Well, naked of a mask, I should say… it’s becoming increasingly common these days to find me sans masque, delving into the glorious grotesque characterisations that epitomise Berkoff’s style of theatre. I’m warming up right now for another intensive workshop on Expressionist Theatre, as I get ready to travel south in a few weeks to East Sussex to my wonderful hosts @OffTheText. This one is for teachers – a fantastically fun CPD! Fancy joining us? You can find out more and book on our Acting and Professional Development Page.
It is great to be able to push participants to extremes: they are always surprised by the range their voices can cover and the expressionistic abilities of their own bodies. When pushed to explore the outer limits of the expressive potential of their bodies, faces and voices, performers start to reach the essence of what Steven Berkoff’s deliciously grotesque, expressionist theatre is all about. Great fun has been had playing with extracts from Berkoff’s plays looking at how all the techniques come together. Here’s some photos from recent workshops and a short clip of an extract from Berkoff’s ‘Kvetch‘:
My goodness it has been a hectic term. I have been in Henley, London, Warwickshire, Devon, Manchester, Birmingham and Gloucestershire delivering workshops at universities, schools, colleges and of course, two intensive full day masterclasses at The Actors’ Workshop in Bristol, plus I am delighted to also be teaching at Circomedia in Bristol now. Phew! I have to say, I am glad of a Christmas break, but loving the contact with such a variety of students.
I have been testing the water with samples of a new show that is in the offing, in its trial format as a one woman commedia troupe (!) and the feedback so far is very positive.
I am keen to incorporate a performance presentation element (ideally with two performers) into future commedia dell’ arte workshops as I find it helps participants enormously to be able to see the required energy, style and pace of commedia in action; it propels participants of a workshop to a far stronger starting position once they have this knowledge.
“We got to learn how a real practitioner worked in commedia and seeing it performed in front of me was way more understandable than just reading about it academically”
(UCL SELCS student)
“There is really no substitute when teaching commedia dell’arte to seeing it enacted live.”
Dr L. Sampson (Reader in Early Modern Italian Studies, UCL Italian Department)
What a lovely morning working on #Berkoff #Expressionism with an eager group of yr 12’s @Rednock_School. I do find it quite liberating to strip away the mask as a physical object from time to time to dive ‘naked’ into the #Berkovian-Aesthetic: the grotesque expressionism that our own faces are capable of; the intricate connection between face, breath, body and voice. Again, today, students surprised themselves with the range their voice could cover; the sounds that they could produce; the level of extremity their bodies could reach; the contortions possible with their own face muscles. The Berkoff mask is raw and corporeal. A play like Metamorphosis lends itself so brilliantly to grotesque expressionism and I find it such fun to apply techniques to and through this text to see where your imagination can take you. When we push ourselves to explore the outer limits of the expressive potential of our bodies, faces and voices, we start to reach the essence of what Steven Berkoff’s deliciously grotesque, expressionist theatre is all about. Berkoff explored the use of masks extensively in Commedia dell’Arte, Greek, Noh and Kabuki styles and it is with this understanding of the power and potential of the mask, that Berkoff advocates that we can strip away the mask as a prop because we each are born with a wonderfully versatile mask:
I believe that you don’t need anything more than just utter simplicity and that everything in my art must be created from the body onwards. The body and the voice. Everything else is an imposition and is an interference with the art of the actor: if it’s too many lights, too many props. So the simplicity with me is that I return the art of the actor to the actor; not give it to the sets or give it to the props or give it to the costumes or give it to the lights. But give it to the performer.
(Interview, Japanese Television; Salomé videotape, British Theatre Museum, cited by Craig Rosen, Ph.D. in his essay Creating the “Berkovian” Aesthetic – an analysis of Steven Berkoff’s Performance Style, Chapter V)
A great opportunity is coming up, thanks to my friends at #Fourth Monkey who are hosting #CommediaMaestro, #AntonioFava. Fava will lead a four day intensive workshop (29th Oct-1st Nov), as well as perform a run of his new production “Pesteccorna/Pestes Y Cuernos” (Poxes and Horns) in which Fava himself is performing. Fava has taught me so much and is one of my greatest sources of inspiration – surely, you don’t want to miss this rare opportunity to see the great man in action? There’s an early booking offer so check it out this weekend to get the reduced rate on the workshop (book by Oct 2nd). Here’s a link to all the info and booking: http://www.fourthmonkey.co.uk/book-tickets/
What an end to a great, fun show today at #Beaudesertpark. #TroubleInnParadise has been non-stop laughter from beginning to end and even today we were finding new comedy and gags. True improvisational spirit; keeping it fresh; #commediadellarte lives! Huge thanks to Alex and Mark for their graft, passion, energy and commitment, and also to Hannah, who stepped up when we most needed her, and to Caroline, who gave me the drive to make this happen and took breaking a leg a little too literally… Without you, there’d be no Trouble Inn Paradise! Onwards my friends to the next project – it’s already underway!
Looking forward to an energetic morning at #BeaudesertParkSchool tomorrow. It’s been a journey not free of trouble with ‘Trouble Inn Paradise’ with a broken knee and change of characters, as well as several changes of actors, but laughter has been shared in bucket loads and today we’re rehearsing for our final show in the run. It’s been a blast! What next? Well we’ve already started devising. More news to come soon!
You either have it or you don’t. That is what we are led to believe. Certain actors have the innate ability to compel without words, projecting an aura that makes an audience hold its breath.
In training with Philippe Gaulier, very few students ever impressed him. Failure became a daily occurrence. What was he looking for? ‘I will know it when I see it. You must find it. You must have pleasure.’
Playing a bouffon clown in class one day, I waited outside the door for the command to enter. Unsure of what would happen beyond the door, my mind raced: I could burst into song; I could trip over my feet … Each time I thought I had nailed it, I was greeted with ‘You leave!’
Seven times I entered, seven times I was sent back to re-enter: ‘Again! With pleasure!’
By the tenth time, I was frustrated, fuming and feeling utterly vulnerable. My mind was a fog of emotions unable to conjure any ideas. I threw the door open and furiously entered: ‘Alright! This is all I’ve got!’
This is an extract from an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Theatre, Dance and Performance Training on 20/07/17.
Here’s an idea for next academic year to help you and your students get to grips with set texts and find confidence in physical theatre: I’ve just updated the Education Workshops page with workshops on Accidental Death of An Anarchist, The Servant of Two Masters and Berkoff’s Expressionist Theatre. I have loved working on the specific detail of these texts this year to bring them to life with students. And getting stuck into Berkoff and expressionism has unleashed a whole new raft of ideas to share. I can’t wait to share them with you! Book me in early to benefit from this year’s workshop prices 🙂
Thanks to a wonderful group of performers for a brilliant, high energy day of Commedia dell’Arte last Saturday. I always love to work with new people as I find I learn so much from you. The day brought together academics, actors, teachers and others seeking a new experience in a fantastic mix that resulted in funny, engaging scenes, hilarious characterisation and fervent discussion. The true art of comedy can be discovered when we play the stock characters in performance and explore the relationship with the audience. As was observed by several performers on Saturday, it is difficult to predict how donning the mask and stepping out from behind the backdrop will transform you; you become someone else in a way that can take both you and the audience by surprise. A pleasure to observe.
There is never enough time in a day though! There is much more to explore and so many more characters to learn about … so watch this space for the follow workshop!