Category Archives: Improvisation
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.
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.
Monsieur Lecoq (with whom I had the pleasure to study with at his school in Paris) used to say that there were two important things in his pedagogy: Daily life and the observation of nature. I agree, and today in my pedagogical approach and that of The Actors Space we continue to encourage truthful observation, leading to truthful performance.
When students play in a way that is not true, forcing things, ‘inventing’ play that is not anchored in any reality it makes me cringe. The audience doesn’t relate. And we need to relate to be interested – tell me a story because this story is also my story… and by witnessing it I can see myself in a mirror, and I learn something and I grow…That to me is the power of Theatre. If it doesn’t achieve that it is just an empty demonstration.
Robert McKee says ‘Write the truth’, good advice and a rare practice these days. As artists, we need to tell the truth. Yes, let’s write the truth and play the truth – the world needs it more than ever.
Come and learn how daily life, observation of nature and deeply connecting with truth is essential for an actor/creator. Choose the right course for you at The Actors Space, near Barcelona. Our workshops and courses are inspired by our work with Jacques Lecoq and from more than 30 years of experience as actors, teachers and directors of Theatre and Film.
The Creative Actor 16th – 24th July 2017 – With techniques originally developed by Jaqcues Lecoq, this workshop aims to release the creative power of the actor using the body, imagination and play.
Screen Acting 28th July – 5th August 2017 – A practical experience that allows the actor to achieve maximum creative expression within the technical constraints of working on camera.
The Art of Comedy 9th – 17th August 2017 – An adventure in comic creation where the actor discovers his or her own personal ‘Ridiculousness’ and learns how to apply it in both comic and dramatic art.
Directing performance 22nd – 30th August 2017 – Participants learn how to direct actors by giving them freedom within a clear structure, guiding them to create their best work.
XVIII International Theatre and Film Workshops
…what a pleasure to have been doing these workshops for 18 years and always with great, talented people from all over the world! This time the residential workshops took place from mid July to mid September and were attended by 53 people from 15 different nationalities. It is always a joy for me to teach for such special workshops. A melting pot of cultures, experiences and creativity! This is The Actors Space. Marian Masoliver co-director/ teacher at The Actors Space
The Creative Actor “A thousand thank you’s for this wonderful week, full of discoveries, exchanges and encounters -I’ll be back! Clemency” Fiot, France
more info here
The Art of Comedy “When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them, is the best thing that could happen!” Yvonne Link, Germany
more info here
Screen Acting “...I’ve come away with lots of new tools ready to start my degree in acting!…thank you again for helping me along with my career!” Imogen Segrave, UK
more info here
Directing Performance “Profound, enlighting, awakening, liberating…what a wonderful week! Thank you”. Janine Hardy, Ireland.
more info here