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Some Thoughts on Process

Last week is a blur, lost in strange time zones and jetlag. I can’t quite remember what I said to the guys before we finished the session all I can hope is that I was somewhat intelligible through my jetlag haze as to be of some help.  I have been having a few thoughts over the week about process and what it is that we are all trying to do here. Creating a piece of performance is a very difficult thing to because sometimes it is the simple things that are the hardest to achieve. Part of what I am trying to do with the guys is to get them to think about how they want to go about their own artistic process. I am a firm believer in the fact that great works of art come from dynamic and interesting processes of creation.  But what exactly is an artistic process? I take it to mean as series of steps or actions or tasks that are undertaken in the creation of a work of performance. Everyone has a different working process and what I see as a dynamic process is one that enables a theatre maker to strip away the layers of an idea in search for the key factor that makes the idea presentable on stage in it’s most immediate form.

Peter Brook (sorry to all those contemporary performance makers who view that name as a dirty word but I have decided to kick it old skool- because like it or not he did have a few things to say that were worth listening to) once said something about finding moments in the rehearsal that that were full of life and essence, moments of grace- he suggested that finding these moments was like casting a fishing net and coming up with golden fish.  The aim of the theatre creator is to fill their net with these golden fish so that a production is made up only of a series of amazing moments one after the other.   These little golden fish can be illusive because they live in the waters of our imaginations and they a most often caught when everything is flowing just right, times when we feel connected and present in what we are doing- sometimes they are even found when we are looking the other way.  Anne Bogart uses another term for these moments she calls them “moments of genuine inspiration”. Now if we all existed in a state of mind where we were creatively inspired one hundred percent of the time everyone would be able to make amazing art every minute of the day, and whilst this sounds like a wonderful utopian vision of the world it is sadly not true. Why are these moments illusive and how do these three young artists get hold of them so that their work in performance has the immediacy and power that they are looking for. Or to look at it another way how do you turn a good idea into a moment of genuine inspiration on stage.

What I saw last week from these three artists was a plethora of ideas, an overflowing well of thoughts and concepts that just keep flowing and flowing. All of their ideas are great, they are interesting and explore parts of themselves that they are willing to offer up to the world and this in itself is an amazing thing. But what I also saw last week was the danger of these ideas becoming lost in patterns of logical thought of and remaining just as they are- ideas.  In performance sometimes ideas are present on stage as convoluted forms of something whose essence is not immediate and sometimes even inaccessible to the viewer. The struggle and there is a struggle and I see it every time I step into a rehearsal room or a classroom is the struggle to find a creative state in which we can transform our thoughts into moments of performance that are inspired. So what is stoping us from being able to do this and how do we go about finding an answer.

What is stopping us is ourselves or our sense of self- our aversion to failing, our need or desire to stop ourselves from falling flat on our faces and have everyone laugh at us.  The simple paradox is that fear (quite rightly) keeps us from the ledge but without jumping off we will never know if we can really fly. From my vantage point outside these three separate productions it is so easy for me to make statements such as ‘don’t be frightened’ or ‘work outside your comfort zone’ (statements which the boys will confirm I do make on occasion) but does this actually help anyone at the end of the day?  I think that maybe it doesn’t and if it doesn’t help how do we get past this fear? The first thing to do is to acknowledge that the fear is there within us in everything we do. Our sense of self is tied to a multitude of fears. The fear is a good gauge of where you are at artistically or as Anne Bogart puts it:

Revelation is necessary to warrant attention. The feeling of embarrassment is a good omen because it signifies that you are meeting the moment fully, with and openness to the new feelings that it will engender”

It is not about letting go of the fear as it is about letting go of the self.  As a director the space that I inhabit in the rehearsal room is wonderful because I am not there. I have no sense of myself in the process of creating; there is only a space where anything can happen and artistic problems to be solved.  This does not mean to say that I do not worry about things or that I have no fear associated with creating work, not at all. It only means that over the years I have developed a process by which I can bypass the circuits of fear that make up my sense of self for certain periods of time whilst I am working.  How is this done?

Anne Bogart suggests that it is about keeping the frontal lobe (the part of the brain where fear and embarrassment originates) occupied with tasks so that you start to enter into a state of being that is truly creative. Or as Declan Donnellen puts it “fear cannot exist in the present. Fear only lives in the past as guilt and in the future as anxiety”.  To look at both these statements in regards to turning an idea into a moment of performance- the idea itself is an analytical thought, one that exists both in the past where it originated and in the future in how you may see it in its ideal form in performance. In order to truly make an idea present in a moment of performance you have to eliminate both where it came from and how it exists in your mind as an the ideal form and allow the moment to present itself to you as something new and exciting. To make yourself present in that moment you have to keep your frontal lobe occupied with tasks that allow you to forget yourself for a little while. These tasks are ones that involve focusing your attention to things that are present, if you are performing you can focus on the space that you work in or the way in which you are moving through that space. You devote your attention and focus onto these things and you see what happens as a result. In other words you explore a series of tangible tasks that use the idea as a starting point but are not confined only to the idea itself. To return to the fish metaphor, you make up a net of specific tasks that is then cast over a large surface area and at some point you are going to be holding a little golden fish in your hand.  The accumulation of these tasks that allow your creativity to flourish and moments of inspiration to be stumbled upon becomes your artistic process. It is a process that constantly evolves because you have to constantly steer away from the waters you have already fished.  But hopefully it becomes a process that takes you away from yourself and places you within the presence of a moment of genuine inspiration.

One Response

  1. This was interesting to read. I look forward to seeing lots of golden fish at the preview next week.