The second year will be really hard, but I'm so happy I get to play.
"Jacques Lecoq's vision, whether it be through pedagogy, acting, or directing, to form a complete creator-mime and poet, remains a fundamental support, nevertheless in perpetual motion."
The above quote taken from Paola Rizza's biog on the Jacques Lecoq website gives some insight into the perpetual motion of the days that have passed and the things I have learned since I've been here. We are taught that all moves, that everything is constantly moving and growing or depleting, caught but never stuck in the momentum between equilibrium and disequilibrium, even when still things change. This is something that is starting to become clear to me, as well as providing a nice parallel to our movements at the school which have - of course, and I doubt it's due to serendipity - followed the rule of perpetual motion. It's been a tough last trimester, not only because the material we are working with and the tasks at hand became more complex, but also our relationships to the teachers are also constantly evolving..more often than not in the direction of them expecting more from us as time progresses. After character work we moved on to 'L'hotel du libre echange' which was the use of screens and change of character to create an environment which could change and surprise the audience, which lent itself very easily to farce. During this week we would have impro classes in which it was just us and a screen on stage, and we'd have to create a scene with 2 people - both characters - and change in 5 seconds behind the screen from one character to another, whilst still keeping the action going on stage by using our voice. It was physically challenging and also creatively - as an actor who improvises you're used to making offers but also receiving them from others - in this senario I was accepting the offers made by myself and visa versa.
Then came our four week rehearsals for our first public performance - called an Enquete - which involved going in groups to a place of work or business and integrating ourselves into the daily life of that place. Not in a journalistic way, as in just observation, but truly getting involved. We ended up in mixed groups, and our group was given the task of a centre of reinsertion - a place people go to who are 'on the fringes of society' who need to take a 'remise a niveau' in order to find work. Long story short (and it was a very long story) our group experienced many difficulties with the Enquete. Firstly, it was a place where people sat and talked - does that make interesting raw material for theatre? (no) And secondly (this was the whopper) our group experienced difficulties in working together. It was the hardest, probably most disappointing experience I've ever had in making theatre. But I did learn some things. Do, don't talk about doing. Negativity is to creation what Kryptonite is to Superman. Being polite in a creative workshop in order not to disturb or offend can be just if not more destructive than being rude. Honesty is the only thing, because that's the only thing the audience has when watching.
During these four weeks of rehearsals we also has impro classes with music - moving the music of schubert or vivaldi or michel petrucciani, abstractly but also in quotidien situations. It was very freeing to use music as an aid, and a tool to unlock doors we'd never been behind as a year - grand emotions were tapped and sourced from nowhere in honest reactions to the music - people embraced, kissed, screamed and wept. There was also the stress of the enquete going on to so that probably provided a motor for this hideous gorgeous spew of emotions.
This week we came to the 20 movements presentations - each person had the attention of the whole school and the teachers in the salle verte (the smallest room at the school) in which they had to present an enchainment of 20 moves that we've learnt since we've been here, in any choreography they please. Most of these moves are mime - climbing the wall, gondola, baton, weight-lifting, discus throwing, but also some acrobatics like forward roll, handstand and cartwheel, as well as some neutral mask exercises - the 9 attitudes of Jacques Lecoq.
After watching the 10 people that showed on Monday, I realised from the teachers feedback that although we've been concentrating on technique all year, they don't really care about it that much, just as long as you create something - that is, a presence, a space - if you believe you are ice skating then the audience do too. Also, it was a very nerve racking thing to do - even though we perform every day at the school, the 20 movements is not an easy thing to do - it takes breath control, concentration, and complete submersion into the action - if you worry about your technique or what's next we see you as an actor struggling. Then it becomes about ego. That is something that was the biggest lesson for me in doing this - people asked me on tuesday if I was nervous and I wasn't really because I realised that to be nervous is to create a tension within yourself and it is a product of ego. Obviously it is natural to be nervous about performing, but it's interesting to think about it as this - why be nervous, when the performance isn't about YOU. Or it shouldn't be. Like Jacques says in his book when I go to the theatre I don't want to see an actor 'doing' a good hamlet. I want to see Hamlet. Performance, amazingly, isn't about actors or directors or writers..it is about the collaborative space created in which exists something ephemeral and unique and separate from those which created it.
This week as we finish the presentations off, we've been having very loose, fun improvisation classes which have been a wonderful release and a distraction from the meetings taking place at the beginning of next week which will inform us whether or not we've been selected for a place in the second year.
In short, this character malarky has really kicked off. Since returning from our two week Easter break (spent under a gloomy Parisian sky, cursing, and sleepless sweaty nights full of dreams and nightmares of school.. Our first day back and we all have to do Movement class naked..Paola (big boss tutor) and I are best friends and spend a sunny afternoon wandering around the streets of Paris only to find we've wandered too far and have to get the helicopter back to school, which lands on a helipad in the middle of Rue de Faubourg Saint-Denis..at one point there was an elephant..) (that was a long parenthesis) we began work on passions which resulted in last weeks DISASTROUS autocours in which all but two groups were stopped (we had singing in ours...O folly..) and on the Monday of this week we had to make the journey from home to school in character - any character of our choice. I chose Christine..someone very different from myself (although I was mistaken for a drag queen which has actually happened to me before) and with my all in black, caked in make-up, strutting body, I thought I would receive lots of odd looks on my way to school that morning. Not the case. The strangest thing..the people on the street barely blinked an eye at me, and I realised "Oh my god, they think I'm one of THOSE women. The ones who live in the 16th Arrondissement. The only thing I'm missing is a scrap of a dog on the brink of nervous collapse." It was in the saunter and the strutt and the offhand manner that I earned my passport to this labelling. And my theory was proven upon making my journey home as myself, in my normal manner, yet still in Christine's clothes. People stared. Like dogs, they could sense something wasn't quite right.
The work we've done this week is really at the heart of Jacques Lecoq's teaching - that is, it works from the outside-in. I have worked on characters before obviously but my previous training was like many other drama schools, from the neck up and psychological. There is, of course, nothing to say that this method is wrong and the other is right, or visa versa, but I must say that when I hold my body in different ways, in makes me feel different things, and naturally leads me after some exploration to a character..through the body. The mind comes after. Or - maybe this is going to be controversial - do we need the mind to arrive at all? Instead of the mind, is what we need something we long ago lost as artists, something from childhood - instinct?
Okay, so perhaps I am not what you'd call a 'natural blogger' - this has become more of an every-5-months thing and for that I apologise. Not to you but to myself. It is interesting to objectify what is happening at Lecoq through a blog, and although I cannot really recreate the experiences I've had here, I will try my best to update you. The last 6 months have been the most vivid, back breaking, mind crushing, soul questioning time of my entire life. I am only able to reflect upon this now as I have achieved the minor objectivity of a two week easter break. I say that this time has been lucid, yet at the same time it has changed me not in the way of an explosion, but a slow creeping storm gathering overhead - the kind that gives you goosebumps and your breathing becomes shallow and you catch yourself staring dumbly out of the window at the approaching thunder. In the same sense, I have this feeling of having learnt all of this before, that yellow tinge of a past life's episode. But this makes sense - the things they teach us aren't rocket science, they're things that bring us back to the essence of ourselves, the way we were as children, and hold such truths as only purity can hold. Of course, away from this more mystical analysis, there is the element of common sense in their teachings which can at once bewilder and startle us once we realise how damn obvious it is and how many foolish mistakes have been made in the past - on my part anyway - when acting, on stage, in creating a character, in writing a play. My directorial debut in April with Hot Salt's Honey Blood would be conducted very differently now..I probably wouldn't have begun taking three years to write the script, for instance, but would've hired actors and got us all in a rehearsal room with a stimulus and seen what creations might follow.
Since my last blog we finished with Neutral mask and moved on to what they call 'Universal Poetic Awareness' - that is, the identification of oneself with the world around, and the exploration of Jacques Lecoq's idea 'Tout Bouges' (Everything Moves). During this long period of identification work it became impossible not to laugh at myself. And others. Hard. Every single day. As much as there is much use character-wise in moving like water, fire, earth, air, oil, metal, paper, jelly, a pane of glass with light passing through it, all the colours of the rainbow, the eiffel tower, notre dame (you get the gist), it is pretty funny when you are totally engrossed with a student trying desperately to move like toothpaste, or crack like an egg, taking it totally seriously..and then you have an almost out of body experience and float above it all and look down at yourself and others undulating and flapping about. No wonder actors used to be buried at the crossroads with a stake in their heart, or locked up in straight jackets. After this elemental-work we moved on to animals, and then animals in human situations. Dogs in a classroom. Fish going shopping. Of course all the way through these weeks our autocours titles reflected our teaching, so the week we had 'Animals in a human situation' and I was a chicken in an office in my scene, along with two other chickens, a lizard, an ant, and a very slow turtle attempting to photocopy something - definitely one of the silliest autocours - Complicite came to watch us perform! A more surreal moment has never been had. One of the guys who came to see us, and who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the proceedings, actually won an Olivier award for his animal choreography of War Horse. Hmm. I was a chicken.
Shortly after this we began work on character masks, which would eventually lead us to expressive and Larval masks, as well as one lesson with utilitarian masks ( masks not meant for performance, such as hockey masks, or gas masks). We were asked to make our own mask and bring it in for playing. Mine (penelope) got picked to use for the next two weeks whilst we played with everyones creations.
For me, this mask-making epitomised the teaching of the school in one fundamental way - the masks that did not work and had to be redone were the ones that had been pieced-together - as in the maker had taken the clay and done each bit separately, made the cheeks, added the eyebrows, added the nose... The ones that worked were the ones that had been formed out of one piece of clay, whole. This is what I've learnt, especially in dealing with autocours every week, which is an extremely vital part of the course and at the heart of everything they teach..theatre mustn't be pieced together, it must be made from something whole and therefore remain whole in itself. Over the weeks in autocours the ones that haven't quite worked or indeed totally flopped are the ones that have jarred in some way - it feels as though someone has had an idea, and then imposed it upon the theme of the week. Whereas the ones that surprise, that delight, that can be touching or shocking or whatever..are the ones that have come organically out of the group. So rather than someone sitting down and 'deciding' what to do, they have cut the crap and got on their feet and MOVED. What is 'juste' and what is not 'juste', in where lies the truth, is the body, not the mind.
On top of this, the harsh somewhat biting constant criticism from the tutors has led me - and many others I suspect - to constantly question myself. Everything I do, every idea I have, every creative impulse. Some would view this as a regression, but I believe that the constant questioning mixed with the expectation of constant movement and creative thought, means that although I question myself, I still have to get up and TRY. This is methodologically and ultimately honing my instinct as an actor, director, creator of theatre, and has and is in the process of endowing me with a critical mind - the very thing that galvanises and enables a creative one.
Okay so the plan was to blog immediately after starting Lecoq, yet pragmatically it's been difficult..and so it's been an interesting 4 weeks so far..the school is very challenging and becomes even more so each day. Between the constant searching for creative impulse and sweating through the rigorous movement training, I look down at myself and realise how wonderful this challenge is. And even if sometimes the task at hand seems tres tres difficile, I work, I work, I work through until I'm on the other side of it..and it's done! And I've learnt that thing now. And I know in my heart that this is what I'm meant for, I can do it. The school's pedagogical approach is a masterpiece of construction - each lesson weaves effortlessly into the next and each step we take to move forward makes perfect sense. For instance all the work we have done in movement towards a state of alertness, neutrality, strength, focus, before the work we began this week with neutral mask. Acrobatics is fun - it's amazing how we can achieve things with our bodies that we previously had thought impossible. Every friday we have what is called 'Auto-cours' meaning self-progress, in which we divide into groups for the week, make our own piece of theatre and show on the friday to the entire year and the teachers, subject to laughter, applause, but also harsh criticism. For example a couple of weeks ago the standard was a bit sloppy and we were herded together and told that we are here to work. If we don't want to work, we should go. Because the work we showed that week was shit. - our tutors words. Although I think some would reel at this kind of harsh critique it enlivens me - it's what we need! Something to shake us out of our slumber and make us react on stage, be alive.
Improvisation has also been a large part of the course so far also, another way of waking us up out of the 'scholarly' actor's we have learnt to be, and moulding us into the performers we want to become.
Three weeks in Paris with only nerves to entertain us can be summed up like this (Comme ça): Wine.
I joke! It's more like this: Metro, wine, metro, dogs (we live with three daschunds) wine, tuileries, metro, montmartre, wine, notre dame, metro, wine, cats (and two cats), wine, read read read, be nervous be nervous drink bottle of whiskey. sunshine, coffee. wine wine bulgarian artisit (and a bulgarian artist). At some point there were also encounters with a french scientist, a dutch stock broker, many lovely parisians, many snooty parisians and a rude restauranteur called Paco.
We have also been familiarising ourselves with French learning more every day, and meeting people who we will shortly be starting Lecoq with. This last time resulted in a trip down a duel carriageway to an abandoned warehouse in Bagnolet just outside of Paris, for an evening of cheap wine, clown-cabaret, and hovering over the 'toilette'.
I am feeling nervous, and itching to start school - my head is already full of ideas and I haven't even started! I have started writing down one in particular which could be potentially developed with Hot Salt Theatre in the future after all the learnin's diggedydun. This is something I am VERY excited about :)
I will post my thoughts next monday after our first day- I have a feeling they are going to MURDER us in the first week. Bring it on, I'm ready.
Dangerous, aren't they, blogs...well it seems that way to me this is my first. You're never sure how much honesty is acceptable. One minute I'm introducing myself, the next I'm describing the exact shape and colour of my last poo. So I'll start from the recent beginning. And try to omit any obscene descriptions.
Jobbing-actor - the thing so many of us want to be, the thing so close, so easy yet slippery and shady as a cave when the tides up, this is what I started to chase after (my first) drama school. You go out into the world (well..Manchester) and you don't know anyone and you have your new headshots and drama school performances on your CV and Stanislavski, actioning, equity and spotlight is all you need to know. Soon the mystery will be revealed. Three years later you know everyone and you have actual work on your CV and you've had new headshots. You've been in front of casting directors and been through the pushing and pulling of agents which when and where.
Hot Salt theatre grew out of the mist at some point, and we have now three pieces under our belt. I realised a while ago that jobbing actor whilst still an attractive thing actually isn't what I want the most. It has, in fact, been dwarfed by my need to make my own work, make beautiful viceral original theatre that moves excites and amuses people, stays with and even changes people. Work influenced by iconoclastic and challenging companies such as Theatre Ad Infinitum and Gecko. That allows me to work in a company of people with the same vision, that also allows me to employ myself!
This is why in September I am off to Paris to study at Jacques Lecoq - something I have dreamt about for years. Something which again felt unobtainable - but it came to the 'Fuck it' point and I applied and now I am doing it. I know the training will be long, challenging and eventful, much of which I will be documenting on this blog for anyone who is interested..so keep tuned. (And wish me Bon Chance.)