So after sitting on a 5,000 word (ish) draft on my experiences from this workshop, I decided, why don’t we break it up a bit, and release a weekly blog post on things I am learning. The first 4 or 5 weeks will be on the MT Space’s 2 week intensive with Tunisian Master Fadhel Jaibi: After that, we will get into my current course with Pro Actors Lab in Stratford. So… yeah. Keep on keepin’ On!
Theatre of Energy: the Pull and Push
For Fadhel Jaibi, Theatre is Energy. Ofcourse there are the energies we’d expect – between the actors and the audience, the scene, between the actors in a scene – but his focus is on another energy: the energy between the actor, and the character buried deep within themselves. After all, what is energy if not the potential to do work: to Pull, and Push.
The deep emotions that one channels into becoming the character, he says, are found deep within our darkest places: and they are pulled viscerally to the surface by the energy – the relationship – between those emotions and the scene. There is a pull between character and the lines, between the imagined stimulus of the scene around us and the emotions we channel, between the person that we are – and the person we would become if that situation were true. This truth lies beneath the veneer of reality, these deep emotions lie under the dust of our day to day. Thus far, his method has been a series of improv games that lead us circling down and down towards the rabbit hole, scraping off the reality and allowing the scene to pull our deepest emotions into our bodies and faces. Thing is, only 5 games in do you finally understand what the first game was all about.
Sound a little abstract? Yeah, it’s been a ride trying to figure out how to do this. The other day though, I kinda got it. I walked into the class and I was like, “This makes sense to me. I can do this. I Will do this today.” And I did. Then, the next day, and the day after that, I somehow no longer had it anymore .
Part of that may just be the flavour of the workshop. I mean, I am both the youngest and the least experienced in this room, and I am working with people who have made theatre all their lives – Serious talent – and yet we as a collective seem to take 2 steps forward, 7 steps back, and then gradually 6 forwards again…. This workshop has not been easy for any of us. But hey – if it was, then we wouldn’t be learning the way we are. So let’s have a look at what’s been going on.
The Games Begin: We Try The Glue
Our first real exercise was beautifully simplistic. He had us go and sit or stand in a spot we were comfortable (I thought we were going to be listening to a lecture, so I got my back on a wall nice and comfy.) But now, he said, every part of you that is touching a surface is stuck. Stuck with glue. Stuck with a glue to end all glues, and there is no way you can remove it. Now think of a reason you have to go – maybe to the bathroom, or to make a phone call. You have 15 minutes to get out of the glue. Go.
The first session, most of us sat or stood there and yelled and strained. I did not think to rip my hair out (yeah the back of my head was against the wall) to get loose. I could have tried to wrestle out of my clothes, which were glued to the floor – but I figured that would defeat the exercise, so I pretended the glue went right through my clothes. I felt the yearning to leave, the agony, the glue holding me back, and sat there screaming with the rest.
This, he said afterwards, was not real. If you really were in this situation – would you not try anything, ANYTHING, to get loose? Theatre, he said, is a closed door that will not open: when you go to the door and pull it, and it Doesn’t open, That’s when there is a scene. But if the same door stays closed after you have tried everything to open it, it gets stale: theatre is the eventual opening of that door, only to reveal another door that won’t open. “Try it again,” he said (translated from Arabic). “And this time, open more doors.”
So this time, we opened doors. We wriggled out of our clothes and left them on the floor. I ripped (not in real life, but with great effort and pain) my hair from the wall. Someone found a water bottle (mine) and started dripping it on the floor as magic glue-remover. Soon everyone was shuffling around on their clothes (yes we were all in our underwear), which somehow magically did not stick to the glue of the floor. Soon we had all painfully and painstakingly made our way to the door.
His response was simple: “You opened the doors far too easily,” he said (translated this time from French.) What, a few drops of water magically eats the glue? Your clothes no longer stick? A solution that comes too easily, in theatre, is boring. It must be bought with pain, and lead to another closed door.”
Our last attempt, we finally kind of got it. Personally I had placed my forearms against the pole in the room, like I was being tortured. After getting out of my socks and standing on them, my arms were still stuck: the end of the excercise found me pulling them like I would take the pole with me if it didn’t budge, moments before I was about to rip my own skin off and go flying backwards into freedom, only to then find (a new door) my foot still stuck to the pole where I had been pushing, and my back against the floor. Similar experiences were all around me. We had passed the glue: it was time for the rubber.