Beneath the Poetry: Magic Not Meaning by
"Beneath the poetry of the texts, there is the
actual poetry, without form and without text."
Helen: "Text is the foundation one builds classical work on.
Do we not owe it to ourselves and to our [audience] to explore the
language to the utmost?
I cannotderive the meaning of a word
from more words. We rush to put deep emotion onto shallow words.
People talk about mining text, what we did was a full-scale ground
breaking dig to the core."
Introduction: Why, What, How?
Bring your bucket. Were going on a dig. Just let me tell you
why we are digging, what we are digging for, and how we will embark
on the dig.
For the past two years I have been teaching intuitive and metaphysical
exploration in voice for the theatre. This work utilises the whole
body as the source of vocal expression. I work with the capacity
of intuition in acting; something that we are unable to teach or
to grasp or to repeat, but that we can feel energetically as part
of our theatrical process.
I am fascinated by intuitive connections to text. These connections
empower the word at its source: intent, theme, feeling, and the
need to communicate. Theoretically, this is contacting the initial
energy of the word - the same energy that inspires the writer to
put the word on paper. If we as actors can access this connection,
it should effect more vibrant expression and communication of poetic
texts in the theatre.
So I undertook an exploration of intuitive connection with text
as part of Nightswimmings Pure Research project in May of
2003. With six professional actors, and twenty-four hours of research
spread over five days, we went on an archaeological dig through
our relationship with language. The experiences I share with you
are gathered from various sources: the participants journals,
observers notes, video archive transcripts, and my own research
In addition to my own developing creative practice, we used the
practice and concepts of Antonin Artaud, Peter Brook, Joseph Chaikin
and Eugenio Barba. These theatre masters were proponents of the
connection of the voice with the body, using extended range of the
voice in communication, and its emotional power as a tool of expression.
The ideological concepts of the research were based on the eco-philosophy
of David Abram, who believes that the natural force of the word
has been lost in its visual description, that is, in its spelling.
He suggests that we can rediscover our relationship with our planet
by rediscovering the spell cast by the word: by making communication
a fully sensual experience.
My long-term goals are to explore alternative models of illuminating
text in rehearsal. The current model of table work functions well
for actors and material geared to a visual/analytical process. But
for many of us the aural and physical processes, not to mention
the intuitive process that is often dismissed entirely, go untapped.
I am interested in mining their potential.
Part 1 - Ground Work: Relationships with Words
Dig into communication and expression. Excavate meaning. Discover
magic. And tyranny. And fear. And possession. And hysteria. And
Search. And re-search.
When I read David Abrams book, The Spell of the Sensuous,
I was thrilled to find a philosophical context for my passionate
relationship with words. He is a passionate man, with passionate
interests. Plenty of passion.
In his first few chapters Abram introduces the ideas and writings
of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and the philosophy
of phenomenology: the science of experience. (Dont let that
scare you. Its just a word. And as you will see, it is only
your objective experience of that word that frightens you.)
Edmund Husserls philosophy of phenomenology includes the
concept that in order to perceive an object we must enter into a
relationship with it. That is, if we are to perceive a plant, we
enter into a relationship with that plant, and the plant enters
into a relationship with us, thereby creating an exchange of energy
and information (Abram, 36-39).
I wondered if such a phenomenological relationship might be created
with something lifeless, like a word on a page.
Objective Experience of the Word: The Secondary
Phenomenology purports that the world exists in both objective and
subjective experience. Our cultural understanding of words in Toronto
in 2003 is basically an objective one. We look at words on a page
and we try to understand their literal meaning in order to use them.
This literal meaning is the secondary level of language according
to Abram, an objective understanding of the word:
"[The prevalent view] considers any language to be a set
of arbitrary but conventionally agreed upon words, or signs,
linked by a purely formal system of syntactic and grammatical
rules. Language, in this view, is rather like a code; it is a
way of representing actual things and events in the perceived
world, but it has no internal, nonarbitrary connections to that
world, and hence is readily separable from it. (Abram, 77)"
Separable from the world
therefore objective experience.
In the theatre, particularly with poetic texts, we sit around
a table for a week establishing this objective understanding of
the words, so that we can all be on the same page.
My research participants have complex reactions to this type of
it is almost like a false sense of knowing
the text - or rather than false - it is a surface understanding."
Marion: "By the end of [the table work] I feel, great,
now the play is completely dead for me. Were now going to
try to reanimate it
And I cant come up with ideas while
Im sitting down holding a coffee looking at paper and other
people sitting down. I feel like I start rehearsal a week behind
everybody else, and I have to catch up."
There must be another way.
Subjective Experience of the Word: The Primary
The primary level of language is communication with gesture and
communicative meaning is first incarnate in the
gestures by which the body spontaneously expresses feeling and
responds to change in its affective environment. The gesture is
spontaneous and immediate. It is not an arbitrary sign that we
mentally attach to a particular emotion or feeling; rather, the
gesture is the bodying-forth of that emotion into the world, it
is that feeling of delight or of anguish in its tangible, visible
aspect (Abram, 74)."
Bodying-forth into the world
The Big Question: So
what if we enter into a relationship
with the word that is completely subjective? How rich will the experience
of the word be? And will we be able to communicate that richness
to our audience?
Part 2 Methods: How Do We Mean?
Time to dig. Like archaeologists we went searching for that primary
level of anguage. And there were many layers of inhibitions, patterns,
and judgements to traverse before we found it.
We ventured forth in two steps:
- Step one investigated the primary level, first through
non-verbal expression (no words at all), then through pre-verbal
expression (expressing a word in non-articulated sound and movement),
and finally through subjective experience of words themselves.
- Step two took these findings and applied them to text; a poem
that the Butterfly speaks in Federico Garcia Lorcas The
Butterflys Evil Spell.
Our goal was to excavate the depths of experience that language
could provide. But as much as we managed to create and dwell in
the experience of those depths, they were hard to capture in words:
"Every attempt to definitively say what language is is subject
to a curious limitation. For the only medium with which we can
define language is language itself. We are therefore unable to
circumscribe the whole of language within our definition. It may
be best, then, to leave language undefined, and to thus acknowledge
its open-endedness, its mysteriousness. Nevertheless, by paying
attention to this mystery we may develop a conscious familiarity
with it, a sense of its texture, its habits, its sources of sustenance
This was our point of departure: accepting the mystery in language,
engaging with that open-endedness, coming to a familiarity with
it, and applying its sources of sustenance, be they physical, vocal,
emotional, or intuitive, to the work at hand.
Part 3 - The Primary Level: Body Speaking to Body
Non-Verbal Expression: Animal Exchange
The investigation of non-verbal expression aimed at creating basic
communication through the voice and body, with no literal associations.
We began as animals meeting around a watering hole, first in the
dark, and then in light. The only instruction: greet each other.
The body is not separable from the desire to communicate.
Helen: "Sensual communication
we were asked to make
a sound, but all morphed physically as well. For me it would have
been impossible to communicate the sound I did if I were standing
straight and walking upright."
The primary level of language is created in intention and
Observer 1, Clare: "Exchange of language creating
form of language which is shared instantly because of dedication
of meeting each other language is a relationship
tonal melody understanding the interaction without the
need for words intention, emotion, intuition, using sound
An anomaly occurred once the exercise switched to two humans meeting.
Human language patterns make it difficult to retain the primary
level of language.
Kate: "There was a true exchange of language of the body
and the voice, and without words one very quickly sees this interchange.
In the [exercise portraying] birds it was an exchange of cooing
and heads. In the fish it was an exchange of completely different
kinds of bubbles and fins. In the humans it became literal. Sign
language: call you later."
Michelle: "2 animals meeting no need to construct:
getting to be birds, everyone is in relationship immediately;
2 humans meeting less freedom temptation to translate
What is it about the nature of our humanness that frees us to communicate
at the primary level so clearly? When the actors were fish and birds,
and the language was in their bodies, they did not need to interpret.
But as soon as the human element came in, the language moved to
their heads, and there was a need for precise understanding. Analytical
We are not satisfied with the magic of communication, or its simplicity.
We are obsessed with literal meaning; we have a need to be right
Pre-Verbal Expression: Bypassing Analytical
With the investigation of pre-verbal expression we tried to bypass
the analytical understanding of the word by carrying the meaning
through the body.
When words are present analytical function wants to dominate,
making access to the primary level challenging.
Helen: "I had difficulty with my word [cynicism]. Nothing
visceral happened to me. As I took it in I felt my mind go through
all the times I had used the word. I kept seeing people smoking
cigarettes. I think by the time my body moved I had no idea what
the word meant at all. I just saw an image flash across my eyes
of Lauren Bacall
then just the words resistance and denial.
I felt entirely in my head. The words on the paper seemed inadequate
to describe what the word meant to me and my body was unable to
describe what the text was saying
I just decided that I did
not really understand what cynicism was and desperately wanted a
dictionary to look it up in."
Unlike the non-verbal expression, the introduction of words in
any fashion made it impossible to get entirely out of our heads.
And of course, our heads are necessary to our work. Without that
analytical function there would be no plays as we know them: no
controlled form, no rational choice.
Diverting analytical function brings a new kind of meaning;
a different idea of what is right.
it is so easy to get caught up in the old doing
it right or
is this right does it actually
capture the specifics of the text. And this questioning immediately
takes me/took me away from just breathing in the text and trusting
it and my own intuition to guide me. The allowing process I guess.
Allowing it to come through the body and voice in the purest way
it can WITHOUT THE HEAD GETTING IN THE WAY. And yes, there were
moments of this definitely
and still for me
there is a lot of chatter, judging of my efforts all that
garbage that takes time to strip away."
Larry: "Ive used language as a safety mechanism, an
escape at times. Sometimes warranted and necessary but sometimes
as a place to hide. When the language is taken away and I am required
to express myself in another way, its more visceral for
me. There is more meaning."
The primary level of language seeks how to communicate
not what to communicate.
Helen: "[Pams] initial gesture breaks my heart. I
feel her pain, and hurt
When watching people take in the
word, what occurred to me is that kind of time is never taken
to interpret language. What does betrayal mean? Not
what. How. How does it mean."
Here we see the "bodying forth" of emotion that Abram
talked about earlier. A physical need: not to discover what to mean,
but to discover how to mean.
The how is manifest in directness of intention:
sticking to the task at hand.
Marion: "The moment I had the idea I want to take
in this word (or phrase) in order to communicate it
Images, sensual images, flooded in without my having to do anything
to get them. I think what I usually do is I want to take
in this word. Then when I really understand it, Ill be able
to say it in such a way that other people will understand it too.
So at this point, I fall off the intention of communicating, and
switch to the intention of understanding with my head."
So we need the intention to communicate to supersede the need to
understand. Action betters reason. We can mean things without a
literal understanding of them. And we can communicate that meaning.
When the intention is to communicate, rather than to understand,
the breath, voice, and body are allowed their intuitive experience,
and access the essence of meaning in the word. (And Im sure,
reading this with your left brains, youre having a hard time
conceiving of how we mean. Its pretty tough to think about
because youre using your analytical function. You have to
experience it intuitively. More digging.)
Pre-Verbal Expression: Chinese Symbols
We began to look at written form as a first step toward accessing
the primary level with text. To access language without the immediate
intrusion of rational association I followed an idea from David
Abrams book. Chinese symbols are pictograms: derived from
visual representations of what the symbol represents. We would seek
the information carried in the pictograms without knowing their
literal meaning by drawing them, and then improvising what they
conveyed to us in sound and movement.
When analytical function is diverted, information contained
in pictograms is identifiable and expressible.
Helen: "I can not analyse. I have no desire to know what
it means. Construction of the symbol. Two lines running parallel.
Two creatures, destined never to meet, never to touch. A line
joins them, what connects two people, love obligation blood. Another
line joins, independent of the first two, a newness child now
a family. How does family feel in my body? No this is not family,
that is my story. I have analysed this to death. I am wanting
the symbol to say family. It is not. Go back. Colour.
The lines are red now. The connector yellow and the newness bright
pink. I will not assign people to the lines. They are lines.
I draw and a picture comes. The bright pink hugs the other colours.
Back on my feet. I find the lines, the parallel, never meeting,
the strength of running on forever. The connecting line is sensual,
seductive. The new line reaches up to the sky and into the heart."
Helens pictogram was heaven: "the strength of running
on forever"; "up to the sky and into the heart".
The brain was there trying hard to interfere, but she recognised
that interference and shifted it to gain the essence.
Below is a list of the words the group used to describe what they
had seen in Helens pre-verbal interpretation of the pictogram,
You can see in the descriptions of Helens heaven that some
of her initial analysis of the intersecting lines crept in. But
the more abstract notions that she was working with still somehow
expressed things like expanding, discipline, and acceptance: words
that we might associate with a Taoist idea of heaven. This is the
mystery we are digging up.
We dont really know how we receive
Helen: "There is the sense of something very mystical. As
if through our bodies we have unlocked some sort of universal
communication. As if by shutting down our big brains we have been
able to hook into something else. And, well, we did. We hooked
into something and drew meaning from inside a package we did not
know how to unwrap. Is this a party trick? No it feels too close,
too real. Family, home, peace, love: Heaven
Are we moving
closer to the primary level or is this a magic language?"
Larry: "Something very profound about those Chinese symbols.
It affected me at a very, very deep level. Something about just
expressing what that symbol was, it changed me."
distant contact with other
a meeting with other."
We were entering the realm of the metaphysical now. There had
definitely been a profound experience interpreting those pictograms.
Could the same hold true for our mother tongue? Could we look
at our English symbols and through their expression find deeper
Pre-Verbal Expression: English Words
Kate: "As if in total opposition to this I then gave them
some [unfamiliar] English words to work with. Immediately there
was an adverse reaction. Michelle said that it instantly switched
her thinking to the discursive mode. It upset her. You could tell.
She just couldnt switch off her logic brain. And it made
her sad. I could feel it. The Chinese work had been so liberating
for her... And here, she just shut down. Pam went hysterical.
She just couldnt stop laughing at her word. The others used
their imaginations, but for the most part the meaning of the words
The spelling of the English word did not contain the metaphysical
information that was present in the drawing of the Chinese pictogram.
the Chinese symbol there was wonderful
freedom in exploring that in just taking it in listening
to what it had to tell me breathing with it and
listening and trusting what I inherently knew about it. What was
interesting was that with the English word there was definitely
it seemed less organic in what it was communicating
more heady itself. And my reaction to it the hysterical
laughing what was that?"
Tanya: "FRUSTRATING!!! Dont want to use words!!! They
are not effective as they are limiting and can be easily misunderstood.
Helen: "We all felt stunted. The sense of magic and freedom
was not there
There was a sense of grasping for meaning
that was not present before
Very discouraging though to
go from such a place of magical discovery to such a flat arid
landscape as those words. I feel ensnared by the English language."
There was a lot of discussion around the powerful negativity of
English. There are complex reasons for the lack of information inherent
there. Our spelling is a description of the phonetic sound of a
word, rather than representational information. We had many thoughts
about alternative exercises to explore this phonetic information,
but time was lacking, and we needed to move on.
To harness the information of the primary level in text work then,
we must somehow find the bridge to the metaphysical carried in the
what we are looking for here is magic not
meaning. We are trying to dig out of the words what their original
power was; their spell. So we must have faith in [words], and
the deep connections we have to them personally, and also the
deep connections they can establish in us as links to our nature,
our past, the collective unconscious, and the energy net of the
world. So that will be the goal... Magic, not meaning. We will
start to dig into the Lorca text. And try to discover what magic
it can share with us."
Part 4 The Secondary Level: Words, Words,
Michelle: "How do we get from the freedom to the language
Physical /vocal / intuitive impulse."
The bridge consisted of taking the freedom of the primary level
of language, and applying it to text. This was done in four steps:
I. Establish pre-verbal sound/movement gestures (we call these
spells) of twenty four words and phrases from the poem.
Time and repetition allow easier access to the primary level.
Tanya: "repetition not rehearsal The
acceptance that every time is different; must be different, yet
repetition gets it into the body, so the body knowledge can express
the ideas not just the mouth."
Helen: "I know what fly means, but our work
made me look deeper into he word than just trying to communicate
Fly manifested itself in my body
as a reaching, a desire to fly. Coupled with the joy that flying
The word did not scare me as it did the day before
I found I care about the actual word."
Such a sensual, subjective experience: reaching, desire, joy -
Pam: "Meeting and the Meaning
That relationship seems
to be both in the communicating forces meeting each other and
also the communicator me having a meeting out of
which comes meaning from the word
my meeting with the word
The interconnectedness of it all is fascinating to me makes
me feel like we are actually tapping into a common consciousness
There is a sense of something bigger than us coming through the
work. This is the phenomenological relationship: the exchange of
energy and information. The thing that is bigger than us is the
power of the word and the vastness it has stored in its history.
The process of work with the spells created a complete change
of energy in the group.
Dialogue from video [stemming from a profound silence after
the days work]:
Michelle: Theres a spell here.
Tanya and Kate: There is.
Kate: It is very interesting. I think it is the poem. And I think
you will find tomorrow that this energy that we feel right now
is the spell of the poem that is working on us. It is the magic
of the words that are actually working on us.
Tanya: That gives me goosebumps.
Helen: [nods and rubs her arms]
I think theres power there. This is a totally
different energy than we came in with this morning. Thats
the power of the poem.
[Michelle says something about the audience members not believing,
that I cant quite make out.]
Kate: There will always be the cynic
Theres this little
thing called doubt, or fear. There will always be people who are
too afraid. People who dont believe in magic.
[And then I stand staring off for a bit. I take a deep breath
and sigh out heavily and shake my head as if Im trying to
get my wits back trying to believe in magic myself.]
II. Introduce the text gently by layering it into the improvisation,
first with individual words.
Words bring fear and analytical function that threaten the
Tanya: "The poem has cast its spell on us. Fears of hitting
up against the language."
Helen: "Finding out our words filled me with anxiety. I did
not want to lose the magic
I could feel myself retreating
into my head. I was afraid people would not understand why I chose
the spell I did for the word."
But the actors fears were soon alleviated, as they delighted
in how accurate their interpretations of the words had been, and
they embraced the words as an extension of their sound/movement
Working from the sound/movement spells, and creating a vocabulary
without literal meaning has allowed expression that is free of self-awareness,
criticism, and judgement. In this way we have bypassed the objective
understanding of the word, and accessed a subjective experience
Michelle: "To initially feel the panic and walk through
the fear into meaning. The [word] is felt and explored without
the intellectual impulse of right and wrong getting in there."
Observer 1, Clare: "[I] lose myself in the sounds and meaning
of each word
my heart and body take over. Its nice
to free myself into the realm of the spell, not trying
to comprehend a linear meaning."
Helen: "We had discovered magic in these lines on paper.
The words were in our muscles and in our breath. We were the words."
Larry: "There was  a depth to the group working together
which could only be a result of the process. The group became
the poem. We were the poem."
III. Introduce the poem to the group.
The actors subjective experience replaced their animosity
with a creative relationship to the words.
Larry: "In the use of the word in context, I go into my
head and something is cut off from the rest of my body. So when
the poem was presented to us
of course I balked at having
to use it
When I relaxed and allowed whatever was to happen,
happen and trust - then I became astonished at the depth
of meaning which was culled from the work
I think part of
my resistance to the text, the actual poem, was that I believed
somewhere inside of me we would have to change now. That what
we had created was not part of that text, it was something of
ours, when in fact it was ours and not ours. It was the authors,
Lorcas, and it was ours. And in doing that we gave the text
Helen: "Lorca took our words, our spells, our magic. He
took it and put it into his box where things were backwards and
made no sense. No. We took his words. And now must give them back.
The words were empty boxes that we filled with breath, love, grief.
That we filled with life and now we give them back
Thank you for your words, thank you for the order you have placed
them in. Here they are back again from our right brains ready
to work in the place they are meant to go. We took them out for
a spit and polish, let the [audience] tell you what they think
of them, we have had a hard day."
The observers had a far more difficult time resolving the
objective and subjective experiences of bringing the analytical
mind into the intuitive playground.
Observer 3 from video: "I resent the intrusion of language
I didnt like it. I felt like my inner understanding
of this had been obliterated or pushed out of the way, and it became
a question of ownership of the meaning of this, and I felt like
I was losing my ownership of the meaning of this."
Observer 1, Clare: "I felt almost an intrusion of words. It
felt almost too linear. Like I wanted more time with individual
Observer 2: "Words take over and sounds are missed."
Observer 3: "
tyranny of words usurping my meaning."
IV. Individuals speak the poem with only a cursory understanding
of the narrative, communicating our twenty-four words at level zero
physically (outside stop), while maintaining level 10 in intention
(inside no stop)* , and using the other words of the poem as glue.
The communication of a text does not have to come from objective,
analytical or narrative understanding but can come from subjective,
affective and physical experience.
because I had spent no real time with the
text once I received it, the journey between the words was unclear
in my mind
It was only afterwards that I felt like I had
deeply connected to the material without really understanding
the complete picture of what I spoke."
Pam: "I felt I knew the text in a different way - in my body
as opposed to some idea of it in my head. And though
we were unfamiliar with reading the text off the page - I felt
that both listening [to others] and reading the text myself -
that I knew it so intimately
it actually overwhelmed me
emotionally how connected I was - how much I felt for that text
- the impact the text had was at a level that my intellect
didn't really comprehend."
Larry: "When I read the piece as a solo, a knowledge, a knowing,
descended upon me in the reading. It wasn't the usual feeling
that "oh, I understand this text". It was a visceral
reaction, a connection to the images and the emotion (surprising
the amount of emotion that connected with the text in reading
Helen: "When I read, I found the words. Outside stop, inside
no stop. At first I did not feel emotional, the poem meant very
little to me. I was concentrating on my words. But the reflective
emotion of the collective circle was so strong. It fed me, crept
into my spells, my other words, my heart. I felt overcome by the
gift given to me by our collective. My spells affecting them,
affecting me. Truly one of the most powerful moments I have had
as an actor."
The observers were given the opportunity to interpret what they
saw, giving them some ownership of the experience.
Tanya: "I felt that the other readings were musical and
beautiful to listen to... but I did not get the sense that I knew
what they were trying to say with the whole piece. However, I
was transported by the reading to a place where I put together
what the piece meant to me. In a way that is a greater gift...
almost like the difference between reading a book and seeing the
movie... in this way I was more of a participant in imagining
Observer 1, Clare: " [Marions] remark about not having
the intention to cause emotion but rather just sticking to the
task at hand hit home for me in a big way. [The actor] must trust
in the work. Dedicate yourself to the work and the audience is
do all the emoting for us and we pull away
we want to feel it
you are the one who must communicate
So at the end of the day the emphasis of our findings can be summed
up in three areas:
- the engagement of the body and the communicative intention;
- diverting the analytical function of the mind to access the intuitive
- delicately bridging the intuitive experience into text by clearly
maintaining connections with the body and the intention.
Part 5: Conclusions, Applications, and More
Magic not meaning. We didnt start the dig looking for magic.
But that is the nature of archaeology: you may know what you are
looking for but you dont know what you will find.
In answer to The Big Question: So
what if we enter into a
relationship with the word that is completely subjective? How rich
will the experience of the word be? And will we be able to communicate
that richness to our audience?
The Big Answer: We were certainly able to effect an exchange of
energy and nformation with the word through the primary level of
subjective experience. Then with some delicate diversions of the
analytical mind, we were able to fuse this relationship with text
bringing its power and sensuality into the text itself, the secondary
level. This relationship was extremely altering for the actors,
but we ended up with insufficient data to judge the effectiveness
for the audience (see More Digging).
For application of the work I want to turn to my researchers and
observers for their ideas:
Body work with text:
incredibly present work, what is the way
to be that present with dialogue and text in a conservative setting
[of the rehearsal process]? It must be in the body
be connected to the material in our bodies."
tonight when I was going over my monologues
for my  audition tomorrow I couldnt help but feel
that my whole body is still informed from the work. I really wanted
to involve my whole body in the exploration of my monologue. And
to maintain that sense of freedom that sense that my whole
body is communicating
not just the words."
Kate from video: "Rather than having a week sitting around
a table figuring out what Shakespeare tried to say, you do a week
of exploration of words and movements, and come to the understanding
of text through the body and the sound rather than through the
analytical process. Thats the goal ultimately."
Intuitive work with text:
Larry: "I didnt want to close up and try to protect.
I wanted to learn a new way of dealing with [vulnerability] in
the world. And maybe thats what the work is enabling me
to do. Maybe its about a new way of expressing myself that
is much more at the core than Im used to."
Michelle: "The intuitive self knows whether we can
train ourselves to get out of the way is the challenge. Freedom
is gained when we give permission to explore beyond safety
Poetry used to scare me. Now I notice the fear and embrace the
wonder and magic
This week has been a series of doors into
magicland. Energy and instinct. Fuck the fear."
Archaeological work with text:
Helen: "A word is necessary to build language. The trap
of words [is] trying to be smarter than words. To outsmart the
words is to lose the words, we can not condescend to our language
We have to climb into language the way we climb into a character.
We do not want to create two dimensional characters why do we
want two dimensional language?"
Observer 4 from video: "It would be interesting to see what
would happen if you were working on, say, a Shakespeare play,
but you did an exploration of the words
in Chinese. I wonder
how much the visuals of another language would bring to the meaning
of the words."
There is always more to look for. We open the box to find whats
We shared some of our work on the poem with observers, but I realise
now I was looking for insufficient information from them. What I
need to complete the research with the audience is a double-blind
study: one actor learning the poem using the path of the primary
level (subjective experience through body and voice), while another
actor learns the poem at the secondary level (objective experience
through table work). A comparison of the two with audience present
would give us suitable data to understand the effectiveness of this
work from their point of view.
Also, a deeper look at the information carried in the transcription
of the phonetic form of the English language would help the dig
go even deeper.
And then, to undertake an investigation of how this physical information
and subjective experience can inform character and dialogue in plays.
On it goes. Search and re-search.
I will leave you with the final thoughts that Helen committed to
her notes on the research, which sum up my feelings completely:
Helen: "The gift of this knowledge will profoundly shape
how I approach all of my work from now on. And there are no words
I have found to express how thankful I am for this gift."
Kate Hennig, 2003
Abram, David The Spell of the Sensuous Vintage Books, New York,
Artaud, Antonin The Theatre and Its Double, Grove Press, New York
Barba, Eugenio The Paper Canoe, Routledge, London, 1995
Brook, Peter The Empty Space, Penguin Books, London 1979
Lorca, Federico Garcia Five Plays, Penguin Books, London, 1970
This research was conducted at The Theatre Centre, Toronto, Canada,
from May 12 16, 2003, under a grant from Nightswimming, and
with the enormous support of Brian Quirt and Naomi Campbell.
I am indebted to my six actor/participants for their courageous
labour of love, and their attempts to commit it to paper:
I would also like to thank Clare Preuss for the donation of her
time and energy in observing and making notes on two of the sessions,
and to my other anonymous observers.
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