Below are your posts after week three's class that focused on Chekhov's Atmospheres and Movement Qualities. You are also supposed to be working in small groups on devising a short piece based on what we have explored in the previous weeks so far (so some comment on that is expected). Some of you attended and commented on Improbable workshop that took place last Wednesday, which might be useful for those of you who didn't have the chance to do so.
I hope some of the concepts I introduced last Monday (which were not very accessible at that point) are becoming a bit clearer by now. If not, then you shouldn’t worry. As it takes time for clarity and understanding to happen in the case of such devising tools as the Quality Exercises. So don't rush results and take your time. Everything will make more sense as you go on with your practice... so DON'T LOOSE FAITH IN YOURSELVES!
Has anyone else found this week's reading (Michael Chekhov) almost entirely derivative? I can't help but feel that it is an entirely simplified version of Stanislavsky and not an entirely good one at that. His "realm of qualities and actions" constantly reminded me of the method of physical actions, and his views on stage space and the emotions one can draw from it simply emotion memory provoked from outside the actor's own heart and recall. The only difference seems to be a call to gain inspiration from empty space, which does have merit, otherwise his methods seem to offer nothing new.
Posted by Gemma Moran
This week's class was primarily based on different movement qualities and atmospheres (introduced by Michael Chekhov). To be quite honest, I'm not too convinced that these exercises will help me being spontaneous and original. The movements (to me) seemed to be pretended and forced. I felt like doing eurythmy or some esoterical stuff. Until this point, I don't see any connection to the actor's profession and skills. Anyway: I might be wrong and will be happy to change my opinion, if someone can convince me otherwise.
I also think that atmospheres are always 100% related to the person feeling/experiencing them. An "empty" room, with no person inside can hardly have any atmosphere, because there is nobody there who could possibly sense it. But if someone enters a room, he/she will always be reminded of something (probably on some unconscious level). That "something" can be a certain smell or light or sound,… . So, the atmosphere is always related to previous experiences. True: there is an atmosphere to everything, as long as there's somebody to perceive it. And this atmosphere is unique to every single person. We create it on our own. I believe that there are never two people in one room who share exactly the same feelings or thoughts about it.
Posted by Mirjam Frank
(3) Wednesday's Workshop
I have just returned from the workshop with Lee Simpson, and now having spent some time seeing how he works, and seeing how Improbable work, I now understand the topic a lot more! It was interesting that as we spent two hours on the same exercise, the principles we have been exploring became much clearer. Going from it just being a game where you held your partners' hands and led them around the room, it suddenly became about what you went through whilst you were in this position. He kept telling us to notice what we were feeling, and what we were doing, and what the experience reminded us of. This in itself gave a completely new level to theatre games. Playing a game, and making what you wanted of it, without it being under any pressure and without there being any problem if it went wrong, made the experience much more relaxing. It also was insightful being in a situation where people were making mistakes, and things were occasionally going wrong - and the worst thing that happened was that people laughed. Being partnered up for such a long time also gave you confidence - you were working in such a tight pair and going through any problems with this other person, so it took away much of the pressure. I realise now that as different stages of the exercise were added, he was adding levels of spontaneity to what we were doing - this should have been so scary! But I didn't even realise what was going on, and this is exactly the same for the word at a time game. This was a very interesting experience, and has now changed the way that I see improvisation - it can be incredibly simple and easy!
Posted by Emma Fielding
(4) Progress through Practice with Trust
At first I found Monday's lesson fairly confusing, although I had read the Michael Chekhov reading for week three, I was unsure the aims and purpose of the movement qualities exercise, when we tried it out in class. However, after watching the short extract clip of Phelim using the exercises with others, I was able to familiarise myself with the exercise and understand the benefits of doing it. As Phelim stated, this exercise is another way of saying yes to something and being able to explore your bodies, as well as being aware of what the audience can see. I found it interesting watching other people undertake the exercise, as I was able to have a better understanding of it, as well as how Improbable use the four movement qualities within their work.
I found the Improbable workshop extremely useful and was able to get a better understanding of the company itself. Firstly we undertook a key trust exercise, whereby one partner had their eyes closed and the other partner lead the 'blind' person around the room. As this exercise progressed we added in different elements such as letting the 'blind' person walk alone and swapping partners, trying to do it so the person with their eyes closed was unaware of the transition. Lee Simpson stated that in Improbable's work they use this exercise as it helps to progress your practice when you are on stage. He mentioned how you have to be able to trust others that you are working with. Although you will never trust everyone fully, you need to have some sort of trust relationship, or you won't be able to work with this person.
We also undertook the 'word at a time game' that we have been looking at in class. We focused on the tenses that we use when playing this game and tried to stick to the present tense. We then discussed how difficult (or in some people's minds easy) this was. Lee mentioned how making mistakes was all part of the progress and that in order to progress and form new ideas you had to 'fuck up' (in his words)!
I feel that I am more comfortable with the exercise and I feel that spontaneity is easier than I first thought.
Posted by Charlotte Harvey
(5) Chekhov's Exercises
Personally, I enjoyed the Chekhov exercises that we practised on the four elements. At times I felt overcome with different atmospheres especially when we were told to radiate- I felt strangely powerful! Although it seemed a lot of people found it hard to focus, but this may have been because many of us had never done anything like it before!
I think that it is important to go into things with an open mind and work hard as an ensemble, however often this is more easily said than done. I feel that it is important to explore different ways of portraying characters through mood, setting & emotion rather than just 'acting a part'.
I felt that it might even be possible, with enough practise, to build up a bank of various atmospheres which an actor could inhabit when playing various parts that coincide.
Posted by Faith Brandon-Blatch
(6) Authenticity and Michael Chekhov
This week's lesson was very challenging and highly thought provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed discussing the concept of Authenticity. Is the work of any company or artist ever truly authentic? Or has all their work been influenced by other people?
I believe that most of our work, and the work of Improbable, has had some sort of influence on them. Whether it be other practitioners or simply past life experiences. Improbable's work often reflects this. 70 Hill Lane portrays some events of Phelim's life and Improbable use many of Keith Johnstone and Michael Chekhov’s techniques to formulate new ideas and plots for their shows.
I also enjoyed learning about Michael Chekhov, and his influence on the work of Improbable. Although his writing is hard to grasp at times, as he is dealing with some highly abstract concepts, his words do hold some truth. The idea that every place on Earth has its own unique atmosphere, which can affect us as people, and also affect our work in a dramatic sense, rings very true with me.
It was very enjoyable participating in some of Chekhov’s exercises. Although it was scary, venturing into the unknown, I believe techniques such as those can really help improvisers to develop characters quickly on stage, which obviously is a very necessary talent.
The Improbable workshop, with Lee Simpson on Wednesday was brilliant! At first I though that concentrating on 2 exercises for the whole of the workshop may become laborious or even boring, however, I was very much mistaken. Although only 2 exercises were involved in the workshop, concentrating on them for so long, gave them a new depth and meaning, and demonstrated how very useful they can be for actors and improvisers alike.
Posted by Ella Rhodes
(7) Workshop with Lee Simpson
I found the Improbable workshop with Lee Simpson both enjoyable and informative. It really helped me to understand Improbable's key ideas, particularly being able to observe our reactions and understand why these occur. Lee kept drawing our attention to our responses to each exercise, prompting us to observe our emotions and thoughts and use these in performance. For example, in the 'word at a time' exercise in pairs, I noticed that I was consistently using an exaggerated tone of voice as I spoke each word in an attempt to indicate to my partner were I wanted the story to go. This observation allowed me to understand that our brains are constantly wanting to predict the future by knowing where the story is going, thus I was trying to lead my partner to follow my brain's idea of the story.
Similarly, we did an exercise in which we held hands in pairs, one person with their eyes closed being led around the space by the other. When it was safe to do so, the leading person would let go of the person being led and let them 'coast' until it was necessary to begin leading them again. From Lee's instruction to be conscious of our own responses I was able to note how I felt more scared as the person being led when my partner re-took my hand as I knew that there was a potential danger in front of me which I needed to be led away from. By noticing how my brain was reacting to certain experiences I feel I gained a greater understanding of how to achieve spontaneity and how to use my responses in Improvisation.
Posted by Fran Smith
(8) Week 3 Blog
I have just got back from watching Improbables performance of 'Sticky'. If I'm honest, I was a little disappointed... even though the pyro-technics were amazing and the structure of the insect to a clock tower was phenomenal, I found myself thinking that even though this is amazing to watch, there was nothing to do with improvisation or any of the things we have learnt that improbable stand for. I do suspect that I'm just looking at the video in the wrong perspective, but if you could explain their intentions I would greatly appreciate it.
As for our week 3 seminar, I struggled at the beginning of the lesson with the understanding and reason for exploring these 4 'qualities'. However, after participating in the exercise where we used those qualities to create characters, I began to understand that those qualities evoke different emotions in the actor which is linked to the way you move depending on the element you are in. I can see how this would be useful in terms of improvisation as a way of categorising certain stereotypes, and just in the different postures that are developed by each quality, helps you to instantly be able to think of locations and situations that that particular character would be in. At least that was my interpretation of it!
I'm meeting up with my group on Sunday to rehearse the devised piece. But I have already been brain storming some ideas to work with.
Posted by Emma Bilton
I just watched Sticky. For the first 5 minutes i was quite intrigued as to what was going to happen. Although the visual effects created were quite astonishing, sadly that's all the piece seemed to be to me; A visual spectacle. There wasn't really a story that seemed obvious to me, granted a piece of theatre doesn't necessarily need a straight story, but i feel the aim or point of the piece was lost in the visual aesthetics. This lack of aim to me, made the play quite uninteresting, as after ten minutes of looking at fascinating sculptures made of sellotape and more, I wanted something new to grasp my attention. Due to the slow moving nature of the piece as a whole my concentration lapsed from this point on. Although i stress i did love the idea of the piece, and the work and effort that Improbable put into sticky must have been immense, i still felt it lacked a key ingredient somewhere along the lines.
Posted by George Islay Calderwood
I watched Sticky today and I was quite confused. Maybe I completely missed the point but i could not see how it related to Improbable's ideologies. It seemed to me that it was aiming at being more of a spectacle than anything else. It was a shame because so far i have really enjoyed Improbable's productions but i just couldn't get into this one. If anyone can tell me what I'm missing it would be most appreciated.
Posted by Fiona Allison
I found using quality of movements in a scene quite difficult. In our scene I'm 'radiating' and I'm angry at Gemma. Being angry, my natural instinct is to cross my arms, but that doesn't fit in with the 'radiating'. It was easy to begin with, but it got harder throughout the scene.
Posted by Emma Berge
(12) 'Word At A Time' Workshop With Lee Simpson
Overall the ‘Word At A Time’ workshop with Lee Simpson increased my curiosity regarding ‘Improbable’ and their methods of work. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about the prospect of four hours structured around one or two exercises upon arrival but now am grateful that I had this time to really experiment. During lessons we have a limited number of hours to get through the necessary number of exercises so have less time to get a sense of your reactions to individual exercises. The first exercise we did was one I have done many times but there are many variations of it. I shall name it the ‘Blind Trust’ exercise as it involves one person closing their eyes whilst their partner leads them round the room holding their hand. This variant of the game involved the steering being subtle. The person with their eyes open held their partners hand gently (never gripping or steering through just the hands). This meant that a relationship formed between the two people. If both partners trusted one another then the relationship was often similar to that of a parent/ child relationship. However where there were cases of mistrust people voiced feelings of anger towards their partner. We evolved the exercise so that we had periods where the blind person walked unaided but this only happened if the chance turned up (i.e. there was space ahead). Then we played a version where the leaders could switch partners during the exercise and the final version encompassed all previous ways of playing the game but had the additional rule that whenever Lee shouted ‘change’ the person with their eyes open closed their eyes and vice versa. I noticed that I would be thinking of quite mundane thoughts whenever I had my partner holding my hand but whenever I walked unaided my thoughts were dreamy and I felt free. I also noticed that whenever I switched partner I would have a sudden rush of panic. Worrying about things such as ‘who is it holding my hand now’, ‘can I trust them’ and ‘I hope they don’t think that my hand is sweaty’. I can see how these feelings could be used to make a piece of theatre that interests an audience. All the feelings we experienced were real and the fact that they were fresh and alive could bring a performance to life. The second part of the workshop focused on the ‘Word At A Time’ exercise. This was exactly the same as the exercise we did in class but involved re-trying the exercise with different people to see what different kind of narratives could be created. We also experimented with different tenses to see how our experience varied when doing this. I remember one point where I became so engrossed in a bizarre story that I felt angry towards Lee Simpson when he halted the exercise. The reason I became so engrossed was that my partner seemed to accept and enjoy whatever bizarre twists I added to the story. We ended the workshop by creating performances out of this exercise. It required two people to put their arms around one another and perform the exercise whilst acting out what they were saying in whatever ways possible. It became clear that the audience loved the more vulnerable moments. It caused far more laughs for a pair to say a sentence such as ‘I think this exercise is a bad idea’ than for the pair to create a story that could be award winning. There was no way to do the exercise correctly and it was ok to be honest or to screw up. By the end of the workshop I found myself aching with laughter and can see how an audience is interested in theatre that feels real and raw. I feel more confident in using the kinds of exercises we have been learning and would feel more comfortable in using them during a rehearsal process now. I am unsure whether it would be possible to make a performance purely from this type of exercise. I also still wonder whether it is better or as good as making theatre from texts. I love reading and watching scripted theatre and I have been exposed to this kind of theatre for much longer so I want to put this newer approach to the test.
Posted by Sylvie Barlow
(13) Week Three Blog
I found the discussion in this week's lesson on spontaneity interesting. Spontaneity is a key point in improvisation and if you’re not used to the quick-fire nature of being spontaneous, it takes a while to become accustomed. I find that a big factor in letting yourself become spontaneous is loosing all inhibitions. People are less likely to do or say the first thing that comes to them if they have a lot of inhibitions. Feeling silly or fear of being judged is a big factor in people being unable to be spontaneous and it takes a lot of time and work to train your self and your mind not to think but simply act, do or say. Once inhibitions are lost, people become more comfortable with being spontaneous and doing the first thing that comes to their mind. It become almost as ifyou do not care and are no longer restrained by social ‘norms’.
Training yourself to be spontaneous can take months, if not years and needs a lot of practice. I have been doing ‘Comedy Sportz” for 7 years and this is a kind of improvisation similar to ‘Theatre Sports’ and is linked to the comedy store players. Doing ‘Comedy Sportz’ takes a lot of spontaneity as you get on stage and improvise a scene, there and then and even after 7 years of training, there are times when I still struggle with complete spontaneity and my mind still has a part in the thinking of what I am going to do next.
Posted by Emily Cookson
On doing the workshop with Improbable we found that trust was a key issue because as Lee Simpson said, "in improvising you have to learn towork with people you like, hate, sleep with and sleep with badly." In other words a complete release of inhibitions is necessary to produce the most authentic sponteneity. One exersize to emphasise this, and help develop an ensemble within the group, was a trust exersize where you had to lead your 'blind' partner around the space whilst holding their hand. Different variations of this consisted of a subtle swapping of partners and letting go of their hand for a brief time to encourage independence and develop an invisible bond between the two participants. On stage this is important when improvising as an understanding between performers is vital.
Simpson also expressed the need for an ability to "notice things" that happen when performing and establish a perifieral vision. For example, when reacting to being lead round the room 'blind' he encouraged us tonotice our responses, as they create a strong basis to work from when developing a narrative in an improvisation. In effect it was almost as if we were developing our own personal outside eye, analysing the things we were doing. This made us think of working on Chekhov's movement qualities which we worked on in Monday's lesson and how through this a character or narrative can emerge. As a small group we worked on this during the week and devised a short scene with each character evolving from a certain movement quality, i.e. moulding, floating, radiating and flying. On watching Improbable's 'Sticky' we were both impressed yet intrigued to find out how this may link to our own work.
Posted by Laurence Brasted and Helen Hudson
After attending the workshop on Wednesday I feel that I have more understanding into the work of Improbable. When I first heard that we would be spending the whole workshop working on word at a time I didn't think this was possible, however once we had done a few exercises I started to understand why. We explored the idea of working with a partner and how trust is developed with that partner. We also explored the fears that we have of the unknown in theatre. This was achieved through us walking around in pairs with one half of the pair with their eyes shut having to trust their partner to guide them. This links with improvisations of having to trust the people that you are working with to achieve the best results.
Posted by Louisa Hagan