Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Between Panic and Possibility: Doing Physical Theatre with Jim Warren

by Ann Robertson

Third in a series of posts from participants at this year’s Summer Theatre Intensive

"Creativity for the clown lies in the space between the panic and the possibility." These are the words that keep reverberating for me after completing the week-long Theatre Ontario Summer Theatre Intensive 2015 course on Physical Theatre and Text with Jim Warren.

The description for this course indicated that we would be working with Mask and Clown, which interested me as I had not had much experience with either of these techniques. Like many actors, I tend to be very cerebral and am inclined to "hide behind" a play script and the character revealed in the text. I wanted to learn techniques for acting from and with my body, instead of from my head.

Physical Theatre and Text at the Summer Theatre Intensive
We started each day with connecting to each other and to our own bodies, in an attempt to become more aware of how we used our bodies—such as in a simple, everyday activity like walking. When asked to exaggerate the features of our "normal" walk, I found that my usual long stride began to take on some Inspector Clouseau-type characteristics and I could feel some hints of that absurd character starting to emerge!

The work with the Character Masks was challenging but also enlightening and exhilarating. The masks that Jim provided us with were the wonderfully evocative Basel character masks originally developed and used by the legendary Jacques LeCoq. After choosing and donning one of the Masks, we were encouraged to "sit in stillness", to wait "beyond it being uncomfortable", to LET something happen. What a concept for somebody like me who has a great need to MAKE things happen!

As we continued to work with the Masks, Jim demonstrated how they forced us to keep our actions—such as saying good-bye to somebody we loved—“simple and slow", and free from unnecessary embellishment. It was clear—as we each took our turn—that the simplest gestures are the most eloquent.

And, who knew that my instinctively choosing one of these Masks, picking up a baseball cap and a fly swatter from the floor (thanks, Leslie!) would release in me a happy, carefree and slightly "pesky" 9-year old boy?! It was about this time that I began to get a sense of what Jim meant when he said that "creativity for the Clown lies in that space between the panic and the possibility."

Jim Warren leading the Physical Theatre and Text class
As we continued to work with other Clown techniques, we learned more about how to stay in that space and make contact with an audience. As Jim told us, the Clown can't wait to have a conversation with the audience, can't wait to tell them the story, whatever that story happens to be. And he encouraged us to explore and find the basis of our own Clown character in ourselves, in our own bodies.

We finished up the week by applying the techniques we had learned in 2 different enactments of the Mechanicals' Pyramus and Thisbe play in Midsummer Night's Dream. It was great fun to perform and to watch, particularly to see each person in the course beginning to express their own Clown character.

It was a great week and a great course.  And, I relish continuing to discover and develop my own "inner Clown"!

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