IN THE CHEKHOV STUDIO

Dawn Arnold shares her musings from her experiences teaching the Chekhov Technique and applying the ideas in coaching actors and directing and devising theatre.

In the Chekhov Studio

About the Thinking, Feeling, Willing Your Words Workshop

This is an interesting moment in the life of our world. We are feeling a need to move, to get out there, back into what we love. What will that mean? What will be different? What are we going towards?

We have a story now, from this year. What is our story? What do we need to speak? Our inner artist is waiting. It waits while we dream. It waits while we do other things, while we take action. What does it need?

It needs a moment, a space, a time. The inner artist needs us to listen. It needs us to ask questions, sensitive queries. The inner artist also needs a way. How to explore? How to move towards a discovery? How to find the idea? How to find the form? How to find the spirit?

The upcoming Thinking, Feeling, Willing Your Words workshop is a time to listen to that inner artist, to find the words. Maybe you write them or maybe you use words you love. Finding the words, how can you express them with new colors, new sounds, so that your story of this moment finds it’s way through you into our needy world.

This eight session workshop brings together my love of nurturing creativity in actors and my ongoing delving into the possibilities of the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique. It offers all of us an opportunity to navigate where we have been for the last year and where we are going from this point forward in an artistic way.

You might be wondering if you have the right skill development for this workshop. You can be at any point in your experience with Chekhov Technique. You also don’t have to be self-identifying as an actor. As long as you desire to listen for your story in a whole-bodied way. In each session any participant may choose to share a bit of what they have found – or not.

This might be a springboard for you. It will definitely be a step in your development as an artist and as a human being. Let’s discover together.

© Dawn Arnold

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To sign up for the workshop E-mail us at ChekhovStudioChicago

Go to this page for the workshop info:

http://www.movingdock.org/site/workshops-and-events/

 

How does the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique Work?

              Three PG's

The urge to perform is always met by the question, “How will I do it?” It is an invitation to create that is exciting and intimidating all at once. How will we take the ideas and impressions we have about the characters we will perform and arrive at that place of confident, radiant expression we seek? Each artist ultimately forms their own process, but fortunately we don’t each have to invent the wheel. The mysterious ‘how” has been sought by dedicated artist-teachers who discovered principles that work.

Michael Chekhov is world renowned as one of the brilliant thinkers on the subject of the art of the actor. In fact, you might say that Michael Chekhov spent his career focused on the ‘how’ and his solutions form a solid foundation of technique, or practical knowledge. His ideas have been helping actors and singers bring out their talent and deliver the performances they have within them to give.

If you are unfamiliar with the Chekhov Technique, you are probably curious about what you will be doing. It is difficult to really get a sense of it without actually doing it. It is a ‘doing’ not a ‘talking about’ approach. Direct experience is the only way in. Chekhov wrote one of the most inspiring books about acting, To the Actor, yet his ideas can’t be understood in the thinking realm alone. As in music and dance, Chekhov Technique functions experientially.

What are our goals? We want to know the character deeply and truthfully. We want to understand what drives the character, what motivates their actions, what struggles they wage within themselves and with others. When we perform, we want to feel we are the very embodiment of the character, moment by moment, as we speak or sing.

In order to accomplish all that, we have to be ready to go after those goals with whole-hearted, whole bodied participation. Chekhov created a series of psycho-physical explorations that get us to a place of receptivity and engagement. In these explorations we are active mentally and physically in a simple but focused way. The process is up-on-our-feet experimenting, sometimes playing with others in ensemble, and sometimes focused on our own discoveries in solo concentration. All of our work is active improvisation, guided by points of focus.

In my teaching of the technique, I refer to the explorations that prepare the actor as essentials and teach these first. After that we can use Chekhov’s tools for characterization that guide us to create dynamic and very specific characters. Once these aspects of the technique are a working process for us, there are more fascinating ideas that are specific to the rehearsal and performance.

Essentials

We start with ourselves for our instrument is our thoughts, awareness, felt sense, and our active, expressive body. Our body is so much more than we typically accept. You might say we are expanding our sense of our body. Learning to listen to our impulses and impressions we reconnect to things we know without words. We are also developing our imagination, a muscle that needs as much of a workout as the body. When once asked to explain his technique, Chekhov answered that it was, “imagination, concentration, and radiation.”

Among these essential concepts of the technique, we learn the process of the psychological gesture which is the tool for understanding and embodying the inner life or essence of the character and the scene. This technique of the psychological gesture will become our modus operandi, showing us how to take ideas and images and translate them into something doable.

Though we are primarily interested in the process, everything we explore could potentially be an acting choice, and later will be. One thing that impresses actors in a Chekhov workshop is that they find themselves immediately connecting as an actor – they are acting! – and often in a way more connected than they usually are, with very little preparation. These essentials are an actor’s practice. They put us in a state of awareness and expressiveness, ready to design the the character.

Characterization

Working with archetypal ideas, the raw material for characterization, we expand our understanding of human experience. We make a distinction between ourselves and our characters. There is no fear that our objective view of the character will distance us because we have already learned a process for embodiment, how to take the images or thoughts about the character we have and own them. We have a way to make the objective subjective. In this way we can know so much more about the character to create a vivid interpretation.

Now, all those questions we want to ask the character come into play. Envisioning them in their world, we can work with them, so to speak, asking them what Chekhov calls ‘leading questions,’ and then learning to take on what we discover. Once we have embodied the ideas, they become something known in a felt way. When it is time to perform, our heads will not be struggling to keep all these things in front of us. They will be known and all we then do is act or sing spontaneously and freely.

Are you getting the idea? Good! Of course there is more and many Chekhov actors will tell you that the creativity of this approach to our art form never ends. The ways to apply the tools of the technique are wonderfully inventive and seemingly endless. While it takes a while to get it into your system, the technique is actually quite simple. The reason some of us continually return to workshops and classes is because it is so much fun!

© Dawn Arnold
 

 

Exploring Expansively

What’s the dreaChekhovStudioChicagoIntensive-15_2m now? All my life I have turned to forms of artistic expression to help me with this momentous question. My practice has included violin, theatre, singing, movement of various genres, vocal techniques, and Michael Chekhov acting technique. Each discipline gave me a direction, goals, and process towards discovery of my being and identity. I have been very satisfied working in these ways. Knowing what they have to offer, I have dedicated my career to teaching others how to have an artistic practice.While the disciplines vary in approach and what we might call short term and long term goals, they have much in common. They direct us to aspects of our being. Each form takes us on a journey that connects us to essential and extraordinary human qualities and abilities. Studied in these ways, we are dealing in abstracts that feel more real and more alive than anything we experience in everyday existence.At first, the abstract nature of any discipline seems vague if we have been living with most of our focus in the everyday world. But aren’t the common forms of our ordinary lives just too familiar, too repetitious, and finally boring? Doesn’t something within us rebel against this mundanity? Isn’t this protest the call of the artist in us?

Once we get past the hold that the ordinary can have on us, we are ready to explore the ‘something more’ that urges us to seek and find. As good students, we will embrace the discipline for its own sake, follow the teacher, commit to the practice. Then we will apply it to our goals as the opportunities arise. The practice will fail us, however, if we don’t reach beyond the discipline and career goals to a larger human view.

As I consider each form I have encountered, I realize that the more I connected each moment of practice with a larger sense of developing individuality, the more I got out of it. Our potential is virtually infinite when we open ourselves to receive each movement, each rhythm, each quality, each color of our being in our effort. This is a private affair, a personal practice, that enlarges our sense of identity. It will be this larger sense of being that will be expressed as something marvelous when the time comes to express it in performance.

I support artists at all stages of their careers to engage in this solo endeavor of self discovery. Having spent many hours in the studio, I know the benefits and the challenges. You do need a process. You do need self motivation and follow-through, which can be a huge obstacle in our crazy world. You can link this effort to career goals to spur you on, but keep your scope large. What you are exploring is so much more than any one outcome. This discovery of life is worthy of all your efforts and ultimately the light you have to give to the world.

© Dawn Arnold