news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

Friday, 17 July 2015

Director Kim Collier Explains Why Actors Should Pipe Up During Rehearsal

Co-Artistic director of Electric Company Theatre (Vancouver) and Siminovitch Prize winner for theatre direction, Kim Collier guest teaches at this year’s Volcano Conservatory. Her workshop, Collaborative Theatre Making - For Actors, will illuminate ways to prepare actors for rehearsal time with creative leaders and how to be a strong creative force in the rehearsal room.

Your workshop will encourage actors to participate in the rehearsal process as collaborators, although many actors find it problematic to speak up - believing that their only ‘job’ is to ‘act.’ What are your thoughts on this perception?

I personally view actors as artists and I am very interested in their insights and ideas. I believe the capacity of what is possible in a rehearsal hall goes up when actors feel safe to speak up on more then their role in the play.

What exactly does it mean to 'ACT?'  I think their 'Job' is to think, to question, to engage around the project, or writing in a way that the Actor plays a role in discovering what is possible in a text, or creation period. So often actors only come to deliver a performance as requested. When invited to think about the work in other ways as well…the discussion / exploration can stop. They either are too consumed with the process at hand, or don’t have the skill set to think in these other ways, or perhaps are not comfortable putting their ideas into the room. They also can be very lost when invited to play in a more conceptual way. So I found myself thinking about what might be missing in our training and leadership that does not allow for this “Art Making” kind of actor to thrive.

If an actor needs all kinds of knowns in order to do their work…then that can halt a creative process. "My character would only do this"….or "my character sees the world this way." Or the actors ask "what am I doing here in this moment exactly?" Or they ask the director: "what does my character want/need here...what is their goal?" Often actors can’t dive in a play unless they have figured many things out…have a safe frame of reference. When the performer can understand a text or a creation process not only from a physiological or intension based process, but also come at the work understanding how a scene can illuminate an idea, then that allows their character presence to help illuminate the moment.

There is lots to talk about how to have a collage of interrogating voices in a room and still be productive and respectful. It starts with common purpose around a project. If you don’t have that….relinquishing control as a director may not be the right decision. The ensemble of a production really needs to be a true ensemble for this kind of Art Driven Process to thrive.

What is one thing you find actors struggle with in rehearsals but should definitely speak up about?

I like to create a rehearsal room in which dialogue between the actor and the director is at the core of the process. Like a coach to an Athlete….or as two artists, each with valuable thoughts and instincts around the work and the character. I guess, I would be very unhappy if there was concern about my direction or interpretation around a moment in a production or a section; and if that concern became a green room conversation and bar talk and not part of the rehearsal room with the director. For me, I want the collaboration to be a shared experience where the making of the show, the brilliance that can be found within the material for the audience, is sought together. That together directors and actors and designers and all the team strive for something greater then themselves. We are one in the art making. I don’t deny that the director has the great privilege to often be the creative filter of that collective effort and guides the work hopefully through a unifying vision. I Believe the director has an obligation to have a vision and invite others to join in that vision and that allow that vision to belong to everybody.

So if an actor wants to raise a concern…they should do it…it is not personal to do so. It is the work.

Can you share an experience as an actor when you were most involved in the collaborative process? What did you accomplish?

I suppose that would be the Electric Company show “Brilliant: The Blinding Enlightenment of Nicola Tesla” when I played Katherine Underwood and a Pigeon.

Hummm….I think what is interesting about our collective creation as a team of actors - creating all parts of the production together - is that a lot of it became script work and idea building in rehearsals, not really acting. And I think what happens when you help create the work you act in,  your ownership and life force inside the work is palatable. There is something so beautiful about actors performing their own work. If the audience can feel passion and commitment (which they can), then creation teams are infectious with their audiences. I also think my experience of building shows collectively, that we also acted inside, allowed the projects to be greater then what was possible for any of us alone. The dynamic of many minds coming together was complimentary and pioneering. You would find yourself in places that you would never have arrived at on your own.

What is your typical preparation process like before first day of rehearsal?

Massive, varied and long. For a play: I read the text very carefully a few times and pay very close attention to my experience of the text. What does it speak to me, how does it resonate for our times and what I am visually seeing and feeling. I note these things, or promise to remember them. I remember what spoke to me in the text…what resonated as there will be much truth for me in what I want to do with the text from those initial impulses that may be lost in reading research and other peoples thoughts on the play. And I can’t direct from others peoples intuition, I can only direct from my own meaning, intuition and understanding and allow it to interact with the others on my team.
After those reads, I research a great deal on everything to do with the play: historically, thematically and on and on. After this period usually 3-5 months I will then be ready to think about how design can help illuminate the material and themes.  Set design is very important to me as it connects so powerfully to how the play can unfold kinetically in staging, concepts, ideas and transitions. For me Set Design is at the root of thinking about meaning and character plot and all. It can effect rhythm and pacing and how characters can relate to each other. It is right at the centre of the production building part of my process.

What is up next for you?

A big holiday, and gathering. I have made a great deal of work these past years. I gave the projects all I had and all I was thinking about at the time. Now I need to gather again.  In time I am going to create some work with Daniel Brooks, Michael Healey, and dig into Romeo and Juliet, and some other plays.

Being that the Conservatory takes place in the middle of summer, what’s your favourite way to treat yourself?

I go to Shuswap Lake in BC and swim, sauna and have some cocktails at sunset. And after some rest, I head for the mountains and backpack into some big, huge, undeniable nature. Every year.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Stephen O'Connell Debunks the Myths Surrounding Devised Theatre

Stephen O'Connell, pictured in promotional image for site-specific work It Comes In Waves

Co-Artistic director of bluemouth inc., Stephen O’Connell guest teaches at this year’s Volcano Conservatory. His workshop, Collective Creation: a field guide to devising theatre, explores some of the essential methods and techniques for collaborating across a variety of artistic disciplines in the absence of a centralized artistic ‘vision’, ‘director’ or authorial voice.

Are there any common myths about devised theatre that you would LOVE to debunk?

That it is easy. And that it is not rigorous.

I think audiences sometimes make assumptions about a lack of clarity in devised work. Often audiences use the same criteria for experiencing devised work as they do they do for playwright driven dramas and this seems unfortunate to me. I am not suggesting that devised work needn’t live up to the same standard of excellence as a well made play, but I regard the plurality of voice is often the result of a devised process and is a unique asset rather than a limitation.

I also believe that educational systems need to start offering training that better prepares young theatre makers for a career in self producing work. In my opinion, there is such an unrealistic emphasis on developing actors for the film and television rather than providing them with the tools needed to develop their own work and the encouragement to project their vision out in the world.

As a theatre artist, with a professional background in modern dance, do you prefer collaborating with a multi-disciplinary team of performers when creating new work?

Absolutely. I am currently collaborating on a sites-specific project between bluemouth and Necessary Angel and I find it incredibly rewarding to be in a room with a team of people who all consider themselves to be the primary artists. That includes the performers, director, writer, designers and the production team.  A brilliant idea can come from anywhere at anytime, and if you are open and listening carefully you will discover it. I enjoy working with people who are generous, sensitive and have a healthy sense of ego.

I’ve recently had a lot of interaction with highly trained dancers and I find them to be incredibly disciplined and generous with their creativity. Perhaps even to a fault.

Challenge: describe your workshop in 5 words not already in the title?

Personal, Ambiguous, Expressive, Exhausting and Rigorous.

NYC is considered a second home for many Torontonians, whether it’s for leisure or career pursuits…was Brooklyn a natural choice for you to build with bluemouth inc?

No. I moved back to New York 10 years ago for very personal reasons. My family lives in New Jersey and I wanted to spend some quality time with my parents. I initially thought it would be very cool to develop work in Toronto and then produce it in New York, but that no longer interests me. I think New York is a very tough place to live and an even tougher place to develop your craft as an artist. There is such a sacristy of resources. The companies who inspire me like the Wooster Group or Elevator Repair Service are all working with very limited resources. Individual companies are forced to huddle around their individual fires making it challenging to nudge your way into their circle. Not impossible just really challenging. Resulting in a lesser sense of artistic community that I personally need to creatively survive.  

I mean I love going to see world-class international work with frequency. I live a block away from the Brooklyn Academy of Music and on any given Friday night something amazing is happening there, but there are also many amazing international companies coming to Toronto.    

We are excited to partner with the Theatre Centre as the venue for this year’s Volcano Conservatory - what do you think about their new space?!

I love the new Theatre Centre, but I am also in love with the Theatre Centre in general. The Theatre Centre was the first organization to offer bluemouth help when we first arrived in Toronto. David Duclos was the Artistic Director at the time. I met him at an Inter Disciplinary symposium in Montreal. He was the first person we contacted when we arrived in Toronto and he immediately opened his doors to us. The Theatre Centre helped produce all of the early bluemouth shows and connected us to a community of like-minded artists.  hen when Franco Boni became the Artistic Director our relationship to the Theatre Centre continued and became even deeper. bluemouth became one of the first resident companies and their support helped to lift us up to the next level.

Where is your favourite spot in the city during the summer?

Toronto Island is pretty awesome in the summer time. I love the fact that you can hop on a ferry and in 10 minutes suddenly feel like you are miles away from the city. Trinity Bellwoods Park is also pretty special. Perhaps you can start to see the trend. These are both places where bluemouth has done site-specific shows.