Each week we're split into groups, given a general prompt, and then we spend time each day as an ensemble creating a piece of theatre that corresponds to the prompt. The first week was 'Creation of the world' and this last week was 'One place, One event'. In my first group we began by each creating our own 'world' to play in and we played as a group until we found several ideas that resonated. Then we expanded those ideas through play until we found an arc with a beginning, middle, and end. It was such a new experience for me, basically performing improv until an idea forms instead of forming an idea and then trying to create it. But like all new things, it got better with practice.
You can ignore parts of this post that will get into details that won't matter to anyone but me. Remember this blog is also my actor journal for me to remember and describe lessons, so I'm sure some of this won't be interesting for the average reader.
Now on week two it was exciting going in with the prompt and knowing that I could confidently create something. Week one we worked with no voices or props. It was about creating pictures with your body and using sound with no words. My group formed shapes along the walls in the room while I knelt in the middle. They slowly peeled themselves off the wall and began to walk in a rhythmic circle around me, beginning a syncopated pounding heartbeat with their hands until they were running. They stopped as one, put their hands into the middle of the circle onto my back and began to breathe with my movements. I went up and down until I was 'born' from the middle of the circle with a gasp. On my gasp the breath was taken from each ensemble member until they all fell down. I revived them with my breath again, and we began to make relationships. We mimicked movements and mirrored each other. Then one member makes the first sound. We then discovered how to copy the sound. Then we discovered touch and then play. The touch became violent until one ensemble member was shoved to the ground by me. We discovered violence. This member was then encircled again as I had been in the beginning, but when they broke out of the breathing circle and stole the breath from us we weren't able to be revived. The last moment was the sound of loss.
Writing this in detail it sounds very artsy, but in action we created life, relationship, sound, touch, and then cycled to death. It felt very powerful to use body without words and I really enjoyed the experience because the story line was very specific. There were other creations that were made of vignettes, and somehow each creation piece at some point included all bodies standing in a circle and then falling down (just like ours). So strange! On creation day the faculty all sits in and then critiques. The general feedback on week one was to simplify, be specific, and follow the prompt. We learned how easy it is to get carried away. My group had positive feedback and we were really proud of the piece, but the consensus was that we created 'the world' in the first 1/3 of our piece, and the rest was a continuation. That's a good example of how we could have simplified the piece. They also commented how each group had mostly depicted a human experience and that we had forgotten other elements.
So for week two my group took the general feedback to heart. We wanted to play with nature this time. In movement and improv classes this week we practiced this exercise of creating a place. My cohort created a park and we spent several class periods being characters in a park and learned to expand the room so it felt like there weren't walls, control voices so they felt the way they would outside, and focused on not stealing focus. We wanted to incorporate these lessons into our creation project so we picked the ocean as our place, and the event was the rising of the tide on a beach. It took a few days to solidify the best way to create waves with our bodies (and I have the bruises to prove it), but we finally picked four of us to stagger in a pattern on the floor with our bodies lying down straight like a log. We wanted to play with perspective so we began as if the audience was looking at the ocean horizon. We rocked slowly and made soft ocean noises. Then the rocking turned into rolling forward towards the audience with the sounds of waves crashing on the shore. At this point one of our ensemble entered as a child to build a sandcastle. Our rolling waves became bigger until we brought them to shore. Two of us became sea foam using our arms to replicate the tide dragging sand backwards, while two in the back became the crest of waves. We attempted to crescendo the sound as we got closer to shore, and built the tension towards the object of ruining the child's sandcastle until it had been completely swallowed by the ocean and the child ran off.
The other ensembles created a tree that was cut down, a cave where someone found gold, and the world before a volcanic eruption. Their feedback was that the place wasn't specific enough, and that the even took too long to happen or that there were multiple events and it was unclear. Overall the faculty seemed really intrigued by our piece, and said that the place was very clear. However, they as an audience had an expectation that there was danger to the child and that the event would in fact be more ominous. Professor Q said there are two types of theatre. One is when the actors know more than the audience and the audience has to figure out the story and catch up to the actors. The other is when the audience knows something the actors don't and the actor has to figure it out. If we were to do this piece again they wanted an exploration of what it feels like for the audience to know more about something than the actor. They wanted the beautiful moment of when our child would discover the danger they were in the same way the audience felt they were in danger. I found that so interesting! And something that hadn't occurred to me. We were attempting to simplify our event, so I hadn't considered something so big as drowning a child. But they said that our place was so big that the event ruined our crescendo. It was a let down. We needed to match the beginning with the end. It definitely made me want to explore the piece further. But I'm also excited to not roll around on my bruises anymore.
In other news this week we saw our first fringe show at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. It was called The Accountant and I'm sure I'll write more about it later. It had some spectacular special effects and a stunning sound design.
In movement analysis this week we worked on Lecoq's Seven Levels of Tension. This is one of numerous acting techniques and something that was fun to add to my repertoire. My graduate school faculty studied (for the most part) at The Lecoq School of Physical Theatre in Paris, so we'll be using a lot of these methods throughout my time here.
1. Tired, lethargy, exhaustion
2. California, Cowboy, laid back
3. Efficiency, Neutral
7. Hypertension, Tragic
We embodied each of these in class over the week, sometimes creating stories as an ensemble or in small groups. I'm excited to play with these more.
Our music theory class this week (our longest class at three hours) was a lot of work! We worked on scales, which I'm grateful I already know, finger placement on piano, rhythm, and solfeggio. We'll be performing the C scale and our own written melodies next class.
In voice class we're working on diaphragmatic breathing exercises and using sound on breath. I'm also finishing up reading Artaud's The Theatre and Its Double for seminar this Monday. I'm excited for this seminar class especially because we'll really be focusing on the history of physical theatre and the companies that have done and currently do it.
I've got a busy weekend ahead of me. Another fringe show to see, and several assignments to complete!