New Explorations

Spent this lovely, sunny Saturday indoors at the University of London. Normally this would make me sad, however, today it simply inspired and encouraged me. I attended the Womens Studies Group's annual Workshop, titled Women, Performance, Portraiture. This is a group of mainly history scholars who meet throughout the year for workshops, field trips, etc, and most importantly, to share their scholarly endeavors.

The day began with a keynote speaker - the brilliant Gill Perry. (more on her here: The paper she presented looked at art and the creation of feiminine celebrity, particularly in 18th century London society circles. Looking at the semiotics not just of the works themselves, but also at their placement, prominence, and re-location in manor houses throughout England, she made some intriguing suggestions regarding the role art played in creating and perpetuating myths of celebrity. There were many resonances for me in this lecture, notably the ideas of public vs private space - hearkening back to our thoughts about The Duchess of Malfi. I cannot begin to give justice to her argument in the lecture, however suffice to say that it sparked many ideas in me, and something creative will come from this.

The second half of the day allowed for each delegate at the workshop to bring a small 5-10 minute presentation on their own current work. This, too, was fascinating. I was humbled in the presence of these intelligent women and the brilliant research they are undertaking. For my own contribution, I brought a section of Forc'd To Woo, the devised response to The Duchess of Malfi that I had created before our group merged our individual work to create In Secret. I talked a bit about my process for creating theatre - looking at historical texts for modern resonances and stories that echo forward, telling us something about the human condition, and specifically the female experience. I also talked a bit about how this developed in performance, and my future plans for the piece. I had some great questions from the group, and overall they seemed encouraging to my endeavors.

On a personal note, I was sure I would be nervous speaking; I was in the company of accomplished and published scholars, a lowly MA candidate, and in theatre nonetheless. That said, I wasn't nervous whatsoever. I felt extremely confident sharing my work and responding to questions about how I had created the piece.

It seems odd for a theatre maker to find their best inspiration in a room full of academics, but alas, I tend to be unconventional.

New Perspectives

Spent a long and meandering day today, moving from one project to the next. Began with a voice tutorial with Adrienne Smook, an MA Voice student at Central who is offering small group and private tutorials for voice work with us. We first did a 45 minute group warmup, focused primarily on breathing - connecting breath with thought and the impulse to speak. One exercise I quite liked was a visualization of a specific place, where noises were used to identify things. This really served to help connect intention with breath and therefore voice. Another exercise I think I will use in workshops and classes is throwing a ball around the space, connecting breath, then a specific vocalization with the movement of the ball....aiming to curb the impulse to stop the breath and movement, allowing for smooth and continuous flow.

We also had a smaller private session with Adrienne, working on some more specific deep breathing and breath connection exercises. These really resonated with what I have been doing individually, connecting movement to voice - in this case, relaxation to voice relaxation, but using gravity in fetal or child's pose.

After this, went over to the Old Vic Tunnels for a dance dramaturgy workshop with Maryann Hushlak, dramaturg on Without Words. In some ways, this simply echoed our classes from last term with Paul Sirett about the role of the dramaturg. What I did find useful was the exercises and discussion on finding a language of creation. Maryann emphasized the importance of listening to how the creator talks about the projet, the kinds of words or phrases they use - this helps create a shared terminology of description for the process, and also enables creation of more practical materials like grant proposals. She also talked a lot about her process, particularly in the performance phase - analyzing the performance as well as the audience's reception. This is something I want to work into my workshop presentation in the dissertation - I am wondering if a Q&A would be useful to help understand the impact of the versions we see....and then help me draw some conclusions about identity and ghosts.

Finally, off to Birkbeck for Scene Study. A lot of talk of Hegel and Antigone today, so very apropo for my thoughts (not just now...always, really). I'm formulating my approach to the manifesto assignment, and think that I want to flesh out an anarchist tragedy of sorts...why do we need to define tragedy? Why do we spend so much time worrying about this? Now just to figure out how the form can merge...

Devise This

Workshopping our devised response to The Duchess of Malfi continues to go well. We have made a few adjustments to clarify the script we have created, and have come up with some really neat ways to visualize the story. We still have one enormous bit of physicality to work out, however aside from that have worked out basic blocking for the rest, and are unlikely to make many more script changes. A break on this for a couple days, then back in to share what we have done so far with Tom on Tuesday.

Class today was also focussed on devising, this time as a dramaturgical task. We each came to class with a couple observed quotes and situations from around London, from which we created two plays, and then performed the other group's play. This was a fantastic exercise, and one that would be great to help introduce people to devised work in a class or workshop. I should also add that it was greatly fun, and the stress-relief I think we all needed at this point.

And because I don't have enough going on, I have volunteered for the smash immersive show You Me Bum Bum Train. This ran last year in London to sold out audiences as part of the Barbican season, and a new Bum Train has been created for this year, at a new location. Because of the nature of the show, I can't really say more than that. I am really excited to have the chance to be a part of this!!

Shakespeare in a Pub

Spent Monday doing a workshop with one of my classmates' companies, Fine Chisel. They do devised work/new writing, using live music as a binding point, and have had some festival success in Edinburgh and elsewhere. This workshop was to help them work out some ideas about devising a Shakespeare piece they have been commissioned to do for a festival this Winter.

We worked into the text in various ways; initially just on a line, focusing on antithesis, and then lengthening that out into a full prologue, looking for ways to keep the energy and information flow in these prologues going. Tom suggested that the prologue often reads like a sports commentatary on what is to come. We had a lot of fun reading these prologues in this way, and found that this was a great way to really paint the picture in the text.

Finally, we worked on some scenes Tom had selected that they are looking at for the show; the idea is to situate all these scenes from various plays and with various characters in a pub, and see what comes out of the text in this new scenario. What I found really lovely was how easy it suddenly became to use the text conversationally and not just as lines thrown back and forth into space. Listening to the other groups, this was apparent in their work as well.

Generally this was a fun afternoon of light engagement with the same kind of work we have been doing in various ways. I hope I can work with Fine Chisel again in the future.

Physical Performance

We were offered a workshop on Saturday with Juri Nael, a graduate of our MA Program, and current instructor at RADA and Royal Holloway. Juri's approach to theatre is intensely physical, built out of a dance/choreography background, with influence from LABAN, Butoh, and Viewpoints/Suzuki/Bogart. His main theory is that time or tempo is the major influencer on our external influencing our internal; that generally we live our lives at around a tempo of 5, but slowing down to 1 or 2, or speeding up to 9 or 10 will awaken memories in our bodies and help us connect with emotions.

The first exercise really got things moving; we began moving through the space using our tailbone as a paintbrush, at first in smaller movements, increasing in size, dimension, direction. Set to music of some relaxed tribal drumming, this really set a nice mood, and awakened us to what is physically possible when we change the focal point of our physical movement. From here we went into moving (walking/running/slow) through the space at the various tempos, working our way up and down, making abrupt shifts in tempo, going to a full stop from a full run, or the reverse. Into this, he built asking us to find a focal point once stopped, and interact with it. Continually he asked us to challenge any habits that were forming, push for more speed or for slower movement. I think it is because I have done similar work, but I found myself interacting with focal points awhile before he specifically asked us to do so.

From here, we chose a focal point and interacted for some time; Juri asked us to get down to the floor at a speed of 1, so movement was almost imperceptible. I think images from Dionysus came back to me, because as I did this Butoh style melt I could see a large man in a tall black hat, with eyes like coal when the fire dies down..menacingly lurching over me...then when we were asked to get up (again at a 1) I felt defiant. None of this was put on, it just came up within me...amazing that an experience I am starting to feel removed from can render itself vivid once again so easily.

Between each, Juri had us do some automatic writing on the experience, focusing on the importance not to edit or compare, but simply notice.

From here we did an exercise interacting with finding our inner monsters, then forcing interaction with another monster. I found this to be interesting, but not to the same degree as some others did...many people were really affected by the open-ness of this exercise. I must say I really found the open-ness to be comforting, but not scary or vulnerable as others had.

The next exercise was (for me) the best...we used the same tempo theory to explore various physical gestures, and the impact this has on our inside. How does a gesture change meaning when done at extreme fast? or extreme slow? We also did some work in groups to try to communicate these gestures to the audience. I found it really fascinating that when I was trying to communicate at first, everything came from me....but then once I began to get or not get response from the audience this impacted my gesture....too much attention and I changed gestures or focus, not enough and my gestures wanted to catch their attention so sped up, or slowed down to extreme.

I was up and down through the day....though I do really find his theory on tempo to be intersting, and will continue to play on this.