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 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]
On Wednesday night I attended The Winters Tale at Warwick Arts Centre by Cheek by Jowl. I was initially going to watch for the movement dynamic of the show and became very interested in the directing aspect of the creation process. The day before I just so happened to take the book Directors/Directing out from the library and it has a section on Declan Donnellan who is the Artistic Director of Cheek By Jowl. Not knowing where to start with the book I thought the best place would be from the director of whose show I had just seen. After having read Donnellan’s section of the book I realized he is an interesting artist with some fantastic methods of creating work.
Declan Donnellan has for the last few years been working in a dual role as director for both Cheek By Jowl and a Russian company Chekhov international Theatre Festival. While reading his interview with Maria Shevtsova it was apparent Donnellan had a real interest in space particularly with text, stage and the actor. Keeping space with the actor and their character for Donnellan is most important, “the purpose is to see each other and their characters more clearly…to look outside of themselves towards the targets aimed for by their characters.”(Maria, 2009: 69) This was an interesting point made, my understanding of analyzing a character predominantly comes from method acting, in its nature is quite introspective. This allows you to operate as two beings, and objectively step outside and observe the character.
It was interesting to read Donnellan spoke about the problem with preconceptions when creating theatre. He states that to constantly question is an ongoing process, however it is not an intellectual process. “In many respects, it’s a rather anti-intellectual process because sometimes our intellects are not very useful, especially when they give us preconceptions. We have to meet the world as it really is, not as we intellectually perceive it ought to be.” (Donnellan, 2009: 73) This idea reminds me of Scott Graham’s mentality during the two week intensive. To rid yourself of assumptions and see everything with a new potential. They both present a similar point for the creative process. To have a completely open mind is often when you find something you could not have discussed and consolidated on your own, this also allows the audience to make their own decisions on the subtext of a scene. It is a rather abstract idea as it is not so easy to drop everything you know and look at things with new eyes, however I can see the freedom in not being weighed down by pre conceived expectations. “There is sometimes an honor in ignorance!”(Donnellan, 2009: 74) Donnellan states that there is a power in reflection on the actual experience, however unpredictable. To be open to the process, not decided on the final product. I think this relates to Graham’s ‘Crooked Path’, the most interesting material comes from an incredibly different place to where you wanted to end up. It is about being open to take the time when you find yourself in an unfamiliar place, as eventually you do find your way back with better results.I have certainly connected to this idea, it is a freeing mentality to have. I would like to work on this thought in future developments and allow the process to take me where I need to go.
Declan Donnellan has demonstrated how much you can play with text particularly classical plays. His use of space in everything allows for free interpretation, that coupled with the disuse of preconceptions makes for plays like The Winters Tale to be accessible for an audience unfamiliar with Shakespeare. It is interesting to see a crossover of directing techniques through different genres, and how relevant they are to theatre as a whole.
Shevtsova, M., & Innes, Christopher. (2009). Directors/directing : Conversations on theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
From the two week intensive with Frantic Assembly and the one on one tutorials with Simon, Scott, and Andrea I have now identified three areas I would like to focus and develop on over the next month. I will create a weekly list of tasks to complete and ultimately post onto this blog, to demonstrate my progress. There are many more things that I would like to continue looking into, however for now these are the important points that resonated with me.
The first is to do with directing, the intensive was highly focused on tasks that can be used to create movement, and interpreting how they come across from an outside directors perspective. I was very intrigued to find out more about the role a director. And am left with many questions. How do you facilitate a rehearsal? How much time is spent with the performers in the early stages of developing a work. Are they there from the beginning, or just for the practical aspect? How to develop a rehearsal schedule, that will be effective when put into practice. I understand everyone has a vastly different way of working, and I feel its important to branch out to find what might work best for me.
The other aspect I thoroughly enjoyed in the two weeks, was the collaborative nature of working with my colleagues. I so enjoyed creating and learning, particularly as most of the people were new to movement. It was fantastic to see that with the correct facilitation and movement tasks that anyone can create a phrase. I would like to focus on this further. By spending time with both dancers and actors, I would like to find out whether it is possible for me to create that same environment that is open and judgement free. Also to see whether I can get actors to find ways of moving they had not experienced, and for dancers to break some of their habitual ways of moving and approach creating from another perspective.
The last goal I have for myself, is actually a principle that Scott had discussed while breaking down a phrase someone had created. It is called ‘The potential for movement’. The idea that the moment before a movement of any sort be it small or large is what holds an audience, the special secret that holds the most potential for any possibility. I am going to look into this aspect of theatre, to see where it lies. Whether it can be found in other elements of theatre not just movement. I would also like to personally spend time finding where it does fit when creating movement.
These are the weekly tasks I have set up for myself. At the moment they are a broad example for every week, and will be broken down as specific events are organised.
Find three specific directing techniques for creating work that fit into my own practice.
- Email artists to ask whether I can observe and discuss their personal ways of directing a show.
- See some live shows and attend post show talks to find out more about their process.
- Research and gain a greater understanding of preconceived structured directing roles. Where they come from? Practically how it works? Why it is an effective way of directing?
Develop my own experience within movement directing and experiment with a mixture of creatives who are and are not comfortable with movement.
- Create a conversation with both the dance and drama department at Coventry University and see whether I can connect with some of their undergrad students to come together and create movement.
- Build a personal warmup and movement devising plan to use within workshops.
- Document any personal or group practical research, to keep track of development.
Research and analyse the idea of ‘potential for movement’.
- Research shows that play with that moment, and analyse whether these moments are in fact important and if so how are they relevant.
- Create weekly phrases from my own movement play or with others, document, and anaylse whether they were successful or not.
- Create conversations with both dance and theatre practitioners, discussing this very aspect of movement creating.
The resources I will need for these activities mainly lay within Coventry Universities studios and technology. The city is close to both Birmingham and London, that have a plethora of shows and rehearsals to observe. I will also be in communication with both the theatre and dance department at Coventry University and also Frantic Assembly as a starting point for contacts.