This past weekend, I attended Shakespeare & Company’s Boston Weekend Intensive. I highly recommend these weekends. They are affordable, and can fit into the crazy schedule of theatre/work/life/family without requiring too much of a sacrifice from any one of those areas.
Each meeting of this intensive begins with 13 chairs in a circle for each of the twelve participants and the teacher, Dennis Krausnick. The first night, we check in with four things: our name, the landscape of our childhood, our heart’s desire for the weekend, and something we would not normally tell a group of strangers. My heart’s desire for this weekend was to focus on myself. I am always providing opportunities for others, and I rarely get to focus on myself as an artist and restock my well. I wanted to leave my phone and all it represents in the greenroom for the weekend and be selfish. That was my heart’s desire.
After the check-in and a short break, we did an exercise focusing on becoming present in the space, starting to connect with our own breath, and making eye contact with the other participants. This shifting into an exercise inviting our past selves a chance to be present with us: 5 years old, 9 years old, and 13 years old. Each of these ages informed a delivery of our monologue (we had each memorized 14 - 25 lines of Shakespeare to work with over the weekend.) At the end of the night, we gathered the 13 chairs in a circle again to name a discovery or idea we wanted to reinforce over the rest of the weekend. I want to reinforce permission: the permission to be free to explore the present and play again.
On day 2 after a check-in of what stuck with us from yesterday and what we discovered from our homework (yes, there is homework for an intensive even when you get out at 9.40 at night!), we spent the morning on delicious voice work. What a truly lovely way to spend the morning. Breath, body, vibration: all things I work on in my daily practice but I had been rushing over. Practicing just to check it off the list of things done for the day. How wonderful to return to those very basic things and to really tune in to discovering my own habits and whether they truly serve me or not.
The afternoon and evening were spent observing and working individually with Dennis on the text we had prepared. Such wonderful text and characters: Cressida, Hermione, Paulina, Imogen, Edward, Helena. As each person connected the monologue to their own personal life experience, and as he worked patiently with each person to find their breath and release the words using that breath, the true power and beauty of this weekend and these actors came forward. We gathered our chairs in a circle to check-out at the end of the night, and we again said out loud a discovery or idea to reinforce for the weekend. I want to reinforce working without judgement: judgement of myself and assumptions/judgements of others.
Day 3 began with the usual check-in, with the added item of the question “did we have any remorse about anything we had shared yesterday?” This led to a wonderful discussion of drama therapy vs. personal connection, what are professional boundaries, and is personal tragedy required for one to be an actor? An important discussion indeed, which led to a great deal personal thinking on these questions. After a morning of voice work bringing breath, vibration, and presence to our chosen text, the focus for the afternoon shifted to setting Shakespeare in the context of his place and time, and looking at why the First Folio is important and what actors can learn from it. I was reminded of the words of another artist I greatly admire, Ellen Lauren: “The teachers of this work are leaving this world,” and I was so grateful to be learning from 79-year-old Dennis Krausnick. My notes on punctuation, capitalization, long spellings and two universes are so poignant and helpful, and I am grateful for his generosity in sharing his ideas and the fruits of his lifetime of experiences and learning.
After each person shared more discoveries from their chosen text, we gathered our chairs in a circle one last time for a final check-out. What were we going to take away from this weekend intensive? I want to reinforce Time, taking my time. Why am I already learning my lines for my next project: I will take time to fully explore my connections to the text, and take time in rehearsal to be present for true connections with my ensemble. I will take the time to breathe and to make eye contact: what is each person bringing to this story and how do I respond to that?
Theatre is important because we gather together there to hear and to tell stories. I will take my time and be a better listener and a better storyteller.
Thank you to Kirsten, Caitlin, Srin, Deborah, Nancy, Laura, Peter, Meg, Britney, Lei, and Julia for sharing so much this past weekend. And thank you especially to Dennis Krausnick for your generosity as a teacher, an artist, and as a human.
~ Carey Cahoon