6 Week Theatre of Cruelty Course

Week 1

Well then! Warm up was as normal; we ran, we star jumped, we high kneed.After the warm up though we did a really great Grotowski exercise where you become an animal and explore the space, obviously it is more detailed than that however explaining it would be near impossible but I do love it. Then we did the bubo exercise (see my post on the six week expressionist theatre course as well) where a bubo of pain builds and you are all tense and then bursts over and over and over. This time however an element of hunter/prey was added which made it very interesting but a bit more difficult because with this you are trying to act on impulse but when doing the hunter/prey bit you were thinking, it was hard but I learnt from it. The final thing we did was passing gestures and then we added on an emotion like ‘happy’ or ‘fear’ and finally ‘lust’. I will be honest with you I ain’t great at lust, I always feel uncomfortable because that isn’t a part of myself I am sure of or comfortable with yet, sorry for being a bit personal there. The whole thing that is cruel about this style of theatre is the way it lays all the actors bare, there is no mask, it is impulse and it is your impulse a lot and it is hard to be that exposed. I hope this course will give me confidence to embrace the impulses even in situations where my brain is shouting “FOOL” at me.

Week 2

Rituals and taboos. We did our warm up then moved onto an pairs exercise where one leads the other round the room by the hand (they are placed on top of each other) and the the followers eyes are closed. I love things like that as they are a bit scary but you just need to trust the other person not to run you into a wall. Then we did an improvisation but Luke took me aside and said at some point do something in keeping with the improv but totally inappropriate, this taught us about taboos and what is a taboo etc. It is believed in Theatre of Cruelty that this would cleanse the audience, it is cruel to the actors and audience but cleansing. The next bit was strange, we got random objects and started making sounds, like soundscapes, then we added movement and sounds eventually sacrificing someone then bringing them back with the same sounds. This was weird at first because it was like ‘I just killed you with these sounds now I need to love you?’ but as we focused it worked out. The final thing we did was split into threes and improvise a scene with another taboo. My group had a scene on a plane where someone leaned over me to wank off the bloke on the other side of me and wiped the cum on my arm. It was a very unpleasant scene. This course is really making me see how uncomfortable I am in certain situations, I really need to push out of my comfort zone so that is the goal next week.

Week 3

Today we did our usual warm up and all that with some extra vocal humming and then got on with class. We were split into two groups, my group stayed in the room while the other went outside. We were told to make a safe place somewhere in the room as a group without talking, then find our own space within that space then come up with a way to defend it. We were also tasked with coming up with a ritual to do before we were allowed to enter the safe space. Once this was done the other group were allowed in. What followed was odd because it reflected all our personalities so much, it revealed who was brave, who utilises other peoples skills, who was playful, who was very protective and who was a leader. I think the main thing I worked out about myself is that I see what is around me and use it, from my place I had a very protective person in front so I could be very playful because people would need to get through him to get to my place and he was protecting his place fiercely so I was cool, it may also be a sign of laziness. Next we were sent out. We were called back in a little later and told to put something precious of ours in a box in the centre of the room, the others were stood watching us with an object in front of them. We did as instructed and then walked up to the others, waited, picked up the objects, waited, played with them and suddenly they started telling us an embarrassing story from their past. Apparently they were meant to do something else but we all kind of made up our own games between us. We didn’t do a huge amount this week and it wasn’t really anything that scared me but I know I need to keep pushing myself. It is called Theatre of Cruelty because it is cruel, I need to keep pushing myself into the uncomfortable situations even if it is just to test and say “nope, not for me” although that is unlikely.

Week 4

We started on text this week which sort of goes against what Artaud wanted but there wasn’t rally devising in his time so he had to do is best. However we didn’t start with Artaud we started with the opening three pages of The Bacchae. We read through and discussed how a modern audience may feel about it. Then we did an exercise I find very hard…we wrote a list! The list starts with the nicest thing you can think of and as you go up to ten it gets worse and worse until ten is the worst thing you can think and I mean the WORST the sort of thing you didn’t think you could think. For example, my number eight on this list was ‘filling small children with helium so that they can be used as balloons for other children’ and someone else’s five was ‘a used tampon sandwich’. We read them all out and then were placed around the room. One person was taken out and told you need to run round and shut everyone up by gently placing your hand on their mouth. We started speaking then when stopped we stopped for 60 seconds, then 50, then 40 and so on until we didn’t stop. Poor boy did a lot of running. This showed us how power can be taken away and we also thought about how interesting it would be to play about with audience participation with this. We then moved onto one of Artauds own plays ‘Jet of Blood’ or ‘Spurt of Blood’ and after a read through we separated into pairs with one page per pair and told the story using only sounds. Then we came together again and retold the story, adding to each others sounds using either single words or adding to the sounds. This week taught us a lot vocally but also about abstractly telling a story that doesn’t really have a coherent story, read ‘Jet of Blood’ and you will understand.

Week 5

This week was fun as we played a couple of warm up exercises that got us moving and interacting then we started a discussion about what the plague is in our world. Artaud was all about pinpointing the plague and then lancing the boil to let all the gross out and help the audience. For him the Plague had a lot to do with the world wars but for us it is a little different. We came up with a couple of ideas like dehumanisation but the main thing that all our ideas had in common was fear. We were split into two groups and asked to devise a piece around one of those on the board. My group chose dehumanisation but more specifically paedophilia, it was a complicated decision but it was mostly inspired by a documentary we had all watched about paedophiles who wanted help (it sounds strange but worth a watch). We all felt that whilst people were talking more about the issue of paedophilia it would rarely progress past “it is disgusting and wrong” so we wanted to push the conversation deeper. After we had devised for about 10 minutes we showed our pieces and gave feedback on how they could be improved. We are going to revisit these next week and improve upon them. I feel like I am getting a bit better at dealing with things that make me uncomfortable which is making me feel a little more confident in this area of theatre.

Week 6

Scratch what I said last week this week was bloody tough. We moulded both the scenes together and took them further in areas that worked well but not literally recreating and fucking hell! If you couldn’t tell from this blog and my writing I am a very awkward human but most of the time I can act through it, this week I was working with someone who is also very awkward and during the rehearsal we let it get to us. We should have just knuckled down done it full pelt once and that would have broken all the awkward tension but we didn’t ‘cos we were weak bastards. The end product went well because it was a performance and you can’t chicken out during a performance even if it is just to the teacher and not a paying audience.

This entire course has been riddled with things that make me uncomfortable and make me think ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ but honestly I have enjoyed the challenges. I want to revisit this style of theatre in a more intense way and learn more about myself, how far I can push myself and also how to create more work in this style. I feel like I am just about grasping it but I want to work more on so I can have a solid grip and more confidence.

Would I recommend someone take a course in Theatre of Cruelty? Yes, however if you are dealing with any trauma or going through a rough patch no. It is very intense and you delve into emotions and places that if you aren’t secure or feeling okay can be very tough. One person dropped out after she got some bad news and just couldn’t go to that place at the moment. It is perfectly fine to drop out for your sanity, I have dropped out of projects for my mental health and I don’t regret it at all. Sometimes you need to remove yourself before you damage yourself and waste the time of others…sounds brutal but it is honest. Anyhoo, I digressed, take a course in it and try to take risks by putting yourself out there. It is scary to do but worth it as in many ways I do feel braver than when I started.

2 thoughts on “6 Week Theatre of Cruelty Course

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Louise,

    All this sounds amazing! Where do you hear about all these opportunities?
    I am trying to get myself more involved in theatre experience and learning more about acting (to help me get into Drama schools) . I have tried looking for tons of small courses, just to get me going and be more confident but it’s really hard to find something good out there.

    Nathaly x

    1. Hello Nathaly,
      My days do I sympathise with you, it can be hellish trying to find something that is good to do but won’t cost a small fortune.
      Finding courses varies on where you are, how far you can travel and also what you are looking for. It is always worth talking to local companies or youth groups and express interest in either working with them or suggest courses or master classes you would be interested in doing. I do a lot with a local company and they ask us a lot ‘what do you want next?’ so it is always worthwhile politely suggesting what the next class could be about.
      All the big drama schools have courses but those cost an arm and a leg, travel not included. If you are in the UK it is worthwhile looking at Fourth Monkey, they do six week short courses on a variety of subjects for about £80. The training at Fourth Monkey is exceptional and you learn about interesting things.
      Obviously there is a shite ton in London but that isn’t always easy to get to. Up North it is good to look for things in Manchester, they seem to have A LOT going on.
      As far as summer courses go, most places will charge a minimum of £250 for a one or two week course and some can cost near £1000, if you have the money then find a course you like and go for it. If you don’t have the money, don’t worry; pin down what you want from a course, speak to teachers or friends, read blogs (there are loads of people out there in the same position we are) and contact schools. Some courses may have scholarships to help.
      It is hard to find good stuff out there but it is out there. Look into the Monobox or you have RADAs 16-24 Saturday workshops. The National Theatre also have excellent workshops for as reasonable as they come prices. A lot of what I have said only really helps if you are in the UK but I hope some of it still helps even if you are in a different country. I have waffled quite a lot so sorry about that 😛
      Good luck,
      Louise x

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