Thursday, June 7, 2018


In a previous blog (link) I made mention of the word 'Harmony' coupled with 'Empathy' in the context of my Emptiness Compass.

I'd like to extend my thinking a little more on what this word means for me and more importantly the how and why I promote it as way of guiding actors to a deeper understanding of self, others and environment.

The image of a butterfly moving against the wind comes to mind. The butterfly isn't fighting the breeze but yet is moving forward. Or a sail boat working in sync with the cross breeze and yet moving forward. The harnessing of energy for a greater good.

Aikido use the a great word - blending and sometimes; musubi - a form of unity. Great ways to conceptualise what is needed from a task at hand being explored when both Uke (attacker) and Nage (the one exploring the technique) need to harmonise to ensure the task will breed a successful application and understanding of a technique.

The Uke must attack with truth. It is the only way for Nage to truly get a grasp on what is to be explored. A careful act of listening on both parties especially the Nage who is utilising subtlety and responsiveness. The sensitivity required will allow Nage to responds according to any slight variations of the attack and thus be listening to the moment. 

This approach to training always struck me as a possible useful tool for actors to explore the physical world of their craft. I think harmony as a noun is a tricky way to visualise what I’m referring to. However when used as a verb; to harmonise. I think then it can be an action word and thus a stronger word for actors to enact in their work.

By generating exercises that promote
a collective focus both actors must work in harmony to get results. By generating exercises that facilitate a feeder and a receiver (Uke & Nage), it enlists an honesty and drives actors away from performing martial arts but rather asks of them to explore the truth of a technique and be present. Not to over play any one moment over another and to truly honour the value of a specific movement.

Put simply: to guide actors to focus on the other.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

form & function

"Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling. It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law." Louis H Sullivan (wiki)

The above was from an article called "The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered" Lippincott's Magazine (March 1896). This paragraph went on to be shortened to: form follows function. A maxim that influenced architects for years to come I’m sure. For some reason it often plays on my mind when I watch an actor move. A move, action or gesture (form) must follow its function, it’s purpose.

What is the function of the a move an actor may have to perform? Let’s look at a lunge in the context of swordplay: to bridge distance for an attack. Its form should be driven by its function in this case for the lunge - the most economical bridging of distance,  while maintaining balance and power. This should be enough of a clue to help an actor truly represent this move. Any other physical unnecessary form layered in should really only be driven by style or genre and character choice. But at its base learning as a skill set. Its form should follow function. 

What about something as weird as a reaction to a hair grab?? I must admit this is one of the most over acted actions I see in a performance. But if its function is to convey that someone is being restrained by the fact that their hair is being pulled. Then surely the form I take should support that function. The stillness required to ensure I don’t hurt myself anymore when having my hair pulled would / could / should help inform the amount movement needed to fully and truthfully convey the staging of this reaction. My form should follow the function. 

Marcus Virtruvius Polio a Roman architect and engineer is said a structure must exhibit three qualities: Solid, useful and beautiful. I think these are useful too!!

Monday, January 15, 2018

I hate stage combat

Now that I’ve got your attention… sorry; I hate the words ‘stage combat’! There I said it out loud! To be clear: I don’t hate stage combat. I have just come to dislike the assembly of these two words together used in a common theatrical language to express an art form I believe is so much deeper. Why the dislike I hear you ask?

I believe there is lack of depth that the words ‘stage combat’ offers to truly grasp what is going. By ‘going on’: I mean in terms of the actor's learning and the way in which it is viewed. When conducting a stage combat class, the first thing I will ask the participants is: What are they here to learn? I do this before I use the words stage combat. This question usually elicits responses like: fake fighting and pretend punching. It’s these types of responses that undo the work that has been going on for the last 20 years to develop the art that are hard to stomach. That said – I get it. It’s not real! So, it’s fake and pretend.(watch this spot for a further blog on this)

Some of our practitioners have tried to rebrand it over the years. Staged Combat, Theatrical Fighting, Theatrical Aggression and Acted Aggression just to name a few. But for me none of them really get to the heart of what the art form truly encompasses. To the lay person these two words also negate other areas in our field like; physical comedy, domestic violence, sexual attacks and even some broader uses of what we bring to the table as practitioners in terms of movement.

All that said I don’t know what the answer is and given how much traction the words have gained over the last 50 years I guess we are destined to live with them now. But it highlights that we as practitioners have a duty of care. We have become guardians for the continued education of the broader context for these two words and the responsibility for their greater understanding.

Friday, October 6, 2017

time & space

Time and space? What is that? What do we mean by these words? Time could refer to a watch or a calendar? Space could refer to 'outer' space or the stuff between objects or people? 

In the context of remembering choreography and or movement ‘time and space’ have specific meanings for me. Let's say we are learning a sword fight that needs to appear lighting fast and with many responses that need to appear reactive.

The way in which we up load / learn this pattern of moves will be important to the way in which it will then re interpreted by an audience. When I am trying to learn any choreography, I am conscious of my use of (rehearsal) time; the time (timing of events) I am replicating; and then in turn the perception of time (pace) in which the choreography will be seen.

So, the question I often ask myself during the up-loading phase of my rehearsal is: “how do I generate time”. What is meant by this? What I am seeking to do when learning something is to maximise space around me and my partner so that I can increase the number of decisions I may have to make when at show speed. I do this for me and any scene / fight partner because when it gets to show pace that “time” will not be there – things will be moving so fast there will be no time for decisions (on one level). I want to be aware in the uploading phase of exactly everything that is going on. Position of feet, weight loading, blade angles, whether some needs to appear cognitive or not, etc.

Ways to generate time for example are by simply allowing a blade arch to move a little longer and or larger on some occasions so that the length of time it takes to get to my partners parry means I have given them more time. So, it’s my use of space that allows for this generation of time. Almost an optical illusion where my body maybe still moving at a pace but I can slow my blade arch down (should I notice my partner is not to speed) so it is moving at a different tempt to my body. Other ways to do this may include but are not limited to - I might make more of a slope on my footwork to allow my body to take a little more time to get somewhere thus generating more time again for my partner.

Anyway still formulating this musing so to be continued…

Friday, September 22, 2017

contrast and contradiction.

It is worth remembering that everything we do in our profession as story tellers is a contrast and or contradiction. What we are doing is not real. It is not actually a real event we are only dramatising life… a reality, yet what we are doing is a really happening. The whole process of making art is or rather could be debated as being unreal and yet real – hence my proposition it is a contrast and or contradiction. My reason for brining this up is because as an artist within this world of ‘make believe’ we are always in pursuit of trying to make sense within this contrast and contradiction. I need this unreal world to feel real to me.
My instinct is that this unreal reality must be; on some level, a neurological related experience; to feel deeply connected to my body and mind physiologically for it to make sense in order for me to have logical reactions and responses. I need to give over to the illusion of the imagined world I am generating. To achieve this successfully I need this world to be fully realised.

The other form of contrast and contradiction that exists for us as actors to grapple with is in human behaviour – we are all in some form or another contradictory in our behaviour – saying one thing but doing another. Maybe my point is being ok with this contrast and contradiction is a good thing. Being self-aware of it helps us with us in our profession. Especially when I hear actors say: my character wouldn’t do that!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

art of listening...

To truly listen one must be in a true state of emptiness to be filled with the information be presented. Regardless of whether this information is visual, physical or aural. When listening we are not just absorbing words or intent but meaning, framework and context from which the intended information is coming from. To achieve this, we must act from a place of empathy and harmony with others. To place ourselves in a headspace that allows us to be present for the person or persons providing the information we are to take on board. By listening affectively, and placing ourselves in the situation of others we stand a stronger chance of navigating a way forward when placed in a situation of change , agitation, discomfort or conflict.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

problem solving & multi-tasking

I remember dropping a glass on stage during a production. I remember feeling the condensation on the outside of the glass slowly undermine my grip of the glass. As it was slipping from my finger; externally I was presence delivering lines and listening for ques, internally however I was developing a process to navigate the glass which was about to break at my feet and the feet of fellow cast members. I was contemplating a strategy for how to clean up the glass which included going off stage and getting a dust pan between my lines. I was even deciding on how to incorporate the obviously broken glass on the floor into the scene should I have to or need to. These thoughts were ordered and calm.
I am not suggesting that time slowed down in fact some research I discovered theorised that it is only our memory of an event that tricks us into thinking that time slowed down. The reference to time slowing down is usually when people in a state of danger. While on stage performing a task, I am not in danger, although a stage fight could replicate a sense of danger, thus tricking the brain. What I am inferring here is that I was making some informed decisions under pressure. I had enough experiential training through years of being on stage to be calm under pressure and respond accordingly.
I relish developing training methodologies that allow for a system that builds a mind and body approach and response to problem solving and multi-tasking should an accident arise. Like any form of conditioning training it would behove an actor to maintain a mindset that advocates for the understanding that an accident will eventually happen. That way when it does they are not thrown. This mental preparation in the training process is paramount in the development of a healthy approach to a physical disciplined response. The key to making this an affective system lies in the development of sensitivity and listening skills on a macro and micro level. On a level that involves a mental, aural, visual and tactile sensitivity to one’s immediate surroundings.
The main principle of my approach is prioritising how to deal with; and respond accordingly to an issue or accident that arises. A way into this approach is to start looking for a range of variables within a spectrum of scenarios that an actor may find themselves in. By seeking the order in this spectrum of perceived chaos, one can start to reduce stress levels because a series of responses can be programmed in the conditioning training level.

To be continued…