EExercises in Release
Inspired by the theatre and writings of Antonin Artaud
Too often Artaud is studied and presented as being only about violence and darkness. It is as if his words were isolated and abstracted to a label that which is harsh and alienating: only violent and only shocking. The following exercises seek to go below the surface and introduce students to the essence of Artaud's thinking in a practical and holistic sense.
Before beginning, I suggest having a read of the following essay prepared prior to workshops on Artaud and leading to a production of Acting Artaud in 2004:
The Artaud MESH.
I suggest a paradigm for thinking about and approaching the work of Artaud based on a MESH of four separate areas:
Heightened States of emotion.
It is then applied through the use of:
interaction with space, self and objects.
First of all make sure there is a defined Acting Space. Practice students entering and exiting the space. This is to allow them to disassociate with the Object of their own creation and observe in a detached sense while outside the space. This is for protection. It is to allow for freedom within space to do whatever comes via impulse; but to then withdraw and become their personal selves outside of the space. Ask for stillness and focus before entering. Take deep breaths after exiting and relax. People doing this for long enough will gradually discard the vanity that prevents them fully engaging in the moment of creation.
Also, Viola Spolin's Space Substance (Spolin: Improvisation for the Theatre 1963) is an excellent exercise for this purpose.
I devised a simple exercise which gets to the heart of an aspect of Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty. It goes this way:
1. Have actors play with balloons.
2. Keep them off the ground without touching them with the hands (ie. use feet, head, bum, tummy ... anything but hands).
3. Set up teams of four. Have them in the space. Keep four balloons off the ground; then add one; then another ... see how many they can keep off the floor or in the space; I've seen groups get up to twenty ... encourage team work etc. Once a balloon hits the floor, then it's team away and next four are in ... Which team will win? Usually loud and raucous ...
4. Then have them do a serene and flowing balancing of the balloon on the BACK of the hand. Make sure they use the "back of their hand" so as to get a sense of letting go and balance. Use relaxing music or ambient Aphex Twin (available from Warp Records on the Internet or at Alternative electronic CD stores) etc. Make sure there is a sense of balance and aesthetic beauty in what they do. Insist on no talking or giggling during this session. Individuals move across the acting space and pass on the balloon to someone else. This moment of offering and accepting is crucial for discovering the moment of engagement.
5. Try different permutations of this: eg. travelling through time and space with Brian Eno or Aphex Twin style music or some ambient New Age stuff (even Raki or Tibetan Bowls etc ) ... Try to have small groups glide across stage and pass each other like ships in the night.
6. Have students use a balloon on each hand (two per person); Explore balance; move through the space; pass balloons to others ... explore and be graceful ... shoulders down relaxed etc.
7. Have students work with eyes closed and balancing two balloons.
8. Have them back in circle and discuss the experience. Hear each other. Draw out experience of "letting go" or "frustrated by balloon" or "control verses letting go" etc. What was it like with eyes closed? Why? etc etc etc.
9. Set a one minute deadline. In this the actors must start with a most serene and relaxed use of the balloon and then slowly and gradually build to the most extreme outburst of violence with the balloon by the end of the minute. This should involve vocal noise; balloon bursting ... etc. But it needs gradual build from the serene to the violent.
10. Discuss it.
They should all be exhausted at the end. The balloons should have been exploded or stamped upon or otherwise dismembered. Encourage vocalization. What starts with a gentle "ahhhh" as in a purr builds through a howl and ends in a frenetic scream. The body must be exhausted at the end or the actors have resisted. We see the blend of the scary and horrific with the beauty of serenity ... Who is blocking the experience? Who is going for it? Who is playing at it? Who is totally at one with the activity? Who is likely to work in the Artaud frame of mind and who just won't be able to ... You'll be amazed at how blocked many people really are when it comes to genuine release of emotional energy!
These discussions form the basis of the approach into Artaud: the blending of the personal with the form. The subjugation of the ego and vanity with the moment of execution!
Artaud never actually proposed a methodology. This has made his work so problematic in many respects. There is debate over what he meant. There is debate over whether any of his work is at all feasible. Scan ideas from the following articles. You really need to shape your own map as to where and how you are travelling through this area.
The articles on the MESH or the 4 states of Artaud might be useful. Artaud is really about an attitude of performance. Too often I see his theatre of cruelty interpreted solely as "torture" or doing nasty things. I think it's much more. It's really about the actor and later the audience being willing to face the exposed mirror of one's Narcissis and then through various shocks and acts of "release" a whole invisible world is revealed.. I do a lot with balloons, balancing, exploring one's own needs for control and letting go ...
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