felt something happened. Something very powerful was communicated to me very strongly through those little zoom squares. And that thing was even more powerful exactly because they were working within their rooms rather than the studio. It made me connect with prisoners in darker situations than most of us and how the imagination liberates and compensates us all when in difficult situations provided our will is not broken by the weight of what is happening to us;  when we are not actually ill or oppressed or struggling financially so much that we are in danger.

Today in the class for the first time I encouraged a lot of work in their rooms away from the monitors, and above all to not always allow the monitor to be the focus of their radiation, to trust the participants more to commit for themselves; to allow the cord of energy from the monitor to link us together rather than them (and I) feeling like it was a rope we had to hang onto for dear life. Of course there are distractions where they were and we did talk about that a bit. It is not dissimilar to when you are working on a film and a whole pile of things are going on around you, but you have to be there in your reality and your truth with your fellow performers.

I personally feel like an artist who has to kind of work underground, like Shakespeare and his company hiding out during the plague years or theatre in times of war and oppression.

I particularly wondered about theatre companies in the English Civil War when theatre was banned as ungodly. What did the actors do during this strange and difficult period of many years? What was lost? Who died in penury, their living and their creative talent and opportunities wasted?  I want to keep this Chekhov work vibrant while we are in lockdown because it is a unique way of seeing the world and creating art; because even in this difficult time we have a duty to preserve our artistic wholeness.

“The artist of today cannot be an artist if he is disconnected from real life; it has never been possible in any ethos, in any culture.”  Michael Chekhov Lessons for Teachers

Ironically, whilst Zoom is strange, for now it is a reality. I have been surprised at sometimes just what comes through. We have to stay awake.

One thing that is lovely is that I am much more in contact with international colleagues, and that people from all over the world are coming to study with me. That is fun.

(email chekhovtpi@gmail.com for courses)

 

The whole world can come!

IMG_5906.JPGIn the meantime…… whilst online learning is far from ideal there are aspects of the Michael Chekhov technique we can explore and it means THE WHOLE WORLD CAN COME!!!!

ONLINE TEACHING FOR CHEKHOV TRAINING AND PERFORMANCE IRELAND

One to One sessions- Let It Begin.

If your connection to the Chekhov technique is fairly new then these 4 / 45 minute sessions will act as something for your understanding and practise. Perhaps you want to reconnect with the work after an absence. Above all we have to remember that Chekhov Technique is an experiential practise so much of our time together will be working on Spy back or Flyback, that is looking back on the experiences you have had when practicing the technique, though we will do SOME exercises in our face to face time together. Clearly we will be restricted somewhat but for now that has to be ok.

You will need to have learned an 8-10 line speech from a play you know well. I would prefer it not to be from a movie.

Session One: Qualities of movement and an introduction to Gesture
Session Two: Ideal centre. Directions of Energy/ radiating and receiving.
Session Three: General Atmosphere
Session Four: Psychological Gesture.

please email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com for information on how to register and book.

FOCUSSING SESSIONS FOR THOSE ARTISTS WITH SOME CHEKHOV EXPERIENCE (GROUP)

This pause in our inability to meet together to practise and develop our acting skills through the Chekhov technique, is also an opportunity to really focus on our practise in the technique, to take more responsibility for it rather than simply getting a buzz from the workshops, which I know is a massive learning tool in itself but it is not everything . So yes, in a sense this might give us a breathing space to give us a chance to focus personally on our relationship to the technique and how it lives in us.

Each week each participant will undertake to do at least 20 minutes per day practising and focussing on a principle of the Chekhov Technique and keep some notes of their discoveries which we will share in our on-line sessions. these on line sessions might be 40 minute checking in sessions and talking through our discoveries. (it’s ok if you don’t have any) For this first four weeks I propose that I suggest the four topics and suggest a few exercises to go with them.

I will not charge for this organising and facilitation for this first month because I want to see how it works! We will start by using Skype I wantabout 8 people but may expand it later and do longer session discussion groups. There are a lot of possibilities here and we should not be downhearted about it.
WEEK ONE : The Dramatic Imagination. Developing our imagination for creativity …working with novels , short stories. Chekhov’s image work with fairy stories.

WEEK TWO Concentration on working with object images to create character. ‘Falling in love’ with the object. Working with images. Making the image larger or smaller

WEEK THREE Working with Energy. energy body. Expanding and shaping the centre.

WEEK FOUR General Atmosphere. Working with a short poem or song . noticing atmospheres in your daily life… The Atmosphere of Quarantine for instance.

email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com

Being In The Room

51090851_617034175402228_8035195185824530432_nThe Michael Chekhov acting technique, with the movement of energy in the body as one its central tenets, requires you to really be ‘in the room’ when you are working with people. It is hard to express the sensation I feel when teaching, as if I am moulding the session with the help of the participants, or like a boat, steering the class into the wind but aware that some discovery by either myself or the group can send us off into different waters. It is a communion with every single person in the room.

I have been holding back from teaching online partly because my internet coverage is so inadequate – on a Zoom conversation with colleagues the other day I watched everyone as their faces became degas dabs,  their words turned  into the sound of piano keys, then every so often I caught a sentence or two before finally being  cut off. It was upsetting and frustrating particularly as I thought I had found a way to increase my speed and I am still working on it . I am sure these things can work and be embraced, but for now big classes are not the way forward for me personally. One thing I want to do is develop and make time for my own practise and development in the work as I did when I began to train.

For me right now the tools of the Chekhov Technique are as much about maintaining and expanding our sense of mental well being as they are about developing our skills as performers I have used many of the elements  in applied drama to help people communicate more effectively and importantly to connect up voice, body, imagination and feelings which makes us into more whole human beings. I am making short voice exercise recordings for radiating/ receiving, breathing and voice. I am putting them on my FB page ‘Teaching Voice’ . These will include some Chekhov work. If you are interested, check these out (there will be six).

In addition I am seeking to run four sessions for beginners one to one, These will be on Skype and Face Time,  exploring the very basic principles of some of the work.  They will involve exercises and offline practise. email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com if you are interested.

There will also be an advanced study group which is more likely to be a discussion/ development  group without camera, maybe with audio or just typing. … These will be small groups and be initially free . They will be conducted on Skype.. 

One to One sessions- Let It Begin. 

If your connection to the Chekhov technique is fairly new then these  4 / 45 minute sessions will act as something for your understanding and practise. Perhaps you want to reconnect with the work after an absence. After my own in depth training courses, i would go for months practising alone, before the next one. Above all we have to remember that Chekhov Technique is an experiential practise so much of our time together will be working on Flyback, that is looking back on the experiences you have had when practicing the technique, though we will do SOME exercises in our face to face time together. Clearly we will be restricted somewhat but for now that has to be ok.

You will need to have learned an 8-10 line speech from a play you know well. I would prefer it not to be from a movie.     

Session One: Qualities of movement and an introduction to Gesture

Session Two: Ideal centre. Directions of Energy/ radiating and receiving. 

Session Three: General Atmosphere

Session Four:   Psychological Gesture.

Focussing sessions for those with some Chekhov Experience(GROUP) SKYPE

This pause in our inability to meet together to practise and develop our acting skills through the Chekhov technique, is also an opportunity to really focus on our practise in the technique, to take more responsibility for it rather than simply getting a buzz from the workshops, which I know is a massive learning tool in itself but it is not everything . So yes, in a sense this might give us a breathing space to give us a chance to focus personally on our relationship to the technique and how it lives in us. 

Each week each participant will undertake to do at least 20 minutes per day practising and focussing on a principle of the Chekhov Technique and keep some notes of their discoveries which we will share in our on-line sessions. these on line sessions might be 40 minute checking in sessions and talking through our discoveries. (it’s ok if you don’t have any) For this first four weeks I propose that I suggest the four topics to give us a shape and suggest a few exercises to go with them.  The discussion will either take place in chat or with video or audio, which ever works. what’s important is that we connect together. IMG_4945

WEEK ONE : The Dramatic Imagination. Developing our imagination for creativity …working with fairy stories

WEEK TWO Concentration on working with object images to create character. ‘Falling in love’ with the object. Working with images. Making the image larger or smaller 

WEEK THREE Working with Energy. energy body. Expanding and shaping the centre.

WEEK FOUR General Atmosphere. Working with a short poem or song. noticing atmospheres in your daily life…  

Finally , I have been reflecting a lot about Michael Chekhov himself; how the world was in this completely turbulent and awful madness, violence and cruelty for much of his life. It seems easy to dismiss our work and disrespect the inner artistic development of our lives when ‘there are more important things to think about’.  We must not let that feeling win . Our creative soul is every bit as important as it always was, perhaps even more so. in times of deep crisis.

“The artist of today cannot be an artist if he is disconnected from the real life” Michael Chekhov : Lessons for Teachers

The Whole of Russia is Our Orchard

UnknownAfter working recently with the same translation of this play in a post graduate class I was struck again by the wonder of Anton Chekhov’s plays, as I always am. When I was introduced to the Three Sisters in my very first year of drama school, the teacher’s love and enthusiasm was something I have kept with me ever since. So I went with a group of students to the production of The Cherry Orchard by Druid Theatre. It was very enjoyable and educational as my students and I had a good twenty/thirty minutes afterwards discussing the production of a play we had studied practically on our feet in acting class last semester.

Chekhov’s plays are not realistic, they only appear to be. When played totally realistically the characters appear aimless and merely stupid. But these plays are poems that appear to be plays. In actual fact all the characters are being torn apart and what is so powerful about the plays is that everyone has these polarities within them. if the actors do not play these conflicts fully then the play seems pointless. The Cherry Orchard becomes a long play about selling a house (as my partner remarked on the drive home).

Everyone is pulled in many directions from the beginning. Lopahkin is conflicted because he really wants to help Lyubov. He owes her; she saved him from a difficult childhood. This is in the script, not something I imagined. It is an extremely frustrating position for him; part of him is hungry to buy the orchard and part of him feels he is not worthy. In his big speech this should tear him apart. He is drunk and when you are drunk things come out. His big speech gives ample opportunity to explore this and reveal more of the character. Lyubov, in her turn, is selfish, manipulative and confused but as maddening as she is, she has at her heart the idea that she is a terrible mother and deserves to be punished. (there are other places you can go with this but that’s a good engine). Is not perhaps her constant profligacy to give away money a way of showing how generous and guilt-ridden she is? Yasha is not just a kind of upwardly mobile cruel servant but someone who feels the pull of his peasant background and is rebelling against it. There is a wonderful scene in the play where Yasha is left alone with Lyubov for a moment and he begs her to take him with her back to Paris. This is a very short scene but for Yasha’s character it is crucial and I feel I want to see his desperation. Petya, the student, shows many signs of political dilettante behaviour in the play but his ‘The whole of Russia is our orchard’ speech has to lift us to counteract his immature behaviour later. For that moment I as an audience member really have to feel that the world can change. What I am saying here is that everyone in this play has a lot at stake and without that, nothing can happen and the play is just a lot of silly people struggling.

Additionally all the characters have to have a journey because at first glance, the production will not have a trajectory other than, as I say, the house is sold.  Having said that, there were several excellent performances. I especially liked Varya (Siobhan Cullen), Firs (John Olohan), Carlotta (Helen Norton) , Pischik(Garrett Lombard)  and especially Gayev(Rory Nolan); they impressed me a lot but good acting (as much as actors might believe it) cannot provide this feeling of the Whole (another Michael Chekhov term) by themselves.

All plays need atmosphere but Chekhov’s plays especially. Despite some beautifully atmospheric scene changes I longed for more in the scenes themselves, because the intangible sense of atmosphere as explored by Anton’s genius nephew, the teacher/actor/director Michael Chekhov is one of the most important things that actors (not just designers and lighting designers) have to create and work with. The atmosphere also unites the cast even when the characters do not respond to it in the same way. I remember well in our acting class (and I am not trying to compare a professional production with a class – I am simply giving an example) the atmosphere of the nursery, invading the consciousness of all the characters who entered that room  after their journey and most particularly Anya and Lyubov the two characters to whom it mattered most.

On a more practical note, acoustically there are a lot of problems in the Black Box, where the play was performed. It is a large cavernous space. I know these problems, because with my touring company Theatrecorp I did seven productions in there. Any attempt to speak to the wings or upstage means you need a lot of breath and one or two people were inaudible. It is also important to note that with a very wide stage space even those who sit at the front stage left are almost as far away as those at the back of the auditorium if you are speaking from stage right.

 

 

 

‘Bring your music forth into the air’

ISABELLA FIGHTS BACK - Copy

Measure for Measure 2013 Sarah O’Toole as Isabella

People have become quite exercised of late that actors are ignoring the rhythm of iambic pentameter in Shakespeare and that this is something of a problem. Michael Billington further examined this statement in an article in The Guardian today. This is a really useful article which asks some very interesting questions. The idea that the RSC was going to create,  ‘a Shakespeare “gym” in Stratford-upon-Avon to ensure, in the words of its artistic director Gregory Doran, “Everyone has the iambic pentameter in their bloodstream.”‘ is a pretty funny idea. (I imagine pentameter press-ups, and caesura stretches…)

The point is in Shakespeare’s day the language pretty much carried EVERYTHING; deep character psychology, description of place, general atmosphere, told the story and on and on. People had a different more magical relationship to language than we do now. That is what people should be focussing on. The loss of the rhythm is something, that we cannot feel the rhythm in the language; but I abhorred Peter Hall’s slavish concern (mentioned in Billington’s Article) with metre and even punctuation. You have only to look at the various Arden Editions of any Shakespeare play to realise that where you put a comma or a semi-colon is up for discussion, not a sacrosanct thing to take you back to the real meaning of the words. This rigid, tedious and over-intellectualised exploration becomes another prison for the actor, not a form on which to ride and express. That,I think, is part of the reason why many actors have moved away from the rhythm. They feel instinctively it denies them an authenticity rather than a form that can help them create. I actually destroyed Peter Hall’s book rather than give it away, I thought it so damaging for young actors. This does not mean I do not think the rhythm is relevant but it needs to be correctly placed within what is important.

There are of course, trends. When I was training in the 70s as an actor, there was a deep suspicion of anything too ‘poetic’, a real reaction away from Olivier and Gielgud. There was a feeling that the character and the language were kind of separate; There was the story and there was the beautiful poetry which we had to appreciate but  it was not the same as the character. This made for either flat verse speaking (making the language ‘speak for itself’ which for me is like that other 70s acting maxim ‘do nothing’ which meant precisely that); or it made for a stylised way of speaking. It all depended on the kind of actor you were.

Michael Billington  talks about great actors ‘flouting the rules’ of iambic pentameter and isolating a word or phrase, rather than sticking slavishly to the metre. That is as it should be; the rhythm is a score but not to be played slavishly or it becomes this ridiculous Shakespearean  canter through the text, which we are supposed to believe is wonderful. Billington says “Like a jazz trumpeter, an actor has to know the rules in order to bend them.” This is for me, absolutely spot-on

What people have to do is yes, be aware of the rhythm but, more importantly, exercise to really get inside the imagery and the language using body as well as voice to make that happen at least in the workshop/rehearsal . To use the language fully and to trust that it can do it; that used well, it is magic.  Above all they need to be sensitive to sound and to the metaphor which tells us so much more than creating some flowery language. …the language is not something to get over so we can explore the character; it tells us how the character’s mind works. That, for instance, was why Andrew Scott’s HAMLET which I saw on tv last year was so disappointing (and he is an actor I admire) because his delivery was not based on a habitation of the text.

I have just finished writing a book about Shakespeare, ‘What Country Friends, Is This?’ which tackles a lot of these issues of language in a practical way  through the Michael Chekhov technique; it is something I feel passionate about. It is to be published by Nick Hern Books on Shakespeare’s birthday.

 

‘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 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