For committed theatre makers, training is an ongoing process and we understand that it is necessary to continually grow and deepen in our craft. Below are descriptions of some of the theatre trainings that I have participated in and that have influenced my approach to teaching and making theatre.
Lessac Kinesensic Voice and Body Work
Lessac Kinesensic Training is a comprehensive and creative approach to developing the voice and the body in a holistic way. Kinesensics cultivates the participant’s ability to feel and activate the body’s natural relaxed-energy states as a foundation for improving awareness, receptivity, flexibility, strength, spontaneity, expression and communication. Building on that foundation, the training offers a series of very specific voice, body and integrative explorations that add up to a wonderfully diverse toolbox for actors, singers, dancers and anyone who desires healthy, stress free communication. Originally known only to theatre professionals, Kinesensics has now become recognized as applicable to many endeavors in life, from voice and speech therapy to ESL, sports and fitness, and singing training. Current initiatives include language acquisition and development in young children, and relations across cultures.
In 2012 Michael completed a 4 week intensive with Master Teachers Deb Kinghorn and Barry Kurr, and Certified Trainers Robin Carr and Mary Sala. The daily schedule included two hours of body NRG explorations and ensemble work, an hour of large-group vocal work, an hour of small-group vocal work, two hours in the afternoon of self-directed work with another student and an evening small-group session. Prior to the intensive Michael participated in numerous shorter workshops led by founder Arthur Lessac and other Master Teachers and Certified Trainers.
Theatre of the Oppressed
Theatre of the Oppressed (from the website of the International Theatre of the Oppressed Organization) was born in 1971, in Brazil, under the very young form of Newspaper Theatre , with the specific goal of dealing with local problems – soon, it was used all over the country. Forum Theatre came into being in Peru, in 1973, as part of a Literacy Program; we thought it would be good only for South America– now it is practiced in more than 70 countries. Growing up, TO developed Invisible Theatre in Argentina, as political activity, and Image Theatre to establish dialogue among Indigenous Nations and Spanish descendants, in Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico… Now these forms are being used in all kinds of dialogues. In Europe, TO expanded and the Rainbow of Desire came into being – first to understand psychological problems, later even to create characters in any play. Back in Brazil, the Legislative Theatre was born to help the Desire of the population to become Law – which it did at least 13 times. TO was used by peasants and workers; later, by teachers and students; now, also by artists, social workers, psychotherapists, NGOs… At first, in small, almost clandestine places. Now in the streets, schools, churches, trade-unions, regular theatres, prisons… Our Freedom is to invent ways to help to humanize Humanity, freely invading all fields of human activities: social, pedagogical, political, artistic… Theatre is a Language and so it can be used to speak about all human concerns, not to be limited to theatre itself.
In 1994 Michael participated in his first Theatre of The Oppressed Workshop, with it’s creator Augusto Boal, at the annual conference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. Since that time he has participated in numerous workshops led by Boal and other practitioners and innovators of the Theatre of the Oppressed. In 2008, the year of Boal’s death, Michael collaborated with Carlos Von Son on Augusto Vive, forum theatre event dedicated to the life and work of Augusto Boal.
The viewpoints work takes a practical approach to training the actors’ intuition in the moment-to-moment act of creation. Viewpoints training creates opportunities for actors to play together as an ensemble on a deeply connected level using a shared vocabulary derived from performance priciples of time and space. As a compliment to psychological actor training, Viewpoints develops the actors ability to listen, experience and react with the whole body. Actors trained in viewpoints create compelling performances that go beyond character creation to master the dynamics of expression that are common to all artforms.The Suzuki Method of Actor
The Suzuki Method of Actor Training develops the actor’s inner physical sensibilities, builds the will, stamina and concentration. The workshop activities include a series of exercises centered around the use of the feet in relation to one’s center. These exercises are designed to throw the body off center while maintaining a consistent level of energy and not swaying the upper body. The energy necessary to accomplish this task is considerable and constitutes a primary focus of this work. In the course of doing these exercises the body becomes more centered, and thus changes the manner in which the actor views his/herself within their body. This change is also related to how the actor views their work onstage. Issues such as engrained habits become more apparent as do strengths and weaknesses. By developing the body awareness of the corporal center, and a consistent level of energy, primary elements of the actor’s awareness are heightened. The best and most consistent evidence of this work is apparent onstage reflected through an increasingly centered and controlled actor.
Michael participated in the 1997 Frameworks Suzuki/Viewpoints workshop led by Anne Bogart and the SITI Company. This eleven day workshop introduced the Southern California Theatre Community to the training and served over 100 participants from a range of theatre and dance companies. The workshop included intensive sessions in Viewpoints, Suzuki and the Composition process of creating theatre events informed by the possibilities and sensibilities of those trainings. Michael also trained in the Suzuki Method of Actor Training between 1988 & 89 while Company Manager at StageWest in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Subsequent to the Frameworks Workshop, Michael used the tools of Viewpoints and Composition extensively for devising original performances with Palomar College students including: Brutal Eyes: A Balkan Requiem (1998), Wireless City (1999 & 2001), UnDefining Queer (2002 & 2003), Droppings: For the 3rd Anniversary of the Bombing and Invasion of Iraq (2003), A Spoonful of Hope: Finding Hope in Divided America (2005), American Dream 2.0 (2010).
Jerzy Grotowski’s Objective Drama Workshop
(From the New York Times Obituary) “Jerzy Grotowski, the Polish director who was one of the most important and influential theatrical innovators of his time, died yesterday in Pontedera, Italy. He was 65 and lived in Italy.
Mr. Grotowski died after years of fighting leukemia, said the director Andre Gregory, a friend.
As the founder and head of the Polish Laboratory Theater, as a teacher and as the author of a seminal 1970 book, ”Towards a Poor Theater,” Mr. Grotowski had a profound effect on the art of acting and on the experimental theater movement. The actor, he said, must be ”the direct creator in the same sense as a poet or painter.” The focus in his work was on ”the immediate act that must exist during the performance which is, for me, the axis of my attitude toward the theater.”
Mr. Gregory called him one of ”the great visionaries in modern theater,” and ranked him as a director alongside Konstantin Stanislavsky, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Eugene Vakhtangov and Bertolt Brecht. Summarizing Mr. Grotowski’s approach to acting, Mr. Gregory said, ”He saw the entire actor as an emotional, physical and vocal instrument.” As Peter Brook has said, ”No one since Stanislavsky has investigated the nature of acting, its phenomenon, its meaning. . . as deeply and completely as Grotowski.”
In his teaching and his direction, Mr. Grotowski looked to the mythic roots of the art. In ”Towards a Poor Theater,” he posed the question, what can the theater do without? He answered that it could do without lights, music, scenery, it could even do without a theater. What it needed was one actor and one member of the audience.
The idea, he said, was to ”enlarge on images deeply rooted in the collective unconscious.” His theater was spiritual, ritualistic and nonliterary — and extraordinarily challenging for the actor and for the audience. The actors, fiercely trained under his leadership, were called upon to use their bodies and voices in strange and demanding ways, and to create dehumanizing sounds in performance.”
While an MFA graduate student at UC Irvine, Michael participated in two summer intensives in Grotowski’s Objective Drama Program. Under the guidance of James Sloviak and Hairo Questa, the training consisted of an investigation of Stanislavski’s final approach, “The Method of Psycho-Physical Actions,” daily development of a personal training score, daily development of vocal exploration structures, the practice of rigorous physical forms that demanded tremendous concentration and stamina, and the devising of performance structures using dream images and cycles of Shaker songs.
Performance Art is a medium of expression in which the primary material is an “act.” What is an act? An act is an event that occurs for the benefit of an audience. Other than this, there are no constraints on the boundaries of Performance Art.
The process of creating Performance Art synthesizes the individual process of the studio artist with the public process of the performing arts. The result is a very personal form of public art. This accounts for the almost limitlessboundaries of the form.
Historically, Performance Art draws upon elements from all the traditional art forms without privileging any particular one. In doing so, it exceeds the conventions of those forms and the matrix of conventions which describe the perimeters of the traditional Art/Culture Industry. By extension, Performance Art ultimately defies all the boundaries of dominant culture.
When Performance Art is at its best, the result is a unique system of performance vocabularies that defy the inscribed values of agreed upon language, i.e. the language of daily usage, of politicians, of advertising, etc … The audience is then required to decipher or learn the language of the artist and in the process examine their own values. In a world where language and dissemination of information constitute the basis of power and attitudes are controlled through hidden values inscribed in language. Performance Art has the potential to disrupt the language of dominant culture and thus the very focus of its power.
Even to try to define Performance Art is antithetical to the idea of Performance Art which undergoes a constant process of rejecting its own conventions.
Michael worked for three years with painter, sculptor and performance artist John White at UC Irvine. White is considered one of the seminal California performance artists. He has staged hundreds of public performances since 1967, and is included in numerous public museum collections, including Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum in New York, La Foret Museum in Tokyo, Total Museum in Korea, Seattle Museum, Palm Springs Desert Museum, St. Louis Museum, Oakland Museum and others. He is the recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts grants and has served as a panelist twice. Michael created numerous performance pieces at the John White Workshop and eventually assisted John in directing the quarterly performances. In 1994 Michael collaborated with John and Gary San Angel on a piece called “Despertly Seeking” for first ever museum retrospective of performance art, “Outside the Frame: Performance and the Object” at the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art.