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Week 9

9. Ensemble Building Instruments: Devising



Space is a provocation that can propel and shape a piece of theatre. When a sculptor takes materials and moulds them into a form they are manipulating space, making it meaningful and expressive. Actors in a theatre space can also manipulate and use the space to create meaning. Learning the language of space gives the theatre-maker an endless number of possibilities.

Begin by looking at the work of architects and sculptors. The characterisation of the two old people in The Chairs began with a conversation about Brancusi's earthy sculpture of The Kiss and Rodin's impossibly romantic sculpture of the same name. Give your students titles and ask them to create their own sculptures with their bodies. Discuss how they are using space. Perhaps the sculptures can be explored to create characters and scenes.

Take your students to explore different structures and buildings and the spaces within them. Ask them to create fragments of performances that are site-specific. They could be inspired by the shape and atmosphere of the space itself, or by the daily activity that is contained within it. For example, a revolving door is an exciting space with a very specific purpose. What dramas and stories could evolve from an exploration of different doorways?

As your students become responsive to actual spaces and the themes they provoke they could explore the following exercises which look at concentrating space, finding emotional spaces and then at composing sequences that incorporate all these ways of using space.

> Exercises: Begin by experimenting with exploding and constricting the space your students are performing in. Sometimes playing against the realistic space can make a piece much more theatrical. If you make the space bigger you are encouraged to use bigger gestures and voices.

> Concentrating the space

The following exercises look at how to concentrate on action and focus  performance. They usually provoke a very imaginative and lively use of space: the performers are so close together that there is an energy and contact - they work together.

> Real spaces

1. Begin this work by giving your students themes that inhabit very small spaces (real or imaginary): 'stuck in the lift', 'prisoners in a tiny cell' or 'there were ten in the bed...'.

2. Ask the students to create very short scenes which explore physical proximity and how people respond to being in limited spaces.

> Using a small space to re-create a big world

Use rostra of about 150cm x 250cm for this exercise, or mark out this size space on the floor with tape. This is the performance space for this exercise and the only rule is that the students have to stay entirely on their rostrum (not even one foot on the floor).

1. Introduce the exercise by suggesting vast themes which embrace huge landscapes, and changes of landscape. These could include a James Bond Style chase sequence or the volcanic explosion at Mount Vesuvius.

2. In groups of five or six get your students to explore their theme on this very small stage. Get them to explore how to create a sense of space in a very small playing area.

> Working in big spaces

For example, in Complicite rehearsals the Company often works with 6ft. bamboos. The following exercises help to create a dynamic spatial relationship between performers, as well as improving movement and co-ordination skills.

They encourage performers to be bold and expansive with their movements.

Using bamboos can help students to explore the creation of physical spaces as well as discovering how movement can express emotions, atmospheres and tensions. Working with bamboos formed a huge part of rehearsals for The Caucasian Chalk Circle and gradually became an integral part of the production.

> Exercises:

Complicite usually uses 6-foot garden canes. Try to find canes that are very straight.

1. Give each student a bamboo which they hold vertically, ten centimetres off the ground.

2. Get all the participants moving around the space without bumping into each other, keeping their bamboos exactly upright and the same distance from the ground. Encourage them to enjoy the sensation of being very precise.

3. Ask the participants to get into groups of three (without talking) and to continue to move together as a group. Then ask them to change leader with each change of direction, while staying close together.

4. When the students are moving and concentrating well together, get them to experiment with different speeds and rhythms, changing the configuration of their group (3 abreast, single file, triangle) as well as the distance between their bamboos.

5. The leader can also lead changes in the position of their bamboo to create different shapes. Look for different qualities of movement.

It is important to keep the ideas and movements simple and precise. It is the togetherness of a group moving their bamboos exactly as one which is most effective. Watch each group in turn and see what works best.

> The space between performers

1. Ask the students to get into pairs and to take one bamboo cane between them. They should hold the cane between their forefingers, exerting a little bit of pressure to keep the cane secure between their fingers.

2. Ask the pairs to move about the space trying not to let the cane drop. Encourage the use of eye contact (but no talking) to communicate.

3. As the participants begin to be more sensitive to each other encourage them to make their movements more daring. Is it possible to sit down, roll along the ground, change the speed or rhythm whilst still keeping the cane link?

4. Gradually get a whole group of pairs working in the same space. Encourage the students to be sensitive to all the other pairs and to avoid clashes.

5. Try to get all the pairs to create spaces, shapes and rhythms together as a group: to be daring, to weave in and out, under and over other people, to play together and be imaginative.

> The space of emotions

1. Divide the group into two. One-half improvising with the bamboos, the other half watching. The students could take a bamboo each or continue working in pairs.

2. Throw in words for the students to explore through movement and manipulation of bamboos. This could mean the movement of laughter, anger, calm or fear.

3. Get the students who are watching to talk about when space and movement are expressive or truthful, and when not.

In these exercises, the use of bamboos gives students a meaningful way to play with space. A starting point for exploring how to create theatrical spaces which contain meaningful emotions and atmospheres.


We make up ball games. One of the most important aspects of playing ball is that you make up the rules, for example, that everybody has to touch the ball before you can try for a goal. You make up rules that do two things: one that they involve everybody; weak and strong players alike. The weak players have to be integrated not just by being kind but by making rules that insist they are. The other is that you have to accept a degree of competitiveness and aggression. It is actually necessary to get that out of people so they get it off their chests at the beginning of the day and also it's part of the energy you need to make a show. You mustn't be frightened by each other's aggression and competitiveness.

Try to get into the habit of preparing your students for collaborative work. Warm-up together, stretch and most importantly play games. Find games that you all enjoy and can participate in energetically. Games that make you laugh and get competitive and sweaty. Invent new rules, twists and turns. Play games that encourage the notion of a team, not just individual skill.

There is often time pressure in a devising process, especially in schools, but games should never be omitted. The element that is always present in Complicite rehearsals is the playing of games.

To enjoy a play, at first simply for the pleasure of participating then gradually for the sheer joy of playing on stage, is crucial. If a performer enjoys their performance, the audience is likely to enjoy watching

Students are often self-conscious and feel awkward about practical work. Games are a good way to combat this: they encourage teamwork and spatial awareness, physical and verbal coordination, rhythm and timing. Good games are completely involving and participants forget they are honing these skills. A good game immediately puts a group into a state of readiness and makes the step to doing improvisations much smaller. Simple children's games of ball, tag, skipping or tongue twister games are ideal. Play whatever your group enjoys most and as they become good at it get them to develop and refine the rules to make it more difficult.

> Blindfold cat and mouse

1. Divide the group in two. One group stands in a large circle to mark the edge of the playing area, and to stop the blindfolded players from leaving the space. The other group put on blindfolds.

2. One of the blindfolded players is named the cat and the rest are mice. 3. This game is about maintaining perfect silence and listening. The cat must listen very carefully and attempt to catch all the mice. The players are not allowed to stop moving for more than a few seconds. If a player is attempting to walk out of the circle somebody in the wall must turn them gently and whisper 'circle'.

> Developing devising skills >

Inventing games

1. Divide your students into groups of about six to eight and give each group a few objects: a rope, a ball, a couple of chairs or waste paper baskets.

2. Ask them to invent a game using the objects they have been given and, as they play it, to refine and re-write the rules.

3. Get the students to present their games to each other.

> Questions

Which game is most appealing to you and why?

What makes a good game?

What is the structure of the game?

Is there a clear endpoint and a clear winner?

Do different players have different roles in the game?

Does the game develop any particular skills?

Ensemble Work

All the work that one does in the rehearsal room shall lead towards the actors working together intuitively and instinctively. The actors should be able to improvise their way seamlessly out of most situations without an audience realising if anything out of the ordinary has happened.

This makes the work rich and exciting to watch and perform because the level of communication and teamwork is so high. There is no way to fake this ensemble feeling. It takes many months of playing games, doing physical exercises, improvising and working together.

> Exercises:

Play co-operation games, particularly those in which there are physical problems to be solved. These are crucial for building a sense of ensemble.

1. In groups of five or more, move to the four corners of the room. Get the participants in each group to knot themselves up in a ridiculous position. For example, they must all hold one individual's ankles and at the same time link arms with a neighbour. Then, without breaking their position and contact, they must move to the opposite corner of the room.

2. Cross the room without losing physical contact with the group, but this time only one person is allowed to move at a time.

3. Cross the room with two people not being allowed to touch the ground and with the rest of the group not using their arms to carry these individuals.

4. Move together as a group without touching, so that from the outside you can't tell who's leading.

5. Simply ask the group to walk in space. Frequently the group ends up walking in a circle or dispersing as two individuals take different decisions simultaneously. It is important that the group should move naturally, not in a choreographed line or holding hands. They should begin to sense the other participants' movements: to listen to each other and to anticipate how they want to move as a group.

> Questions During the process

1. How easy is it for the group to take a decision to change speed or direction? When is the group united? Does one person take the lead all the time?

2. When a good sense of ensemble has been established ask the group to take on specific characteristics. Can they move like chickens, cows or custard? Does this unite or disperse the group?


Reflect on questions from above (Games and Ensemble Work).

Share your answers on the mentioned exercises, your versions of adaptation, and share your thoughts on devising. Minimum 1000 words.

Please, also answer the following questions:

1. What Play would you like to stage as a director?

2. Do you have a fixed troupe or will you make an audition?

3. What you do (how you prepare) before the first training/rehearsal with actors?

4. How many people do you expect to be involved in performance and in production (technical personnel)?

5. How you can imagine first days of rehearsals? Describe in details the schedule and processes?

6. How you would give feedback to actors about their work?

7. Do you have experience in directing a devised performance?

8. Do you think you’ve got a particular style?


> Questions (Games)

Which game is most appealing to you and why?

What makes a good game?

What is the structure of the game?

Is there a clear endpoint and a clear winner?

Do different players have different roles in the game?

Does the game develop any particular skills?

> Questions During the process (Ensemble Work)

1. How easy is it for the group to take a decision to change speed or direction? When is the group united? Does one person take the lead all the time?

2. When a good sense of ensemble has been established ask the group to take on specific characteristics. Can they move like chickens, cows or custard? Does this unite or disperse the group?

Deadline: 2 July

Studying Materials


Michael Chekhov Technique in the Twenty-First Century p. 29-63

Useful Materials:

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