Thursday, 4 August 2011

Peggy's Thursday

Post by Peggy Baker

all of us REALLY feeling the effects of the "world's most beautiful sit-ups"
yes, strangely and surprisingly powerful
a super condensed and vigorous warm-up
Deb's music distracting us from the labour of exertion is the most wonderful way
so much accomplished in four sessions
and so many possibilities suddenly opening for expansions and developments of the projects we embarked on
but time is up
maybe more sessions next time?...
looking forward to seeing all of these terrific actors on stage!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Inside the Conservatory: Viewpoints with Michael Greyeyes

Post by Conservatory student Tara Beagan

Michael Greyeyes has harnessed this incredible moment in his Viewpoints classes. He introduced the 2011 Volcano sessions with it, and he brought the small group back to it at the start of each day. Every body poised to take a collective step. Listening, feeling, and breathing in harmony with artists hardly known to you, there is a communing.

You know that moment, sitting in a theatre, when the house lights dim noticeably, and the whole room scrambles to turns ringers off, stash the program, or stow a bulky winter jacket comfortably? The murmurs settle ever further down until there is a shared breath of silence – an expectant inhale. In that brief moment lives potential.  For that dark and delicious second or two, every capacity held by human life hovers in the air, offering itself for the taking.

When a class begins with this feeling, you know it’s going to be worth your while. It was. Do yourself a favour and find out for yourself, next year. 

Peggy's Wednesday

Post by Peggy Baker

turned off the fans for a guided meditation and visualization
adding some work down on the floor to intensify the warm-up material
complex patterns traveling forward, sideways and backwards along a circular pathway
super vigorous
realized the fans had been off for more than 90 minutes
beginning to investigate relationships among the actors during the intricate floor patterns developed walking "personal maps"
something powerful suddenly emerging through the action/interaction

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Peggy's Tuesday

Post by Peggy Baker

exerting our muscles and raising our heart rates to warm-up, to increase mobility, and to strengthen our bodies
working with facings rotating off and around the leg we're standing on
working with circular pathways on the horizontal plane: feet, pelvis, rib cage
trajectories forward, back, and side along pathways oriented to a downstage edge
staccato punctuation to break a state and clean the expressive slate

Peggy's Monday

Post by Peggy Baker

focusing on action and rhythm to warm-up with generous range of motion in a very small space
a democratic idea of about where/what is front
Deb on a drum kit framing our group movement with a fluid idea of time
a quick mapping of our passage through life thus far and by the end of two hours everyone had danced in unison, randomly together and then alone

Inside the Conservatory: 2 Days of Movement for Actors

Post by Conservatory student Mackenzie Muldoon

Overall, I think my body feels more alive than it does sore, but that's not to say it isn't sore. It is - just a delicious sort of sore.

I have just traced a diagram of my path in my notebook. It is the path I created from the ideas Peggy Baker fed us and it is a path that jumps around the globe, the continent and the GTA. In my notebook it looks like a very abstract version of connect the dots. I love that Peggy is leading us to create in ways I would never have considered and yet that seem to come so naturally from within. As I look around the room to see what others are finding I am in awe of the beauty coming from each and every one of my classmates. Yet, it seems so effortless. Okay, okay...alright. ;0)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Fitzmaurice Voicework

Post by Noah Drew

I’ve just arrived in Toronto, after a week in Barcelona at the first international conference of Fitzmaurice Voicework.

Founder Catherine Fitzmaurice and Master Teacher Saul Kotzubei, about 15 Associate and Assistant Teachers (including myself), and around 40 workshop participants from all over the world gathered at the Barcelona Institut De Teatre. Sessions were taught in both English and Spanish, with smatterings of Catalan, French, Russian, German and Japanese bubbling up here and there as people worked.

In the evenings, there were performances which ranged from naturalism to stylized imagistic theatre, in voices that were sometimes simple and authentic, sometimes soaring, sometimes wild, animal-like song. Sometimes breath was the only voice... and the breath was itself a whole language.

Fitzmaurice Voicework is very much about allowing your own moment-to-moment experience -- your spontaneous  individuality -- to be present in your voice, so that the listener feels connected to you when you speak.

Looking ahead to the weekend of teaching at the Volcano Conservatory, I find myself thinking a lot about the idea of community. Because it’s actually, in many ways, what the voice is for. We have this tiny organ in our throats that has the astonishing ability to translate what we are thinking, feeling and imagining through the air and into the bodies of people around us.

When we speak or sing, our bodies and the bodies of our listeners vibrate together, move in sync on a cellular level. And this shared vibration -- when it is allowed to be full of ourselves, our needs, our longings, our humour, our passions and our brilliance -- does something simple and remarkable: it helps us be less alone.

Noah Drew teaching Fitzmaurice Technique
But here’s the thing... we live in a culture in which many of us have learned from a very young age that certain sounds are not okay, because the feelings and ideas those sounds carry are inappropriate. For some of us, it might be that sadness seems weak; for others, aggression is taboo; for some of us, anxiety or confusion are shameful; for others, it might be our sexual energy that we’ve learned to suppress in many circumstances. Et cetera. So we have learned to sculpt our vocal sounds to keep these feelings and energies out of the voice. But that’s hard to do, since the basic physiological function of the voice is to reveal what we’re experiencing. So, many of us have learned to lock away or put to sleep the parts of our bodies that feel the forbidden feelings, to not experience certain parts of ourselves at all. Problem “solved."

Oddly (and frustratingly), this can sometimes be especially true in performers. As we learn vocal skill (“good” singing sound, for instance, or “good” articulation), it can be so comforting to have a “correct” way of making sounds that we sometimes end up showing our skills rather than revealing our selves -- vocal training actually helps some of us hide more effectively. The result may well be a voice that is impressive. But without spontaneous honesty being allowed into the mix, that impressive voice rarely moves us.

Noah Drew
In this weekend of Fitzmaurice Voicework, we’re going to fold and unfold the body in some ways that will help us reawaken parts of ourselves that may have become numb or frozen. We’re going to work on letting the breath be free and responsive so that our vocal work is alive and spontaneous (Catherine likes to say, “Breathing is meaning!”). And we’ll work on allowing more and more of our selves, our humanity, into the sounds we make. We’re going to investigate how to let the voice truly be a conduit between performer and listener, a kind of field that excites us together, calms us together, moves us together. We want our audience to listen, and feel like, “Something that matters is happening RIGHT NOW. And I’m a part of it.”

Monday, 25 July 2011

Photo Update: Conservatory Snapshots, July 22-24

The 2011 Volcano Conservatory kicked off on July 22. Take a look at some of the goings on at the Pia Bouman School:

Suzuki Method, with Michael Greyeyes

Viewpoints, with Michael Greyeyes

Something From Nothing, with Quinn Bauriedel


Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Drop Out

Post by Peggy Baker

I'm a theatre school drop-out - University of Alberta - striding in the door of Corbett Hall with illustrious classmates including Bob Baker and Janet Laine Green in the fall of 1970 and, following an unanticipated, cathartic realization, out the door and off to study dance in Toronto in the fall of 1971. But the influence of those acting classes with Tom Peacock and theatre design aesthetics with Gwen Keatley remain crucial, primary influences.

These four mornings with the Volcano Conservatory are a chance for me to share possibilities for a physical practice suitable for the dressing, wings or hotel room, and to offer ideas and materials concerning:

1) the interior experience / relaxation, excitement, sensation, impulse, motive, awareness

Photo:  V. Tony Hauser 
2) sphere of influence / gesture, action, pathways, trajectories, levels, place, inside and outside, away and toward, calculation and spontaneity

Photo: Chris Hutcheson
3)  time / rhythm, tempo, acceleration, deceleration, modulation, dynamic

Photo: Chris Hutcheson
Nervous, excited. Hoping it won't be too hot.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Little Blond Girl Dancing...

Post by Cynthia Ashperger

Dr. Cynthia Ashperger discusses how she applies Chekhov technique to her role in Drew Hayden Taylor’s The Berlin Blues (at 4th Line Theatre until July 23):

Before I get on the stage every night I do the Staccato/Legato exercise. It is a very simple exercise which focuses on the six directions in space (left, right, up, down, forward, back) and two very different qualities of movement – staccato and legato. I HAVE to do this before every show. It is a diagnostic tool for me: how am I hitting the neutral between the directions? How is my speed in staccato? Am I rushing the legato? How is the breathing? What hurts? It is also an energy generator and every time I finish I feel a renewed sense of clarity.

Then I start working on the actor’s Ideal Body – strong legs, clear head and open heart. Once that is done I expand/contract a few times. If there is still sense of heaviness or any kind of frustration I amplify that sensation and physicalize it until it takes me into characterization. After I get to know this bothersome part through playing it out I try to find out how I can use it in the show. Or at the very least I try to accept it.

I put on my high heels and climb up the stairs. Just before getting onto the stage, I think of Chekhov’s four loves: love for our profession, love for the part, love for my creation of this role and love for the audience. I do this every day.

Then I imagine what quality I want to give and get beyond the threshold – on the stage. Am I working for sense of play, joy, humour, fun, listening, speed, giving, taking, energy or presence? And so on. This is different every day. Some days I just listen to the show and come on without giving myself a task.

Nigel Shawn Williams, Cynthia Ashperger and Yanna McIntosh in Volcano's production of Hedda Gabler. (Photo: John Lauener)
My character center is in the WILL part of the character – the STRONG LEGS. In the course of the show I will also imagine the archetypes that I am working with – The Fool, The Goddess, The Devil – and the image of the character as the Little Blond Girl Wearing a Native Indian Dress who is dancing. I will call these up when I need them before a scene or even during one.

During the show if I feel that I am floating away and not listening to my partners I deliberately try to open up the energetic corridors between myself and the partner(s). I also very much listen to the audiences reaction and try to get to know them as a group.

Chekhov said use all the elements of the technique, use some or none – depending on what you need for a given role. To me, the technique is there for me to rely on it. It is my friend and sometimes when I am at a loss I even have a little conversation with the spirit of Mr. Chekhov as to what I should be doing next. He is always most helpful. Often he just tells me to relax and to play. Very easy going… that Mr. Chekhov.

Cynthia Ashperger at the 2010 Volcano Conservatory

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Devising Theatre as Music...

Post by Quinn Bauriedel

To me, theatre is a poetic art form.  The entire premise is not particularly natural - actors pretending to be someone they are not, designers making a space that is only half-finished, audiences suspending disbelief to enter the world of the play.  This is, in many ways, what we sign on for as theatre makers.  We are in the make-believe business, representing life onstage, but somehow allowing that life to be treated: condensed, expanded, stylized, sharpened.

Pig Iron Theatre's "Welcome to Yuba City" - Directed by Quinn Bauriedel
The theatre I enjoy doesn't show me back a one-for-one copy of life; it understands that what theatre can do best - better than movies, better than TV - is to play with life, to fantasize with it, to treat life poetically.  Yet most training only asks us to take one approach to the stage.  At this moment, I am interested in pushing theatre to its extremes, shaking up the conventions that bore us or that only serve to stimulate our sense of sentimentality and nostalgia.  The best way to do this is to train an actor's sensitivity to the real potential for the theatre.  I am interested in the musicality of bodies onstage, the use of a visual and sculptural language to create meaning in the theatre, and the use of metaphor and double-images to begin to layer and add dimension to the art form.
Pig Iron's "Chekhov Lizardbrain" - Directed by Dan Rothenberg
Last summer I saw a piece in Avignon, Papperlapapp, by Christoph Marthaler, designed by Anna Viebrock.  In nearly 3 hours, they evoked the spirit, ghosts, contradictions and mysteries of the Palais des Papes, utilizing the many vocabularies of theatre.  The space itself could transform from modern day to 15th century; actors seemlessly moved from one era to another and exquisitely transformed from a character into a member of the chorus.  What delighted me most about this production was the use of music.  There was music - mostly sung by the performers, occasionally played on live piano and once or twice augmented with amplified recorded music - from start to finish.  The chorus supported the action onstage with soft singing as though, when no one is in a space, the space itself still sings.  I think that the theatre is a space like this.  We can think of the theatre space as an instrument that we must play; we do not sing in it, we make it sing.  We resonate the space, we create tension in it, we pluck its strings.  Marthaler's work began a line of inquiry for me in the specifics of the relationship between music and theatre.  I grew up playing harpsichord in an orchestra and acting in plays.  But they always remained separate pursuits.  Music had immense amounts of structure.  Theatre had a certain amount of freedom.  Classical musicians were a bit nerdy and were good listeners, actors were a bit gregarious and needy.  I had the ying and the yang.  But more recently, I have really begun to feel that the two can really unite in a single space during a single performance.  They both thrive on the work of the ensemble, they are both poetic pursuits.  They both require listening, sensitivity and the following of impulses.  Marthaler's piece helped me think about how to bring these two worlds together.

Avignon Festival's "Papperlapapp", created by Christoph Marthaler and Anna Viebrock

Thus, when I begin work or begin a workshop, I want to train actors and theatre-makers to think a bit like musicians.  I want their bodies to have an understanding of crescendoes, chords, sustenuto, staccato, codas and denouments.  I want them to think about the rhythms of the theatre, the vibrations of the space.  These tools can then be deployed in the making of original work which might have the content of a play - the stories, themes and characters that form the backbone of theatre - mixed with the structure of music: surges, phrases, arcs, rhythmic variations, etc.  To me, there is a handshake worth exploring and this inquiry will fuel the Volcano Conservatory workshop that I will lead this week.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Suzuki Technique

Post by Michael Greyeyes

To be honest, I was a little scared of Suzuki, when I first approached it.  David Smukler, a colleague at York, had travelled to Toga, Japan to work with Suzuki's company and described the intensity of the training.  They train in the mountains and David said he would often soak his lower legs in one of the mountain streams that ran through the complex.  I was worried.  When I was still dancing I had severe stress fractures in my shin and was not looking forward to the stomping, which I heard was integral to the work.  Maybe I could "fake" stomp or do it at half the speed.  I'd figure it out once I got to New York and started the training with Leon, Akiko and Ellen and the other teachers at SITI.

Mid-way through the first class, covered in sweat, my thighs shaking uncontrollably, my breath labouring in the sweltering July heat, I realized there was more to it than stomping.  It was an internal practice.  And it energized me as much as I gave to it.  By the end of the first class, my body felt like it was alive for the first time in years.  It was strange.  I trained as a classical ballet dancer and, for those who have done it, there's a place you get to at the end of class where your body is completely warm, ready to try anything.  Fast forward, not having taken a dance class is 10 years, I found that same feeling at the end of the Suzuki session.  My body was on fire, my senses were taut, and I was exhilarated to be so connected to my body and breath.  I wanted to feel like that all day.  For the first time in my life, I had found a physical practice that made me feel the way I felt as a young professional dancer.  And in that class was literally every body type, every training background - dancers, actors, designers, writers, musicians - and we all felt the same way.  You could see it in our eyes.

When I returned to Canada, I wrote David immediately to tell him of my experiences.  He wrote back, "Ahhh, another convert!"   He was right.  I had found a new practice, one that combined my need for physical truth with an intellectual focus upon acting and performance.  And the stomping?  After the first stomp, I realized that it wasn't painful - in fact, it connected me to the ground in a profound way.  With every stomp I became more powerful, more connected.  And I haven't stopped since.

Suzuki Actor Training

Allied with other body-centered acting practices (Grotowski, as a foremost example), visionary director Tadeshi Suzuki realized that 20th century theatre must reclaim the physical power of the performer.  My friend and former colleague, David Rotenberg, talked about duende, a Spanish term describing a flamenco dancer's innate performance quality. Duende is something you either have or you don't; it comes from the inside. Suzuki is the only practice I know that seeks to challenge the actor's core, dragging out those innate qualities that make an actor great: courage, discipline and, above all, a greater sense of their own power.

Bharatanatyam & Beyond

Nova Bhattacharya (Photo: John Launer)
Bharatanatyam & Beyond (India) – Hmn I just discovered the “(India)” on the Volcano website! Yes, technically bharatanatyam originated in India.  I suppose that technically I too originated in India since my parents met there, (although conception definitely happed in Halifax, Nova Scotia).

But back to bharatanatyam...


Why does my class makes sense in the context of a theatre conservatory? 

There is a narrative element of bharatantyam. Abhinaya is a concept in Indian dance and drama derived from Bharata's Natya Shastra. Although now, the word has come to mean 'the art of expression,' etymologically it derives from Sanskrit abhi- (towards) + ni- (take), so literally it means a “taking towards” (the audience), or “transmission."  Sounds like a perfect fit for theatre folks... 
Nova Bhattacharya (Photo: Cylla Von Tiedemann)
One of the main pillars of my own choreographic research has been bringing bharatanatyam’s abhinaya technique into a more abstract realm. Although abhinaya is often equated with storytelling or mimesis, for me, it is inherently beyond a linear narrative.  It is about performance, about communicating with the audience, about connection. 

So my workshop will provide a practical introduction to the theatrical and mimetic aspects of bharatanatym (and yes, we’ll do some actual dance steps as well!).  We’ll go through facial exercises and expressions and the gestural language of the form.  We’ll investigate theory, practice storytelling, explore various character and emotional viewpoints as well as the archetypes of the form.  Then, the next day, we’ll blow it all apart and see what happens.


Bharatanatyam is a classical dance style from southern India which evolved out of street, court and temple dances.

In the early 19th century four brothers known as the Thanjavur quartet codified, catalogued, and developed the form which is recognized for its two streams of abstract and narrative dance.  
Nova Bhattacharya (Photo: Dianna Last)
My own training in bharatanatyam is entirely in the practical realm (I’m a dancer, not a scholar) and took place here, in Canada.  My last classical concert was in 2000.  Since then I have been focused on the creation of work based in the technique but placed in a contemporary aesthetic.  I’m not the only one: diaspora artists all over the world are creating work based in the form and the work of artists in India continues to evolve its expression as well.  All this to say that maybe Bharatanatyam & Beyond would best be described as originating in India AND Canada.