Tag Archives: Theatre Training

Comedy cuts

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Hollarcut [Max Hafler] protects Mr Hatch [ David Haig]: Bond’s The Sea. Lamda 1976 dir: Helena Kaut Hausen. Me being VERY SERIOUS INDEED

As a young student actor I could never get the hang of comedy. For one thing, the kind of comedies we ended up exploring were so far from my experience (The Philanthropist by Christopher Hampton was one) that I simply could not take them seriously. Even before classmates I would get the giggles when performing. I simply could not help it. I comforted myself that Laurence Olivier had had a similar problem as a young actor and hoped for the best that this giggling would stop. It took a long time and I comforted myself further that I was really a dramatic actor and that comedy was not my thing. I remember hating the idea that in comedy you were really,  it seemed to me, out to get the audience’s approval; that the result needed to be laughter or at least, a smile, and you knew whether you had succeeded or failed almost immediately.

Looking back, there was a misunderstanding of what acting was which caused the problem. For me at that time, acting had to be ‘real’. I was good at being emotionally true to my inner life, as narrow as it was, given that it was completely defined by my version of my young self. I had difficulty understanding the relationship between character, play and audience clearly; to understand that, whilst you had to enjoy the game of the play and enjoy making people laugh, you had also to work from an inner truth; that it was actually possible to do this. But you had to work on all of these levels at the same time to be effective. I would explain this now as truly activating the Higher Ego, as Michael Chekhov explains it, and developing the ability to shift the attention from the audience, the character, a consciousness of the humour and back again. It’s needed for all theatre work but for comedy in particular.

At LAMDA I remember exploring the Idea of comedy with an extremely interesting but misguided teacher who asked us to create something comedic out of a real tragic incident of our lives. This was an extremely unwise basis for an exercise and left many of us angry and disturbed. We attempted to recreate a tragic incident in a fellow student’s life who as a boy had hit a cricket ball which had struck and killed one of the fielding team. He had felt that he had killed the boy. This must have been extremely stressful for the student and was in addition very unsuccessful. All the improvisations based around this exercise were a failure. However, despite the fact that I strongly disapprove of leading a student into such tricky emotional territory, comparing tragedy and comedy is often a good place to start in order to define comedy and get a sense of what comedic energy actually is. Chekhov explains this simply and effectively. There are lots of safe ways to do it.

Then, when working on a student production we took to Edinburgh I began to get a feel for comedy, whilst working on a Japanese play when I played a messenger. I knew I was being funny in a stylised, physical way which felt more comfortable because I was not trying to pretend this was ‘real’. It broke a boundary for me and I enjoyed it and began to gain confidence in comedy. I got even more safely into humour in several tv plays as a young professional because there was no audience to contend with and through that I became much more aware of my own sense of humour and started to feel safer with it. Also, on TV,  I was able to hang on more firmly to the sense of ‘truth’ because there was no immediate feedback from an audience.

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not subtle but sharp and funny . Malcolm James as Simonides and me as Gnotho in my version of Middleton and Rowley’s OLD LAW 1990 . Lyric Theatre Hammersmith. director Tony Hegarty photo Amrando Atkinson.

But it was only later when I truly experienced the full contact with the audience that I started to truly understand the game that is comedy.; the constant movement of energy; the playfulness… and I started to really enjoy it. It was as if comedy required a complete acceptance of the theatrical experience which I felt at the time could somehow be ignored in drama or tragedy. I now understand that even with the most ‘realistic’ work, a degree of ‘radiation’ is essential . In other words, ‘real’ never quite cuts it – whatever that actually is. One of the things I found so liberating about the Chekhov Technique, something, by the time I found it I already knew, was that theatrical artistic truth is a completely different animal to ‘real’

Very much looking forward to my course Chekhov Comedy Composition and Cucumber Sandwiches which starts on Tuesday in Galway

Chekhov Teaching, beginning and learning

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Participants in Body and Imagination First, the opening of a series of Chekhov Workshops this spring here in Galway.

So here’s a new crop of Openers for this year, an exciting and very international group with people who hail from Greece, Italy ,Turkey, Spain as well as from nearer home . Last weekend we concentrated on some opening body and imagination exercises in Chekhov technique and using an old song Cruel Sister to explore them with. This doom laden song full of bitterness, jealousy and karma has resonances with Cinderella but is more of a revenge tragedy.

It is always an exciting time for me when I help people to make their early forays into the Chekhov work. To many it is a revelation. I find it both humbling and thrilling. It reminds me of when I first found the work and a light went on in my whole being. someone said this weekend, “it just makes acting so effortless”.

I feel a great sense of responsibility to the Technique and to be true to it especially when working on these profound beginning tenets.This does not mean I do not create my own exercises nor work intuitively when I teach but that I have to feel true to the principles. As an experienced teacher it is always vital to remember not to skip over nuts and bolts.

Of course everyone has a different starting place. Does one start with concentration, qualities, focusing on imagination, the ideal centre, radiating receiving, energy body, what? For me the first goal is to show people how the connection between body, sensation, feeling , voice, imagination works inside them, and how, in a sense, easy it is to express that. That does not mean I think it is all easy, especially at first, as we are constantly getting in our own way; our bodies house tensions and blockages; our minds block us often from trusting imagination and body. Strapping the intellect into the passenger seat is often a hard call.

I am a firm believer that the teacher needs to keep seriously training at home and in other courses. As a teacher I find I need time to be a student; to not be the leader; to be challenged encouraged and critiqued. Chekhov Technique , despite the fact its effect on the performer is powerful is like anything really worth its salt, a life long study.

Many teachers behave as if they do not need to train themselves, or keep any training a secret, for fear it might belittle them in the eyes of their students. On the contrary I feel doing your own training enhances you in the eyes of any right-minded student because they see you as constantly developing. You are also setting an example. By training yourself you are saying ‘look I do not know all this stuff, you need to go on and learn with others or with me.’ Of course you learn from your own practise and from the art of teaching yourself but it is not the same as being a student. The problem is the older and more experienced you are the harder it is to feel you can properly put yourself into the student role. It is easy to feel angry, jaded or bored when the teacher does not matchup to your own standards.

So in a few weeks I will be packing my bag off to Hamburg to attend a week long course run by Michael Chekhov Europe taught by amongst others the Master teacher Lenard Petit, who runs Michael Chekhov New York. His book, The Michael Chekhov Handbook, is for me one of the great books on the Chekhov technique. Lenard’s teaching was a revelation to me when I had the privelege of being in his class some years ago in that he was sufficiently challenging on the one hand and warm and encouraging on the other.

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Ciara Brady and William Loughnane  as Titania and Oberon

Another challenge to being an experienced student more used to leading workshops is coming fresh to material. In the Hamburg workshop we are going to be working with Midsummer Nights Dream. It is hard to come fresh to it. I have directed it twice. I played Bottom when I was 8 in a trimmed down version, the first piece my first drama teacher gave me was Pucks Aria in Act 3 sc 2 and I frequently use the play for teaching.

So how will I choose a character I like, learn some text from the character in a fresh manner? It’s a challenge but I have always found the Chekhov Technique opens for me some fresh doors even when I approach a play I know incredibly well. I often try to place myself in the situation of ‘what if I had never met this play before? Which character would touch me?’

A way that works for me for courses is to choose a character I would not be asked to play because I am the wrong gender or too old. I am considering Helena but Bottom and Egeus [whom i might well play] are also calling.

Continuers courses on March 24-26 in Voice and Chorus and based upon my book Teaching Voice and March 31 – April 2 in Using Silence are still booking here in Galway.
and on May 23-26th Hugo Moss from Michael Chekhov Brasil and i are running a four day workshop in Dublin ,Giving Voice to the Imagination. contact chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com

More on Dublin in the next post or go to the Dublin workshop page on the blog!

Seagull Stuff -changes of style and movement of energy

It felt like a gift to be able to see a professional production of THE SEAGULL at the same time as I am using the play to teach Michael Chekhov Technique.

Anton Chekhov called his play The Seagull a comedy. And when I went to see Corn Exchange’s updated production in the Dublin Theatre Festival at the Gaiety Theatre the other day I was in no doubt that that was what the creative team had initially gone for. It was light and fun. In addition, the young writer Constantin became Constance, an interesting and effective gender change which immediately updated the text and made the relationships more easy to distinguish. It was easy to see Masha desire a lesbian relationship she could not have and marry Medvedenko, ‘go straight’ and reap the bitter consequences. The two actors playing Constance and Masha seemed to thrive on that decision and it worked well. Sorin was excellent as was Paulina who had a real understanding of tragicomedy especially in a wonderful moment when she ate Nina’s flowers. May I say here that I am not naming the actors, not out of laziness but because this is not a review. I am keen to explore aspects of the play which were thrown up in this production.

So the production made choices; of course it did; that is inevitable. However, choices create consequences. Initially, buying completely into the comedy aspect does create issues, and most prominently in the performance of Arkardina. Arkadina is the queen of the play and therefore the way her role is interpreted is crucial to all the other characters, their own character level and development. In order to have some movement in her character she cannot be portrayed continuously as a mere diva which for me, for the most part, was what was happening. In Act Three she attempted a few moments of sincerity but unfortunately for me it was far too late. For instance arkardinas pleading for Trigorin’s love in an exhibition of superficial campery made not just her character but Trigorin look foolish as well as he agreed to obey her after this insincere display.  I kept wondering who had made this decision, the actor or the director. In the play it appears to me, from the opening of Act Two, there is a sense of Arkadina losing control of her world and by the end of Act Three she is fighting to hold on to what she has. That is a progression; that is a journey. I was not looking for a romantic vision of Arkardina, but a more rounded one.

Something that did not help Arkadina was the loss of Shamrayev, the boorish landlord/steward of her property. I wondered whether they had cut the character to save money but it had serious consequences on the structure . In Act One we lose the fact of his toadying to Arkardina, important for her status and for us the audience to empathise with her. More importantly in Act 2 we lost his fight with her, which weakened Arkardina’s power. That argument, and Arkardina’s decision for them to leave marks a turning point in the act, an essential climax. Without it, the production lost its way for a good while.

The danger of over-exploiting the comedy makes the artists (the characters in the play) look like tedious self indulgent fools, which maybe they are, but still.. Do I want to see a play where actors and writers are all made to look like fools? Not really. I have spent my whole life working in theatre and believe in it as a transformative agent for change both personal and sometimes political. Only the character of Constance made me believe that there might be a possibility of truth through art but then things do not end well for her and she kills herself for love. Nina, the other young aspiring artist, just seemed to be a lost and confused child used by the older people. As Constance kills herself, starved of love from all quarters, I needed to get a sense of Nina at least having found something; some purpose, but she seemed lost. So from a structural point of view the play moved from being a fairly trivial suburban comedy to a dark tragedy of unbelievable hopelessness. I did not see sufficient seeds of the dark elements in the early part of the play to really take me on this journey. There was no real feeling of the whole.

So is this play a comedy or a tragedy? And do we need to define it? In a way yes we do, because we need to decide.

Perhaps it is that wonderful thing, a tragicomedy, beloved of Jacobean dramatists? In tragicomedy each element highlights the other. Tragicomedy allows the absurd because there is an understanding that life is absurd. I have worked with tragicomedy myself a good bit, most particularly with my adaptation of Middleton and Rowley’s ‘ THE OLD LAW’, a tragicomic play which explores mass euthanasia as an agent for greed.

But back to Chekhov. Anton Chekhov is a master of this tragicomic genre. In order for tragicomedy to be effective, there needs to be a strong understanding by the director and performers as to when the screws are turned, and the audience are suddenly moved. I felt that control and understanding was missing at the performance I saw.

Someone in class remarked yesterday, mistakenly I believe, that comedy enhances our sympathy, but I don’t think that’s true.It is only true when the performers and director control it. Without that understanding, comedy can be just an excuse to trivialise.

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participants in my Chekhov class, Niamh and Ronan, playing Masha and Medvedenko.

So the following day after seeing  the performance with my class of Continuers in Michael Chekhov technique  we spent a chunk of time exploring this conundrum. I asked each pair and two solo performers to work with their text in a particular style ; as a comedy, a tragedy, or a satire. I discussed Michael Chekhov’s belief that to work in tragedy you imagine something just behind you, and for comedy imagine something in front of you. That sounds strange as I write it but if you try it out with a piece of text, it makes perfect sense. We also discussed satire: the play could easily be seen as a satire against/about self-indulgent artists and we agreed that unlike pure comedy, satire had a particular point. It was not humour for its own sake.

This was a rich mine of exploration. Before embarking on this exercise we worked with a range of radiating/receiving exercises to play with the energy of pauses; to explore the energy of pauses. I did this because, in order to manage the shifts of mood, it required this understanding of the movement of energy that happens.

So we had, from Act 4,  a satirical exploration of an over-serious and melodramatic young actress who has come to visit her old lover Constantin. At certain moments, such as when she says, ‘I am an actress’ and she hears Trigorin laughing in the other room, I asked her to change the emotional movement to a tragic one, then gradually ‘turn up’ the satirical element as the scene goes on. This was incredibly moving as the class members suddenly felt that Nina was covering up her grief, even when she eventually returned to her comic satirical delivery. Primarily this focus from comedy, to tragedy or to satire is a change in movement of energy. It is not just a matter of (that much maligned word) style.

Another scene we worked with was the opening scene between Masha and Medvedenko. They played the scene in a serious tragic way. The result was occasionally hilarious. It was edgy and interesting, a potent mix of tragedy and comedy, as was a Trigorin monologue also played as a tragedy.

Finally, we worked with the Act 3 scene between Arkadina and Constantin. I mention this last because it epitomised where tragicomedy is successful. At first the actors found it challenging to make a scene in the intense third act funny , despite lines like,

“You look as if you are wearing a turban. Someone came to the door the other day and didn’t know what nationality you were.”

but gradually they let the comedy take hold. Then, quite naturally, they started to find dark and serious moments within the humour; poignant moments where the arrogant mother could not bear to involve herself in the messiness of her child’s despair and need.

Finding this balance heightened both the ridiculousness of our humanity and the tragedy of it; the subtle shifts of energy heightened both, something Anton Chekhov and some of the 17th century tragicomic dramatists fully understood.

EXPRESSING THE INVISIBLE 1 -PAUSES

 

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Janna Lindstrom and Conor Geogheghan in a recent CTPI workshop

I feel that theatre generally lives far too often in the realm of the materialist and the obvious; either that or it wallows in elitist performance art which says nothing , is riven with cliches and driven by obscure intellectual concepts. ( I watched a supreme example of this in the Tate Modern recently). And before anyone starts to write furiously, I know all performance art is not like that but some of it is.

So what do I mean when I talk about the Invisible? Is this just so much pretension? Definitely not.

Michael Chekhov called it , ‘the Intangible’. It’s like something just beyond reach, and yet ironically the ‘intangible’ is around us all the time.

In these next three blog posts , I am going to touch on what ‘the Invisible’ might mean in rehearsal and performance. In this post we are going to take the space in the text called a Pause.

What is a Pause?  We can feel it and experience it, but we cannot see it. It is invisible. But a pause is not nothing. Something is always happening in a pause, and it is not an empty space. Michael Chekhov said there was no such thing as a dead pause;

We know this movement of energy exists because we experience it every day of our lives when we pause. Actors who work more intellectually might consider ‘well, in this pause, I need to think this, this, and this’, but this thinking does not produce emotional authenticity.

“The main characteristic of a true pause is a moment of Absolute Radiation.” Michael Chekhov. On the Technique of Acting .

So a pause is a place of great movement; of energy, fullness, searching, decision and weight. It might be a place where we protect ourselves with silence or close in despair. It can be a place where we attack and send our energy to meet our partner, hungry for a response. It can be a moment where we express our love.

We need to understand the energy of the pause, to inhabit it and how to use it, to fully explore how a character might be behaving. And, importantly, to not be afraid of it. So many actors are afraid to pause, as if by stopping speaking they will somehow disappear.

A couple of years ago I was working on a student production of YERMA by Lorca. We were working on the scene where Yerma, a young woman, now truly desperate to have a child, meets her friend Maria who has two children. Maria tries to pass Yerma’s house and avoid coming in but Yerma sees her and forces her friend to come in. In a deeply painful scene reminiscent of a difficult visit to a sick relative, Maria tries to comfort her bitter friend and then, finally exasperated, Maria blurts out ” why can’t you just accept Gods will?” YERMA looks at her and then says ‘accept God’s will?” Maria makes for the door and then there is a painful moment where Yerma says ” you have the same eyes as your baby. He has exactly the same eyes as you.” Maria says goodbye and leaves.

I always start our initial exploration of any scene, lines already learned by the way, with radiating and receiving as the two actors speak their lines to each other giving and receiving energy from their scene partner, speaking quietly and with intention, and giving plenty of space between speeches. It is that time between speeches which is the most important as you get a real sense of what the other person is ‘sending out’ and how that makes you feel. You then get a sense of where the pauses might lie because you find out what is really going on. This is not just ‘listening’ (though it is that as well) but something much greater.

In the scene between Maria and Yerma, the actors by this process found several moments which were so painful and true that it had the three of us in tears. After Maria’s ‘why can’t you just accept God’s will’ the long pause was electric as Maria realised she had been almost forced into saying the one thing which would alienate her from her friend forever. At Yerma’s “accept God’s will?” I asked the actor playing Maria to receive the energy from Yerma in a pause and to move only when she couldn’t stand it anymore. As she bolted for the door, Yerma ran after her and grabbed her arm. She let Maria go and looked at her pleading, desperate and alone, and said the line about the baby’s eyes. There was a pause where Maria suddenly hardened and said “Goodbye”. What we realised with this unearthing of the invisible was that at this point in the story, Maria is saying Goodbye not just for today but for the rest of their lives; that she can no longer take anymore and they cannot have the friendship they had; that Yerma is alone. Importantly we found this without much discussion but by exploring the invisible. It was complex and unbelievably moving.

This issue of energy and the pause is one of the areas I want to explore in Expressing The Invisible, the course at NUI Galway that I am running , August 18-21. THe cost of this 3 and 1/2 day workshop is 180 euro / 150 euro concessions. There are only a few places left. Email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com for further details.

Inspired by Chekhov

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photo : Jerry Fitzgerald. photographer Sean T O’Meallaigh

When I first started working with the Chekhov Technique, it felt incredibly familiar to me. I had been using the body to find the emotions and voice of the character, and helping others to do so, for years and years. But when I discovered there was a technique which embraced fully the idea of connecting Voice, Feelings, Body and Imagination, a holistic approach to acting, it felt like I had ‘come home’. The word ‘technique’ implies rules and regulations and whilst there are some, there is an incredible flexibility within it, which opens up its use to a whole range of work. I have used the work in devising, scripted plays, applied drama and voice work. It is open to use in everything. It expands our sense of who we can be and what we can create.

Chekhov asks the question, ‘How often have we been to see plays and leave unmoved or unchanged, and yet we do not know why?’ In my case it has happened far more times than I can care to mention. When I look back, the play may have had good actors, lots of money thrown at it, good production values etc, but there is something within it which is essentially hollow. There is little or no real exchange between performers and there is not this concept of a shared experience.
I started wondering if the dissatisfaction with so many performances I saw, was me, expecting too much? But whenever I remember the massive amount of work, feeling and sacrifice that goes into making a piece of work, I remember that everything I want from this experience of watching a performance is valid. I am looking for this ‘intangible’ that Chekhov speaks of, and if it is not there I am disappointed. When I said ‘exchange’ earlier I meant the real exchange of energy between performers not just a kind of ego driven fake ‘listening’ which passes too often as acting. As an experiment, take a moment with someone you know well and look into their eyes. Hold that exchange for longer than feels comfortable and you will understand what I mean. You will feel the energy flow between you quite naturally. You might want to look away or get giggly, but you most definitely feel it. This passing of energy can have many forms and feelings, but it is happening all the time.
Michael Chekhov technique really explores the intangible invisible ingredient in depth through exploring atmosphere for instance, and puts it at the front of creation, rather than as something which might just happen if we intellectually understand our roles and can play the scenes ‘realistically’. This is what makes it very effective for devising. It encourages us to listen to our inner creative voice. Nay-sayers might suggest this approach sounds self-indulgent because we are listening to the creative spirit rather than leading with the intellect, but this is not so. It is free, but it has a discipline within it. The main part of this discipline is to honour your creative spirit and train your voice body and whole being to follow it rather than put things in the way. It gives us a new way to look at creativity and how to engage with it.
I was very inspired the other day by two things. I met a young woman artist in the street who had trained in Chekhov technique who reminded me about how important it is to share this way of working. I do not know if she realised it, but it reminded me how important it was for me to run Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland here in Galway, and create somehow a hub for this work.  Then I saw this video on my FB newsfeed where one of the people who has taught me so much about the work, Fern Sloan, from America was speaking. Check this link for an inspirational few minutes.

https://michaelchekhovschool.org/…/…/04/lineage-legacy-fern/

Our first workshop of Spring is CHEKHOV AND DEVISING (APRIL 8-10) here in Galway City. Check here on the CHEKHOV TRAINING AND PERFORMANCE IRELAND page for more info or email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com or phone 0863307325.
The second CHEKHOV FOR DIRECTING ( AND INEVITABLY, ACTING) is being held May 13-15. The third , IMAGINATION AND THE BODY is being held 17-19th June.

A website is coming . For now we have the FB business page
http://www.facebook.com/chektrainperformireland
and the particular page on this WordPress blog.

 

Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland

Those who know me know I have been studying and teaching the Michael Chekhov Acting  Technique for some years now. I teach the technique at NUI Galway and have taught it on many other courses including at The Lir. I intend to focus more upon that work more. My book Teaching Voice, Workshops for Young Performers, is to be published by Nick Hern Books in June which explores using Voice and Chekhov technique in tandem to develop voice work for young people

I have set up Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland which I hope is going to make the West of Ireland a hub of the Chekhov work. I hope to join with other Chekhov teachers here and abroad to develop and expand the training. In addition I am hoping that CTPI will be a focus for performance using Chekhov technique as the bedrock of the rehearsal process.

The training which explores using the body and imagination primarily to develop and explore new performance, to use it to work on scripted drama, to create character and use it to enable us to see old drama in a new way.

Weekend One April 8th – 10th: Chekhov and Devising.

Chekhov talked a lot about The Theatre Of The Future and in addition to working with text based plays, his techniques are excellent for devising new work, something the first inaugural training weekend will explore, working on imagination and ensemble techniques.  Galway City.

Weekend Two  Directing with the Chekhov Technique. 13th -15th May.

One of the strands I want to work with is using Chekhov technique in directing. The more directors understand and use the work, the more actors can use the technique themselves in a supportive environment in rehearsal. In addition, the number of shows I have directed using Michael Chekhov’s work, plays I have known well, have often resulted in revelatory discoveries which completely gave me fresh eyes on the play. And the palpable cohesion the Chekhov technique gives to an ensemble at a very deep level is truly mind blowing.

Weekend Three . Imagination and The Body. of June 17th – 19th .Galway City Ireland.

Finally we are going to explore the basic training of imagination and body through atmosphere, gesture and centre, archetype and composition to introduce and develop the use of Chekhov technique to help us  become the artists we truly are. T

 

In addition, I want CTPI to explore the wider use of the Chekhov technique on a more therapeutic level, for use in applied drama. Opening people to using their bodies to explore feelings and qualities, to explore how powerful the body can be in that regard, and importantly how to join up voice body and feelings together. CTPI is definitely going to explore Chekhov within this setting of applied drama.

Additional further workshops will explore Chekhov and Voice, Chekhov Technique and Song, Expressing the Invisible, as well as weekends on specific training in particular aspects of the technique.

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The first course CHEKHOV AND DEVISING WORK will be held on April 8th – 10th in beautiful Galway City Ireland. A little knowledge of Chekhov Technique is useful but not essential. The weekend will cost €75. €25 deposit required . for a bit more information on the Chekhov Technique itself, visit the Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland page on this blog. Email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com

 

 

 

Escaping the default – in acting and in life.

Not long ago I was working as director/ teacher with an otherwise highly promising young actor when in an emotionally intense moment in a scene, something happened. Her eyes went soft and wet, and she looked vulnerable. Her body became tense, and she looked stuck, lost in some kind of feeling . She was clearly feeling emotional but it was completely inappropriate for the role or for the moment. I stopped the scene and asked her what she was doing. She said she didn’t know. I told her I had seen that look from her before both in class and in performance. She told me with a smile that it was her ‘default’ . I had never heard this term before used in this context but it seemed completely appropriate.

What is the default? Well we could call it a ‘trick’ or a ‘habit’ but it is much more than that. It is what an actor does when they have to convince themselves and the world they are acting well, usually when they have lost their way with the character or the moment the character is in. It is a place they go which makes them feel intense. It makes them feel something so, appropriate or not, they go there. For this young woman, for many other people I have taught, and for me too when I was a young actor, this default had very similar manifestations. I would look down and this very intense look would come into my eyes. I would look vulnerable or angry. My whole body would tense up. Importantly I could radiate [project] this feeling very easily which made me feel powerful and convince me I was really acting well. Unfortunately this impression was often enforced by my peers. Looking back now it had something akin to being emotionally constipated and actually having no clue what I was doing at that moment. What’s bad about this is that it actually FEELS good.

The default mechanism locks the performer in what they act and how they do it. It keeps you stuck in your own rhythm rather than finding a rhythm for the character. How does that happen? Sometimes it is simply trying too hard. The default is something more than a habit though, more than just playing with your fingers or folding your arms. Sometimes it is something I suspect deeply psychological, a feeling that the performer has about themselves which stops them from exploring the character as fully as they might. It often comes when we are trying to act something which makes us feel uncomfortable either because we have no knowledge of it or we repress it in our own personality.

Over my years of teaching Ensemble and Devising at NUI Galway I became more and more aware of how the patterns of our own movement restrict and hold us, trap us within our own personality, just as much as these emotional locks which are the default, in fact they are all part of the same thing. And this restriction not only has ramifications for acting but for our everyday lives and development.

Chekhov technique gives us a wonderful opportunity to open this door and free ourselves from the default but like all techniques you can watch the students do brilliant work in workshop where they push their own physical and emotional boundaries (by this I do not necessarily mean weeping and wailing !) but so often they then get a script in their hands and much of the good work vanishes and the default returns. Why does that happen? I feel it is perhaps because somewhere inside us our body-memory pushes us into forms of movement and behaviour which have been there through our lives; because there is something that pops up in our egos that encourages us to show off or accentuate an aspect of our emotional lives which perhaps pushes us into acting in this way. It might also be that the actor is simply lost and goes to that ‘default’ place out of fear or self protection.

This default behaviour can often be witnessed in all levels of production, because one of the first things that happens is that the actors do not truly radiate and communicate to their fellow actors and when watching you get no sense of the energy moving between them. Therefore however intense the actor may appear in their default they are not sharing their experience. Sadly, I believe I watched a good bit of this default acting in the production of Antigone I saw on BBC4 the other night.

When suddenly an actor joins up the dots as someone did in rehearsal for my student production of MORE LIGHT last night and with a wide light opening gesture the character told her story about her revelation about art and society, you sense a door opening and the actor avoiding her ‘default’ and finding a new way to be , not just for the character but also a new choice for herself.

And this leads me on to where I feel the effect of the default can be lessened; by young performers getting a stronger sense of self, not in a narrow egocentric sense but a wider imaginative sense . Exploring the Imagination voice and body primarily is the only way , not merely as a skill set but a way for the young performer to find their range and power both as an actor and as a person. We must  alert people quickly to the power of the imagination to enable them to transform and help them to develop it. We need to assure them it takes hard work, but it is both challenging and joyous.

Of course, in the ‘business’ it can often be the case that people make careers out of their default position. They become recognisable types, able to plumb a degree of intensity, but it is an intensity which never develops or changes. However they can sometimes make a career from it, and perhaps that is what they want. I do not believe that is enough when the work has so much more to offer.

Happily the young actor who gave me the default term and  with whom I began this piece, found new ways to find her feeling and power and gave a splendid and mature performance .