never fight a clown...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

physical read...

To help the reader gain insight to the point of this post, I need to explain what a ‘line read’ is for our non-theatrical folks. A ‘line read’ is when a director gives an actor a specific way of saying a line – usually because the actor is not saying the way the director wants - or the actor just doesn’t 'get' the way the line needs to be delivered. Either way, this leaves little or no scope for the actor to find her own way - and from my experience it generally ends up sounding inauthentic.

If we look at this ‘line read’ concept in terms of fight choreography, often a fight director will do a move for an actor (in order to demonstrate). We could therefore say a fight director is giving a ‘physical read’ of the choreography. I have witnessed many fight directors show off the moves they give their actors!

This brings me to the point of this post. I think as fight directors, we need to be careful with ‘physical reads’. My observation is that an actor usually tries to emulate the move the fight director has done and the negative affect is this: the actor usually has crafted (or by accident) a particular shape / skeletal structure for a character, even if no strong physical characterization has taken place. So an audience will have that shape in their mind’s eye, consciously or not. When the actor comes to the moment or moments where they have simply copied the fight director, there is a distinct shift in shape.

As a fight director, I will usually do one of two things:  move like the actor, or do it a little 'bad'. The logic of dumbing down the move (ie doing it a little badly) is that I want the actor to think, "I  don’t want to move like that, I can do it better." Hence, they will invest in the movement for themselves and not simply replicate me. They will make the move their own. I want my work to be invisible.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

teaching philosophy...

My teaching philosophy is founded on the premise of the interconnection of life, art and self. As practitioner and as a teacher I encourage artists to continually develop their self-awareness and their understanding of how they are connected to others through art.

My primary goal has always been to craft actors who are prepared to safely take themselves, their fellow actors, and their audiences to spaces that are physically demanding, risky and dangerous.  I hold the actor’s long-term career in mind when guiding my students to these spaces: the actor’s body and mind need to work in harmony and be a sustainable instrument for as long as they work.

My secondary goal is to develop actors who can physically transform. Physical transformation is the ability of an actor to transcend her own physical shapes, habits and understanding of self. It is an essential skill for the actor to hone. Developing and crafting this skill will create a more diverse and complex performer.

Thirdly, I encourage a holistic quality to approaching the work. By the time a student graduates from an acting school, the individual disciplines of Movement, Voice and Acting will make up the trinity of their approach to developing a role. The craft of acting requires the actor to believe in a set of imagined circumstances from an imagined reality. Over time, the actor will develop a process of combining speech and physicality to build a role. The actor's process asks of the whole body. Movement, as I see it, is not separate from Voice and Acting: a student in my movement process understands how these disciplines are inherently connected and related.

Movement for Actors is a highly organised, disciplined and integral part of an actor’s training. My teaching philosophy in the arena of Movement Studies is built upon on thirty years of practical experience at an industry and institutional level. Actors I train will display qualities of pleasure, playfulness, expressiveness, responsiveness, balance, co-ordination, precision, efficiency, rhythm, endurance, humility, respect and discipline.

There are many styles and approaches to teaching movement. Ultimately, actors will always pick and choose from what they are taught and develop an individual style, approach and meaning.  My journey has been no different. My personal development and exposure in the styles of Clowning, Western and Eastern Martial Arts, Viewpoints and other ancillary movement theories make up the DNA of my pedagogy. Over the course of my career, I have distilled techniques and approaches from these major systems and integrated them into my own methodology.

Exposure to clowning work has primarily taught me about curiosity, adaptation and failure. It has also allowed me to prize the questioning nature of work by students, which in turn opens new responses in me. It is the student’s work that generates a ‘space’ that learning takes place in. In this regard, I do not give knowledge, but rather the student finds it in the work of the class. I often use the expression - I share mistakes rather than teach

My education and practice in clowning has taught me humility and grace under adversity - and to always find the pleasure no matter what the circumstances are. This quality is at the heart of my work and is one that my students learn both explicitly and implicitly. My modelling of these qualities is an important part of what I can contribute to the students. It is important to me that in every class, I am, in every way, the practitioner that I am encouraging them to be.

My interest and pursuit of eastern and western martial art concepts and philosophies complemented by the stage combative arts has instilled in me endurance and discipline, combined with an enormous respect for the space I am working in and the people around me. It has allowed me to understand how the body moves, functions and reacts under stress. Martial Arts also taught me to recognise when the mind and body are not working harmoniously. My students use this understanding to create a strong foundation in their approach to movement.

My experience with viewpoints has provided me with a framework for creating a larger context for actors in terms of composition and movement in space. Key aspects of viewpoints - Time, Space and Architecture - have chiefly resonated with me as I seek to provide actors with a sense of one’s self in space and the way in which one moves in space. 

My methodology is the engine behind my philosophy and goals in movement training. When working with actors, I continually draw on metaphors and correlations to buildings and constructions. The concepts and ideas of architecture and design - foundation, function, form, scaffolding, geometry, structure, and alignment - are strong images when deconstructing the actor’s instrument. It is only when a building weathers the pressure of a storm that the architect and engineer find out if the structure is sound. As such, my mantras as a highly physical performer myself are: Can this physical choice be sustained under the pressure of performance? Can I remain safe? Can I keep my fellow actors safe? Will the audience and crew be safe? How do I blend function and form? I developed my approach to movement training over the course of my career, honing it year after year of training actors and working professionally, culminating in formalising my methodology through my MFA studies. My overarching methodology is upheld by two pillar concepts of Mind / Body Cohesion and Awareness.

Mind / Body Cohesion

Comprehension between the mind and body is paramount when teaching the use of the body as a tool for ‘movement’. My training necessitates that students became acutely aware of the relationship between all areas and functions of the brain and its essential role in the use of our bodies. This emphasis is to ensure that students gain a holistic approach to the understanding and use of their instrument. Often, due to a lack of experience in performance situations, young actors work from a place of tension – they operate in fight, flight or freeze mode. In short, my work is designed to bring the actor’s use of his frontal lobe into a place of mindfulness, thus allowing for some control of the fighting, flying or freezing response of the ‘reptile’ brain. This places the student in a cognitive state of learning and functioning and offers her some safety and control. In addition, I also work to raise students’ consciousness of the left and right side of the brain and the different functions they play. Linking the two hemispheres of the brain is the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is key provider to overall cerebral organisation. During high levels of cognitive activity, the function of the corpus callosum seems to be one of ensuring the stability of stimulation and focus between the two halves of the brain. This in turn allows the brain to work in a holistic way and enables constant concentration throughout compound cognitive duties. By working and practising with this level of awareness in the classroom, the actor is developing an understanding of the use and function of the brain in relationship to her body. The actor is then creating from a place of calm, which allows for more truthful, honest, spontaneous and integrated work.


At its core, movement for actors is the study, observation, application and expression of human behaviour and gesture. Through our art, we gain insight into ourselves. Our artistic development can, if nurtured well, aid our personal awareness. An integral aspect of my movement training and teaching philosophy is to guide an actor’s awareness and understanding of his own instrument and his relationship to the space and the bodies around him. I emphasise kinaesthetic and proprioception skills as a way of ensuring that students move safely and with complete awareness of self and others in space. Awareness and Mind / Body Cohesion make up the spine of my methodology because they ask of the actor to be consciously cognitive of his process and practice. Through rigor and curiosity, students will gain an acute sense of their strengths and limitations under my tuition. So what and how do I help to create a more detailed and specific physical actor? That is my dramatic question.

My Principles are governed by this matrix:

Process (working through something and staying in it)

Product (result)

Content (task / exercise at hand)

During the exercises I set; students always struggle to remain in process because they will think the content is asking them for a product.

My belief is that to stay in a process a student needs to be in a state of emptiness. So to keep them in a state of emptiness I use this compass to help them navigate their own journey. The 12 points on the compass are access points for me to unpack further concepts and ideas. None of these words are original it's more about how I have arranged them in this compass. I realise that the concept of emptiness is a contradiction given I am asking them to think about the below list. But in order to be filled with the information I am asking for they first need to be empty.

Chaos& Order

Spirit& Energy

Sensitivity& Listening

Time& Space

Structure& Alignment

Function& Form

Empathy& Harmony

Patience& Understanding

Versatility& Adaptability

Truth& Logic

Contrast& Contradiction

Problem Solving & Multi-tasking

The combination of the Emptiness Compass and the Principles makes up my iOS. To have a deeply well programmed iOS one needs to develop deep processing power. Once you have that the iOS runs in the background so one can make deliberate choices. To extend the metaphor a little; learning a waltz, sword fight, footwork, slapstick routine or any other expression of movement for story telling are just the 'aps' that are opened up and run by the iOS.

The development of any one individual student actor is a unique and extraordinarily personal journey. The student’s progress needs to take into account her strengths and weaknesses, and it requires a flexibility from me, as her teacher, to adapt to her growth. My belief is that a good teacher nurtures a student’s ability to express her creativity, and liberates her innovation and imagination. I carry these ideas with me on the floor, and it is important to me that I model to my students understanding, sensitivity, empathy, versatility, adaptability, tolerance and honesty. Preparing an actor for the industry takes a sensitive touch on the part of the teacher. Providing that guidance, from the first class to graduation, requires particular insight and great patience.

My teaching focuses on supporting the students’ understanding of how their ability to move well can interface with the technical and artistic demands of the industry as a business. Additionally, I encourage students to face themselves honestly and with open eyes. Walking alongside students as they confront their fears is part of my role, and requires me to travel that road myself. In this environment of care and trust, students find the space to grow through acceptance and examination of ‘failures’. Not all students possess the skill to see the matrix of learning and require assistance to help them see the whole picture. Part of my role is to teach students how to see and craft those connections. The diverse nature of my career has developed me into the teacher and practitioner I am today. It is what makes me unique. I believe that a movement teacher in today’s environment must be multi-skilled and adaptable.