Over the past few weeks I have been looking into various directing processes and techniques that could fit into my own practice. With very little experience of theatre directing I was starting from the very beginning hoping to find some little gems of information that for one would suit my practice, and two offered a different way to explore the creative process.
I began with the director Declan Donnellan, artistic director of Cheek By Jowl who’s show I had seen at Warwick Arts Centre. The aspect I identified most within his writings was his focus on space both in the rehearsal room and within text allows both the actors and audience to take an outside perspective with the ability to view from the inside of a character as well. This he achieves by ridding himself and the creative process of assumptions, allowing for a freer experience. This open mentality to working with actors and their characters gave me an insight into a possible way that I could approach devising theatre as a director. That I can have an open conversation with the performers to speak objectively about who each of the characters are and how they fit within their own individual identities.
I then visited Glenn Noble to discuss his process within long form improvisation and his work as a director. With the same mentality as Donnellan’s, Noble prefers to take a step back and allow the performers to explore ideas and collaboratively create together as an ensemble. Working more with improvisation than with classic text like Donnellan, Noble creates a storyboard as a visual stimulus for all creatives, while leaving everything else to practical exploration. The idea of director as facilitator rather than authority is Noble’s directing technique and I have found it could fit incredibly well into my own practice. I truly identified with the role of facilitator, as it leaves so much room for a genuine collaborative process and allows others access to creative authority. Both space and facilitation are terms and ideas I will continue to explore within my own practice either as a director or choreographer.
Movement directing began as a workshop with both dancers and fellow actors in two separate sessions. Working on the task ‘everyday hands’ and an extra exercise with the dancers. Initially I thought it would be different working with dancers and actors as their focuses are on two separate ideas, however with the help of the tasks that I used to create this movement I had very similar experiences. My worry was that these tasks would not prove to be enough to stimulate anything interesting. On the contrary, the simplicity of the exercise opened a creativity that allowed both the dancers and actors to leave their experience behind them and create from a purely non-theatrical point.
The only issue I had with both workshops was that I had very little time with them, we were on a very strict time schedule and I had to finish things up very quickly. This meant I could not explore the tasks as far as I would have wanted. I wonder now what would have happened if I had pushed them further, or began to play with subtext. We only hit the superficial outside layer of the process. Everyone was completely on board and very responsive to the directions, which made the process efficient and fast.
I have learnt these simple tasks are a fantastic way to begin generating movement and to settle your mind into the process. I can also envision choreographically, these types of tasks would be great to utilise if one has hit a creative block. To start from things you know is a safe and understandable place to begin, that allows the imagination to start from somewhere solid rather than an abstract idea. This way of working is a direction I would like to head into for future developments. I am fascinated with collaboratively working with both actors and dancers and believe this process is an accessible way to link both disciplines seamlessly.
Potential For Movement
The potential for movement is the idea of the rise in suspense within both movement and text that are the moments of silence and stillness that make the audience cry out for the finishing action. I Explored this mentality through both personal studio play, and live theatre shows. When I began examining this concept, I was only focused on how it fits into movement and found examples in works by Pina Bausch’s ‘Fall Dance’. But after having seen The Winter’s Tale a Shakespearean play, I noticed that this use of silence to build suspense is used throughout the entire show and more importantly used in any performance, only I had not been able to express it as a solid concept until now.
Through my studio play I developed the use of stillness, but also wanted to see whether it produced the same effect if it was taken away and all movement continuously fed into the next. What I found was that these small moments of stillness are imperative to any moment in theatre, without them there is no variation of pace and speed. This example was produced in the Belgrade Youth Company of Rise, and was the most important element that was missing from their production. Pace I have discovered is the crux of this mentality, for a story to continue from start to finish constantly moving at the same speed leaves no surprise for an audience. This has affected how I watch and analyse any form of theatre, I am so aware of the pace and whether they are continuously playing around with dynamics and speed in both movement and text. It will also direct how I create theatre in the future, as I now have an understanding of its importance I will be so aware of whether it is missing from a moment.
On the 15th of March I went to the theatre with both Merel and Jessi to see a show by the Belgrade Youth Theatre Company called Rise. It was a decide your own ticket price event to contribute towards their company. I had never been to the local theatre before and was so pleasantly surprised by the little theatre this show was held in. A beautiful large bare back drop, with seats spanning all the way around to end above the stage. For a small space it did not have a cramped atmosphere, rather it was so open from the high ceiling giving space for the set on stage.
This show was a great example to see as an opposite to A Winters Tale by Cheek By Jowl. I was watching for the potential for movement, and found examples of how not to use this technique, also provided gaps where that moment of suspense was definitely needed. I am aware this is not a professional production, and in no way can judge the quality of the show up against a company like Cheek by Jowl, however for the purpose of this exercise I would like to point attention to a few moments in Rise where the potential for movement was an important factor that was lacking and could have transformed that scene.
In the very beginning scene the all female cast make their way on stage in darkness and raise a little white light in the air. Slowly one at a time they swap positions with one another remaining in the dark with the lights raised. It was a lovely image with the potential to go somewhere quite meaningful, however the pace remained the same. No one walked faster or slower, there were no pauses in between and afterwards the lights came up and they left the stage. There was no build in tension, no reason for me to sit forward and analyse what I was seeing on stage. I am a big believer in transitions between movement, it is what happens in the travel from one moment to another that make or breaks the highlights. I find it is the same for stage direction, there needs to be a thought out transition that is so smooth that you do not realise they are there. If they are missing those points of transition it allows for dropped energy on stage. It only takes one second as an audience to fall out of the story and continue to remain outside looking in.
This is the same for the general pace of this show. Every scene ran at the same speed with a continual flowing pace. There were no moments of stillness or silence, nothing out of the ordinary that would push an audience to sit forward and think ‘what will happen next’? It is so important to offer a variety of theatrical moments, simply for that reason. I found myself being lulled into a numb state, of watching the action on stage without taking active involvement in the development of the story.
I am very glad to have seen this show as I never realised how important it was for me to see an example of the potential for movement that was either non existent, or did not serve the purpose it was meant to. Particularly as it became easier for me to find the reasons why each scene had missed the mark. As I have said before, this mentality of the potential is quite abstract, however having seen two ends of the spectrum it has become possible for me to visualise the specific needs required and now understand its importance in theatre.
This past week I spent some time in the studio with some dancers from the undergraduate course at Coventry University. I wanted to explore the same sort of exercises I had done with my fellow actor colleagues to see how the outcome would differ with trained movers used to playing with their body. We did two exercises in the short time we had together the first was the same one I had done previously, ‘everyday hands’ (seen in previous post) finding common gestures they did everyday and distorting. The other was an exercise we had worked on in the intensive that I was excited to try, it is the connect, affect and disconnect, with someone in the centre.
We began with a short warmup in the style of Frantic Assembly’s Beautiful Burn out routine, repeating four different jumping moves for an entire 4 minute song. It gets the dancers ready and warmed up without wasting time teaching them difficult moves that will be hard to remember, particularly when time is so short. And then we moved straight into the two exercises.
The everyday hands exercise began the same as I had done previously, finding four movements that you do everyday out of habit. They then learnt one move of each others to place in their own phrase, and had to loop it so it was a continuous stream of movements. After that, I gave them three words to apply to their phrase. Connect, heighten, and transform, they could interpret the words in any way that seemed best. Once they all had their phrases I asked them to speed up the pace to as fast as they could while also retaining the movement.
Here is the result of all three.
It is interesting to see that the detail is lost, as opposed to the original three small phrases I had seen. I have found that the words used to direct the manipulation of the movement is so important. Particularly when asking everyone to interpret those terms in their own way, you will always come out with something different from each person. This is great in some respects as it means you can utilise everyone’s imagination, but also it can mean when giving a direction like speeding up the movement certain detail is lost from the original task.
I can understand Frantic Assembly when they discuss the importance of layering, it is not possible to throw multiple directions onto someone and expect them to place every aspect of equal importance. This is the importance of muscle memory, giving the body a simple idea to settle and begin to add little bits at a time. This way you are retaining the important detail needed in movement while also being able to manipulate time, pace, speed, direction and any number of other possibilities of affecting the sequence.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the phrases once I asked them to speed it up. Mainly because they enjoyed what they were doing, and that as an audience it can really shine through the movement. The other, disregarding the loss of detail, the movements coming from all three girls were things that would not have come if we were creating from scratch. Sometimes it is nice to start from a ridiculous point to work your way back, find the extreme so there is an understanding of no limitations. I find creativity becomes free flowing once we release our inhibitions.
The next task we explored was the connect, affect, disconnect. I had each person connect to the central mover, affect them in some way, and disconnect from the body. It is a simple task requiring basic movements, the only important aspect is that all contact is genuine. To be affected in some way the body needs to authentically be moved, not to ‘pretend’ the hand has moved from the shoulder down to the hand.
Here is Connect, affect, disconnect.
This task moved quite quickly once we all had spent some time understanding how the task works. What took the most time, was making sure contact was genuine. It was easy after the first few rounds to move past the affect moments and onto the disconnect as it is an easier direction to follow. So we always had to step back and really investigate how you can affect or be affected by someone else. You can see in the video that the times when the affect movement is authentic they are the most interesting to watch. It allows for momentum and real stops, so they are reacting from one another not making shapes individually with their own body. It is interesting to see that the need to move past creative mind blocks is present with anyone whether they are movers or not. The dancers were just as quick to disregard a connection that is not authentic as with anyone else. It is a hard thing to be in the moment finding a connection and ‘generating’ the affects from nowhere, and so after multiple rounds of the same direction it becomes harder to find something new. Which is why it is so important to have someone on the outside to give direction when needed.
During the two week intensive with Frantic Assembly, we focused heavily on particular building blocks for devising movement specific to Scott Graham’s work processes. Many tasks were very similar to ones I had encountered in my dance work, but ultimately they served a different purpose, and that is how they differ.Most tasks began from a very simple place, and the mentality was always to always layer onto what you have. For example the connect, affect, disconnect task was to have one person in the centre of the space and one by one everyone has a turn to connect to the central person, affect them in some way, and disconnect after. They began as simple arm movements, and as everyone became a little more comfortable we started to experiment with how you could affect the body. By the end we had a phrase of movement that connected and flowed and eventually looped over and over. From that simple phrase we could then play with the task, with speed, pace, proximity, levels of movement. They would all add another layer of information to give the movement more detail.
It is at this point within my own dance practice that the movement would immediately take a much larger turn, to not resemble any natural human gesture. This is neither good nor bad, however I am simply pointing out the fact that I am realising there are many more options to play with movement that does not need to go straight to what looks like contemporary dance. There is a possibility to add intricate layers to a sequence, while keeping a real human tenderness that is vulnerable and real. Finding that middle ground can become something beautiful and I think Frantic have on a few occasions found that spark.
The most challenging aspect for me when working in this way, is when it is further on in the process and you have completed multiple tasks that it is harder and harder to find a new starting point for movement. Particularly as they all begin with the hands, I find myself repeating what I have done and constantly denying my next idea believing it to have already been explored. I know this comes from my own mind and not the task, this challenge is not new and can be very real when you are pushing for some new material. It is a fear that will never go away as it’s a part of the creative process and it’s important to push through these moments in order to find the little surprises.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to go into a studio and play with a few little gems I picked up from the intensive. There were things that continued to pop up through my play in the studio. I have discovered the basic form of the body can be the most interesting place to play with. Breath, posture, pace, and speed, watching how the body responds to the information laid upon it, without consciously deciding those things beforehand. They are important and I have been so quick to discount the natural and unique patterns of the body.
On Wednesday the 15th I payed a visit to Glenn Noble a lecturer in theatre at Coventry University, to discuss his processes as a director in both his professional and academic work.
Our MA class had recently had a few workshops with Glenn on long form improvisation, for me they proved to be very informative. I have not spent much time around theatre improvisation, however I have within dance. At first I thought it would be a completely different ball game compared to dance, surprisingly there were important similarities to dance that make ensemble theatre devising so collaborative. The nature of being together in the moment, always saying yes allows for any idea to be explored. For me it means there can never be a creative block, as you’re always up and giving something a go.
So I thought I would contact Glenn and speak with him to find out more about his process and what he thinks is important when directing theatre. We spoke about many things to do with theatre, however there were a few gems that stuck out for me in our conversation.
Storyboarding- Glenn mentioned his use of storyboards to keep a clear guide of the series of events and work from there. Instead of starting right from the script, it was easier to have a visual that could be manipulated from a flexible base. That for me makes a lot of sense, as someone who is very visual, I normally make sense of things through images, hence my love for movement. To put something down in a simple format, it means everyone is on the same page, there is no issue of confusion.
Facilitator- We began discussing the job of a director and Glenn used the word facilitator to highlight the importance of equal collaboration rather than authority. This is a key element to Glenn’s working processes, the mentality that everyone is in it together following the same flow, just occasionally veering off into different directions to explore the same theme. It is an interesting point, to lead without hindering or blocking creativity. I can imagine it is a hard task, but when used correctly you can utilise the experience and background of every performer. To open up creativity, suggest and guide, rather than steer. It is a process that seems to discard the usual performing ego that always appears in any rehearsal, and allow time to honestly listen to everyone’s creative ideas.
Augusto Boal- We briefly discussed Augusto Boal’s forum theatre. A scene is a played twice, the second time the audience can shout ‘Stop’ at anytime and jump into an actors place if they feel they could change the outcome of the situation.
“The strategy breaks through the barrier between performers and audience, putting them on an equal footing. It enables participants to try out courses of action which could be applicable to their everyday lives. Originally the technique was developed by Boal as a political tool for change (part of the Theatre of the Oppressed), but has been widely adapted for use in educational contexts.” (Farmer n.d.)
I am very fascinated by this way of creating work, it is such an active and free flowing exercise to use. To have performers acting and observing, always constantly moving from one side to the other, it allows everyone an opportunity to observe and change what they would like. With the guidance of the narrator (director), it is a devise that could give everyone their moment to speak without laying the pressure of creating ‘good quality work’.
Mike Alfreds- The last little piece of information Glenn recommended was Mike Alfred’s book Then What Happens. It is an investigation into story theatre, pin pointing its techniques and the process of adapting story theatre to stage. It is a book I am yet to read, however it sounds like a very practical guide to creating theatre with exercises and improvisations to play with.
I am very glad I had this conversation with Glenn it really showed that theatre directing can be so flexible depending on the show, and how you want to work with your performers. Glenn is certainly a collaborative artist, hence his background in improvisational performance. I agree that at points there does need to be a certain sense of authority as someone ultimately does need to make the decisions. But to foster a completely open environment in the first place means everyone feels they have valid ideas. And that for me is the most important thing!
Farmer, D (n.d.) Forum Theatre [online] available from http://dramaresource.com/forum-theatre/ [20 March 2017]
This past week I have spent some time weaving my way through everyones fantastic blogs and have come to realise that I love this world of blogging! It reminds of the myspace era, where you could personalise and make your own little pocket of the internet personal to you. At the same time you could so easily connect and communicate to others (hopefully innocently) and feel like you could travel anywhere in the world in you own home. Now it is much different and networks like Facebook have become increasingly more rigid and we as people are completely desensitized to world wide web. However I have found my little pocket of me in this blog, and I am thoroughly enjoying my journey through everyone else’s little pockets as well.
I wanted to point out a few little nuggets of inspiration I received when reading the blogs, as they were things that I had either forgotten about from the two week intensive or it was something that had not occurred to me at all.
I was on Jessi’s blog and came across her post she had written about her one to one with a yoga teacher. It was so interesting to read this information from a complete beginner and to notice that yoga can be so accommodating to anyone. I remember having a terrible back injury at uni and had complained to my yoga teacher about it, she said that it was important for me to continue moving however small, and so she had me performing little yoga exercises in the corner that had me stretched and warmed up for the day. Jessi reminded me of that day and the power yoga can have on anyone when taught the right things properly, it is not just about strength, yoga comes from a confident calm you must find in order to have peace in the body. It was one of the most popular warmups we did in the intensive with Frantic, as I was not competitive and did not rely on a pumping sweat warmup. Everyone could take the time to do what they needed for them, while also being encouraged to work hard.
Gav made a post about his workshop he had done with a group of people, exploring some movement devising exercises. From his previous post Gav talked about coding and his fascination with bringing that into the creative process. He then reflected on the workshop beginning from the coding to layer movement onto those symbols. I was really fascinated by this way of directing and creating movement, something I had never thought of before. By watching the videos Gav had posted it was clear they had found some really interesting phrases to play with. I would love to think about something like this in the future, maybe playing with the alphabet and adding a movement to each letter. To then present a list of words placing the moves that fit to each letter to discover a phrase hidden behind every work. I am interested in the idea of cutting off one aspect of the creative process to find potential in another that you may have missed. So while focusing on the way a move looks you can be missing out on playing with the order of things or finding detail within each little movement. This is another exercise I could play with in my movement directing study plan.
I made my way to visit Fiona’s blog which is made of lovely song lists and words that say cake which already have me hooked. I was truck my Fiona’s honest account of her progress and pin pointing areas she needs to improve on. It is something that is missing from my blog at the moment. I have found it harder to reflect on my own personal experience than to explore different ideas and exercises and break down how they are or aren’t useful. However after starting this module I have began looking into what it means to reflect, and one important aspect is to dig inwards and identify how you are within a practice and understand why that is. So in the spirit of that I will begin to always reflect on my personal experience of how I felt when in the moment of what I am writing about.
I enjoyed the provocation this week, it allowed me to check in and learn a little bit about everyone. Each blog is totally unique and completely theirs which is lovely, their individual passion shines through. I will continue to stayed connected to all of the blogs as the module progresses and hopefully to follow through after the course finishes and into big wide world!