‘I am here. This is me, and I am fine.’ That phrase is so simple to say, but it can be very hard to truly accept. At the age of 22 I’ve had my fair share of self-doubt, both about general day-to-day things and the rocky career path that is acting: I dance with the grace of a new-born giraffe, I’m terrible at money management, and I do daily exercises to suppress a lisp that could very well stand in the way of me getting work. Despite all this, however, it is my love for theatre that keeps me battling on and searching for ways to improve my skills and my knowledge.
It was only through a stroke of luck that I stumbled across the opportunity to apply for the Emerging Perspectives Company, but I couldn’t be more pleased that I did. After just one session it’s clear that it’s going to be a lot of fun working with the group – all of us like-minded theatre lovers with the drive to get the most out of this experience that we possibly can (and to put the most in to it).
What a first session it was, too! We were introduced to Alan Lyddiard – ensemble director and industry veteran. Having worked with intimate ensemble groups, huge, 500-man, city-wide community arts initiatives, and Lev Dodin of the Saint Petersburg Maly Drama Theatre, I have to say it was an intimidating experience entering the rehearsal room. I needn’t have worried, though; right away, even before sharing names, Alan familiarised us with his core philosophy – ‘I am here. This is me, and I am fine.’ Flaws and all, we need to accept ourselves as a whole in order to work effectively in rehearsals.
In order to achieve this, we were repeatedly put through a long-winded exercise of meditation and control – something of an endurance test for our concentration that ultimately paid off wonderfully. Beginning sitting on a row of chairs, comfortably resting against the back, feet hip-width apart and parallel, hands laid on our legs, we closed our eyes. Slowly, but thoroughly, we were to imagine a line travelling all the way up our body, connecting to key areas on its path. From the feet to the knees, then the hips, taking a moment to ensure the line was straight, the hips were firmly planted and our upper body wasn’t at all tense. Leaving the hips, it ascended to the belly and began to link itself to our breathing. From there the line rose to the solar plexus, then the heart, the throat, the space behind the eyes, ending out the top of our heads.
To someone who hasn’t tried any meditative exercises before it can understandably all seem a bit farfetched, but as this imaginary line travelled up through these key points in the body I really did feel a physical change. I’ve done similar exercises to this before where you focus the mind on travelling through the body to consciously check on each individual part, mainly to relax muscles and prepare for rehearsal. The visualisation of the line in Alan’s version helped no end, though; it’s remarkable how focusing on its rising path gradually opens up the lungs and frees the breath, consequently giving greater control over movement.
Following this meditative stage, we opened our eyes and slowly carried out a series of motions: stand up; walk forward into the open space; pause; turn around and consider the chair; realise you would rather be back there and walk back; stop in front of the chair and look at it; turn back around, changing your mind yet again, confidently; walk back into the space; stop yet again and stare at your hand as it rises to eye level, then drops; say, simply ‘I remember’ or ‘I wish’.
In a list such as this, the sequence holds little meaning, but during the movement straight after our meditation it was difficult not to apply some kind of meaning. Alan pointed out the challenge that lies in striking the balance between overacting and wasting an opportunity. Perhaps the judgement of whether a performer succeeds in this challenge or not is the joint responsibility of the performer themselves and their audience; we certainly found so. I was one of a few who had the opportunity to step back and watch the rest of the group carry out the entire sequence. What I, and others who also watched, noticed was that we as an audience created our own stories to make sense of what we saw. Two people operating completely separately would appear as a synchronised couple; another would stand out as a leader due to nothing more than proceeding through the sequence ahead of others, and so on.
Alan has carried out this exercise with his own ensemble group every day for ten years. As the Emerging Perspectives Company we only did it for perhaps an hour (not counting its use in later activities) and already I could see the benefits it has in terms of both self and group awareness. Overall that is one of the most important parts of ensemble theatre – being conscious not only of your every move, but how your movement has an effect on the onstage image at any given time.
As a company we will need to maintain this awareness and slowly discover what our own identity is in order to work together at our best. I’m already more than confident that we’ll find success in this, not to mention very excited. We’ve all brought our own individual experiences and problems here with us, but the point is we are here now. This is us, and with any luck – and more excellent guidance from others like Alan – we’ll be just fine.
For all the information about the Emerging Perspectives Company and our upcoming Masterclasses, visit our website HERE.