Reflections on the MA: Notes on a Process and Let Me Shake Your Groove Thing
It has been an interesting experience joining an already established MA group well into their programme and joining an MA course that changed so dramatically in the time I was on sabbatical from Ensemble Theatre led by Gabriel Gawin with a very structured class timetable of voice, movement and research methodologies to the Collaborative Theatre MA run by Told By An Idiot and comprising of lots of different visiting practitioners. With Jeremy running the Thursday Vade Mecum sessions.
In some ways I felt performers were not challenged in the same way psychophysically on this new course, but I also felt that the other way of working could be stressful for performers and is perhaps something they would not always choose in their working environment. It is also difficult for me to assess things fully as I was quite ill with a flare up of Ulcerative Colitis whilst in the first term of my first year and was taking regular medication which had unpleasant side effects. I was also battling with a daily five hour commute and frequent train strikes.
I felt in my initial first term that the work was very focused on the breakdown of the individual during the training process influenced by Grotowski and Piesn Kozla and the other more focused on preparing them to create their own work/ form their own company on completion of the course.
The second year has in many ways seemed a lot more relaxed and playful and I think many discoveries can be made through play. Sometimes, in the former, I felt people were afraid to speak. It seems that Told by an Idiot’s approach is to speak up and try things out and not worry too much if you get it wrong and be prepared to throw it away. With a sense of Commedia dell Arte and Farce coming through. I feel immensely lucky that I got to experience both styles of working although it took a little adapting to. The only thing I do think is that perhaps a regular check in with a consistent practitioner could be a useful thing for an individual on the Collaborative Theatre MA in terms of assessing ongoing development and growth during the course.
In my first term with Gabriel's class I felt a sense of looking for absolute truth in everything we did, mentally, spiritually and emotionally and any disconnect was apparent. I really enjoyed the workshop with Larry Lynch and the work we devised around walking. I also found Howard Barker’s workshop insightful and challenging.
I have found the work with visiting practitioners in the second year really useful and as each one was so different it really made me think about what I felt worked for me and what didn’t. The initial work with John Wright was exciting and I loved the mask work involving working with archetypes and playing the mask blind, the work we did using Feldenkrais in the warm up process and also the tape game. I also found the game of wearing someone else’s shoes very interesting whilst being provoked by a protagonist. I particularly liked working with my eyes closed enjoying and exploring the physicality of each scenario given. Paul has stated that most of Told By An Idiot's work starts with the physicality of a character and this is something I really feel my Alexander Technique training has helped me with, the ability to suspend my habitual patterns of movement and work from a place of neutral.
The devising work with Annie Fitzmaurice was a great experience as I have long thought about creating some autobiographical work but have never been sure how to begin the process. Trying out individual pieces without text was eye opening. I really liked drawing on life experiences and found the process quite cathartic. Because each individual’s contribution to class was so influenced by their own life experience, it was a great way to get to know more about each other. I also loved working through scenes and learning by doing. For example, the addition of humour in my quite serious piece about my car crash.
The work with Carolina around China was fascinating. Being allowed to create poetic pieces without always worrying about any dialogue was extremely liberating for me. I hate it when dialogue seems superfluous and would much rather not speak unless there is an impulse. Creating things from our own collective images and responses to a piece was wonderful and again just getting on your feet straight away without too much prior thought was really interesting for me. I also love working with the darker emotions and was interested to hear about Carolina’s own work.
Working with Merce and Patricia was a really challenging two weeks because I got the opportunity to start writing from my own experience. They were thinking of creating piece in response to I, Daniel Blake. I had watched the film in my first term alone at lunchtime and remembered then watching Tomorrow, I Was Always A Lion by Belarus Free Theatre that same evening. By the end I had been broken as both were hard hitting and emotive. I wrote a piece about a friend of mine and also a piece in response to being asked to go home and write on the topic of shame
The issues of being a single mum and struggling financially was something I had experienced first-hand and feeling bad about myself and having to go the job centre to apply for income support and housing when my daughter was two. I also relate to the subject of mental health as my mother had mental health problems during my childhood and this has influenced and shaped the adult I am today and profoundly affected my own mental health growing up. I often think that the Alexander Technique saved me from repeating the cycle.
Working with Stephen Harper was lots of fun. I was part of the rehearsal process in the previous year’s show and came up with the title Saudade. It was great getting to be involved with his R&D using the Gorilla masks and I thoroughly enjoyed playing a creepy guy which is perhaps where the desire for Vincent came from. There is something incredibly liberating about wearing a mask, playing the opposite gender and being given permission to not give a fuck. I also loved taking photos for him as I enjoy photography and communicating visually.
Working with Paul has been an absolute pleasure, he has an innate way of making you feel more confident than you actually are. I think this is his super power. I witnessed this watching let Me Play the Lion too at the Barbican, where I felt close to tears. If anything, I would like to have worked more with Paul.
The Wardrobe Ensemble have been fantastic to work with, their energy and enthusiasm is contagious. I am glad they were the people leading the project as they seemed to motivate the group and shared a lot of their own processes with us.
I think my only regret was not attending the Thursday sessions earlier as I think they added a depth and scope that helped to underpin people’s understanding of the course requirements. I feel however that through speaking with Jeremy I have caught up in this respect and am grateful to him that he always answers any questions promptly and in detail.
I wonder continuously at the moment whether the work I should do should be around combining the Alexander Technique and some sort of psychophysical experiment as Practice as research or if my own experience of the Alexander technique and how it affects my process as a performer is enlightening and could be applied to some sort of autobiographical work. I have been teaching Adriana form the MFA course quite frequently and we have both been keeping notes on these lessons so they could provide useful insight.
I have found working on the devising process challenging, scary, frustrating and rewarding. As in any group dynamic there were divisions and disagreements but I tried to remain impartial as an older member of the group and someone who is not keen on conflict.
My character Vincent was born out of a free writing exercise which Vicky and I did where we had restrictions of ten words. I had in my mind Vincent Gallo from Buffalo 66 and St Etienne at the time. I then started to research who my Vincent might be.
The most outstanding thing I have learnt is that it is much easier for me to suspend my habitual ways of responding to stimulus and I have felt braver in my choices since my Alexander Technique training. I would never have felt so comfortable playing a man prior to this. I also found it really interesting because the character was initially going to be considerably older, so I spent a lot of time working on the physicality of being an older man and using a stick and trying to get into the psychology of someone older and quite abusive. On the day before the dress rehearsal they said they wanted me to throw that away and play a much younger, more playful character, also asking me to do all my scenes in Spanish! Something I sadly wasn’t able to do. Previously it would have terrified me to change something so close to performance before but actually I relished the challenge this time and was finding new stuff every time we did it. I used Clockwork Orange, Snatch and Cockney Geezer as references. It was also fun live editing as we went along throwing away what didn’t feel like it worked. I had only worked with scripts previously or on solo stuff, so it was new to me devising in such a collaborative manner. I also noticed how wearing massive boots affected my character choices. I think if I’d have known about the younger character choice earlier on I would have developed a tap dance for Vincent. I found the tech odd without Enrique. This meant that on the Weds in front of the audience we had never done any scenes together in the space, so it was quite challenging.