I am pleased to share this interview in which I reflect on my relationship with Asian martial arts and how and why I utilise these trainings in my work with actors. [Please note that the credits yet to be added to the video include citing my primary teacher, Gurukkal Govindankutty Nair at the CVN Kalari, Thiruvananthapuram, as well as my work with his son, Sathyan Narayanan Nair (now Gurukkal) and Rajashekharan Nair, as well as my other teachers. Also yet to be posted are the credits to the teachers and students shown in short video/film clips.]
RECIPE 1: Take One Actress + Three Personas = Sara Beer's richard III redux
One actress takes the audience on three simultaneous journeys in response to Shakespeare's Richard III:
- a child's self-awakening as she unexpectedly finds 'herself' IN Shakespeare,
- a professional actress' journey toward playing Richard, and
- a personal journey through Wales in search of the historical 'richard' on the 'Henry Tudor Trail'
RECIPE 2: Take One measure "cutting wit" add One measure thoughtful reflection =
Sara Beer in richard III redux
In response to Sara Beer's performance of the idiosyncratic role of the outsider for the world premiere performances of Kaite O'Reilly's Cosy at Wales Millennium Centre in March 2016, here's what the critics and the audiences said:
- 'Sara Beer...steals the show...a brilliant and disconcerting comic turn that from the off envelops the play in a sense of the otherworldly' (Gary Raymond, The Arts Desk)
- ...'bloody hilarious...a cutting wit...(Denis Lennon, Arts Scene in Wales)
- 'Maureen (Sara Beer), the strange friend lurking. She is the jokes, the light touch, the kind heart finding the patterns in the confusion of a family tale. (Holly Joy, 3rdActCritics)
- ...'one of the stand-out performances...witty, funny, and astutely observed... (Dr. Mark Taubert, Clinical Director & Consultant, Palliative Medicine, Velindre NHS Trust, Cardiff)
RECIPE 3: Take Sara Beer x 3 personas + live performance + video + on-stage live-camera =
richard III redux
Chapter Arts Centre (Cardiff): March 8, 9, 10, 16, 17 (8pm) and 17th (3pm matinee)
Aberystwyth Arts Centre Studio: March 14-15 (7:45pm)
Theatr Clwyd (Mold): March 19-20 (7:45pm)
The Torch Theatre (Milford Haven): March 21 (7:30pm)
Small World Theatre (Cardigan): March 23 (8pm)
27th January: a typical cold, very wet winter's day in West Wales...
Performer Sara Beer, playwright/dramaturg Kaite O'Reilly, videographer Paul Whittaker and rendezvous at Cilgarren Castle, near Cardigan in West Wales four our second location shoot. At Cilgarren we filmed the (NEW!) opening monologue for our forthcoming performances of 'richard III redux OR Sara Beer [IS/NOT] richard III'. In this solo performance, Sara takes on a number of different personas as she/we explore, respond to, and re-mix Shakespeare's Richard.
To help capture her various personas, the performance will juxtapose Sara performing live, short pre-recorded video-clips, and onstage 'live' camera work. Read Sara's reflection on playing three personas in the 'richard III redux': http://www.asiw.co.uk/my-own-words/sara-beer-playing-three-personas-richard-iii-redux.
Below is Sara in a phone box in Roath, Cardiff, playing another of her personas we are developing.
I was invited to Shanghai by Qian Peng Li, Director of Vertebrae Theatre (Shanghai), to conduct an intensive workshop in my pre-performative approach to actor training between August 14-26, 2017. The workshop was conducted at one of the studios at the Shanghai Theatre Academy. In addition to teaching acting at the Academy, Qian Peng is focused on introducing alternative modes of actor training to both professional actors and students of acting in the PRC.
Assisted during the two weeks by long-term collaborators Sunhee Kim (Theatre P'Yut: Seoul, Korea), and Bernadette Cronin and Regina Crowley (Gaitkrash: Cork, Ireland), I led a group of fourteen actors through my approach to the pre-performative/psychophysical training of actors using Asian martial arts and yoga, and then we applied the principles of the training process to both a series of structured improvisations, as well as some of Samuel Beckett's later/shorter plays.
The group of fourteen worked tirelessly during the six hour a day process for the full two weeks. Our work together culminated in a three hour work demonstration with a packed studio of about 45 observers. We shared the process of training, the application of the work to structured improvisations, and each of the participants' progress on working with Beckett's later/shorter plays.
Thanks to Qian Peng, May, Annie (translator), and all of the participants for a terrific two weeks of very productive and focused work!!!
Three of those who co-created our 2015 critically acclaimed production of 'playing "the maids"' recently reflect in print on the performance and its making. See the two companion essays by Sunhee Kim and Jeungsook Yoo: ‘The Actor’s Process of Negotiating Difference and Particularity in Intercultural Theatre Practice’, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 7.3 (2016), 417–37. Below is an extract and link to Adrian Curtain's essay, 'Recomposing Genet: Analysing the Musicality of 'playing The Maids' recently published in Contemporary Theatre Review. The production is available for international touring.
Recomposing Genet: Analysing the Musicality of ‘playing The Maids’
BY ADRIAN CURTIN
Track 01: Prelude
In 2012 Deutsche Grammophon released an album entitled Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Max Richter, Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, André de Ridder, Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin, Daniel Hope. Part of their ‘ReComposed’ series, which includes electronic remixes of classical recordings, this album features a ‘recomposition’ of Vivaldi’s score rather than a remix of a prior recording of the work. Richter explains:
I wanted to make the piece because I loved the Vivaldi. So it was my way of having a conversation with Vivaldi. I decided to rewrite the score on a note level, which meant re-recording it with an orchestra. [That] let me […] get inside it and […] start to work with the alchemy of the material itself, and […] gave me much more scope in terms of what I could do with it. I […] went through [Vivaldi’s score], picking my favourite bits and kind of ‘turning those up’ and making new objects out of those. It was […] like a sculptor having fantastic raw material and just putting it together in a way which kind of pleased me.
he Four Seasons, which has become depressingly familiar through tinny reproductions heard on the telephone, in shopping malls, and on elevators and airplanes, gets a new lease of life courtesy of Richter’s recomposition. Richter abstracts elements from Vivaldi’s concertos (about 25 per cent, in his estimation) and gives them a new spin, looping and collaging fragments, creating new textures, recasting the patterns of baroque music as electronica-inflected post-minimalism. Richter’s version provides an uncanny listening experience. It sounds both familiar and unfamiliar; the composer deliberately subverts expectations in places. The effect is disconcerting, but intriguing – rather like overhearing a delightfully skewed mental rendition of Vivaldi’s iconic work.
Musical recomposition is not new. As Joseph N. Straus observes: ‘[t]he desire to recompose the works of one’s predecessors seems to be almost as old as Western music itself’. Straus argues that twentieth-century composers such as Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Webern were prompted to recompose the work of earlier composers as a result of ‘anxiety of influence’ (Harold Bloom’s famous phrase). ‘In their recompositions’, Straus writes, ‘[these twentieth-century composers] reinterpreted the past in order to avoid being crushed by it. They attempted to neutralize significant or characteristic works of the past by imposing upon them a new, distinctively twentieth-century musical structure’. Richter’s statements about his recomposition of The Four Seasons suggest that he was motivated, not by a struggle for artistic autonomy, but by a desire to enter into dialogue with Vivaldi and create something that would complement this canonical work and allow it to be heard differently.
It is commonplace for playwrights and theatre-makers to adapt existing dramatic material and present it in an altered, updated form. This can involve deliberate subversion of the source material. For instance, Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s score is suggestive of contemporary ‘Regie’ approaches to theatre and opera, as undertaken in continental Europe. Regie ‘plays’ with the text in an often overt, directorially provocative manner. It can lead to the ‘recomposition’ of a text for performance. To my knowledge, the term ‘recomposing’ has not been used to refer to the creation of new theatre that directly draws on an acknowledged ‘primary’ source (i.e. an existing play). Yet, it is an apt term to use, I suggest, when discussing work that borrows from the dramatic canon but eschews the conventions of dramatic theatre in favour of alternative ‘compositional’ methods. Matthias Rebstock and David Roesner have proposed the term ‘composed theatre’ for work that, in Roesner’s words, ‘[brings] the musical notion of composing to the theatrical aspects of performing and staging’. This aligns with ‘recent developments towards postdramatic forms that de-emphasise text, narrative, and fictional characters, seeking alternative dramaturgies (visual, spatial, temporal, musical), and focusing on the sonic and visual materialities of the stage and the performativity of their material components’. Composed theatre does not simply refer to the use of music in theatre; rather, it is a way of conceptualising theatre made using compositional strategies and techniques that are ‘typical of musical composition’. Recomposed theatre, I propose, may denote theatre that explicitly reworks pre-existing source material from theatre history in a musically compositional manner. The term provides a new way of thinking about adaptation.
An example of recomposed theatre is playing ‘the maids’, a co-created piece made by an international ensemble of seven artists working with Kaite O’Reilly (dramaturg) and Phillip Zarrilli (director) that premiered at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff in February 2015. playing ‘the maids’ previewed at the Granary Theatre in Cork, Ireland as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival on 20–21 June 2014. It was performed at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff on 19–21 and 27–28 February 2015, in Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon on 26 February 2015, and at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 6 March 2015. A 14-minute promotional video is available here.
Three theatre companies collaborated on this project: The Llanarth Group (Wales), Gaitkrash Theatre Company (Republic of Ireland), and Theatre P’yut (South Korea). Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo (from Singapore) and I (also from Ireland) worked with these companies as independent artists (Okorn-Kuo as an actor/devisor, I as a cellist/devisor). As the title suggests, playing ‘the maids’relates to Jean Genet’s classic drama Les Bonnes (The Maids, 1947). However, it was not a production of that play. This was stated in the programme. There have, of course, been many experimental stagings of Genet’s texts. For an account of key productions of The Maids, see David Bradby and Clare Finburgh, Jean Genet(Abingdon: Routledge, 2012). Rather, it used Genet’s text as creative inspiration, focusing on its character relationships and power dynamics as part of an oblique investigation of modern servitude, wealth-as-privilege, cultural notions of guilt and oppression, phantasms, and the politics of intimacy. It took themes from Genet’s play and recomposed them via a montage of newly written, found, and adapted text (primarily English-language, with some Mandarin, Korean, and Irish), psychophysical scores, choreography, and sound compositions that Mick O’Shea (a sound artist) and I performed onstage. The production featured two sets of maids, one Irish (performed by Bernadette Cronin and Regina Crowley) and one Korean (performed by Sunhee Kim and Jeungsook Yoo). Okorn-Kuo played a Chinese ‘madame. I will refer to Okorn-Kuo’s character as ‘madame’ rather than ‘Madame’ to differentiate her from Genet’s creation. The idea of using lower-case spelling for this purpose is Zarrilli’s. Similar to Richter’s recomposed Four Seasons, playing ‘the maids’ appropriated a canonical work for the artists’ own purposes, mining the source-text for raw material, re-contextualising it, and playing it anew.
In this article I will outline how playing ‘the maids’ functioned as a stage composition, and more precisely as recomposed theatre, by analysing its musicality. I will consider the sonic/musical components of playing ‘the maids’as well as musically inflected aspects such as its dramaturgy and performance style. In this, I follow Roesner’s lead in treating musicality as a ‘perceptive quality that goes beyond the aural sphere’ to attend to ‘musical qualities or relationships of non-auditory events, such as silent movement, gesture, or even colour schemes’. David Roesner, Musicality in Theatre: Music as Model, Method and Metaphor in Theatre-Making(Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), p. 14. Analysing playing ‘the maids’ using this theoretical lens illuminates various aspects of contemporary theatre-making and demonstrates the significance of their inter-operation here. These aspects include the creative re-use of canonical source material, international collaboration, intercultural dramaturgy, musicality as process and paradigm, the continuing relevance of Genet’s work, and the vibrant legacy of theatrical modernism. My analysis of playing ‘the maids’as an example of ‘recomposed theatre’ is not meant to foreclose other ways of conceiving it. I primarily situate the piece in relation to western concepts and cultural traditions because of my background and knowledge specialism. I recognise that the piece might be interpreted outside the context of modernism, for instance. My collaborators Jeungsook Yoo and Sunhee Kim have co-authored their own scholarly account of this piece. See Jeungsook Yoo and Sunhee Kim, ‘The Actor’s Process of Negotiating Difference and Particularity in Intercultural Theatre Practice’, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 7.3 (2016), 417–37. I develop these motifs in the following ‘tracks’.
The rest of Adrian Curtin’s essay can be accessed here.
Ethical re-educationRead More
At work on a new book...(toward) a phenomenology of acting...Read More
Phillip Zarrilli takes us “…beneath the surface” of The Llanarth Group’s Told by the Wind an intercultural experiment in dramaturgy and aesthetics.
After touring internationally to Tokyo, Chicago, Berlin, Poland and Portugal between 2009 and 2013, The Llanarth Group’s Told by the Wind returns to Wales for performances between October 9-13. Told will have a natural light preview (09 October 3p.m.) at Small World Theatre (Cardigan), and returns to Chapter Arts Centre (12-13 October) where the performance premiered in 2010. Co-created by award-winning playwright/dramaturg, Kaite O’Reilly, dancer/choreographer Jo Shapland, and Artistic Director/performer Phillip Zarrilli, Told by the Wind combines movement, dance, minimal fragmentary text, subtle lighting by Ace McCarron, and silence to create a unique experience for audiences.
Responding to the unique experience of Told by the Wind, Elisabeth Mahoney of THE GUARDIAN described the performance as ‘…hypnotic…[with] a haunting, painterly beauty…[and] the astringent purity of a haiku poem…’ Similarly the critics in Chicago at SEE CHICAGO DANCE and CHICAGO TIME OUT described the performance respectively as ‘…minimal…mesmerizing…evoking both later T.S. Eliot and haiku’, and ‘…Beckettian magnetic poetry…all dropped like shapeless stones into a moonlit lake of silence…’
I briefly explore here the subtle terrain ‘beneath the surface’ of what is visible onstage in performances of Told by the Wind.
During the development process as co-creators our work was informed equally by three points of departure: (1) East Asian sources of inspiration, especially the aesthetic principles and dramaturgy of Japanese nō theatre, (2) contemporary cosmology, astrophysics, and the possible existence of parallel universes, and (3) ‘quietude’ or the role of ‘silence’ in performance.
East Asian sources of inspiration
Throughout my career as a professional director, actor, and actor trainer I have had an abiding interest in Japanese theatre–most importantly Zeami’s (the founder of Japanese nō during the 14thcentury) commentaries on acting, the unique dramaturgy/structure of Japanese nō dramas, the aesthetic principles informing nō, and the distilled/concentrated/embodied intensity of the nō performer onstage. Very early in my career, in 1982 I had the opportunity of training intensively and working with Kita nō-school master actor, Akira Matsui on a production of one play from the nō repertory (Funa Benkei) as well as a ‘modern’ nō play. This experience prompted me to direct two of William Butler Yeat’s nō influenced ‘dance-plays’—At the Hawk’s Well and The Only Jealousy of Emer in 1984. Fortunately, for our co-creative process, Jo Shapland also has a long-term interest in nō and has had her own opportunity to train with Akira Matsui.
After working directly on nō with Akira Matsui in 1982 and with the nō-style performance of Yeats’ plays for dancers inn 1984, I put aside any performance work directly on or influenced by nō or in nō style. But I continued to reflect in as much depth as I could on the subtleties of Zeami’s texts on acting, and on the aesthetic principles and structure informing nō plays and their performance. These influences have continued to haunt my imagination and my vision of the optimal performer throughout my professional career.
As co-creators of Told by the Wind, we of course recognized that none of us were specialists in Japanese or nō, and that we therefore had no intention or interest of attempting to create a performance that in any overt way appeared to be nō or nō-like for the UK/Western audiences that would constitute our primary audience, and the vast majority of whom would have absolutely no familiarity with Japanese theatre or nō. We therefore took an indirect approach to the source tradition of nō–-touching on but not attempting to reproduce nō stylistically in any way. In certain ways this choice reflects the underlying Japanese aesthetic concept of yūgen: a term which suggests ‘mystery and depth’ or ‘what lies beneath the surface’. Japanese scholar Tom Hare describes yugen as ‘the subtle, as opposed to the obvious; the hint.’
Another important source of inspiration for our creative process was the specific type of nō drama known as ‘phantasmal nō’. Here the main stage-figure (known as the shite) often appears as a “restless” female spirit who remembers a past event through a dream or unsettling memory, encounters a priest-type figure who reveals what is troubling her, and is pacified and/or transformed in some way. Japanese theatre specialist, Shelly Quinn, describes this specific type of nō as like “an echo chamber of allusions”. While keeping female and male figures, in Told by the Wind we wanted both figures as well as their relationship to remain “restless” and unsettled in some way like “an echo chamber of allusions”. There is no sense of pacification at the conclusion of Told by the Wind.
In our creative process we constantly addressed “the hint”, i.e., the question of “’what lies beneath the surface’” for these two figures. Dramaturgically, could the two onstage figures be constantly present to one another, yet could the presence of each to the other remain a question mark? O’Reilly framed and articulated this “question mark” as follows: who is “dreaming” whom? We interpreted “dreaming” as the active task of constantly “imagining” or “conjuring” an-Other. This question mark was central to the final development and overall aesthetic of Told by the Wind.
One additional Japanese aesthetic principle that informed the visual elements of Told by the Wind, was wabi-sabi—a principle that emphasizes simplicity, impermanence, and the unique ‘beauty’ associated with natural processes of the passing of time and aging.
Contemporary physics and cosmology
We found parallels between the multiple ‘worlds’ or shape-shifting ‘realities’ that are staged in nō performances and the multiple ‘worlds’ articulated in the most recent developments in contemporary physics and cosmology. Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Cornell University, Brian Greene explains in The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, that the notion of there being a single ‘universe’ has been replaced today amongst physicists by a much more complex understanding of ‘the totality of realit[ies]’ as ‘parallel universes or multiple universes’. Theoretical cosmological physics today is a whirlwind of exciting new models as we increasingly realize the vastness of the universe(s) we inhabit. Scientists today are (re)imagining our place/role within the complexities of the world(s) we inhabit. If there are multiple/parallel universe(s), do we have an-Other elsewhere?
Quietude and ‘silence’ in performance
The third source informing our work was the notion of “quiet theatre” exemplified in the body of work created by contemporary Japanese director/playwright Ōta Shōgo (1937-2007), as well as some of the work of Samuel Beckett. Ōta created three non-verbal dramas of “living silence” such as The Water Station. [I directed productions in 2004 in Singapore and then in a new 2015 production in Norway, both with international casts.] Ōta created dramas of “living silence” in which everyday action is slowed down and in which there is a divestiture of all unnecessary words. As Japanese theatre specialist Mari Boyd has explained, “Quiet theatre” does not attempt to “aggressively transmit meaning to the audience”. Rather, it turns down the often busy volume of theatre’s multiple modes of communication, paring away anything non-essential. Whatever performance material we generated and/or whatever text we tried out during our research/devising process we kept asking ourselves whether it was necessary. Working with that which lies “beneath the surface,” in Told by the Wind, each element generated had to operate at the subtle, suggestive level of ‘the hint’.
Unlike narrative or character driven theatre performances, Told by the Wind operates like poetry through allusion and suggestion, but in three space-time dimensions. Each of the performers ‘dances’ an inner landscape. Like haiku, poetry in general, and Japanese nōdramas, Told by the Wind invites the audience to enter an imaginative space of possibilities. Responding to Told, critic and specialist in Japanese theatre, Mari Boyd described the performance as ‘suggestive, evocative, metaphorical. It’s not conveying meaning in a discursive way so much. It’s creating an atmosphere, throwing up images–like haiku–so that the listener has to make the connection.’
Phillip Zarrilli is the founding Artistic Director of The Llanarth Group, Wales. He maintains the Tyn y parc Studio in Llanarth. He works internationally as a director, performer, author, and teacher of acting. Most recently he directed the world premiere of Kaite O’Reilly’s Cosy at Wales Millennium Centre (March, 2016). He is remounting the 2014 Mandarin production of O’Reilly’s the 9 fridas with Mobius Strip Theatre (Taipei) for performances at the Hong Kong Rep Festival in late October, 2016.
Reflection on The Water Station production in Norway and the refugee crisis published in Wales Arts Review.Read More
Just as the initial two days of research and development on Cosy have been of great benefit to Kaite O’Reilly as the playwright, our process has been immensely beneficial to me as the director...Read More