This video, produced by The Royal National Theatre, features Vanessa Ewan.
I had the pleasure of being guided by her as I formalised my own processes as a practitioner and completed my Masters Degree.
She is an extraordinary facilitator, allowing and encouraging the actor to explore and discover through that exploration strong and manifest character choices which they understand and own.
A consummate professional.
What does a Movement Director do?
Part 3 …. The Workshop
So what would I be doing?
Facilitating. With the emphasis on the first bit of the word … making it easy … easy to explore in a safe space. It’s my job to keep an eye on the task and guide the actor through a process, drawing their attention to moments of expressive clarity discovered along the way …. allowing the actors investigate the connection between the Weird Sisters and the triple-headed moon goddess Hecate, to the point where the three sisters combined are the physical manifestation of the Goddess herself … this could give a conceptual framework on which to construct a simple ritual, bringing each of the sisters on stage for a specific high-stakes purpose. To this end, I’d bring collection of ideas, images, materials and other tools in to the rehearsal space in order to feed the process of the workshop.
The different ages of the Sisters allow for experimentation through words, phrases, actions and qualities of movement based on the terms of Novice, Initiate and Crone, drawing attention to different areas of the body containing breath, weight and intention. This could assist in further developing individual differences between the characters. Bringing a sound-scape of a thunderstorm could provide an environmental atmosphere and illicit physical manifestations within the actors through engaging their imagination, Exploring the different responses each of the characters feel to this environment. Bringing a collection of little bags and bottles with stoppers will avoid the need for uncomfortable miming of imaginary props, and a long wooden staff maybe… to be the focal point for the ‘Power of the Coven of Hecate’.
Then it’s play time for the actors and focused work time for me.
This all being hypothetical, I can’t tell you how it went … But it’s been a fun exercise trying to provide a tiny glimpse into one of the many aspects of what I get to do for a job.
Going back to Stanislavski and his final layer of uncovering a play or role, that of personal creative feelings …. That is the gift the actors bring to the task of communication. I love that bit … It’s what keeps me on my toes and regularly blows my mind.
If you’re still not sure about what a Movement Director does … the truth is, I’m still working that out too. I’ve been asked to do so many varied things in so many styles and situations it makes me smile .. a lot.
I would recommend you go down to your local theatre and watch a play, research something just for the hell of it, and ask some questions … always ask questions.
What does a Movement Director do?
Part 2 …. The Research
Let’s say, for arguments sake, that I’ve been called in to provide a movement workshop to facilitate movement exploration, creating a workable physicalisation of ‘The Weird Sisters’ in Act 1, Scene 1 of Macbeth by William Shakespeare.
Usually this would come after meeting up with, or at least chatting on the phone with, the Director.
A sensitivity of, and commitment to, the artistic and aesthetic vision of the Director is imperative …. It is their vision which will take to the stage in the end.
So we start with an in depth investigation of the play of Macbeth as a whole, as well as a close inspection of the content of the scene in question. Even given that it is a very short moment containing an entrance, sixty-two words shared between three characters and an exit, the ‘Weird Sisters’ scene in Act 1, Scene 1 of Macbeth, known as the ‘When shall we three meet again, …’ scene, opens the whole production. This position within the play holds the added responsibility of introducing the environment and style of, not only these characters but also the production as a whole, to the audience.
So what are the clues? Let me make this clear … this is in no way a definitive academic research paper on this … it’s just to try and give an idea of some of the aspects of the job of a Movement Director … So here we go.
In the first folio of Macbeth the witches are called the weyword or wayard sisters. There are many ongoing debates as to what this may mean, some are as simple as signifying that these women go their own way in society, they are other and separate. This one clue could provide many options for staging and characterisation. One possible way to go with the ‘Three Witches’ would be to have them sit outside of the society within which most of the action happens … it might be interesting to have them have the clarity that distance can bring to a situation.
Within the later folios, however, these words are replaced with the word ’weird’, which appears six times within the play, (I. iii. 32; I. v. 8; II. i. 20; III. i. 2; III. iv. 133; IV. i. 136). Five times as ‘The Weird Sisters’ and once as ‘The Weird Women’. Within the Oxford English dictionary, the word ‘Weird’ is linked to the Anglo-Saxon noun ‘Wyrd’ meaning Fate. This could imply that the sisters are, in effect, to be considered either attached to, or the personification of, the Fates. In his book The Greek Myths, Robert Graves asserts that the Fates, or Moerae, ‘are the triple Moon-goddess.’ (Graves.1960) This triple-faced goddess, also known as Hecate, appears in person later in Macbeth. Her appearance and clear power and status over the Sisters is very rich seam of information to be mined. Graves goes on to say that ‘The moon has three phases and three persons: The New, the Maiden-goddess of the spring; … the Full Moon, the Nymph-goddess of the summer; and the Old Moon, the Crone-goddess of the autumn.’(Graves, 1960)
The research into these wider aspects of the Sisters could go on for ages … I for one find it constantly fascinating, but there is much to be discovered by taking a closer look at the structure and clues within the scene in question.
Within the lines of the scene, the First Witch asks a question which is answered by the Second and elaborated on by the Third. Could this status interplay between the three characters could be used to provide different ages for the sisters? … Young/Novice, Adult/Initiate, Old/Crone?
It is also worth noting that the first line ‘When shall we three meet again?’ implies they have already spent some time together and are about to take their leave. This could provide an opportunity to create a ‘ritual’ of some sort before the dialogue begins … a chance to set the scene and environment for the audience. The stage directions also ask for thunder and lightning, providing a sound-scape to play with.
Much of the rest of the dialogue draws attention to a point in the future when the Sisters will come together again to meet with Macbeth, implying fore-knowledge of events and, although not elaborated upon at this time, a reason for that meeting.
Both ‘Grey-Malkin’ and ‘Padock’ are words still used in the highlands of Scotland to denote a grey cat and a frog or toad respectively. These creatures are considered to be the ‘familiars’ of the Sisters. D.J. Conway, a leading expert on Animal Spirits within ancient and modern culture claims that ‘Hecate is associated with frogs in very ancient lore.’ Conway goes on to say that ‘In Scotland, the mother of the Witches is called the Mither o’ the Mawkins.’(Conway. 1995)
I could go on for ages about the layers of imagery held within the text, but you get the idea …
One hopes that this kind of research is also being done by the director, the actors and the designers involved, but you can’t always rely on that … putting on a play can be a logistical nightmare, and folks have to prioritise. For me though, research is an imperative and integral part of preparation.
Then one has to put the preparation to task …. and although I love to research and trawl for clues, this is when everything gets to be exhilarating and challenging. Each workshop is different and exists in the moment.
I’ll think about that and get back to you in Part 3
What does a Movement Director do?
Part 1…. The Concept
‘The readiness is all’
Sometimes I’m am asked to oversee the development of movement and physical characterisation for the entire play, facilitating a cohesive aesthetic to the piece. Other times it’s to come in for a short period of time to provide a workshop on a specific aspect or part of the play. This may be for health and safety reasons as well as theatrical clarity, Stage fight scenes for example, for the building of a period or stylised dance/movement scene, or to assist in the creation of a chorus who share a common physicality. Maybe to help an actor age up or down, or explore the physicality involved in the characterisation of a soldier, or a long distance lorry driver … or a fish!
All that being said, we are still not getting down to the nuts and bolts of what is actually done …. that’s because each task is unique to itself, requiring research, preparation and structure … and then you have to be prepared to change tack in the moment in order to get the results needed to fulfil the brief and help the story be told.
One could spend a whole life researching the themes, symbolism and nuance in the texts of Shakespeare for example (many people have done exactly that) and still not ever get around to putting on a single play. Within Movement Direction, the onus was not about investigation. It’s about getting results, and those results have to be manifest and quantifiable. That is not to say that research and a thorough grounding in the nature, context, structure and themes within the piece is not necessary. On the contrary, being prepared and well researched, with a knowledge of the process and needs of the actor, allows for a more adaptive and creative engagement with the actors while staying focused on the task itself.
When engaging with the production, you have to be aware of the processes and systems of analysis used by both actors and directors. The truth is that I may never have met the actors before, so don’t know what they bring to the party yet. Actors, while sometimes padding out their CVs with stuff they can almost do, forget that ‘Life Experience’ and the strangest little bits of information or innate capability can be invaluable during the creation process.
In ‘Creating a Role’, Constantin Stanislavski describes the written text of a play as a complex multi layered structure of clues, to be investigated and explored in order to produce a satisfying and truthful performance.
‘A play and it’s roles have many planes, along which their life flows. First there is the external plane of facts, events, plot, form. This is contiguous with the plane of social situation, subdivided into class, nationality, and historic setting. There is a literary plane, with its ideas, its style, and other aspects. There is an aesthetic plane, with sublayers of all that is theatrical, artistic, having to do with scenery and production. There is the psychological plane of inner action, feelings, inner characterisation; and the physical plane with it’s fundamental laws of physical nature, physical objectives and actions, external characterisation. And finally there is the plane of personal creative feelings belonging to the actor.’ (Stanislavski, 1961)
These areas of analysis were formalised to assist an actor in the task of embodying a character. These same tools are used by a Movement Director as part of the process of preparation when designing and producing a structured workshop.
The first three of Stanislavski planes (external, social and literary) are held within the themes, concepts and imagery of the text itself, and can be explored before I get there. The Aesthetic plane is one to be explored and researched based on consultation with the production team, primarily the Director, as it is their role to oversee the cohesive creation of the entire vision of the piece. The areas of psychological and physical engagement can be investigated as preparatory research, but any thoughts, plans and ideas must be open to being adjusted and/or jettisoned if the actors or the Director find them unhelpful or inappropriate. Jane Gibson makes it pretty clear when she says ‘As a Movement Director, you have to leave your ego at the door.’ (Gibson,J.2009)
So the first bit is exhaustive research of the text for any and everything which might help quite literally ‘flesh out’ the story and the characters.
So what could that research look like?
I’ll do that in part 2