p.p1 had a very strong view that theatre

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During the post 19th block, we used various absurdist texts from the early and mid 20th century, both in theory , and in practice, to get a well rounded understanding of non- naturalistic text and theatre, and how to approach and execute them as performers. Although the focus was to reject naturalism, there were still many tools that we learnt in the first year, where naturalism was the focus, that could be used in this block to support the work, as well as many all round techniques from voice and movement, that offered continued support. I will show this by looking at three examples; a Brecht masterclass, an Endgame scene study, and my character preparation in the Waiting for Godot production, by Samuel Beckett.

The first example I will look at is the Brecht masterclass. This was vastly different from any of the work we did in first year, both due to content and practical style. The first thing we did in the masterclass was get a thorough understanding of the theory, as Brecht himself was a very political practitioner, and had very clear ideas about the messages he wanted to send with his theatre, so in order to undertake that as practitioners, we learnt about Brecht, his life and his views and how they informed the play The Caucasian chalk circle, so that when we did scenes from it, they were full and informed.

We found out that Brecht’s drama moved away from traditional theatre and was made to support various leftist causes he supported in his lifetime. He was a Marxist , which informed a lot of his work. He also had a very strong view that theatre was not for entertainment , but was a tool you could use to educate people. “Art is not a mirror with which to reflect reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”, and he strived to make sure the audience knew that they were watching theatre , not real life, so that they could think about the issues on stage. In order to do that he used a number of tools, such as ‘Social Gestos’ and ‘verfremdung’ , that you need to fully understand as an actor in oder to properly portray the work. 

Social Gestus is ” Movement , behaviour or language employed by one person to another that reveal his personality and social position”. Verfremdung is the concept that  ” surprises obvious stage and character features , preventing the spectator from confusing their it with reality” . All together this work made up what was known as epic theatre which ‘ Tells a story and comments on the plot’ so that the audience doesn’t get emotionally involved , and can engage academically.  Once this was understood we looked at the play, which centres around the dispute over a valley that was abandoned in World war 2, between goat farmers and peasants. It is decided that the peasants will get the land as they will utilise it better. Then the parable of the chalk circle is played out. 
The governor of a town has a child, Michael, with his wife when the governors brother stages a government coup, causing the governor, and his wife to flee, however they leave Michael behind. Grusha then finds him , and hides him from the soldiers that are looking to kill him, and after having bonded with him, leaves the town. Years later the governors wife wants the child back, as that will enable her to get the governors estates. Grusha wants the child because he has become her own and she loves him very much. Azdak, the judge, decides a chalk circle will be drawn, and the child placed in the middle. Who ever pulls the child out of the circle first may have him. Grusha lets go as she cannot hurst the child. Azdak sees that and lets Grusha have him

Once we fully understood the devices and the plot, we used them together to perform a few scenes in a way that made the most sense to the purpose of the play. During these scenes , we focused playing out the states of the characters, showing that Grusha was lower class compared to the governors wife, as well as breaking the forth wall as Grusha turns to the audience and tells them why she cant hurt her son. Moving purposefully away from our first year training. ” It is generally true that a Stanislavskian actor will locate in character the explaintion for behaviour , whilst the Brechtian actor will look for it in circumstance.”

The next project we did was a scene study where we had to rehearse and perform a segment of Samuel Becket’s Endgame. We did a scene between Hamm and Clov, where Hamm makes Clov take him around their small room , put him back in his place, then look out the windows for any sign of life or change. This play was very absurdist and existential. However, we did use a lot of techniques we learnt in first year to feed the work. The first being movement. Clov is old and tired, and he has bad knees so he can’t sit down. I therefore decided to walk with a limp. Having to do that for a long period of time without hurting my body was something I was conscious of, and used a technique we learnt in 1st year, where you find the characters centre of gravity and manipulate your body to fit it, instead of twisting my leg in an awkward position. Another choice I made with regards to movement was making sure all of the movements were clear, concise and had purpose. We wanted the relationship between Hamm and Clov to look like a comedic double act , who knew each other well, and were very co-dependent on each others company in a lonely world, by showing this relationship we hoped to make full use of the sometimes confusing dialogue, as an acting guide to Beckett says , ” The verbal and scenic patterns and repetitions in Godot and Endgame emphasise the interdependence of the sets of character players , whereas the focus on corporeal needs emphasises their vulnerability”.

Although Endgame is considered an absurdist play, and therefore not classically naturalistic. I used the acting techniques we learnt in 1st year such as Meisner to make sure the performance was truthful and to engage fully with my scene partner, because connecting and responding will always make the scene more alive. We did our own extra rehearsals using Meisner acting exercises, which focus on the natural impulses between actors , “Don’t do anything unless something happens to make you do it,” which is taught through various repetition and improvisation exercises, which encourage the actor to respond to the emotion and feeling of the situation , as Meisner says, “Don’t be an actor. Be a human being who works off what exists under imaginary circumstances.”

We also studied the text and made a firm decision about what message Beckett was trying to send, because without a driving purpose, the absurdist dialogue would be meaningless to the audience. We therefore focussed on how it feels to search for meaning in a desolate and empty world, where life becomes repetitive “Then one day, suddenly, it ends, it changes, I don’t understand, it dies, or it’s me, I don’t understand that either. I ask the words that remain sleeping, waking, morning, evening. They have nothing to say.”. 

The last example is the work I did on my character in the production of Waiting for Godot, also by Samuel Beckett. I played two characters, Lucky, a slave, and a boy who works for Godot. My first concern was my voice work, as firstly I wanted to do an RP accent for the production as the rest of the cast were all British, and secondly , during Lucky’s long speech, I had a rope around my neck, while standing on a ladder and had to speak above music playing and 15 people moving around without hurting my voice and still sounding clear.

The accent work I did relied on placement exercises , where I found where the accent was placed in the mouth and held it there while practicing vowel and consonant sounds, as well as listening to various audio voice samples of the accent. I felt that worked well for me as I received positive feedback on my efforts. I spoke to our voice teacher on maintaining volume while protecting your voice for the Lucky speech and she recommended using my diaphragm and not speaking from my throat, as well as varying volume and tempo to indicate the passion and importance of the text instead of shouting and using volume. 

The following aspect I tackled was movement. I had to physicalise a young boy , who is different to me in both age and gender, and a broken down slave. For the boy I replied on my petite size and just adjusted my posture to make myself appear more lanky and expanded my movements to appear slightly more boyish in my quick movements. For Lucky , I focused a lot on posture and how it would reflect someone beaten down by years of hard labour. The result was a character very hunched over, and broken, but who also had a certain strength and stamina to keep going. I did a brief animal study on both, where I gave each character a corresponding animal, and thought about how the essence of that animal could apply to the character. Lucky was a donkey, and the boy was a squirrel . Although I didn’t end up using a lot of the work I did, it was helpful in the process. Being part of an ensemble that used music and dance also contributed to my characters and informed their inner life.

The acting techniques I used for my characters were both techniques we learnt in first year. One was using a Stanislavskian approach which the director advocated for , and the other was using physiological gesture , which I explored on my own. The director advocated for using Stanislavski tools and working from the inside out. We did a questionnaire , where we answered questions about the characters background and opinions. I created a backstory for the boy and his brother, because the boy doesn’t have a lot of lines or context, where he and his brother were orphaned and went to work for Godot and they see him as a father figure, and don’t want to disappoint him by delivering their message wrong. His super objective being to take care of his brother and himself in their poverty , super objective is ‘the main inner content of a play that produces a state of inner grasp and power in which actors can develop all the intricacies and then come to a clear conclusion as to its underlying, fundamental purpose” (Stanislavsky, 1988, page 273)

I also did my own work on phycological gesture, a technique Michael Chekov developed, where you ” Using a concentrated gesture to picture the definitive phycological attitude of a character in kinaesthetic terms” I developed a gesture for the boy where he holds his arms straight at his sides , and Clenches his fists , with his back ram rod straight ,  whenever Vladimir and Estragon take out their frustration on him, to steel himself and summon bravery.  With regards to Lucky, I also created a backstory for him, but mainly focused on technical aspects of rhythm and tempo during the speech , as well as the dance we had to to in character. 

The post 19th block overall showed me that absurdist text can be very meaningful and thought provoking , even though it doesn’t try and imitate everyday life ,but instead tries to show us what our world means and the consequences of our actions. I also learned that naturalistic acting and other techniques have a place in the process , as anything that develops genuine emotion and connection can only enhance any piece of act and as Brecht says  ” is not enough to demand insight and informative images of reality from the theatre our theatre must stimulate a desire for understanding, a delight in changing reality.


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