news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

Friday, 21 June 2013

On Action Theatre: "For me, it is all one: the human body as a form of expression."

There aren't many licensed Action Theatre instructors in Canada, which is why we're excited to bring one - the exceptional Sarah Bild - to our summer Conservatory. We've asked her a few questions about this unique improvisational method:

You're one of the first licensed Action Theatre instructors in Canada. What drew you to this style of training? What do you think makes Action Theatre valuable for contemporary Canadian theatre?

SB: I met Ruth Zaporah and this practice at a real turning point in my career. I'd been slowing down my dancing and creating in order to make room in my life for motherhood, and as a result, had started to feel quite disconnected from the dance form, both on a physical and aesthetic level. Ruth's first workshop in Montreal in 2003 awakened me in many ways. It addressed many of the questions that had been eating at me: questions about live performance, what it means to be a dancer, a performer, and an artist on stage. It allowed me to extend my range as a dancer and choreographer by opening up the possibilities of voice and language, especially by rooting these in the body. It also renewed my firm belief that dancers could be "whole" artists, and not just makers of beautiful lines and shapes on stage.

Sarah Bild in action
photographer: Frédérique Ménard-Aubin
Outside of Action Theatre, you're also a dance artist and choreographer. What's the link between dance and Action Theatre / physical improv? How do these disciplines compliment and inform one another, particularly in what you create?

SB: This practice of improvisation calls upon your creativity and imagination at every moment. Ideally, even when you're performing set movement or text, you should be discovering and inventing and composing with your body and presence on stage. Action Theatre gives you the tools to do that. It hones your listening skills, your compositional skills, your sense of timing, presence and projection. The exercises are carefully designed to isolate these skills to work them in a very rarified and sometimes, extreme way. And then, with practice, this accumulated physical experience informs all your performance choices. As far as my creation is concerned, I now no longer distinguish what is theatre and dance, text, voice, movement. For me, it is all one: the human body as a form of expression. I now choose to work with dancers that have these skills and can move freely between them. They are not mere technicians or beautiful executors of the work, they are artistic collaborators who are making decisions that feed the work at every stage of development: in creation, rehearsal and on stage.

It can feel like a huge risk to lay yourself bare onstage, particularly in an improvisational context. What do you consider the personal risks of improvisation for a performer, and how can Action Theatre help overcome those challenges?

SB: There are risks for any performer, when she (he) knows her lines or moves, or not. She is exposing herself, expressing something of herself, and hopefully, in sharing herself meaningfully, being quite vulnerable on stage. Action Theatre can help one face these feelings and work with them, coming up against them through playful and rigorous practice. There is an understanding and a respect among improvisers, that we've all "been there," been horrified at what comes out, or worse, doesn't, when we draw a complete blank and have nothing to say. We also get frustrated with well-worn patterns of speech or movement: our habits. Again, by stretching our range and working with specificity of image and physicality, we move beyond our patterns and into the unknown. Diving into the unknown, accepting it, relishing the discovery of it is a strengthening and humbling practice.

What is the value of Action Theatre training / physical improv to artists who work predominantly in script-based theatre?

SB: As performers, we mostly feel a safety in knowing what words to speak and what steps to take. And great performers will make those words and steps look like they are new to them at every instant. This is achieved when we can tape into our imagination and creative spirit while performing, and the best way to practice this access to our creativity is to improvise. In Action Theatre practice, we explore the speaking voice as a physical action, not a mental, logical, or intellectual one. Words exist on the same plane as images, sensations, climates, and textures. We approach them as sounds, feelings, and landscapes. Words are not an end in themselves: they are part of a much greater expression. We explore the details of speech, where it sits in the body, what gestures accompany our words to support them or offset them. This demanding work of analyzing while doing, observing while creating, is at the heart of Action Theatre and can only enrich an actor's relationship with the words she uses. To embody the words in the voice as a physical action brings colour and range to her expression.

photographer: Frédérique Ménard-Aubin
It's been said that Action Theatre allows performers to become creators. What do you want students to take away from your course?

SB: Ideally, every participant will have the experience of discovering a wealth of images and ideas and sensations to draw from in their own work. They will have begun to identify some of the skills they need to work on and how to stretch those they already master. They will have felt the absolute wonder of being entirely present in the moment: that wonderful state of not knowing but being completely open to any new impulse that presents itself, the feeling of being truly alive.

Tell us about what you're currently working on! What projects excite you right now?

SB: I am creating the new trio, Plus Vrai, for three Montreal dancers: Sara Hanley, Alexandre Parenteau, and Isabelle Poirier. It will be presented by Dance-Cité in November. I have recently opened the studio space, La Poêle, with a friend and collaborator, Susanna Hood. We have many exciting plans that include presenting work-in-progress and improvisations, holding workshops and creative mentorship programs. I myself am in a phase of rediscovering how I work and how I want to work. What interests me? What holds my attention in space, both as a creator and as a spectator? How can I move freely between formal and theatrical vocabulary on stage? What kind of expression do I expect from a moving body? I am also very excited to be teaching at the Volcano Conservatory again this summer. I can't wait to continue sharing this practice that I am so passionate about.

Action Theatre runs July 22-26 at the Volcano Conservatory. Visit our website for details, and email to register!

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