Note from previous week
It is important that the work becomes the property of the group and everyone feels free to take it and develop it even if the original idea is not theirs. When you see or experience something that was theatrically effective develop that, or find a story that supports it, as opposed to finding a story and then trying to find a way of telling it theatrically.
The language of movement
This work begins to explore how to express the inner rhythm and quality or 'dynamic' of objects and the natural elements. In music 'dynamic' describes the volume and sound of a piece of music, whether it is played softly, quietly, staccato or loudly. The dynamics in music are the part of the written score that a musician interprets, they allow each person to play a piece of music differently.
We also use dynamics in theatre; the dynamics of movement. These exercises can help us understand and portray atmospheres and environments. We may discover that we don't need to show an environment itself because it can be reflected in an actor's body. Similarly an exploration of different objects can lead to physical characterisation.
The exercises outlined in this section are challenging, so it is important to work towards them gradually by doing lots of physical games and exercises with your students.
> Materials It is useful to start this work by exploring the movement of materials. They are directly observable and the improvisations are short and often very amusing.
1. Look at objects and materials you have around you - a ball being bounced, a jumper being dropped, a plastic bag unfurling after being scrunched, a sugar lump dissolving in a glass of water or a match being struck.
2. In groups of three or four, ask your students to carefully observe and then re-create with their bodies the movement of these objects. Encourage them to be precise and specific. This exercise isn't about inventing new movements but about observing and re-creating what they actually see.
If someone is successful in expressing a dynamic you will know immediately. It can be funny to watch an accurate movement because of the surprise of the human body appearing so alien.
> Developing devising skills
1. Get your students to look carefully at the movement sequences they have created.
2. Ask them if they can see a scenario in the movement they've made. For example, perhaps a group recreating the movement of an unfurling plastic bag looked like a group of gossiping old women.
3. Give each group a suggestion of a simple scenario like this. Get them to recreate exactly the same movements or dynamics but to add very subtle changes which transform the movement into a short scene.
Looking at the elements takes this work one step further. Here the students can observe directly to a certain extent but also need to introduce a certain amount of imagination. For example, you can begin by exploring the air currents in a room and then gradually move on to recreating a hurricane.
1. Take the word ‘wind’ or ‘air’.
2. Ask you students to explore what happens to their body when it is walking into a strong wind. Change the wind slightly, make it gusty or change the direction it is coming from. Encourage the students to be as accurate as possible.
Discuss who you think is being most accurate and try to work out why.
3. Open doors and windows and get everybody to stand very still in the space and feel the air currents move around them.
4. Then get the students to explore moving as part of the currents. This isn't a symbolic presentation of the air currents but what we would call the 'dynamic of the air currents'. Try to get the students to involve the whole of their body, including the breath.
5. Explore different strengths of wind with your students from this gentle air circulation to a hurricane. What sort of movements work best to express this element?
6. Working in pairs, ask one student to blow or waft their partner who has the dynamic of wind in their whole body. There should be no resistance.
7. In turn, take the other elements: fire, water and clay. Repeat the above exercises and try to find the dynamic of movement for each element. Be specific about what you see in the participant's body: if a student is searching for the dynamic of water do you see a calm ocean or a rushing stream? Use words which help to describe the rhythm, weight, tension and direction that you think may be needed.
When your students search for the dynamic of clay you will find that it is a substance that doesn't move independently, so get them to work in pairs with one person moulding and moving the other as if they were clay.
> Developing devising skills
1. Ask your students to create the journey of a river through movement. This journey will take them from the source of a river to the sea
2. Get the students to present their river to the rest of the class. What states of water have been included (glacier, waterfall, millpond)? How have students used the space, different rhythms and contrast? How does pure movement like this communicate?
> Photos and paintings
This is the next step to take with this series of explorations. Finding the dynamics of movement of a photograph or painting is more complicated, partly because it is a static representation of something moving, and partly because there are many elements and materials contained within one picture. This really requires imagination on the part of the students and can lead towards developing quite complex movement sequences.
1. Ask your students to find the dynamics of movement in photographs and paintings.
2. With students in groups of five or six choose a painting or photograph and ask them to prepare a series of movements which they think expresses the dynamic of movement of that image. The aim is not to show what the photograph looks like but to express other things about it, including the atmosphere, weight, light, shadow, space and colour.
3. Get the students to present their version of the painting or photograph to the other groups and then talk about what the spectators received.
4. Finally show the spectators the original painting or photograph and talk about what was captured in the improvisation and what was lost.
These exercises are central to devising because they explore the creation of a physical text. They transpose a frozen image or object into a series of movements which exist in time. They can be a useful way to start talking about dramatic construction in microcosm. In these tiny pieces of movement theatre you can see progression, contrast, variations of rhythm, surprises, transformations of space and even characters emerging.
A good piece of theatre, game of football or athletics meeting has an audience sitting on the edge of their seats, even holding their breath. If there is sufficient tension the spectators don't get bored, look at their watches or think about what to eat for supper. All too often the theatre we see isn't like this. So, what is it that makes a show compelling and involving?
Physical action alone can help to inject tension into stage action. When an actor's body isn't engaged the whole drama becomes saggy and turgid. But when actors engage physically and work hard an audience is immediately more interested.
The following exercise are often introduced into the rehearsal process to add physical tension to the vocabulary. When a particular tension is introduced into a scene it can spark it into life.
> The seven levels of tension
1. Begin by exploring both ends of the scale so that your students know where they are travelling from and where they will end up.
2. Get your students to work in pairs and one at a time to take all of the tension out of their body (they should end up lying on the floor). Their partner is there to check that there really isn't any tension left. This is tension level 1.
3. Then get the same pairs to try the opposite. Get them to make every single muscle and sinew of their body tense. This is hard work so don't let them hold the tension for more than a few seconds at a time. This is tension level 7.
4. Now explore the scale from 1-7 and observe what changes occur from stage to stage. Work by getting students to move around the space gradually injecting more tension into their bodies. Most people will arrive at a level of tension that feels incredibly natural to them.
Encourage your students to respond and interact with each other and the space to help their exploration of the different tensions. What happens when level 1 meets level 7?
5. Try to find real life examples that illustrate each of the different levels of tension. For example, level 6 could be illustrated by looking at football fans reacting to a controversial decision made by a referee.
This is a list of names given to each level of tension, along with a suggestion of a corresponding performance style that could exist in that tension.
2. Relaxed/Californian (soap opera)
3. Neutral/ economic (contemporary dance)
4. Alert (farce)
5. Suspense (melodrama)
6. Passionate (opera)
7. Tragic (end of King Lear when Lear is holding Cordelia in his arms)
> Developing devising skills
1. Suggest a simple scenario for an improvisation, for example watching television with friends.
2. Ask your students to create a simple scene which uses various different levels of tension (in conjunction with emotions). What works? Can you jump from level 2 to level 6? Were there any surprises, or moments that particularly worked or didn't work? Why?
3. Explore playing against the natural, appropriate tension to inject comedy into a scene.
> Tension in a scene or story
It is incredibly complex to analyse how tension operates in a scene or performance. In some genres: horror movies or thrillers for example it is suspense and fear which drives the drama. But what else can help to keep the tension high? Here are some things which students could consider:
- Leave things unsaid, unshown or unresolved.
- Keep the audience on their toes by surprising them occasionally.
- Think about using inappropriate tensions.
- Think about the connection with the audience. If scenes become private between the performers they can become slack and uninteresting. Remember there is not only tension between the performers on stage, but between the performers and the audience.
- Look at storytelling techniques. How does a good storyteller or stand up comedian keep the tension high?
- Think about when a friend tells you an anecdote. What kind of language, gestures and eye contact do they use?
- Think about conflict and how and when to resolve it.
1. Get your students to tell short anecdotes to each other in pairs.
2. Get them to tell their story to the whole group without changing any element of how they tell the story. (Their partner can keep an eye on this).
3. Discuss the techniques each person used. How effective were they? What were the things that made a story compelling? How much of it was to do with content and how much was about the performance?
In rehearsals we frequently refer to rhythm. By this we mean the beat (or heart beat) which maintains the flow of an improvisation or particular piece. In a finished piece of theatre the rhythm is infinitely various and complex, however it is extremely useful to raise consciousness of the concept of rhythm by beginning with a much simpler idea.
For example, by imitating the beat of a jazz band with only the voice. It will become very clear when the rhythm is dropped, a beat is missed or a cue is not picked up. The same principle applies to all theatre. There is a musical quality to theatre, as inexplicable as music, which has its core in the concept of rhythm.
As an experiment, get a vocal jazz rhythm going and then get your students to tell a story in words, but maintaining the precise jazz rhythm. The notion of picking up cues and keeping the improvisation going rhythmically will rapidly become even more apparent.
1. Stand in a circle and get your students to throw a ball across the circle concentrating on maintaining a steady rhythm like a heart beat.
2. Then ask your students to experiment with making the rhythm as varied and surprising as possible but without dropping the ball or losing the control.
3. Ask them to think about introducing moments of suspension or acceleration, and also to think about the quality or dynamic of each throw. For example a throw could be gentle, staccato, or aggressive.
> Developing devising skills
When you watch a scene or improvisation created by your students which feels flat, refer back to this ball throwing exercise. Ask your students to experiment with the rhythm in the scene to make it more complex and surprising.
Usually, we ask to apply some of the exercises in a class and write an essay reflecting on how it went and even film the process for the feedback.
In the current situation, we ask you only to analyze and reflect on the above-mentioned approach. Do you find it useful? There are aspects and themes in training and rehearsal processes that are universal to any genre, how do you think what are they? The devising work on performance can bring a lot of freedom to ensemble members to generate and propose ideas. What do you think a director's role in this process?
Next week we will attempt to look into the work on creating characters and work with text with an ensemble.
How to Rehearse a Play; A Practical Guide for Directors
Deadline: 13 August