• Helen T

Theatre Training for the ‘Post’ World

Anyone who has worked with me recently knows that I'm a little obsessed with Viewpoints! This summer I indulged in an intensive week of Viewpoints and Suzuki, mixed with a bit of modernist architecture spotting and café culture appreciation in the beautiful city of Utrecht.

Viewpoints and Suzuki training with JUDKA Theatremakers and the Extended Ensemble in collaboration with HKU Utrecht.

Review August 20th-24th 2018

Looking around the room, I see people with bright, focused eyes, open glowing faces and responsive, centred bodies. I feel no nerves going into our improvised sharing, secure in the knowledge that we trust each other as an ensemble. I feel excitement at the creative possibilities. Only five days ago this was a group of strangers, various ages, nationalities and different theatrical backgrounds. With 16 in the group it felt as if there could be too many of us for an intimate company spirit to evolve. Yet is has. And that is down to the extraordinary effects of this training.

The weeks training was facilitated by Judith Bruynzeels of Judka Theatremakers who created a positive, clear and disciplined space in which we could challenge ourselves. With her were Judith Sleddens (Viewpoints), Carl Anders Hollender (Viewpoints and Suzuki) and Gábor Viktor Kozma (Suzuki). Four inspiring practitioners, all of whom made it clear that their job was to share and facilitate the work, whilst we, the participants embarked on our individual research. This ethos was itself a part of the training, when not leading a session, each would join the group as participant. By experiencing our ‘teachers’ as members of the company we form a stronger ensemble. By engaging in the work as personal research, we take responsibility for our own learning.

Born of the 1960/70’s cultural explosion in New York city, the concept of Viewpoints was first created by Mary Overlie. Her student, Anne Bogart took this system and developed it into nine Viewpoints for use in theatre. In Anne’s book on Viewpoints, one definition she gives for them is this:

Viewpoints is a set of names given to certain principles of movement through time and space; these names constitute a language for talking about what happens on stage’.

But I find it hard to define Viewpoints, they work though the actors body, reflexes, self and, as with many great training techniques, are better when experienced than discussed. When applying them in my work as a director they allow me to provide a clear framework, consistent with my vision, within which the actors can play in an aesthetically and thematically useful fashion. Viewpoints are particularly useful in my site-specific work, giving the actors tools to find the full creative potential of this increasingly popular theatrical form. When teaching I see that it gives actors the skills needed to make meaningful and inventive choices within an ensemble awareness.

Viewpoints breaks down the ingredients of performance into clear tools for an actor. Spatial Relationship, to each other and the Architecture. Topography: the journey across the floor. The Shape of your body, the Gestures you make. The option of Repetition. It looks at how fast or slowly something happens and the Duration of time you spend on a particular activity. By breaking down these aspects of performance, a performer is able to explore and apply the full value of each. The most revelationary aspect for me is that story and emotion are no more important than other elements, for instance Tempo (the speed of something) or Kinesthetic response. Steeped as we are in the classical theatre tradition, it is extraordinary to experience the clarity and creative possibilities that come from allowing these to be part of the mixture, rather than the dominant ideology. This deconstructive, non-hierarchical approach from the US is still unfamiliar to me. But seems to be an apt reflection of the modern world, and therefore a necessary tool for contemporary theatre makers.

In her work with SITI company in New York, Anne Bogart brings together the trainings of Viewpoints and Suzuki, within a philosophy of lifelong training for performers. The two techniques are complimentary in their differences and we followed this model during our week at HKU.

From Japan, created by Tadashi Suzuki, Suzuki training is ferocious. I began most exercises in the resigned certainty that my body was simply too old to endure them; only to come out the other end sweaty, exhilarated and definitively disproved. Suzuki thrives in that creatively vital area where the performer feels themselves to be on the edge of their ability. With a basis in martial arts; the rigor, discipline and approach to voice work are all very different to the techniques used in European theatre training, and therefore ones we stand to gain from. The sheer physical challenge pushes your voice, self-knowledge, and emotional connection to new creative possibilities. This training can achieve the goals of grounding and centring, that in my experience as both a performer and educator, take years with other movement techniques. In essence Suzuki training seems to intensify and expand the performers presence with the potential to lift it from the domestic to the poetic.

Suzuki sessions with Gábor Viktor Kozma utilised the actors imagination. During physical and vocal exercises we focused on a vision of something we wanted, these objectives were epic and archetypal. The effect was a powerful, linking of mind, body, breath and emotion. As I watched the rest of the group grapple with this challenge, I was moved by the vulnerability and strength in their performance, impressed and inspired by how far we had all come in a short time. The stakes are high in Suzuki. It teaches an extraordinary focus. Each day in those exercises I met my own excuses and demons, worked through physical and psychological barriers on my way to a sense of authentic presence, where the work and the ensemble were of primary importance. Where I, and it seems many others, achieved far more than we had imagined ourselves capable of.

After five days of this combined training I was aware of deep shifts within my body, I felt reconstructed as a performer. The training had reframed and re-invigorated my practice. We finished the course with an ‘Open Viewpoints Session’, an improvisation using the nine Viewpoints, in front of a small audience. Waiting to begin, I look around at this, now familiar, ensemble. We are open and focused, we are ready.

Helen Tennison

Workshop photos, Gábor Viktor Kozma


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