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.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Magis Auditions: Frequently Asked Questions

Why does Magis place an emphasis on training?
Our company started from a desire to continue the kind of training we received in our advanced studies in theatre and from a desire to place this work in dialogue with other forms of training. What has evolved for us is a year -round plan that has three modes of training: fundamental skills, exploration of new work, and readiness for performance. We have found that these three components challenge us to stay fresh in our technique, provide a means to prepare others to become Magis trainers, and put us in contact with innovative approaches that deepens the integration of each actor’s personal craft.

What should I wear to training?

Comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely and rigorously. Some of our training requires gym shoes.

What do you mean by heightened language?
Any text that is bigger than our every day speech. Classical texts, poetic texts, some absurdist texts or non-linear texts… any of these show us that you can embody language that is just a little bit above and beyond our everyday way of speaking. We want to see you engage the imagination, and yet at the same time present the text fully and truthfully.

I don’t have a Shakespeare piece, should I memorize a new piece for the audition?
We would rather see you show something that you are already comfortable with. If you have different monologues that you regularly show, pick the one that you think makes the greatest demands in engaging your imagination and showing your range.

How is Magis training different than other forms of training?
Magis takes a holistic/ integrated approach to training. While some techniques focus on aspects of performance in isolation from each other, Magis training has developed a single vocabulary that unites seemingly opposed theatrical techniques. By using the same vocabulary for our work with voice, body and imagination, it provides ready channels to unite different approaches, some of which were previously thought of as inconsistent. Check the training page on our website to read about how our training has grown and how we have presented our training at national and international conferences and for theatre professionals and educators.

Is Magis a Union Company?
Currently all the actors of the Magis Theatre Company are members of Actors’ Equity. We operate closely with the union and have produced shows under Showcase, Mini, and LOA contracts.

Does Magis operate year round?
Yes. While we do only one production per year, and our typical run is 3 weeks, the company trains every week together. This is one of the goals of our company and we make a commitment to providing training through out the year. We take a 6 week hiatus in the summer. Our school outreach program operates for six months of the year as well.

Does Magis pay its actors?
Yes, we strive to pay our actors. This takes the form of a stipend for their work in our yearly production, but also part of the way we pay our actors is providing training free of charge. You can consider our training like a yearly membership to a gym or a studio. While other companies charge for workshops and training, we offer this freely to members of our company. We also regularly invite special guest instructors to lead workshops for our actors. All this is part of the way we give back to our actors who make a commitment to the company. Magis Company members who are administrators as well do not receive salaries for administrative roles in the company.

If I am selected for the company will I have to pay for workshops or training?
No. These are offered free of charge to members of our company.

If I am selected for the company, when can I expect to start performing?
We ask that members show proficiency in technique before taking part in a performance. Because we have only one production per year, typically actors are cast in the production after completing between 6-12 months of training with the company.

I am interested in teaching , can I be a part of the Magis Theatre school outreach program?
We welcome Magis actors to work with the students at the school where our company is in residence.
We provide materials and mentoring for Magis actors who are interested in teaching.

What kind of commitment am I expected to make to the company?
We expect our actors to be at training each week. We understand that there are exceptional circumstances that sometimes prevent full attendance, but we expect that when ever possible, the company training time be respected.
We also expect that our actors will bring themselves to our work by maintaining our work environment, sharing in what ever capacity is possible to facilitate training, and participating in projects that we provide for the school which hosts us. Each year we hold two workshop days for our students and we expect all company members to be in attendance to work with the students at these two workshops
Because we are a self-producing organization, company members all help out in realizing our productions.

If I am cast in a show outside the company will that affect my status as a company member in Magis?

Our actors are all working actors. When working outside Magis, we ask that people make it to training when they are not called for rehearsals of other shows, and if there is flexibility in those rehearsals, that a commitment to being at Magis training on Sundays is maintained whenever possible.