Workshop Day, 10th July 2021
Although the PlayActing team and Todd had prepared pretty well for this day, I had a certain nervousness getting the place ready to receive the people … the first time in ages that I was having a group in my house … having it safe enough, as well as the usual tidying flurry! And then, being ready to hold the group of people on the day–– that early anxiety before the day settles down. Todd had to set up his audio equipment and the camera when he came so that took a bit of time, and he would have liked a more controlled lighting than I was prepared for on the day so lighting didn’t happen. It also felt like being out of practice, a rustiness in dealing with people in a social situation.
As people arrived we chatted, greeted each other and set up a circle of chairs in the garden using the bamboo sticks. Actors also had a photo taken with their mask on. This first gathering took longer and was more relaxed than I had anticipated, people arrived over a period of time and needed to check in with each other, not having met in such a long time.
Unfortunately, the work Todd had to do to organise himself and his equipment and take those first photos meant that he couldn’t participate entirely in this early session as I would have liked. But his ability as a photographer and artist to work cooperatively with the troupe meant that he blended in quickly and easily.
That first exercise was awkward for me, I moved it along and shifted it. It’s not unusual for me to feel like the energy needs to move differently. When planning for an exercise, I have a sense how it will go, what it will feel like and I can be disappointed when it doesn’t happen like that. But that’s all part of the work and the development of the group atmosphere and the project we’re working on.
From the outset we used the bamboo sticks to create distance––on the one hand we did’nt seem to notice the distance. Usually if we work outside, the energy seems to be sucked up into the air and the intensity level never quite reaches that of work inside. Here it seemed like being outside didn’t matter at all; it didn’t make a difference to the energy levels and the connection between everyone.
The work began to have momentum. Then I read about my preparation and the quotation from the blog.
People shared their feelings on what it meant to be here. How nice it was to be meeting up and connecting in with the other actors.
The other instruction from an early stage was for everyone to take selfies, again linking back to the Amadeus world where we touched on the social media rites.
As usual, once we have done housekeeping and then settled in to the work, I like to get everyone moving. The actors were invited to warm-up physically, using the bamboo sticks, they were to walk through the garden, focusing on various parts of the body as they woke them up. And to find different imaginative uses for the sticks as they walked and stretched. The warm-up Amadeus playlist was playing in the background.
Someone later mentioned that it was like being back in our workshops for Amadeus, utterly familiar. Seeing people work into themselves––their interior, creative and performative world––and so easily into the old Amadeus space was great for me, as an observer and director.
Actors explored the garden close by and the different spaces in it. I asked them to have fun, to become energetic to laugh, and play. They moved through the copse of trees, through the long grass beyond the lawn area, onto the trampoline. When asked to explain what the bamboo sticks were, they replied that they were spears, protection, a sign of authority, they were the Emperor with the stick, not without it.
There was a moment within these early exercises where I linked in with Todd to give him permission to begin his photography. There is a moment when the time is right in these circumstances and though the actors were aware this was to happen today, their comfort with openness in this work is paramount.
This exercise developed into remembering old prompts, finding the “ball of energy”, meeting with others–– locking eyes, then unlocking and moving on to meet the next person, mirroring while remaining one bamboo stick length apart, the actors remembering how to do this, the intimacy of the exercise, back into memory. I was moved by seeing these couples working together, the beauty of the intimate revealed. The couples offered gestures of love to each other while far apart, then I prompted them to bring the exercise back to basics––giving and receiving-–with smaller gestures, larger gestures, then moving further apart from each other … what did that feel like this time? Terri and Jane went very far apart and then moved slowly closer to each other. Other couples didn’t change.
Why was I moved to tears watching this? It was overwhelming I think, to be flexing a part of me that hadn’t been used for a time, to remember what that was like intellectually, intuitively, emotionally and to get through the awkward feelings that have developed when in company with other people, especially a larger group when now working closely together.
The feedback session on this opening exercise section was fantastic: real, sensitive, familiar.
Pleasure and Protection
Each actor took their scarf and their bamboo stick and created a world for themselves with it somewhere in the garden. They were given two themes from which to draw inspiration––pleasure and protection. This could be two separate images or one image showing both. I also asked the actors to have words to go with their performance.
Each actor found their place. And began to work. About ten minutes later we began to move from place to place. Initially, my idea was to move quickly throughout, but instead we lingered at each actor and the stories grew to make the response the focus of the day.
The response of each actor, visually, aurally and in writing/image is set out in Blog 3 of this Amadeus: Reflected series.
The response was so interesting. Some actors had distinct pleasure and protection elements, moving from one to another, and many combined the two effects into one response. Subtlety of intention and emotion in then actor heightened the impact for the viewer, creating intense, personal and sometimes uncomfortable experiences.
One of the aims for this day was to recreate the social world of Amadeus, as shown especially in the Venticelli groups used in the performance. This was a different response. Social, in that each actor was aware of the world beyond them, but in this post-Covid experience, the actors were isolated and seemingly alone within this society. Obviously, the instruction from me was to find an individual space and to work alone but I was surprised at the intensity of this reaction and, it being so powerful, it became the work of the day. And consequently the plan to have a group response became a different element of the workshop.
We had lunch on the patio, a chance to relax from the intensity of the morning and connect in with everyone, catch up on family news. Later in the interviews, a number of the women stated that meeting everyone was really special and for one actor, the highlight of their day.
I listened intently, not joining in as I might have done if I wasn’t holding the workshop. Being the director keeps you isolated. You bear a responsibility for the safety and welfare of the participants, plus the demands of seeking a development within the day–-seeking the intensity of the collaborative work that enables the creation of the moments of magic, of authenticity, of deep intimacy, that is revealed by the actors. So beautiful to be a part of.
Recording the day
After lunch, we had three different elements to work on, which overlapped in the working of them:
The actors took a sheet of archival paper and special writing pens to write their reflection on the morning’s exercise–-words, stream of consciousness, a drawing, a poem––whatever medium resonated. Some of the text used in the earlier performance could be recalled or the actors could have a considered response to the earlier unrecorded work.
When finished writing, Todd and I went inside with each actor to record this. Mostly the actors read their written piece, it was often poetic or heightened prose. This led to Todd and I asking questions following on from the reading and what we had seen in the garden: the protection, the pleasure, where the experience of living this past year had influenced the response, interesting responses from the writing, or the day itself or sometimes what arose from the experience of being in Amadeus and sometimes, “What was your favorite moment today?”
What was intended to be a short piece of audio expanded to become something longer and quite beautiful. Each person’s delivery and insight was a moment itself––their honesty and authenticity. Quite something! Images of the recording were really interesting.
The potential for this audio element to become bigger than anticipated became apparent. Immediately the possibility of one long recording with all the voices as a piece in itself came to me … one voice after another in one long sitting (just under an hour), with little editing. Later, other ideas evolved, see the links in the following blog posts on The Moments and The Exhibition..
chalk outline group image
One of the other planned elements was to create a group chalk image by outlines of each actor’s body, one on top of the other, with different coloured chalks. A long grey sheet of paper was attached to the wall of the conservatory in front of which the actors stood. The chalk was chosen by an actor and attached to the end of a bamboo stick (health and safety!) and applied around the body of another actor, with all the difficulty and inconvenience of this modus operandi.
One image was created from the many poses made. The colours of the outlines against the backdrop, the poses, the overall collective was impactful.
In carrying out this element, Todd instructed some of the actors on how to use his camera to record this drawing of the marks of the actors and the outlines of their bodies. His artistic interest currently is in socially engaged practice. This part, above all, highlighted that practice well––demonstrating the equipment to prompt and enhance the work of another. Not just a recording of this element of the day’s work but also art in itself by the camera-persons––their eye, perspective, angle.
The final part, the group
My plan for the later part of the day was to work on groups. two of them for the eight actors involved, creating a flocking, connected moment, a gesture representing each group, a common sound, a shared word. And these two groups would move together, flocking, responding, then finally they would be recorded––like a Venticelli moment.
But the actors were flagging and working together was slightly disjointed for one group in particular. They had been waiting for longer than anticipated as the day had gone on and we went with the flow of the work. So, the intention then became to wrap up the day quickly, after getting some group and audio work done.
Group 1 flocked, moved with very definite movements of the bamboo sticks, a quiet “whisht” sound from them. I observed as they slowly and very deliberately placed the bamboo sticks downwards towards their neighbour in the circle. They tried out moving together with these gestures in slow-motion, as a connected group, playing with the shapes that the bamboos made, now a diamond, now a square, the sticks over their heads. One person said a word, the other responded (an echo of the Venticelli groups in the Amadeus production), in and out of the long grass.
Group 2 were full of giggles and energy. They created a joint image while separated from one another, standing 2 m apart, twirling around to the next person, passing a message from one to the next (another echo of the Venticelli). Full of nervous energy, they moved by running then stopping and repeating the words. very effective outside and as a whole, but the energy was off-putting for me, slightly uncontrolled. I would have liked to manage things differently, but my energy was challenged too at this end of the day. Might I have asked for greater attention? Might I have suggested that we take a break and stay a bit longer?
In the end, I pushed to complete this task and finish up. I moved the plan along, asking the groups to interact with each other in the garden. Pretty quickly we went inside to record some audio with the groups, interacting sounds, call and response, playing with words and noises. I was happy that we reached some sort of intensity.
Recording the group
Our final task was a group photo. We even got some panorama shots for fun! A recording of the troupe as it was today.
It struck me later that the collective event I had anticipated didn’t happen like that but the priority or the strength lay in the individual work. Was that how I had handled it today? Or is this a metaphor for our current lives. Living together but separately? The group photos feel like that to me.