I practice every day. If I don’t practice for one day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. If I don’t practice for three days, the audience knows it.” Vladimir Horowitz, pianist.
I’m currently writing “Hi, I’m Here for a Recording, the ordinary life of a voiceover artist,” so I’m reading a bit about writing (it’s my favourite form of guilt-free procrastination). I came across the quote above in the book How to be a Writer: Building Your Creative Skills Through Practice and Play by Barbara Baig. I like the book because it reminds us that writing is a process, where you need to do a lot of work before you complete your finished product; and it reminds us that being a writer is a discipline, pretty much like acting and devising.
When you first start to create theatre, it’s difficult. You might not be great at improvising, you might be used to feeding off a script to create a character, you might not enjoy creating material when you don’t know whether it’s going to be used in the final piece or not.
Devising theatre (and indeed creating any kind of theatre) is a process. You try things out; you ditch them. You play games, you take part in exercises, you explore characters and scenes not knowing where they’re going to take you. Unless you do this over and over again, you will never learn, you will never grow as a performer and person and you will never master the craft.
Acting, like all types of art, needs both talent and craft. On my first day at drama school one of my tutors told us, “You need to work hard at perfecting your technique. Talent will come and go, but your technique will keep you working.” He was so right. Technique, rehearsal and practice will make you Good. Then when you are inspired, when you have good days (or even good long periods), you will be Excellent. But talent without technique doesn’t last.
So, when you’re bored of repeating that scene again and again and again, remember Horowitz words above and learn from every single moment as you practice your craft.
I am delighted to introduce this guest post by María Ferrara, a performer, yoga teacher and gestalt therapist who uses her three lines of work to enable her to explore human nature and being in the moment. In this post, she discusses the importance of awareness, how improvisation has helped her to find freedom in performance once again and she recommends a book on improvisation.
ACTION THEATER – THE IMPROVISATION OF PRESENCE
This is the title of Ruth Zaporah’s first book. An absolute gem. It offers her approach to improvisation in bite-size pieces: a sequence of exercises to do individually, in pairs or in ensemble.
My first surprise was to find a theatre approach to improvisation of this kind. Improvisation in the context of theatre tends to happen in devising processes, or in small sections of a fixed show or within frames such as Theatre Sports. The open-ended, more lyrical, more abstract improvisation seemed to belong to the field of dance.
The most visible current in this sense came from dancers in New York in the 50’s and 60’s, who started to question the rigid format of dance in many ways. One of them was improvisation. Many of them, like Trisha Brown, also experimented with their voices and even text, which blurred the boundary between dance and theatre.
What is what? Is it really that important when what we’re interested in is opening up our expressive possibilities to create a performative event in a given space and time?
Action Theater has offered me the tools to bring together body and voice, movement and speech
I encountered improvisation as something that could be performed per se through dance. And there seemed to me to be a gap between what I was doing when I improvised in dance contexts and what I was doing as an “actress”. Action Theater has offered me the tools to bring together body and voice, movement and speech. The wealth of possibilities has increased my awareness about the power and connotations of each of them.
Regular practice makes me discover new depths all the time. At one time, improvising meant following my impulse. As my palette becomes more diverse, I find choice moment by moment. I am no longer riding a wave of energy that takes me wherever it fancies, but composing. Gradually, I’m noticing how my awareness of what there is (inside and outside of me) in a given moment is increasing. The material that the input inspires is becoming more subtle and varied. I am gaining freedom so that I respond rather than react, so that I subordinate my choice not to my personal fancy, but to the aim of “creating states in which others have the possibility of creating other states” (Carlos Osatinsky and Fernando Nicolás Pellicccioli).
I have used and am using “Action Theater: The Improvisation of Theatre” extensively. It is absolutely practical and also includes plenty of material for thought. I welcomed this too, as I find improvising is putting me in touch with plenty of conceptual and philosophical issues. A welcome manual to explore one’s personal creative material in the here and now.
The 2ND INTERNATIONAL ACTION THEATER AND PHYSICAL IMPROVISATION FESTIVAL will take place in BERLIN between 6TH AND 12TH MAY 2013. María Ferrara is organising accommodation with Berlin hosts or for the cheapest possible price to encourage international participation. If you are interested in improvisation and instant composition, this is an extraordinary opportunity: a whole week of workshops, performances, jams and exchange in Berlin, an inspiring city for anybody involved with the arts. For more information visit www.actiontheaterberlin.com or get in touch with Maria: kontakt[at]mariaferrara.net
Yesterday, Jake posted a question on the Your Handy Companion to Devising and Physical Theatre’s Facebook page, asking for tips on creating a physical theatre piece based on fairy tales. The answer is far too long to be posted on a Facebook page, so I thought I’d write a post instead. Jake: thanks for the inspiration.
Fairy tales are a wonderful stimulus to devise from: they have strong stories, well defined characters and you can set them wherever and whenever you want. They are usually set in interesting locations that will give you a lot to play with: a forest, a castle, a hut, a cottage, a tower… all locations which you will not be able to create literally and so, you HAVE to use your imagination and stimulate the audience’s to take them where you want to.
So, your first questions should be:
– When are we setting the piece?
– Where are we setting it?
– What style shall we use?
The term “physical theatre” is very broad – will you use masks, still images, will your characters have stylised physicalities, will you have one or more narrators, how will you move between scenes? What visual experience will the audience have: A black and white one, a colourful one or a mixture of both?
Will you be telling the story linearly or start at the end, for example, your story could begin with a woman who obsessively cuts her hair. When somebody suggests that she try growing it, just to “see how it looks”, she tells them the story of how she hates her long her: she grew up in a tower, enduring her mother climbing up her hair constantly. (In case you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about Rapunzel.)
Working with more than one fairy tale – do your research.
If you are working on more than one fairy tale, just pick three. Three is a nice number to give you enough variety. See whether you can link them in some way: by theme, location or character. Or decide to make them completely different.
When Forbidden Theatre Company created Spell, the story began with Frog Prince, where a Prince was so annoying he was turned into a Frog by a witch. The woman in question did not know that she was a witch, but her rage at being ignored by the arrogant prince turned into magic powers. This was the first time that she realised she had magic powers and she decided to use them for good. But after helping the King and Queen conceive, they neglected to invite her to the child’s party and she began to use her powers in an evil way (Sleeping Beauty).
In order to link a few fairy tales together, you will have to read plenty of them, to spot the possible connections.
Don’t just take the story that you all know as your starting point. Look at poems, ballets, films, paintings and illustrations that have been inspired by the tales and all the different versions that have been created.
Fairy tales are beautifully crafted stories. There will therefore be a moment in the hero/heroine’s journey when they have to make a decision that moves the story along. What would have happened if they had made a different decision? If you are working on one tale, this can be the moment where you can change the story, by showing a different resolution or by presenting more than one story.
Use improvisation to try this out – it will be hard, as the well known decision will be on everyone’s mind, but it’s worth seeing where your instinct takes you.
Create new characters
Make the stories your own. Don’t just create your characters around the obvious protagonists (and definitely stay away from using the Disney versions as a base, look for the Grimm/Andersen /Perrault which will be darker and hence, more interesting). Create characters from inanimate objects. Going back to Spell, the Spell Book became the Witch’s sidekick and was able to provide a different perspective and energy on stage.
Use music and movement
There is no faster way to take an audience somewhere else than through the use of music. Look for instrumental pieces that are rarely heard, to avoid the audience making connections to their own memories. Search the Foreign Film Soundtrack catalogues, they’re a great source of inspiration.
Use movement sequences to show us what a character is thinking, to accentuate an important moment in the piece and to move the audience.
This is by no means a guide on how to create a theatre piece from fairy tales, but I hope it can inspire you or start you off. Do leave your comments and questions below, maybe we can come up with more tips together.
I am cleaning up my computer and found this video from our Freestlye Performances, days when we got to experiment with physical theatre by trying out our own work in front of an audience.
Key to this was giving the audience food during the intervals – watch the video, you’ll see all their happy faces! I suppose it was a bit like bribing the audience. But hey, no-one else was doing this: an Ensemble of young professionals getting together for the day to present short pieces written by themselves. The day was full of the spirit of collaboration, as different people took on different roles (writer/director/performers) during the day, supporting each other along the way. All put together brilliantly by our wonderful stage manager Tracey.
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