Tag Archives: Theatre Training

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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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.

Artistic Choices

Lately I have been thinking a lot about directing through Chekhov Technique and how to help people  make choices, given the myriad opportunities offered through the Chekhov elements you can apply to a role or production. How does one make these choices? It can be confusing! These confusions are in all acting techniques of course, but with Chekhov the palette we create with is so utterly rich that it can seem overwhelming. When I first started with the Chekhov technique I was extremely daunted by all available possibilities for the character and when I asked one of my extremely wise teachers, they said, “there will just come a time when you will know what to use.” To some extent over the years, I have found this to be true but when you are teaching the technique in short courses or for a production, people need to feel some confidence quickly or the technique they learn may well stay locked in the workshop (or Zoom) room. It is a leap that people have to make between understanding and trusting themselves and the technique, and then learning to filter out what works for them for a particular character or production. It is something I am working with a lot with my Hamlet class.

In The lightbulb-like Chart for Inspired Acting in Michael Chekhov’s On The Technique of Acting, it is suggested that once we find one element and light then lots of the other bulbs will ‘go on’ automatically. There is some truth in this I think; when you discover an atmosphere for a character , an imaginary centre may come automatically or a vision of the physical body of the character. However, I would suggest that starting from an atmosphere, for instance will not necessarily yield the same results as when you start or express the character through psychological gesture. The character might have a different sort of base line or emphasis.

I wondered if there might be a way of actually putting the exercises into further categories to help us make decisions about what to use. Whilst on the one hand this feels horribly compartmentalising it might feel something like clarity. Forgive me because you will need to know something about Chekhov Technique to get the most out of this.

When I am directing I look at the play, consider my available timetable and then decide what elements I have to focus on. I would not focus on the same elements if I was directing The Importance of Being Earnest as opposed to Othello. Of course there are other considerations; the level that the actor is on, and how comfortable they are working with the technique. There is also the issue of time constraints. 

It seems to me there are overall three types of Chekhov elements (I try to avoid the use of the word ‘tools’ which does not feel right for me). The first covers the basic range of the instrument; the Four Brothers; opening oneself to the power of imagination: radiating/receiving (which includes centres); understanding and developing sensitivity to directions of energy(understanding the body as a membrane or vehicle for energy) ; listening and acting on the sensations and feelings thrown up by gesture in the body (looking again at directions and qualities of movement) ; understanding and being able to use these elements of the work by concentrating their effects within the body and letting them act on you. 

Secondly there seem to be the elements of the work which are primarily expansive  and imaginative like atmosphere , both personal and general , archetypes, imaginary centres; elements which puts the performer and character in a kind of imaginative vortex, more powerful than we ourselves, whilst at the  same time with us being the creators of it. General atmosphere appears to come from outside us yet paradoxically, we are the creators. In this second group i might suggest that the imagination leads the Body

Finally there are those elements which give us structure; psychological gesture, Form, basic centre, triplicity, form and polarities. These are elements which seem to provide a somewhat structured understanding to our creative endeavours and give some of the more imaginative and expansive elements, a definite focus.  In this case the Body tends to lead the Imagination.

If this is true, and I would be interested to hear your comments, then I wonder whether this helps in any way to assisting with choices for actor or director. If you ask the question what do you need for the character/production most importantly at the start, putting the exercises into three basic types might be helpful. 

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

God bless Us, Everyone!

Here is, as Chekhov might say, my ‘lab assistant’ moment after four on your feet weeks looking at Atmosphere and A Christmas Carol. After the final session, I felt we could have gone on for three weeks as some of the participants started to create pieces around episodes in the book. It made me realise yet again the profundity of exploring something through the Chekhov Technique especially through atmosphere because it does not come through the direct route . What I mean is that exploring atmosphere is much less of an ego driven experience. You are not considering what a character is doing you are creating an atmosphere when as Lenard Petit says, “the atmosphere is playing you”; in other words you are surrendering to the moment and not involving yourself too much in whether you are doing it right or doing what the character might want. You are seeking the character who is responding to outside influences which your imagination is creating.

I said in my last blog that a rich vein for us with the character of Scrooge was a general atmosphere of Generosity surrounding , enveloping and swirling around a tight package of meanness . How the personal atmosphere dwelt in and managed the general atmosphere gave a strong prompt to the conflicting problems of Scrooge; how he managed them and how they made him feel. We had done some exploration of the atmosphere of the three ghosts, Past, Present and Future. But something we touched on yesterday were the Cratchits and a possible polarity in their situation and the atmosphere surrounding them . I suggested a personal atmosphere of happiness with a general one of drudgery.  It was extraordinary how, when the general one was added, the actors tended to lose a little of their sparkle in the greeting or work harder to break through the thick blanket of drudgery around them. The conflict gave texture.

As intrinsic as atmosphere is however, used alone it can give the characters a lack of agency and make them appear victims of everything that happens around them . It can also give the piece we create a lack of ‘feeling of the whole’. Whilst the reactions between personal and general may well provoke a response, they are not an act of will. So there is something the character is trying to ‘do’ irrespective of atmosphere, even though the atmosphere might distort and alter it. Let’s take the Cratchits again. Whilst on the one hand they may have a collective personal atmosphere of Happiness, amidst a General atmosphere of Drudgery, they are embracing each other, supporting each other, lifting each other, in very difficult circumstances; that is what they are doing, specifically and without that ‘doing’ we ignore the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of the character and the piece can easily lose its shape.

Without the atmosphere though, we lose what Chekhov calls, ‘the oxygen of the performance’. We need both.

Our work today made me feel that the book was not about Christmas at all, that Christmas was merely a symbol in the novel, a window of opportunity for us to be kinder to one another and see things differently; that Scrooge was Everyperson, not necessarily simply a mercantile miser from Dickens world, but someone given an opportunity , a magical opportunity to look at his whole life and consider how he has come to where he is, something we all do eventually, ruminating on our successes and failures, brave moments and cowardly moments, things we could have done better and things we should not have done at all. When Scrooge  accepts his life he then makes a choice and changes unequivocally. Ultimately we played a lot in class with the atmosphere of redemption/salvation.

God bless Us Everyone. (As Tim says)

The Most Important Thing

As I wind down my recent bank of online classes I reflect on what I have learned, most of which has been discussed in previous blog posts. It has been challenging and testing but extraordinarily rewarding ; finding ways to accent differently, aspects of the Chekhov Technique; to still be creative and exploratory. Now my groups will stop until September when a new batch will begin. This gives me a little chance to reflect. 

What am I doing? This question has been asked in our wonderful international group of Chekhov teachers which meets weekly as we consider more and more about what this shutdown means and our response , not just to the pandemic but to other issues in the world. The assembly of this group has been one of the more exciting things that has happened in the pandemic to me as we discuss everything pertaining to our work, comparing approaches, philosophy and more practical issues. It is a strong support and a fountain of wisdom.

I wrote something to the group …

We are hampered in our art because we cannot perform or teach in an actual space. So we are teaching (many of us online) like all artists in times of plague anyway we can. That is kind of revolutionary in itself. And it seems to me that if our purpose is to make the intangible tangible we can do that online almost as well as in the room. In some ways better than in the room because the participants are committing in their own space. In some ways it is more ‘out there’ but in a smaller more personal way…….This is not wasted activity but it is not going to topple Trump or Johnson or Bolsonaro. This seems to be one of the dilemmas. How do we affect change? Can we? What I am saying I think is that we can affect change but it is perhaps smaller and personal than we would like.

I thought back to when I was living through the AIDS pandemic. I am not trying to compare the pandemics here; but the challenge of facing into changing behaviour or dying was there. However, it is not the purpose of the story. In 1984 I was sitting in a sunny London park and someone I had worked with in a tv show cycled up to me. I had not liked him much and I didn’t want to talk but I could see that something had changed for him. He looked sour and stressed… he told me through a tight scornful mouth he had AIDS. Death strode through the bright sun, through the people lounging and playing in the park, towards us. He told me he had decided to stage a one man show because he did not know how long he would be alive. There was no cure for AIDS ( as there isn’t now). I listened inwardly with a fist of fear in my stomach as he spoke. I floundered awkwardly. I asked him why he wanted to put his energies into a show that would be poorly attended (as many one person shows are)? He said with great determination, “ because I believe the most important thing is to ‘do it’. That’s it. It doesn’t matter where you do it or how many people see it but that you do it.”

I have remembered that meeting since that moment. I do not remember how our conversation ended, nor whether he got to do his show. I did hear he had died.

So in answer to the question, ‘what am i doing?’ I answer, ‘I am doing it, because that is the most important thing’.

A final extract from my note to the group:

I think we are all in our ways trying to improve the perception and response of people; to get them to develop, transform, enrich and explore their spirit, in the way J – described towards the end. And this is not nothing. It is worthy of the ‘fire’ of which we were speaking. It is championing the spirit.

A Year of Workshops

It has been an amazing year of Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland workshops. Seven weekend workshop and one four-day summer school all well attended on various aspects of learning the Michael Chekhov Technique and involving some application of the tools. Each workshop has had its own unique atmosphere and feel of the learning we were all undertaking. Participants have really hurled themselves into the work in a most inspiring way and I have been fortunate this year to have a strong consistency in the group. This year also saw a collaboration with Declan Drohan of Sligo IT with whom I taught two of the workshops: Enter an Actor, working with Chekhov Technique and solo performance and this year’s summer school, Blood on Iron, working with Gesture, Archetypes and Composition using Buchner’s Woyzeck.

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Enter, An Actor

In our second workshop, The Epic Voice,  I was keen to offer some of my own developments of the Chekhov work focussing on Voice. Connecting the Voice to the Body and Imagination gives an incredible flexibility to tone and intention; it is so much more playful and surprising than a purely technical approach. We worked with poetry, in particular Afterwards by Thomas Hardy and the opening chorus of The Jealousy of Emer by Yeats. What was a really joyous experience was when I asked the groups to create a piece with sound and instruments based upon the poem, its rhythm and atmospheres.

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The Epic voice

The following workshop in March focused on Imaginary Centre and Imaginary Body and the play we used was Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. One of the things that resonated with me was how creating Imaginary Centres for the characters fulfilled the rules of Chekhov’s chart for Inspired Acting where getting one element of the technique could inform everything – Imaginary Centre could create atmosphere.

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Next up, in May, was a group working on devising and adaptation, using tools of composition, qualities of movement and atmosphere. We worked on the novel of Kafka’s The Trial and in two groups created powerful pieces, one from the beginning and one from the end. A major lesson for me was that instead of trying to create story first, it was more useful to begin by creating the imagery or the underlying world in which the story existed and then add the story later. This for me was quite a revelation and created two pieces of great richness .

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The Trial

In June (on the midsummer weekend) we worked primarily with Archetypes, which felt like a much freer workshop, and of course (finally) we were working with a comedy. The atmosphere was completely transformed in our workshop space. We worked a lot with Imaginative Voice too, marrying Chekhov’s psychological gesture with the way we used the language.

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In August Declan and myself explored composition, qualities and imagination, with a group for four days using Buchner’s Woyzeck. Despite my trepidation that this might be a gloomy choice of play, the mood was decidedly lifted by the dark satirical humour of it .We worked joyously with the Grotesque.  It was also wonderful to explore something short (something I rarely do!) that felt manageable. Declan and I are hoping to explore more in this way when we start to consider Chekhov technique with Brecht for three full days in January, working with Fear and Misery.

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October brought a workshop which primarily dealt with images on a play which was simply conversations and ideas, Churchill’s Love and Information. This workshop was a revelation in that exploring images first allowed the performer to use the imagination to play with the words and the situation in a really free way. It was a development, if you like, of the workshop in which we used The Trial and made me consider even more how to use the Chekhov technique with devised original shows.

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And finally, for our recent weekend, our committed group explored Good v Evil; playing King Lear. I wanted to really explore whether this idea of Good v Evil could be really used as a performance element as Chekhov suggested and in a way that was as nuanced as he described. I felt we most certainly could and that this was important for us as artists in these days when it is easy to obfuscate and confuse. This does not make the morality of the characters simpler but actually more complicated. We explored other polarities too pertaining to the play. We will be exploring Polarities further in the March workshop on Comedy when the whole thread of a character can be based upon the route between pain/pleasure, honesty/ deceit, hot/cold etc. etc.

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One of the things I have really gleaned from my committed groups this year is that the Chekhov process is one of simplicity and commitment from which emerges complexity; it is a complexity which is organic and it comes, not by knotting oneself to the literal limitations of ones own life, but by following the integrity of the Imagination; this process creates for the audience and performers both deep characters and fully rounded worlds.

Thank you to all the participants of this year’s courses.

Next year  –

In addition to our three spring workshops, we are very delighted to run a workshop led by Lenard Petit, director of The Michael Chekhov Acting Studio New York and author of The Michael Chekhov Handbook for the Actor. This workshop will run  May 22 -26th. This is most definitely a date for your Diary !

75429324_2135890316719738_2122911152257105920_oBooking now for our three workshops in January/February and March and Lenard Petit’s guest week,  check out www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com or the FB page or email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com

Like A Dog – Exploring Kafka’s Trial with Chekhov Technique

IMG_5791 copyI remember meeting a playwright who came to the university and he told us how a theatre company had asked him to write them a play. He agreed and, on the day he was to start, they brought in a large rock and asked him to use this piece of rock as an inspiration for his play. A tangible, poetic image to start his work, no story, not even an issue. A rock.

Anyone who believes the Michael Chekhov technique is only for plays is missing some massive opportunities to use the work and expand and develop devising and adaptation.

I love to use Chekhov technique for adaptation – in this weekend workshop we were using Kafka’s Trial – because it enables you to worry less about narrative and focus in on the essence of what is going on through images and atmosphere ( like the playwright who uses the rock to inspire him). If you do it this way round, if you look for what is going on underneath first, then you will find something which imbues the narrative with a depth you could never have found otherwise. This frightening and rather formless-sounding idea was nonetheless structured in our weekend workshop as I had the group look specifically at two episodes: the beginning and the end.

It is always a good plan to consider the beginning and the end of whatever you are making. It is true you can just ‘wait and see’ but that way the creator can easily get lost. However, if there is a beginning and end, you have a grasp of the piece. It does not mean that you cannot make radical changes, indeed it is right that the end might change, but you have addressed the piece as a whole from early on.

Working with the essentials of radiating/receiving/ease and form/ general atmosphere and working with images, we then began to work on the two episodes, looking for images and atmosphere, which we firstly made into non-narrative pieces. I wanted to encourage the group to resist any temptation to ‘tell the story’ in the initial pieces. This made, in the first piece particularly, a violent animalistic rat-infested world.  I then suggested that they looked at the atmosphere of the mundane world of Joseph K and for both groups to explore narrative tableaux. They then started to mesh the two elements, the mundane and the imaginative, of the story and the image, together.

IMG_5798We then added some text, both narrative and conversational, from the passages I had chosen, building our pieces with several ‘showings’ as we built up the pieces. This was a very supportive and creative group. I am going to run another of these workshops which take first principle elements of Chekhov and a novel.

Next up is Archetypes and Archetypal Atmospheres and as it is Midsummer, we will be working with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so we will be doing some voice work too. It takes place on June 21-23.  There are still places. Email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com to book your place. The Venue is NUI Galway.

 

 

 

The Vessel and The Soul

Imaginary Body and Centre through Michael Chekhov Technique.

People often ask me, “How ca51090851_617034175402228_8035195185824530432_nn I use Chekhov training in my everyday rehearsal preparation, when no one else in the room uses it?”

Of course as actors we have our private work, and in that space we can easily use the technique to help us find the character, whatever others might be doing.

I have often encountered intransigent actors using more dogmatic approaches than Chekhov Technique who announce in rehearsal “the character would not do that”, effectively stone walling the creativity of their scene partner and the director and writer too. I personally find this a rather puzzling and insulting approach but it partly comes I believe because the professional actor so often has to compromise his art and therefore his whole belief in himself due to circumstances (bad directing, no money, bad script) so he digs his heels in and just says ”no”.  He has decided on his character through his private work, and that’s it.

Private work can start with some premises but has to be developed when you radiate/receive with your scene partner. If you had a different scene partner they would radiate/receive respond/differently and so you would have to change your performance or risk ending up looking as if you were “acting in a box”.

Unlike some other techniques, Chekhov technique allows a more labile approach. It allows you profound private work but does not build walls around you. It accepts and encourages flexibility.

Imaginary Centre is an extraordinary element of the technique which asks you to incorporate an image into your body through imagination; a lighted candle; a fizzy drink; a lonely person at a street lamp; a paper bag. This image is something core as to how the character behaves and feels; how they see themselves. It can be inanimate or animate, whatever helps the actor connect with the character. Furthermore this image changes the impact on the actor profoundly if it is put into different parts of the body. For me, at some level, this image is the character’s soul.

The soul is clothed in the character’s Imaginary Body; a detailed body; not just their height, colour, hair and age; but their scars, hands, eyes, the way their body breathes, where their tensions might be. You cannot change your body completely, but you can imagine what it might be like to have such a body. And what I love about this, is it acknowledges that what your body is like affects how you behave.

And this is not observation, traditionally used in acting but the use of your imagination. Chekhov says that observation is useful and has its place, once you know what you are looking for.

“The desire and ability to transform oneself are at the heart of the actor’s nature.” Michael Chekhov.

These two elements alone can transform a character and create a dynamic within the actor’s body which makes an exciting character. The body especially can make for miraculous changes where the person absolutely feels they have inhabited the character.

For me, of course, it is not only the body which can change, but the voice also does not have to be the actor’s usual voice , and to that end we have a full house for The Epic Voice which starts this evening for the weekend.

Imaginary body, Character Centre is being held at the end of March, (29-31) here in Galway. If you wish to apply, email info@chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com or chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com.