Another term has come to its end. Last week we travelled to Greece to present the Ancient Greek tragedy Prometheus Bound at the International Youth Festival of Ancient Drama in Ancient Messene. But before we reflect on our trip to Greece, let’s go back in time and recapitulate on what's happened in our Lab lives in the past three months.
The first month of the year. Everyone had recovered from the previous term and was extremely excited to come back to the Academy. We missed each other a lot during the Christmas period and now we were back, ready to work on Mother Courage and her Children. We started an in-depth exploration of Brecht and his acting methodology. We got in touch with the Expressionism movement and the German Weimar Republic, all of which influenced Brecht’s life and artistic vision. Brecht was also inspired by the new artistic trend of Kabaret.
We were given the opportunity of a masterclass with Eva Meier, one of the most famous cabaret (Kabaret) singers around. We selected our cabaret songs and, supported by Phil Raymond, performed them for Eva. A lovely lady with a kind smile on her face, she was there to share her experiences and give us feedback and directions to help us enter this world of cabaret.
Besides this introduction to the socially committed world of cabaret, our inspiration in this journey towards the Epic Theatre of Bertolt Brecht included films by Fritz Lang, paintings by Egon Schiele, Max Beckmann and Otto Dix, and music compositions by Kurt Weill. The exploration of the alienation effect (or alienating effect, as we preferred to call it), and other mechanisms used as part of Brecht’s acting methodology, expanded our acting selves and gradually made us realise that art and theatre are here to serve something bigger than just psychology.
A Brechtian actor contributes with his acting to the transformation of society and therefore he has to go one step further than his own psychology. He has to value such a contribution and, in connection with his instrument, be precise enough and aware of what he is doing on and off stage at the same time.
Along with the Brecht process, the company had slowly started to dive into the world of Greek tragedy and Prometheus Bound, collecting information, songs and images to contribute to the ensemble production.
The Brecht journey is almost at its end, enriched by our engagement with and pleasure in playing with the words, gestures and attitudes. Our artistic life was expanded by workshops and masterclasses on the Vakhtangov theatre tradition with Oleg Mirochnikov and polyphonic singing with Adrei Biziorek. Polyphonic singing has been a big revelation for the company since we started to discover the ritualistic connection of the human voice and psyche. After the masterclass we were more connected as a team and willing to explore polyphonic singing in the Greek tragedy as well.
The Brecht project finished, we moved forward: the next stop is clown work in the spirit of Jacques Copeau, working on the Jacobean The Revenger's Tragedy by Thomas Middleton and presenting it as a troupe of clowns. To be able to create work as a troupe, we all had to understand what ensemble theatre is and how well-connected a team needs to be.
We slowly started our experiments with clowning and exposure in a safe team environment, and harmonised with each other while feeding and embracing our own individuality. Clown work cultivated our precision in terms of movement and mutual understanding and connection with the other members of the company. Comedy is difficult to do since it demands availability, a child-like openness and vulnerability. Improvisation and comedy are serious work and can have little to do with being admired while on stage, since learning from repeated failure is what matters most.
Our systems are slowly getting used to accepting mistakes and embracing failure. This is the best way to learn. What matters most is the journey and this process is fun. Being open and vulnerable enables you to communicate and share. Our social selves and conditioning lead to our tendencies towards perfectionism and control, but we have slowly come to realise that life is beyond control and accepting is one of the most powerful tools available to us. Most of all, we gradually established trust towards the other members of the group who will be there to catch if anyone falls.
Apart from clowning, we also started our Transformation classes, spending time at London Zoo observing animals and trying to embody them. The Transformation class led by an amazing teacher called Gabrielle Moletta has been extremely valuable, since observing nature and wild animals enables us to throw off our social masks and become more connected with our instincts and imagination. The acting room started to transform into a large forest where tigers, camels, storks and geese lived side by side, interact, roar, roll, waddle, fly or run. Gradually, through the process of merging with them, our very human traits emerged and flourished.
We explored the clown versions of ourselves further and permitted ourselves to be even more naked and frail. We also explored some dark clowning. The team was more connected and harmonised. and therefore the parallel Prometheus Bound rehearsals become even more pleasant.
It seems that all those journeys of clowning, transformation and Greek tragedy enabled us to deconstruct and gradually reconstruct a more liberated version of ourselves. This is a combination of someone’s interior and exterior world: imagination and acceptance, readiness and availability, but also body articulation, specific gestures and specific rhythm and patterns. Breathing and listening are the most important things; establishing a common rhythm with the audience and then staying open enough to play with it in terms of time and space. In this process, the role of the body has been vital to the emergence of the imagination.
We have learned a lot this term. We learned to truly listen and also imagine in a richer way. We became more available to each other and to the present moment. But, most of all, we started accepting failure and imperfection as that which makes as what we really are: human beings.
Theatre, after all, is about humanity.That’s why we do it: to make people more aware of their human selves.