Tag Archives: More Light

More Light – opening and closing

IMG_1098 - CopyAs the final performance of More Light by Bryony Lavery took place on Saturday evening, the culmination of Core’s Spring Performance course in Galway, Ireland, I was filled with a massive sense of satisfaction. The performance had been good, the play fascinating, the voice and ensemble work of a high standard. But what I am left with ultimately is that in addition to the skills learned what was in the air at the end was this tremendous sense of the performing group.

After five weeks of training in voice and physical technique, not as much as I would like but perhaps as much as we could manage within the time frame, we rehearsed what was a very complex play in terms of feelings, imaginative scope and skills required for another four and a half weeks and presented it. By constantly awakening people to using the skills they had learned they had a very practical experience of using their learning within a safe environment. The whole group made massive strides.

Ultimately though it was the trust and openness of the group which helped to create the work fundamentally. When I say openness, I am not talking about the ability of the group to discuss their personal lives over coffee, though that is an important part of learning in any group. No. For those who are not familiar with it, there is a Chekhov concept called ‘opening and closing’. By practising it you realise how you open and close like an oyster all day, sensitive to different atmospheres, stimuli and situations. This is not space cadet stuff. It is most definitely how it is in life. So our characters open and close in a play, and when we are aware of this it makes for really good acting. Being able to open and close does not mean you have to love your acting partner, it is an ability within the performer to open that part of themselves safely and share that with the other characters and ultimately with the audience. Another basic procedure is radiating your energy, so that even if you are a ‘closed’ character you can radiate that too, so the audience can share it yet at the same it feels and appears genuine.

I remember going to see a show some years ago where everyone hated the leading actress who in turn apparently hated the director. When I saw the play I had no knowledge of these frictions [I only found out later] but I knew when I watched it that something was wrong. This unhappy band were closed to each other and therefore closed to the work and were not able to share well with the audience. Unfortunately this lack of cohesion is not an unusual occurrence in my own acting experience.

Recently an ex-student who had got very close to getting into several schools in London said she had to reconsider her desire when she saw how ruthless it was and that when she saw a number of big shows she felt that the ‘stars’ were very much in their own box and everyone else was operating in theirs. In other words they were not sharing at all. It was against everything she had been taught up to that point. The system rarely encourages generosity. It is not set up that way. This usually makes for bad art, in my opinion.

We want to foster an ethos which is inclusive and creative which nonetheless has high standards. I would like to send you an extract of a note I sent to the group.

I just want to say on behalf of all the tutors, thanks to you for making this such a fun course to run, and show to direct. For me theatre is a collaborative effort . It is what you bring to the work that makes us able to shape it. This makes for a positive attitude and ultimately a good piece of work without rancour or issues, something we can share with our audience as a group, who then become sharers too. Whatever anyone else may tell you, for me, this is the best and most powerful theatre. This does not mean that friction is not good for a group occasionally but in the end it is only through sharing and cooperation that good work is really done. How else can we share our work and our feelings and our art if we are not truly open to them and to one another? I know all the tutors have fostered that attitude and am sure you will continue to radiate those vibes as you go on to other projects. This has been a great and positive group and the seriousness with which you worked and approached your issues through the learning process is a great credit to you all.

Core Theatre College will be running some weekend courses over the summer before embarking on another performance course. Contact coretheatrecollege@gmail.com and http://www.coretheatrecollege.com

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Escaping the default – in acting and in life.

Not long ago I was working as director/ teacher with an otherwise highly promising young actor when in an emotionally intense moment in a scene, something happened. Her eyes went soft and wet, and she looked vulnerable. Her body became tense, and she looked stuck, lost in some kind of feeling . She was clearly feeling emotional but it was completely inappropriate for the role or for the moment. I stopped the scene and asked her what she was doing. She said she didn’t know. I told her I had seen that look from her before both in class and in performance. She told me with a smile that it was her ‘default’ . I had never heard this term before used in this context but it seemed completely appropriate.

What is the default? Well we could call it a ‘trick’ or a ‘habit’ but it is much more than that. It is what an actor does when they have to convince themselves and the world they are acting well, usually when they have lost their way with the character or the moment the character is in. It is a place they go which makes them feel intense. It makes them feel something so, appropriate or not, they go there. For this young woman, for many other people I have taught, and for me too when I was a young actor, this default had very similar manifestations. I would look down and this very intense look would come into my eyes. I would look vulnerable or angry. My whole body would tense up. Importantly I could radiate [project] this feeling very easily which made me feel powerful and convince me I was really acting well. Unfortunately this impression was often enforced by my peers. Looking back now it had something akin to being emotionally constipated and actually having no clue what I was doing at that moment. What’s bad about this is that it actually FEELS good.

The default mechanism locks the performer in what they act and how they do it. It keeps you stuck in your own rhythm rather than finding a rhythm for the character. How does that happen? Sometimes it is simply trying too hard. The default is something more than a habit though, more than just playing with your fingers or folding your arms. Sometimes it is something I suspect deeply psychological, a feeling that the performer has about themselves which stops them from exploring the character as fully as they might. It often comes when we are trying to act something which makes us feel uncomfortable either because we have no knowledge of it or we repress it in our own personality.

Over my years of teaching Ensemble and Devising at NUI Galway I became more and more aware of how the patterns of our own movement restrict and hold us, trap us within our own personality, just as much as these emotional locks which are the default, in fact they are all part of the same thing. And this restriction not only has ramifications for acting but for our everyday lives and development.

Chekhov technique gives us a wonderful opportunity to open this door and free ourselves from the default but like all techniques you can watch the students do brilliant work in workshop where they push their own physical and emotional boundaries (by this I do not necessarily mean weeping and wailing !) but so often they then get a script in their hands and much of the good work vanishes and the default returns. Why does that happen? I feel it is perhaps because somewhere inside us our body-memory pushes us into forms of movement and behaviour which have been there through our lives; because there is something that pops up in our egos that encourages us to show off or accentuate an aspect of our emotional lives which perhaps pushes us into acting in this way. It might also be that the actor is simply lost and goes to that ‘default’ place out of fear or self protection.

This default behaviour can often be witnessed in all levels of production, because one of the first things that happens is that the actors do not truly radiate and communicate to their fellow actors and when watching you get no sense of the energy moving between them. Therefore however intense the actor may appear in their default they are not sharing their experience. Sadly, I believe I watched a good bit of this default acting in the production of Antigone I saw on BBC4 the other night.

When suddenly an actor joins up the dots as someone did in rehearsal for my student production of MORE LIGHT last night and with a wide light opening gesture the character told her story about her revelation about art and society, you sense a door opening and the actor avoiding her ‘default’ and finding a new way to be , not just for the character but also a new choice for herself.

And this leads me on to where I feel the effect of the default can be lessened; by young performers getting a stronger sense of self, not in a narrow egocentric sense but a wider imaginative sense . Exploring the Imagination voice and body primarily is the only way , not merely as a skill set but a way for the young performer to find their range and power both as an actor and as a person. We must  alert people quickly to the power of the imagination to enable them to transform and help them to develop it. We need to assure them it takes hard work, but it is both challenging and joyous.

Of course, in the ‘business’ it can often be the case that people make careers out of their default position. They become recognisable types, able to plumb a degree of intensity, but it is an intensity which never develops or changes. However they can sometimes make a career from it, and perhaps that is what they want. I do not believe that is enough when the work has so much more to offer.

Happily the young actor who gave me the default term and  with whom I began this piece, found new ways to find her feeling and power and gave a splendid and mature performance .

More Light – a play of the past for now

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More Light by Bryony Lavery was written in 1997 for the BT Connections project to provide youth theatre plays written by writers who wrote primarily for adult professional actors and for adult audiences. If I am not mistaken More Light was commissioned in the very first batch of these plays. The story begins when a group of Emperor’s concubines are buried with the Emperor, because they have not borne him any sons. They then seek to survive in the tomb by eating him and many of the other artists and architects buried in the tomb with them. When we add to this that the play involves mutilation, discussion of abuse, murder and is richly laden with images, imagination and poetry which explore society, art and patriarchy, it seems like a tricky ask for a youth theatre to perform. When I decided to use this play for our 10 week Core Performance course in Chekhov and Ensemble techniques I thought it was challenging for adults. In our case doîng the play with a smaller number of actors rather than a twenty strong youth theatre has provided challenges but as always, also provides many strengths. For instance two of our adult actors are playing small children.

Bryony Lavery beautifully explores conventions of oriental literature and theatre to provide us with a theatrical language for this play, yet at the same time I think it is very important to widen the play from an exploration of any particular racial group. The degradation and exploitation of women in the way we see it in More Light exists within many groups, so for instance our high oriental shoes are actually modern high heels sprayed gold.

In a way, More Light has a lot of similarities with Golding’s Lord of The Flies in which a group of shipwrecked schoolboys build their society upon the public school system only to reveal that there is something feral and incredibly violent underneath their polite and rigid system. In More Light the women are locked in a tomb , resorting to violence in order to survive, but from that, creating a society and an art that is beautiful and different to the harsh Art of their Emperor. However, in order to make their society and their art, they still have to eat human flesh. This is their dilemma. In our contemporary world, it reminds me of how we frequently buy unethically produced products, made by people with poor living standards and even endangering the workers that make them .How often do we put this to the back of our minds so we can get on with our lives, feed our children , express our creativity?

Galway has actually seen a production of this play before in 1998 performed by Galway Youth Theatre , and it was performed in Nuns Island Arts Centre directed by Selena Kelly . We perform it there too. I loved the play then and resolved that at some point I would like to direct it.

‘More Light’ by Bryony Lavery plays at Nuns Island Arts Centre Galway from the 14th – 16th May telephone 091 565886. 8 pm start. The play performed by Core T.C. runs for 60 minutes.

More Light – Imagination and Simplicity

IMG_0780Beginning serious work on a play is for me like jumping into the ocean. You have to be alive and awake to the currents and yet at the same time find your own way. Your way is not only influenced by the writer’s imagination – in this case a spectacular flight of the imagination – the actors’ imagination, the design team etc, but something else, something intangible. Michael Chekhov says that as artists we ” make the intangible, tangible” I love this idea; that something completely unique and unknowable comes from this process, dependent on every single member of the creative team and their alchemical contact with each other , with the characters and the score that is the play. As a director I have to be open and yet focused. It is like living in a dream sporadically through the day.

The students on the Current Core Performance course and I are about to embark on the short play More Light by Bryony Lavery .We are working mainly with Chekhov Technique to produce this work. The play depicts an ancient empire where the Emperor is God. He arranges for a tomb to be built and all the artists and craftsmen who build it are left to die with the Emperor in the tomb. Along with the emperor are the concubines who have not borne him sons. They are expected to tend him, serve him – and die with him. Left in this terrible position the women take a momentous decision.

The world they create is like a crucible for the imagination, not without its terrible compromises and polarities but one in which the women for a while at least survive and thrive. Bryony Lavery constantly describes impossible stage images which only the most well funded company might produce but nonetheless her images make you gasp at her vision when you read them. Her vision is little short of audacious. The images are an important part of the fabric supporting one of the most important themes of the play, the place of Art and imagination in our lives. It seems to me now that we are going to mime many of these impossible images or create them with sound – in other words we are asking the audience to engage their imaginations as much as the writer and the creative team have done, in bringing this play to performance; that it will be a truly collaborative piece of work for the audience as well as for us. Only then will creating many of these extraordinary images, like the flying flock of origami birds become possible. Anyone who has seen a real origami bird knows they are, disappointingly, quite heavy !

So simplicity will be the key. Simplicity in fact is a liberating force. Simplicity and Imagination encourages magic in a way that literal presentation can hardly ever do. This of course does not mean that you eschew the visual aspect, in fact ironically, by simplifying , you can often enhance it. As Peter Brook said in a recent interview, ‘simplicity is not a style’ . You might check this deeply inspiring interview out on   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sx2qHHFS5Yk  if you have not seen/heard it.