• JOE WOODWARD

Updated: Jun 20, 2020


“Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable. Time and place do not exist; on a significant bases of reality, the imagination spins, weaving new patterns; a mixture of memories, experiences, free fancies, incongruities and improvisations.” August Strindberg: "A Dream Play"


Dreams, the surreal and the grotesque provide the inspiration and the basis of great theatre. It is the disturbing element that compels as it repulses. There is euphoria in its terrifying atmosphere that can't be truly evoked in any other artistic medium. Yet it is this contradictory and paradoxical phenomenon that restores the humanity to artist and audience alike.


New Surrealist Adjunct to the Political


Surrealist art with its dreamlike juxtapositions in visual art can be just as relevant today as it was in the 1920s and 1930s. Less obvious is its relevance for live theatre. Though the two mediums are very connected.


Gao Xingjan, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000. His work was very much influenced by Brecht, Artaud and Beckett. However, the Communist Government persecuted him and forced the destruction of many of his early works. Gao Xingjan's works were deemed subversive of society and culture and theatre works were banned or closed down once achieving a production.


Like many Surrealists, his output was highly criticised by peers and critics. However, his response when looking at the relationship between Surrealism and works outside the dominant cultural contexts is as follows: Literature can only be the voice of the individual and this has always been so. Once literature is contrived as the hymn of the nation, the flag of the race, the mouthpiece of a political party or the voice of a class or a group, it can be employed as a mighty and all-engulfing tool of propaganda. However, such literature loses what is inherent in literature, ceases to be literature, and becomes a substitute for power and profit. (Gao Xingjian from his Nobel acceptance speech)


The Surrealist Connection


The featured image at the top of this page and the one just below are by Stefan Keller. His work features the imagination of distorted images as spoken about by August Strindberg nearly a hundred and twenty years ago.

"Girl in Broken Monuments" image by Stefan Keller

The dreamer in this case of the "Girl in Broken Monuments picture" is dwarfed by the salient image of the broken statue. Yet she is unconcerned. She stands also on a high platform of some kind with light at the centre of the picture coming form some distant source.


In the above image, the dreamer is taking a photograph of an animal which is emphasised only by the snout and head. Once again the human figure seems unconcerned by the absurdity of the distorted size of the creature. It seems perhaps to be dead. Yet it is still ominous and might otherwise be a terrifying sight.


So why is it disturbing? Logically it makes no sense. There is nothing realistically disturbing or upsetting; yet the images contain a disquiet that will touch anyone affected by them in totally different ways. The potential symbolism undermines cultural reality. It is essentially subjective and evoking different responses according to different personal experiences. The purist Surrealist is likely to stop there! Let there be no more discussion or attempt to objectively analyse the selection of imagery or symbols.


However, in theatre there is an opportunity to extend the surrealist attitude to theatre of cruelty, absurdist theatre and epic theatre; and indeed various combinations of each! I wish to explore this contention in relation to my own work as a writer and to demonstrate that in combination with spoken text, surrealist elements in theatre, in a contemporary setting, can explore potent aspects of culture and social interaction in ways that realistic theatre and naturalism cannot even go near or attempt.


APE, GEESE and BEYOND

APE


In 1979 I dreamed I was in fact an ape. I looked like an ape but spoke and otherwise acted like a human. I dreamt my parents were sad apes who were disappointed at their failing to be human and thus condemning me to ridicule and a life time where I would never fit in with society. I looked into their eyes behind their glasses and saw this sad expression that filled me with the strangest and ever continuing feeling that lingered well after waking up. In fact it stayed with me for weeks. While I could not explain it and could not find words to articulate what I was feeling, it inspired in me a desire to explore this strangeness in a play. This was before I had any real contact with Expressionist or Surrealist theatre works.


It resulted in the writing of "Brother Ape" since reworked as "Ape". In the play, a husband and wife known only as Poor Dear and My Love, cultivate an Ape as a family pet while trying to develop it into having human traits. They take it further into a sexual experiment with devastating consequences. The situation is totally absurd. The visual imagery of Brother Ape behaving as a human while still possessing animal characteristics provides comic and pathos inducing scenes. I would suggest it is still dreamlike. The dialogue from the husband and wife is purposely stilted and affected. The ape's growing consciousness makes him become more than simply a trickster for the family but a figure in his own right with a potential agenda that is separate from that of the couple.


While "Ape" still suggests a very subjective interpretive quality, the rewrite does in effect follow an almost tragedy narrative that is seemingly more conventional. This removes it from the original surrealism ideal while leaving the absurdist qualities. However, its genesis was surrealist. Many of the elements are surrealist. I suggest a surrealist approach is still a key to theatre creation.


GEESE


In 1969 I wrote a song, "Geese" that was recorded on a Sony reel-t0-reel in 1974. It linked nightmares with military might and George Orwell's "boot stamping on a human face—forever" (Click on the link to see a video of Orwell's final warning). The song linked absurd and surreal images of geese on my bed in the middle of the night and banshee-like screaming while then feeling the might of soldiers and armies waltzing while destroying the world.


In 2010, the bizarre song inspired a play that began in dreams and surfaced in Artaud's theatre of cruelty for a production of the same name, "Geese". It utilised Butoh, visual art created in real time, poetic language, song, outlandish sculpting of physical shapes and real cultural ritual to shape its presentation. It embedded biographical aspects of Antonin Artaud's experience of Balinese dance and the philosophical dreams inspired from France that influenced Leftist ideologies of the 60s and 70s.


Using the juxtapositions of a surrealist approach took the play from being a political work into a dreamlike fantasia. While dealing with a suicide pact that went wrong, it takes place in an imaginary nano-second as the central character dives from a railway platform in front of a moving train; disturbing the nearby geese that scatter at this point.


Peter Capaldi in his video on "Exploring the Surreal" includes a brief snippet from the original "Geese" production as an example of contemporary Surrealism. Rather than simply presenting a narrative about disappointed radicals and their life stories, surrealism allowed for a more subjective and open interpretive platform utilising the reference points offered. The oblique processing of history thus allowed for more penetration into the real humanity that underpinned the events recalled in "Geese".


As with "Ape" the dream feeling is more important for human beings to process than dry historical narratives; a place for history books and documentaries. The doco-drama is more suited to history than is theatre. Fictionalising events is basically unsatisfying. Surrealism allows for the underpinning and the messy human processing of emotions, feelings, memories and even factual events. "Geese" at least attempted this process.



AND BEYOND THE VIOLENCE


In 2017 a young man who worked in a Queanbeyan Service Station was killed by two youths on a rampage claiming to be inspired by ISIS. There was an initial outpouring of sympathy and support for his family. Flowers and other memorabilia were placed around the edge of the building and left there for a number of days. Then one day as I drove past, I noticed everything had been removed. There was no plaque, flowers, cross or anything to suggest that a tragedy had ever occurred. There was something about this that left me feeling very uneasy. Then I realised it linked to my work-in-progress on a play that had been gestating for a couple of years.


The title "And Beyond the Violence" was given initially to a "Without a Voice" presentation that was to be performed at Smiths Alternative in 2014 in Canberra. As the writing was unfinished and still unfocused, it was cancelled. While circling around political themes, there was no unifying element; though I wanted to focus on the semantics of political and social rhetoric and its divisive capability. I was also interested in the way violent action spawns further violence with competing sides all thinking that their violent actions and rhetoric are going to achieve their aims.


The Charlottesville killing in the USA on 12 August 2017 also helped to crystalise the themes of monuments and symbols to support political and social movement. The growing political extremes and the extent to which people and groups would go to achieve outcomes became an underlying grounding for the text.


But where is the surreal in all this?


In effect, everything is surreal. Human beings attached to agendas and action scenarios are really poaching from abstractions that make no objective sense. Patriotism, Nationalism and various Belief Systems are totally surreal concepts. Seen from an historical perspective, they become absurd. A character in "And Beyond the Violence" says there is NO "beyond". Violence simply IS. Get used to it.


Parker Andrews, the main protagonist, becomes a catalyst for ramping up the action of various agendas. Yet in her seeming passivity and her probable delusions, she brings about the internal combustion of violence itself. How is this presented on stage?


Only by using surrealist imagery and approach can there be any possibility for belief to be undermined and the seemingly self-evident destroyed! The play tries to use the clutter of mass media and social media bullshit as a backdrop in creating a canvas that is simply unreal though comprised of seeming real images; a clutter of sound and supposed sincerity to act like a waste dump and ground-fill used to support the construction of whole living villages of artistic expression!


Dreams Nightmares and Theatre


"God" by Stefan Keller

Can we force ourselves to step outside our own imposed universe to actually see alternative universes and viewpoints that have nothing to do with us? Is it possible? In the theatre, the well-made play has a controlled universe that starts, develops and concludes. It is a bundle that contains its own constructed truths with characters struggling to achieve ends that somehow conclude with the final curtain.


Without major distortion or the shock of unfamiliarity, the play, no matter how dramatic or engaging, will essentially reinforce the cultural and socially sanctioned ways of doing things and ways of seeing the world. It is essentially a conservative device no matter how radical the plot may be or how anti-establishment the themes!


Surrealist theatre and art change all of this. The sweet and the good become grotesque; real objects and situations become juxtaposed to become discordant and absurd; the mediums of art become interspersed with each other; the relationships between characters and sometimes with audiences and actors become liminal (ie. uncertain and at the point of absurd integration with space, time and medium). Surrealist art and theatre give us a sense of largeness and worlds beyond our reach and only accessed through imagination.


Surrealist thinking and output is never scientific and it undermines beliefs and faiths of all descriptions. It serves as a cultural washing machine. It speaks to individuals more so than whole cultures; although imagery may well be cultural specific in order to subvert the dogmatic and certainties that cultures tend to provide. Surrealist work is thus in a tension between individual and culture; as such it is easily attacked and potentially dangerous and highly subversive.


Surrealist work as described here has links to the origins of the Surrealism movement and figures such as André Breton, René Magritte, Max Ernst, Frida Kahlo, Luis Buñuel, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Antonin Artaud et al. However, it is certainly not defined by the past. To speak of Surrealism as a "movement" is a contradiction. A surrealist work is against the confines of a single movement. It has its own independence and its own outlook.


Luis Buñuel, who continued as an avowed Surrealist until his death in 1983: "always stayed true to those primary surrealist principles with which he most identified:

  • a spirit of revolt;

  • the subversive power of passionate love, both romantic and erotic;

  • a belief in the creativity of the unconscious (dreams and fantasies);

  • a pronounced taste for black humour; and,

  • last but never least, an abiding contempt for institutional religion and its representatives. 

Antonin Artaud articulated so much in the world of Surrealism, abandoned it and became highly critical of the "movement" and Breton particularly. Artaud rejected all notions of a "better world" or Utopia. The attempts to create such fantastical places would only lead to a dystopia. "Like Nietzsche and Buddha, Artaud saw suffering as essential to existence, and the price one must pay to become a complete human being." (https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Antonin_Artaud)


At one point, the Surrealist might appear to be advocating an essentially static universe with its absurdity and pointless need for change. On the other hand, it is an agent for re-seeing this universe and seeing it in a different light as if through a microscope or a telescope or even a time machine. Artaud's theatre also holds out the value and possibility for change in the microcosm of one's existence; while it condemns the idealist vision of macrocosm enforced changes. In this sense it is apolitical.


It is perhaps unfortunate that no matter how much our theatre practitioners might like to change the world, they risk madness if enforcing their narrow views on to audiences and culture. It isn't so much the particular belief system or specific beliefs themselves that are the problems. Rather it is the very notion of "belief" itself that is problematic. Surrealist theatre attacks this virus of arts practice with a vengeance that draws attacks but which needs to be sustained and promulgated.


It asks us to trust our dreams and encourage the nightmares. It is the antidote to fundamentalist religious practice and ceremony. It is the blatant opposition to the bully and to the oppressive regimes without ever attempting to mirror such regimes once in power. It is fully aware of the giant foot of false certainty and belief that stamps on the natural environment and the isolated human being in an infinite universe. It is the attraction for an audience thirsting for a substance that is at once compelling as it is in opposition to the clutter of their everyday lives ...


Joe Woodward


















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  • JOE WOODWARD

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

Choices for playwrights, directors and actors in theatre and in education

Blinded and deafened by ideology and cultural straitjacketing, theatre has the potential to be an inconsequential adjunct to the closet of humanity.



What does it take to put oneself or any content in front of an audience?

To answer this we come back to theatre’s value and purpose. What is its role within a culture and society? Imagine theatre’s function is really that of the Elizabethan version of the All Licensed Fool. He was supposed to challenge the thinking of the Queen or King. Others might have risked death by doing so. The ruler was able to see what was hidden beneath the veneer created by sycophants and cultural perceptions. In some cases the All Licensed Fool was actually whipped if he was not truthful enough. Today, theatre can provide the same function.

Considerable skills and attitudes needed

Children are often chosen for main roles in school presentations because of talented traits. They can be loud, extroverted, imaginative and physically dexterous. Such qualities though are not necessarily enough to qualify for acting. The child comes to believe what they have been told. So the situation becomes worse. Parents, teachers and friends delight in telling the precocious child how talented they are. One day they will be in the movies! Things change. Reality sets in. The child becomes an adolescent. The idea of a career in acting becomes laughable. It is time to get a job. Acting can still take place in the community, if not as a career. So the myth of talent can be integrated into the safety of amateur theatre. There is nothing wrong with this. I’m sure the world would be a better place if more people participated in creating theatre for whatever reason. But where in this is the commitment to theatre as cultural vitality?

The artist and the narcissist

I wrote about the phenomena of “lock-out” and “lock-in” in an earlier post. I suggested we consider a ratio of Letting Go and Control needed for an actor to work effectively in front of an audience. A performer needs to be more than a narcissist looking into one’s own image or identity. An actor is not a person who simply presents a moving picture. Acting requires more than control of techniques in voice and movement. It requires an attunement to space, sound, nuances in other actor responses and spectator involvement. Performers need a childlike playfulness that is open to total immersion in a focus. The narcissist, on the other hand, is preoccupied with seeing oneself and seeking the ego hit of adulation. Over-preoccupation with appearance and conceits of one’s technique block the creative and connecting flow so necessary for effective and high level performance. Waiting only for compliments and applause is deadly and indicates narcissism. Yet paradoxically this is what often triggers the desire to act. Too often aspiring young people try out for acting schools only to be rejected. It is a puzzle because they have achieved a lot in school and community productions by the time they leave school. They have done exhaustive acting classes; taken extra dance and movement classes; indulged in additional voice lessons; shown exemplary interest in their developing craft! But no success … Parents, teachers and friends cannot offer any real condolence.


The aspiring actor

The aspiring actor needs to be aware of what others think. However, they must also find the internal confidence to challenge the views of others while privately assessing their own progress. This requires an amazing degree of self-awareness and realisation. This is probably a most important aspect for any Drama school. But the aspiring actor’s need to realise this is paramount.

The subdued ego

In 1977 I began professional work at La Boite Theatre with the Early Childhood Drama Project (ECDP). We were never allowed to say something was good or bad. So the performance worked or it didn’t! It meant I had to clip my own egocentricity. I was in tears more often than I wish to admit. Breaking down one’s ego is painful. The actor must go through this process.


A certain kind of personality

So if you are offended by words, any words, don’t become an actor. Actors are like licensed fools who perform outside the limitations of social etiquette. They are willing to unselfconsciously objectify themselves in the acting space to present a huge range of figures and characters. The key word in this discussion is “unselfconsciously”. The actor is comfortable in being uncomfortable. So all realities on-stage and off-stage are viewed with scepticism and a degree of detachment. Even belief, faith and culture are up for healthy devil’s advocacy. So the actor possesses a personality imbued with what the poet John Keats described as “negative capability“.

Keats said “negative capability” is the "willingness to embrace uncertainty, live with mystery, and make peace with ambiguity". Obviously I am talking about some kind of ideal actor. But to be a sieve through which extreme realities and ideas may pass requires negative capability embedded in one's personality. An actor is a sieve; a conduit for conflicting and competing relationships and perspectives. The actor may or may not take on the qualities of the shaman and wander the desert to experience extremes of deprivation. However, the actor is in possession of unique qualities that separate them from the rest of society. By definition, the actor is an outsider. Like the Licensed Fool, the actor constantly lives with sharpened barbs that can be injected into quality performances.


On a personal note

I was initially drawn to theatre and acting when studying philosophy and sociology. Theatre seemed like an art form that was free and extolled social subversion while undermining authority. It released the binds of repression. Playfulness was a virtue. Theatre acknowledged the absurdity of existence. Yet, at the same time, revered the serious nature of human vulnerability. The tension  between the two provided the basis of art and artistic expression. I liked the fact that theatre had no specific allegiance to any faith or creed. Rather there was this phenomenological approach to everything it touched.

Theatre opens windows from the edifice of orthodoxy. It meant practitioners were able to adopt stances against the sacred cows of of the dominant culture. Therefore, nothing was off-limits: sex, politics, religion … and nothing was assumed.

However, acting was not for me. While I enjoyed many aspect of creating characters and stage relationships, I lacked the discipline for reproducing the psychological and physical demands made on actors. Perhaps I needed to spend those forty days in the desert to experience and discover the extreme negative capability of the shaman. I could never fully sacrifice the self on a regular basis. So much of what I have done when performing was really pretending!

Unfortunately, this is what too often passes for acting. And it shows up as mediocrity in our arts and in our cultural expectations.


So who should act?

Having said everything above, I can’t answer the question. I can only say what might be considered in making the decision to act. The actor is both artist and instrument. A decent acting school will hold up a mirror to the student and have them examine the reflection. Any instrument needs delicate skill and care. So it is for the actor. But how many young prospective actors are encouraged in their narcissism? How many understand the notion of sacrifice or the notion of being a conduit for ideas, relations, experiences etc? How often does the theatre mistake egoism for talent and the pretender for the actor? So, who should act?



And so too for writing and directing in theatre


There are no definitive answers! All I can suggest are questions and provocations for all of us working in the theatre. At base is the necessity to develop the healthy scepticism that is a part of negative capability. The die-hard "this is the one true belief" approach is counterproductive and detrimental to theatre creation and presentation. This thought applies to theatre education as much as performance.


Deadly theatre acts as if there is no dynamics in culture and social interaction. It reduces everything to a financial misconception that people only buy and value what is in the past and known. But this knowing is ill-conceived. While the bones of theatre might be present in the form of outdated and once-dynamic works, the flesh is gone and the living organism of theatre becomes non-existent. It is theatre presented in a vacuum suggesting it knows nothing, hears nothing and sees nothing.


Just as significant is theatre presented within tightly controlled ideological, religious and cultural parameters. This blinds the practitioner to any hope of actually revealing the underpinning realities of the world. While there are issues around cultural appropriation, it is only through stepping outside one's cultural straitjacket that seeing and knowing about one's existence can really take place. Theatre is a key avenue in this process.


So in approaching theatre as a practitioner, teacher or student or even as a member of the public, we need to be cognisant of the world and what is happening in order to process the artifice that is our medium. The reality of the present needs to inform our paradigm creation for the development and presentation of theatre.


Probably no leading practitioner exemplifies such a notion more than Peter Brook.


So as Peter Brook says: 'You change things not by preaching but by doing – just get on your horse’. (Michael Billington: THE GUARDIAN (2017). Say no more!

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Updated: Jun 20, 2020




Vital strategies for "Letting Go" in preparation of performance


Toxicity is not about techniques. It's not about actor training. It IS about the emotional straitjacket that impairs the creative process and cooperative spirit. I will be presenting over the course of the year some on-line workshops for actors and anyone wishing to increase their creative capacity. Later in the year live practical workshops in releasing the emotional toxicity within the individual will offer participants an inclusive experience of exercises and discussion on this vital topic. In this article I intend to outline the paradigm through which such activity will take place.


Releasing from a Theatre of Cruelty


Artaud's contradictory Theatre of Cruelty involves more than the development of techniques and approaches to theatre practice, development and presentation. While there are probably unlimited approaches abounding in the area, the underlying necessity is a shift in one's thinking about the social / cultural constructions of reality. It might be a long shot to suggest that releasing toxicity has anything to do with a Theatre of Cruelty. However, there is a strange logic to this suggestion.


The human being's contradictory self protective and aggressive natures are manifest in the behaviours which locks out threats to the system (be it self, family, group, culture or society) while locking in personal opportunities and creativity. The greater the need to lock out threats, then the greater is the likelihood of violence and war! The greater the need to lock in personal opportunities and creativity, the greater is the likelihood of neurosis and related diseases!


I am not a psychologist. I am a theatre director and teacher. Over four decades I have made discoveries that benefit students of Drama. From experience with actors and theatre practitioners in both a professional and community setting, I have made discoveries that I have found insightful and helpful. I trust you might find them helpful as well. By relating the concepts of LOCK OUT and LOCK IN to emotional toxicity, strategies can be put in place to assist the actor or the creative participant to release oneself from the binds of cultural and personal straitjacketing.


What is the LOCK-OUT / LOCK-IN Continuum?


LOCK-OUT for the actor results in aggressive even tantrum behaviour in rehearsals and an inability to open up for suggestion to re-evaluate possibilities for a role or a way of approaching a work. It results in overly protective behaviours placing a shield around the performance and approach to rehearsal and preparation while working with others. The conceit and vanity of the actor over-rides any sense of development or play. Semantics are used with acidic effect to deflect criticism and ensure such an actor is the centre of the stage universe rather than a contributor to a collective picture. Most of us have worked with such people ... perhaps we are all guilty of it at some time!

Some LOCK-OUT actors survive by displaying exquisite technical skills or audience pulling power. Others are very good at auditioning and providing a completed package at the point of first contact. Unfortunately, this is too often the sum total of what is going to be offered. Their range is so restricted by personality factors that LOCK-OUT mechanisms ensure they have to justify and defend very fixed positions at every phase or turn of a rehearsal, workshop or development phase. Their view of what is required cannot be challenged without a fight. No vulnerability will ever be deliberately revealed. And the vulnerabilities of work colleagues will be seen as weakness to be exploited in rounds of inter-personal games playing. When given research tasks or additional reading, the LOCK-OUT actor smugly assumes it is not necessary and so either doesn't read the text or only reads enough so as to illustrate their proficiency.

LOCK-IN results in similar behaviours but for different reasons and with different nuances. The LOCK-IN actor always has a problem; a problem involving a precarious emotional state that needs to be injected into the rehearsal and performance space. The lock-in actor often takes the persona of a perfectionist. But this only results in constant break down while attempting tasks and a refusal to commit to the moment. The headiness of the LOCK-IN actor is often more frustrating than the smugness of the LOCK-OUT actor; though both are very jarring in a development process. Phrases like "I'm confused" or "I just don't get it" or half completed sentences like "Look, I ..." or the dreaded "Ah, but wait a minute" with a shake of the head followed by silences are some observable features of the lock-in actor.

One always has a sense that the real issue is not within the focus of the work at hand but in some unstated inner personal turmoil of the actor. Unlike the LOCK-OUT actor, the LOCK-IN actor is in constant need of personal attention and support. The rehearsal or workshop process becomes a therapy excuse where the focus is not on the work at hand but on the personal connection with an incomprehensible universe. Is this us at some stages in our approach to theatre?

At some stage in an acting life, most of us have probably veered towards one of these ends of the LOCK-OUT/ LOCK-IN continuum. As a director, I prefer to avoid engaging actors with either of these characteristics. However, in truth most of us display such recognisable characteristics in certain circumstances. Directors also display the same tendencies. As do writers, designers, administrators, technicians etc.!


LOCK-IN and LOCK-OUT are emotional toxicities that call for awareness of their inhibiting characteristics. And both are indicative of an inability to let go and be open to uncertain, ephemeral and creative risk taking venturing.


Letting Go and the Floating Balloon

Through the LOCK-OUT / LOCK-IN model we can formulate a Control and Letting-go Acceptance ratio within individuals and groups. Whether the problem is one of LOCK-OUT or LOCK-IN, the underpinning issue is one's need for control. One's need to control outcomes may lead to committed practice of key skills or actions. However it can also lead to misplaced tightening up and locking of the moment; killing the very essence of theatre. It can actually lead to the embedding of emotional toxicity into one's body and psyche.

Much of our world is a theatre of cruelty exemplified through:

  • pollutants in the atmosphere,

  • crippling diseases,

  • struggles for acceptance and survival,

  • power elites that profit from wars while devastating the planets' resources,

  • racist laws and traditions,

  • child abuse,

  • the powerful wielding controls over the powerless,

  • criminal undermining of law and human rights

  • torture

  • natural disasters ... etc etc ...

The struggle to exist and thrive within this expanded real world theatre leads to the shielding of one's vulnerability and to the internalising of the toxic world that surrounds us. While we might call this "socialisation" we might also see it at "neurosis"!


At heart there is a need to control the flow of information that each one of us gives out. The need to control and feelings of being out of control are very real, though often deceptive, factors in the everyday discourse.

On balancing a balloon

One exercise I have found to really practice and help check the toxicity associated with LOCK-OUT and LOCK-IN involves the use of balloons. Working with a balloon ensures an ephemeral appreciation and experience that cannot be as easily gained with other devices. A ball can be controlled. A stick can be controlled. A balloon, balancing on the skin requires much more give and take and an adaption to variability and uncertain behaviour. The balloon doesn't necessarily follow one's directions.


Balloons hold a key to illustrating a Control / Acceptance Ratio in ephemeral presentation; theatre being an ephemeral art! Acting is an ephemeral art. It exists only at the moment of its construction. It is a paradoxical art requiring preparation yet an ability to respond at the moment of stimulus. This simple utility can be used as a gauge of an actor's temperament for handling of the ephemeral necessity of theatre; those aspects that cannot be rehearsed, fixed and controlled.

But why should an actor waste time balancing balloons to explore beyond the confines of the body when most of our thinking is about control. Control of our bowls, control of our voice, control of our reading, control of our movement, control of our delivery of lines, control of our presentation of self, control over our role, control of our image. And more!

And the audiences are also about control. They are being educated to control the artists and what the artists deliver on stage. Through controls on funding and even over reality TV and shows like Australian Idol, there is the encouragement to make the artist like the gladiator striking down mercilessly all opponents until there emerges just one who soars for a few moments before being discarded and forgotten. Is this democratising art?

All this can be confusing and cluttering. So the actor needs time to forget for a while about the end product and the need to make a living and vie for the next job. So in moments of personal time or as part of acting workshops or simply in the morning before the day begins, spend creative time on on preparing the psyche, the emotions and the mind-frame.


Key balloon exercises


Take a balloon or two balloons.


  • Blow them up

  • Humm into one balloon and feel the vibrations

  • Keep humming until the vibrations are strong

  • Then balance the balloon on your finger tips

  • Keep contact with the balloon (push too hard and it bounces away; apply not enough pressure and it falls over)

  • Then try it with two

  • Then try it with eyes closed

  • Keep building with it

  • Feel the maddening desire to be done with them

  • But persevere

  • When you discover that thin line between control and letting go, that is the point at which to begin releasing one's own fears of being a performer

  • Then allow for the mesmeric state of flow to absorb you and take you into the silent meditative world of just being

  • Just try it

  • Then see if the above makes any sense for you.

Openness to creativity means learning more about ourselves and our working relationships. If we are actors, it requires more than superimposing some other world view or paradigm over a series of stage actions construed by a writer or director. Acceptance of our own violence, weakness, beauty and vulnerability are crucial for a work that subverts the theatrical in order to infect audiences with a virus of awareness and potential for change. But it starts with our own experience and awareness of the ephemeral nature of the act of creation.

Personal awareness of the Control and Letting-go ratio within ourselves results in an amazing freeing up of performers to journey where-ever the work leads. With such freedom comes an energy that is beautiful, frightening and infectious for the psyche of the individual; allowing the actor to lose the fear of words and personal exposure.

This cannot be achieved without a positive ratio of control and letting-go. Nor can it be achieved with the jarring of processes caused by the LOCK-OUT and LOCK-IN phenomenon.


In conclusion

I suggest taking two balloons, balance them on the back of outstretched hands, close the eyes and be still or walk ... but don't drop the balloons. Then contemplate an existence without the constraints of one's own body that is made brittle by unharvested emotions; then "dance inside out as in the frenzy of dance halls and this wrong side out will be his real place." (Antonin Artaud: To Have Done With The Judgement Of God).

DO THE LETTING GO WORKSHOP on Sat 24 Oct 2020 at 10.00am. Click HERE for more information and booking. Venue will be in Canberra but TBA!


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