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.