Friday, September 07, 2007

Back to school, back to work

So I took a few months off after all but burning myself out with Elektra, but I'm back and intend to be badder than ever. :)

Juhannus calling
Rest up

An interesting thing about physical burnout: it takes a long time to recover. Like two months even. I wouldn't say that I was really mentally burnt after last season, but I really had pushed my body to its limit. While Elektra closed in mid-May, I noticed during Kalevala warmups (it ran until June 20) that I was never even able to get my body to run properly. With jumps, balances, and basically especially stuff that involved the legs, I felt vaguely like I was in one of those dreams where the more you will yourself to run away from the knife-wielding, goalie-masked Jason, the more cemented your feet become to the ground. Eventually I learned to just take this as what was available to me now and take it easy until I got my power back, no matter how long that might take. Started taking some ballet lessons in July, and by the time August rolled around and Juha and I enrolled in a three-week intensive Afro dance course, the body was right as rain. I'm deliriously happy to be training again.

So I got into school
And it's been two weeks since my first day of a Master's program at Teatterikorkeakoulu, in Performance art & theory (Esitystaide ja -teoria). There are six of us in the class (3 foreigners, 3 Finns; 3 carnivores, 3 veggies; 3 PCs, 3 macs; so far we've been having a game out of finding all the ways we split down the middle), and the program is known around the school for being academic to the point of nerd-dom, but we're also doing a lot of practical work. I'm looking forward to the mix, becuase it's what I wanted. On this blog I've noticed a tendency to start thinking more methodically about what I do; in this program I'll have the opportunity to officially concentrate on that much. But the practical work is also essential.

My two-year project, at the moment, is basically a study of "stage presence" and how it relates to the body and mind of the performer.

That's a very, very nutshell version. I'm looking at biomechanics as a form of physical, theatrical training. I'm looking at Zen as a form of mental attention/concentration training. Technology in our lives as a source of interruption of our natural moment-to-moment presence. The audience as a source of presence itself, and how that might interact with the peformer. Presence as a trainable skill. The concept of interruption, the idea of control, and the link between what we believe we can/cannot control and our own sense of well-being. All of these things (which now make the project sound like it's branching out like a Lorenz Attractor) are sort of stuck in my head as interesting points of contact for research.

The research itself is quite the process. How does one document stage presence exactly? Video, photographs, writing? How can it be measured, if at all? Of course I'm not expecting to come up with any mathematical formulae, but it's interesting to assess the value of such subjective research. Obviously what I learn will be fairly personal and in many ways known only to me, both in my mind and body, but if I manage to communicate what I find well, I suppose that is the Big Idea. Performers aren't scientists in the way that you worked in high school chemistry, where the answers were all fixed and knowable; but when someone goes deep into an area of their artistic work, their projects can be helpful and inspiring for others. And when that person manages to communicate, at least partially, what they've found, it can really resonate with another. Quite a beautiful thought. When I pick up Peter Brook or Kristin Linklater or Anne Bogart at the library, I really cannot have any hope that they will have an easy solution to my performance questions, but what I find from time to time is a paragraph or even chapter that blows my mind, clears out a few cobwebs, and helps me point my work somewhere new. Is that what art research is really about? Is it really secretly more for creative than informative purposes?

MasQue festival in Helsinki, 20-23.9, Stoa
Bringing back some of the older work. Davide and Soile and Sanni have been working like crazy to get a mask theatre festival up and running, and it's looking way more promising than they'd ever thought when they first came up with the idea. We at Teatteri Metamorfoosi will be bringing back Lost Persons Area, a silent, full-face mask play about old people and death, which premiered in February 2006 and I'll be damned if I remember the choreography (or acting, or whatever you might call it, but you see silent mask acting is incredibly technical, requiring precise isolation of body parts and continuous attention, and it feels very much like you're choreographed). We'll also do another round of Kalevala dell'Arte, which combines Kalevala characters and stories with the Commedia dell'Arte style, and I'm all like hip-hooraying about that one because I just love to do it. I'm Louhi, the leader of the northern lands and the evil character, and I never knew how much I enjoyed being evil before this. It's a great show, with music, acrobatics, fighting, gags, and a couple of touching moments too.

The whole programme at

Plus Alice, oh Alice
And tomorrow starts Alice ad infinitum in earnest. We've knocked down a wall at the Höyhentämö, taken out the auditorium, repainted, thrown half of our storage space contents away, cleaned the rest, archived, inventoried, and put away all manner of theatre stuff, and we're ordering red velvet curtains.

It feels like we've just let a whole bunch of air into the space. Well, it's bigger, and there's more work to be done, but it's great even now just to think of the space in a different way. We open on November 28.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good words.