Tag Archives: one-to One teaching online

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 

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