by Howard Gayton
Friday, 25th November
This morning I had to exhort the actors to be actors and not rely on me to spoon–feed them with everything. This was sparked off by not being able to work with the actress playing the boy, because she seemed to be lacking some basic acting skills and the ability to take direction. I had to talk with her about her blocks, and to ask her to decide whether she really wanted to be an actor — and, if so, to take responsibility for her attitude. I know the problems arise because she is afraid,but it is very hard to work with. I’ve realised that our fairy tale is the story precisely of this thing: Does one decide to grow up or not? Do the students change into professional actors or not? Does the actress decide to go and find her ‘three sisters’ (the missing parts of herself) or not? This seemed to be the theme of the morning; I had to keep talking to the whole cast about attitude. It is taking us so long to get through scenes, and there are times when they are ‘not there.’
There is also a message in the story for me, of course — and much of this difficulty is also in me, in the way I work. The dark forest is inside myself. I trust that the show will come together, they always do, and we will put the time in to make it work, but . . . Have I taken on more than I should by making this an ensemble piece, so that everyone needs to be here all the time and I can’t send people off to rehearse individual scenes? How much of this is the ‘fault’ of the students, and how much is to do with me?I am used to directing professional actors, who can get on with things, who concentrate, and who can improvise. These are only students. Am I expecting too much? Doubts begin to surface in me, and I wonder if these are being projected outward. What is my own journey in this fairy tale, and do I have the ability to take responsibility and to find my own three sisters?
I know that I am prone to be light on things and to skip over things — especially in terms of text, for example. I work mostly on image, and atmosphere. Am I able to help actors to find emotion? I am not sure. There are weaknesses with my method, of course. It can produce good theatre, as I know from the past, and from some of the scenes I am seeing here; but there are weaknesses, and the dark forest shows those weaknesses up. We could do with more time, and to not have so many disruptions mid–week . . .but we have the time we have.
Later in the day . . .
I am seeing some real change starting to happen. The actress I talked to this morning had a completely different attitude this afternoon, and started to understand what I had been talking about. There are times now when some of the cast are doing what is necessary to create their own journeys through the show. Some of the actors are picking up and expanding on the images we have created, with a new commitment to ‘being there’ and filling in the roles, and not just ‘walking through’ the scenes because that is what they have been blocked to do.So there is good stuff in my process after all, and it connects to the student’s lives in a very deep way. They will be better performers as a result of this process. They are beginning to wake up, one by one, and I need to be careful not to crush this, just as it is starting to come through, by being over–critical.
It is, though, a very different feeling from where I was this time last week, when things were flowing and the cast was really productive. Maybe the actors are simply burnt out, as the creativity this week has been lacking.
Nuno and I discussed these ideas tonight, wondering whether we should point out to the cast that the play relates to their own journey through life, and their life in relation to their art. Will they change and mature, like the hero of the story; will they transform from students into actors? I know that some of them already see this, but I don’t want them to have to ‘think’ too much at the moment. We will talk about it at the end of the process. At times, the students have a tendency to talk about what could be done when they are working on scenes,rather then actually trying things. This is no way to get work done, because the theoretical conversations go round and round in circles! Getting up and trying ideas — that is the only way to find out if they work.
On Monday, we are going to plaster the rehearsal room with positive affirmations.
Saturday, 26th November
I was awake most of last night, thinking about the show. I’ve decided that I have not explained properly to the performers what it is that I require from them in this part of the process. For example, I expect them to be filling in and shading their individual characters themselves. But it seems clear that they have not been trained in this way, so it is silly of me to just expect them to know what to do. I need to give them guidance on this further aspect of the work. This has been a miscommunication, for which I must take responsibility.They must endeavour to find the ‘through line’ of their own performance, and to work this out on their own — but I must first show them how to do this.
One of the strong themes of the show is about making the decision to grow up, to pass on to the next life phase, and to take self–responsibility. This process is, of course, taking place in all our lives, and this weekend I am finding ways that it is challenging me in mine.
I’ve been studying the Tarot, and images that relate to the Tarot that have come up strongly in the work so far have been The Fool and The Tower:
The Fool represents setting out on the journey. He steps over the edge without really looking where he is going. The soul’s journey starts here, on its voyage through all the processes of the Tarot’s major arcana. The fool is naive, but also fearless, because he does not know what lies ahead.
The Tower, on the other hand, represents ground–shaking, dramatic change. Things are broken and shaken from their moorings with this card, which is one of the most powerful and frightening of the Tarot deck. The process of the destruction of old patterns can be terrifying to live through, yet will eventually lead to new growth.
Since these are the two cards that, in many ways, we are all playing with at the moment, it is no wonder that the process is challenging us so much. I have to break through patterns in myself, and the cast members, likewise, are each going through their own ground–shaking Towers. The show is proving to be very deep in terms of life process. I am starting to see this way of working with fairy tales as a good technique for understanding them, and further, as an embodiment of their teachings in ones own life. To be so intimatelyclose to the fairy tale images involved, to be dealing with transformation in this way, and to explore a tale physically, emotionally, and vocally in such a conscious way, is bound to bring about deep awareness and change within ones being.
Sunday, 27th November
I have had further realisations today. Again, I need to better explain what it is that I expect from the cast. I want them to take the direction I give them and to make it their own, empowering themselves by exploring the work outside of rehearsals, rather than expecting that rehearsals are all there is to the dramatic process. To do this, I am going to take an example of a scene that we have improvised once (and will come back to in a day or two) and explain the process of how they should be working on it themselves.They can explore it by asking questions such as: what are my emotions in this scene? What is happening to my character in the walk across stage? How might I portray these in my physicality, through image, and with voice?
I want the cast, too, to take lines from the story and experiment with ways of saying them so that they are sure that they are embodying the real feel of the scene. I will encourage them to get used to rehearsing scenes, even if they are not the main character, with a clear focus. All the actors are going to be on stage all of the time, and they need to map out their ‘energy journey’ for the performance. The meditation that we do each morning is showing them that the focus given can change the feel of a scene, and they should now be trying to support every scene by giving it attention, awareness, and presence.They need to get this into their body’s memory now, in order to work out their emotional and energetic path through the piece.
This should empower them. I don’t want them giving their power to me, so that I am responsible for them. I believe actors should be intelligent, diligent, and self–reliant. Some directors want their actors to be dependent on them, but I don’t. On a wider scale, I think this has applications to society at large. We all give our power away too often: to mass media, to advertisers, to multi–national corporations, to the self–serving elites who run our governments. Only by empowering ourselves as individuals, and as artists, can we hope to engender positive change in our society.
There is another card from the Tarot that has come up for me lately — not by doing a reading, but as an image that came to me as I was contemplating the play: Strength. Part of my job, as the director, is to ‘hold’ the energy of the group’s creative process; to root their shaking energy. Strength here is not the rigid force of muscle, but an inner strength that can yield because it is supple in its roots.