I am directing for our Scene Study class on Tuesday, and have worked with 3 actors to prepare a scene from the balcony. I really wanted to bring out the changeable nature of each character's "self" in the scene, and selected a scene that gave some very juicy opportunities for this. Genet's plays always centre around a game of some kind, of taking on roles of dominance or submission in varying manifestations, and The Balcony is no different; the premise of the play is a house of illusions, where men can go have their fantasies played out. The scene I selected was not one showing us the fantasies, but instead one that might on the surface appear normal; Irma, Carmen, and Arthur, all of whom work at The Grand Balcony, are in a room discussing the workings of the business. But this scene too has its games and roles played; it is a power game, a struggle to assert leadership, ownership. We worked on the layers of roles going on - where is the character "real", where do they want others to think they are being "real", where are they taking on a role for someone else's benefit.

The other aspect I wanted to highlight came from Genet's notes to directors of the balcony - that there should be a rivalry between Irma and Carmen, that it should be questionable who really runs the brothel. Using some physical theatre techniques, I have the two actresses taking on one another's gestures and positioning, giving the implication that either of them could really be in charge. The illusion, the reflection, going back and forth as if they are mirrors facing one another; no matter how deep you get, it always seems to go deeper.

Our LABAN work fed into this as well; my group are working on physicalizing the qualities of the planets Mercury and Mars. Mars is a bit more straightforward - war, power, strength, etc. Mercury on the other hand seems to have a changeability about it; the idea of quicksilver has really struck us as an integral part of understanding Mercury. We've developed a staging of a piece of The Lady In The Moon that I think helps communicate this changeability and the impact it has on those around us.

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.

The Blue Danube

Today's movement class was led by Darren Royston, a choreographer and dance teacher who works at RADA. He along with Darryl lead the Language of the Body portion of our course. This was a fun, silly, and awakening sort of class. We began by moving around the room, dancing and imagining we were young Laban exploring the ways in which our body can move. From here we extrapolated into following him through some Laban scales and various movement qualities. Put in small groups, we had to create a scene showing the extremes of movement, putting a story to it. It was fascinating to watch as each group went through their scenes with various degrees of extremism, and the characters and feelings that were evoked throughout. Finally we looked at the planes of movement; door, table and wheel. Interacting with one another in these planes was quite interesting.

Overall the class was fun and informative; we spent 3 hours seemingly goofing about, but by the end felt as though we had learned about how we physically interact with one another, and how this can be dramatized. This work, unlike some of the more theoretical Laban work, felt like it echoed the outside-in style of work I had done with Brenda and Theatre Incarnate. Simply allowing the body to go to a position, and then explore that position physically and intellectually, was quite lovely. I feel like we get caught up in how a character should move based on time period and status, that we lose a little of the authenticity in the movement....this kind of work can bring us back to it.

Don't Be Too Well Behaved

Our regular voice coach, Adrienne, was away to attend a funeral, so had Katya Benjamin for our class. Although Katya is primarily on RADA staff as a movement teacher, she (as she told us) has a fascination with voice. She teaches in Alexander technique, and uses it (as Alexander did) to free the natural speaking and singing voice.

All our exercises began with looking for ways to align our bodies not through telling them what to do, but asking what they need to do to free the voice. So we did the stand/sit from a chair exercise, imagining pusing down to get up, and forward and up to sit down, in varying degrees of exaggeration. Adding text to this was quite surprising; I used a Goneril soliloquy I have known for ages, and managed to surprise myself a couple times through this simple physical action. We then went on to look at aligning; we went around the class and looked at each person's body, then Katya made adjustments to us and had us speak. We did this one by one, watching the change in others; it was remarkable to see and hear the difference a couple simple physical adjustments could make in a voice. For me, pressing into the floor while allowing the body to float up really works; I can make more space in my rib cage, and even more between my shoulders than I have built up in the past. This centered my voice to my body quite significantly.

We then did a great exercise for the spine; with a partner, one lying face down, the other first holds a hand with light pressure on the sacrum, feeling the hips and pelvic bone relax. As we did this, I felt almost a separation of my legs from my body, so it felt like they were attached only by tendons. Then the partner takes their fingers and goes up the back, feeling one vertebrae at a time, until they reach the top. Then the one lying down gets up and walks about the room. I felt an immense lightness but confidence in my movement after this, and my voice was placed at that nice centered location. I want to do this exercise every day.

Finally, we did the "octopus" where you lie on the floor, fully feeling the floor support the body, then begin to move limbs and body about as if you are under water. Throughout, feeling that everything is relaxing, driving into the floor.

The final, most important piece of advice Katya had was for us to not to be "too well behaved" - we talked a bit about how an actor needs to be a little naughty, willing to laugh, cry, yell, scream, and be calm at once...and that our bodies need to be poised and ready for this. Mischevious, perhaps.

Tonight's excitement includes finishing dramaturgy homework, Laban homework, and more reading...while the hubby goes out to enjoy Ministry of Sound. Looking forward to his pictures of the night!