Since early 2000’s Leah Mercer, based in Western Australia and I have been collaborators, working on show after show, writing, performing, producing, learning from each other. This last week she has been involved in The Directors Lab in Melbourne, including 9 directors from Western Australia and 0 directors based in Queensland.
I would have dearly loved to be there but I am working. Leah sent an article to all of us on FACEBOOK this morning and it has excited me: “Simon McBurney on devised theatre: its absolutely petrifying”, written by Dominic Cavendish. We learn more about the well established and well loved company Complicite and how their process incorporates writing, rehearsal, translataion, writing in this order. McBurney explains that usually the process is reversed in most theatre making: writing, rehearsal, performance, translation. In our company FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE and NEST ENSEMBLE it is a similar approach to Complicite: despite the fact that we may begin with a script, we end up with a lot of the writing happening at the end. Everything changes constantly. And that is why this process is ‘petrifying’ though I prefer the word ‘terrifyingly wonderful’. Petrify conjures up stuckness in my mind, rather than fluid terror.
What has really excited me in this article is a very simple explanation of process. I will quote the article so you get it straight:
“McBurney trained in Paris with Jacques Lecoq acquiring skills in clowning, mime and physical theatre and the ethos that “play” mattered more than “the play”.
Now this is what I have believed for over forty years. Play on stage is the most important element of theatre. The words come second. Now many practitioners would disagree with this statement. “Respect the writer they would insist”, seeing this as a lack of respect rather than an absolute respect of the fluid artform. One practitioner I have worked with for many years, Dr. Mark Radvan, who now heads the acting strand at QUT, embraces this idea of play big time, embracing impulse training as the foundational skill of the actor. Impulse work is all about relational play, first of all the relationship of cells within the artists body, then the relationship of the cells between the actors bodies on stage.
I deeply believe that the artform of the performer is to enliven and grow meaning in multiple ways, be it physically (on a cellular level), emotionally (not indulgent emotion but raw and deeply rooted), intellectually, spiritually. and most importantly: relationally… something that is rarely focused on…
Sometimes we get stuck in one of these rather than embracing all five aspects of what it is to be human….words are one thing. Life is another…and relationship is everything. The relationship among actors, their relationship to the set, their relationship to the audience, now that’s more interesting.
This all embracing relational philosophy is not so popular here in Oz (although there are some wonderful theatre makers who do embrace this including my latest experience with La Boite’s artistic director Todd MacDonald and “Prize Fighter” where he adopted a very fluid and impactful process) and it seems we are in good company overseas. Stella Adler, who I trained with many years ago seemed to uphold this way of being on stage although she worded it differently. As did my mentor Hayes Gordon, that great teacher who started The Ensemble Theatre in Sydney all those years ago.
Our artform as performers is to enliven, to awaken, to enthuse our audience. If we are awake, we can respond to hundreds of things going on in front of us…and at the same time play clean actions that are suggested by the script itself.
Most of all. Beyond all of this. Our job as performers is to inspire and after my immersion into Greek Mythology with the epic Dr. Jean Houston these last few weeks, I am well aware of the power that the mythic world can bring to the performer. We can inhabit our personal myth, wed it with the personal myth of the character we are playing and create an experience for our audience that is universal. And then there is the group myth: what is the group myth of the play?
The richness in this approach I think will give an epic dimension to the most domestic drama. Brisbane theatre wizz-kid (not so kid anymore), the generous and impactful Daniel Evans is great at embodying this in his work, wedding the universal and the domestic. It is what I aspire to do in all my work
“I will perform for you so that the extraordinariness of an ordinary life will be uncovered”
MBA in HOME, 2015.
Working at Queensland Academy of Creative Industries (QACI) with the year 10 drama students, collaboratively-directing them in a collaged version of The Belonging Trilogy (consisting of bits of Eve, HOME and He Dreamed a Train”) I am resonating big time with Robert LePage who, in the same article, describes his process as being like an explorer. He gathers his people and says:
“We are going to a new continent. How far is it? Are there monsters? I don’t know-all I know is there’s something there and I’m going to try and lead you there”.
This is certainly how I am feeling right now. We have large monsters, gods and goddesses. We have devils and angels. We have multiple worlds and multiple dimensions.
And we are all in the boat, but where we are going is stlll unclear. Benjamin Knapton joins us on Monday as we continue this path of adventure..Simon Tate and Stephen Matthias are also in this gloriously alive boat…or should I say train. a train without tracks…