struggle and joy

July 31, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Posted in creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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At the end of the last post I mentioned how we were entering the difficult central part of the residency. I mentioned the coexistence of struggle and joy. The interaction between those two things has become crucial to my emerging understanding of the dynamics of an intensive, immersive residential development process.

Yesterday was a really hard day. People’s struggles appeared (to themselves and to others), overwhelming. We are tired, and far from home (if by that we mean far from familiarity, routine and the comfort of routine). Self-pity is perfectly understandable and very seductive. Grumpiness or a search for someone to blame is only human.

Yet our struggle is our own and though we can sympathise one with another, we cannot fight someone else’s demons for them.

Joyousness seems remote, trivial and annoying.

And yet….. Joyousness – our joy in ourselves and our delight in others – is perhaps the only really useful gift we can give to another when the going is tough. We can celebrate a person’s struggle because we admire that person for being strong enough to undertake it. We need them to know that, whatever the outcome, we are delighted by them and that we can share time and space with them. Through our joyousness we remind each other that we are here by choice and that we have got what we came for – the chance to struggle with our demons and, through that struggle, to grow. That act of remembering that we are personally responsible for our own struggle (and that if the going is to tough, we can always walk away, as no one is a prisoner here) is both a tough lesson and a gentle support to us all.

So if joyousness is the gift we give to others to support them as they struggle, what is the gift we give to ourselves when everything seems too hard? I suggest, once again, that is joy. I want to own my own struggle and reap my own rewards. I want to find and remember (however hard) a gratitude that I am in a place, supported joyfully by people I respect, where my necessary struggle can take place. For my struggle will make me stronger.

As an ensemble we consistently support, without reservation, other ensemble members in their difficulties. We are unconditional in our acceptance of people’s strengths and weaknesses. And yet we condemn ourselves for the slightest hint that we have failed to live up to some impossibly high standard we have set ourselves. Why do we always choose to treat ourselves with less love, joy and respect than we treat others? How does that help?

Yesterday was a hard day with raw struggle and utter joyousness. Today, a physically punishing day, has been triumphant. Though there will be other battles, we have overcome, collectively, a slump.

Last night, as the rain fell and the wind blew, we gathered in the barn (with popcorn and wine) and watched Kurasawa’s film ‘Throne of Blood’ projected on the end wall of the studio. Yuki listened in Japanese, the rest of us followed the subtitles, as a samauri ‘Macbeth’ unfolded. It is an immense, amazing film and to see it in such a place, as if an old travelling cinema show had, for one night only, landed in the neighbourhood, only added to its epic quality.


Being an immigrant.

July 29, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Posted in creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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Yesterday was the end of the first full week of the residency. Of the seven days, we have worked for six and a half. Unsurprisingly everyone is exhausted. Genuinely exhausted. Bodies hurt. People feel vulnerable. A niggling pain seems to become an insurmountable barrier. People are raw. It is a time of possible fractiousness, though, to date, the ensemble members are extraordinarily respectful of each other and generous in their willingness not to take out their vulnerability on others.

The particular sort of exhaustion that we are starting to encounter is not only a function of the physical and psychic demands of an intensive work regime, it is a reflection of the reality of a residency. Not only does the immersion in prolonged psychophysical –  and skills  – training make one tired and vulnerable, but the fact that we are all outside our usual routines, our usual social and domestic structures, that all our usual hiding places have been left behind, exacerbates our vulnerability. As well as our bodies and minds becoming strange to  us, as we push ourselves beyond our usual limits, our social selves become strange as well – we have to invent new ways of interacting with people, new ways of carving out necessary private time and space without seeming hostile or confrontational. We have to revisit our habitual ways of being and consider the ethics and morality of how we establish productive, respectful, but self-protecting relationships with a new society.

As someone who emigrated to Australia years ago (though returned eight years later), it reminds me a little of the vulnerability I experienced as a new immigrant. Nothing could be taken for granted and even the familiar became profoundly strange. How much more true that is here – we are all immigrants to Whitestone, made doubly vulnerable by exhaustion and the tenderising process of deep training.

Yesterday we took a half day off. I offered everyone the option of not working in the morning, though nobody chose to take it – in itself a testament to the profound strength and determination I am seeing in all those who have come here.. However the afternoon was free time – everyone ended up walking a couple of miles to the local pub to celebrate Yuki’s 24th birthday. We shared a meal in the evening. Three of the ensemble baked a cake. We gave Yuki two copies of ‘Wuthering Heights’ (written only a couple of miles from here) one in English and one in Japanese. We drank wine – most of us.

And today we started the second intensive week of the training. The next week will be the hardest. I encourage people to approach it through a commitment to their own joyousness, but even so, I cannot stand between any individual and her struggle. Though, profoundly, we are sharing an experience, our struggle is our own.


July 27, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Posted in creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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We’ve been pushing with more detail into the process of actually forming an ensemble. An ensemble is not just a group of people who work together. Nor is an ensemble a mechanical unit in which individuality disappears, a unit that requires personality to disappear and for everyone to become interchangeable.

So far so good – that’s what an ensemble isn’t. But what is it?

For us, as we train in the studio, there is a clear sense that what is happening between us, in the gaps between each unique individual, is real, though invisible. The ensemble, increasingly, exists and we know when we are working as an ensemble and when the interconnectedness fractures. Yet, it eludes definition. It is real and yet undefinable.

Years ago when I began to train the Quiddity Ensemble in Melbourne, I use to talk about ‘IT’ being in the room. With five people there would be six performers – the five humans and IT. IT had its own desires – if you learn to listen to the ensemble it reveals that it has a logic, a dynamic, a direction. Something happens in the room, inside a simple exercise or as an improvisation unfolds, which is beyond the will, the control or the understanding of any one individual. IT lives. Yet IT does not, in reality, exist (if by that one means that IT can be defined, seen or understood). The heart of ensemble is utterly mysterious, yet utterly real.

Part of the underpinning of this mystery, ( and what makes it possible for me specifically to train ensembles, for you can only train what is open to manipulation and development) lies in the relationship between the individual as ‘provoker’ and the individual as ‘reactor’. Part of the discipline of being an ensemble member is about learning an appropriate balance between following your own pleasure and responding to the offers that others have made in following their pleasure.

To inhabit an ensemble requires a complete giving up of ego and a complete commitment to one’s egos. It requires strong individuals who are willing to follow their own path or walk meekly along paths forged by others.

To be in an ensemble requires learning to listen with all of one’s senses. Listen to what? Listen to IT.

ps. As I wrote this I heard Michael – our extraordinary chef for our time at Whitestone – say with all seriousness to Judith:’ Don’t worry, salad can be anarchy…’. Things are hotting up….

photos and videos

July 26, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Posted in creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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A fantastic morning of training, during which we welcomed and began to integrate David (who missed the first few days). Now there is a completeness and the ensemble dynamic I imagined – even dreamed of – for the last few months is embodied in the room and inside every exercise.

I spent the rest of the day dealing with photos and videos so that those who are following us from the UK and the rest of the world can get some visual sense of what we are up to.

There are some photos on DUENDE’s facebook page:

For those not on facebook there are a few photos on my webpage at (look for the DUENDE photo page)

There is a rough video of first week impressions of at:

I hope you enjoy putting some pictures to these thoughts. Please feel free to comment on anything you read here. We are utterly immersed in a fantastic process, but remain aware also of a world out there (and as I see the statistics, I know that there a small but growing number of people who are following our progress online via this blog.)

starting to dig deeper

July 25, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Posted in creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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Today is the fourth day of full time training. Each day we are in the studio between 7 and 8 hours. Already, unsurprisingly, everyone is exhausted. Bodies ache and are bruised. Muscles we didn’t know we had appear and start to complain. There are little twinges here and there. And of course, mentally, there is also, already, a sense of overload, of immersion in a raging current, of a certainly helplessness.

(As I sit and write this I have just left the studio after running 45 minutes of after-lunch warm-up and I am pouring with sweat. The performers are in there, working still and will be for the next three hours.)

Helplessness? By that I mean that there is a stark choice when faced with the beginnings of a deep tiredness: either give up and walk away, or work through the tiredness. Of course, giving up and leaving the project is an option for anyone – no one is a prisoner. But to do so would be to admit that we were deluding ourselves when we said we wanted to be physical performers, that we wanted to use at bodies at a peak level.

In fact, this is not exhaustion – it’s tiredness. It’s first-level tiredness, the tiredness that tells us that we have gone as far with our bodies and our minds as we usually do. We are at the edge of our habitual use-of-self. That is not the end point, it’s only the beginning. For our work really starts when we break from that first level energy into something deeper, into the intensity of concentration and body use that lies on the other side of our daily exertions.  So generating deep tiredness – both through pushing the endurance of muscles and cardio-vascularly is a necessary prelude to the starting of the real work. It is also the process through which each individual proves to him or herself their own seriousness-of-purpose.

It is in the act of breaking through from a first to a second level – from habitual body use to extraordinary body use that each individual learns to pay deep and detailed attention to what her body is communicating: ‘is that a good pain?’ (carry on with the work) or ‘is that a bad pain?” (stop, or do it differently). It is about learning personal responsibility for lovingly treating your bodymind as hard as possible!

There is of course also a psychic side to the pursuit of work-beyond-tiredness. Too many performers whip themselves into harder and harder uses of their bodies – then seem surprised when they break. They think that the way to move beyond tiredness is to force suffering upon themselves. Too many directors think that they have the right – even the duty – to drive their performers beyond what they can endure. Too many young artists are broken through this process.

I don’t drive anyone. I work with people who drive themselves, not through suffering but through the disciplined, rigourous and unflinching pursuit of their own deep pleasure.

I suspect that’s the subject of another post though.

Studio activity

July 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Posted in creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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As we start to settle in to the rhythm of this residency, which in itself is the first part of the creation of ‘The Shattering Man’, what are we actually doing?

I am resisting the urge to start work on anything to do with the script, or even yet on anything that could be within the world of the play. I’m not even really working on developing the performance style that I imagine the final piece will require.

At the moment we are concentrating on meeting each other – at an instinctual and perceptual level. We are beginning to experience the particular network of relationships that form the underpinning of this particular ensemble. We are engaging in a process of training that allows each individual to check in with where he or she is, in terms of their mental and physical discipline, and perhaps to set themselves personal objectives for the work over the next few weeks.

Each morning I run 3 – 4 hours of training. This involves people throwing a lot of bags (and sometimes sticks) around (anyone who has worked with me in the past will know exactly what I mean!). We work with a small number of other exercises, most of them designed to help the performers see themselves and see their fellow performers more clearly. Much of the work is based on the mental discipline of being absolutely present in the moment. At the moment I want us to ‘be’, so that we can learn to be truly live in front of an audience.

And we improvise – in pairs, trios and as a whole group. Physical, dynamic improvisation which demands people really pay close attention to one another and learn to respond instantly to the offers that others make.

In the afternoons we are currently working on skills development -which other members of the ensemble are running. Eilon is working on developing a sensitivity to (and ability to work with) rhythm. Eva is working on core physical skills of lifting and carrying. Aliki is teaching singing, based on traditional Greek songs. Chris will soon start to run voice work as well.

These core skills sit alongside the psychophysical development that the morning work facilitates, to generate an ensemble with shared performance languages and shared attitudes to work. It combines the development of performance skill with the cultivation of a core ‘purpose’, or a common intention which is so fundamental to a genuine sense of ensemble.

The fact that we are living and eating together means that people can,collectively or just in private conversation, reflect on a days’s work and so, through reflection, embed the learning of each day into their psyche to be retrieved the next time the same exercise is undertaken.

launch day

July 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Posted in creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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the idea for DUENDE has been in my head for a number of year – pretty much since I disbanded the Quiddity Ensemble that I used to run in Australia until 2004.

the idea for this structure – a coming together of collaborators, all of who have had some (or extensive) connection with the way I train performers – really crystallised as a result of some emails from people saying ‘why don’t you get off your arse and set up an ensemble….?’

the details, and the first draft of ‘The Shattering Man’ emerged wen I took a holiday last november and rented a cottage in cumbria during which (and gloriously) it rained every day….

then there was planning, deciding who to invite to join, applying and being rejected for funding, times when it felt viable, times when it felt absurd, elation, disappointment, indifference…

then intensive planning, arrangements, dietary preferences, airports…

and so to today..

after a shared meal last night and a deep deep sleep – nothing but darkness and the occasional rustle of wind – and a slightly nervous breakfast, at 9.30 the ensemble began to converge for personal warm-up. I know them all, but from different contexts and each new configuration of people carries a unique energy to it. At 10.00 we stood and looked at the beautiful studio we are in, and listened to the landscape outside, and looked at the people who had each, individually, decided that they wanted to be here more than anywhere else, stepping outside lives. leaving behind loved ones, sacrificing income. One person is still to come so there is still the potential for even more, despite the fact that we already have so much.

And so the work began.  Gloriously. At a high level. With laughter. Dynamically. The configuration of people is unique and wonderful. The first DUENDE ensemble is starting to integrate

We’ve started.

critical mass

July 21, 2010 at 11:33 am | Posted in creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | 1 Comment
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Today the ensemble assembles (minus one who is completing a show elsewhere and will be with us soon).

Last night, I thought about what to do in the studio for the first couple of days – what to do in detail rather than broadly…

nothing. not a single thought.

I have brought together all these people and cannot think of  a single thing to suggest that we do…..

Pause. Breathe.

I know the aesthetic we are aiming towards – embodied, jagged, raw, vocally rich, physically extended. Often my work generates embodied performance where the ‘physical skill’ is hidden. The energy flows and the work looks effortless, notwithstanding the fact that it’s actually complex and demanding. However for this piece, I know we need to foreground some ideas of physical struggle and physical extremity. The piece is about a man attempting to remain whole, a man who tries to hold the entire universe together by force of his aggressive will. A man who fails, and shatters. He is a man who is fragmented, with numerous ‘extremes’ held together in what we call ‘his character…’ He is a man who is created by the entire ensemble, most of whom are women.

If I know the aesthetic and I know the heart of the script, then I have starting points. I will build them, technically, into the physical, vocal and mental forging of this particular ensemble. Build from what I know towards what is waiting to be discovered.

And – as I endlessly encourage performers to do – I need to pursue my personal pleasure and delight in the work.

The ensemble, without exception, comprises excellent performers. When I do not know where to go, they will.

Above all, there is a creative exploration to undertake. It is right that I do not know much now.

The rest is just anxiety.

splintering attention

July 20, 2010 at 9:36 am | Posted in arts funding, arts promotion, creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, scenography, Theatre, theatre design | Leave a comment
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As is so often the way when running a large project, there are multiple demands on my attention. There are arrangements to be made – I need to be at the airport at certain times to meet people and deliver them places. I need to ensure that everyone knows whatever they need to know. I need to consider various possible eventualities (what if there is torrential rain for all three weeks at the farm, what if there is a drought and the water runs dry (not my problem), what if  what if what if….?)

There are longer-term questions – publicising the show, making sure people who I want to be invited are invited (before or after their summer holidays….?).

There is a sense of responsibility. I initiated this monster, I need to make sure – at least to the best of my ability – that it serves the needs and desires of al those who have trusted in it.

How easy it is to forget to be an artist among all this noise and confusion. I have scarcely glanced at the script nor thought about developmental studio work in the last week. Am I remembering to serve my needs amid all this?

I’ve been doing this a long time, so there is a sense that I have a well of experience to draw on, but I don’t want to replicate, with this ensemble, work that I have already explored elsewhere. This process must be one of growth for me as well. For genuine creativity is a process of exploration and growth, not one of simple replication.

So today, the last day before going to Whitestone, I will carve out that hardest of times for an artist – the one that often we do not allow ourselves to have and yet which is so necessary. I am going to find a forest and go for a walk in it. I am going to muse and mull. Thinking of something and nothing. I am going to let different parts of my thoughts sidle up to one another and create new ways of thinking.

Like many artists, I have internalised a sense that if I am not ‘doing’ something, then I am somehow slacking. But what I need now, what the creative process needs of me now, what those who are working with me need me to do now, is not ‘doing’ but ‘being’. I need to go and be somewhere and to allow the irrational, inchoate, urgent sub-texture of the imminent process to talk to me as it did. months ago, when I was first developing the script.

As soon as I’ve finished this press release…


July 17, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Posted in Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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Within a few hours, Anna gets on a plane in Australia to start a journey that will end, two months from now, in the heart of a production I can hardly imagine. That makes things very real.

I have a sense of a magnetic force, pulling disparate people from several countries and from round the UK to one place for one purpose. The first step in the forming of an ensemble is a willingness of unconnected people to come together in a single place  and time with a common aim. Without the shared intention, and the willingness to sacrifice for that intention,no amount of thinking and no style of training can generate an ensemble. It starts with an individual commitment – to the self, to the collective, to a vision of a way of making art.

The time is tightening.

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