I don’t want to sound like an old record, but being here has been so nurturing, both creatively and for the health of my soul… This, along with feeling that time has dilated and we have shared a lifetime with everyone here, makes our last full day of class together bittersweet.
The final classes really connected a lot of dots for me. The entire week was being thrown into different pools of this work, and it felt like Friday tied lots of loose strings together.
In the morning, we returned to our Fundamentals Class main teachers - Sol and Craig and we worked on Opening and Contracting. We, of course, started with the sequence to center ourselves - head in the ceiling, eyes in front, open arms, breathing in and out while opening and closing arms. I enjoy this sequence, I think I’ve already written this - it is a great way to begin a rehearsal. It connects you to your breath and opens you up to the possibilities of your body and imagination.
Sol: Breathing is sharing (a simple notion, no? and how quickly we forget. The tendency is to stop breathing when scared/nervous on stage, but that means that a dialogue is turned off, nobody shares anything!)
Always with the people
Always aware of the space above your head, in front, and the space, people around you, and the body
While we did opening and contracting physically, fast and slow, the deal is to be in the physical body and extend past. To me, this encapsulates the entire technique - at least so far in my journey with it. Joanna Merlin reiterated this later today in the afternoon class.
Sol encourages us not to have open closed eyes while doing this sequence. Of course. If you do, it’s like doing the sequence with your head, your face suddenly scrunches, the eyes go dead, the whole experience becomes an inward witness as opposed to becoming porous, letting things/energy/whatever you want to call it run right through it. I remember Joan Schirle would say to us at Dell’Arte - to keep the river flowing, from the ground up through the body, all the way up into the upper body and head, then back down it travels, always in an open circuit.
Always working with ease and no tension, it is important to train the body to be receptive. Images inevitably come up, because our imagination works in congruence with the activity of the physical body. Yes. POROUS.
Craig then led us into a fascinatingly simple and elegant exploration: opening and closing the hand. Opening and Contracting. And allowing the body to reflect that. I write in my notes: This was the clearest MC for me so far. Open the fist - once it’s open, the fingers keep going and that affects the body. Same with closing the fist - once the fist is there, it keeps going inward. Ah yes, beyond the physical body. Or rather - Body which continues going. This is psychological gesture, I begin to glean.
To continue working on opening, Craig whipped out the clown noses. I admit, I was a little trepidatious - to see the nose being used in order to… etc etc. But i am also known to take things too seriously sometimes. We shared beautiful moments in class with the nose on, you could cut the openness with a knife. Not that you’d want to - it is such a beautiful thing. We finished the class with some monologues from Tree Sisters opening and closing. This was bizarre for me - I’ve always had a bit of a weird relationship with written text, and after feeling so open with the clown nose, I felt I was nosediving into text, which came out… ca nuca de perete (Romanian literal translation and great image btw - like a walnut hitting a wall). It sent me spiraling down on a Closed inward ride. It made me introspective and overwhelmed. My lovely new dear friend from New Zealand Julie came to the rescue advising to close the gates when we need to. We can’t always be this open, and we must know when to close it. Problem solved. What a great support she and this community is. We must have this in the artist community always, no? have each other’s backs like this at the fist notice of a change of personal atmosphere.
Our last selective afternoon class - I chose Joanna Merlin’s class in psychological gesture. First of all, Joanna is a walking legend and a total inspiration. She founded MICHA in 1999 and is the last surviving direct student of Michael Chekhov’s (who is still teaching). Her gentle way of explaining things created a whole out of all the (amazing) bits and bobs we had been getting throughout the week.
We worked on the simple things, which are hardest things to achieve, is it not?
In a (wall)nut shell, we must do the full gesture, breathe (into) it and allow it to affect us.
For instance, we worked in partners throwing imaginary balls to each other in the 4 main qualities (flowing, molding, flying, radiating). Joanna’s encouragements were to always do the full physical gesture - where does the throw begin? Where does it end?
Furthermore, the physical activity affects the breath, so we need to take stock of that. Learn from it and let it inspire us in how we throw and catch and eventually how we speak! I throw - see the gesture to its fulness, keep it there as the action extends past my physical body and continues to travel in space/in my partner, breathe there and hold it there, as Joanna says, counting to 5. This is to be aware, to take stock of what is happening in the body, what is the breath doing. Interestingly, this last bit (the breath and awareness of it!) also connects me to my inner world which then affects how I send my next ball or my text or my action! Fascinating.
We continued to work in this way with some archetypal gestures that Joanna proposed - push, pull, open, embrace, wring, etc. And again, all this made sense to me - I do it to the largest physical extent so that I can hear it! So that I can hear what it is and project my imagination into the realm of poetic gesture and complete/total connection.
Joanna: polarity, start and end of gesture, using whole body!
Connecting gesture to inner sensation
Inner gesture and outer (physical gesture)
Connecting it with the breath
Always hold the extension of the gesture to hear and learn the breath from the body.
It felt good to be with Joanna Merlin for our last class of the first week of training. She is, after all, the master teacher, who can teach with one word.
In the evening, we attended an event where we honoured Joanna and she received a lifetime achivement award. We watched a video of an interview and some of her work from her long career - film and theatre, casting, teacher, and all around grace and generosity personified.
We didn’t have class on Saturday but we celebrated MICHA’s 20th birthday. Many members of the extended MICHA family came to share the joy - it was lovely to see so many generations of Chekhovians, as I have come to know them by, and to feel part of such a large extended community. We sang a song we created as part of the celebrations, had a picnic, and shared a bonfire with each other and the fireflies.
I swear it doesn’t get much better than this.
Our Fundamentals Acting Week is over. On Monday we begin the Teacher Training 1 module. Some new folk and new faculty have arrived. A man called Phil is here to teach Critical Response Process, which will be particularly exciting for us Scotland-based artists since we use it so much. I will have interesting things to report.
Here are some photos of the week.