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.
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 night I attended a show at the Warwick Arts Centre with Jessi. It was a Shakespeare show of The Winters Tale by Cheek By Jowl. My initial intention to see this performance was to continue my research on the ‘potential for movement’ and I ended up coming out with so much more. It was a full show, with laughs, dramatic moments of heartache and a general jovial sense of play.
The beginning image as people are filing into the theatre is of a person seated centre stage with their back to us knitting. Automatically I thought the sense of suspense of revealing an image and allowing you to ponder and analyse what it could mean, what is going to happen, soon it pulls you right into the action. Slowly I began to involve myself into the story, and make my own conclusions as to who this person was and why they were sitting there. ‘The potential for movement’ was already revealing itself in more ways than one.
As the lights go out the performers switch to present two men in stillness.They slowly look at one another, there is nothing else happening in the entire room, as everyone watches the breathe and eye line of these two men. Tension builds again but you’re not sure whether it is positive or simply terrifying. Suddenly the two men break into a fit of laughter and general horse play as they run around the stage.This was a another fantastic example of playing with stillness, particularly at the very beginning of a story, the audience do not know the characters and so are completely dependent on the initial action to reveal the first little nuggets of information.
The last strong example of the play with stillness, was a scene where two performers were placed in the centre of the stage seated facing forward completely motionless. They had no expression, no form of personality to perform for the audience. There was action happening around them, great monologues of power and fierce movement. However I could not stop myself from watching the two still creatures in the centre of the action. There was a certain power in their stillness, of being outside the confrontation. They were encapsulating, I wasn’t sure whether I was waiting for them to move or that I just wanted to join them in this peaceful moment of peace away from the complicated emotion of human beings. It reminded me of a time lapse in film where they place a person out in public and have them still as they film around them and then speed it up. So you are left with a lone person motionless around the busy lives of everyone else. It is a strong image that I feel carries out into theatre. It was lovely to see that this idea of ‘The potential for movement’ is relevant in how you place people on stage. The simple act of stillness can allow the audience to become involved, and leaves room for the imagination, rather being spoon fed every little moment of subtext.
This week, I began to research what the ‘potential for movement’ means within the context of theatre and the various forms it can take. After finding one example in Pina Bausch with The Fall Dance, I decided to play with the same idea. I created one simple arm task that involved moments of stillness that ‘fell’ into each movement.
Here is the original task:
(Sorry this URL will not allow you to view it on this site, just copy and paste to watch it on Vimeo)
I realised that breathe and pace played a large role in how the sequence would come across. Naturally I did not think about these two elements when creating the phrase and did what came instantly to me. The breathe fuels the movement, and can set a tone for the rest of the sequence. Incidentally it is the pace that created the breathe pattern in the first place. If the movements were performed any faster or slower, how I breathe would change drastically, which in turn affects my demeanour.
This version is done by taking out all of the pauses in the sequence, to see whether these ‘potential for movement’ moments were imperative to the overall context.
It was interesting to note that as I removed the pauses the sequence became faster and faster. Those moments of stillness I realised kept the pace, and also the detail of each movement. It gave a particular dynamic, and suddenly the sequence became something that was completely different to what I had created.
This next version is done while holding my breath. I wanted to see what would happen if I were to take an important aspect out of moving. Would the suspense of anticipating the next move be lost? Or would adding a layer of suspense by holding my breathe give a different connotation to the phrase?
After having Jessi film these sequences, she later expressed that she naturally held her breath when watching that previous version. A relaxation in the body is discarded when the most important function of the human body is taken away. And this I think can make people feel uncomfortable, it is something so understandable the concept of holding your breath and the fear of not being able to catch the next one. The sequence once again took on certain characteristics when I was not actively thinking of controlling them. Particularly the pace once again, now that a certain urgency affected the sequence, each movement was faster than the next to finish the exercise as quickly as possible.
The last version, I played with the pace of the initial movement out of the stillness. Usually when beginning a fall the first move is slower and like a roller coaster it speeds up as gravity takes the lead. Here I did the opposite and sped up the first movement before finishing off with a slower pace.
I found this sequence the most interesting to watch, possibly because when watching back I did not expect to see that dynamic, and its pleasantly surprising to watch. When a fast movement comes first, you naturally expect to see a ‘fast’ sequence to follow. My mind had more to say when thinking about subtext and what the sequence could mean.
I am glad I completed this task, as simple as it was, it allowed me to break down movement in a different way and analyse a sequence from the point of how it can effect someone when viewing it. As opposed to how it feels and whether it looks good. In its simplicity I could break down ‘dance’ moves and apply them into a ‘movement’ context allowing me to strip back habitual habits and create what is needed for the task, instead of creating what I know. However there are still simple elements of creating movement that I did not think to dissect until watching them back on the video. Pace and breathe particularly are so important and I think are assumptions we make in the rehearsal space. Without looking at the nature of a movement, those two elements can dictate how an audience perceives the sequence.
Having begun to set out my self study programme a few days ago I have started a few tasks to get me going for the following weeks.
Today I have been researching ‘the potential for movement’ and naturally I fell upon Pina Bausch. I think Bausch naturally plays with this concept of the moment before a movement in any work she has made. And cleverly demonstrates that it can be interesting on its own, without adding other layers of context on top. The Fall Dance is one example, in this clip a woman walks around in what looks like a park and suddenly halts to a stop and falls forward just in time for a man to catch her as she repeats this phrase. This piece already speaks many messages to do with gender, and the relationship between men and women just to name one. However the simple moment before the woman falls is for me the most electric moment. In a scene that is filled with movement, maybe small but movement nonetheless, it is the little pocket of stillness that is so soothing to the eye, you never want it to end. It is interesting to note that after the first fall you are aware of what she will do the second time, but it does not change the feeling of uncertainty before she falls again. That is what makes this short dance so interesting to watch as an audience, over and over again you find yourself waiting for that moment of still. To be locked into this sharp suspension of breath with the performers, it almost places you right in their shoes with them for the tiniest second. This is what Scott was explaining in the intensive with Frantic, the little moments that lead to movement are the most vulnerable and precious. As he describes ‘they are the times when an audience just want to jump out of their seat and say “kiss her!” as an example of these effective moments’.
As a simple example, Pina Bausch encapsulates this concept, and signifies the importance it has within any theatre piece. I would like to play with this specific concept of the moment before a fall, and see how it can be manipulated. To see if what comes out of the suspense is not a fall at all but something else. I am interested to know whether it is imperative to have the fall, and without it, the potential for possibility suddenly has less power. Or whether it can have the same impact if say an arm is lifted out of the moment of suspension.