Thursday, January 31, 2008

Costume research: 18th Century

Referred to as "stays" until the late nineteenth century, the corset was the basic garment of every woman's wardrobe. It was never worn next to the skin, but over a knee-length T-shaped garment known as a shift. The stays were most often laced up the back but could also have a laced opening down the center front, in which case there was usually a boned stomacher piece that slotted in behind the lacing. The bone running down the center front of the stays was known as a busk.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the stays, which had come into fashion thirty years earlier, were worn long and pointed at the front, sitting over the front of the skirt, with the back of the stays cut much higher. The waistline often featured small tabs at the side and back, which splayed out over the hips and helped to keep the skirt in place.

While early examples of stays were covered in elaborate silks and often featured as a visible part of the dress, they gradually retreated to being mainly an underwear garment, with the outer layers comprised of plain silks or linen. By mid-century, stays featured less boning, and by the 1770s a new emphasis on the bust meant that several horizontal lines of boning, often metal, were introduced to give a more rounded form. The diarist Horace Walpole recorded the dangers of such garments in 1777: "There has been a young gentlewoman overturned and terribly bruised by her Vulcanian stays. They now wear a steel busk down their middle, and a rail of the same metal across their breasts." By the end of the century, stays had fallen out of favor. Fashion now looked to the ideal of the classical Greek figure and natural lines inspired by the vogue for the classical world. Rigid boned bodices were abandoned entirely or replaced by light canvas stays with cording for support.

The production of stays was a male industry due to the heavy-duty work involved. They were made from several layers of linen or canvas treated with a paste to stiffen them and then hand-stitched with vertical and diagonal channels into which strips of whalebone were inserted. The whalebone, also called baleen, was not actually bone but came from the roof of the whale's mouth; this would also have to be cut into strips by the staymaker. In France, trade restrictions meant that until 1776, only tailors were permitted to make stays; however, after this date couturieres (female dressmakers) were also allowed to produce these garments.

For less wealthy women, stays were still an essential item of clothing. In rural areas, stays were often made from scored leather and worn as an outer garment, offering support to those involved in manual labor. In urban areas, large secondhand markets offered a wide variety of garments for those who could not afford to have their stays specially made. (from The Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Costume historians have seen the lavish plenitude of handwoven silks consumed in the design of such gowns to be an explicit pronouncement of wealth and status. In addition, the nature of the gown’s construction, its tightly fitted and corseted bodice, and the wide expanse of its skirt dictated the privileged woman’s movements and imposed a number of challenges. The management of an eighteenth-century gown in as simple an act as sitting down “could highlight a person’s physical grace,” according to the historian Mimi Hellman, but it could also “expose the imperfections of the ungainly body.” From this perspective, the gown was not only a pronouncement of elite membership; it was also an instrument that tested a woman’s worthiness for society through the graceful choreography and negotiation of her dressed body. (from blog.mode: addressing fashion, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Interesting to think about the stilettos of today compared to the stays and panniers of yesterday-- in what ways do they display status? Change the way a woman moves? How can we play with these ideas as actors? Is one character more restricted in her movement, or altering her body shape to a greater degree than another? I'm already thinking about corsets and platform shoes...


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dressing for Success

Working on the Upper East Side is like being trapped in a high-end shopping mall. There's nowhere affordable to eat lunch, and I often feel like I'm not dressed for the occasion.

Growing up in Laramie, Wyoming, I had a kind of reverse snobbery about expensive clothes. We made fun of the one girl in high school with nice clothes and a fancy car. "Oh, Abby," we said. "She's the one who leaves all the price tags on so we'll know how much she spent." My grandparents are cattle ranchers from western South Dakota, and while I was a "town kid" (my parents taught at the University) I had a kind of rural pride about sewing my own clothes when I wanted something, buying cheap underwear from the JC Penney and tank tops from the local Kmart, having fun with clothing but not really feeling the need to impress anyone with the way I dressed.

But now... I sometimes find myself struggling with a kind of materialism that up until a few years ago was more or less foreign to me. Part of it is walking up Madison Avenue and knowing better than to even look at the price tags, even in the most deceptively casual stores. ("Wow, $55 for a cotton tank top. Really?") Part of it is the fact that most of my college friends are making big bucks (or at least medium bucks) and I'm still deferring my student loan payments. Part of it is that most of my college friends are married with two kids and a house and a dog, and I'm still alternately amused and angered by online dating websites and struggling to keep my one houseplant alive.

Sometimes I find myself admiring expensive logo bags or overtly expensive clothing worn by other women, and then end up silently chastising myself for wanting such trivial things, even for a moment. In my heart I know that I will not necessarily find true love even if I have the perfect first-date outfit. In my heart I know that the people who care about labels on clothes are not ultimately the people that I want to care about me. In my heart I know that part of the reason I don't have a high-powered job is that I have chosen to devote my energy elsewhere, and that most of the time, I am happy about that. But still I find myself wanting these things, not wanting to want them, but still wanting them, in spite of myself. Perhaps it's because owning and wearing these status objects seem to guarantee their wearers a membership badge in some kind of secret club. They command any room they walk into. They feel entitled, and because they act entitled, they more often then not get what they want-- at least in the venues in which I see them.

I think New York may be unusually taxing psychologically-- would I feel quite so dumpy if I lived in a different city and wasn't constantly comparing myself to the socialites and model-wannabes getting out of taxis on Park Avenue South? Maybe. Maybe not. I see these women, often on dates with older men, teetering in their stilettos... and part of me, in a kind of perverse homage to my Suzuki teacher Ellen Lauren, wants to sneak up behind them and just give them a little push on the shoulder to see if they can keep their balance. I feel a bizarre and powerful combination of envy, and hatred, and pity, and then I walk past them with my groceries and make my way back home.

--Erika Iverson


On Sunday January 27 we met for the first time as a company to talk about the play. The themes of Pride, Status, Fame, Reputation, Restriction, Wealth and Love were brought up as we discussed examples from our own lives when asked about what intrigued us about the play. Gregor then asked two important questions: What actually happens in the play? and What is this play about? Two hours later, we got most of the way through the play and were nearing a conclusion that perhaps the play is about True Love. Or, maybe not. Tune in next week to find out more!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday's discussion

I was really glad to have some time to sit and talk about our ideas about the play in an informal way. I didn't take notes so I'm just going to try to recall as much as I can about the ideas that were tossed around during our 3 hour discussion.

Several of us had read Frances Burney's "Farewell" letter that I posted earlier today. We found it very touching and some even wondered if we could work it somehow into the production. Some people suggested a framing device, where Frances Burney or the text itself would appear on stage-- we imagined the pages of the text being locked away in a box, waiting for someone to set the characters free. We even speculated about a piece of stagecraft where the characters might somehow climb out of a chest on stage, a la Pandora's Box (didn't Bill Irwin do a trick like this in Fool Moon, where people kept coming out of a trunk that was brought on empty to the center of the stage?). We all agreed that whether we use a literal frame or not, it is a powerful idea that Frances Burney's voice will finally be heard onstage after 229 years. Did you know that the original text of The Witlings is part of a rare books collection that is housed here at the New York Public Library? How amazing that these handwritten pages that live right here in New York City will be brought to life about 40 blocks north in May.

We actually called Betty Rizzo, a Professor Emeritus and Burney scholar who has expressed her interest in our project. She cleared up a question about Lady Smatter (it's her opinion that she's based on Elizabeth Montagu, although other scholars have suggested that she is partly based on Frances Burney's stepmother, which might explain why Mr. Burney found the play objectionable. Some have even suggested that perhaps Mr. Dabbler is a jab at Mr. Burney himself). We sat for a while discussing questions of status, i.e., why does Censor seem to have so much power over Lady Smatter? Ultimately it seems that he doesn't care what people think of him, and knows that Lady Smatter does care, which is ultimately her downfall. Live by the sword, die by the sword-- her investment in being "famous," well known, and admired by her peers is what causes her to unravel.

Britney Spears was brought up, as the subject of a discussion about fame and infamy. All those gossip rags love to report on stars when good things happen to them, but they love it even more when they fall apart. One of the Burney scholars (Doody?) points out that all of Dabbler's poems seem to be about disaster befalling beautiful young women-- perhaps Burney making a little fun of herself?-- just as this play depends upon our enjoyment at watching a young woman suffer financial ruin and loss of home, love, esteem of her peers, and sense of her own self-worth, even if only temporarily. Interestingly, Mr. Crisp in his letter to Frances about the play (before he more or less shut it down completely) wondered if it would be better if Censor didn't give Cecilia the money at the end of the play, saying that perhaps she should get herself out of trouble. Should Cecilia shave her head mid-play? Hard to pull off, especially more than once, but it's worth thinking about these kinds of pop culture references that we can appropriate or adapt for our own purposes.

Several of us brought up images we had concerning the characters-- we were saying it might be funny if Lady Smatter was extremely tall and thin, perhaps with a very tall wig or hat, and perhaps Mrs. Sapient is very short and wide. There's an exhibit in the Costume Institute at the Met right now called blog.mode: there are some modern avant-garde outfits which might be inspiring, but there are also a few period men's and women's garments that are worth looking at. I was thinking about the idea of restriction-- that whether the garments we use are ultimately period or modern, the upper-class characters are probably wearing things that are restricting in some way. Period men's suits are very tight silk breeches and heavily embroidered jackets with lace collars, and in some cases both men and women wore corsets. One of the garments at the Met is one of those dresses with the panniers that make the woman look as if she is wearing a small shelf under her dress-- a costume like that certainly has possibilities for comic movement on stage-- Sapient taking out Jack with an ill-timed turn?

One image I had about Cecilia is that she is somehow stripped during the course of the play-- if she's covered in ruffles and furbelows and jewelry at the beginning of the play, perhaps these things are given away or taken away from her? This could either be very literal, i.e., Cecilia gives Mrs. Voluble a ring to let her stay in the room, or could be a more expressionistic scene where ruffles, sleeves, shoes, petticoats are stripped off of her (perhaps by the milliners shop ladies?). Again, whether or not it's actually done on stage, I like the idea of Cecilia somehow being stripped down and forced to stand on her own two feet. In the end, when Beaufort says, "All I have now to offer you is my heart," and she says "it's all I ever wanted," she has to mean it. It's more interesting I think if she starts out taking certain things for granted and has a genuine awakening both that she's had it pretty easy for a long time and that in the end, all she really wants is Beaufort, rich or poor.

I also talked about a theatre "philosophy" for lack of a better word, which has been heavily influenced by my college mentor, Arden Fingerhut. I'll try to formulate my ideas and discuss them further at a later date, but the shorthand version is that you don't put "The Moral of the Play" directly on the stage-- hopefully you create an environment where these ideas are evoked in the mind of the audience.

More than enough for now. Please feel free to comment on this entry or start a new one with additional subjects that we discussed yesterday. I'm really excited about the possibilities and opportunities that this play presents...


Frances Burney's Farewell to The Witlings

Frances Burney's letter to her "daddy," family friend Mr. Crisp, who informed her that he and Mr. Burney (her father) felt it was best not to move forward with the play. He states that he feels that it will damage her "reputation"-- whether he means her reputation as a writer, or her reputation as a lady is not clear. Perhaps both. --Erika

Miss F. Burney to Mr. Crisp.
Well! " there are plays that are to be saved, and plays
that are not to be saved !" so good night, Mr. Dabbler! —
good night, Lady Smatter, — Mrs. Sapient, — Mrs. Voluble, —
Mrs. Wheedle, — Censor, — Cecilia, — Beaufort, — and
you, you great oaf, Bobby ! — good night! good night!
And good morning, Miss Fanny Burney ! — I hope now
you have opened your eyes for some time, and will not
close them in so drowsy a fit again — at least till the full
of the moon.
I won't tell you I have been absolutely ravie with delight
at the fall of the curtain; but I intend to take the
affair in the tant mieux manner, and to console myself for
your censure by this greatest proof I have ever received of
the sincerity, candor, and let me add, esteem, of my dear
daddy. And as I happen to love myself rather more than
my play, this consolation is not a very trifling one. As to
all you say of my reputation and so forth, I perceive the
kindness of your endeavors to put me in humor with myself,
and prevent my taking huff, which, if I did, I should
deserve to receive, upon any future trial, hollow praise from
you — and the rest from the public.
As to the MS., I am in no hurry for it. Besides, it ought
not to come till I have prepared an ovation, and the honors
of conquest for it.
The only bad thing in this affair is, that I cannot take
the comfort of my poor friend Dabbler, by calling you a
crabbed fellow, because you write with almost more kindness
than ever; neither can I (though I try hard) persuade
myself that you have not a grain of taste in your whole
This, however, seriously I do believe, — that when my
two daddies put their heads together to concert for me that
hissing, groaning, catcalling epistle they sent me, they felt
as sorry for poor little Miss Bayes as she could possibly
do for herself. You see I do not attempt to repay your
frankness with the art of pretended carelessness. But
though somewhat disconcerted just now, I will promise not
to let my vexation live out another day. I shall not
browse upon it, but, on the contrary, drive it out of my
thoughts, by filling them up with things almost as good of
other people's. Our Hettina is much better; but pray
don't keep Mr. B. beyond Wednesday, for Mrs. Thrale
makes a point of my returning to Streatham on Tuesday,
unless, which God forbid, poor Hetty should be worse
again. Adieu, my dear daddy, I won't be mortified, and
I won't be downed, — but I will be proud to find I have,
out of my own family, as well as in it, a friend who loves
me well enough to speak plain truth to me. Always do
thus, and always you shall be tried by, your much obliged
and most affectionate, FRANCES BURNEY.

Blue Stockings Society

The Blue Stockings Society was an informal women's social and educational movement in England in the mid-18th century, created in imitation of the French society of the same name, but emphasizing education and mutual co-operation rather than the individualism which marked the French version.

The Society was founded in the early 1750s by Elizabeth Montagu and others as a women's literary discussion group, a revolutionary step away from traditional non-intellectual women's activities. They invited various people to attend, including botanist, translator and publisher Benjamin Stillingfleet. One story tells that Stillingfleet was not rich enough to have the proper formal dress, which included black silk stockings, so he attended in everyday blue worsted stockings. The term came to refer to the informal quality of the gatherings and the emphasis on conversation over fashion.
(from Wikipedia, Blue Stockings Society)

Mrs. Montagu (see wiki article quoted above) may have been source material for Lady Smatter. (According to Betty Rizzo, Mrs. Montagu gave a rather poor review to Frances Burney's novel.) This women's intellectual society was in theory about the free exchange of ideas -- but of course all exclusive societies have their own "status" rules. Later "Bluestocking" became an insulting term for an intellectual woman (i.e., probably not pretty or marriage material, a nerd, a lesbian, etc.)

Interesting that Cecilia does not see herself as a potential member of the Esprit Party-- she may be playing her own status game by declaring that she is not the sort of woman who would join that sort of club (i.e., pretty and marriage-bound).

-- Erika Iverson

The "Almanack" and other Literary influences on Witlings

I stumbled across a copy of Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanack" complete with woodcuts, funky spelling, and antique typeface.
Two things occurred to me:
1) American society was founded at the same cultural moment that produced the "Witlings"... that the same strands of thought and influences that shaped Frances Burney's play were the "modo proprio" of the time of the founding of our country. There is so much in Dr. Franklin's little volume that seems to be EXACT quotes from the play (of course, Franklin was read in England as a "Savant" as early as 1743 and probably would have been picked up by Frances-- will be interesting to look for an explicit connection.)
2) The Almanac as a literary form strikes me as a witty person's cliff-notes... providing the material to drop in conversation without ever having to have been exposed to the primary sources. A new almanac would be published every year with new tid-bits, thus amplifying the idea that certain thoughts were indeed "in fashion." Imagine taking your ideas (or someone elses for that matter, wearing them and calling them your own) down the runway to strut and be seen in full view.
Seems like ripe ground and quick access to a cultural phenomenon of that time.
Happy Researching!

---George Drance

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Finding The Common Ground

It has been helpful to me recently to try to find the common ground between all of the different forms of training that we work with and then to actively find how I can apply that common ground to the actual text and work.

All the different forms of training that we do demand action. The emphasis is placed on the doing and if there is any thinking to be done, it is best done either on our feet or in reflection after much doing. Our bodies are our greatest tool for "text work."

All the different forms of training encourage us to use our imagination. From images of the voice/pilates work or the images of the Niky/viewpoints training. Yet, I think that imagination is a area where our training can grow. How can we more actively engage our imaginations in the training?

I find that all the forms of training encourage me to concentrate. I actually think our current training is ideal for the development of concentration and attention. I think that concentration and attention on stage is a Magis strength.

Relaxation is something I find we could do more of in training. Maybe it is just me, but I find that because the training is so physical and active, I always feel that I need to be "DOING" something. How can we find more relaxation in our training without losing the rigor that we have? How can we learn to "Do," and "Be" at the same time.

Another area where any actor always needs to grow is in a sense of truth and naturalism. As in the above paragraph, everything that we do is so active and the text is so rich, but the question must be "how do I feel like a real person with a sense of truth and faith in what I am doing?" How can we be active and engage rich text, and yet seem of this world and not of some alien theatre world? I find that this sense of truth and faith is found in both relaxation and emotional memory. Is there a place in our training for emotional memory?

I feel that the different forms of training have helped us learn to listen to each other.

These are just some thoughts that I have had recently. I am new to this whole Blogging thing so please allow me some time to get up to speed.

---Frank Mihelich

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Some foundations for Magis work

The origin

Magis Theatre Company's work with the three basic energies started with a bringing together of the very physical work done at Columbia University's MFA Theatre program with the work of Robert Taylor, a Shakespearan Actor trained in Britan and a lecturer at PTTP program at University of Delaware, Carnegie Mellon and Moscow Art Theatre.
Columbia Trained actors worked with Niky Wolcz to establish a plasticity of the body and an openness of the instruments. Much of Wolcz' work comes from Grotowski and Meyerhold but with his own take on it.
At Columbia, many different ways of working gave the actors a chance to explore the resonance and dissonance of some of these training methods. In a sense, the students bodies were the crucible where different acting approaches melted and became its own "alloy" of these elements. Le Coq mask work, Wolcz work on physicality came face to face with Ann Bogart's Viewpoints and Tadashi Suzuki's regiment of training.
What all of these had to work on together was a raw energy, a term which was so important to Stanislavki.
Allowing energy to flow freely and putting it in the action combined very well with Robert Taylor's instruction on the three basic energies which he terms
Dramatic, Lyric and Epic... corrsponding to the the three basic forms of Poetry.

The Next Level
After working with Robert Taylor and Stephen Simmons for several months on Dramatic, Lyric and Epic...(Magis was still just a dream at this point), Margi Sharp and I worked with puppeteer/director Ralph Lee in his Mettawee River Company.
During one of the daily warm ups before the performance we were doing an exercise that Ralph had done with the Open Theatre. A simple exercise I had done many times before, though never with the consciousness I had developed at Columbia, and the context of the work with Robert Talyor. The exercise was a reaching up in the body, allowing oneself to fall over at the waist and swing back, and then allowing the energy of that action to propel the body forward to a standing position again.
What immediately struck me was a feeling of suspension at the standing point, just before gravity pulled the body down again. My body remembered the sensation of "Lyric Energy" from the work with Robert Taylor. It was unmistakeable for me that this Lyric Energy WAS suspension.
As I continued in the exercise, I then made an investigation to the other energies...
Gravity, the force pulling the body out of that suspension felt like "Epic Energy," and the swing back up which I will call momentum was the sensation of "Dramatic Energy."
It was exciting to have this connection. The energies suddenly seemed even more organic, more basic... this began to inform much of the physical work I did with my teaching. Connection to Stansilavski's later work on physical actions began to emerge as well (we will take this up in a later entry)
Now several years later, this vocabulary of energies is the foundation of Magis Training.

Tapping the Energies
Each of the 3 basic energies has its own locus.. where it lives in the body... where it comes from and where it passes through on its way out to the audience.
The energies are accessed, opened, and focused through a shape/action that is particular to each energy. Training in these shapes and practicing them regularly opens the channels of energy very much in the same way a pianist practicing scales allows for a proficiency in executing step-wise progressions in a piece of music.
The aim of this practice is not to "do" the energy (worse yet to "act" the energy) but to open the channels so that when I am doing the physical actions of my score, these energies will support and fuel the action.
This is the difference between an action that has presence and one that does not. Allowing the free-flow of energy in the action draws the attention of the audience to what is being done.. what is being embodied in the moment.

----George Drance

Assorted posts from our old blog site

Voice and Pilates
Through my work as an actor and trainer with Magis, I have integrated core awareness, breath and voice work in a way that I had previously felt impossible.

In my years at Columbia’s MFA program our voice work and our physical training were kept very separate. We had one way of warming up the voice that was simultaneously relaxing and stimulating, and then another way of getting to the body that was muscular and intensive. The two systems seemed to fight against each other.

After graduation I certified as a Pilates instructor. Although my certification was through a very classical program, I soon branched out to study modified Pilates and Alexander work. I began taking classes at Kelly Kane’s School of Core Integration and studying weekly with an Alexander teacher named Nancy Wechter who has a private practice in Manhattan. I discovered a kind of core work that was not classical Pilates (often quite muscular and choreographic) but much more akin to yoga or physical therapy. The diaphragm was encouraged to move freely, the mind-body focus was on the alignment and energetic connections between bones, freely moving joints and a kind of yielding and widening of the external muscles to the deeper smaller groups closer to the spine – the muscles connected with breath. After a few years of exploration, I found myself no longer moving from a place of rigidity, holding or strain. I began to develop a new pattern for my body: deepening the abdominals in a way that allowed freedom for the breath and yet stability and protection for the spine at the same moment.

In Magis training I began to teach this new kind of Pilates to the actors. I wanted them to open up their bodies AND voices as they strengthened their core muscles. I began to cue bones and joints and encourage a softening rather than a gripping to find very simple movements. Then I began adding in vocal exercises and sound to the sessions. We progressed the movements from basic core principles into a few classic Pilates moves. The goal is to keep the breath free and the voice open in the face strong core challenges. I call it "Voice and Pilates." I am combining three techniques in our warm up: Linklater voice work, core principles of Pilates greatly influenced by Kelly Kane's School of Core Integration, and basic directional principles from the Alexander technique.

I find that the physical and vocal work in this combination enhance one another. If the breath is free, the body moves better. When the body is moving in an efficient and directional way, the voice deepens and resonates naturally. By the end of a 40 or 45-minute session I feel open, centered and resonant. I am ready to jump into vigorous physical or vocal work – whatever the day’s rehearsal/training.

--- Margi Sharp

Uniting Action to Impulse in Character
Push...Pull...Reach ...Throw...When attached to apart of the body, the four actions open up a new way of approaching Character for me. First, we work solely with the body. Pushing, pulling, and throwing with the knee, forehead, pelvis, nose, etc. Second, the voice is added, presently using text from The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. Without judging or attaching meaning, I said the text with the intention coming from the energy of my knee. I found that I allowed my character to go higher in my voice range, adding layers of humor that I had not originally conceived. Thirdly, we said the lines of text in complete stillness. I was delightfully surprised that the lines came out with ease yet held a clearer intention than before. Nothing was said "in general" George pointed out afterwards. Finally, we combined the text with a subtle version of the movement we used, creating characters that would definitely appear in life, with movement and gestures not easily found with a psychological approach.

Finding Balance

I spoke in class last month about why I'm interested in bringing Tai Chi and Qi Gong into the Magis training sessions. Qi Gong is the starting place for Tai Chi-- the preparatory exercises one does before beginning the movements that make up the form itself. Some of them are basic warm-up exercises: circling the hips, the knees, the head, to promote flexibility and freedom of movement. Others seem more esoteric and speak of using breath and movement to even out or balance Qi or Chi, the body's essential energy.

I think many warm up exercises for actors, from all different methods and traditions, are concerned with this idea of finding balance. We want to prepare the body so that we are free to be an open channel for whatever impulses may arrive in the course of the work. Often the most interesting work on stage requires us to throw ourselves off balance; as in modern dance when the dancer engages in an extreme tilt of her body that requires her to let herself "fall" and then "catch" herself again.

As actors, we are often required to be brave enough to be willing to throw ourselves off balance. We give up better-paying jobs in order to take an acting job that interests us. Performance commitments may mean we spend less time with family and friends. A director may ask us to speak while engaging in extreme physical movements. Even if we aren't "Method" actors, sometimes the subject matter of a play may touch on ideas or emotions that rattle us internally.

Finding a place of balance in our lives can make us feel safe enough to throw ourselves off balance on stage. Qi Gong has been the latest manifestation of that search for balance for me. When I can take the time to find a still center, to feel strong and balanced, I then feel ready to go wherever a class, rehearsal or performance may take me. Feeling off balance can be scary for someone who doesn't take being in control for granted. But when I can remember what it feels like to find balance, I am more willing to risk that thrilling feeling of falling, knowing that I will be able to catch myself again.

--Erika Iverson

Witlings thoughts and questions

One of the things that I find most interesting about this play is the juxtaposition of "idea" and "act."
Here these people who present themselves to be the pinnacle of sophistication and learned thinking treat each other so miserably. What is our rationality really for? Do we use it as so many here do simply to impress others, to be thought better of, or do we use it as the charcter of Mr. Censor does... to actually solve problems.
So here's a proposition...
Let's try to watch, to be attentive to all the ways in which people around us today do things that contradict what they say they think.
We can present some of these and use them to see what might be appropriate for some of the situations for these charcters in the play.


Monday, January 7, 2008

Training 1/6/08- Sampler & Mad Scientists

Hola, Gabe here people. Training Sunday was like a sampler platter at a Bennigan's, Friday's or Applebees; a little bit of everything. We also did some experimenting, trying out things not done before in our sessions--OMG we're such an experimental theatre company LOL--yeah, we had fun in the lab. The mad scientists in attendance were Casey, Frank, Malone, Wendy and I.

After Wendy's yoga Casey led us in Tai Chi. I connected well with the image of the three point prongs in your feet linking you to the earth and breathing though them; in the same way Erika does so when leading us in the Qigong. What felt new was Casey leading us through the movements emphasizing the connection w/the earth but shifting your weight through your center and into your legs but keeping that same grounded sensibility to the earth. A similar phenomenon we go through in our Suzuki training.

We also did an exercise where we gave Yin and Yang energy to each other through a series of arm movements that involved a back & forth see-saw give and take. It would take too long to describe the details; we just need to do it again so you can experience it. I enjoyed doing the exercise with my eyes closed, it hyper-sensitized my awareness. Very nice.

After Liz did the voice work Wendy did her Niky time then Frank ran us into the ground, literally. I'll let him take you on the trip.

During the Taylor I discovered another image with the lyric jump; yeah another one, no booster rockets this time though.

I feel reaching up in the jump equates to the sensation of the reach in "desire" (during our "push, pull, reach, throw" in Niky time). The landing in the lyric jump is the "survival" (i.e. our tush holding us back in the reach). I feel desire is a very lyric energy and the jump physicalizes this well. Yet, the landing in the jump gives the physical sensation of a soft safe survival instinct to balance out the intensity and sometimes illogical passion of desire. I truly relate to this on a personal level as I'm sure many of you do. The booster rockets of desire shoot you up in the air and the parachute of survival lands you softly on the ground. Ah, the necessity of balance, passion & logic; the story of my life all in one lyric jump. But that's just my take.

We came up with something cool after I led the Taylor. In keeping with the exercise of neutrality and energy exchange through running at each other, we discovered a hybrid of this and an Ann Bogart exercise.

Remember one of the first viewpoint exercises of being in a circle and jumping at the same time? Yeah, that one. Well, this time we decided to have the same sensibility but instead of jumping we ran into the center of the circle together. It was that same sense of counting in the circle but not knowing who is going to say "1, 2, 3, 4" etc.

When we finally all ran in together we kept that sensibility, with connection and exchange of energy, then dispersed back into a circle at the same time. Very cool, yummy energy, mmmmmmm :)

Next time when we rushed the center we added text. The challenge? Keeping your energy focused while six other people are talking to each other at once, overlapping then dispersing to the circle again in silence. Awesome. Why?

I feel the Witlings is a piece that goes at light speed and the dialogue so jabby that many of the lines (as with Shakespeare) go so fast that people are nearly talking over each other. Especially in the group scenes when all the madness and mayhem is occurring. This exercise was a practice run at managing that mayhem, with skill & focus, as well as the rapidity of action that goes on in this play. I feel we have to be even that much more hypersensitive to each others energy and dialogue because so many things will be going on at the same time when this play goes full throttle.

That being said, that's why I've been making it an uber-objective of mine to begin this process by not compromising the connection for speed, emphasizing slowly warming up to it. Also, being hyper-sensitive to my relationship with each person in the ensemble whether they be upstage left or in the wings. The ball is always in the air.

I look forward to more Magis mad science. Huzzah ;-) Peace Witlings!