Tag Archives: the Centre For Drama Theatre and Performance

Twelfth Night Polarities

IMG_3934As we put the production of Twelfth Night to bed here at CTPI and NUI Galway , I am thinking back to something I discovered about this play through the production, through my editing and through the process..

I had never before thought of Twelfth Night as a tragicomedy. Before we start to talk about the idea of polarities and how they exist in the play we should perhaps explore the unique form of tragi-comedy, because for me at least, that is certainly how 12th Night seems to work for a modern audience. Tragicomedy was made very popular through writers like Middleton and Rowley after Shakespeare, but it was clearly part of the collective psychology of the Elizabethan theatre goer way before then. Tragicomedy is not simply putting  comic scenes in with serious or tragic scenes in order to keep the wide social demographic of many Elizabethan audiences satisfied and connected to the performance. The tragicomic dynamic is a visceral engine, a cruelty which actually consciously rubs sadness and grief against laughter and joy. Tragicomedy is a genre which actively uses polarity to heighten the work. We ignore this at our peril or the play is constantly unsettling in the wrong sort of way. The scenes somehow do not sit together without embracing the full force of what tragicomedy unleashes. Indeed Shakespeare’s language constantly compares opposites, especially in soliloquy when a character is asking the audience what they should do about their particular dilemma. It’s built into the fabric.

Michael Chekhov focuses on polarity as part of discovering the score of the play. Often when I am working I like to take the actors as characters through the play considering one polarity only, to see where the character fits and travels along that theme through his/her story. I do this quite early on and whilst it may  be somewhat transformed once the scenes start to be played, it is amazing how the alchemy of imagery and instinct often reveal jewels of character we could never have imagined through discussion.

In Twelfth Night one of the polarities I see is Riot and Order. Feste represents the former and Malvolio the other. These two characters are diametrically opposed and it is their battle, culminating in the highly ambiguous prison scene, which for me is one of the big polarities of this play. The other is Love and Death, not exactly opposites, but in the Elizabethan world view, they are. In the beautiful Act 2 sc 4, the disguised Viola and Orsino speak intimately and lovingly, are then faced with the haunting song Come Away Death. Orsino’s mood is transformed and he becomes violent and desperate, whilst Viola refers to her brother [supposedly dead]. In that moment the two young people are forced to face the dark side of their souls.

IMG_3994The production has been a delight. Now back to working in my garden, writing, reviving The Sacrificial Wind and the first of three weekend workshops .The first – Chekhov and Ensemble will be held on March 9th-11th in Galway. Email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com to book your place.

 

 

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An experience more than a play? David Greigs Bacchae

As we move into the final week of rehearsal for David Greig’s THE BACCHAE I wish rehearsal could go on for longer. This is such a deep piece, as mysterious as the God Dionysos whose story it tells. As I watch runs of the play, I get flashes of extraordinary paradoxes as Pentheus the young and headstrong Prince, terrified of his shadow side collapses with exhaustion at one point refusing to acknowledge that there is any such thing as spirit, refusing to recognise that he is actually sitting next to a deity.

THE BACCHAE really allows us to consider and grapple with the conflicts between the material and the spiritual. Interestingly, as I watch the play, I find myself moving from one protagonist to the other, sympathising first with one and then the other. Ultimately though in the final section of the play we are left with a real woman having to come to terms with a horrible reality. Interestingly the point is made that it is not the wild abandon itself which causes the atrocity but her refusal to acknowledge the God and her subsequent repression of ecstasy. I suppose it is what happens when people get drunk and the demons are released.

What this play is is first and foremost is an experience. It does not feel like a regular play at all to me. It opens your mind and emotions in the way Dionysos says he does himself. Yet it does not do this in any kind of pofaced way. It is both ironic and funny

When I was starting my training in Chekhov Technique, I remember Fern Sloan, one of the foremost Chekhov teachers saying to me, “How could I really use my personal experience to access someone like Medea?”.  This is so true. When I consider the dark places to which the Bacchae ultimately travels, to ask anyone, and particularly young actors, to ‘go there’ without effective technique based on body and imagination, is to my mind both dangerous and irresponsible. What the technique brings up, though still profound and deep, is not tapping into the actor’s personal experience directly. Working this way, through body and imagination first to access feelings, qualities and sensations, allows the performer access to that depth without hurting themselves.

Of course this does not mean that actors who use Chekhov do not have to be cautious, and the issue of really shaking out the feelings from the body is a very important part of the work, to cleanse the body.

Check out the promo

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-O6Ksjqib_SU3c3NHlQYWdjME0/view?usp=sharing

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Sarah O’Beirne and Shannon Mchugh [photo Melinda Szuts]

Come and join us in the Bacchic Dance!  The play runs from the 14th-18th of February in The Mick Lally Theatre performed by students of the NUI Galway Theatre programme. Tickets are available from Socsbox (091 492852) and Druid ( https://druid.ticketsolve.com/#/shows/ .

 

Getting Down With The Greeks

In The Empty Space, Peter Brook describes directing as ‘having a hunch’ . Yet how many directors consider their work to make a concept and fit the actors within it, usually within a set and costume design already decided upon? This destroys the creative voice of the actor as artist and reduces them to a performing animal. As an actor once myself I remember trying to get my undisclosed feelings and ideas for the character ‘under the radar’ of a director, visible to me if no one else. All too often, the success of the actor is measured and perceived solely in how much he can encapsulate the director’s vision, very often a vision which is borne from someone who never stepped upon a stage at all. We, as audience, often blame the actor or the playwright for the disjointedness we feel when we watch such a piece when very often it is the director who is primarily responsible for this sense of ‘un ease’. Whîlst the director is the conductor, he is essentially part of an organic team. I feel this organic work has to happen from the start and talking needs to be limited in order that everyone can experience in their body and imagination what the play is about.

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working with archetypes

I walked into my preparation week with student actors for our production of David Greig’s version of Euripides Bacchae with some preparation done but I knew that the evolving work within that four day process would be totally transformative. I felt I was more open actually than I have ever been before. Of course my openness did not mean that I had no preparation done myself, I had done a phenomenal amount of work, but very very few decisions, including practical ones had been made. Hunches was what there was along with one version of a song, and a strong belief in my cast. I think this faith in the group is one of the key things I have learned in directing students in particular, though it’s something you need at whatever level you are directing. Trust however requires a lot of experience and a lot of faith. It also requires an acknowledgement that parts of your concept as it grows and accommodates the group will evolve, change and develop.

Michael Chekhov composition work to find a shape to the work is particularly fascinating when you are dealing with a play which though structured, appears to have a complex narrative of dovetailing stories interspersed with songs and chants which in a way appear at first glance to bear little relation to reality as we understand it… Dionysos allows himself to be captured and humiliated, rather like Christ, even though he has the power to destroy them all. The play shows two polarised way of being and living with catastrophic and brutal results. It begs you to take sides in the debate.. Whose side are we on ultimately? How do we want the audience to feel? How do we begin with the city of Thebes? What does it represent for us now? is it a sad place, a happy place, a place of order and harmony or rigid obedience? The play pits the imagination, and wild creativity against the colder intellect, very much a Michael Chekhov theme. As if by magic, after our tableaux work, the story appeared to have a much more obvious simplicity than it at first appeared. It’s far from set though we can see the options. When I directed Caucasian Chalk Circle last year we made I think, four endings and did not decide on the final one until almost the end.

One of the aspects of M. Chekhov’s work I love the most is his insistence on the responsibility of the artist to open up issues for us and our audiences and for plays to have something important to say to us NOW. The answers The Bacchae presents, if it presents any at all, are visceral relevant and real, if we remember that despite the fact that climate change is a reality and Nature is becoming wilder and more unpredictable, one of the principal leaders in the Western World is a denier of that reality. This is not the only level on which you can see this play but it is one of them. Because it is primarily a dramatic poem, it has a multiplicity of levels on which it can be seen. that is what makes it both fascinating and tricky, because you don’t want to prevent that multiplicity by being too literal with one overriding interpretation.
In addition to the strengths of the group I was also aware of limitations in time and training. We did a lot of training in these first days but I was concerned about the question of mask work, which, besides requiring thorough and precise choreography required complete feeling within the body at every single moment . At any time when that expression of the body was absent the performer simply disappeared. But the masks which are only to be worn by the Chorus, besides being quintessentially part of the Greek Theatre Experience enabled a number of things; firstly they clarified character; second they enable men as well as women to play the Bacchae; thirdly they take us away from the idea that these are a gang of women who are out on a hen night but show them as wild female forces of nature. That can only be a plus.

looking so forward to continuing the work next week.

The Bacchae by David Greig after Euripides will be performed by students of The Centre for Drama Theatre and Performance in conjunction with Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland  at the Mick Lally theatre  in Druid Lane Galway Ireland from Feb 14th – 18th. 

Poetic Power

When I won the first Apples and Snakes Performance Poet of the year back in ’94, in truth I was joint winner, I knew then that there was another exciting way to combine rhythm and poetry and theatrical performance. Of course I was not the first to discover it (grin) but right then anything like poetic drama seemed to be either from another time or extremely avant garde, pretentious and have nothing to do with the real world . It was around that time that things started to change, especially of course with the advent of rap.

Poetry makes a small cast into an epic production. The heightening of language takes us to places naturalism cannot go easily. It is so thrilling and powerful and really digs in to the stuff that is going on underneath. Naturalism is powerful because it dwells on the specific realism of a situation but poetry helps us to find a myriad of truths and levels.

In 1996 I wrote a radio play about racism for the BBC called Albion Tower which went on to win a Sony for best production and an award from the Commission for Racial Equality for best radio play on racial issues. The play which had Peter Jeffries, James Ellis, and Nicholas Bailey in the leads took place in a tower block in the Midlands of the UK . It was almost entirely in verse and had a story based around the Tower of Babel. The young black British boy Edison at the centre of the story played loud rap and reggae in his hard-to-let tower block flat, driving his neighbour Bill, an old white widower, mad. In order to fight back, Bill starts to play World War 2 themes through the wall and slowly but surely everyone in the block adds their own music creating chaos. Eventually the music stops after a distraught child throws herself off the roof of the block. Edison, the young boy, thought entirely in rap, though his ‘realistic’ dialogue was everyday. This was very experimental at the time and was unusual in its use of poetry in a realistic setting.

Subsequently in Ireland I wrote a play for youth theatre called Alien Nation, published by the National Association of Youth Drama in Ireland about racism amongst young people and used a whole range of rap and rhythm in conjunction with short sharp scenes to explore the subject. I still find now that when I am working with young people they key in to this rhythm work quickly and easily.

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Right now I am working as a director with poet Lorna Shaughnessy and three actors on a series of her poems about the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, The Sacrificial Wind. What’s fascinating here is the way it melds the universality of themes with strikingly relevant and beautiful imagery. Interestingly Greek tragedy only allowed three speaking actors (though there was also a chorus). The actors wore masks of course so one actor could easily play many roles, and it is another connection that our piece also has three performers too.

It is powerful stuff and relevant; beginning firstly with Euripides the playwright in exile pondering on writing a version of the Iphigenia story in order to say something about war and his time, he asks us what can we actually do in times of cruelty and war? Does he show her sacrifice in all its gory detail to shock his audience or does he show the other version where Iphigenia is snatched away by a goddess just in time to spend the rest of her life as a priestess in a foreign land to make them feel more positive about the story? The poetry takes us through the sacrifice and all the major players in that decision; how they collude, permit and act so that the engine of war and vanity can be pursued. Like many acts of unbelievable brutality a juggernaut of violence is set in motion that no one seems interested or able to stop. It sounds grimly familiar. The second half and I believe the heart of the piece deals with the consequences, most especially for the damaged women of Agamemnon’s family.

It is having one performance on November 24th at 1pm in the Centre for Drama Theatre and Performance (next to the Bank of Ireland Theatre) though we are expecting to have more. It is part of the Arts in Action programme at NUI Galway and entrance is free.