Tag Archives: Weekend Acting Courses Ireland

‘The reward of artists brave enough…’

IMG_6498_1When I run a weekend course in Chekhov technique (or anything for that matter) I want to feel that I am exploring something with the group, that it is not me merely imparting, but it is a traffic between them and me and them and each other.

I am aware that sometimes when running short courses it becomes easy for the teacher to either stay in the basics (which can irritate your faithful participants who come back for more advanced work) or to move too quickly to certain elements of the Chekhov work to encourage application of the work without providing the building blocks required for everyone, teaching with a kind of vague hope that everyone will ‘get there in the end’.

I feel I have found something out. When I structured this weekend on incorporating images I focussed almost totally on the imagination. Of course when you visit centres or atmospheres or almost anything in the Chekhov work you are heavily engaging the imagination. By learning how to use a particular element you can get a lot of focussed power. However if you do not give a space to awaken the imagination first, it makes exploring those elements much harder. We began the workshop with me asking the group, without thinking, to each create a statue of concentration and then imagination. The former produced narrow, focussed downward-looking shapes (with most people frowning) whilst imagination produced upward, open shapes (with most smiling) . This provoked immediate discussion on how we felt about these concepts and the differences between them as Chekhov described them. This gave us a great physical springboard into some of the early exercises in concentration and imagination.

So we spent a lot of time engaging the imagination first with a myriad of stimuli and then moved on to only an exploration of Ideal Centre and then imaginary centres (only making an image in the heart centre). We also did a brief exploration of General Atmosphere, but again in the preliminary sense of working with environments (the beach a library etc) rather than exploring abstractions and colours and feelings through atmosphere to introduce the concept more broadly.

The more I explore teaching this work, the more I realise that, rather than being a hindrance, an attempt to apply the training, even when you have not wholly grasped it , gives the student a feeling of where things are going and that, with guidance, you can help out when the stuðent is not following the image, the gesture or the atmosphere as faithfully as they might. After all one of the main rules is that you simply are faithful to your imagination or the sensations your body gives you and follow them in trust and faith. That is it.

We worked with a play called Love and Information by Caryl Churchill which has a number of short scenes powered with themes and conversation but not, immediately at least, with imagery. Working with images first enabled us to create scenes which were much deeper and multilayered than going immediately for the obvious, materialist telling. They were fascinating, sometimes dangerous and people used the images to create powerful dynamics between the actors.

As Chekhov says in On The Technique of Acting “what is the reward of artists brave enough to acknowledge the objectivity of the world of the Imagination?” We found that the answer was to open a text to a whole different layer of exploration through image first and logic second.

IMG_6406The next workshop explores a world that tips into chaos; we question in some measure the purpose of art  in these difficult times (as Chekhov did himself) The next workshop here in Galway is on polarity, good vs evil and we will work with King Lear. It is November 29th-Dec 1st. email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com for one the remaining places.




The rest is silence; poses and pauses

IMG_3037 copySo for the final weekend in the series of Michael Chekhov workshops, we embarked on an exploration of silence, of pauses, in a play. We began with the whole question of ‘What is a pause?’ And how do we find that ‘what’ in our bodies, so as to better understand it? As Chekhov said, a pause is a place of great inner movement even when the character is physically still. Often when we watch a play, actors pause because it says so in the script, or because the director has asked them to, or sometimes one of the actors feels a pause is right and the other doesn’t. The unwilling actor tries to look meaningful when the actor who wants to take the pause does it. Often the pause has little or nothing to do with the character or situation but has more to do with the actor’s ego. When this happens the unwilling actor struggles to support the other but the pause is ultimately empty and meaningless. These are ‘poses’ rather than pauses. A pause has to be organic.

Within this apparent stillness of the pause there can be an entire universe of experience; of battle; of understanding; of love;of defeat.

The only time there is no movement of energy through and within us is when we are dead. It’s inner movement. Very violent sometimes. It has direction and power. There is usually a change of psychological direction and quality after a pause, even if it is very subtle. So pauses are less about stillness than change. A useful thing to consider is when you get bad news. The energy comes into you and plunges down and back. When you get good news it usually goes up .

A pause is to do with the invisible, with energy. Michael Chekhov says it is often to do with something that is going to happen or a response to something that has happened. It has an impact. We do know that when there is a pause,something happens. Even when we are stunned by news we feel an impulse to make sense of it, to journey round or through the information we have just been given as if it was some kind of material terrain like a maze or jungle or barbed wire. There is an ocean of energy swirling around us and between people. That is often how it feels anyway, and if we want an audience to feel the full potency of that, we need to believe it.

So we started to explore this movement of energy in our bodies, to explore the nature of a pause and stillness. At first I asked everyone to stand still and asked them to consider what happens. Do you listen to the birds? the rain? Do you zone out your eyes? Do you close your eyes. Do you start thinking? What about? what happens.

I suggested people might move if  they wanted to. What happens? They change the atmosphere by moving don’t they? You want to move too, yes? Or if you want to stay still you need to somehow increase your efforts to somehow block out the moving person.

I suggested they walk slowly then Stop; walk fast, then stop. Then I asked them to sense the nature of these pauses and how did they change when you changed the tempo of the outer activity? Then I asked them to try stopping and then deciding to change direction. Changing the direction of energy gave us surprising feelings.

I asked them to explore making an action and just stop doing what they were doing and then continue. THE QUALITY OF THE ENERGY CHANGES OF ITSELF You cannot go on as you did before .You cannot keep it the same. Your whole being demands difference.

With exercises like this we listened to our bodies; radiating and receiving; opening and closing.We found that a pause was an ending or a new beginning. When you listened to your body this all became abundantly clear. The invisible became something of palpable experience. Something we could perhaps talk about and change.

One of the big moments for me over the weekend was our work using personal atmosphere and pausing. I asked the group to work in pairs with their text from THE BIRTHDAY PARTY (no better a play to work with silences). At first I asked them to experience their personal atmosphere as they worked with their scenes facing their partners. Then I asked them that every time their character spoke they were to imagine that their personal atmosphere almost engulfed their partner so they were,yes, responding to their partner, but also attempting to somehow control the other with their words, to make them compliant with the speaking character’s world view. This resulted in some excellently filled moments of pause because this to-ing and fro-ing of personal atmosphere does not just happen when we speak but in the silences between words. and it does not only happen between personal atmospheres either but between the personal atmosphere and the general atmosphere surrounding the characters.

It reminded me of the nunnery scene in Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE when the debauched Lucio arrives at the nunnery to persuade Isabella to come and plead for her brother’s life. Here we are in this holy cloister when this man brings in his personal atmosphere of the brothel. It collides with this overpowering general atmosphere of the cloister. As the text goes on and he becomes more serious, there is a real palpability in the idea that it is the atmosphere of where he is that makes him be more serious. This possibility that personal atmosphere is a serious player in not just how a character does something but what they do is an interesting consideration of how characters and we as humans operate.

A fabulous weekend. Thanks to all. As someone said at the end of the weekend, ‘I found out that the pauses were at least as important as the words.’

My next Chekhov School is to be with Hugo Moss from Michael Chekhov Brasil. Registration is open. The title of the workshop is Giving Voice to the Imagination. May 23rd-26th. You can find more information on the Dublin Workshop page of this blog. or visit http://www.chekhovtrainingandperformanceireland.com

Directing with Depth M. Chekhov technique

IMG_1949 copy” We were sitting at the table for months and months, speaking about our parts and our characters, and becoming very clever and wise about the play, but none of us could begin to act!”  Michael Chekhov – Lessons For Professional Actor 

Are directors, alchemists or workers? The answer of course is both.

The focus of our last weekend workshop explored Chekhov Technique specifically considering the alchemy of director, actor and text.  We began with exercises exploring the role of the director. Roles and the creative balance of director and actor were the main focus. One thing that became clear to me through the weekend is that directors are also teachers. They are teachers whoever they are working with. When I say ‘teacher’ I do not mean a pedagogical finger-wagging, tantrum-throwing teacher whose only standard is making those within their orbit obey their vision. My definition of a teacher is that he/she is like the leader of an expedition who leads but also listens and takes advice from others, indeed may even change the direction of the expedition on their suggestion. Being a dictatorial director can make a miserable company.

Discovering the ‘spine’ for a play, a spine that could be discovered together seems to be absolutely key, because without that ‘spine’ and as Chekhov would call it, a ‘score’, how can the actor play his role effectively within it? I have been involved in many productions where actors do not compromise and set their will against the director, claiming the character as ‘their department’. If they do not come into open conflict with the director they try and score points for their characterisation, and moan about the director in private. This situation as many many people have experienced creates for bad working practise, a miserable time and often a terrible production as the other actors instead of working as a harmonious team, take sides.

So the score has to be agreed. It can be flexible as the whole team goes on the voyage together but it has to be agreed.

Another thing for us as Chekhov directors is that actors need to know their lines by the end of the first week. Waiting for the thought process to come or fully understanding the character before you set them into your memory is no excuse for an actor; hanging onto the book  constrains the actor, prevents true connection and radiation with fellow actors, and keeps the director guessing as to what the actor might do. True creation can only come when the lines are learned, and the real connection between the actors and the director can grow.

One thing for the directors I observed and supported in our group this weekend is that they began by hurling themselves into it with their actors, but then gradually worked more and more confidently and closely with their group. It was lovely to see this as everyone became more comfortable with each other. I really wished we had had a longer time.

Another major moment in the workshop for me was radiating and receiving, a standard exercise which I think is the absolute bedrock of any performance; where everyone was radiating from their centre walking around the room, meeting people and speaking a line of their text, in this case, from Blood Wedding. What was so crystal clear was that the way you received your colleague’s energy completely dictated the way you said the line. and the longer you respected that initial moment of contact, the more you felt that energy moving between you to speak the line in a certain way. Magic. It emphasised for me the importance of opening fully to your partner and taking your time.
We did a chunk of work on general atmosphere. Chekhov calls atmosphere ‘the oxygen of the performance’,  and that if we transmit atmosphere then it can be so powerful that despite other weaknesses in performance, the audience can be deeply affected. And the funny thing about atmosphere is that it is not necessarily sensible to take the literal location as an appropriate atmosphere. In the scene with the Woodcutters we went for an atmosphere of ‘Ice’ as opposed to ‘the forest’, which is where it is supposed to be. ‘Ice’ seemed to suggest something of the ominous setting with wraith-like woodcutters, vampire moons and beggars of Death. This produced extraordinary results. Whilst of course there were a whole number of developments beyond that to develop the scene, the pacing and placing of it in the context of the play, the atmosphere provided us with an incredible starting point.

I firmly believe that the more we can engage directors with the Chekhov approach, the less it becomes a toolbox and more an intrinsic creative way of looking at drama .I intend to run a longer workshop for directors in the future.

I am looking forward to the Third Spring workshop June 17th – 19th, IMAGINATION AND THE BODY, a weekend in fundamental principles which is for those fairly new to the work, or those wanting to reconnect with it after an absence. email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com or phone 086 330 7325 for further information. NB. This course is filling up quickly .

I am going to write more about this and more about the further developments of Chekhov Training and Performance Ireland, in my next blogpost.