Week One – and it hasn’t been easy, but by golly I am learning so much it hurts. Ofcourse every learner has a process: and one think that helps me is to synthisize my learning via explaining or writing about it, hence this blog.
I am ok with revealing these lessons, because as I have found – to my infinite frustration in the first few days – to understand them is merely the beginning. Thinking about these concepts has been fascinating, but only doing them has given me any success – and even then often not, but we are only half way through.
The acting class comes from the MT Space Theatre – a local theatre that focuses on humans and cultural interactions and change, including their IMPACT multicultural theatre festival. Their director, Majdi Boumattar, came from Lebanon, and his style of theatre tends to be focused on movement and deep emotions. While doing theatre in Lebanon he was greatly influenced by a famous Tunisian director. It began when he went to see a play called “Madness” which was so visceral, so full of primal emotion and distilled humanity, that it changed his view on life and theatre (more on that later). He then took Mr. Jaibi’s theatre/acting workshop / course.
Years later – this year – Majdi felt it was time to bring Fadhel Jaibi to Kitchener, Waterloo, to show his actors and theatre-collaborators (and anyone else who wanted to join) a piece of what influenced him so much.
And it’s been Pretty Rad.
Life or Death Theatre
After the basic introductions, Mr. Jaibi started by asking us what we would do if we couldn’t do theatre, and how we would feel; or alternately if we would still do theatre if the meaning and soul had been taken out of it because we were prescribed the stories to tell, and it was used for control. Initially he explained this by pointing out that there are places where this is actually the case – theatre is illegal, or controlled. But later we realised there was a second reason: to get us to think about what ‘theatre’ is all about, what it means to us, and what is the purpose of communicating art and stories to the world in this form.
Reality is the sediment of day to day, in which Truth – such as the deepest human emotions – can be glimpsed here and there underneath, but is not at the surface. Truth – those extremes that are at the root of each of us – this is what theatre is for, for Mr. Jaibi. Shakespeare’s plays are still around, because many of them take ordinary people – a young Prince named Hamlet, or a succesful Thain named MacBeth – and experiment with what situations would gradually drive them into madness, murder and depravity, until the raw and primal human glints at us through the darkness.
Thus for theatre to bring people truth, the character must feel urgency. It must be about a struggle important enough for us to see bits of truth slip out from under reality.
To perform a piece of theatre – Why? Why do we do this, why does someone sit and watch it? To be moved and entertained. Doing theatre is an opportunity to communicate these deep truths, and if it is worth doing it should be done with Fire.
The Actor and their Double
But, How does I Act?
Some actors transform themselves into a character that is not them. They build a character outside of themselves, and step into it. We called this “transformative acting” in the workshop – because you are transforming into another character. It can be excellently done, and provide brilliant performances: but this is not what Mr. Jaibi wants. For Mr. Jaibi, these characters are who they are because of their situation: MacBeth is inside each of us. Hamlet is inside each of us. Lady MacBeth is inside each of us. To act in this style, one must look deep inside for the monster, the hero or the victim deep inside.
“The Actor and his Double” is a piece that Mr. Jaibi has written based on student feedback over a variety of workshops. It is about this style of theatre and acting, where you find a character inside of yourself. Your double is a second you, a layer underneath your veneer of Reality that we present to those around us.
Schizoophrenia, Acting, and the Tightrope of Madness
When we live in our day to day lives, little bits of raw emotion slip out here and there: but tempered by our rationality, our frontal cortex, and our relationship with our society and culture as a whole. When we drink, our frontal cortex – which helps decide which behaviours are “appropriate” – takes a hit, and even more comes out. And in some situations, we are put into such a mire that what comes out is raw and unfiltered – Madness.
Mr. Jaibi’s play “Madness” was written based on a book written by a psychologist about 15 years working with a schizophrenic who would hear voices telling him to claw out his own eyes – which he eventually realized, 15 years in, was his father’s. The man came to see it, and was floored: he said he wished he had seen it years before, it might have helped him. The actors were playing with the madness inside of them.
Mr. Jaibi has described acting like this as “the tightrope between madness and rationality.” On the one hand, you loosen your rationality’s grip, and let go of reality enough to feel the stimulus – all of it – of the scene. This is madness. But you need to keep a little bit of rationality so to not fall into it.
Another way of looking at it is this: the “different versions” of ourselves deep inside come to the surface from time to time, in rage or joy. In multiple personality disorder, we build such effective walls between our different selves that they eventually cannot even communicate.
Acting is to break the walls completely, bring them to the surface, and walk that tightrope of madness. Acting is to juggle with your inner child, inner geriatric, inner monster, inner hero – but in a safe space, a scene, instead of real life.
So far we have just begun this wild and fantastical journey, and its been super fun. We have been putting ourselves in situations that are “extraordinary” – such as making ourselves believe we are glued to the floor and must struggle, find any way possible, to move or get out: so as to channel the desperation and adrenaline that we would actually feel in that situation. Since then we have been doing more complicated scenes, and its been tough – but I will keep this blog a postin 😉