Another wonderful description of what a Movement Director does.

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.

Enjoy

Puppetry and the pathos of wood and strings.

 

Just thought I’d share this.

Breath and life passed through the conduit of strings …. It is hard to imagine that anything was lost in the process.

I do love getting the opportunity to work as a movement director on theatre involving puppetry.

This clip from UK TV from a while back was one of the reasons why I spent time focussing on it myself.

Enjoy

 

To be …. Or not to be … an actor

This is funny, and pretty much the way things are for much of the acting fraternity in the UK.
I wonder if it’s like this in the US?

The mindless musings of a nearly jobbing actor.

It’s strange to be writing to the world ….. virtually …. coz talking to large groups of people has been my desire for a long time.

I’m James. And I’m a jobbing (nearly) actor, living (nearly) in London and attending auditions when I get the opportunity.

So far it would be easier to call me creatively unemployed.

I don’t leach off the state, so you don’t have to get offended and stop reading straight away.

I take on temporary posts doing anything to make ends meet. They rarely seem to overlap.

I wanted to start this blog so that I could do two things.

Firstly to chart the meteoric rise to fame and international success of an ordinary bloke from a small town no one will have heard of and secondly to provide a guide for fellow actors and interested parties to the real life goings on within this buisness…

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My Latest Foray ….

My latest foray…

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Rehearsals are in full swing for the forthcoming Theatre Stramash’s production of David Greig’s play ‘Brewers Fayre’ and I’m having so much fun. What an amazing bit of writing.

My role is two fold. That of actor and Movement Director. The play is a multimedia tragi-comedy set on the outskirts of Edinburgh, taking in the trials and tribulations of a family who are finding it near impossible to communicate with each other, while finding more confusion than comfort in their relationships with the world wide web.

The writer provided dynamic, a multi-layered and deeply poignant narrative which allows for loads of play in the rehearsal room because, although he gave a list of characters, he also gives the guidance that the mother of the piece would be played, for the most part, by the audience themselves, with lines projected or made available through some other means … and also deemed it unnecessary to assign any of the lines to any of the characters per se.

The upshot of which is that our version is exactly that … it’s ours … our interpretation of how these words could be shared in order to best serve the storytelling.

The cast and other creatives involved are just as engaged and enchanted as I am with the process, looking forward to opening the show on the 24th of May for the closing week of the Brighton Festival, finishing on June the first.

Every day has been a voyage of discovery piloted by our trusty skipper Sandie Armstrong, a powerful actor and storyteller in her own right.

So, at the moment, I am waking up in the morning with a smile and a spring in my step.

 

Here’s wishing you joy in your endeavours …. and if you are in the area of the south coast of England, come see us … it’s going to be good.

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You could also find out more about who I am and what I do at dodgerphillips.com

The Human Balancing Act

Rope Walking, Science and the Human Balancing Act

young d on a rope

This is me 25 years ago … and I’m still doing the same thing.

Have you ever had to justify spending time standing on a rope to someone who doesn’t get it? … your parents? Or, in my case …. my kids.
Let’s start this by saying that I’m a big fan of playing with ‘Imbalance’ …. In fact it’s my obsession and a huge part of my job.
I’m in my 50s and I’ve spent much of second half of my life studying many of the aspects of what we do and go through when balancing; physically, emotionally, psychologically and perhaps spiritually too … As an Actor, Movement Director for Film, TV and Theatre, and a Circus Performer. … As you might imagine, life has been great fun … and the studies have been fascinating. There is some evidence to show that, once the skill has been acquired, the act of balancing on a tightrope/Slackrope … or more recently, a Slackline, builds core strength, aids focus, can bring down blood pressure and bolster the immune system.
You can’t investigate what we do, what our body/mind goes through, when playing on a slackline, without having to take anatomy, psychology and behavioural neuroscience into account. Well, YOU can … I meant that I can’t.

Alright … Deep Breath …
With a dispassionate and mechanistic study … (scientists love that.) it is possible to analyse and compartmentalise the structure from an entity into smaller and more distinct parts in isolation.
It is possible to engage with the function, for example, of the lungs and the transfer of gasses to and from the blood stream … but then we must connect this function to the musculature of the chest and abdomen, the nerve impulses which are involved in the instigation of the firing of those muscles … the beating of the heart which transports the blood around the rest of the body and to the lungs, and the chemical signals registered within the brain which are informed by the level of acidity within the blood passing through it that another breath must be taken to exchange more gas in order that the entire system can function at a level which is non-critical. …. This might sound like ‘Blah Blah’, but this is going on right now inside each of us without us being aware of it. This is the fundamentals of a ‘Balancing Act’ performed moment to moment … and we haven’t even got out of bed yet, let alone stood on a slackline.
This unconscious adjustment is to keep us/You/Me in a state called ‘Homeostasis’.
This is where I start getting annoyed with the language scientists (including myself) use …. It’s the ‘Stasis’ bit I don’t agree with. Stasis is a concept. It’s another word for Balance …. And there is the heart of the matter. …. We are never balanced … Never …. No, stay with me on this and you’ll like it. I find this liberating.

The ability to maintain a stable upright position is taken for granted by most adult humans, however this seemingly simple and commonplace position requires a complex combination of coordinated cognitive, sensory and muscular adjustments.
How is it that we can be so oblivious to this wonderful dance of equilibrium when scientific studies have shown that we all sway beyond the optimal point of balance again and again., even while in a relaxed two footed stance on solid ground?
Is a moment of stillness possible? The planet is always moving … our blood flows .. our hearts pound… our autonomic nervous system is constantly adjusting our relationship between ourselves and the world around us .. a breeze caresses our skin and we are affected by it .. a sway .. micro-adjustments in the muscles help us to deal with the changes in temperature … our relationship to the environment around us and our continued perceived stasis. We are not symmetrical … our liver is to one side, our heart to the other. As we grow, our relationship to the environment changes on a moment to moment basis …centre of mass, centre of gravity, point of focus, needs, wants, desires, bodily functions. This constant adjustment is a dance of life and, it could be argued, the dance begins before conception and ends … who knows when. This may sound like “new Age Hokum” but the complexities of existence are labyrinthine …. And here’s the joy …. It seems that …. I mean, scientific studies have shown that ( I love it when I can write that to back up my argument) by actively engaging with states of physical imbalance, we are giving a thorough work-out to all the other aspects of our lives, releasing neuro-chemical cocktails which expand our conceptual framework of existence and further preparing us emotionally, psychologically, physically and , perhaps even spiritually for our unfolding balancing act of life.

We’ll continue this at some point soon.

Have fun … I do.

What does a Movement Director do? Part 3 …. The Workshop

What does a Movement Director do?

Part 3 …. The Workshop

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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

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)

moon phaseHacate

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