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