Tag Archives: Theatre

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

Zooming with Chekhov

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Michael Chekhov.

I want to begin with an extract of a note I sent to my group of Chekhov students yesterday after a Zoom session.

‘First of all thankyou again for a committed session on atmosphere. There were three big plusses for me, one in that sense of commitment, two when you all crossed the threshold into your room between the hallway and your room, reminding us that for now your study was your stage; and three when,  in the movement exercise, I suggested you imagine the walls of the room were not there. In that moment, it was as if everyone’s walls vanished, rather like in the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are.’

A polarity within this strange time in which we find ourselves is whether the work we are doing is primarily for the ease and betterment  of the people who come to the virtual class or to be really teaching the technique to actors for the enlightenment of an audience. The virtual workshop puts this dilemma up front and centre. everyone has a different focus but I would say myself that the work is always a balancing act and has to be both.

When I saw that moment in my workshop, when I asked people to imagine their energies were pulsating out through the walls, I felt something happened. Something very powerful was communicated to me very strongly through those little zoom squares. And that thing was even more powerful exactly because they were working within their rooms rather than the studio. It made me connect with prisoners in darker situations than most of us and how the imagination liberates and compensates us all when in difficult situations provided our will is not broken by the weight of what is happening to us;  when we are not actually ill or oppressed or struggling financially so much that we are in danger.

Today in the class for the first time I encouraged a lot of work in their rooms away from the monitors, and above all to not always allow the monitor to be the focus of their radiation, to trust the participants more to commit for themselves; to allow the cord of energy from the monitor to link us together rather than them (and I) feeling like it was a rope we had to hang onto for dear life. Of course there are distractions where they were and we did talk about that a bit. It is not dissimilar to when you are working on a film and a whole pile of things are going on around you, but you have to be there in your reality and your truth with your fellow performers.

I personally feel like an artist who has to kind of work underground, like Shakespeare and his company hiding out during the plague years or theatre in times of war and oppression.

I particularly wondered about theatre companies in the English Civil War when theatre was banned as ungodly. What did the actors do during this strange and difficult period of many years? What was lost? Who died in penury, their living and their creative talent and opportunities wasted?  I want to keep this Chekhov work vibrant while we are in lockdown because it is a unique way of seeing the world and creating art; because even in this difficult time we have a duty to preserve our artistic wholeness.

“The artist of today cannot be an artist if he is disconnected from real life; it has never been possible in any ethos, in any culture.”  Michael Chekhov Lessons for Teachers

Ironically, whilst Zoom is strange, for now it is a reality. I have been surprised at sometimes just what comes through. We have to stay awake.

One thing that is lovely is that I am much more in contact with international colleagues, and that people from all over the world are coming to study with me. That is fun.

(email chekhovtpi@gmail.com for courses)

 

The whole world can come!

IMG_5906.JPGIn the meantime…… whilst online learning is far from ideal there are aspects of the Michael Chekhov technique we can explore and it means THE WHOLE WORLD CAN COME!!!!

ONLINE TEACHING FOR CHEKHOV TRAINING AND PERFORMANCE IRELAND

One to One sessions- Let It Begin.

If your connection to the Chekhov technique is fairly new then these 4 / 45 minute sessions will act as something for your understanding and practise. Perhaps you want to reconnect with the work after an absence. Above all we have to remember that Chekhov Technique is an experiential practise so much of our time together will be working on Spy back or Flyback, that is looking back on the experiences you have had when practicing the technique, though we will do SOME exercises in our face to face time together. Clearly we will be restricted somewhat but for now that has to be ok.

You will need to have learned an 8-10 line speech from a play you know well. I would prefer it not to be from a movie.

Session One: Qualities of movement and an introduction to Gesture
Session Two: Ideal centre. Directions of Energy/ radiating and receiving.
Session Three: General Atmosphere
Session Four: Psychological Gesture.

please email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com for information on how to register and book.

FOCUSSING SESSIONS FOR THOSE ARTISTS WITH SOME CHEKHOV EXPERIENCE (GROUP)

This pause in our inability to meet together to practise and develop our acting skills through the Chekhov technique, is also an opportunity to really focus on our practise in the technique, to take more responsibility for it rather than simply getting a buzz from the workshops, which I know is a massive learning tool in itself but it is not everything . So yes, in a sense this might give us a breathing space to give us a chance to focus personally on our relationship to the technique and how it lives in us.

Each week each participant will undertake to do at least 20 minutes per day practising and focussing on a principle of the Chekhov Technique and keep some notes of their discoveries which we will share in our on-line sessions. these on line sessions might be 40 minute checking in sessions and talking through our discoveries. (it’s ok if you don’t have any) For this first four weeks I propose that I suggest the four topics and suggest a few exercises to go with them.

I will not charge for this organising and facilitation for this first month because I want to see how it works! We will start by using Skype I wantabout 8 people but may expand it later and do longer session discussion groups. There are a lot of possibilities here and we should not be downhearted about it.
WEEK ONE : The Dramatic Imagination. Developing our imagination for creativity …working with novels , short stories. Chekhov’s image work with fairy stories.

WEEK TWO Concentration on working with object images to create character. ‘Falling in love’ with the object. Working with images. Making the image larger or smaller

WEEK THREE Working with Energy. energy body. Expanding and shaping the centre.

WEEK FOUR General Atmosphere. Working with a short poem or song . noticing atmospheres in your daily life… The Atmosphere of Quarantine for instance.

email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com

Falling Prey

A play I wrote and performed in the 80s came into my mind today. It was called Falling Prey.

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Joseph living on the streets

In the mid to late 80s i was living in Central London and we were right in the middle of the AIDS pandemic. For a while many people pretended not much was happening. This is a natural response when something you feel is wonderful and helps define you (in this case, a free-and-easy approach to sexual encounters) is under threat. We tried to brush it aside and say things like, “well don’t have sex with Americans” as it had been rumoured to originate there amongst the gay community. Or you might say there were certain things you could and couldn’t do. A whole raft of theories came up ; some correct, some completely unfounded. Many people would cling onto anything, as long as they could just behave as they had always done, for a while at least. 

On the other side, people were all too prepared to exercise their prejudices and hate. People were blamed immediately; the usual suspects; gay men, prostitutes, drug addicts and Africans.  (I was deeply saddened by the Italian ambassador to Britain pleading with the British population not to target Italians as the corona-carriers the other day.)

In the 80’s  the blaming was overt and inflammatory, because the targets were the object of vilification to start with. AIDS was “The wrath of God” against sexual perverts. Even when it was clarified that straight people could get it too, that vilification did not go away.  The Evening Standard newspaper was one of the worst offenders. Gays should be monitored, tagged, and sent to camps. You could catch it from kissing and from swimming pools they said and a whole raft of rumours spread. It was very very scary.

in 1987 I wrote a play set five years into the future (1992) called FALLING PREY,  presented at the Man in the Moon Theatre in King’s Road London predicated on the idea that the police were given powers to round up the homeless and test them, there was mandatory testing for high risk groups and that only those tested from high risk groups with a ‘clear’ status could work in caring professions.  The play was pretty epic in scope and was as much about Thatcher’s divided Britain as it was about AIDS. Thatcherite policies such as , “There is no such thing as society” one of her particular pronouncements encouraged the kind of division and nastiness such as exists even more at the moment. I already am appalled by the way I feel some politicians are using the current emergency as a smokescreen to consolidate their power.

In Falling Prey, there were three interweaving stories: Mel, (Liz Richardson) an unfocussed lonely middle class housewife who became paranoid about AIDs and became gradually politicised by a right wing group; a soft ‘liberal’ trendy gay spokesperson Colberton (Charles Grant) for the oncoming identity card campaign; and a young primary school teacher Joseph (myself), who because he suspects that he might be HIV positive goes underground and ends up homeless, who endures all sorts of deprivation only to discover at the end of the play that he is not, that he has endured that persecution for nothing. At the end of the ordeal he completely goes mad , attacking the policeman who brought him in saying “you’ve got something! You’ve got something!” Joseph’s journey might be hard to understand today but it spoke very much to how people were feeling at the time. You were dealing with a feeling that you might be guilty of something (after all, the media intimated you were) and there was no cure then, in fact even the remedial drugs were very experimental . I knew a few people who killed themselves rather than endure years of suffering and pain. It is sad and shocking to think of it now.

But whilst there is still no adequate vaccine  for AIDS(though it is getting there) , the ‘holding drugs’ have allowed people to engage in full lives and the prejudice that seemed so imminent then did not manifest itself in quite that way thank goodness. In many respects, not least Ireland, there has been excellent progress. Lest we get blasé even about this however , Poland, a member of the EU no less, is still horrifically setting up LGBT free-zones. (The EU should be threatening them with expulsion for this behaviour in my opinion).

thinking about now,

Right now I feel like a minor character in an Old Testament story in the midst of the Deity’s Wrath:  plagues of locusts, War, out of control Fire and Flood. Globalisation, greed, inequality, murder, rape, trafficking and of course the rebelling angry  climate.

In my house, the Anchorhold, where I live with my partner I have always felt like I live on a ship. (On windy days like today it seems especially so).The first year we arrived here was 94/95 which, for those reading this and alive then, was a wild and fractious winter here in Ireland . Our house feels like the Ark, ploughing through the wind and rain – in movement itself, rather than still. It feels as if we are on a voyage in it,

which of course we are.

 

‘Bring your music forth into the air’

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Measure for Measure 2013 Sarah O’Toole as Isabella

People have become quite exercised of late that actors are ignoring the rhythm of iambic pentameter in Shakespeare and that this is something of a problem. Michael Billington further examined this statement in an article in The Guardian today. This is a really useful article which asks some very interesting questions. The idea that the RSC was going to create,  ‘a Shakespeare “gym” in Stratford-upon-Avon to ensure, in the words of its artistic director Gregory Doran, “Everyone has the iambic pentameter in their bloodstream.”‘ is a pretty funny idea. (I imagine pentameter press-ups, and caesura stretches…)

The point is in Shakespeare’s day the language pretty much carried EVERYTHING; deep character psychology, description of place, general atmosphere, told the story and on and on. People had a different more magical relationship to language than we do now. That is what people should be focussing on. The loss of the rhythm is something, that we cannot feel the rhythm in the language; but I abhorred Peter Hall’s slavish concern (mentioned in Billington’s Article) with metre and even punctuation. You have only to look at the various Arden Editions of any Shakespeare play to realise that where you put a comma or a semi-colon is up for discussion, not a sacrosanct thing to take you back to the real meaning of the words. This rigid, tedious and over-intellectualised exploration becomes another prison for the actor, not a form on which to ride and express. That,I think, is part of the reason why many actors have moved away from the rhythm. They feel instinctively it denies them an authenticity rather than a form that can help them create. I actually destroyed Peter Hall’s book rather than give it away, I thought it so damaging for young actors. This does not mean I do not think the rhythm is relevant but it needs to be correctly placed within what is important.

There are of course, trends. When I was training in the 70s as an actor, there was a deep suspicion of anything too ‘poetic’, a real reaction away from Olivier and Gielgud. There was a feeling that the character and the language were kind of separate; There was the story and there was the beautiful poetry which we had to appreciate but  it was not the same as the character. This made for either flat verse speaking (making the language ‘speak for itself’ which for me is like that other 70s acting maxim ‘do nothing’ which meant precisely that); or it made for a stylised way of speaking. It all depended on the kind of actor you were.

Michael Billington  talks about great actors ‘flouting the rules’ of iambic pentameter and isolating a word or phrase, rather than sticking slavishly to the metre. That is as it should be; the rhythm is a score but not to be played slavishly or it becomes this ridiculous Shakespearean  canter through the text, which we are supposed to believe is wonderful. Billington says “Like a jazz trumpeter, an actor has to know the rules in order to bend them.” This is for me, absolutely spot-on

What people have to do is yes, be aware of the rhythm but, more importantly, exercise to really get inside the imagery and the language using body as well as voice to make that happen at least in the workshop/rehearsal . To use the language fully and to trust that it can do it; that used well, it is magic.  Above all they need to be sensitive to sound and to the metaphor which tells us so much more than creating some flowery language. …the language is not something to get over so we can explore the character; it tells us how the character’s mind works. That, for instance, was why Andrew Scott’s HAMLET which I saw on tv last year was so disappointing (and he is an actor I admire) because his delivery was not based on a habitation of the text.

I have just finished writing a book about Shakespeare, ‘What Country Friends, Is This?’ which tackles a lot of these issues of language in a practical way  through the Michael Chekhov technique; it is something I feel passionate about. It is to be published by Nick Hern Books on Shakespeare’s birthday.

 

Adapting with Chekhov

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In 2003 I directed a production of  Kafka’s The Trial in an adaptation by Steven Berkoff for the Cuirt Festival of Literature with Galway Youth Theatre. It was a success. We revived it, took it on tour to England and got an incredible review in the Irish Times by the late Eileen Battersby.

Berkoff’s stark version is intensely theatrical, a full throated ensemble version of the text and the young actors threw themselves into the performance with enthusiasm and precision. Berkoff demands an ensemble be onstage throughout and be focussed, disciplined and inventive. In that we were extremely successful.  However, looking back, the adaptation itself has a hard unbending edge to it from the very beginning and affected where we went with it.

I remember reading the novel before I did the production and really missing the kind of mysterious depth I feel is in it, a kind of overwhelming onset of thick darkness as if the unfortunate Joseph K is drowning and cannot escape. There is the feeling of a labyrinth in it, different from the empty doorframes Berkoff used in his adaptation and we used for ours. In the novel K is a much more likeable chap than the uptight guy created by Berkoff. I never saw his own production so maybe I am misjudging it. But for me that harshness in the adaptation meant that the production was hard to evolve. It was hard to make a journey. Indeed, the way it seems in the adaptation it seems like it is K’s nightmare which does not give the other characters anywhere to go. As we were working from that adaptation, I got the actors and designer to embody that view, which was theatrically effective, but also lost something.

Maybe you always lose something when you adapt. I have been interested in adaptation for a long time, having, in another period of my life, written a lot of plays and made a number of adaptations for theatre companies in Ireland and the UK. Right now I am writing a book about Shakespeare and part of it is about editing and transposing; how it can be successful and how it can be a disaster.

I was teaching Ensemble and Devising at NUI Galway for many years and over my final years with Ensemble, more and more of my Chekhov training was coming into my approach; imagination, qualities of movement, atmosphere, gesture and composition were incorporated as other things were let go. Composition and Form are particularly important as there is such a danger in adaptation and devised work that a piece can lose its thread and become shapeless.

I have always been a big believer that the Chekhov Technique is not only for regular plays but for a much wider body of work, and more people are using the work in that way. So in the weekend of May 17th -19th for Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland  I want to look at episodes in this novel, The Trial, and explore them through the Michael Chekhov technique, to see if we can find something different, something deeper. One thing I have found with the Technique is that I always discover something new with anything we look at in these courses.

If you wish to attend, email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com to place a deposit and book your place. The weekend is being held at NUI Galway, runs from May 17-19 (The 17th is only a short evening session). The cost is €90 for the weekend.

 

 

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

The Vessel and The Soul

Imaginary Body and Centre through Michael Chekhov Technique.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

My Kingdom For a Horse! -Opinion

After hearing great things about the Druid Shakespeare project which played in the tiny Mick Lally Theatre in 2015 where they tackled several of the History plays and which I sadly missed, I was looking forward to RICHARD 3 which played in the Town Hall Theatre Galway for a week before going to the Dublin Theatre Festival.  Everyone I asked who saw the play earlier in the week praised Aaron Monaghan’s performance but were less complimentary about other performances and other aspects of the production.

Aaron Monaghan is a very talented actor and made a cracking start as Richard but as the production progressed he seemed to get lost in what seemed to me a very unfocussed production in both style and direction. (With my voice teacher’s hat on, and on the evidence of last night’s show, he also needs to do some serious voice work on the later scenes). In the end though, a talented actor cannot stand alone even in a huge role and needs the full focus and guided support of the other performers. Too often I felt many of the smaller roles were not inhabited either vocally or physically and they looked lost. Consequently, there seemed no world created by the actors in which the play could live.

Many people might think that it is the set, lights, music and costume which provide this sense of a world, this atmosphere, but these elements only partly contribute to it. In any case we were not helped by the design in this respect and nor were the actors. In a forbidding industrial set, the actors inhabited the space in sparkly colourful ‘medievally’ costumes. This contrast between set and costume went completely over my head and did not seem to be embraced by the actors.

In truth though, it is the actors and director who create a strong sense of the world, by the atmosphere they create. (Michael Chekhov calls atmosphere, “the oxygen of the performance”). Too often the scenes at court particularly gave no sense of the viciousness, backstabbing  and jockeying for position which is there in the play from the start. Interestingly the play has the feel of a Jacobean play, sharply juxtaposing comedy with horror and tragedy, even though it is a fairly early work by Shakespeare. This Jacobean sense was well served by some good editing.

Without atmosphere the actors are like fish in a goldfish bowl with no water. And that was the overall feeling it gave me. Every so often, through many of Richard’s early soliloquies, in the scene where Clarence is murdered and at least the first of the subsequent executions, the atmosphere would pour in and I felt like I was watching something with some dynamism. The performance of Marty Rea was in large part responsible for this. His emotional power and sense of inhabiting the whole of his character is palpable.

The lack of atmosphere and passion in the later scenes with the struggling, angry and grieving women was extremely disappointing. Too often I was playing out the scene in my imagination in response to the text and thinking ‘wow’ rather than watching the performers perform. Why was this? There simply was not enough emotional and vocal energy in those scenes which should tear me apart as I watch them. Are we not seeing enough of horror on the news to get some sense of what women are going through right now, trying to ‘speak to power’? These scenes had enormous potential to make these connections but I did not feel they were there.

In general, the characters did not go on a sufficient journey within scenes nor through the whole play. It is very tempting to believe that the energy of this play is Richard’s villainy but it is also about the culpability of those who choose to serve him and those who abandon him – a situation mirrored particularly in Macbeth as all the lords, one by one, change sides and leave Macbeth to his fate.

In terms of a character ‘journey’ let’s consider act 4 sc 4; the scene where the three devastated women meet. Queen Margaret, when asked to teach them to curse, says:

“Compare dead happiness with living woe.

Think that thy babes were sweeter than they were,

And he that slew them fouler than he is.”

She leaves and the two wronged women then encounter Richard on his way to Bosworth. Richard has to deal with his mother’s curses. Indeed, her emotional journey seems to be that she learns to curse effectively, to channel her rage. When she leaves, he tries to get Queen Elizabeth to collude in getting her own daughter to marry him. The scene with Queen Elizabeth, who has had both of her other children murdered by Richard already, is very challenging as she tries to express her rage and save her child and herself. In my opinion, Richard is beginning to fail once his mother’s curses have been delivered, perhaps even earlier when he is abandoned by Buckingham. Without this real diminishing of his power, how can he then be visited by ghosts and delude himself into saying he was not a murderer?

Finally, I would have to say that, whilst I understand the acoustics of the Town Hall Theatre are tricky, having worked there myself, there were too many times when people did not root their breath sufficiently. Without breath, all the passion and intensity for the character will not radiate into the space. Without rooted breath you may also harm your voice. A voice coach would have been far more use than a movement director in my opinion. On that note, there was some very embarrassing “ensemble” work and ‘fighting’ which I would have been ashamed to see in a youth theatre, never mind a heavily funded project going to the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Ultimately, as a friend of mine remarked, the real star of the evening was the writer. Whilst I still enjoyed the evening I was only occasionally moved. I was baffled as the obligatory standing ovation took place, and I and my friends stared open-mouthed at a lot of backs.

The Sacred Space

“a place where prayer has been valid”. T.S Eliot.

I have rehearsed and worked in many strange and often inhospitable places but whatever has happened I have for many years tried to instil in people a respect for the space. When we make work we can do it anywhere under the most challenging circumstances because, of course, it is the work that is important. However, the work exists in a space and if the room is cold or inadequate it can be a huge challenge, because that space tells everyone whether you and your work are respected in an institution or by society at large. As artists are continually under-valued, this issue of a clean, resourced and purposeful space can be a sensitive one.  I feel we are very lucky in NUI Galway to have a new theatre building which has two lovely studio spaces.

The whole concept of space is fascinating. Right now, Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland is remounting Lorna Shaughnessy’s SACRIFICIAL WIND, a retelling of the sacrifice of Iphigenia, and we are taking it up to the prestigious Heaney Homeplace in Northern Ireland. The venue is beautiful and extraordinary with a theatre inspired by a Greek Amphitheatre. The audience are on three sides with tiered seating . There are more seats at the sides than the front. When we performed the piece over a year ago in the Cuirt International Festival in Galway Ireland,  in the Town Hall Theatre Studio, a small end-on studio space with seating on the long side of the studio, it made for a wide stage space. The piece, extremely powerful, was very still, confessional, and formal. This space was almost entirely the opposite type of space to the Heaney Homeplace.

Working within this almost promenade setting in the new venue has given us the opportunity to open up the piece into a much more physical almost Shakespearean presentation, in the way the characters explain and justify their actions around and during the sacrifice of Iphigenia. In fact, and this is what is most interesting, it is the space itself which has demanded this change rather than any demand of mine or the actors. Things we used to find gloriously effective do not alway work in this different configuration. This is not merely a question of the technical considerations but something that happens when people inhabit a particular space and creating a new dynamic.

When I start teaching next week with my undergrad group on Shakespeare, part of the course involves looking at the shape of Shakespeare’s theatre and how that structure affected the nature of the drama and the way the plays were written; particularly with relation to the connection with the audience which the thrust stage provides.

And do these shapes and spaces not have something to do with atmosphere, that most potent element explored in detail by Michael Chekhov in his technique? That the shape of the space and its purpose help create an atmosphere uninfluenced by those who enter that space? That the atmosphere has, of itself, great power and its own demands on what happens within it?

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Orla Tubridy Michael Irwin and Catherine Denning – The Sacrificial Wind

Catch The Sacrificial Wind at the Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy Co. Derry +44 (0)28 7938 7444 on the 22nd September 7.30 http://www.seamusheaneyhome.com

or on the 28th September Free performance at the ODT on campus at NUI Galway at lunchtime 1pm . You will need to arrive early to ensure a seat.