Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dramatic, Lyric, Epic// Momentum, Suspension, Gravity

Three Basic Energies

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 blended in Niky's own way.
At Columbia, a variety of 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. Taylor gets these categories from the work of Rudolf Steiner, particularly his book SPEECH AND DRAMA. And while we need not agree with Steiner's metaphysics, it is useful to understand and his observations.
Those observations are aimed at a kind of engagement which translates to "presence."

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.

Once before a show with Ralph Lee’s Mettawee River Company, we warmed up with our usual routine of exercises, one of which was “the body swing:” a simple exercise I had done many times before, though never before with the awareness of the instrument I had developed in grad school. I had also just begun working with the Robert Talyor, and so was able to see this exercise in a new context.
The exercise is a reaching up in the body, allowing oneself to fall over at the waist and swing back, and then allowing the contained 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 unmistakable 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 own teaching at Fordham. Connection to Stansilavski's later work on physical actions began to emerge as well.
While this realization can seem theoretical, it is entirely practical: gravity, momentum and suspension are constants in any action. The energy shifts based on the instrument’s relationship to gravity at any given moment. As such, the actor does not manufacture energy, the actor merely taps the energy that is there.

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