A Fork in the Road

I am a fan of SITI Company. I’ve seen 3 of their shows, and while I wish I had seen more, I know what I admire about SITI company and its work. They triumph on a grand scale, but they also fail on a grand scale as well. They take big theatrical risks, and I really am inspired by that.

I am an online member of SITI’s SEE Network (SITI Extended Ensemble) which is basically a big message board from the company and from people all over the world that are interested in Viewpoints and Suzuki training. There is also a group blog that I enjoy reading occasionally. Monthly, Anne Bogart posts her own musings. Sometimes I find them very focusing and inspiring. Other times, she ruminates on Art what is Art and that’s a discussion that I’d rather “do” about, then talk about. This month, September 2009, she talks about the use of Suzuki and Viewpoints training and how a production done in “Viewpoints Style” or “Suzuki-Style” or using Viewpoints as a rehearsal method or means of rehearsing is misguided. I know what she means by that. However, I do think one of the comments on her blog demands answering: In the Viewpoints Book, she asserts that Viewpoints can be used as a method for creating movement for the stage. And yet, in a way, somehow this blog seems to refute that. But then again, she’s not the only author of the Viewpoints Book. So is Tina Landau, so I wonder…do they differ on their usage of Viewpoints Training? And also, by nature of the relationship of the actors to the space they inhabit, one is using all the Viewpoints whether they want to or not, in the sense that an actor standing in space has 1) A Spatial Relationship to the space and other actors in the space, their movement has a 2) Tempo (speed) and 3) Duration, they respond using 4) Kinesthetic Response to objects and other actors, their body in space forms a 5) Shape, and if moving in that shape forms a 6) gesture, their floor pattern and that of the other actors is dictated by a 7) Topography, and that topography (and also gesture and kinesthetic response and spatial relationship) is dictated by the 8)Architecture, all of which can be explored and/or duplicated via 9) Repetition.

I think what she is trying to say is that Viewpoints cannot and should not replace table work, blocking, script analysis, learning lines, and telling the story of the play. And of course that’s true. I’ve seen productions where it looked like the actors learned their lines, and then the director super-imposed repeats of Open Viewpoints on the material and that ends up looking like a damn mess. Mainly because the movement, while potentially “cool-looking” has no connection to what is happening within the story. It’s essentially the same thing as patting your head while rubbing your stomach and reciting the pledge of allegiance? Why did you do that!? Answer: because you can. And that’s not enough reason for someone to drop cash on a ticket to see your show. It may, however, be reason enough for a punch in the face.
I’ve been debating with myself on my upcoming directing gig. Do I train my actors in Viewpoints using precious rehearsal time? Do I secure an outside space and have optional Viewpoints training sessions outside of rehearsal? What I want to achieve is a universal vocabularly for all of us to work within. What I don’t want to do is waste time and energy with limited resources. Ensemble is important to me. Thrift is important to me in the sense of economic use of time and resources. I like to discover movement along with my actors. I want to see and encourage them to follow their instincts.

I also don’t like a whole lot of “table-work.” Many questions that come up in such sessions I find are answered better on their feet than ruminating about whys and wherefores. I was blessed with the opportunity a few months ago, to be a part of an on-going musical workshop, wherein we would stage readings of drafts, and then the writers would go back and refine and rewrite, and come back with new material and we would repeat the process until presented with final drafts in which we fully staged. But there were always these (time-wasting) moments when one of the actors, when struggling with a line (and this happens, I swear to god, in 95% of the productions I’m involved in) would in so many words as the question “Why does my character say this? I don’t think my character would say this,” to which my response (mumbled crankily under my breath) is always, “And yet he does because it’s right there on the page.” So you better figure out a way to say/motivate that line, because it isn’t going anywhere. ANd frankly, no one cares how you feel about it. Now. That said, sometimes it’s helpful to pause and say, “Interesting, this line is unexpected,” and mull it around for awhile. (I’ve also found that moments such as these indicate good three-dimensional character building by a playwright. Unfortunately, they are sometimes bestowed on two-dimensional actors.) The point is, table work can sometimes disintegrate into hours-long versions of the previous paragraph and nobody wants to watch that onstage.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I’m no mini-Anne Bogart, nor do I aspire to be. However, I truly think she is one the most intelligent minds working in theatre today and I respect and utilize many of her ideas. So when she flummoxes me, she flummoxes me to the 10th degree. Still, I’ll take this moment as one more indicator that while there are many mentors along the way, I’m still blazing this particular path for myself. At the moment, I have just slipped into a quicksand pit in the Fireswamp. As for the R.O.U.S’s, I don’t think they exi-

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2 thoughts on “A Fork in the Road

  1. As a director, I have had actors say “But I don’t think he’she would say this,” and it always makes me want to say something snarky like “Well, let me call up Edward Albee (or whoever the writer is – even if they’re not a theatrical legend) and get them to change it.”

    Actors, bless their hearts, can be presumptous bastards sometimes. 🙂

  2. That’s a pet peeve of mine too. Whenever an actor says something like that it always, always means that they haven’t done their work or that they’re not willing to commit to what the play is requiring of them in that moment.

    The Viewpoints discussion is so fascinating to me. When that work is layered into a thoughtful production there’s nothing like it.

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