I am doing a six week course on Expressionist Theatre (“nah shit, that is the title of the post!”) with a local theatre company that I have worked with a shit ton. I decided to do this because it’s such a strange style of theatre that immediately polarises audiences so I really wanted to learn more about it, I trust these people and it seemed like a lot of fun. Seeing as I am doing this course to gain insight I shall be posting a brief summary of each week to give you guys a little insight as well.
We had a bit of chit chat at start with names and shizzle bizzle then the leader of the course gave us a little background of Expressionist Theatre. From what I remember it is a combination of the likes of Grotowski, Artaud, Brecht and various other influences, it is about every movement having a meaning, telling stories in an abstract way mostly physically but also with sound scape and the likes. We spoke about how in Expressionist films you with gets lots of lighting focusing on the eyes (more subtle than Mortica but you get the point). It sounded weird but after watching some Theatre of Cruelty inspired films I was okay with this, think a bloke catching a ladies fresh period blood in his mouth type weird, those films be crazy!
After warming up the workshop moved onto various exercises like impulse work, breathing as one and creating a story using sounds. We did a lot of work as a group it was focused a lot on the ensemble and working together to create something. Tension was also brought up and also how or when you look at the audience. At the end we created a short version of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ using the skills we had played around with. All in all the first week started off quite easy but I have a feeling it is going to get a lot more challenging and I am very excited for it.
We focused on physicality this week. We started with our warm up and then the actual class began! We started with something I find very hard, standing still. We split into two groups and one group had to stay up and stand as still as possible for one minute while the rest of us watched. Then we swapped. Next we moved onto walking in neutral, I got put up first and turns out I walk like a ‘hard man’ crossed with a duck. How this weird walk came about I don’t know but apparently I walk weird. We walked to the front, waved and then walked back; we did this in different groups and watched each other and it was quite interesting how such tiny things like the energy in a wave can tell you so much. The next topic we visited was similar as it still focused on walking, we all experimented with how we placed our feet on the floor seeing how that energy affected the rest of our body starting with the legs and slowly working our way up until we had a totally new style of walking or a new character. Next we briefly visited the states of tension as expressionist theatre is often played at quite a high tension state. This was most of the main work we did but at the end we briefly visited the play ‘Metamorphosis’ and played about with the beginning introduction of the characters physically.
This week it was voice but we started a little bit physical like. After warming up we began doing isolations and then we moved on to ripples or ‘plastique rivers’ as they were called which were fun. This exercise of fancy body ripples evolved then into impulse work which I love, I adore impulse work like this and following all the movements rights through for a reason I don’t fully understand I simply love it. The first vocal thing we did was lying on the ground and making vocal sounds on our out breathes and then experimenting with making it sound different and mucking about with the sounds by adding consonants in front and all that jazz. This helped us engage our entire body and make weird faces whilst still thinking about sound and how it was changed. Following on quite nicely from that was a pairs exercise which involved someone making a continuous open sound like ‘oh’ and then the partner pulling imaginary ribbons attached to various parts of the persons body. The person being ‘pulled’ would let the sounds change however it did as they were pulled forward by different body parts. The final thing we did was revisit ‘Metamorphosis’ but this time we added the dialogue. The expressionist way of delivering dialogue is strange because every letter and syllable is pronounced but the sentence should still flow. It is hard to do at first and you really need to use your face to pronounce everything with the huge energy that is needed. We split into two groups and staged the first 3 pages of the play including creating the beetle at the beginning which was fun. All in all I really enjoyed this week.
It was on this night that we finally did some work on the works of Les Enfants Terribles and I was really happy but we shall get to that soon. We started with our warm up which is always fun and then we recapped what we did last week really quickly because a few people weren’t there. Then we did a Theatre of Cruelty exercise the Bubo exercise, it progresses from feeling heat build up on a body part and feeling a small lump grow and the heat spreading until you are in complete pain as it rips through each fibre of your body, that is then repeated over and over. This exercise is painful! We had done it before in rehearsals but this time the leader was nice and we had a nice relaxation after. This is the sort of thing when you will need a nice hug after. However I do think this helps with impulse work and totally engaging with your body whilst letting your vocals flow from what your body is doing. Hope that makes sense.
Next we put on the ‘mask’ (we painted our faces white) used in a lot of expressionist theatre because it really accentuates your eyes. Now we come to picking up the script, we only did the second scene of ‘Earnest and the Pale Moon’ but this was enough as we are still sort of getting to grips with the style. We got into pairs and we got given torches and most of the room lights went out. We rehearsed a bit then performed. The main thing I took from this was how difficult it can be to elongate the vowels and not go slow as fuck but I think the trick is using your mouth like hell! It still feels weird performing at such a high tension state and with such a lot of energy meant to come right out of your eyes. I am enjoying it but it is still quite difficult.
Well I have left writing this week up till a little late. I am sorry. This is a very brief overview of what we did. Basically, we spent this beginning bit recapping and then we were split into two groups and we rehearsed a few scenes from Earnest and the Pale Moon from Les Enfants Terribles. This is the first 3 or so scenes and we then had a quick feedback session for the two groups. The end of this session was a discussion about what the next course would be. The new course was announced a few days ago as Theatre of Cruelty. I am so excited!
THE FINAL WEEK! Rightyho we warmed up as usual then did a quick focusing exercise of miming making tea, sounds weird but does help you to focus on all the little details and no unnecessary movements. Then we resplit into our groups from last week and reworked our scenes with the pointers we got last week. Though the performances were rough I feel like we have got a much better grasp of the basic principles of expressionist theatre. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this course but mate I have had such a great time on this course and learnt a shite ton along the way. The conclusion I have come to is the expressionist theatre is a very difficult performance style that can be incredibly absorbing to watch. These weeks have made me very aware of superfluous movement on stage and also introduced to me to more elements of Poor theatre and other practitioners like Yoshi Oida. I have immensely enjoyed my time on the course and really look forward to the next one.