Tag Archives: Theatre Training

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….

Expansion with The Chekhov Work – New Announcements, New Courses

Though we are fully intending to start some in-the-room workshops over the summer , including a back-to-the-room studio day on May 28th here in Galway, for the time being there still seems to be a lot of support for online learning . As I have talked about many times on our pandemic journey, there are many pluses to the online situation but also some downsides. Though we are being told we will be able to shed the masks one of the great trials of last year for me was trying to teach voice in the room with masked students. It was completely counter intuitive. Recently I ran a voice class online …it was a delight. It seems to us that what is important is variety and also connection between the participants from all over the globe! Right now, Rena Polley from Michael Chekhov Canada and I are running a course on COMEDY DRAMA and TRAGEDY .

CTPI is making a few changes, one of which is welcoming Declan Drohan my colleague, Lecturer at IT Sligo who teaches on the BA in Performing arts, and the MA in creative practice, as a co partner in the organisation. We have been co-teaching together both in the room and online very successfully for the past few years and hope now to provide online, in the room, projects and hybrid classes teaching, sometimes together and sometimes alone . In addition we are hoping to invite other international teachers to work with us.

‘ I am honoured and excited about my increased role in CTPI. I see our legacy role as being to consolidate and and further deepen the possibilities of exploring the transformative Chekhov work in our live and online projects for our Irish community of actors, teachers, directors and facilitators , and our increasing international audience. I am looking forward to exploring how we apply the technique in all the varied settings our community work in , and exploring the possibilities of directing with the Chekhov tools, and incorporating them into our teaching and workshop practice.

Declan Drohan

NEW COURSES MARCH – JUNE

. MARCH 16/23/30 THE ART OF SOLO PERFORMANCE 

Using Brian Friel’s ‘Faith Healer’ , we will explore solo characterization  through application of core Chekhov technique approaches, including direction, atmosphere and polarity . We will explore the architecture of performance, that is the shape and three fold aspect of beginning, middle and end as it applies to any section of text. The beginnings of characterization – the character as a figure in a landscape, as yet undefined.

This template can be used by you to develop full , rich , embodied characterizations in your future work.

Choose one character and two short, contrasting extracts as a basis for our exploration.

3 2hr sessions , Wednesdays  6 – 8 GMT March 16/2330TH ONLINE

Cost 70 waged / 60 low waged / 40 unwaged. 

Declan Drohan

Declan Drohan M.A H.Dip.Ad.Ed. lectures on Performing Arts Hons Degree Programme at IT Sligo. Former Course Leader of Acting Programme at Conservatory of Music and Drama DIT Rathmines, Declan trained with Gaiety School Of Acting and Michael Chekov Europe. Recent acting work includes award winning short films ‘ The Date ‘ and Mr L’s Limbo. He is a member of the popular Dark Leaves Theatre Co vintage radio company. His directing credits include Cathleen Ni Houlihan at Lisadell House and the Hawkswell Sligo, and Frank Pig Says Hello and Beneath the Bone Moon at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

March 29/April 5/ April 12/ april 19. SPEAKING THROUGH THE BODY. 4 90 MINUTE SESSIONS . Using the Chekhov technique and a short given piece of Shakespeare, participants will use the body as a conduit to find truth and variety, particularly in the voice and text they are speaking .  EXPANDING CONTRACTING /RADIATING RECEIVING  qualities… using the body for Feeling and language….

Tutor Max Hafler Mondays  4.30-6 GMT

cost 85 waged/65 low waged/ 45 unwaged.

MAY 28TH…. 10-4. WE INVITE YOU TO RETURN! The Theatre of Joy (a one day workshop)

Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland

Activate – Connect – Radiate venue TBC

After our long Covid hibernation, Max and Declan invite you 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….

Looking forward to seeing you there ! Venue and cost TBA

4th May/11th May/18th May/ 25th May PRACTICAL MAGIC (IMAGINATION AND THE BODY)   4 90 MINUTE SESSIONS  ONLINE

TUTORS MAX HAFLER and DECLAN DROHAN

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

Wednesday 4.30-6.00pm cost 85 waged/65 low waged/ 45 unwaged.

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.