Tag Archives: Theatre workshops

Creating where you are – My Site Specific Room

I remember when I was a child and played in my room. Areas of my room had a particular atmosphere or feel there . Under a table became a tent or a cave, a place of safety. My bed became a rocket ship . I closed the curtains and used a torch to create lighting. The room disappeared as I dived into my fantasy. The walls melted….

Like Max in his wolf suit in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

In the new course, My Site Specific Room,  starting on the 9th November, we have an opportunity to return to this absolutely crucial element of creation; imagination, atmosphere and energy. When I was a teenager I had a fantasy that I would have an imagining room, completely white, in which I would be free to imagine anything. I loved exploring the imagination; it made me feel fully alive.

As I became embroiled in the business of becoming a professional actor, I paradoxically lost much of my attachment to imagination. Acting became a serious material business. It was only with playwriting , teaching, directing and more especially my fortuitous discovery of the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique which has as its bedrock the Imagination and the Body, when the Imagination reassumed its majesty as a creative tool. Working online, I returned even more to the core values of ‘lets pretend’. This is one of the great plusses of learning online at home, in your room…

 For fourteen years on the NUIGalway Drama MA I taught ensemble and devising, before it was the fashionable thing, and have worked extensively with youth theatre and applied drama on devising. One of the exercises at the Uni  was to give sub groups the opportunity to find a spot on campus they could explore and use and make the venue the inspiration for a short dramatic experimental piece as we brought the audiences to them. Pieces in a squash court, a ladies toilet, a long corridor with stuffed animals in it, a church ante-room… four of the exciting venues that were memorable. 

The Michael Chekhov Technique elements for the course will of course be atmosphere. What is the atmosphere of the room in which you are working? And of course Imagination, so that the piece you create is not about your past life in that room but comes from somewhere else. We will also work with composition elements  and tempo and variety  .

For instance, I use my study. If i sit in a chair in the corner I feel differently to when I stand at the window or sit at my computer.  Note how when you sit in your living room that you probably choose where to sit. You don’t even think about it. This is not necessarily ‘your chair’ per se.. I have a fireplace – how do I feel when I sit at the fireplace? Could this be the start of my story/piece… how does it feel to sit by the fire…maybe there is only a small fire in the stove…i am cold…. my story begins… who am I? who am i speaking to? 

In the course you will craft a 5 minute piece using where you are as your inspiration.  It could come from a corner or a texture or something about the whole room. 

if this is of interest to you then email chekhovtpi@gmail.com . We begin on the 9th. at 4.00pm GMT. there are five workshops! Below is a video link for more info

Video link https://youtu.be/G17m3GsFMzM

Using a Painting – Chekhov course online

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Paintings are magic. I always remember as a young child being fascinated by the Pevensie children being overwhelmed by a painting of the Dawn Treader on the Narnian Sea and being swept into the water.

When I was a drama student we were given a summer task to prepare a talk about a painting. Of course there was no internet then so you had to find your paintings from a book or a gallery. I daresay it had the highly laudable aim of creating rounded artists. One of my fellow students had many art books and I stayed with him for a few days as I looked through the books to find a suitable painting to talk about. I decided suddenly that rather than discuss the painting or the artist, I wanted to fully enter the painting, its atmosphere, and at least one of the characters within it. As I decided this the whole idea filled me with joy as a truly creative task blossomed from something that had felt incredibly like worthy homework.

Hieronymus Bosch: <i>The Wayfarer</i>, circa 1500–1510The painting I chose was THE WANDERER by Heironymus Bosch. I had never seen his paintings before and I was transfixed by them… horrible grotesque fantasies of hell and heaven, and this picture, though less dark, offered me something powerful. Looking at it I was immediately reminded of the Bedlam beggars and Poor Tom in King Lear.

After examining the picture in detail, I thought my first step would be to examine the man’s physical position. I found a stick, a hat and a pack and put myself in his position. I remember I also took a shoe off to give myself the feeling of the odd shoes he was wearing. It was amazing how having odd shoes made me feel unwanted, off-balance, bitter and unhinged. Looking back over my shoulder as I pushed forward immediately made me feel a longing and a bitterness. I was either being driven away or I was longing for a more settled life for some reason. I started to feel a little like a beaten dog.

The house behind me, and from which I had just come, was broken-down and clearly a place of some conflict. The house delapidated and uncared for, the man pissing against the wall, the young woman, blocked by a young man from looking at me and another looking out of the broken window, after the beggar.  Was my itinerant beggar part of this life or not? I got in position, turned on a tape recorder and began to speak. a harsh rasping voice came out. The beggar spoke of a longing for stability and yet despising that stability the living in the house might have provided.  I created a world and psychology from the atmosphere of the painting, its characters and principally the rather gentle faced man who was walking away. It is true that the radiation from his face did not match my bitter monologue (which came more from the background characters and the general dishevelled nature of the house, and also the main character’s predicament). However it was the turning back to look which gave me the main thrust along with the image of what I could see.

It was an exciting ,creative project which was very rich for me. Now in my Chekhov work,  I often use  a painting as a starting point for a dramatic piece. We engage concentration, the Feeling of Form, Movement, Atmosphere and our imaginations. That’s the subject of one of the new courses, THE PICTURE SPEAKS which runs for five 90 minute sessions on July 6th online.  We will create a speaking gallery of paintings.

Email chekhovtpi@gmail.com to book your place

House Arrest: Devising with Michael Chekhov Online

IMG_5839In the next Chekhov course exploration starting on May 14th @ 3pm we are going to look at our response to the pandemic in a very imaginative and broad way by considering those under house arrest or imprisonment and making some solo work about them which we may or may not sew together into something more substantial at the end. I want to encourage people to look at the wider implications from the imagination rather than telling their own stories, as extraordinary as they may be. Maybe through that we can start to examine where we want to go afterwards…. In any case, to start with, we are just exploring and everyone is going to make a solo piece using the broad theme of house arrest and use elements of the Chekhov technique to create it.

Preferably these individual pieces might be either abstract or poetic or dealing with characters who are not stuck in the covid lockdown but in other imprisoned scenarios from mythical characters, to real people, political prisoners, teenagers grounded for misdemeanours, anything where the person is held in, either by circumstances or their own will. I wonder whether we might find some answers there rather than writhing around in the labyrinth of the covid reality…

What does it mean to be imprisoned? We are stopped in our tracks. The will is redirected, refocussed or the person will burst. And I started to consider this in a wider sense; are we not all trapped by circumstances, our appearance, our opportunities, our families, the luck that befalls us, where we are born, whether we are a beggar or a king. Life is full of limitations. We can defy many of them but some we cannot dodge. We can call our gaolers,’ Fate”; we can rage against them or we can work within our boundaries.

What are the polarities we find in this strange time? Where do we start? I remember a playwright coming to speak with the university about a time when he was commissioned to write a play for a company and they carried in a large rock. They said, ‘we want you to be inspired by this rock in whatever way it inspires you and write a play for the company’. This is an amazing idea and not dissimilar from Chekhov’s use of imaginary centres.

And what occurs when we are released from this atmosphere of imprisonment? Do we explode back into our old frame of reference, into our ways ? unfair, unbalanced, cruel….do we drown out the birdsong again?

All imprisonment brings its lessons. I am so looking forward to running this short course to get us started with this.

If you are interested in taking part please email chekhovtpi@gmail.com. It is a course so there is a small charge. No more than 10 participants and you need to have some experience in the Michael Chekhov technique. there are a few places left only.

 

 

 

‘We Staged a March Past’Brecht and Chekhov

IMG_6759Every workshop has a different atmosphere and a different flavour. Of course this is down to the teacher/facilitator (in this case two), but also to the participants (in this case a really international group). Other prime variables are of course the elements of the Chekhov Technique you are focussing on, but the other prime ingredient is the text you choose to use for your exploration. Even when I am teaching my MA module in the Chekhov Technique, I shape it to some extent on the text I choose to study for the term. This does not mean that I miss out the basics but there are certain elements we only graze in order to allow for more time to develop others which will be more practical for the text. Even with a module you cannot teach everything (you cannot even introduce everything). I want to guide the participants to apply the work to scenes in some way even with a weekend course; to allow the students to gain some knowledge of the elements of the technique but in a rough way give them an opportunity to apply them to scenes. This does not mean they will apply them perfectly necessarily but I feel I have to give them the chance to go there.

IMG_6758When we chose Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, by Brecht about the rise of the Nazis in the thirties, I could see the advantages of it for a short course. It is made of playlets, almost like ‘turns’ in a cabaret so the actors would not have to look at anything more than a page long. In discussion with Declan Drohan, my co-teacher, we considered (of course) atmosphere, communing with the audience, composition, clowning, energy directions, polarities and some real basics like ideal centre and radiating/receiving (something I feel is essential even in a short course).

The piece offered a lot of variety too so it was quite hard to hone it down to choose particular playlets. We ultimately rejected some of the longer ones though they have an amazing depth and progression. Long scenes are difficult for short courses. We honed it down to six very short pieces. Whilst acknowledging that all the elements we had taught them over the course were in play, each scene was used to explore one primary Chekhov element with another to supplement or oppose it so they could be very focussed in their application of the training. Over the three days, we chose one satirical scene, an apparently normal scene filled nonetheless with the atmosphere of danger and poverty, two of the darkest short scenes in the story, the opening of the play and the final scene. On first reading they can appear thin and didactic but they are powerful; they tell us a lot, not only about this historical moment but the rise of the right now.

When I re read the play, I was reminded of the trick of so much of Brecht’s work; it manages to be both simple and complex at the same time.  The Chekhov work unlocks this for you. Brecht is a master of polarity; leading you one way with a character who then behaves in a perfectly understandable totally opposite way. As many of the short scenes are about moments of crisis where the characters, to protect themselves often, make big decisions to either rebel or comply with the regime.

This course has been quite a rollercoaster because of the nature of the material.

Over the weekend I felt I learned a lot about how Fascism and totalitarianism works. I felt I actually experienced the seductive nature of it; the comfortable sense of omnipotent power where if you are on the right side you can exercise your hatred and your prejudices with such impunity that you can even maim and murder and get away with it. Declan introduced this through exercise by saying it was like a damp mist coming under the door and filling the room. We sometimes created an atmosphere where the characters could either comply or suffer; characters constantly challenged as to whether to put their head over the parapet and suffer the consequences or toe the line and find excuses for their corrupt and cruel choices. I was reminded of Brexit and the way people were given permission to express their prejudice and open the Pandora’s Box of right wing ideology; I was reminded of Donald Trump’s megalomania and how by giving him the space to take charge that the whole of democratic ideology was at stake; I was reminded of how in Ireland homeless children were living in bed and breakfast on the altar of a free market ideology.

IMG_6772We had an exuberant block on our last day where we played with Clown  and Radiating to the Audience before we moved on to examine a section where two comic scientists had contacted Einstein for advice but were terrified they would be discovered. This piece has a pointed satirical lightness, which at the same time can be twisted and turned in the playing of it to tell us that really this is no joke at all.

IMG_6841Chekhov himself lived through WW2 and the lead-up to it. He was in the middle of this and it was affecting his life. He felt theatre had a commitment to address these social and political evils. He said

“It is through the medium of the spectator that we find a full creative approach that links us to the world and its times.”

When we discussed the political aspect of the work and what we have discovered, one of our participants said, ‘we have to be really vigilant, constantly vigilant.’

This play seems to me to be even more relevant than ever – not a historical document – but a warning.

The next course is a weekend, February 21-23rd on Chekhov, Voice and Shakespeare, working with solo pieces (you might like to bring an audition piece). the goal is to make the piece as Chekhov would say, “a little piece of Art.”   cost €100 email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com and check out http://www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com

 

 

Nothing Like Medea – working with Archetypes

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Shannon McHugh and Cillian Hegarty using an Archetype exercise in The Bacchae 2016

“I mean, how could I possibly play Medea from my own life experience?”  said one of my wonderful teachers, as I sat completely overwhelmed after one of the early workshops I attended in the Michael Chekhov Technique, “There has got to be a way of finding her truth through Imagination and the Body”. Then she smiled and was gone for her lunch.

And the more I have worked with the Technique the more I have understood the massive palette this way of working has given me to rehearse, direct and teach.

One of the most powerful ways into the work on character is through The Archetype and Archetypal energy. This expression of the Archetype in acting class often gives rise to people assuming that an archetype is a stereotype; in other words something superficial: but it isn’t.  Consider the archetype as an energy, rather than an obvious cartoon character and you are on the right track. That way you can really explore the profundity of what the Archetype can give you.

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Ciara Brady and William Loughnane as Titania and Oberon

In the next Chekhov Weekend here, (June 21-23) we will be seeking some connection to this archetypal energy, and then using it to build our character, exploring archetypes using A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

On the surface, there are a lot of obvious archetypes in this play. Kings, Queens, Fairies, Clowns, Actors, Lovers, Fathers, Servants and exploring these archetypes is useful for us because we often have no experience of many of these qualities in our modern life.

 

 

 

I remember spending time, when I was directing The Duchess of Malfi,  exploring with the actors what it was like to be The Servant, not just in a realistic sense but finding this profound archetypal energy to understand  the psychology of those characters who were servants.

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Muirreann Ni Raghallaigh, Zita Monahan, Reidin Ni Thuama and Eoin Dillon  as Cariola, The Duchess, A Nurse and Antonio respectively. The Duchess of Malfi: Theatrecorp 2016

But there are several layers to this “way into” the character, and one thing we need to consider is  what exactly the charácter does and whether this could shed any more profound light on the archetype which drives the character.

Puck, for instance, could have at his core a number of possible archetypes: the obvious ones , goblin, sprite, etc  are all helpful but to some extent superficial. But what does he do? He is a servant, a magical one. He makes mischief. He makes mistakes. Perhaps he is a rebel? A child?

But what about the orphan as his archetype? Robin Goodfellow is sometimes considered a kind of half-sprite, neither a fairy, nor a human. If you took this archetype orphan  or even that of outsider think how different those two performances might be.

And of course it is important to remember that these archetypes are not ‘the character’ in total but they are a fundamental component of the character and its energy. They are a driving force . They can even be a core.

Let’s take Helena. Spoiled brat might be seen as a helpful archetype  but the name spoiled brat creates a strong value judgement within it and as soon as you make a conscious critical judgement you create something stereotypical and therefore not that helpful in creating something powerful and true.

There are still two places on this weekend course in Galway. Working with Archetypes. June 21-23, email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com to book your place. 

 

 

 

 

Writing and Teaching

As I approach the end of the first draft of my next teaching book I am filled with a number of emotions. The first is overwhelming gratitude that I have been given the opportunity to share my teaching experience once more. Whenever I think ruefully of yearned-for opportunities I may have not been offered over my life, I think of the many many people who are never offered these kind of opportunities. I remember once when, as a very young actor I was working in a pretty woeful tv series and really hating it and surrounded by extras who wanted to be in my shoes.

One thing sharing your teaching experiences allows is for you to pass your work on with your own particular emphasis. Ultimately for me, theatre is less about product and more about how you get there. I have said many times that people do their best, truly magical work in workshop. This for me is a tremendously liberating experience. Whenever someone speaks or writes to me that Teaching Voice has been really helpful in their work, I feel very content, because that is what life is; it is movement and sharing.

In discussion lately with someone writing a martial arts book, we came to the problem of trying to describe in text, something that is experiential and concerned movement and the fear of cheapening or mechanizing learning which should flow. Chekhov Technique, which makes up a large part of the new book, cannot be learned from books alone. The book can be an important inspiration, a window, a spur to finding out by experience and hands-on learning. What I mean is that I can describe an element or an exercise, but it is only by trying it out that I really find out.

Another aspect of the book I have enjoyed in this drafting is looking back at some productions I have done, particularly those with young people. I have been thinking especially about a production of Macbeth I did in the late 90s for the Galway Arts Festival and Galway Youth Theatre and remembered when Macbeth fled up a ladder high above the banquet when he saw the ghost of Banquo whilst the guests looked on aghast from below; or another moment when Lady Macbeth was stamped on by the witches as she made her vow of evil.

Another challenge is for me to keep the exercises and process clear for people with less experience and not over-simplify. I hope I have achieved that.

As Regina Crowley generously said in her review of Teaching Voice:

“The nature of the actor’s creative and expressive process is complex because the raw materials the human being who performs. Hafler is well aware of this and combines very effectively the teachings of Michael Chekhov with work on voice to awaken aspects of the performer.”

I am running a Voice/Chekhov/Shakespeare weekend here in Galway , June 21-23rd where we’ll be appropriately looking at A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is filling up but if you are interested email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com  or check out the website www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com

Body

IMG_5703In many plays, the idea that our character has a different body is generally limited to how we are clothed, our size, a disability perhaps, or age. That’s if it is specified in the text at all. Yet our bodies are the vessel for everything we are.

Like most things with Chekhov technique any accusations that our exercises are ‘floaty’ are completely refuted by the fact that what the technique explores is the reality of things as they are; in this case how we relate to our bodies and how the character relates to his own body.

In our workshop this weekend, as we explored the troubled characters in The Crucible, I began by asking the group to make considerations of their own bodies. This needed to be done with a degree of delicacy and limited sharing; the most important thing is for the actor to experience the body rather than talk about it, in any case. I asked everyone to consider how our bodies affected how we dress, what colours we wore, where our weight was centred, what parts of the body we liked and what we didn’t like and how those responses affected our every move; it is a sobering thing for actors to consider and experience. If we like our hands we are going to move them differently to how we would if we don’t like them. If we think our lips are attractive, we will use them differently.

So what if the character has this interconnected relationship to their body?  By putting on the body like a coat, we can find out.

This work on Imaginary Body goes so much further than just creating a convincing and particular shape for the character; it gives you a huge part of the character’s psychology. The body dictates how we breathe, our level of confidence and health, the tensions which build up in us; as we age the frame is restricted  and can freeze us into a cypher of everything that has happened to us through our lives.

How we relate to the body makes resonances and echoes in every single thing we do. To take an example, if Abigail Williams is aware of her sexual power from the start it makes a very different character to an Abigail Williams who does not.

Furthermore we have the impact of the environment on the bodies of the characters. On examining the hands of the characters, we considered those who had soft hands and those who did not . That one fact created a whole layer to a possible world; those with rough hands, physically strong but somehow in another world from the likes of the preachers and judges who govern the play. The soft-handed are trying to preserve their status, maintain control and impose morality upon the townsfolk. How do they feel about their hard-handed brethren? Do they feel superior, closer to God, fearful, guilty about their own inactivity?

It was interesting how both the power of Imaginary Body and Character Centre created really strong atmosphere on their own in our studio, though we did little work on atmosphere directly. It reminded me of Chekhov’s Chart for Inspired Acting where Chekhov said that if you inspire just one area, if it is effective, many of the other elements of the scene will fill effortlessly. Working for a good while on the idea of everyone having a centre that was a large spade brought the smell of the earth into the room; a sense of digging in; a world that was rough and shifting as the characters spoke to each other.

Very powerful.

IMG_5698The next Chekhov weekend is Actors Are Magicians, working with Form , atmosphere, directions and Tempo principally. It is here in Galway and runs from Friday evening till mid afternoon Sunday. We will be working on chapters of The Trial by Kafka. It is for Directors, actors, students and devisers. book by emailing chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com and visit the website http://www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com

Team Teaching

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Photo courtesy of Michael Chekhov Europe

Last summer I attended an International Conference for Michael Chekhov teachers in Grozjnan ,Croatia, hosted by Michael Chekhov Europe and the Michael Chekhov Association. Grozjnan is an extraordinary medieval village set on top of a modest mountain with stunning views of the countryside. The weather was extremely hot and we spent the first part of our trip exercising and sharing practically and in the second part of the conference, sharing our work either through discussion or exercises. It was truly international and well attended.

Most importantly of all it enabled us to meet and talk. I met many of the teachers who had taught me, and some of those I had trained with. I am sure I am not the only person for whom it drew together a lot of strands of our lives. We had talks by many of the amazing artist practitioners and the way in which they had employed the Chekhov work in professional theatre and applied drama.  I also became aware of many new translations of Chekhov’s seminal works To The Actor and On The Technique of Acting in different languages. It was a truly inspiring week.

Most of all it gave me a sense that I was not so isolated in teaching this work. It is strange, tucked away on the west coast of Ireland feeling as if, for the most part, you are really ploughing a furrow alone. Importantly too, it stopped me feeling an eccentric, or some kind of exotic fruit.  But now we see that this work is being taught more extensively in theatre schools and universities in the UK, the rest of Europe, the US, Asia and South America . It is also wonderful to see a new wave of books being brought out either directly about the technique,  or books like my own Teaching Voice and the one in preparation which, whilst not being about Chekhov in total, uses it as the bedrock of all of the work.

Furthermore I feel the Chekhov work is more than an acting technique (in fact all acting techniques are more than that) it is a way of seeing and experiencing the world. It makes you more sensitive to image, atmosphere, to the energy in your body and to the way you respond to others and they to you. As it emphasises the role of the artist as someone who “makes the intangible, tangible”, it affirms that the ‘intangible’ actually is something that can be experienced, felt and transmitted.

Chekhov technique involves us in a very different idea of what the actor is; an instinctive artist who delves deep into the imagination; that acting is not solely interpretive but creative in the way a sculptor, composer or a painter is creative; the action of the character is like the clay or the paint for a sculptor or painter. This sits well with many theatre makers who are often the authors of their own work, but even when this is not the case for you, Chekhov Technique gives you the feeling that you are creating your own totally original version of the character.

I have not team taught since I did a youth theatre project some years ago. I was a bit nervous about it. But I need not have worried about it . It was a great experience. I met Declan Drohan who works in the Institute of Technology Sligo teaching theatre, at Grozjnan. We thought it was weird that we had only chatted on Facebook, considering we lived only two hours or so away from each other. We resolved to run a workshop together. We settled on using Chekhov Technique for Solo Acting,

Team teaching, it seems to me, is like jamming in a musical duet. But you also need to be really organised, respectful of the other and above all, to be aware of the rhythm of the other person. You need to be careful not to undermine or ‘pull focus’ when the other teacher is in full flow. and remember that the students are making the connection with the other teacher when they are teaching and not to disturb that too often, as it can be very irritating to the student. I think there needs to be an acknowledgement that the two teachers are sharing that connection with the class. If there is something you feel needs to be said about something the other person is teaching, you bide your time until an opportunity appears when you are leading or you forget about it because it is not the end of the world if, at that moment, that piece of information is not passed.

The students get more contact time,  because you have more time to side teach a little. When there is only one teacher and you focus on one person you are very limited as to the time you can spend with them, because you need to be mindful of the atmosphere and focus in the whole room. When you are team-teaching you can absolutely relax.

Declan and I are hoping to do another workshop together some time this year. Thanks and gratitude to him and also to the exciting full-throttled group who came to Enter,An Actor and produced some powerful and invigorating work.

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actors working on atmosphere.

The next workshop is The Epic Voice, February 15-17 and Imaginary Body, Character Centre March 29-31. There will be workshops in May, June and a summer school in August. email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com

Next

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working on a piece with actor Mary Monahan [photo John McHugh]

Auditioning is a stressful time. You can feel you are being judged, that the world is against you, that acting is a cruel competitive nightmare where you hold none of the cards. Where you have only a few minutes to prove something. Try to see it as an opportunity. This is an easy thing to write but not so easy to do. As someone who has worked as both a professional actor and  director I have seen this situation from both sides.

Desperation is a scent you can inadvertently put out and it is almost certainly lessening your chances . Forced nonchalance (which often happens as a result of desperation) suggests you do not care about the project and you would rather be somewhere else. The trick is to stay open without either of these excesses.

A way to deal with all of this is to work with Chekhov’s ideal centre. Use your imagination to create that openness. Work with personal atmosphere. Focus the breathing.

Find out everything you can about the project and the director before you go. Be informed but not smart ass. Be careful not to talk too much. ( very difficult for me!) Above all try not to give your interpretation of a role . You cannot second guess what the director wants from the character and if your interpretation is very different you could be lessening your chances.  The thing is that often your ‘interpretation’ is not an interpretation at all, just something to prove you have a view on the play. Flexibility and openness are the key here too.

Auditioning is where the concerns of the commercial world and your artistic integrity collide in a difficult moment. You need the money, you want to be wanted, you will make the best of whatever it is. These feelings inflate the situation and often stop you from giving of your best. On a practical note, come prepared. If as a director, you are asked by an agent for ‘sides’ when you are auditioning for a play like THE GLASS MENAGERIE, the actor is already creating a negative impression. This actually happened when I was directing a professional touring production a few years ago. I felt sorry for the young actor, whom I felt was depressed and unprepared. I worked with him even though I knew I would not cast him. After twenty minutes, when he was showing some serious improvement, I said as kindly as I could, “I would advise you that when you come for an audition again, that you are at this level when you come in.”

When I am auditioning as a theatre director, I want to look at how the person works on a role. This is very important to me. Some actors look horrified when I ask that question but how else can I work with them if I do not know this? I want to know in the broadest terms. Do you find the character directly from life experience? Do you work primarily from the text? Do you work primarily through imagery and the body? Maybe you could give me an example? As an actor, there is no right thing to say here. A way to answer it might be to explain how you worked on another role you did.

If you can, and some people might say something like ‘I work with my instinct’ then a director needs to use their own instinct to decide.

CHARACTERS AND AUDITIONS , a weekend audition workshop using Michael Chekhov Technique working on the process and audition pieces will be held at NUIG from the 6-8 April. The cost is 80€. email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com to book your place.
go to http://www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com for more information

Twelfth Night Polarities

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

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

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

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

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