Simon and Marian have the Midas touch when it comes to sharing their knowledge and they do it with huge generosity. In fact, I would go as far as to say, they put heart and soul into their work and their passion shines through. Their knowledge comes to you in a seamless flow of layered wisdom and is delivered in an enormous packet of fun.
The “Directing Performance” workshop is challenging and special. At the beginning of the week, you direct a devised piece with a group of actors (you get the luxury to work with excellent actors), then you direct a text piece of your own choice.
You are then let loose to write a short play and, most excitingly, you get to see that writing come alive after its been directed by another group member. As Simon and Marian say “Content is King” and Writing helps you understand about Directing as you identify the dramatic forces of a scene, the pushes and the pulls, the turns, crescendo, suspense and other essential dynamics.
The teachers meet regularly with the directors and guide them securely throughout the whole process. It’s a treat. Ah! And you also get the opportunity to act in other class mates pieces throughout the week so that you get to understand the actors needs.
One definite change that I have experienced personally and artistically while attending workshops at The Actors Space is that my confidence has soared and I believe that is entirely due to the encouragement to feel safe to freely express my imagination.
Also, the validation that Simon and Marian have given me for my efforts and achievements throughout my years there have been priceless. I am indebted to them.
Carmel Furlong, Ireland
I’m happy to say that we will soon be in Croydon (South London) to present the documentary “Peace is Inevitable” at an event about how to prevent knife crime, a hugely challenging social issue that has resulted with the loss of around 50 lives in London last year.
Over the last 30 years Simon and I have been exploring and researching conflict in our workshops, courses and productions. I can humbly say that we have learned a thing or two about it – when you practice something you get good at it! This research into the heart of conflict to create drama and comedy, has also led us to understand what creates and drives inhumane behaviour towards others and to discover solutions. Conflict is like an anxious river. It’s waters struggling up and down, over rocks and clay, around bends, over cliffs and cascades in an endless arduous journey… but eventually, ALWAYS, the river ends up merging with the ocean, it’s true destination. “Peace is Inevitable” talks about this inevitable fact that sooner or later we come across: that Peace is within us. The title comes from a gang leader from Ibarra, a small town in Northen Ecuador. He had entered into the toxic spiral of turmoil and tragedy until he hit rock bottom. Finaly he said no, enough is enough and with the help of the Peace Education Program, from the Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF), he and other gang members changed from the inside. Not because someone made them change but because they recognised the need themselves, from within.
Simon and Marian have spent more than a quarter of a century working with drama in Theatre and Film. As well as collaborating with TPRF they are the founders of The Actors Space, a renowened International centre for Theatre and Film near Barcelona. Click here to find out about the 21st summer Workshops.
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
BUILDING THE DEFENSES OF PEACE, ITUANGO, COLOMBIA
Here is a blog I’ve written about a documentary we are making for The Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF) and their Peace Education Program. This program in Colombia is helping people recover in places where war has been present – Marian Masoliver, film maker, teacher and director at The Actors Space.
After 7 hours of winding and slow roads with spectacular mountain views we arrive at our destination late into the night…
Ituango is a village hanging in the lap of a mountain range, indeed in the mountainous region of Antioquia, in deep Colombia. Dark streets (noticeably the electricity here is less present than in the valleys) and rain meet us, the weary travelers.
At dawn this tiny village is already buzzing with life, cowboys riding their horses, endless trucks carrying all sorts of materials, the ‘Jaidukama’, indigenous people that bring incredible color to the village (it takes two walking days to travel to their farms they tell us), and the ‘chivas’, local buses that go as far as there are roads into the wilderness, for the rest of their journey home people travel by mule.
It all creates a wonderful, powerful and rich tapestry of life, full of sound, color and joy.
We spent 4 nights in Ituango. If I had not known what has happened here I would never have guessed. The “Ituanguinos” are very kind, generous people.
But, unlike the urban cities of Colombia, this village has experienced the cruelty of war. Because of it’s geographical position the village has been used and abused for decades by both the guerrilla and the paramilitary, both fighting for power over coca production and drug trafficking.
Our small team from the TPRF are here to run The Peace Education Program (PEP) in the village school. Because of the difficulty getting here PEP is run as an introductory intensive program over three days. What get’s revealed after the three day program is shocking: the terrible reality of war and the thirst for help are so palpable…
And then there is Prem Rawat and his Peace Education program.
“I felt strange, it was like another me. For the first time in my life I have felt Peace and Fulfilment, I have been looking for this for 12 years” says Mercedes, a 15 years old student that attended PEP.
“What Mr, Prem Rawat is doing is an act of altruism. I would like to invite him to sit with victims and perpetuators, we all need to hear his message…there is no enemy because it is our friends and families that have been involved, this war has affected us all…” says a teacher that participated in the program.
I am also blown away by the clarity and wisdom that three 16 years old girls express during the interviews “Peace is within us, and for Peace to manifest in the community we first need to feel it as individuals. We need PEP for our families, for the community, we have all suffered too much.”
We also have the chance to interview the school director who tells us the crude facts of the war that she has had to survive. “PEP was a big thing for us, it was wonderful… we’ve been alone, without any help to heal, the teachers need help so they can teach well, their mental and emotional health need attention. PEP can help a lot. We are experts of war but we do not know about Peace…”.
At night, the “Rancheras” play loudly in every tavern, the streets are full of young people, couples, kids and families…
The only ‘disturbance’ for us is the van that wakes us up very morning at 5am announcing the 5:30h mass for the villagers on loud speakers.
But it is also clear that faith has helped these people in times where there was nothing else to hold onto.
And as we say goodbye I feel the sadness of the people, they express that they want to learn more from Prem Rawat.
The will of this people to prosper, in the middle of such difficulty, to go forward and the insistence of Joy itself after the darkest times has made a powerful impact on me.
See related blog From Fiction to Facts
Marian Masoliver from Ituango, Colombia.
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
I first discovered The Actors Space whilst on The Certificate of Higher Education course at East 15 Acting School. Whilst there I became interested in a more physically expressive approach to theatre, one where the emphasis is on visual storytelling and movement. I was recommended The Actors Space by a friend of mine who is currently on the BA Physical Theatre course at East 15 and who had been on The Creative Actor course the previous year. He praised The Actors Space for being an extraordinary place for actor training and for creative freedom and liberation. Eager to gain knowledge and experience in this newly found form of theatre I enrolled on The Creative Actor workshop. Whilst there, I learnt more about being an artist than I ever thought possible. The Creative Actor course gave me the space to explore my creativity and allowed me freedom to discover new areas of my art without restrictions, whilst in an encouraging and open environment.
Upon arriving at The Actors Space I was taken aback by the picturesque location of the Catalan countryside and the beautiful 16th century farmhouse where I would be creating theatre and living in for the week. Because the workshop is residential, there is a special trust and bond that is made between all the participants, which was essential when creating this kind of collaborative work with an ensemble of actors. Being interested in the teachings of Jacques Lecoq, I was excited that the course focussed primarily on the techniques he developed and that the teachers, Marian and Simon, both were taught by Jacques Lecoq at his international school in Paris. Marian and Simon nurture every participant to help their individual creativity flourish. Not only is your deepest imagination enriched every day, they guide you on your own artistic journey with their 20 years of professional experience and their passion for what they do. Over the week, they constantly encouraged me to challenge myself, take risks and explore new avenues of creative expression in my art, which in turn allowed me to discover new things about myself and the field I am passionate about.
The course is very intense, but nonetheless, fun. Meaning there was a lot that was covered in such a short space of time. This included Mask Theatre (and mask making during the evenings), the observation and Re-Play of Daily Life to create truth and authenticity whilst on stage, The Child which allowed us to be imaginative and playful to create endless possibilities in our work, which finally developed into devising our own dramatic and comic scenes and situations. Whilst all along finding the poetic depths to our work and asking ourselves, “What is it we want to say?
I was able to take all the skills and techniques I had learnt whilst at The Actors Space back home and put them into practice. The overall experience was empowering and I feel very privileged and grateful for having had this experience. I cannot recommend this course (and The Actors Space in general) enough. For anyone wanting to explore their full physical potential as a performer, learn new techniques and skills or to generally rediscover their passion for acting (and life) – you will not be disappointed and I can guarantee anyone who embarks on their journey here will make everlasting friendships, have the time of their life and will want to return. I know I will definitely be returning again.
Chantelle Oddie, UK.
Find out about The Creative Actor Workshop
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.