Dullness is not an inevitable consequence of age but of education.
Our teaching material is based primarily (although we also draw on many other sources) on the pedagogy's of Keith Johnstone, Philippe Gaulier, and Anne Bogart because we believe it is important to keep circulating the inspiration we have received from each of these teachers and the practical techniques they have passed on which we have found invaluable for our own theatre making work. We like to keep our workshops open to people from a variety of backgrounds (as our belief is all work is inherently creative) and certainly anyone interested in discovering something new about themselves. Workshops allow us to continually investigate what makes engaging magic theatre and un-learn the boring mechanisms of education and social survival which deaden instinct, vitality and pleasure. Conventional educational models have unfortunately engendered within most of us, a paralyzing fear of failure. We have learnt however that embracing failure is the only way forward and in fact, the way of freedom, pleasure and discovery to boot.
Below are some of the philosophies which have been gifted to us by our wonderful teachers and co-workers over the years. We find we must continually remind ourselves of the following principles in order to keep creating as well as keep imparting all of this to our students so we too can keep learning in the process.
High level failure
If the improviser can find a way of celebrating the failure as much as success, then extraordinary entertainment can be created. Keith Johnstone
We all want to embrace the unknown, produce the precious original material... But how badly? Our education trains us to avoid mistakes, to feel shameful about failure. But in avoiding these things we cut ourselves off both from spontaneity and creative discoveries. By avoiding failure we effectively cut any possibility for learning. Without a positive attitude to failure any kind of creative process will grind to a halt. In any case have you ever risked being truly bad? Embarrassment can be a great teacher. If you try to avoid embarrassment by what you do, then nothing will happen because the territory remains safe and unexposed. Learn to make friends with the flop and discover a new world in the process.
If what you do or make does not embarrass you sufficiently, then it is probably not personal or intimate enough. Revelation is necessary to warrant attention.
Happiness is a game of tag
When did life become so dull, so boring? Does the sound of your own voice send you to sleep? How do we get un-boring? Do you conform to the image of the rational responsible adult you think you ought to be? Stimulate your imagination by re-discovering your pleasure in uninhibited play. Find the game in each moment, scene, encounter. Follow your pleasure and bring vitality to your performance. Pleasure is the great glue stick. When performers are having a great time they have a magnetic aura, we want to watch them. If a performer is struggling, distracted or unhappy, the audience sense it instantly and distance themselves from everything that performer says. Remember and be re-envigorated by the vitality of uninhibited play.
Did you eat a lion?
Our mentor Gaulier often questioned people in his classes who came on stage with a half hearted energy..."eeerrrr did she eat a lion for breakfast?" By which he meant, was her presence strong enough to justify her coming onto the stage. Each of us has a unique presence which has simply been covered over with the unnecessary detritus of social survival, growing up, simply getting out of touch with who we really are. Yet if we want to be on stage, we have to address our presence as something extremely important. When the spotlight is on you you must be larger than life, you must as Gaulier puts it 'you must have a beautiful freedom'. Yet so many actors perform on a level appropriate only for TV realism. Many times actors will come on to the stage and then apologise for being there, they continue to make themselves smaller in each encounter. But if you're in the light on stage, you can't afford to be small. You have to be bigger than the image you have of yourself, not just different. If you're so natural that you're not in a heightened energy state, then you may as well be performing in your lounge room.
Many times our presence is trapped behind the character or the role you take on when you climb out of bed and haul yourself to school or work each day. Miss Nice, Mrs Sassy, Mr Sensible, The Funny Guy, The Librarian, School Teacher, Don Juan, Feminist, Mother Teresa. These roles infiltrate every character and performance we make if we remain unaware of them. Utilize the raw energy repressed beneath the facade, beneath the fear of what others will think, the imagined responsibility, sanity and instinct for safety. We can put our 'little characters' aside and each of us get in contact with the unadulterated essence which is where the great actor is born.
The secret language of complicity
Remarkable how many actors who have a good idea of how to feel good on stage themselves, don't have the faintest idea of how to give their performance partners 'a good time'. he secret language of complicity is the language of agreement and playfulness which creates a powerful connection with your partners and the audience. When two people are playing with each other they create something magical between them, an energetic connection. Let the audience in on this connection and each performance becomes spontaneous and joyful.
In a way an actor needs to make the audience fall in love with him or her. A great performance is intimate. It is sharing a secret, a wink, or a joke with the people watching. You have ‘to charm the pants off’' your public. An actor is something akin to a gypsy, a magician. He must conjure an atmosphere, convince the audience something magical is taking place, then make them pay for each revelation. If you are charming enough, the audience will give themselves willingly to this beautiful lie.
The audience doesn't care about your ideas. You can spend years discussing and analysing the text only to get on stage with nothing engaging to give. In fact Keith Johnstone has spent a great deal of his life trying to convince his students of Improvisation, that the more original with their ideas they attempt to be the more boring they will appear. He will often yell out instructions during classes such as: "Think less", "Be more boring!" "Don't have any idea about what you will say next".
In any case the bottom line is an audience (unless you are in front of a bunch of university professors) will want to be moved by story, which is transmitted through action rather than ideas. An audinece cares about what is happening in front of them, they care about people being changed by events or by other people. An audience doesn't, it simply can't care about ideas. As a performer its dangerous to stay too much in the intellect. As Gaulier puts it “When you stay in your mind, you don't have fun, dreams, or spirit." Imaginative work comes from not caring too much about transmitting clever ideas.
I came away from three years of training in a highly reputable drama school and six years in professional Theatre and Television with the distinct impression that I was just a talking head. I really didn't feel that I used my body effectively during performance and when I worked I didn't have much consciousness of it at all. When I did eventually have the privilege of seeing actors who used their bodies properly I was amazed at how much more powerful and creative performances on stage could be.
The body is your most convincing instrument in the Theatre. It is extremely reliable, it will always tell the truth whether you'd like it to or not. Do you know what your body does when you are performing? Do you exude lightness and grace? Do you have strength and height? To what degree are you present in your skin? Awareness of the body is intrinsic not only to assuming the full size of your humanity but to releasing you from patterns of physicality which stop you performing to your full potential. Learn about a world of hidden status interactions which govern both our verbal and physical communication. Discover what your physicality expresses to others. A body that strong is impressive but one that is intelligent will make fabulous theatre.