19
May
16

anywhere festival’s biodrama day10 – la andariega: ancient memories

 

MARACCAS

(Mobile Active Recreation and Creative Community Art Space)

Preparing for La Andariega: Ancient Memories

from notes taken during #biodramadharma day10: The Viewpoints

by Xanthe Coward

Saturday May 14 2016

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“theatre isn’t necessarily for everyone, in the same way that football isn’t necessarily for everyone. My attitude to the latter is pretty much the rest of my family’s attitude to the former: I’ll happily watch it on the odd occasion, but it isn’t really my cup of tea. And that’s fine. But theatre should be there for everyone: equally available and accessible to all who might – and might not – gain something from it. That means making theatre buildings as welcoming as possible; it means making theatre affordable and easy to access; it means letting people know that it’s happening and that they might be interested in it; it means avoiding lazy, offensive assumptions about different demographics and what they might want to see; it means opening up a dialogue with potential and existing audiences; it means talking about theatre in a way that makes it sound interesting and fun rather than elite and exclusive.

It’s that last point that I’m particularly (sometimes agonisingly) preoccupied with. There is of course work still to be done when it comes to theatre spaces, their accessibility, and who and what gets represented on their stages. But the surrounding discourse feeds into the same set of structures and ultimately influences, in however invisible a way, who gets admitted or shut out by those structures. How is theatre being discussed? Who is discussing it? What is being discussed and what is being ignored? What assumptions is that discussion – knowingly or unknowingly – founded on?”

– Catherine Love

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“Theatre needs to be discussed in a way that makes it seem available, rather than shut away behind a barrier of big, reverent words.”

– Catherine Love

The Inaugural MARACCAS’ 17-Day Intensive continues…

Read Part 1 here

On the weekend the group had moved into the Black Box Theatre space at the Old Ambulance Station, Nambour. I pass a whiteboard on the way in; it’s the “Parking Lot”, for holding ideas. Questions and thoughts about enlightenment, catharthis, cleansing and rebirth; notes about the arrangement of chairs in the space; humour – relief – the inner child, and later, after the first Viewpoints exercise, Olga adds “stress or relief?” I say hi to Mary and then speak with Linda, an artist from Cooran, who explains her work – it’s amazing – and her initial intention of coming in for 5 days of the Intensive. After that she decided to “jump in” and join the performance ensemble.

When the session begins with a Sacred Circle I stay out of it, observing only. I feel the group is too far into the process for me to join them and my interest is in how the work develops from here. I love the ritual of the process itself, the connections, and the deeper understanding that comes from simply stopping, listening and acknowledging. Saturday’s Sacred Circle is for Olga – Lilly reminds us, “we each talk with Olga and let her know what we learn from her.”

Jonas begins. “You have amazing energy, you keep the fluidity, you’re very compassionate and pure, not only today but through the whole experience.” I miss something uttered in Spanish and there is laughter and – this from Olga – “Don’t mess up with Olga!” and, after more laughter about a conversation that took place last night, “We are here in a Big Brother house…”

Lilly says, “You have this incredible sense of groundedness; it’s joyous. I see you as the mama bear of the group. You see communication and you allow it and you create space for other people to experience freedom.” Dan says that what he’s learned from Olga is to speak his voice, to stand up for what he thinks is right, and “to keep pushing in the direction of your goals even if it’s uncomfortable.” Dan has worked with Olga at Playback Theatre.

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And what has Olga learned? “When I give myself permission to create and I don’t hold back I have a great capacity to jump over anyone… My totem came out to be the snake. I have to explore my camouflage.

I’ve learned a different meaning for the word compassion, which is more human, which comes from small gestures…and I can see connections: the threads, how all the strings keep on pushing and pulling; the complexity of human relationships. and the great things that happen when you take away pre-judgment…

It’s really nice to be able to repeat things, make it better (in this process). And how good food tastes…”

Everyone says their Sacred Name in a confident, powerful voice and Deanna introduces the session: an introduction to The Viewpoints.

The group begins with the basic exercises, listening intently, following Deanna’s every word. It’s mostly new work – remember, in here not everyone is a trained actor. But the energy in the room has changed. Everyone is ready to do the work. The group forms a circle and the actors use peripheral vision to start walking, equidistant apart, tuning into impulses and stopping or changing direction or jumping when the impulse takes them, and following the lead of others. 

Deanna reminds everyone to continue correcting the balance of the circle, stay tuned in and maintain the same pace. Next is the exercise called Lanes (exploring limiting factors in order to work more closely as a group), and after so much circle work it must be refreshing to work in straight lines! The options – the gesture range – include stopping or jumping or sitting or to lie down upon impulse, breaking up the movement forwards and backwards. Everyone explores pace and kinaesthetic responses i.e. “Think about how other people in the line are affecting your movement” (let the movement of others affect you and make a choice about how to respond). Deanna prompts everyone to explore duration e.g. hold the sitting position or jump 10 times.

Through restriction comes the exploration of certain elements.

– Deanna

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And here, suddenly, is the shift in energies. It happens in every rehearsal room, hopefully at every rehearsal! The individual energies have all come into the same realm and the group energy is focused. I watch as everyone drops their insecurities and embraces real confidence, really trusting the impulses. Moments of slow, controlled movement are broken abruptly by the impulses to run forward or jump. At one point the group runs forward towards me, fast! It’s confronting and unnerving. The individual energies continue to shift and balance out, but the collective energy and the level of focus remain the same. The sound of feet pounding the timber, the shuffling and the silence and stillness are all very satisfying. At times the floorboards creak. Deanna instructs everyone to “find an ending.” Eventually there is stillness and silence and a straight line again.

It’s interesting to detach…to turn your brain off and become a vessel for movement.

– Lilly

Linda notes that during the exercise she was aware of silence followed by a sudden orchestration of sound. “A certain feeling could be created in the room, like suspense, so it was a really powerful evocation of…something.” Lilly muses, “There’s an element of leadership but being able to follow as well. The dynamic is of being able to lead and to receive.” Dan adds, “I found myself grabbing control, having control and then releasing again.”

Whether by chance or by listening, are we coordinated? There’s a very strong sense of responsibility. I can do whatever but it doesn’t fit in with the group. I can be a leader but that doesn’t fit in with the group.

– Olga

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There is no break. Deanna goes on to introduce the 7 Energy Levels, which she takes us through one by one…

#4 Neutral (lying on the floor; no energy)

#1 The body is very heavy, breathing is slow, very deep. To make any movement is really difficult. To lift a limb it feel like the limb is full of lead.

#2 The body is still not easy to move, breathing is still slow, but you can pull yourself along the floor if you have to. You might try to get up but you fall back down before reaching your feet.

#3 The body feels lighter but it’s hard to take control of your movement, as if the wind has more control than you do over your movement; air comes into your joints. The body floats through space. You are off-balance, mostly slow. Big long exhalations.

#4 neutral (standing) The spine is straight, the head is straight, feet are shoulder width apart and arms hang loosely. Breathing is steady. You’re feeling relaxed and ready for what may come. You’re alert and aware, and relaxed. From here we can create any emotion.

#5 The breathing becomes more rapid and tension becomes apparent. Shallow breaths, a quicker pace; anticipating something: stress or anxiety. Add gestures (wring hands or shake out the tension). Whatever that feeling does to your body, let it inhabit you. Maybe other people start to agitate you in the space…

#6 The breathing is fast and shallow, fight or flight energy, fear, terror. N.B. Not a faster pace.

FREEZE.

#7 feel the energy of Level 6 energy while frozen. This is dynamic stillness (if you unfreeze you can go back to Level 6 energy in an instant). Keep the moment of being alive, being “in action” in your head.

Deanna taps shoulders to allow performers to step out of their frozen position to take a look at what the dynamic stillness looks like in the others. She calls out, “Level 6” and “Level 7” – switching between Level 6 & Level 7 is exhilarating and exhausting…and I’m only watching! Deanna takes the group back through the energy levels until the bodies sink into the floor, relieved. Deanna prompts the debrief discussion – any discoveries?

Lilly says, “We can play with those higher energies for the city scene.” Dan agrees, suggesting the group consider using the essence of both exercises – the lanes and the energy levels – to build the city scene. Jonas notes, “The exercise is really valuable for seeing the energies still there when we detach and look. Your breath is what filters the energy and brings it up to the next energy.” Linda discusses the importance of the performer’s gaze. Deanna agrees: on the other hand, high energy levels require (breaking the gaze and) looking all around because the awareness comes up and out. Linda observes a major benefit of having an ensemble on the same page when it comes to energy levels. “It could be a shorthand to what’s required in a scene. Somebody might be feeling stressed and giving Level 7 energy when what’s required is Level 4.”

Is neutral energy not alive?

There is some discussion about Level 6 energy. Olga sees the potential for Level 6 energy to be used for someone in love and Deanna counters, “It’s orgasmic” (and not just enthusiastic). We understand that excited, high stress can be positive or negative energy.

The breath is the key. The body follows the breath.

Someone remembers that Zen Zen Zo’s Lynne Bradley talked about commitment. Commit to the gesture and the audience sees the 100% commitment in that moment. The audience doesn’t see how much or how little experience you have.

Next, Deanna takes the group through a laughter exercise:

Breathing in and taking arms out (outstretched), clap hands and vocalise, “HA!”

Walk across the circle, making eye contact, “HA HA” then “HA HA HA” then “HA HA HA HA”, clapping to match.

Make the “HAHAHAHAHA” sound like a motorcycle starting. Greet people with the motorcycle sound.

Deep breaths to come back to neutral.

Gesture becomes a cup of tea. Lighten the sound. Greet others between sips of tea.

Deep breaths to come back to neutral.

Gesture becomes both hands on the belly for a big Santa Claus, “HO HO HO HO” (or as a gorilla)

Deep breaths to come back to neutral.

Vocalise a siren (“orchestra”) of laughter, conducted by Deanna. This inspires whirling and twirling around the space, laughing in the upper register, and snorts and “strange” laughs.

Deep breaths to come back to neutral.

I wonder if there is anyone outside, on their way to Woolworths, hurrying by when they were in no hurry at all, and wondering what on earth is going on inside the Black Box Theatre…

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There is full commitment from this group. Everyone is here to get out of it what they will, even if they’re still not sure what it will be. With the new addition to the daily routine – sharing what each individual has taught everyone – everyone might find out something new through what someone else reveals.

Jonas steps out to confer with the Indigenous elders and advisors. There are still some traditions and acknowledgements to get right. The rest of us move outside, roadside, onto a patch of grass in the sunshine, working on images created using bodies in space, and gesture and proximity. And perception…

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What do we see in each picture? What do we “read”? What will the audience get from it?

We are here to give a message…at the end of the day the goal is to make that message to the others.

Olga

Back inside, there is some concern about the performance space. “Where are the spaces where the energies can leak out (and come in), and where is it possible for those messages to be weakened?” asks Linda. Lilly explains, “It’s the circle that creates the container for the work to take place…we’ll delineate the circle and the doorway where spirits and energies can come in and out of that space. Being aware of that circle as a sacred space and being a container, a vessel, for those energies. That’s the device… There’s a power in the gesture of making it a safe space.”

Lilly takes a call from Jonas and advises the group that David (Gubbi Gubbi) will not be coming in after all because his energy is not in it today. David and his brother, Mark, will come tomorrow to assist with choreography and talk with the group about the possibility of them being involved in the performance.

There is a discussion about the chairs. The chairs in the Black Box Theatre are rows of 5 square plastic chairs, which doesn’t allow for the curved audience the group wants. The performance space will continue to change so the discussion is added to the Parking Lot. The conversation turns to clarifying the meaning of the work. Having joined the core group later in the piece, Linda is still working out what it all means for her. She says, “The intention of BioDrama is to somehow connect the ancestral beings and we’re here on the Sunshine Coast. It’s like a timeless meeting of ancestral beings but how does that relate to the Coolum story? Is that the port through which we meet the ancestral beings?”

Lilly reminds the group that the show and the process of creating it has a lot to do with acknowledgement. Kerry (Gubbi Gubbi) spoke about acknowledgement. It’s about the reconnection with ancient wisdom – acknowledging and remembering – “and the story that we chose came up spontaneously in our communication with Kerry. For me it has a lot to do with the cleansing and reconnecting with nature that I feel needs to happen. In the world, we’ve reached a level of ‘grotesque’ and the cleansing is necessary,” explains Lilly.

It’s the story of the cycle, of the river – the river of life – the story of birth, reminding us that the river not only brings us life but a reason for fighting, that duality; not only the good thing or the bad thing but all things and you eventually find the cleansing, the rain…

– Olga

Lilly: “There’s the cleansing. Olga continues, “And the stories don’t finish here. It may find something that’s negative and it will rumble and it will become positive. It’s the cycle of life. We need stories that we can understand. They’re all metaphors for that cycle of the river; that cycle of life.” For Dan, the story is still evolving. He says, “I’ll wait and see how it unfolds.”

Lilly leads a discussion about the shape of the performance. There will be the initial acknowledgment and welcome, with mother earth in the centre and the umbilical cord of life. Each person has a line to speak, to connect and acknowledge, “and we have permission from the Indigenous people to work with these traditional stories, and it’s really important that we have an elder to do that welcome. Then we begin.” The story of Maroochy and Ninderrry and Coolum will be shared.

On Friday the group had sketched the units of performance to create a storyboard. There are 5 main story segments, which is a simplified version of events. Lilly is wary of the message becoming convoluted. Olga simplifies the message (the story) further, breaking the images up into just 3 narrative acts: the beginning, middle and end.

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There is some discussion about aesthetic choices. For example, will the same grief motif be used a second time, rather than changing Maroochy’s grief and asking the audience to recognise different forms (different representations) of grief. The decision is to keep it simple and repeat the recognisable “grief” gesture and sound.

Lilly reiterates an important point learned from David in the original discussions about which story to tell. This is new to me. She explains that despite the need for some light comic relief, the Indigenous story of the two frogs cannot come into it because the one Dreaming story is already being told. Unlike our Anglo penchant for mash-ups of fairytales and the like, our Indigenous people prefer the traditional stories to stay unmixed. In fact, it would be disrespectful to try to combine them, undermining the entire cultural exchange.

Dan suggests skipping through the city scene to add some lightness and Olga talks about comic relief and awareness of the inner child, and what about the clowns? There is some confusion about the ‘clowns’. Lilly clarifies, “Definitely not the image of a (circus) clown, but bringing in that essence of childhood play. It could be leapfrog but we would avoid the frog story because David has expressed that.”

There must also be some sort of debrief with the audience because it’s always such an intense experience for them. “With a debrief you give them closure and you get closure as performers.” There might need to be a physical way of involving the audience in the rebirth/catharsis… Erica describes a performance in which she and Maddy were involved, culminating in a dance with the audience. Holding hands is always a good idea… A hand-holding tribal dance sounds like the upbeat version of the sort of ritual that might open the show. Lilly suggests that when children are added to the performance, dancing and playing, they can bring the performers back to life after the grotesque segment and bring the audience into their dance by holding hands…

Deanna wants to get up and try some things…

I remember some of the tangible things I’ve taken away from (mostly indie) shows over the last few years –

  • an unsealed envelope containing paper for letter writing
  • a paper crane
  • a cupcake
  • a boxing glove keyring
  • a seed

A seed. The seed of a native Australian plant seems to me the ideal gift to offer audience members. I think the council or a local nursery would be more than happy to sponsor…but it’s not my show. I continue to consider these elements of ritual and involving the audience and the “social theatricality” of Biodrama. And I remember reading Catherine Love’s discussions about “catering” for certain demographics, and who is included and excluded from certain forms of culture… 

Dan reminds the group that harmony is the answer to the disruption of the city. Linda tells the group that the thing that’s missing for her is the build up of suspense. “It needs this brooding sense of something awful…” Lilly thinks the the energy of the storm will be evident in the music.

Olga clarifies what the group will work on for the rest of the day – connecting to content, connecting with each other, clarifying the story and marking the movement. This is the ensemble at work, and as I tell Lilly later, during a different conversation, it’s working beautifully.

I promise to return the following day to check out the Grotowski Laboratory…

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