Wednesday, 29 October 2008


Being an account of the transposability of an arcane artform to a less extreme acting approach.

A letter written in mid 2007 to Nathan Sorseth, an actor who lives in Seattle, USA:

Dear N8,
Your mentioning of Katsura Kan (a fairly typical adept practitioner) has fired me up in another way. I'm not truly knowledgeable about Butoh, although I've been around a lot of it one way or another, but there seems to be many parallels between it and the sort of training we employ ( Frank Suzuki Performance Aesthetics).
As an example we use 60’s surfing music for some of the improvisatory exercises. When giving suggestions, I would say:
" Rather than pretending to be a surfer, be the wave he is on, or the wax on the board!" or even on one occasion:" Be his underpants left in the changing rooms!" This is very parallel with Butoh as it focuses not on outward appearance or structure, but identifies that which lies inside / behind / beyond the structure and then making it externally apparent. For instance, rather than thinking of the muscles and bones in the legs (a linear process), it is more evocative and inspirational to have imagery that consists of arcane thoughts such as “Use your legs as though the molecules in them used to belong to a dinosaur !” It is aiming for finding a sub-liminal essence inside things and then amplifying them, rather than going for the more obvious replication.
Once an adept has become proficient in any exercise, further explorations require more than just mechanical repetition, which inevitably hits a ‘finite’ wall. Exploring an ‘inner landscape’ of an exercise gives repetition a creative depth far greater than simple muscular facility.

This also applies to doing the more basic Suzuki Actor Training Method exercises like Number 2. The first action is swinging the leg out prior to bringing it forcefully back into a central position. As a beginner, one is concerned with getting the legs and timing and positions right. One then graduates to gaining strength, stability and stillness as one becomes more proficient. If it is continued, over the long term, one starts to move into a more transformative zone where the approach moves away from pictorial and linear to more abstracted ideas such as: What is behind or inside the muscles and the experience?
In the long run, if one doesn’t approach the training with more elasticity and suppleness, it hardens into brittleness and constipates the experience. This change of field beyond the linear and obvious to the abstract and the subtle is also congruent with Butoh.

During the Ozfrank training the other night I opined that that Butoh had become an inspiration for modern dance. Western post-modern dance had become so obsessed with the minutiae of vocabulary and had disappeared up a dry gully full of isms, e.g. minimalism, conceptualism et al., that one could say it had become fixated upon a sort of pictorial intellectualism. It is as though the pioneering spaces of broad movement invention had contracted into the dessicated obsession with esoteric minimal gesture.

Butoh’s ideas of inner search have proved to be a window into a new world for dance practitioners as a way out of the muddle because it has foreshadowed a terra incognita to explore - that of context, ie that of exploring not the object (the dance sequence), but the performer’s relationship with the object.

This type of context is where we have been leading the FSPA over the last few years and, I think I arrived at its objective articulation that night when I mentioned the context about Butoh.

‘Butoh’ ideas transposed to voice.

In the FSPA when we speak we use 4 major voice ‘levels’:-

1)Full voice – the body using its entire energy resources to speaking as powerfully as it can,
1)Quiet voice- a standard stage voice,
2)Super quiet voice- the quietest one can speak with the vocal chords resonating,
3) Whisper – The loudest one can speak with no vocal chord resonance.

Actors are expected to sustain or switch the levels at command, with the proviso that the rhythm remains unchanged.
Full voice (FV) is the most often used as it is the best educator, because at full energy, nothing stands between the actor and the experience. Essentially the other voices should have the same intensity as the FV, the FV being the primary learning point.

At this stage the ‘voice’ attitudes have the flexibility and power one associates with Suzuki Training. To make the experience even more flexible and fluent, I have recently added other voice zones:-
a)Freeform - any level, own choice
b)Change - switch to another free choice level,
c)Crazy - any of the weirdest possibilities one can invoke,
d)Different- the most interesting and most congruent with Butoh.

I might add here that all voice switches should be done as a completely instinctive action, as an animal might strike its prey. The idea is to ‘land’ on a switchvoice instinctively and maintain that choice despite any vicissitudes that may arise (such as shortness of breath). The actor shouldn’t be concerned with the ‘success’ of the experience, whether it sounds good, but concentrate on the ‘feeling’ of the experience as it is being done.
Freeform, crazy are fairly straight forward, but, I hear you ask; “Aren’t ‘different’ and ‘change’ the same thing?”
Another vector on this inspiration trail was provided when I read a biography of Charles Laughton by Simon Callow. CL would be considered by many people to be the greatest actor to ever appear on film and one can also describe him as the inventor of ‘Method Acting’ in the late 20’s in England, well before the golden period in New York in the 50’s.
The writer, Callow is a very capable actor himself and so has forged a book full of pertinent insights into the drivers of CL’s achievements, and by extension opened certain windows into potential acting agendas. There are a stack of Bon Mots throughout, but an earlier one in particular took my fancy. It is on Page 51 and goes like this:-

“……it’s never the simple observation with Laughton, though, it’s never impersonation. He embodies both what he saw and his attitude to it……

I found this a very exciting thing to read as it represents an intelligent actor’s articulation of a supreme actor’s modus operandi, opening up a potential for creating a technique for developing same, by constructing exercises utilising shifts in attitude, concentrating on the ‘shifts’ rather than the ‘results’.
If one could use the example of playing ‘Richard III’, using this approach meant that you could not only play the character of R III, but you could also invoke your thoughts about him, your attitude to him. It is always difficult to play mythical figures convincingly, especially those with highly drawn character traits, (e.g. Nasties), as it is hard for actors to attain a transcendent zone where they can appear larger than their daily mannerisms. It is easier to have an attitude to someone such as R III, so if you can combine the character and your attitude to it, it could be possible to access deeper and more flexible interpretations. One way of looking at it is to say that your version is the character multiplied by your relationship to it.
It is easier to change your attitude to something than it is to change yourself viz: It’s hard to BE a nice person, but not so hard to BE NICE to other people. Maybe by changing your attitude to outside things, then you can evolve yourself.
Such a viewpoint is a hallmark of Butoh, and shows that the ellipticality is quite transposable.

Another piece of this thematic jigsaw…..
Whilst working with Suzuki as a guest member of his company, I observed how demanding he was and often found it difficult to ascertain why he became dissatisfied with certain aspects of the play sometimes, but not at others, and how he would say a speech was good one day and slam it the next. I personally could not perceive any differential and one could have put it down to mood swings, etc.
Of course as a director, he would be concerned with making the work constantly fresh and of continuing interest to him, so he could well have demanded that you say a speech differently. But Suzuki is rare in that he doesn’t want you to change things for change’s sake as he regards that as a weak and obvious response, so how could he expect you to be continuously interesting without changing elements such as speed, intonation, etc?
I could never perceive a falsity about Suzuki’s attitude, so I pondered on this anomaly for a number of years( actually from 1994-2006), before realising that if he didn’t want it to be the same, but he also didn’t want it to be different; maybe he wanted neither OR both.
Was he after what might be called the place between same and different?
We generally expect ‘same’ and ‘different’ to be two separate experiences- perhaps they could be considered two parts of the same experience rather like the obverse and the converse of a coin(another Butoh thought pattern!).

Armed with this notional shift, I could look at how to introduce that idea to our training.
Over the last few weeks during training we formulated how the commands ‘different’ and ‘change’ would be interpreted. We decided that ‘change’ would indicate a pronounced shift away from the existing voice zone (full, or whisper, etc) to another zone, and ‘different’ would signify a different sensibility about it whilst trying to keep it the same as it was before. I wasn’t quite sure why I wanted this or where it was leading, but I certainly felt that the frisson of energy in the room caused by this enigmatic state was very compelling. One night at training, the ‘his attitude towards the subject‘ aspect of Laughton’s craft came to me as we were doing a speech and the idea crystallised at once:- “ I don’t want you to change the speech… I want you to change your attitude to the speech! ”. From there it morphed into changing your ‘relationship with your voice’.

Although I profess no real knowledge of Butoh, if I hadn’t been proximate to it over a number of years, I don’t think I’d have had the requisite facility to be able to think differently about the same thing.


Friday, 17 October 2008

Good Bits from an Artaud Biog

Some of the Best bits of a book about Antonin Artaud
By Stephen Barber

p3 In Artaud's perception, the human body is a wild , flexible but flawed instrument that is still in the process of being forged. The body suffers malicious robberies( by society, family and religion) which leave it fixed and futile, smothered to the point of a terminal incoherence and inexpressivity. Throughout his life, A. worked through ideas and images which explore the explosion of that useless body into a deliriously dancing, new body, with an infinite capacity for self-transformation. The body would become a walking tree of will.
This imagery recurs throughout A's work, forming the core of an anatomical reconstruction from the material of abject fragmentation.
All A's writings , recordings and images of theatre, film and dance have a similar incisiveness. A multiplicity of means is used to dissect what A saw as the infinite potential of human substance.A was not only a writer, he was also a visual artist. a vocal performer,a dancer, a film actor, a theatre actor and director, a traveller, a destroyer of languages.
These components of his life cut across each other. Media are stripped of their superficial closure, and open out into each other to produce works of great density and force.

p11 For A, the contents of the unconscious mind could never be applied to political and social arenas without, firstly a drastic anatomical transformation, All his rapports with social and cultural institutions were disrupted by this preoccupying imagery of an individual human body in a process of grinding metamorphosis.In A'd writings , culture and nature are amalgamated, crushed and brought down to a zero point. They are subjugated to a physical activity which must be set into movement before any other living structure may exist.
The body comes before the word and before the world.

p19......A's view of the fragment- the 'failed' text- as more vital and exploratory than the 'whole' or 'successful' poem. In writing fragments, A articulated his independence from and refusal of the coherent, unified aesthetic object. This intentional failure ensured that they would be banished into the territory of the self which was A's only subject matter. His letters forma correspondence whose axis is silence,erosion and abandonment.

p23 Breton would remember the 'impulsion' A exerted on the Surrealist movement to
develop a language' stripped of all that could have lent it an ornamental character'- a language that wa sintended to be 'scathing and glowing, but glowing in the way a
weapon glows'.

p29 For A himself, revolution could not be political, it had to be physical. This is
one of the few positions he held consistently throughout his life.

p34 In his film script, 'The Butchers Revolt', the primacy of the image broke with
'filmed theatre' which predominated at the time( and which A detested), while stressing the spatial quality of the reinforced sounds which would be employed.'The voices are in SPACE, like objects'. Since, for A, representation works on a temporal level- sound and image repeat themselves to convey themselves - his determination to introduce a spatial rather than a temporal element into film signals a denial of the pull towards diminution which he believed any completed, represented aesthetic object makes.

p144About the drawings he used to punctuate his exercise-book fragments: each of the drawings was a "machine that is breathing" A. had no regard whatsoever for the technical skill and abilities of an artist. He denounced abstract art as an insincere amalgam of technique and money. And he stressed the savagely unartistic, exploratory nature of his own drawings,which he intended to work at the limits of what could be done with corporeal substances.
He wrote: None of them, to speak exactly, is a work. they are all attempts, that is to say blows-probings or thrustings in all the directions of hazard of possibility, of chance,or of destiny.

p147 This reading took place this evening, fri 18 July, 1947, and by moments it was as thoughI skimmed the opening of my heart's tone. I would have had to shit blood through my navel to arrive at what I want.

Friday, 30 March 2007

Interview from Canada

Kai Raisbeck, Student of the University of Tasmania writing as an
exchange student at the University of Ottawa, Canada, 2007

INTERVIEW WITH JOHN NOBBS co-director Frank Theatre
for a Research Paper on Frank Theatre

1. What are the fundamental differences between the Suzuki Actor Training Method (SATM) and the Frank Suzuki Performance Aesthetic (FSPA)?

The FSPA is a translation and decoding of the SATM. Jacqui and I contend that the SATM is universal and applicable to any theatre situation anywhere, but it is often pigeonholed as ‘oriental’ and even ‘a samurai acting style’. The exercises I have invented are there to make this universality more apparent by utilising modern western songs and formats that are more accessible.
EXAMPLE: within an improvisation, instead of using the ‘shakuhachi’ Japanese flute that symbolises natural forces, I often use a surfing instrumental song of the 60’s such as ‘Pipeline’ that equivalently symbolises nature in a way that is wholly modern and western. Exercises such as this de-emphasise the ‘eastern mystique’ the training can engender.

2. Reading information on your website it states that one of yourmissions is to join Australian and Japanese theatre styles together. Iknow that you base a lot of your actor training on the work of TadashiSuzuki but are there Australian elements you are including in yourtechniques and training?A:
Following on from the first question, stomping is one of the signature elements of the SATM and can be misconstrued as a form of purgatorial catharsis if not taught properly. I realised one day that here in Australia, we had a ‘stomping’ culture in the 60’s in the form of the social dances that ‘surfies ‘used to do (witness songs such as: “He’s my blonde headed stompy wompy real live surfer boy, yeah, yeah, yeah ,yeah”- I kid you not!) This ‘stomping ‘culture was a uniquely Aussie phenomenon and we ‘own’ it, so now we do ‘Stomping at Maroubra’ followed by ‘Pipeline’.

Another aspect of the ‘Aussie’ quotient is that we have visited Suzuki in Japan every year since 1994 and, rather than becoming more Japanese, as popular opinion might expect, we have, in fact, had our ‘Aussieness’ fostered by using Japan as a cultural viewing platform from which to observe our work in Brisbane.
3. Do you think that Australian theatre has a unique fingerprint incomparison to works in the UK and the US? And if so, what qualities doyou consider as exclusively Australian?

I think Australian Theatre, with few exceptions, suffers from the same weaknesses as most other western theatre. I here list four of the major aesthetic weaknesses as I see them:

Re-enactments of the theatre styles of yore (yet another Shakespeare set, this time, (how modern!) in Fascist Italy, where the costumes are different but the delivery is essentially Olivier circa 1953)
Kitsch entertainment (Menopause The Musical)
Sub-Marxist rants against incumbent conservative politicians.
Post-Modern elliptical (non) performances that earnestly attempt to integrate banal multi-media to make theatre more ‘relevant’.

The continuing structural myopia is the obsession with words- most people in the ‘Anglo’ world equate theatre with writing. Theatre is the performance of writing. Writing is an important component of theatre, but it is not the most important. The most important factor is the sensibility of the human energy, shaped by the director vision, that is delivering the text. In many productions it would have been more interesting for the audience to take the book home and read it alone in bed!

4. I have noticed that a lot of the Suzuki Actor Training Method is based on extreme physical training.(Part 1) How much importance do you put on thephysicality (the movement quality and use) of the performer? (Part 2)

A: (Part 1)
The extreme physical training you refer to is necessary because FSPA training is essentially experiential in nature. By that I mean that the actor is meant to really experience something, to truly know and feel themselves in that experience, not to just think they are ‘doing something’. For us theatre is more than an intellectual or literary or dramaturgical or emotional or psychological occasion. It must have all of these elements, but the primary ingredient, that which makes it truly exciting, as exciting as a football game, is the expression of visceral human energy. That energy is often unquantifiable (Suzuki has called it ‘animal’ energy) but it is always apparent in all exciting performances. This animal energy is a holistic compendium of the physical, vocal, emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of the actor.

(Part 2)
Following on from the Question 3, the words are the intellectual information and exist as documents in their own right outside the performance, so it is incumbent on the practitioner to give them shape and depth, way beyond the capabilities of the printed page. The performance should be a landscape of time and space, wherein the text can perceived in a new and unique fashion, revealing to the audience nuances and insights not apparent on reading the book.
This time and space landscape not only includes set and costumes but also the appearance and ‘feel’ of the actor. So, the actor’s sense of space and time must be addressed and enhanced, otherwise all we get is another ’talking head’. Since all performances are essentially myths, the actor must have a physical presence that transcends daily gesture to create a holistic portrait that invites the audience into the myth. Of course this ‘physical ability’ must be fostered in the training and rehearsal process.
5. In reading Essay 2 on the OzFrank website I was intrigued by thenotion of enhancing all elements of the actor's skills in their training. I realise that training is more a qualitative process than a quantitative but how much time is spent ideally on the actors training for a member of the Frank theatre?

This may well have been answered to some extent above, but for us the training performs three main functions:

1) Trains the actor,
2) Trains the director /trainer,
3) Develops the company aesthetic.

All these functions are addressed all the time in the FSPA. A new trainee can gain a working knowledge of the training very quickly but to truly absorb the ‘whole’ gestalt with its Zen-like psychological underpinnings will take as long as it will take (6, 8, 15 years ?) Time is not the issue-in fact time is the process!…… The exploration can only take place ‘on the floor’ so dedication of mind and body over the long term is the one absolutely essential ingredient. The ‘learning’ process is carried from the training through the rehearsal and into performance so it is all seamless after you are invited to become a company member. 6. What other influences have you had primarily apart from the work ofTadashi Suzuki?

Before meeting Suzuki, both Jacqui and I had extensive careers in dance, she as Teacher and Choreographer and myself as a modern dancer. Jacqui is a highly respected choreographer of works that range from conceptual and minimalist to big classical works and she is also a very qualified teacher of most of the major dance forms from primitive to ballet technique. We both had close collaboration with many of the world’s most accomplished dance artists so that when we were faced with Mr Suzuki’s theatre style we could recognise where it stood on an international level. Being from the dance world we were comfortable with theatre that wasn’t obsessed with words.

Parallel with that, we were able to apply our kinaesthetic knowledge to the analysis of Mr Suzuki’s training method and divine the universal practice from that which was intrinsically Japanese. Being able to distinguish between the two enabled us to develop the FSPA as an East/West hybrid.7. I have noticed that the tale of Hamlet and Macbeth has been tackled by your company on two occasions, what was the purpose of this and what were you looking for (philosophically, unexplored areas, content etc.) inexploring it a second time round?

Both the first productions of Hamlet (Heavy Metal Hamlet) and Macbeth (The Tale of Macbeth: Crown of Blood) are essentially classic distillations of the plays as written, and even though many people would have thought them ‘striking and different’, they are really only linear reductions of the originals.

The more recent versions, Hamlet Stooged and, work-under-construction, Voodoo Macbeth, in no way attempt to reproduce the play at all, but are essays reflecting Jacqui’s deep interest in the psychic and archetypal elements within the stories.
There are two reasons for this, actually, one reason in two parts:
1) As a director, Jacqui feels that first one must address the classic elements of a canon, before embarking on the more explorative and interrogative journeys that lie inside a great text.
2) The actors needed to develop their skills by testing themselves within the landscape of the great stories e.g. Can they rise to the challenge of speaking the great lines from the great plays?

Now that the essential skill levels have been achieved and the style of the company become more defined, a further, much more creative phase has been entered and it is imperative for Jacqui to be likewise more self-challenging as a director by making more personal statements.

8. What elements do you look for in a good topic, theme or story to choose for a new piece?

A: So far the works that Frank has produced have dealt with tales that are extant, that are part of the collective history of world theatre. Studied and brought to a new life by Jacqui’s re-arranging of them they challenge both the director and the actor to renegotiate moderately familiar territory. The texts are always reconfigured and edited.

For example, permission by living Australian playwright, Ray Lawler to allow Jacqui to re-invent his Summer of the Seventeenth Doll into a theatrical fantasy, renamed Doll Seventeen, was sought and permission given. Jacqui excised approximately 85% of the original text and reduced the work to one act. Ray Lawler, in an extraordinary and unusual act of faith, allowed this to happen. He, among living playwrights, is an absolute rarity which is why Jacqui was able to re-invent this current text. This is the only work of this nature in the company’s repertoire. (see reviews and photos on our website

Because we believe that the words are a starting point from which a work of theatre will emerge, Frank’s repertoire is invented out of texts that can be manipulated to create montage/collage. The work itself will contain text, movement, music and dance in whatever form the work requires during its creation. However, even the most extreme works that are created do have a beginning, a middle and an end…they have form.

So, selecting works for presentation is based on availability of text that can be manipulated and have a cogent internal storyline that is familiar. Also Jacqui has a strong desire to tap into her psyche map and to make manifest her vision of the play’s central conceit using the actor’s unique energies as the most important element.

Example: Hamlet Stooged! was firstly re-assembled by Jacqui from Shakespeare’s script into a new format and then re-written by myself in a sort-of Wayne’s World/Simpsons/Clockwork Orange dialogue. The original cadences of Shakespeare’s writing were assiduously reproduced within the new words (my words in bold, Shakespeare’s in brackets) eg

(Am I a coward? Who calls me villain? Breaks my pate across?
Plucks my beard and blows it in my face?
Tweaks me by the nose? Gives me the lie in the throat as deep
as to the lungs? Who does me this? Ha!)
9. I was reading the chapter titled: 'The Nigels; Bits and Pieces', thefirst entry 'Letter to a friend', in your book Frankly Acting, and in it you saidthat it is the director's responsibility to create the aesthetic of thepiece, to create a good space for the actors to work in. You alsomentioned that when directors adopt the 'moral mantle of newness' thatthey create a negative space and that they suck the energy from theactors, could you elaborate on this?

I have thought further on this subject since the book was published. If one agrees with the following statement, it can be used as a starting point:-
“One cannot learn from one’s peers, because by definition they are in the same place. One has to go to someone who is further down the track that is prepared to take the responsibility for imparting knowledge. One learns alongside one’s peers”.
From our perspective a director’s moral responsibility is to take the actor on a journey, beyond what he already is capable of achieving (you’ll find that many great theatre directors have, as well, been very able coaches and teachers).

To function in this position they must stand for something - they must have a set of tenets they believe, a vision of the world AND their relationship to that vision. It may be idiosyncratic as long as it is highly definable (definitely NOT empty and easy statements such as ‘World peace’ or ‘Everybody can read into my plays what they would like)’.Their productions become reflective of this ‘Mind-Map’ and become effectively a psychic landscape where the actors, by interpolating their own personas, discover or refine new versions of themselves. Most directors absolve themselves from this responsibility by saying things like: “What do YOU feel like doing now?” This reveals that all they are doing is managing the situation NOT progressing it. I hope this answers the first part of your question.
Referring to ‘moral mantle of newness,’ I meant that the most unethical directors were those who pretend to be different, but are really living off historical precedents, only hiding behind hi-tech (video/multi-media) or swimming in current catch-phrases (“Let’s text Him!”)……. Beware the director that tries to be relevant!!!

10. Also in your book you discuss the idea of 'holding a stick' and'holding on to a stick', and is this the same as the principle ofbalancing of opposing forces within the actor? Would you say also that it is an apt analogy for the combining of Japanese and Australian theatre forms?

Why not? Given that with the exception of music, there are no absolutes that can take place on stage (unless one is born or dies half way through a show!). Everything else is subjective and the actor cannot define themselves with absolutes (the musician can define themselves with a top C – a top C either is or isn’t !!!!!!!!). The actor’s recourse is to define himself by invoking opposites (He then finds himself as a loci placed somewhere between the opposites). In our experience, the more types and variation of these paradoxes, the more compelling and defined you become.
Be Warned! Thinking in these zones can be highly destabilising (wanky!) if you go too far, and you can become a real space cadet if you don’t ally such transcendant thoughts with hard visceral work. This is where a good stomp comes in very handy.

PS We will be showing Hamlet Stooged! in Chicago in August if you can come down. As well, we will be teaching a workshop. Contact Conan Dunning (Barney in Doll Seventeen) who is currently in Chicago or

John Nobbs
Frank Theatre

Monday, 4 December 2006

Deep Play / Moral Purpose

One of my latest reads has been a book called: "Between a Rock and a Hard Place", by Aron Ralston, which recounts the graphic misadventures of a young mountaineer when, during a routine but squeezy stroll down a pencil-thin chasm he finds himself dislodging a half ton rock. Said rock falls on his hand, squashing it into the rock face as it jams itself between the two walls. After 5 days without food or water, et al., he eventually breaks free by cutting his right arm off with his blunt multi-tool(A good Ad for Leatherman, maybe?...maybe not!) and is rescued. It is a pretty harrowing read especially the part where he works out that because the knife part is so knackered, he has to separately break both bones in his forearm before he can grind away at the remaining tendons with the blunt blade. The very well written book( how is it that so many people that survive heroic misadventures write quite well- is it something they learn during their ordeal ?) intersperses the visceral expriences of the trauma with other chapters that detail his highly focussed life challenging himself among the deserts and peaks of the Rockies.
In one early chapter there's a paragraph that articulates the base point of his philosophy:
'Over the course of the winter, I learnt about the concept of deep play, wherein a person's recreational pursuits carry a gross imbalance of (personal) risk and (public)reward. Without the potential for any real or perceived external gain - fortune, glory or fame - a person puts himself into scenarios of real risk and consequence purely for internal benefit: fun and enlightenment. Deep play exactly descrbed my winter solo fourteener project( the writer's plan to climb all of Colorado's mountains above 14,000 feet over a series of winters). Especially when I would begin a climb by heading into a storm, accepting malevolent weather as part of my experience on that trip. Suffering, cold, nausea, exhaustion, hunger- none of it meant anything - it was all part of the experience. The same went for joy, euphoria, achievement and fulfillment , too.
I found I could not set out with the intent of having a particular experience- safety precautions and risk management aside - my goal was instead to be open to what the day was giving me and accept it. Expectations generally led to disappointment, but being open to whatever was there for me to discover led to awareness and delight, even when conditions were rough.
Mark Tight, an American alpinist with an extraodinary history of success and misadventure at the most extreme level of mountaneering, wrote in a climbing essay: "It doesnt have to be fun to be FUN" (My italics and Caps)'.

I'm not sure where he got it from, but it is a very lucid summation as to why the extreme boyos who climb mountains or ride oceans actually do what they do.A compelling aspect to this extract is that this sophisticated idea is borne out of long periods of contemplation connected with hard physical labour in difficult but poetic situations. It is in the teeth of such relentless repetition surrounded by a poetic and challenging landscape, that thoughts and feelings are simplified and distilled to their essence. Although we train in situations less exposed and exotic than the icy fields above Aspen, we at Frank are likewise conjoining the twin nodes of challenge and poesy. We have developed challenging recurrent exercises (e.g. The Marches) couched within poetic landscapes (evocative music such as David Lynch's Pink Room).

Deep Play is a very poetic heading for the idea and identifies and joins in the same instant the seemingly contradictory ideas of play and profundity. This is more than the pursuit of superficial fun - the elements of real danger and mortal challenge sober up the process to a paradoxical meeting point.

Co-incidently that same night I was observing a rehearsal of Jacqui Carroll's latest Frank Theatre piece: "Macbeth:CSD". This piece is a significant evolutionary shift from the relatively classic Maccas we have been doing since 1995.It is taking the form of an essay that more reveals the synaptic map of Jacqui's brainbox. The former is a linear, condensed version of the name play and is still in the repertoire, being used for international bi-lingual productions, such as those we intend to do in Switzerland and Mongolia in 2007.

Picture of Mongolian actors Mitga and Gamba as nurse and doctor in Macbeth, Ulaan Bataar, 2006.

On this night, I was sitting in front watching as a chorus of six witches were rehearsing a particularly engrossing sequence, marvelling at their ability to be compelling whilst being deeply involved in their personal actions. I suddenly could perceive that Ralston's idea of Deep Play was in the room!!
They were 'playing' of course, as performance is a type of 'play', but this was much more than the superficial, childish pretence that most people associate with modern acting. It was far too rigorous and self-effacing for that. These actors were challenging themselves in ways analogous to extreme sportsmen. Of course they could not be described as in any sort of mortal danger, even though they were working viscerally very hard. The single most important tenet of the Frank Suzuki Performance Aesthetics is that acting should be essentially transformational, and our training aims to create pathways which foster it at a personal level.This implies that the actor must work very hard; not in the extroverted sense of a proficient athlete, but it does demand a level of internalised energy created viscerally by the body's interactive physical and meta-physical forces. This requires a high level of imagination, concentration, stamina and most importantly, moral power. The last three are requirements shared by both actors and extreme sportsmen and I have not read one book where mountaineers and blue water sailors weren't driven by an imaginative love of nature and the poetic desire to engage with it.
A crucial ingredient in 'Deep Play' is the element of ever-present danger, for without its mortal implications there is no real risk, hence no prescription for Moral Power, the body's enabler for engaging danger. In all the stories I've read where men improbably survive in impossibly adverse conditions, mostly the situation deteriorates to a point where obvious attributes such as strength, stamina, etc., have become exhausted and the only element left is the moral strength/ courage/ power of the protagonist. It is the wellspring of this 'power' that overrides the body's physical and mental collapse. This 'moral' power can be likewise be termed spiritual power, and in all forms of human endeavour it seems to be the call of last resort before mortal abdication.
In the theatrical domain I have witnessed this energy exemplified in the work of Tadashi Suzuki. In Japan one year, some members of Frank Theatre watched a training session where his actors performed a routine in which, carrying wooden swords, they faced imaginary multi-directionary enemies/gods by dropping to the floor in exaggerated positions. It was done to a powerful but elliptical piece of music and the effect was emotionally electrifying. Talking after to one of our actors,Ramsey Hatfield, he made the observation that it was so moving that it made him feel like crying! As he said that I realised that he had been affected not by the skill of the actors , but by their moral power. This was much more than some sort of Kung-Fu demo- these actors offstage are very gentle, modest people- they are not trained fighters(Actually, I 've seen them recoil from killing a fly!), so one is witnessing them attempt to do things beyond what they think they are capable of.
Having watched the development of Suzuki's (and Frank's) actors over a number of years, it has become paradoxically apparent that it is the moral power that creates the actor's talent- and not the other way around as may be assumed. In our experience it has been the intent of the actor that has punched a hole in his future, walked in and forged his talent by dragging it behind.
I posit that what I term moral power does morph into a learning tool- I describe this as Moral Purpose!and one way to achieve this 'zone' is through Deep Play.

Monday, 27 November 2006

Frank Grotowski Principles

The FRANK summation of Polish theatre director
Jerzy Grotowski’s approach and work:
by John Nobbs

Whilst teaching and performing in Mongolia in August 2006, I read and was inspired by Eugenio Barba's account of his time with Jerzy Grotowski. Grotowski in the period between 1959 and the late sixties was in the vanguard of the movement that revolutionised theatre practice within progressive elements in the West, taking it from the realm of historical re-enactment to a place much more meta-physical. Through his acutely perceptive religio-spirituality, Grotowski was able to articulate an approach for redefining theatre as a spiritual arena that could supplant contemporary Christian artistic expression that had been enfeebled by a century's erosion of Darwin's evolutionary science. I became intrigued by the notion of updating Grotowski's Statement of Principles and shunting it into the now by cross pollinating it with the Frank Suzuki Performance Aesthetics.

Picture of John Nobbs and Ira Seidenstein training in Switzerland 2006

I 'translated' sections of his manifesto into 'FrankSpeak' for several reasons. It must be taken into consideration that Grotowski's vision was digested in the west within the socio-political climate of the positive 'swinging sixties' when the 'transgressive' and 'sacrificial' aspects of his approach were most revelatory and appropriate. The early years of the 21st century find us in a more fearful situation where people, bombarded with information, are brought up to be NICE (No-one Inside Cares Enough) under a Post -Modern cosmology. People are encouraged to be more self-important and they find 'transgression' is not nice and 'sacrifice' is too demanding. Another consideration is that the 'sacrificial' content in Grotowski's process begot its fair share of psychological collateral damage. This can be put down to two main factors:
1) Any pioneering psychological quest is pushing into delicate psychic areas and there will always be mishaps for which there are no contingencies,
2) The exercises invented to promote the 'research' are more heavily weighted towards transgression and sacrifice rather than focussing on psychic sustainability.
The Suzuki Actor Training Method (SATM) and its more western variant , the Frank Suzuki Performance Aesthetics (FSPA), are specifically constructed to foster the psychic research, but corralled within a highly methodical process, that protects and sustains the entire corpus of the actor. So, confident of the aptitude of the FSPA, it is now time to reassess Mr Grotowski's Principles in the light of the greater knowledge that he must be admired for instigating. The most crucial difference between Mr G's process and Frank's is that we consider the purpose is TRANSFORMATIOM not Transgression, and the process is not sacrificial but sustainable.

In the following 'translation' or interpolation, the words and sentences in Capitals are Frankspeak and the lower case is Grotowski's original.

It demonstrates two things, I think:
1) The universality of the meta-physics of human performance, and
2) a possible pathway for transfiguring an aesthetic approach that was borne of a Polish ghetto (both Fascist and Communist) into the millennial comfort zone of urban Brisbane.


THE PACE OF MODERN LIFE IS SO CHAOTIC THAT WE LOSE OUR SENSE OF ‘SELF’AND REPLACE IT WITH masks and roles. WE LIKE TO BE CIVILISED, BUT WE ALSO DESIRE INDIVIDUATION. Therefore we play a double game of intellect and instinct, thought and emotion; we try to divide ourselves artificially into body and soul. WE THEN SUFFER FROM A LACK OF ‘COMPLETENESS’. When we try to liberate ourselves from it, we convulse to the rhythm of biological chaos.
Theatre provides an opportunity for what could be called THE RE-INTEGRATION OF BODY AND SOUL. Here we can see the theatre's therapeutic function for people in our present day civilization. NOT ONLY IS IT true that the actor accomplishes this act ON BEHALF OF THE SPECTATOR, but he can only do so through an encounter with the spectator. NOTHING SHOULD GET BETWEEN THE ACTOR AND HIS AUDIENCE, not a cameraman, wardrobe mistress, stage designer or make-up girl, BUT, INSTEAD, IN DIRECT ENGAGEMENT WITH HIM, and somehow, VICARIOUSLY, "instead of" him. THE ACTOR’S PERFORMANCE - discarding half measures, OPENING UP himself as opposed to closing up - is an invitation to the spectator. This act could be compared to A GENTLE SACRIFICE, paradoxical and borderline, in our opinion SUCH A PERFORMANCE epitomizes the actor's HIGHest calling.
We NEED SO MUCH PSYCHIC ENERGY TO ACHIEVE THIS STATE not in order to teach THE AUDIENCE but to learn with them what our UNIQUE MORTAL experience has to TEACH us; to learn to EXPLORE NEW METAPHYSICAL SPACES, TO FREE US FROM THE CONFINES OF QUOTIDIAN TIME AND DOMESTIC SPACE; in short: to fulfil ourselves. Art is MORE THAN AN EXRESSION, OR A MANIFESTATION OF THE state of man (in the sense of a profession or social function); art is a ripening, an evolution, an uplifting which enables us to emerge from darkness into a blaze of light.
We NEED TO DIG DEEPER to discover, to experience the truth about ourselves; to GO BEHIND the masks behind which we hide daily. We see theatre - especially in its palpable, VISCERAL aspect - as a place of TRANSFORMATION, a challenge the actor sets himself and also, LESS INTENSELY THE AUDIENCE. Theatre only has a meaning if it allows us to transcend our stereotyped VIEW OF OURSELVES, our conventional feelings and customs, our standards of judgment - not just for the sake of doing so, but so that we may experience what is real and, AFTER FINDING A SPACE THAT VOIDS all daily escapes and pretences, WE discover ourselves. In this way - through THE shock AND shudder which causes us to drop our daily masks and mannerisms - we are able, without hiding anything, to entrust ourselves to something we cannot name but in which live Eros and Charitas.
Art SHOULD NOT be bound by the laws of COMMERCIALITY OR POLITICAL catechism. The actor, at least in part, is creator, model and creation rolled into one- He must not be shameless as that leads to exhibitionism. He must have MORAL courage, but not merely the courage to exhibit himself - a passive courage, we might say: the courage of the defenceless, the MORAL courage to reveal himself. Neither that which touches the interior sphere, nor the profound stripping bare of the self should be regarded as evil so long as in the process of preparation or in the completed work they produce an act of creation. If they do not come easily and if they are not MERELY signs of IDIOSYNCRACY but of A PROFOUND SEARCH FOR ‘SELF’, then they are creative: they reveal and EXPRESS us AS we TRANSFORM ourselves.
For these reasons every aspect of an actor's TRAINING dealing with SELF DISCOVERY should AVOID SUPERFICIALITY AND be protected from NEGATIVE remarks, PERSONAL CRITICISMS and indiscrete comments and jokes. The personal realm - both spiritual and physical - must not be "swamped" by triviality, the sordidness of life and lack of tact towards oneself and others; at least not in the TRAINING SPACE. This postulate sounds like a WANKY moral order. It is not. It involves the very essence of the actor's calling. This calling is realized through VISCERALITY. The actor must not DECORATE but INTERROGATE an "act of the soul" by means of his own organism. Thus he is faced with two extreme alternatives: he can either sell, dishonour, his real "incarnate" self, making himself an object of artistic prostitution; or he can give himself, sanctify his real "incarnate" self.

An actor can only be guided and inspired by A DIRECTOR who is whole-heartedly CONCERNED WITH THE ACTOR’S creative activity. The DIRECTOR, while guiding and inspiring the actor, must at the same time allow himself to be guided and inspired by THE ACTOR’S EXPERIENCE- it is a question of freedom AND partnership, and this does not imply a lack of discipline but a respect for the autonomy of others. Respect for the actor's autonomy does not mean LACK OF STRUCTURE, lack of DIRECTION, never ending discussions and the replacement of action by continuous CUPS OF COFFEE AND CIGARETTES. On the contrary, respect for autonomy means enormous demands, the expectation of a maximum creative effort and the most RIGOROUS INTENT. Understood thus, the actor's PROGRESS can only be born from the KNOWLEDGE of the DIRECTOR and not from his lack of MORAL STRENGTH. Such a lack implies imposition, PREVARIFICATION, superficial dressage.

An act of creation IS IMPEDED BY either TOO MUCH comfort or conventional human civility; that is to say working conditions in which everybody is UNFOCUSSED AND NICE. It demands a maximum of silence and a minimum of words. In this kind of creativity we PROCEED through proposals, actions and THE FEELING INSIDE THE BODY, not through SELF-REFERENTIAL CHITCHAT. When we finally find ourselves on the track of something COMPLEX, SUBTLE and often DIFFICULT TO DEFINE, we have no right to lose it through frivolity and carelessness. Therefore, even during breaks after which we will be continuing with the creative process, we are obliged to observe certain natural reticences in our behaviour and even in our private affairs. This applies just as much to our own work as to the work of our partners. We must not interrupt and disorganize the work because we are hurrying to our own affairs; we must not peep, comment or make jokes about it privately. In any case, private Ideas of fun have no place in the actors calling. In our approach to creative tasks, even if the theme is IMPROVISATION, we must be in a state of readiness - one might even say “SINCERITY". THIS working ETIQUETTE which serves as a PROCESS, NEED not be TAKEN OUTSIDE THE WORK INTO a private context.
A creative act of this HIGH quality NEEDS TO BE performed in a COMMUNAL LANDSCAPE I.E.WITHIN A TEAM, and THIS limits EGOCENTRICITY. AN ACTOR’S INDIVIDUATION MUST PRESUPPOSE THE ACCEPTANCE OF HIS FELLOW PERFORMERS OWN INDIVIDUATION. NO ACTOR has the right to correct his partner. THIS IS THE SOLE FUNCTION OF THE DIRECTOR. Intimate or drastic elements in the work of others are untouchable and should not be commented upon even in their absence. Private conflicts, quarrels, sentiments, animosities are unavoidable in any human group. It is our duty towards creation to keep them in check in so far as they might deform and wreck the work process. We are obliged to open ourselves up even towards an enemy.
It has been mentioned several times already but we can never stress and explain too often the fact that we must never exploit privately anything connected with the creative act: i.e. location, costume, props, an element from the acting score a melodic theme or lines from the text. This rule applies to the smallest detail and there can be no exceptions. We did not make this rule simply to pay tribute to a special artistic devotion. We are not interested in grandeur and noble words, but our awareness and experience tell us that lack of strict adherence to such rules causes the actors score to become deprived of its psychic motives and "radiance."

A SENSE OF INTENT IN THE CHARACTER OF THE ACTOR ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT REQUIREMENT without which a creative act cannot take place. We SEE it IN the actors who come to theatre to ENGAGE themselves in extreme SITUATIONS, a TYPE OF MORAL challenge REQUIRING a DEEP response from every one of us. They come to test themselves in something very PROFOUND that reaches beyond the USUAL meaning of "theatre" and is more like an act of TRANSFORMATION. This outline possibly sounds A BIT WANKY however, if we try to explain it theoretically, we might say that the theatre and acting are for us a kind of vehicle allowing us to emerge from our OLD SELF, to DISCOVER A NEW SELF. We could TALK ABOUT THIS FOREVER. However, anyone who STICKS AT THE TRAINING OVER THE LONG TERM BECOMES perfectly aware that what we are talking about can be grasped less through grandiose words than through details, demands and the rigours of work in all its elements. FORTUNATELY the individual who disturbs the basic elements, who does not for example respect his own and the others’ acting score, destroying its structure by shamming or automatic reproduction, BECOMES DISSATISFIED WITH THE TRAINING AND LEAVES. IN THIS WAY THE TRAINING WEEDS OUT THOSE WHO ARE NOT SUITED TO THE DEMANDS OF THIS TYPE OF THEATRE.

Creativity, especially where acting is concerned, is boundless sincerity, yet GIVEN SHAPE BY TRAINING AND REHEARSING. The creative ACTOR should not therefore find his material a barrier in this respect. And as the actor's MOST IMPORTANT material is his own body, it should be trained to obey, to be pliable, to respond IMAGINATively to psychic impulses as if THE EGO did not exist during the moment of creation - by which we mean THE ACTOR does not offer any resistance. IMAGINATION and SELF-DEFINITION are the basic aspects of an actor's work and they require a methodical SYSTEM.
Before AN ACTOR CAN PERFORM COMPELLINGLY he must first EXPERIENCE SOMETHING REAL and then REFLECT, accordingly ON THAT EXPERIENCE. THIS ‘EXPERIENCE’ BECOMES PART OF HIS ‘HISTORY’, ALONGSIDE HIS natural convictions, prior observations and experiences in life. The basic foundations of OUR TRAINING method constitute GAINING THIS LIFE EXPERIENCE IN THE FORM OF BODY HISTORY. Our PHILOSOPHY is geared to CREATING A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR DISCOVERING THIS BODY HISTORY. Therefore anybody who comes and TRAINS here VERY QUICKLY can claim a knowledge of the FRANK THEATRE’S methodOLOGY. Anyone who comes and works here and then wants to keep his distance (as regards creative consciousness) shows the wrong kind of care for his own individuality. The etymological meaning of "individuality" is "indivisibility" which means complete existence in something: individuality is the very opposite of half-heartedness. We maintain, therefore, that those who come and TRAIN IN THE FSPA discover something deeper INSIDE THEMSELVES, preparing THEM FOR PERFORMANCE. Since they accept this consciously, we presume that each of the participants feels obliged to train TO THEIR UTMOST creatively IN THE TRAINING and try to ACHIEVE HIS OWN UNIQUE INDIVIDUATION, WHILE STILL BEING open to risks and search. For what we here call "the TRAINING" is the very opposite of any sort of prescription.
The main point then is that an actor should not try to acquire any kind of recipe or build up a "box of tricks." THE THEATRE is no place for exhibiting all sorts of meaningless expressions. The gravitas in our work pushes the actor towards an interior ripening which expresses itself through a willingness to break through barriers, to search for a "summit", for totality.
The actor's first duty is to grasp the fact that nobody here wants to TAKE AWAY anything; instead WE plan to ADD a lot TO him, to GO BEYOND that to which he is usually very attached: his resistance, reticence, his inclination to hide behind masks, his half-heartedness, the obstacles his body places in the way of his creative act, his habits and even his usual "good manners".

Before an actor is able to achieve TRANSFORMATIVE PRESENCE he has to fulfil a number of requirements, some of which are so subtle, so intangible, as to be practically undefinable through words. They only become plain through practical application. It is easier, however, to define conditions under which TRANSFORMATIVE PRESENCE cannot be achieved and which of the actor's actions make it impossible. This act cannot exist if the actor is more concerned with charm, personal success, applause and salary than with creation as understood in its highest form. It cannot exist if the actor conditions it according to the size of his part, his place in the performance, the day or kind of audience. There can be no TRANSFORMATIVE PRESENCE if the actor dissipates his creative impulse by the premeditated use of the creative act as a means to further own career.

Friday, 17 November 2006

Teaching machines

The Teaching Machine:

A few years ago whilst watching our company train, I realized how much I had learnt from the training. For the first few years of our existence the training had primarily been directed towards skill acquisition-exercises designed to strengthen the actor’s voice and body giving them the ability to generate the most power they possibly could.

I was satisfied with this approach for the first 4 or 5 years, because working on myself, I was pushing the finite possibilities of my own structure. As I reached my fullest physical and vocal potential, I found that I had hit a type of wall - I had reached a point where my voice and body was not getting stronger or bigger. After weathering a period of frustration, I began looking at the more creative prospects that lay inside the body’s potential. This led me to expand the training range by developing exercises that encouraged more imaginative shifts and levels- first of all in movement patterns and textures, and by extension into vocalizing. I think the first such exploration was ‘I Put a Spell on You’ by Screaming Jay Hawkins.

By this stage many of the other Frank performers had achieved similar levels of proficiency in accessing their latent power, so a shift in creative priorities as pertinent to their growth as well. This shift could not have occurred until after the actors had achieved their fullest possible visceral potential. A comparison can be made with the training of a sports team, where all the players, through a series of simple, demanding and repetitive exercises achieve a level of expertise which they can instinctively draw upon during the heat of play. More of this in another chapter….

Some of the exercises then evolved to such a level that whilst the actors were doing certain vocal and or physical activities, I would be able to throw in a command with a generational shift. For example, if they were doing a ‘spastic’ dance sequence to the Sax solo in ‘I put a spell on you’, I could say: ’Dance with one hand stuck to the floor!’. This shift in demand would create an extra frisson of energy in the entire room for a couple of reasons:-
1) It would be expected of the actors that they would somehow maintain whatever they were doing, whilst adding the extra elliptical element.
2) They would often not fully understand what I had said (because I was in a new ‘space’ myself and very much thinking on my feet) and this provided an even greater frisson of energy amongst the actors as they went about their business, trying to do something new, whilst asking themselves:-“ What did he say? What did he mean? What did he want?’ This frisson is caused by that question that now hovers in the space………but we’ll return to that point a little later.

I had a precedent for moving in this direction for during my times in training with Suzuki, I had seen him on any number of occasions give complicated instructions half way through an exercise. I sensed that the actors had often not quite understood his request, but nevertheless had maintained deportment and endeavoured to implement what he had said whist staying inside the activity.

As I did this more and more with our actors I became more elliptical and less prescriptive with the requests/demands. This was partially because they had developed the requisite ‘talent’ to be compelling no matter what they did and my being more vague meant there was more plurality about the whole atmosphere. As well, it meant the trainer, myself, by not making explicit demands was imposing lees of himself on the group. The group had to be more self-generative and invent their own ‘instructions’ because they couldn’t fully understand or hear mine. It also meant that the actors owned the experience more, that they had made their own experience.

As I noticed the shift in temperature of the room, either when Suzuki was taking rehearsals/training or when I was training Frank, I began to feel the effect of the frisson on myself. Because the actors were on such a level of sophistication, I felt that the combination of their talent and my suggestions had taken the ‘organism’ of the training to a higher pitch, a newer more exciting plane. I then felt that I had learnt something from the experience- that the experience had taught me something. This frisson was most often something intangible- a feeling if you like, which would take time to homologate into something more concrete.. Because I had learnt from working with the actors I was rejuvenated- I was not only in the position of just giving out information, I had achieved a situation where the actors were ‘teaching’ me. The word ’teaching’ is a simplified code for what is a complicated transaction, where the environmental combination of the actor’s skills and my suggestions had created an atmosphere that I could ‘read’. One could describe that ‘atmosphere’ as a type of organism or learning machine.

The more elliptical my demands, the more compelling the atmosphere became, which I suppose meant that the more elliptical I became, the less I was imposing myself on the situation and therefore the more I could learn from the experience. In any learning situation, the less one prescribes, imposes or proffers, the more one is likely to learn. Witness the old adage: Shut up and Listen!

In our long term observations of Suzuki’s process, one of the things that intrigued us was exactly how did he gain his exceptional choreographic and scenic skills? In our limited reading of his history, he was studying political science at his university and gradually became attached to the undergraduate drama society. At one stage he found himself caretaking the situation when the extreme elements manned the barricades at Narita in 1968. He must have seemed at that point to be an unlikely candidate for future theatrical greatness, having had no training in any aspects of a director’s craft.
As he progressed along his artistic path he must have picked up the necessary skills, because, now, in any estimation, he has considerable facility as a lighting designer, director, choreographer, vocal coach, costumier, scenic designer and dramaturg.
So, where did he get it??

Once I’d trained Frank to a level where they could, in their improvisations ‘teach’ me, I began to conjecture that Suzuki may well have done the same thing. As I recalled my experiences of working with him as well as observing, I remembered the ‘climate’ of the room when he was making suggestions. Although this must have happened in the rehearsals it was harder to tell because I don’t understand Japanese, so couldn’t read the complexities. In the training the ‘climate’ was more apparent because I was aware of the structures and formats and I could more easily read the shifts.

A good example of this was Suzuki’s conducting of a training session for myself and a group of his actors who were performing in the Shizuoka Theatre Olympics in 1999. We were doing an exercise called Agiteketen, where we stand rooted to the spot, legs and bodies still whilst our arms as straight as rods wave around chaotically as fast as possible.
This exercise is demanding and compelling as it stands, but one day Suzuki said:
”STOP! I want you to do it again , but this time just move as fast as you can, jumping , hopping what ever –just don’t stop and make every movement as crazy as possible”
I don’t understands Japanese , but it must have been words to that effect as they all began hopping and jumping around like Colonel Parker’s chickens at an Elvis concert. The look on their faces was something to behold, as their expressions said:” I’ve got no idea what I’m doing or why I’m doing it, but I’d better keep going and try and work out what it is while I’m doing it!” Pretty impressive! Luckily I was in the next group so I had a bit of warning, but I bet I looked as confused as the others.
On reflecting upon such experiences and transposing them to my training of the Frankies it gradually dawned on me that this may have been the process he employed, however intuitively, to gain the immense and varied skills he has today.
This means that he is using the training to train himself as much as the actors under his charge- much more than just telling the actors what to do- he was using the training as a teaching machine!
The more I applied this dictum to our own work, I began to see the deeper implications. I began to surmise that one’s actual cultural aesthetic, as it were, could emanate from this machine, and by extension the political and philosophical actions could likewise be given shape and focus from the ‘organism’. Of course as they ripple out further, they become more abstract and eliptical.
I don’t see why this 'teaching machine‘ conceit should not be applied to any other field of endeavour, the more ‘creative’ the field the more directly applicable.
In 2004 Frank Theatre was asked to take part in the Financing Innovative Growth (FIG) program. This is a Queensland Government sponsored series of seminars for young ‘turk’ businesses, predominantly in the IT sector, to gain the necessary smarts to go from the garage to the factory floor.
We were invited because we were seen as the hippest theatre company in the state and we were surrounded by highly motivated, forward thinking people on the cusp of success and it was highly instructive to be in this milieu, even though their core businesses were very different from ours. In the course of the seminars I could see that though there were many things separating our’ businesses’, there were also things we held in common. At the end of the day all businesses are essentially about coordinating and training people.
As I chatted and observed these people who were enterprisingly searching for ways to configure their aspirations, I could see that my ‘learning machine’ principle could apply to any other culture. I then cast back through all the biographies I had read over the years and realised that all of the so-called ‘successful’ people had devised or discovered some device, organism, mechanism, zone, diagram, mental attitude, image, sound, that they could sit back and read.
With all of these people the ability to ‘read’ was a crucial requirement. This ‘reading’ ability was the ability to think out of the square so to speak, to not think head-on, linearly, but from an angle, in an oblique fashion, to think laterally( in the words of Edward de Bono). Another way of putting it is to say they could think beyond rationality- they could think poetically. This put them in the position of being more receptive than projective.
So, discoverers from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs would invent something and see the invention not so much as an achievement but as a springboard for generating future creative shifts. (Incidently, Jobs apparently will only hire people who can draw-people who can illustrate their thinking process and present their imaginations in hard copy).
I think that when creative, successful people such as Bill Gates invent a device, then they don’t have to initiate the next stage. If they turn their invention into a ‘listening machine’ it will show them the next way top go.