Tag Archives: Theatre Education

The Alchemy of Character

discovering

I am looking forward to my next in the room ‘liveday’ workshop here in Galway City which I am running with guest tutor Niall Colleary from ATU Sligo. After the first exuberant ‘liveday’ which I ran with colleague Declan Drohan which focussed on using the Chekhov Technique to connect to ourselves and the audience, this time we are going to spend the day working on connecting to the character and in turn to the other characters in the play.

For this we are mainly going to delve into the psychological gesture, perhaps the signature element of the Michael Chekhov technique. Like all of the elements, pg as it is called, has a phenomenal depth of intricacies and variations, but it revolves around a simple idea, that how and what we feel and the intention of our character, can be illuminated specifically through the body. The wonders of this apparently simple idea can unearth so many choices for the actor. The use of gesture can mushroom out into finding character journeys through scenes and whole plays in addition to our purposes to exploring a particular scene.

Another aspect of this character discovery is the how; how we respond to the other character in the scene with us and what does their gesture (or intention) do to the character we ourselves are playing? Perhaps it even changes the gesture we are doing. But let us imagine that we will not change the gesture for our scene but keep with that same one. Even in a long scene a gesture can hold true (even in a whole play!). It might be more dependent on what qualities or the tempo you invest it with. Let’s consider Macbeth and lady Macbeth in an early scene; do her taunts  ( a poking , pushing gesture perhaps) make him contract his energy? If her poking gesture is slow and deliberate how does that affect him? Is that the way she always taunts him, when he is not ‘manly’? Or Does his refusal to act initially make her more grasping and desperate ( more of a reach)? How does this affect their gestures to each other? How does it change the quality of their gesture? The gesture cannot be used like a frantic emotional fuel pump, it needs some flexibility.

In this liveday during the application section of our day we are going to focus specifically on how to take this element of the technique into practise so that we can act naturalistically but with the power of what we have discovered through the psychological gesture, still stay true to the gesture, the character and our interaction with the other actor, ‘ veiling’ to use Chekhov’s term, or concentrating the essence of the gesture within us so it still moves within us. This approach transforms our acting.

Workshops in the room

The first is called Connecting to the Actor/Character, working with Energy/ Pause/ Psychological Gesture using short scenes and short scenes. This workshop will pay especial attention to applying the work. July 9th. 10-4 tutors Max Hafler and Niall Colleary.

The second will be focussing on Connecting to the World of the Play and the Production.  which will focus on atmosphere, the Feeling of Form and the Feeling of the  Whole. Michael Chekhov believed that whilst there was a different contribution made by actors director and all theatre artists, that somehow there needed to be something of a unified creative vision. It was an essential component to creating a satisfying and powerful piece of theatre. August 13 10-4. Venue NUIG tutor Max Hafler

Each workshop will cost 60€ singly , €100 if you book for both.

email chekhovtpi@gmail.com

Exploring our Impulse – Chekhov courses

IT STRIKES ME THAT WHENEVER WE LEARN ANYTHING  IT IS USEFUL FOR US TO RETURN TO EXPLORE BASIC PRINCIPLES. And to do it without fear or favour, to treat our exercises with the same openness we found the very first time we did them or even beyond that, with even more spontaneity and wonder.  Practise creates ease but can also create a laziness or lack of attention in the performer rendering the technique nowhere near as potent. The Chekhov Technique is no exception to this rule .

Whilst those of us have felt rushes of imagination and sensation almost from the first moment we began to use the Technique and gasped at how we could find feelings and transform character, I found  myself that it was quite easy to get seduced into adapting a kind of ‘default’ mentality repeating movements moving with stock feelings ; this had to be worked through. Eventually through exercising the Higher Ego as Chekhov described it , what we might consider a kind of artistic eye on our process, we can discern and explore bravely at the same time. Peter Brook the famous theatre director and teacher, likened exercises to the weeding of a garden, how the actor had to continually ‘weed’ their creative patch in order to let creativity flourish. Musicians, dancers do not baulk at this – but actors can be a different story.

The expansive nature of this Chekhov work is liberating for a whole raft of creative activity, not just for acting . What working online with these basic principles can do can really encourage you is to be both alone with yourself working on the technique in parallel to working with the group and discussing what is happening to you when you do the exercises. So often in the room participants can become over- intoxicated with the intensity of it.

So for those of you who are going to join the four introductory online workshops, Practical Magic: Imagination and Body beginning 4TH MAY from 6 – 7.30 Irish Time (GMT + 1) run by my friend and colleague Declan Drohan and myself, we are going to explore Four elements of these beginning principles. The First is Expansion and contraction and the Six Directions, the second the Four qualities of Movement , the third Concentration, Images and Attention and the fourth what is known as the four Brothers, what chekhov saw as the Four basic essential elements for art. 

Join us. If you wish to sign up email chekhovtpi@gmail.com. Our first LIVE DAY is also filling up fast. Thats on May 28th in Nuns Island Arts Centre.

Both of these courses are going to be a joyous remeeting of some of the basics of the Michael Chekhov technique to reawaken and reconnect.

PRACTICAL MAGIC / IMAGINATION AND THE BODY  ONLINE MAY 4/11/18/25TH

A revisiting connecting up the body, imagination, feelings and voice which are at the absolute core of the Michael Chekhov approach.

Wednesday 6.00pm – 7.30 pm cost 85 waged/65 low waged/ 45 unwaged.

THE THEATRE OF JOY MAY 28TH 10-4 NUNS ISLAND ARTS CENTRE GALWAY IN THE ROOM

Activate – Connect – Radiate venue Nuns Island Arts Centre Galway. 

After our long Covid hibernation, Max and Declan invite you to a day long, celebratory return to live engagement.

We will explore breath, connection , energy, playfulness and ensemble . We will stoke the fires of imagination and begin to chart our course for future work….

‘But goes thy heart with this?’

Yet again I was dazzled yesterday by the power of the Michael Chekhov Technique in my Masters class which gave me a different take on the play we are working with King Lear.  We did an exercise around the image centres of the character first taught me by the wonderful Dawn Arnold many years ago.  I remember saying at the time after we had done this exercise that it felt like the characters had come into the room and met each other, that the room at moments was full of the play we were working on. Many of my students, despite masks and social distancing had the same response yesterday.

The exercise is the culmination of a whole number of exercises, so if you are reading this as someone new to this work it may not work for you if you just jump to this exercise, without doing the earlier ones. But listen to what happened and you will get an impression of the discoveries made.

It involves finding the character’s centre, by imagining an image in a part of your body which for you represents the character’s centre, their soul, their engine if you like; what is powering them inside. You work with that image and react to it and it stirs the character’s sensations , energy and feelings. For instance, if you are playing Juliet and imagine she has the image of a lighted candle in her chest, you might get a sense of her determination and fragility. Imagine you are radiating that energy and if you are sensitive to it, , you will immediately feel different; you might even move differently. What I mean by that  is that it makes you feel like a different person in a very deep way.

Back to Lear. Each character working from their character centre entered the circle and slowly looked and exchanged their energy with each of the other characters; they radiated and received. I immediately got a sense that the people in the room were not the people in the room. They were a version, often a powerful one, of the characters in the play.

Once you can commit to this imaginative process, something can happen as you start to realise the possible relationships, resentments and passions which each character excites in the other. This can be really thrilling .

Yesterday, the most powerful one for me which opened up a lot of doors to the play was the moment Goneril met Cordelia. Cordelia was strong but still vulnerable. You could see Goneril really hated her . I felt the elder sister tried to dominate her but the longer they exchanged energy the weaker Goneril got. She kept trying to rally against her ( all this was incredibly subtle, there was no actual physical action) but Goneril could not win. When the actor playing Lear entered the space bringing the feeling of a repressed time bomb and really yelled at Goneril, I started to get a strong view of the family dynamic, of this raging volatile parent who could just explode in a moment, and who was incapable of really giving his love. Later I wondered whether everyone hated Goneril.

It made me consider that in this play perhaps the dynamic is actually about love and all the things that spring from it, selflessness, selfishness, jealousy, rage…when it has not been tended and acknowledged.

So my thoughts turned to Edmund and Edgar. In what seems like an insignificant lead up to the big first scene , Gloucester presents Edmund, his illegitimate son, to Kent, on the one hand boasting and on the other deeply embarassed by the young man. He barely lets Edmund speak. Could it be that Edmund’s revenge is also about a childhood with no love or respect? I have always considered Edmund a glorious Machiavellian villain, but this suggestion of a lack of love takes me and the play somewhere else.

It’s funny these discoveries sound very much like an acting technique which focusses on the intellect and the character biography and yet these discoveries were not thoughts but came from actions; ways of behaving, they sprung from interaction, images; and all this in spite of masks and social distancing. I am still surprised when these things happen to me and my students during Chekhov exercises, without much discussion where a new window to the play is suggested by a powerful exercise courageously performed.

An Atmosphere For ‘Calvary’

Members of our Full Of Music Class were asked by Declan my colleague and co-teacher, whether we imagined a feeling of Now or biblical times in our creation of Atmosphere for the short play CALVARY; most of the people said, ‘now’. Why? Here is a play by Yeats from the early 20th Century about Christ’s road to Calvary that feels so pertinent to right this minute. And  with the exploratory infinite tool of the Imagination we can build our bridge from what appears to be arcane material and bring it to the world.

Of course one of the great things about using Yeats is his absolute involvement with the polarity between MATERIAL and the SPIRIT. This particular play, rather like RESURRECTION is dealing with similar themes. The world we are shown in both plays is on the edge of an abyss, ready to tear itself apart. Michael Chekhov himself, through the Russian revolution, the uprooting and torturing of populations during the Second World War, the atomic bomb etc etc. was also living in such times. That is one of the reasons I think that Yeats and Chekhov fit so perfectly together. In our own sci-fi / biblical world it seems disturbingly pertinent.

We are co-leading the class and Declan was leading the creation of Atmosphere section which he did in such a way as to keep us completely free. This gave me the freedom  in this bit of the class to explore as a participant. People came up with amazing stuff; stuff you could build into a  whole production which would give you what Chekhov calls a Feeling of The Whole; rich and diverse responses that could bind a whole piece together.

In order to reveal something of how this works, I would like to share what I saw and experienced because as the Atmosphere became specific it created a whole world for me, a way of being and relating this archaic and arcane play to now, without, and this is important, too much intellectual interference. I did not have to think about this ; it emerged from my imagination.

Atmosphere is one of the most powerful elements of the Chekhov work. For those reading this who might be unfamiliar, Chekhov asks us as artists to create atmosphere around us for the play. It creates an Imaginative response to the play which does not involve us talking endlessly about it but is more akin to the alchemical response between reader and the written word. It can often be surprising and deep. 

What did I experience in my Atmosphere of Calvary? ? I felt a heavy dryness. Sometimes blisteringly hot; other times cold. And a road. The place was a flat desert like a Salvador Dali painting. There was also a pavement on each side of this road. This pavement was made of brown warm stones. It was safe and comforting to stand there….. As a member of the mob my energy and focus was into the centre of this road. Between the pavement and the road were dark wooden sleepers and in the road itself where Jesus walked, sharp stones and broken glass. The road was not straight but jagged like a piece of the broken glass of which it was made.  This was the path of Jesus, ,He was walking slowly and had a determined look on his face. His forward energy was strong and lifted though his feet were bleeding. Though he was in pain he was already somewhere else. The mob were terrified of him though they yelled and swore at him, rooting their feet firmly on their warm stones, feeling safety in numbers and their energy rooting them down ; though they were also magnetised towards Christ as if he was taunting them by his very presence. They were afraid that they too could end up on that bloody path. When we were asked to take on the Archetype of the Mother and created a shape for her, I felt one foot on the glass and another foot on the warm stones. This was not my path. I could not take that path and yet I suffered it and felt pulled towards Christ.  

I thought about this a lot when the class was over, realising how much deeper was my understanding of the play through creating this imagery and how particular it was. I considered other characters in the story and with my own work with the group we got more variation and more depth again. It made me consider the other characters, the soldiers, Lazarus and Judas and made me wonder what they were doing there, confronting Christ. were they too on the road of shards or were they running on the pavement , keeping up, accusing him from the sideline as they pushed past the other observers? As i write this, I think of the the road to Calvary suddenly like a river, with everyone else responding from the banks…. a different image which would create a totally different response, a totally different feel, a totally different production. 

Gloomy I know but amazing that the imagination has this power.  

This class continues for two more weeks and then we move on to no small parts, an online class dealing with using Chekhov technique to work on small roles. email chekhovtpi@gmail.com

To be “full of music” – what it might mean and why we should do it

“We have to be full of music.”

This quote from Michael Chekhov comes from LESSONS FOR TEACHERS and was a speech he gave to students after a visit by Uda Shankar, when he and his musicians came to play for them on October 6th 1936. In the speech Chekhov talks about the discovery of a new international culture, a culture which respects the last but does not hold onto it too fiercely. He talks as always eloquently about technique and how that can be the vehicle that moves us forward through the then and now uncertain times.

When I was a child, one of the reasons I loved acting was that you could try it then and there, with no practising and no technique . You could, as I thought, learn through experience. But this is of course only partly true because without technique your acting can be very thin and unfulfilling indeed. If you are a musician or a dancer it would be inconceivable to perform without practise and technique. It would, in the dancer’s case, be positively dangerous.

One of the great things the right technique can give you is a feeling of texture and depth and that I believe comes partly from the attitude that the practise of technique gives you; a sense of dedication and a sense that what you are doing as an artist has relevance.

In On the Technique of Acting, by Michael Chekhov, there is an epigraph by philosopher Walter Pater, “ all art aspires to the condition of music” . What does this mean? 

When I listen to a symphony there is rhythm, pace, tempo, colour, movement and depth….so often this is missing in plays, tv and film. Music has an intangible fulfilling depth. The Aurora orchestra recently performed Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite at a recent BBC prom. They frequently play standing, from memory and with no music stands . Why do they play their instruments standing up and why do they bother learning the music off by heart, some one asked . There were two rather tart answers to this question; “it’s just a gimmick” “It must take so long to rehearse and cost so much money.” When I saw these insensitive responses I felt very sad. There is energy moving through the body in the dance of fingers, arms, mouths and breath to make eloquent sound, sound for which there is no words  but a huge depth of feeling/ meaning. This is what Pater and Chekhov mean I think in their quotes. We have to be full of vibrant movement and energy. This is not just relevant for Art but for Life as well.

In order to express this energy in a play or film as performers (or audience for that matter) we need to develop our sense of the intangible. Declan Drohan and I are exploring how to access these elements of The Michael Chekhov Work in four online workshops entitled, ‘We Have to be full of Music”. (see below for details). There are still a few places remaining.

Four sessions online with Max Hafler and Guest Declan Drohan 

4.00 – 6.00 (27TH AUGUST – 17TH SEPTEMBER)

This quote from Michael Chekhov highlights the idea that we need to treat our plays like a piece of music and we want to explore this using the short play by Yeats, CALVARY. Made up with Chorus of Musicians , spoken solos and duets, Calvary is an ideal piece to explore this aspect of the Chekhov work. Rhythm, Tempo  and a Feeling of Wholeness which comes from feelings, images, form and the direction of energy, gives our performances life. Harnessing this energy is crucial to creating work on both stage and film and making connection.  For performers, directors and explorers.

COST 80 WAGED/ 60 part time/ 45 unwaged 

email chekhovtpi@gmail.com

visit http://www.chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com

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Magic, Manifestos, Pathways and Learning

After plenty of thought I am keeping our Chekhov Technique courses online until January 2022. I have made no secret of the amazing discoveries we have found in this new format and you can read up on them below in other blog posts if you would like to join us; a way of keeping your creativity open and alive and giving you more of an opportunity to share your discoveries with like-minded others.  One of the things I have found is an unbelievable focus and an easier ability to analyse and flyback after exploring, through experiencing the exercise and sharing what we found there. It feels like a great way to learn and really go deep into certain aspects of the technique.

Aurelie de Foresta working with The Christmas Carol.

Of course it is not the same experience as working in the studio, which has its own visceral advantages; but it’s convenient , cheaper and enables participants to really touch base with like minded others and learn with them wherever they might be in the world. Eventually I want to work with my students both online and in the studio. That would be my ideal.

We can be in no doubt that in addition to all the other things going wrong in our world right now I feel our creativity and imagination is really under attack and under resourced; the cuts to arts in education are a real marker for this. In many academic institutions there has been a real lack of resourcing of proper hours for training as if it was a very low priority to learn how to perform, say, before you start teaching others and researching something you have experienced mainly from a lecture or a book. This  tragic downgrading of imagination, practical training  and the lack of understanding of how to train it is not only in drama but in many other areas too. It is a path of great error. We have to remember that the imagination is revolutionary in itself and is seen as provocative and dangerous because it encourages creativity and individuality.

There was an amazing moment during the First Night of the Proms which I saw on BBC4 last week (before a modest audience this year) when they performed Vaughn Williams’ Serenade to Music conducted by Dalia Stasevska and performed by  the BBC Symphony Orchestra when, after the final bars , a long pause was held; silence fell but the vibrations were still filling the air. It was incredibly moving. It was, to quote Chekhov, the “Intangible made Tangible”. Those vibrations would not have been as powerful had there not been a live audience and even though I was not in the Albert Hall myself I felt that difference. On the other hand, the fact that I could feel them even though I was not at the actual event said something too about our power to reach into the tv or computer screen and make the powerful connection we need to make.

So what have we to do? The road back is so complex. Many artists are courageously training and performing with masks and working with all the restrictions. In my college courses, I will be working in Voice and Chekhov technique in-the-room working within the restrictions. It means, unless protocols change, I will be able to experience my students but rarely see their faces; no one will be able to make physical contact. Performances too need to be courageous, stirring their audiences to some kind of action. In addition pieces are being created online; powerful stirring pieces. I directed one earlier this year, an online project called THE SACRIFICIAL WIND by Lorna Shaughnessy, previously a theatre piece . It has been shown a few times and soon will be presented in a couple more festivals. I was sent recently a short film called LOCKDOWN DROWNTOWN , with a number of dancers in their rooms, expressing and exploring lockdown through amazingly powerful dance.

But in addition to making projects, we need to continue developing the depth of our work. Over the year I have been running online workshops. Like everyone I stumbled a little in the beginning, but from the start I felt that all who participated were doing something for their health, their creativity and in some ways something subversive, united  and powerful, as if we were performing in a cellar with limited rehearsal and resources and modest audience in some repressive regime – and that we were all, and will continue to keep something alive. This might sound grandiose but it isn’t. There is a heroism here however we seek to open our hearts  and practise our art.

Patrick O’Malley as Agamemnon in Sacrificial Wind

COURSES

So the first workshop up is a free intro one on Psychological Gesture on 26th August 5 – 6.30 . All you need to do is let me know at chekhovtpi@gmail.com giving a little information as to your interest and back ground. It need not be a long note but i want to get a feeling of whether the workshop will be something you will feel comfortable with.

Second up starts the next day on the 27th entitled We Have To Be Full of Music which I am running with my colleague Declan Drohan. there are a series of four workshops of two hours each. there is a payment for this one

WE HAVE TO BE FULL OF MUSIC. 

Rhythm, Tempo, Colour and Wholeness

Four sessions online with Max Hafler and Guest Declan Drohan 

4.00 – 6.00 (27TH AUGUST – 17TH SEPTEMBER)

This quote from Michael Chekhov highlights the idea that we need to treat our plays like a piece of music and we want to explore this using the short play by Yeats, CALVARY. Made up with Chorus of Musicians , spoken solos and duets, Calvary is an ideal piece to explore this aspect of the Chekhov work. Rhythm, Tempo  and a Feeling of Wholeness which comes from feelings, images, form and the direction of energy, gives our performances life. Harnessing this energy is crucial to creating work on both stage and film and making connection.  For performers, directors and explorers.

COST 80 WAGED/ 60 part time/ 45 unwaged 

Thirdly there is No Small Parts which is more of an application class for training in the real, more commercial world of the working actor.

A modicum of experience of the Chekhov technique (no more than 12 participants)

4 Sessions : tutor Max Hafler 27TH SEPTEMBER – 18TH OCTOBER

4.00 – 5.30

Small roles in plays or films can be an extraordinary problem for an actor and yet the majority of us are in that situation. Our ego tells us we have loads to offer and yet we have to fit into this project with energy when we may have only a few minutes stage/screen time. Yet our contribution can be enormous and telling under the right circumstances. Looking at Brecht, Shakespeare, Chekhov and a modern TV script, we will explore and share this dilemma using the Michael Chekhov technique to find the balance.

COST 60 waged/45low waged/ 35 unwaged

Climbing Into the Language. Working with Chekhov Technique and Voice 

10-30. – 16.30 29th October

Working with Keats’ Ode To Autumn, we will be exploring the poem by ‘climbing into the language ‘ – a wonderful expression by one of my participants this year. Working with atmosphere and several of the techniques I have developed over my years as a director and voice teacher which mix Chekhov and voice training methods. We will rediscover the power of the word, its direction, colour and atmosphere both alone and then in phrases. 

A limit of ten people for this workshop

35 waged/20 unwaged

Thoughts on Finishing the Book.

Finally the proofs of ‘What Country Friends is this?’, are gone to Nick Hern Books. Viola the girl plucked from the sea whose brother she believes is drowned speaks this line as she arrives on the shores of the dreamlike country of Illyria. It seemed like an apt title for a book about working on Shakespeare and Chekhov Technique, working with young actors, be they in youth theatre, school or on college courses. It would, I believe be useful too for young directors.

It covers basic work, voice and ensemble, teaching and directing. Whilst essentially a book of practical exercises I hope it explores much of the philosophy on the power of theatre particularly as it pertains to the involvement and education of young actors. This philosophy is not something floaty or esoteric but something visceral and gutsy and alive which can be transmitted and shared. I feel that working creatively, developing your imagination, listening to your body, finding your voice and connecting them all together is amongst the most powerful gifts you can offer to people. I truly hope that the book gives teachers/facilitators/ directors this feeling of my own passion and belief in theatre and the arts in general. You may not always agree with my approach but I hope it will stimulate you to find your own way.

The book, which uses scenes from many Shakespeare plays, culminates in exploring a foundation week plan for a production of Twelfth Night which I did with students on the Drama programme at the National University of Ireland Galway in 2018. I feel I want to offer a special thanks to them for their extraordinary commitment to the adventure we went on.

It is a strange feeling when you finish a practical book which covers such an important part of your life ; for me the book is like a vessel for holding experience which can then be shared, the learning I have gleaned from those who taught me and of course especially the young actors I have worked with. I have felt this sense of completion even more with my two teaching books than with plays I have written. 

Making the book , getting it out there (It was due to be out last year but got delayed because of Covid) gives one’s experience even more meaning than it had before. I realised this when TEACHING VOICE came out in 2016. It is a great opportunity.

check it out on www.nickhernbooks.co.uk to prebook.

Through short scenes we can find a whole world, a whole production or a whole direction for the character if we only have the courage to embrace them…

Michael Chekhov gave a particular suggestion when directing which can be terrifying to actors, He suggested not to direct the play in sequence, to sometimes take the performers by surprise. It suggests to me that working with short snippets of scenes from all over the play, can actually open the doors and reveal amazing aspects of the characters’ relationship to each other, and suggest the atmospheres in which they might exist.

In the course I am leading called TO BE OR NOT TO BE each participant creates their imaginary production in which they will play the central character of Hamlet. They then apply things they have discovered about their production to one of the big central soliloquies of Hamlet. So we begin in directing territory and continue into acting territory. Michael Chekhov says in To The Actor:-

“A good actor must acquire the director’s broad all-embracing view of the performance as a whole if he is to compose his own part in full harmony with it.”

My thinking behind this is to link directly our imaginative discoveries to the performances we give, and stop over-thinking and over-talking to the extent that  these ideas remain just talk and do not feed into our experiential performance. The discoveries we make in workshop through our imagination can be revelatory and huge. Describing your image of Elsinore, or getting into your body one word or theme the play might be about  through gesture takes you off into worlds. This is similar to another thing teachers notice all the time, a question they ask…How can actors who produce amazing work in workshop find it so hard to use that work to make their performance deeper? For the word ‘workshop’ here you can substitute the word ‘rehearsal’. This course is an attempt to tackle that issue with my fellow explorers. 

Though everyone is to ultimately play Hamlet (which shows an extraordinary abundance of Hamlets and an amplification of the idea of Creative Individuality , something which underpins Chekhov’s work) we spent time exploring Hamlet’s relationship to others. for some reason Zoom lends itself to exploring these powerful moments. I don’t know why, perhaps because we are more focussed on the face of our partner. In the most recent session we explored rich short exchanges of big moments in Hamlet. Hamlet and Horatio as he attempts to tell his friend that the Ghost of his father is walking; the moment the Ghost tells his son that he has been murdered; the short exchange between Ophelia and Hamlet when she returns his gifts, and finally the initial exchange between Hamlet and Gertrude in her bedroom. 

We explored first through expansion and contraction  and then experiments in our pairs through particular Psychological Gesture. This opened up a wealth of possibilities One thing that occurred to me (we were an odd number so I partnered one of the group) when I was working as the ghost is that HOW the ghost  gives Hamlet the news, perhaps with love, perhaps psychologically lifting his son in order to prepare him for the massive task in hand, or perhaps entrapping him and forcing him to take revenge or a whole myriad of other possibilities completely dictates aspects of the production way beyond how I, the actor, Max wishes to play the role. Obviously with the actor playing young Hamlet this is an obvious observation but it is true of any of the major characters.

This is proving an exciting exploration and one which is hoping to help us really connect the role of the actor with that of the director and enable participants to truly connect their vast imaginative plain with the root of their performance.

After this course which ends in two weeks, CTPI is taking a break till the end of August where we will still be online. More on that later, and on my upcoming book, “What country Friends is This?” on Shakespeare, Chekhov Technique and young people which has been delayed due to Covid but which should be out before too long published by Nick Hern Books

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.

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