Reflective Statement

Directing


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


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.

Moving With Dancers

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.

 

 

Provocation 5- Building Blocks

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.

 

Week 4 Provocation: Sharing Blogs

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.

Jessi

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.

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Gavin

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.

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Fiona

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.

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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!

Everyday Hands

 

Wednesday 15 March

I had a rehearsal with Merel, Jessie, and Fiona today for us all to get into the studio and focus on whatever ideas and thoughts that were niggling at us to explore.Within the rehearsal, I asked to play with a simple devising task that had come from the two week intensive with Frantic. It had stemmed from the task Scott had used giving various sign language movements and playing with them to create quite unique arm phrases. I wanted to explore this concept but play with another form of stimuli.I asked the girls to find four gestures they did everyday, that defined their movement language. As an example one was to twist your hair in your fingers, if this was a gesture that you naturally did on a daily. As they found four moves, I then asked them to play with the task by giving them three words of direction to follow and manipulate their phrase in whatever way those terms meant to them.

The directions were: Connect, transform, and heighten.

From this step it resulted in formed arm phrases that no longer really resembled the original four moves. I then asked for each of them to learn one or two moves from each others phrase. I wanted to see whether the difference in phrases could find a unifying moment by having one simple move pop up in each others sequence. I did not tweak or manipulate the moves as I wanted a completely natural and authentic pattern of movement that came from their bodies first.

Here are the set of three phrases:

 

I asked the girls to do their phrase together, to watch how the movement would work with one another.

 

The phrase together was lovely to see as there was one move with the arm outstretched that I was constantly looking for. It brought these three women together, all telling their own stories but having one shared experience. In an odd sense there was a nice canon of movement to this one gesture that could only have come from finding it through playing and not pre planning set rules.

It was interesting to watch, as this was a simple task that had no real intention behind the beginning direction, I could already clearly see and articulate subtexts within each person’s phrase that was not intended to be there. Simply because of the nature of their moves, the decision of their pace, pauses if added, and their eye line. For a task that came from movement that was already settled in their bodies, the girls finished with phrases that we could not have created from scratch without the initial elements. I was already brainstorming potential stories behind these phrases and how I could play with this movement to amplify those subtexts. I think the idea that if you begin from a movement that is natural to you, it is much easier to manipulate from there. As they all had a specific broken down understanding of their own created phrase, this laid a foundation to work and elaborate on.

This was something I did not understand until I had gone through this task with the girls. To be fair they were very quick and natural at this task as we had already explored this kind of devising in the intensive and so they were very comfortable to play. That said I believe it will be something I explore in the future when generating movement with people who are not necessarily comfortable with making movement from scratch.

Provocation 2 and Outline of Self Study Programme

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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.