Never-ending process and practice
written by Yuko Takeda
The last couple of weeks, Week 7 & 8, of the Imagination of Violence- atelier 2: sacrifice and playing the victim were focused on the presentation. Davide wanted the presentation to be about sharing the four major parts of the course: physical training, personal monologues with the scenes inspired by the Teuvo Hakkarainen sexual assault scandal, experimentation on acting, and academic research regarding violence, sacrifice and playing the victim. However, as time went on, it became clear that there would not be enough time to fit all in in one presentation. So, in the end he decided to “sacrifice” the acting experiment part to keep it under two hours. That way he could add a Q&A and discussion with the audience to the whole thing. It was a very dense package. There were four presentations total: 27.4 (Sat) at 16, 29.4 (Mon) at 14 and 19, and 30.4 (Tue) at 14.
In addition to the public presentation, the students had the opportunities to listen to the lectures by Kenneth Siren and Jukka von Boehm on various subjects regarding violence.
And for the last few days we had reflection sessions to wrap up the whole process.
Here are some highlights.
- Getting ready for the presentation
“It’s not a production. It’s just for us to share our process. We don’t have to prove anything to the audience,” Davide repeatedly said to the students towards the end. In fact her structured it as the combination of the performative sections (physical training and monologues) and sharing of the academic research with much less dramaturgical consideration for the overall package than the demo of the first atelier in the spring of 2018. Each section existed rather independently without forming a cohesive narrative of one subject matter but somehow enriching or intensifying the experience of one another. And that’s how the preparation for the presentation felt, too.
Each day, Davide gave the students time to work on their monologues and research independently. Of course, he worked with them on a one-to-one basis as much as he could to give feedback and suggestions. He even asked me to help a few students to work on their monologues while he was working with the others.
Each student was dealing with his or her unique challenges in the monologue and research.
In terms of the monologue, one of the major challenges was how to incorporate a scene partner(s) more organically and dynamically into the speaking of the text. This often demanded attentive listening on both sides, even though one of the two was silent. As a result, although each monologue was very different in style and content from one another, when they were put together for the presentation, the intensity of listening was present in all of them.
To me, the monologue is never really about the person who’s speaking. As I’ve written in the past blog post, the monologue reveals the relationship between the speaker and the other (the scene partner, the audience, the god, etc.). And because it adds such an invisible layer of relationship to the context of the text, it becomes complex, subtle, and nuanced.
As for the academic research, each pair was dealing with how to best present their research process and results.
One pair was inquiring about the expressions of animality and violence in several Hollywood films with male-dominant and female-dominant casts. They started to feel “ashamed” of their research because they thought that their approach and methodology were too narrow and biased to draw any substantial conclusion on the subject matter. Davide told them that so-called “failure” or “mistakes” in research are nothing to be ashamed of. Admitting the shortcomings of the research is in itself a substantial finding. Davide once again reiterated that the research presentation was not about proving something to the audience. It should be about the honest sharing of one’s process.
The second pair was struggling to consolidate their findings and thoughts because there were so many things they wanted to tell about their research on consensual violence. Davide advised them to keep it simple and concise. He gave them the basic structure for the presentation:
1. Initial research question
2. Research methodology (how you approached it)
The third pair (well, towards the end one of the two had to leave the course, which make it a solo research) was pondering over how to show all the detours of thought and challenges they dealt with in the research. The research on actor’s sacrifice became very personal for one of them and spilled over to her other personal interest in acting, namely the audience’s gaze towards the actor on the stage. So, in the end she decided to combine and fuse the research about actor’s sacrifice and the experimentation on the audience’s gaze into one presentation.
- Lectures by Kenneth Siren and Jukka von Boehm
Their lectures in the last few weeks were the breaths of fresh air int the midst of an intense schedule to get ready for the presentation.
Kenneth Siren, a doctoral candidate at the Performing Arts Research Centre (TUTKE), came to talk about violence against sexual minority, especially in the field of performing arts. Kenneth illuminated how people who identify as non-binary or transgender have had to comply with the binary standard of male and female bodies. Also, there is the prevalence of the narrative that the transgender person is the ultimate victim and needs to be “saved” by the cisgender person. Kenneth provided various examples of performances by non-binary artists to challenge such gender norms. “I don’t think that there’s the universal truth that everybody must abide by. The truth is that everybody is different, and the truth exists in complexity,” Kenneth said in response to such norms and pressure of a society. It seemed very important and thought-nourishing for the students to listen to Kenneth’s talk.
Dr. Jukka von Boehm at Theatre Academy, in contrast, gave a lecture about national socialist theatre and how theatre was used for community-building and to advocate self-sacrifice during Nazi Germany (1933-1945). Jukka’s explanation abut the justification and glorification of violence under the totalitarian regime was fascinating to listen to. It was also disturbing because theatre seemed to have played a major role in the formation and rise of the Nazi ideology. His lecture gave a historical perspective on the symbiotic and powerful relationship between violence and theatre, which added yet another layer of complexity to the course’s subject.
- Presentation and the audience feedback
The presentation went well in that each time there was a good number of audience and many of them were engaged enough to stay afterwards for discussion. From what I heard, many audience members were impressed by the diversity of the content. They asked many questions to the students and Davide. Each presentation generated a different set of questions and comments from the audience.
This made me think about the concept of “the process.” Davide had emphasized time and time gain that it was not a production and the course should be process-oriented. I think that he was partly trying to alleviate the pressure for the students to present something good and final to the audience. But, whether it was framed as a process-sharing presentation or a demo performance, the process continued anyway when the students stood in front of the audience. To me this was a crucial phase of the process where they started to really practice how to interact with or engage the audience in their work.. and make the audience a part of it somehow.
And the audience’s questions and comments after the presentation were not the measure for success or how good one’s performance was. They were there to deepen and contextualize the students’ work in a more reflective way. When an actor ceases to see the audience as the judge of his or her performance and instead faces them as an entity with which he or she can have a creative dialogue, then the process of the actor keeps evolving, even after so-called “the premiere” is done.
One more thing that caught my attention. Repeating the same content of the presentation four times brought up yet another challenge for the actor. In laymen’s terms, it was about “how to keep it fresh.” It is very tempting to remember a wonderful moment that happened organically on the stage one day and then consciously or unconsciously try to repeat it for the same effect the next time. For many monologues and scenes, repetition like that is just a necessity for consistency and coherency. But the danger is that the desire to repeat a “successful pattern” can override the need to listen with the whole body and be present with one another. Then we start to repeat the act of “being spontaneous and organic,” instead of actually being them. Ironically, an improvisational exercise such the open Viewpoints session in the physical training section of the presentation was the hardest to keep it fresh for that very reason.
So, the practice of the actor continues even after he or she felt that he or she “got it.” Oh how elusive and sensitive the actor’s craft is!
Overall, though, the progress and growth of the students as artists and human beings was undeniable to me. Watching their work, I was happy and excited that they’d been through a very deep process and would continue to do so after the course.
Here are some photos from the presentation.
Academic research presentation:
After the presentation was over, the students had one day of collective reflection session with Davie. Then I interviewed each student in person the next day for more reflection.
As the last word to my blog, I wanted to include the voice of the students. So, the summary of their reflection will be in the next and final blog post.
To be continued…