Always the hardest session, because it is at this point that I choose to look at ensemble work.
From the point of view of the students, it's the least amount of 'acting' that they will ever do and so, it's quite important how I pitch this session. It requires a tremendous amount of concentration and co-operation, for long periods of time and it is not always apparent, to the younger students, how this relates to being an actor- especially on Film or TV, but in such cases, given the very long periods of inactivity (on set, or in your trailer), being focused and ready to 'go' , instantly, is vitally important.
It's also the session where we introduce a discussion about Body Language and all of the students either go home over analysing the body language of their family and friends, or begin to become really aware of their own gestures and posture.
In the very first session, I mentioned that there would be certain words or phrases that I would repeat. One of these words has been "awareness". Today is about awareness. Awareness of what we are 'projecting', physically to an audience, as well as an awareness of the space that we are working in and the people that we work with.
Whether we are on stage, or working in front of the camera, there are constant parameters within which we are working. It may (on stage) be a pool of light, or an area that is affected by 'sight lines'. In front of the camera, it could be the framing of the shot that we are in, or the shot that we are about to walk into.
It's an old adage- amongst actors, " remember your lines and don't bump into the furniture" and as funny as it is, it's actually quite true. Being aware of others around you is also important- as is knowing when to make adjustments in your positions: on stage (in order not to upstage, or block someone), or on camera, to "cheat a position" (it's technical!!). So being given direction, particularly on a film or tv set, and retaining your performance, when you've only ever spoken your lines in your living room, or dressing room, requires you to process information quickly and adapt to your surroundings.
To illustrate just this point we played a very simple game with only 4 instructions: "Go", "Stop", "Last Night" and "This Morning".
In this game, students, as a whole group/company/ensemble, are jointly responsible for keeping the space filled, whilst constantly moving.
"Go" means go, and "Stop" means stop. "Last Night" and "This Morning" are signals to perform an action which represents something that they did, last night or this morning- an action performed whilst still moving. They move around the room, following the four very simple instructions and everything is, as they were expecting it to be, based on the simple instructions.
Once you over-load the actor with further information, about how important it is to keep the spaces filled, think about where you're moving to first, keep your heads up etc... you can then change "Go" and "Stop" to mean the opposite. The brain is slow to process this basic change of instruction and therefore, the actor starts to make the mistake of following the old instruction. This is a very simple way of demonstrating how actors, sometimes need time to process information and on a sometimes busy filming set, people may throw things at you that you're not expecting (this after you've been sat down for 5 1/2 hours, waiting for your call to the set).
We looked at another exercise, which required precision and concentration.
In pairs, the students were able to count from 1-3 ,alternating the numbers between themselves and carrying on in a loop:
b: 3 etc...
...however, when we split the group into two, lined one half of the group up, facing the other half (Line A and Line B) and made Line A start the same exercise, in unison, as a group, the group failed.
By giving each number a gesture, we made the exercise more difficult. When we removed the gestures, one at a time, the group were suddenly able to carry out the task successfully. This device enabled the group to focus and process the information quickly.
Another exercise which can appear to be 'simple', is a space reduction exercise. The group move freely around the large expanse of the studio, but when you keep reducing the size of the space and imposing restrictions (no physical contact), the students become aware of the amount of control required, to perform the task accurately. What they also become aware of is, pace and energy. Pace is reduced when the space is, energy is required to move more quickly. Each of these actions becomes deliberate and the group learns about responsibility for each other as a whole.
When assembling a company, it's quite important to ensure that you have a group of actors who are prepared to work hard for each other and you can often get an idea of how well they will perform 'detailed 'ensemble work, from the way that they warm up and do group 'focus' exercises. We are certainly blessed with our students, as they spent some long periods of time, working on some detailed tasks and handled them superbly.
We took some time to discuss body language and discovered some very important facts:
It is best to consider body language as a serious of gestures, which make up a sentence, rather than to try and interpret how someone is feeling, based on a single gesture. We call this reading a 'cluster' of gestures.
Just like words can have different meanings, depending upon the context in which they are used, gestures too, can mean many different things.
Body language and status are where we will pick up from next Saturday. That, plus an ensemble piece that the group are working on. It involves limited spoken dialogue and a vast amount of unison work.
Until next week..
This is our company Blog, re-capping previous weeks sessions.