THE PERFORMER AND THE SELF
Who are Spindrift?
We are an all female Nordic theatre company who work from the performer's curiosity about life and human behaviour. We devise original performances from what we find strange, intriguing or questionable within society. Recently we've been focusing on social taboos. We wonder why these seemingly natural sides of ourselves have been repressed, and whether we can release, observe and play with them within a theatrical context.
What is this workshop for?
1) New Discoveries
We love working with performers from outside the company. There are always new findings when working in new locations, with new personalities, with different movement qualities, genders and nationalities.
2) Developing Carroll: Berserkur
We are developing the technique we used for our performance Carroll: Berserkur, where characters from Alice's Wonderland were cast from exaggerated sides of our performers' personalities. We viewed the scenic design as an extension of the character. We worked with questions about society and taboos, and invited the audience to play with us.
3) Developing our own style
Through these workshops we are developing a performance technique which we've given the name: Stylized Truths in which the performer exaggerates and makes artistic choices from truthful findings of his-/herself.
The performer is encouraged to work from his/her own experiences, unique body and imagination. We encourage personality and artistic ownership within their theatrical expression, and we work with autobiographical storytelling. For this way of working it is important to remember lightness and irony. When the performer finds something he/she needn't be traumatized with the idea that this finding sums up their whole being: It's just a playful exaggeration of ONE side for performance purposes. Trust us, there's plenty more to you!
What is the aim of your exercises?
To create a tool for performers to rediscover their ever-changing instrument throughout their careers, as well as being a way to devise characters, scenes and entire performances.
We want to empower the performer’s personality and help them work from their uniqueness.
We want to empower the performer's trust in their own artistic choices, and their sense of ownership.
How did you come to this practice?
We had all experienced, in one way or another, how the traditional structure of acting classes is hierarchical. Where the students compete with each other for praise or attention from their leader, often creating a preference for larger, more aggressive and louder qualities.
We felt that it was more difficult to captivate with tender, soft, quiet, gentle qualities as we’d rarely had the space to explore it properly in our own training, without feeling the pressure to change into something bigger or more tense. This had created bad habits out of fear of not being interesting enough.
We wanted to give ourselves the space we needed to practice them, to really learn how to make them work, and find out what else we might have missed.
We wanted to create a space where each performer could explore and share without having to feel the pressure of a competition.
Lastly, we simply are very intrigued by the human mind, personality and identity, with its depth, contradictions and constant development.
Tell us about the structure of the workshop:
We wanted the performers to experience different ways of creating a character from themselves, and then give them an opportunity to devise scenes from these new characteristics.
We worked with devising from:
- Own imagination
What is physical theatre?
All our experiences originate in the body. It is our vehicle through which we experience the world. As actors we want to explore all the different things that make us who we are and how we behave as individuals and groups, and taking it back to these very basics of exploring the performer's body is one way of doing that.
All theatre is physical. Sometimes it includes impressive stunts and acrobatics, but sometimes just the presence of a body that is being experienced (seen, felt, smelt and heard) by an audience member.
We at Spindrift describe ourselves as a physical theatre company because:
- We are analyzing and exploring movement and its meaning for storytelling.
- We explore the performer's inside-out and outside-in access to his/her emotions and character creation.
- We explore the relationship between the body, senses and the space.
- We explore the difference between the performer's inner experience and the audiences' external experience of the same thing.
- We are actively training as a company to broaden and understand our physical instrument, and sharing our findings through workshops.
- We are actively exploring innovative ways to include the audience in the physical space.
Tell us about the Physical and Vocal Preparation
Every performer recognises the importance of a good warm up. However, I have often felt like we as actors run through the warm ups blindly, aiming towards physical endurance and impressive vocal expression. With Spindrift we have tried to create warm up structures that enhance the performers' presence and respect of one another. Naturally we have also borrowed exercises from the practitioners that we have worked with, but tried to push them into a direction that serves our aims and ethics as a company. We ask our performers and workshop participants to have their focus both inside and outside of themselves, checking in with their bodies and minds whilst staying connected to and supportive towards their partners.
We are continuously shaping our Grotowski-based physical preparation towards a direction, where the performers don't only execute strenuous physical movements, but warm up the room and share their energy with their partners. Like in yoga, physical training is not about the concrete outcome or competition, but about presence and precision in each action.
In our vocal training, we often start from the places that we feel insecure of. Vocal training can be exposing and make one feel very vulnerable, and we like to embrace those "dark places". Actors are constantly bombarded by judgements of "not having the ear for music" or "not having a strong enough voice". With Spindrift we aim to free our performers from value judgement when speaking, voicing or singing, and bring the attention to communication and connection with the partners. In everyday life people communicate with one another regardless of one's range, diction or vocabulary when speaking in one's second language, and we are aiming to bring the same attitude to our vocal exercises. Each vocal quality is interesting, and the softer and more subtle ways of speaking can flourish side by side with the loud shouts and projected scales.
Tell us about the Illustrated Self-Perception
For us the stage is not bound to one specific art, we aim to build bridges across disciplines. By this we mean both in our performances and in the rehearsal and devising process. This exercise, in the beginning was aroused from Julia´s experience working with young children. In the kindergarten the children were asked to draw a self - portrait ones a month. The teachers would ask the children questions about the drawings and write them down. This was one way for the children to express themselves on their journey of self - discovery. This gave the tutors and parents a great opportunity to get to know their children and watch their communication development, their drawing development, language development and more.
What interested Julia the most was how the children described their drawings. The stories the children would tell, and all of them were about their personal experiences. Even though the drawing was the typical “potato head” without a nose and maybe few dots here and there, the children were able to tell a whole story about their drawing. Then Julia noticed the stories often had in common how the children described the environment, even though it wasn´t really visible in the drawings.
We started using this way to express ourselves whilst devising Me…Whilst being humane! and found it extremely useful as a source of material. For that project we were working with the concept self and identity from different angles and this way we found great moments and personas and got information about each other that we believe we wouldn’t have other wise.
For Carroll: Berserkur we use plants as subject for the drawings, asking that you imagine yourself being a plant. We focus on the environment because what is interesting is that plants are completely dependent on the environment, they are 100% product from their environment. Plants have great characteristics, which can easily be identified with and played with. These characteristics are very open to own interpretation and developments. The environment and the plants characteristics give information to devise from in relation to an individual within a society and the environment we thrive in and create around us. Here we find an opportunity to devise both characteristics and sources of material in the environment for the stage design, costume design and even sound design, which, like said before, we like to devise simultaneously. From the environment we receive great information about the character, as if it is extension of the character. This gives a chance of playing with opposites of the character and showing his or hers different sides through the environmental design.
Tell us about Projected Identity
In our every-day existence we are constantly receiving information about our social surroundings, and how we are perceived by our surroundings. Whether or not we are conscious about it we are always using information from the outside to define what is inside ourselves. In fact, we wouldn't be able to define ourselves at all without this external information. In other words, we are mirroring ourselves in other people, and what we believe other people see us as. Because other people's opinions of us (as true as it can be coming from our own interpretation) inform our choices and behaviour and affect us so greatly in our everyday life, we feel it is an enourmously fascinating area to explore both as performers and as human beings.
These so-called Projected Identities can make us learn a lot about ourselves, and is a fruitful gateway to interesting character explorations.
Tell us about the The Past Self
Because we are so passionate about identity and its creation and development, this exercise is one we are very fond of. We love the fact that our personality and identity is ever-evolving and can't be easily defined due to its complexity and ever-changing nature. We can define ourselves differently today from yesterday and that is completely natural. We are one thing today, as well as the million things we have left behind. We are completely made up by our past selves as well as our present self and our idea of our future self.
Looking back at our past identities in a safe and comfortable way can give us an insight into the complexity of a person, and be a useful tool in the process of learning about a character, or indeed creating a character.
We have all been the grumpy and selfish 5 year-old wanting the toy in the toy shop, but we are not necessarily this person at the age of 31, 45, or 62, but we can't discard the fact that this child is very much a part of our current being.
Tell us about the The Objective vs Subjective Body
The exercise The Objective vs. Subjective Body explores a subjective from-inside-body-out view on the physical reality surrounding the performer's body. The aim is to train the performer's sensitivity for increased receptiveness/creative inspiration from elements such as scenic design, costume, audience's presence and fellow actors. Like learning how to taste wine or coffee through acquiring the sensitivity and listening it requires.
In addition to tuning his/her instrument, the performer can use this exercise in two ways: Playing with no end goal to find new movement/vocal qualities that can become characteristics or a way of speaking a text, without imposing pre-existing ideas. Or, if the performer knows what he/she want to feel for a scene, it can be found through exploring the space and developed into a gesture that helps release the emotion.
Like most artists, I have had to train more confidence in my choices. A way to stop second guessing myself came through realizing that:
If something feels a certain way and I honestly interpret it as such, it's true, it's real. And so we started exploring sensations in the space, different ways of touching, different applications of weight, different tensions, movement qualities, and the very important difference of isolating when the performer's body was giving and when it was receiving.
The exercise also trains the performer to notice and take on another body's movement and sensations in order to perform them and make them his/her own. The aim is also to discover new movement and vocal qualities. We also enjoy finding characters from objects and architecture: what would this chair stand/sound like if it were a person, or an extension of my body? This nurtures a curiosity for the space, and when a character originates in the scenic design the performer has a useful tool to reaffirm his/her character if it ever starts slipping.
Here the performers devise with their characters, objects and soundscape.
We like creating the scenic design from characters, developing both simultaneously. We believe this helps the actor's inspiration and grounding while performing, and helps the audience's visual experience.
This journey began in January 2014, when we devised together as a company in Theatre Delicatessen, London.
From there we led a Research and Development workshop at Rose Bruford College's Symposium Week in 2014 and staged a small R&D production at Drayton Arms Theatre in London.
After that we received a grant from Evropa Unga Folksins and Reykjavik City, enabling us to devise a full length large scale production of Carroll: Berserkur at Tjarnarbio, Iceland in 2015.
From there we brought this workshop, The Performer and the Self, to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the Gaiety School of Acting in Ireland.
Our next visit will be the Norwegian Actor's Centre in Oslo in February, which will conclude this R&D period.
We have a few ideas for our next full length performance, and we will discuss ways of developing our technique further based on our findings and feedback from The Performer and the Self.
We are also at the beginning stages of creating a workshop where we simply explore an audience's perception of different movement qualities, and developing a new workshop where we explore the relationship between the body and two-dimensional spaces as well as three-dimensional spaces, and its potential for theatre practice.