Saturday, June 27, 2015

Second to last... but not least

This week's training was our 2nd to last of the year so we had to make it count!

During the first part of our training, we focused very specifically on the area where our spine attaches to our neck. We worked from "monkey" and examined how that point is deeply connected with all of our movements. Much of the company noticed that the slightest turn of the head could be clocked by feeling that 'critical juncture' (get it?? haha), We then moved on to what I describe as "Crocodile Floorwork;" replicating the spineful creature's progression of movement-from small to large. As crocodiles, we went from resting face-down in the swamp, to roaming and searching our ecosystem.  For me, it was revealing to encounter the resulting mindfulness that exploring the crocodile motions elicited. We then moved on to a bit of text work, allowing the lines to come to us as we searched the room. 

The next portion of training consisted of two exercises that tested our ability to both inhibit and follow our impulses in achieving a goal. We played "Red Light, Green Light" and "Simon Says." Yes, these are historically "children's games." But we found that both of these games illuminated certain aspects of our process BECAUSE of the simplicity of each games' instructions. For instance, in Simon Says, we were forced to inhibit our impulses to follow a director's direction. It takes an "extra-daily" use of energy to monitor whether or not Simon has ordered us to do something. In Red Light, Green Light, we must utilize "extra-daily" use of energy to honor the obstacle (being caught) in our pursuit of the traffic person. 

We segued into clown work by first exploring an image exercise that was led by George. This exercise (which we did not know would lead to clown work), consisted of a fantastical morning routine and enabled us to enter our clown's world. It's amazing how these imagination exercises stick to our subconscious when we continue on into an improvisation. This improvisation consisted of us splitting into two groups of clowns. Our clowns interacted with "the voice" and with one another. This exercise was a potent reminder that a clowns experience, no matter how "externalized," must be as real for the clown, as Romeo's. Torvald's or Batman's journey is for them. 

We ended our training by working on a few prepositions. These prepositions continue to illuminate "Life is a Dream." Each moment that is explored beams a ray of light into a crevice of the play that is unearthed. The learning is palpable!

For me, working with Magis has encouraged and illuminated the mentality that 'the work' and the journey are a destination. That training is not just a "means to an end," but an end in itself. This mindset not only makes training more satisfying in the doing-it makes it more effective on the instrument. I love the notion that we are a "training company." It's old school and swagtastic in the best possible way. I'm looking forward to celebrating our year this Tuesday with all of you! There has certainly been a lot to celebrate this week!!!


From the Directors' Lab

This past week in the Lab, Kelly and Alex worked on some explorations with "Life is a Dream."  Here's what they worked on: 

From Alex:

I wanted to explore the characters of Fife and Rosaura, how their characters are understood through their relationship to each other, and how that is learned by the audience at the beginning of the play before the very first line. Since I worked with three pairings my focus was on giving them adjustments and suggestions that would create specificity for all three pairings, which I found useful to a point--right about when we had to stop to show the rest of the group was when I wanted to start working with each pairing individually. I found that even the approximately two minutes of action that leads Rosaura to her first line ("I, wearied, worried, and for-done, alone will down the mountain...") was too much for us to work: my next step would have been to work with each of the pairings individually on just the action from when they wake to when they both are standing. I think condensing the amount of action being worked would lead us to clearer, more specific character and relationship choices. Once that very first moment of waking and standing was clear and strong, we could then start to see what happens to them next.

From Kelly:

What I was interested in exploring last night was the soundscape created by the two songs we've begun learning. In particular, I wanted to hear them sung simultaneously, since they are so different in nature (one very celebratory and triumphant and the other mournful). I am fascinated with the tension that exists between perceived opposites and often find that really exciting things grow from that space. There is a piece of music by Bach named "Morimur" that contrasts two completely different pieces of music to great effect.
Last night, we could only use eight people to begin exploring, so it was challenging, given that both pieces have three distinct parts. Still, everyone did really lovely work and we were able to sing them together. While it was an initial attempt, I believe it will work. In particular, there were a few lovely moments when the melancholy sounded between the pauses of the celebratory piece, creating a haunting feeling.
In moving forward, I would continue exploring in two steps. First, I would continue working on having the ensemble get comfortable with both pieces of music and with singing them together. Then, I would begin exploring with a larger soundscape, along the lines that Dennis, Ali, and Tsebiyah did the previous week. I would encourage the ensemble to use only simple sounds and tones to communicate, maybe even pretending to be different kinds of animals (alligator!) and see if there is a way to have the songs grow organically from the larger soundscape.

Monday, June 22, 2015


During last week’s training we looked afresh at exercises we’ve been working on for months. We slowed them down, considered them from different perspectives. We looked with curiosity. Curiosity seems pretty key to the life of an actor. The joy of exploration, of solving problems , finding answers that ask more question, always thirsting to know more about the world, your characters, yourself.
Every week we examine the red and blue wave. As an actor who has studied Suzuki, feeling the power of the earth through my feet and the wave that comes from that during the blue wave makes sense. The red wave however, seeming to come from the universe downward, but not so downward that it bone crushingly knocks you to the floor, is more complex. Letting, the wave pass through you and to a point across the room, rather than into the floor is another challenge. But last week, there was a comment about disengaging the foot from the ground before the wave reaches it, when it is at chest height. This seemed to help me significantly to get a sense of the wave passing through me rather than stopping at me. Having this small success, I’m left with many more questions- why red, why blue, why these waves, how do they echo the waves found in physics, are there other waves to consider? 
And what do these waves mean for my performances? It seems to me that every play, monologue, every line, every word is in essence its own wave, passing through us. We are the conduit, the energy passes through us, but doesn’t stop with us, we must allow it to reach our audience across the room. The wave, the energy flow, the exchange, is really the essence of communication, the essence of theatre. I’m excited to attempt the waves again with this notion that they are a microcosm of a play. 
Training also included work on movement up and down stairs, using the upward energy of gravity to go up stairs and the downward to go down. Going downstairs super fast has been one of my secret loves since I was about 8 - the closest thing to flying. And every time I do it even now, I feel like a child, delighted at the motion of my body through space. But flying up stairs was a new experience, it was not uniformly felt, but occasionally, the momentum of the energy built up and I suddenly realized I was half way up the flight of stairs without even realizing it!
The final element of training included propositions or compositions on Life Is A Dream. It was really delightful to see the variety of responses to the play and the games created by it. From a book on the head standoff, to a darkened soundscape, to monologues, duologues and hand puppets, it's fascinating to see the varied interpretations of this 500 year old work and also the drama and comedy sitting side by side. I look forward to more!
Ali Kennedy Scott

Thursday, June 11, 2015

More Life... is a dream :)


At the session on Tuesday, we delved deeper into various modes of training.

We began with Margi and Erika providing a fresh perspective on our Alexander work, focusing on the concept of “direction.”  How do we direct our bodies without actually engaging muscles or trying to “place” or “arrange” our bodies in to what we believe to be true alignment?  The answer is deeper body awareness and more complete body mapping.  So we turned to images of the human skeleton to try to understand how our bones fit together to carry weight.  As an example, we also looked at the skeleton of an alligator.

The alligator: a creature that appears to be all spine.  From the images Erika brought to class we noticed how the alligator’s arms and legs extend easily from the spine and that when they lie on their bellies, their limbs rest comfortably “at their sides.”  Our arms and legs essentially fall to the sides of our bodies as well, but we want to keep looking for that energy that keeps them from pinching down of hanging as dead weight.

Using the print outs of human skeletons as a visual reference, we talked about how the red wave and blue wave can help us visualize “direction” in the body.  The blue wave travels UP the spine, allowing the spine and neck and head to travel forward and up on an easy current of energy.  The red wave pours down the body simultaneously.  We can allow this energy to pour down through our arms and legs and ground us.  This idea- that not all energy must travel up up up when working on Alexander Technique- was described with the image of a fountain.  As the energy travels up from the ground into the pelvis, it spills over like water in a fountain and moves back down the legs in a circular flow of energy that deeply connects us to the earth.  The same thing happens at the sternum.  As the energy travels up through the torso, it shoots out from the sternum to the collar bone to the shoulders and then down the arms, allowing them to hang freely without unnecessary and tension-inducing lift.

Thus, the arms, we decided, begin at the sternum.  And the legs begin at the meeting of the coccyx and ilium.  Thinking of the limbs this way allows them to easily plug into the energy moving up the spine and carry that energy out and down.  It also allows our limbs to connect more to the core of our physical and spiritual body, carrying that internal energy outward in movement and gesture.

We talked about re-connecting to our reptilian brains at the base of the skull.  When this primal mechanism is triggered in a fight or flight response, we are granted full freedom of movement- tension free and without conscious thought. 

After all this investigation, we tackled an exercise designed to coax out the sensation of having the arms traveling out and down from the sternum.  We began standing behind a chair.  We moved easily into a relaxed monkey pose and brought our hanging arms to rest on chair back.  We then applied light pressure to the chair, attempting to pull it into two pieces, essentially moving our hands apart from each other while keeping them gripped on to the chair back.  This light engagement helped us to open up the back body and feel the arms rooted deeply in the sternum.

After Alexander is was time for some extensive Viewpoints training with Erika.  We dove right in as a full group, working on filling the space with our moving bodies while keying up our kinesthetic listening.  We traveled through the windows created by two bodies passing, peeled off and changed directions when passing close to another ensemble member, and played with tempo and stillness.  After a while, Erika exhorted us to “turn up your listening from a 7 to an 11.”  For the last several minutes of the full group session, we were much more tuned in to the energy being passed around the room.  I felt much more plugged in and it was a pleasure to turn my conscious, decision-making mind off entirely and let impulses arise from the group. 

We then worked in groups of six- six ensemble members up on the grid and six sitting and acting as “audience.”  Both groups created some very memorable pictures and moments. 

Finally, it was time to work on “propositions” from LIFE IS A DREAM.  The propositions were developed for 10 minutes and then shared with the group.  We saw scenes from the opening of the play, the moment when Sigismund first sees Rosaura as a woman, the first meeting of Astolfo and Estrella, Basilio’s tortured decision over his cursed son, and the “locket moment.”  Each proposition made strong use of special awareness and stage picture, obviously drawing on the Viewpoints work.  Each proposition was expressive and readable.  For myself, I am excited to work on going deeper into the psychology of a moment, possibly obscuring its meaning and readability, for the sake of a deeper connection to the material.  That will be my goal in upcoming proposition work.

In all, an energetic and creative and enlightening session. 

Joe McGranaghan