Category Archives: Clowning
by Dorothy Max Prior | www.totaltheatre.org.uk
The Actors Space is a renowned international centre of theatre and film, located in the Catalan hills, just one hour from Barcelona. In summer 2019, the centre marks 21 years of ‘empowering the actor to be free to play’. Dorothy Max Prior spoke to the founders and co-directors, Marian Masoliver and Simon Edwards, at the end of last season’s Dramatic Writing residency
‘Sometimes I have to pinch myself – can it be 20 years? So far so good!’
So says Marian Masoliver, co-founder and co-director of The Actors Space, which she runs with her partner in life and work, Simon Edwards, speaking in summer 2018 as the centre celebrated 20 years in operation.
The two met at the Lecoq school in Paris. After graduating, they both – separately and together – performed, directed, taught, and toured (with companies such as La Fura del Baus and Kneehigh) before deciding to set up a residential summer school in a beautiful old farmhouse in the hills of Catalunya, close to the Roman town of Vic, where Marian’s family had lived for many generations.
And so, for every year of the past two decades, they have welcomed students of all ages and experiences, from all corners of the globe, to participate in their unique actor-centred programmes.
‘In a typical workshop of eighteen people, there might be people from across Europe, India, Russia, the USA, Australia the Middle East… It is very interesting as a teacher to see how they all work together – beautiful to see that, and the different ways people approach theatre,’ says Marian.
This internationalist approach is key to both of their beliefs. In life – as in theatre – international collaboration, harmony, resolving difference, and learning to live together are essential, to combat and contradict what Simon calls ‘the strange distorted mirror of modern media’. In a world in which the US presidency has turned itself into a sickening reality TV show; the Spanish government have cast themselves as bullies, taking agency away from the people of Catalunya; and the Brexit obsessed UK parliament has descended into a pantomime, political life today has moved beyond anything we could satirise as they are all doing it so well at it themselves. What on earth, then, can we do?
‘Celebrate the things that unite rather than divide,’ says Simon. ‘The things that divide us change – they aren’t fixed – but the things that unite us are the same. We always gravitate towards peace.’ He talks of ‘sweet banality – the fruits of gratitude, joy, affection’.
If you visit The Actors Space, the peaceful and communal ethos of the place becomes abundantly clear from the start. Yes, the work in the studio is important – it’s what has brought us here – but there is so much more. There’s the shared meals – home-cooked, using local produce as much as possible – taken around long wooden tables. There are the evenings after dinner, sitting and talking, or watching the bats and owls fly over the tree tops. There are the morning walks, through beautiful countryside, and the opportunity to swim in the pool, or just sit in the sun and read or write. There’s something very special about a residency in such a lovely environment, and the people you are with for the week become everything – family, friends, work colleagues. A tight-knit international community.
But what of the work inside that beautiful barn that serves as the training space? Simon says, ‘our strapline is “celebrating creativity” – and we really mean it!’
How the Actors Space operates, and what the work entails, has, Marian says, ‘developed organically’. It has grown from their training with Jacques Lecoq (who never espoused the notion of a ‘method’ in any case) to developing their own way of teaching, based on the observation of life, influenced by the work they have done around the world, and by their growing interest in film-making, both drama and documentary. Both speak of the need to continuously grow, change and develop as a teacher; to learn from your students and from the world.
‘In Iran, running a clown workshop, I learnt how much people valued coming together to tell stories, making each other laugh, blowing off steam – they influenced me deeply,’ says Simon.
‘As soon as there is a method, you’ve killed it,’ says Marian. ‘Killed the baby. Put it in a box. I teach in other places, and I am always researching.’ Tout bouge, as Monsieur Lecoq often said).
So, having started firmly wedded to the physical theatre work learnt with Lecoq – embracing movement theatre, mime, mask and clown – Simon and Marian have, whilst always honouring those roots and core practices – moved into very many other ways of working. They spend part of their year working on film projects, which have recently included some extraordinary documentary work with child soldiers in Colombia; and they have also worked in Ecuador creating radio pieces built around gang-leaders’ stories. Truth and reconciliation, and the part that theatre could play in those process is a growing interest. ‘Even a small amount of expression of truth has power,’ says Simon. It is vital not to be cowed by oppression and injustice; to resist the tyrants and the
bullies; to see that justice wants to be seen to be done, and that this is the natural human order. Collective hope is important, to counter the feelings people (worldwide) have of being isolated or abandoned. Theatre, they believe, is a healing force, bringing people together – be it 8 or 800 people.
Inspired by these sentiments, Simon and Marian have also, in recent years, become involved with a local Carnival organisation in the small Catalonian town of Mollet (near Barcelona) – an opportunity for community celebration, and to laugh together at the ridiculousness of human behaviour.
Whatever media or environment they work in, they feel that they are always true to themselves: ‘This is the terrain: it is always about life, human relationships, how we deal with each other – our perceptions, dreams, realities…’
‘We need to hear stories,’ says Marian. ‘Who are we? What are the choices?’ These questions are paramount – and universal. The work they both do year-round, outside of The Actors Space, informs what they bring to the residencies there. As does their personal experiences – as a couple, as parents, as members of their local community (the centre is their year-round home).
The summer residencies at the school have grown to include acting to camera, directing for film and theatre, and dramatic scriptwriting workshops.
These workshops have joined The Art of Comedy, which takes the student on a fabulous journey from full mask to red nose to creating comic sketches on-camera (written about by Total Theatre here); and The Creative Actor, which brings together Lecoq influenced physicality with a development of the complete actor, voice and all.
‘Why separate the voice from the body?’ says Marian ‘We speak! The voice is part of the body…. Stanislavski played a very big part [in the development of the actor] but Lecoq said, Why just the head? What about the rest of the body? Physical training is very important but that doesn’t mean you can’t use words… Like a musician, you need to learn all your notes! Use the full spectrum to create.’
Nevertheless, it is good to note that, as Simon puts it: ’In action, there’s meaning. In words, there can be the opposite of meaning. Look at the times we are in: lies upon lies! You try lying with your body – you can do it, physically you can lie – but not like the lies in the twisted world of fake presidents, fake news, and “alternative facts”.’ Where are the Fools? he wonders. The Fools in the courts of the oligarchs who can bring them down to a human level. ‘Is there a new surrealism? The work needs to be created – to burst the egos of these maniacs who think they are in control of things.’
Ah, lies and truth… Simon and Marian are both fans of the screenwriting guru Robert McKee, and often quote his strapline, Write the Truth: ‘A culture cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling,’ says McKee, ‘When society repeatedly experiences glossy, hollowed-out, pseudo-stories, it degenerates.’
Content is King.
Marian speaks of ‘the creative triangle – writing, acting, directing’ as part of the same act of creativity. ‘The creative actor is writing when they devise – everything goes together.’
Regardless of which workshop they are enrolled on, the crucial thing for participants is, as Simon puts it, for them ‘to really explore what they are interested in, to trust their life experiences’. He talks of the theatre process as being like a sophisticated extension of child’s play. Explore the conflicts, find the resolutions. ‘Entertainment is important,’ says Simon, ‘Fun is underestimated. But we don’t want to just indulge, or be frivolous. We want to find the poetic depths – our common humanity…’ And later, he says: ‘It is not about making change, it is about sharing truth.’ Speak your truth, write your truth, act your truth.
‘Theatre,’ says Marian, ‘Will not die. There is something about being in the moment, unedited. It is very different to film. It’s immediacy is special’. And, she emphasises, even though the annual courses might bear the same titles, each one is unique – developing its own special character depending on who is there. As they say on their website: ‘Each workshop creates a new culture, one that shares our common humanity. Participants are freed from their own cultural constrictions and opened to fresh possibilities and new ways of working.’
Maskmaking in the evening during The Creative Actor Workshop
And this is a good moment to note that there are always newcomers, but also very many ‘returners’ – people who have come back repeatedly over the past 20 years to this unique and special centre for theatre-makers and film-makers of all ages, experiences and nationalities. Marian says: ‘There is no Actors Space company, but it feels a bit like a company – there are people who come every year. There is a lot of trust – an environment of trust and safety. We only do this in the summer, which makes it very special.’
Simon talks of the returning experienced artists, and what they gain from the repeat experience, as having something to do with ‘the capacity to be a beginner [again] – allowing themselves to explore and discover’. And, on doing new things, and how successful that can be, he says: ‘Beginner’s luck isn’t luck, it’s a principle to be developed. In the not-knowing, inviting in the discovery.’
To be at the Actors Space is truly a gift – a way to give yourself the time and space for artistic renewal.
‘As long as people want to come here we will continue, it’s a wonderful experience for us and them’ says Marian. ‘Lecoq taught until he died – and we will continue as long as we are enjoying it.’
Long may that be!
The Actors Space provide high quality training for actors, directors, writers, teachers and students of dramatic art.
Dorothy Max Prior attended the inaugural Dramatic Writing residency at The Actors Space in July 2018 as a guest of the centre. She has previously taken part in The Art of Comedy, Bouffon, and The Nomadic Fool residencies at The Actors Space, all previously written about for Total Theatre Magazine; and has led the Dance Yourself Stupid Eccentric and Comic Dance workshop there.
This summer’s residential workshops are:
Directing Performance only 3 places left!
19–27 July 2019 (including arrival and departure dates)
1–9 August 2019 (inclusive of arrival and departure dates)
13–21 August 2019 (including arrival and departure dates)
For full details and to book see The Actors Space website.
This article was originally published by Total Theatre Magazine. See www.totaltheatre.org.uk
We live in a world that is so driven by thought. A world where people sit for hours and hours in front of a computer. What has happened to the expressiveness of the body? This body that has evolved over millions of years which travels through time and space and is driven by life’s essential rhythm?
Masks teach us to communicate through action, to fully inhabit our bodies, to project, to connect with the space and to fully relate with the other.
With expressive mask work the actors visibility is greatly reduced and the senses must work harder. Listening with the whole body is a skill that must be honed and practiced. This heightened awareness opens the door to the here and now. When an actor is open to feeling and responds to the moment something magical happens – dramatic life manifests. A small look, a slow gesture can transport the audience to the realm of the poetic.
When an actor feels, his performance comes alive. Mask work becomes a powerful tool for the training of the actor.
So, just feel it!
The Creative Actor Workshop 2nd-10th August 2018
The Actors Space – Celebrating 20 years of creativity
In my life I am moving and evolving… dancing and flirting with acting, teaching actors, directing actors, script writing and now documentary/film making. It’s fascinating. And as I move and shift and jump from fiction to facts, from facts to fiction I realise that it is all the same thing… It’s about sharing truth. Because, like the elements, some things just are. To make a good documentry, just as to make a good show, structure is needed. These are some of the things we look at:
We are born, we exist, we die. Three act structure. Aristotil made the connection, he understood about the drama of life…
I am about to go to Colombia to shoot a documentary called ‘Process of Peace’. I’ll be talking to ex-combatents and victims of the war that are trying to get back on their feet with the help of the ‘Peace Education Program’.
Here is a link to the trailer of the documentary we made in Ecuador about Gang Members moving from crime to doing social projects
And then, two months later, when I get back I’ll be teaching at The Actors Space on the International Summer Theatre & Film Workshops for actors and directors.
And every time it is new. Fresh, exciting, like every single breath…full of life!
Here are three thoughts for aspiring artists:
1/Learn from the best or from those that feel right to you.
2/Practice your art, experience it!
3/Trust your self and enjoy.
And here is book for those who want to write but don’t know where to start form by Natalie Goldberg ‘Writing down the bones’. I suggest you read it slowly, like eating a good meal, savouring each mouthful. It’s a short, easy to read book and it’s so potent that, like a good session of love making, it is good to make it last.
OK, I am done for today, if you fancy exploring your creativity and learning techniques as an actor or director you can come to The Actors Space this summer. The Screen Acting Workshop is fully booked (waiting list only). Only 4 places lefty on The Directing Performance Workshop. Places available on the other Theatre acting and directing workshops.
Wishing you the best creative life.
Last summer was my first time at the Actors Space doing ‘The Art of Comedy’ and it was for many reasons the most magical and constructive experience. In this generous, safe place that Marian & Simon have made, I learned to strip away my judgment and quieten my overthinking in order to really listen and react in the moment. To trust my instinct and to make brilliant ‘mistakes’.
I sometimes find the idea of remembering the joy a little silly, I create because I love to. But actually so often day to day and specifically in auditions since the workshop I find myself actively making the decision to relax, to have fun and to revel in playing. It’s a treat.
The course has given me the confidence to begin to create my own work and further explore my clown. It’s exciting. It has made my approach to working with others far less fearful. The wonderful structure of the course, the intelligent and spot on teaching and the beautiful setting made for a hugely positive time. I really couldn’t recommend it more. Thank you to the Actors Space. Words will not do you justice but you have stayed with me and I will be back.
Anna Brooks-Beckman, UK
THE CREATIVE ACTOR: “For me, it was one of the most worthwhile weeks of my life and I certainly plan to return next year”. Sheyla Sly.
SCREEN ACTING: Thoroughly enjoyed the Screen Acting workshop! I learnt so much and I felt I developed a part of me I did not know existed. It has helped me prepare for an audition which I was successful in getting. Fantastic direction from Simon and Marian and an absolutely beautiful place to be learning in”. Tara Hodgson
ART OF COMEDY “The wonderful structure of the course, the intelligent and spot on teaching and the beautiful setting made for a hugely positive time. I really couldn’t recommend it more. Thank you to the Actors Space!”. Anna Brooks-Beckman
DIRECTING PERFORMANCE “My senses were filled, my creativity re-ignited and energised. I discovered skills i didn’t know i had. Marian and Simon create a safe non judgmental, yet growth environment that allows each student to feel they are contributing something. I absolutely loved it”. Janine Hardy.
Two great female Comics!
Emily Sly (the one on the right).
“…the training offered by Marian and Simon was excellent. I really took to the feedback style and the direct approach as I found it really clear and easy to understand:- when something was working we knew why it worked and if it wasn’t funny or it wasn’t truthful we knew why it didn’t work. The course was perfectly structured over the week with well thought out exercises and challenges that took you on a journey into comedy and clowning. I would definitely recommend the Actors Space to anyone who is seeking to develop their skills, it was great fun and good value for money, I hope to return soon”.
Jane Allanach (the one on the left).
“I will definitely return to The Actors Space and the expertise and sincere hospitality of Marian and Simon. I feel enormously privileged and fortunate to have found this unique and wonderful artistic haven”.
Our next intensive, residential Art of Comedy Course is from the 9th to the 17th August 2017 – to find out more click here.
Jane Allanach (the one on the left in the video).
“Four months on from The Art of Comedy Course at The Actors Space, I still feel full and blessed!
I spent eight wonderful days, although not without sweat and tears, in Marian and Simon’s beautiful farm house/studio – nestled in the pretty, peaceful Catalan hillside. If I’m painting a picture of perfection, that’s because (if such a thing exists) it’s what it felt like. From the outset, being met at the station by our hosts, and meeting up with the rest of the actors, I experienced the warmth and trust that so often comes with a group of people brought together for a common cause – to be creative and have fun!
The course itself was demanding, but was delivered to us in a way in which each exercise built on the previous one, and meant that everyone’s journey, to find their clown, was one of personal discovery. It was very emotional at times because ‘finding your clown’ means making yourself vulnerable (although always within the safety of the group and Marian and Simon’s watchful and nurturing eye).
To begin with, I found it difficult due to feelings of unfunniness, and too much censorship of myself. However, as the week went on, and I learnt to play the situation and not the idea, and to trust myself to do less, not more – it became easier. Also beginning with a half mask and progressing to red nose and ultimately no nose was hugely successful.
Since returning from the Actors Space, I have used the skills I’ve learnt to teach others. I work with a group of adults who have all accessed mental health services at some point. We come together once a week and make theatre. During the past term we have being doing half mask work concentrating on isolating the action, not stealing the focus, and being very clear with the ‘story’ we are telling – a cheerful festive account of a dysfunctional family and an alcoholic Father Christmas! It’s been very positive for a lot of the group who feel that the mask adds a layer of protection to them as performers, liberating them to use much more of their physicality than they would otherwise.
I will definitely return to The Actors Space and the sincere hospitality and expertise of Marian and Simon. I feel enormously privileged and fortunate to have found this unique and wonderful artistic haven”.
Emily Sly (the one on the right in the video).
“I first discovered the Actors Space when my mum returned from participating in The Creative Actor course, she was raving about how brilliant it had been and recommended I booked in for the following year. As a professional actor I often find it hard to book things in advanced due to my uncertain schedule and so without further ado I booked my place on the Art of Comedy course and flew out to Spain the next day.
Thankfully my ‘spur of the moment’ decision paid off, I arrived a little after the course had started but was welcomed in by Marian, Simon and the participants and soon felt part of the family.
I was attracted to The Art of Comedy workshop in particular as I wanted to deepen my understanding of the Lecoq method with a view to studying physical theatre as an MA and I have to say I was not disappointed, the training offered by Marian and Simon was excellent. I really took to the feedback style and Simons direct approach as I found it really clear and easy to understand:- when something was working we knew why it worked and if it wasn’t funny or it wasn’t truthful we knew why it didn’t work. The course was perfectly structured over the week with well thought out exercises and challenges that took you on a journey into comedy and clowning.
Since the course I have continued to use the techniques I learnt at the Actors Space in my professional work as an actor with Blunderbus Theatre Company and in particular in my work with refugees as a clown volunteer with The Flying Seagull Project in Greece. I would definitely recommend the Actors Space to anyone who is seeking to develop their skills, it was great fun and good value for money, I hope to return soon”.
Marian Masoliver, teacher, talks about the pedagogy involved in the training.
What I like most about our pedagogy is that it nurtures the creativity of the performer and places the actor at the centre of dramatic creation. What is essential in the training is to get the participant to engage with ‘Le Jeu’ (or ‘Play’). Lecoq defines ‘Le Jeu’- “When, aware of the theatrical dimension, the actor can shape an improvisation for spectators using rhythm, tempo, space and form”.
‘Play’ is connected with making the most of any particular moment dramatically. It is about rendering the moment fully into life on stage. To achieve this the actor has to train their body, imagination and creativity. We do this by exploring the actors dramatic and comic presence and the nature and dynamics of conflict; The push and the pull, contraction and expansion, crescendo, rhythm, space, event… The work focusses in like a microscope to reveal the essence of comic/dramatic situation. We work with the ‘motor’ of each scene. With this awareness the actor is free to play.
Also, we ask the question “What do you want to say”? To develop style with no content is a fruitless act. We encourage artistic risks to be taken and together we seek poetic depths to be explored. We are after all creating work that mirrors life itself.
We are practitioners who teach. The techniques we share at the Actors Space have been developed from over 50 years of combined professional experience as actors, directors and teachers. What we offer is hands on physical theatre and screen actor training which at it’s core, is inspired by working with Jacques Lecoq at his international school in Paris.
Ultimately our aim is to empower the actor to create meaningful work. We do this by developing their understanding of all the elements involved, the writing, direction and acting. We call this the ‘creative triangle’.
To find out about our summer workshops click here.