breaking and mending

August 5, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Posted in creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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Once a group has been working together for a while, it begins to find its groove. Initial reservations dissolve, people come to trust and delight in each other. The mutual respect that is generated encourages people to venture from their safe places into areas that are more challenging to them. People take risks. People even learn to like taking risks. As people learn to dare to face up to their personal struggles, they also learn that fear will not kill them and that even when something breaks, what emerges is usually stronger that what it is replacing.

In the main training exercises – the ones we do pretty much every day – people find  now that they can daily achieve, without thinking or undue effort, things that initially seemed impossible to them. In group improvisations, certain vocal and physical languages repeat, certain rhythms or types of inter-relationship or energies reoccur.

The ensemble begins to find a collective identity. It finds its groove.

Around that point, the groove needs to be smashed. What we have made requires breaking so that it can reconfigure and then reform in new, more sophisticated forms. Otherwise the groove, the ensemble identity, becomes not a creative but a complacent place. Exercises are undertaken without real attention because individuals can work at a high level while paying more attention to their distractions than to the details that make the exercise a unique experience every time it is undertaken. Improvisations become familiar – enjoyable certainly – but undemanding.

Today I messed around with our core exercise, which involves throwing juggling bags in a circle (those who have never worked with me might, at this point, wonder how that most common of exercises can be seen as a core training exercise, as an exercise that we do for at least 90 minutes each day, but that’s a topic for another post, though you can get some idea here: http://www.ensemblephysicaltheatre.com/John_Britton/Blog/Entries/2009/8/16_The_Bag_Game.html)

We have spent two intensive weeks achieving a very high level of competence and concentration in this exercise and today I deliberately broke everything, all the ways of concentrating we have built up, the embodied actions we have learned. It can lead people to frustration, anger, insecurity, but will also, when we start again tomorrow, allow people to experience this exercise as if for the first time, having to relearn its basics and recommit themselves to its process.  Similarly in group improvisations, the ensemble needs to learn to recognise when it is in a groove. Sometimes that groove is yielding fruit (in which case they should keep doing what they are doing), and sometimes the ensemble is stuck in their groove (in which case someone needs to be bold enough to smash the groove and see what emerges from the rubble)

This process of development and dismantling is at the heart of growing an ensemble. It is also the model for the development of the self. We learn how to work at a certain level then we must confront and shatter our habits. We risk chaos, we experience failure, we make ourselves vulnerable, so that as our competencies reform, they do so in richer, more sophisticated and more resilient forms. Without the breaking, there is no growth. Without the failure, no success.

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