Jacques Lecoq, Physical Theater, and the Clown

  Jacques Lecoq broke the bonds that enchained the body to the text, and developed theater’s own poetry. At his international school, students like Selena McMahan learn how to let their body speak loudly and find their professional way. For Selena, the Way of the Clown turned her into a healer. What better way to present Jacques Lecoq’s legacy than to have one of his student … Continue reading Jacques Lecoq, Physical Theater, and the Clown

The Theatre Corps: communities of volunteers

Volunteering is a key concept for American theatres and a perk for all the parts involved.  The theatres’ sizes and the importance they attach to their volunteers lead to different notions of community.   Volunteering plays an important part in theatre. San Francisco Bay Area theaters  like Golden Thread Productions, Shotgun Players, the African-American Shakespeare Company, the Magic Theatre, the San Francisco Playhouse, the California Shakespeare … Continue reading The Theatre Corps: communities of volunteers

The Colored Theater of African-Americans

Why are African-American theaters still numerous in America, putting their cultural background up front? When looking at the missions and productions of these theaters, one can notice that specific groups of people are being targeted. Their vision of community thus tends to be different from other theaters in general. Theaters can either claim to address a specific community or not. Black-community theaters such as the African-American … Continue reading The Colored Theater of African-Americans

The Female Catch

The notion of “community” is an inherent part of the communication strategy displayed on theaters’ websites. This term is mostly used in a positive and inclusive way in order to create a link between the theatrical world and the audience and serves as a promotional tool for a specific activity: theater. However, creating an exclusive community focusing on a smaller portion of the population, such as … Continue reading The Female Catch

Minority Theaters: Beyond and Within

Minority theaters have a specific mission: serving an audience and thus specific communities. The African American Shakespeare Theater and the Rhino Theater are two examples of how they choose to define their own sense of community through their online communication. Two Communities: LGBT and African-American Both theaters aim at specifically serving their target communities. For the Rhino, that means exposing LGBT oriented issues ; for the African American … Continue reading Minority Theaters: Beyond and Within

The Drama of Enabling the Disabled

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Rodney Bell
Sins Invalid 2008

 

Disabled people are underrepresented in the world of theater. From stage invisibility to audience adaptation, San Francisco Bay Area theaters still have to go a long way to give disabled the enabling role they deserve and make them an active part of the community they claim to build. 

Theater often resort to the term community to talk about themselves and the people they address through their activities. Looking the websites of the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T), the San Francisco Playhouse and Sins Invalid, we see that mainstream theaters continue to ignore disability at all levels, from performers and shows to ticketing. In theater, the cause for enabling the disabled still remains in the hands of the disabled themselves.

Performance projects taking over Theater “for all”

Comparing theater and performance projects points to the fact that theater is “for all” when performances are for the underrepresented. Are theaters really “for all” then?  A.C.T and the San Francisco Playhouse, may not have the same size but they share a comparable activity in terms of theatrical production. Set in their own houses, their mission is to embody everyone in a given local area. The community depicted on both websites is linked to a geographical concern. Sins Invalid for its part, has no specific house and is actually a performance project whose mission is not to consider a geographical community but to insist on the representation of everyone. The project claims to promote non-normative artists such as invalids. Sins Invalid’s mission is to accept all marginal people. They thus consider disabled people, black people and queer on the same level.

Staging the Disabled

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Maria Palacio
Sins Invalid 2009

 

Through the representation of the underrepresented, the original project of Sins Invalid enables the staging of disabled performers. The different performers are given a particular section on Sins Invalid’s website. It features their identity, their characteristics, their works. The discourse on community of Sin Invalid’s website reveals that “Community” refers to the underrepresented. The disabled are part of this broader group of the marginalized. Rather than being a shame, describing their difference is turned into a strength. It enables them to claim their ability and legitimacy on stage. Four performers out of 11 are presented as disabled artists in 2009: Leroy F. Moore Jr. and Mat Fraser are physically disabled and Antoine-Devinci Hunter is deaf. Maria Palacio’s disability is implicitly evoked with the title of her book The Goddess on Wheels. She can be recognized thanks to her wheelchair on one of the performance pictures. Disability is also staged as a theme, for people to deal with the taboo topic as emphasized on one of the pictures of the season: The performers are dressed as patients in a hospital, the place where disability is medically testified.

Closing the stage curtain down on disability

By not putting disable people on stage, mainstream theaters continue to make disability a taboo. Remaining silent on the subject, they still have a lot to improve so as to avoid building discriminations in theater. A.C.T and the San Francisco Playhouse have a lack of discourse on disability which is a witness for its lack of consideration. Though the theaters’ websites do not provide much information about their performers and one is merely provided the names of the actors and performers in the cast without any further description, disabled people are completely absent of these casts. Even when disability is the major topic of an upcoming play, the show’s description does not point to it. The San Francisco Playhouse thus manages to advertise the play “Colossal” written by Andrew Hinderaker without underlining the role of a quadriplegic character. Not to mention that the discourse on community being very poor in the cast section the disabled cannot be associated to such a community.

Facilitating Limited Access

wheelchair accessibleTheaters and Performance projects are both aiming at facilitating limited access but their objectives are not the same. ACT and the San Francisco Playhouse seem to simply abide by the law when Sins Invalid considers the particularities of its members. Even when no upcoming play is announced, and thus the box office is inactive, Sins Invalid is committed to the disabled accessibility to the organization’s activities. When registering for a workshop activity, people have to describe their ability in order for the organizer to make the place accessible to everyone. As a comparison, the box office section of the A.C.T and the San Francisco Playhouse provide very little information on disability. Only physical disability is concerned as the seating chart of the websites indicate special seats for disabled people in wheelchairs. The topic of disability is given no textual weight and remains relegated to the world of symbols with a little wheelchair on a chart. The number of seats with this symbol corresponds to what the law recommends.

In short

Tracking the notion of community some theaters have constructed through their mission statements, their shows, and their performers, points to the striking invisibility of the disabled. Disabled people’s participation to the theater is limited to dedicated artistic organizations like Sins Invalid. This organization does not consider disabled people as a community per se, but rather as members of the group of the marginal people that actually need to be integrated to a larger social community. Mainstream theaters, such as A.C.T and the San Francisco Playhouse, do not consider the disabled as a specific group requiring particular attention. Consequently they neither have productions nor special ticketing measures for them. Nor do they neither consider them as target audience members. Required by law, they merely implement the needed adaptations to make room for a few people of the group to be properly welcomed in their houses. As part of a group of the marginalized, disabled people are thus only taken into account when they are the main concern of theaters, who then aim at integrating the marginalized in a larger community.
Peña’s study on the struggle of women in work placement, has shown that marginals are considered as lacking some values and skills that prevent them to gather with others in a community. Marginal people are actually set apart from a community. Sins Invalid’s mission is thus of prime utility. The community they are aiming at building  is not that of the marginals but the group from which these are excluded from. If as Kavolis says, “artistic creativity will tend to be stimulated in the phase of social emotional integration,” then theater by offering a place where the disabled is fully expresses their creativity can help to reintegrate the disabled in the society.

 

Continue reading “The Drama of Enabling the Disabled”

How acting should transcend you

American actor, director, acting teacher and writer director, Sarah Eigerman explains how she conceives the creative process of acting. She recalls her experience creating FACT in Paris and working at the Strasberg Institute in New York.

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Sarah Eigerman ©unfil-lefilm

Sarah Eigerman has just opened the 26th school year of FACT, the French-American Organization for Cinema and Theatre. FACT combines a theater company and a bilingual training center for actors. Seated at the table of a nice cafe on the Place du Chatelet in Paris, she explains her views on acting.

Opening FACT in Paris

As Sarah Eigerman’s eyes drift back into the past, she recalls the creation of FACT. A quarter of a century ago, private acting schools were scarce in Paris. Aside from the municipal and national conservatories there were only “ten or twelve at the most”, she recalls. Périmony, Simon, Florent, and a few others.
Actors training in Paris at the time was grounded on the idea that theory was better than practice and led to mechanistic and ultimately boring acting. This clashed with her American ideal of “I’m going to get involved in the character’s life and just live“. Probably because of that, she says she had “a lot of students who were refugees from other acting classes”. Sarah Eigerman considers that theory comes out of practice: “The theory could be your first impulse in a creative process, but there’s nothing without exploration”, she comments, “creativity is holistic, it involves all of you”.

Stanislavski and “The Method”

Sarah Eigerman was inspired by Constantin Stanislavski, an actor, acting teacher and director from the end of the 19th century, mostly known for having developed an acting technique in which the actor should make something honest happen in him that should touch people. “Inner experiences must reach the spectator before the words are said,” comments Sonia Moore on the Stanislavski System. This naturalistic performance technique is also widely known as “The Method”. Approaches that follow his lead want actors to share the feelings of the character they stage. Rival methods aim for the projection of the idea of how the character should be, not for the search for inner experience.

Giving rise to different interpretations

Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner all claimed they inherited the Stanislavski’s system, but they were opposing ways of training actors. Lee Strasberg asked for emotional truth. “He wanted raw, true emotions”, Sarah Eigerman comments. “So that strong emotional breakdowns became the goal”. Stella Adler wanted actors to transform themselves to live in the world of the play thanks to research and imagination. But what lacked in her method, Sarah Eigerman reckons, was sensory classes. Sensory exercises as taught in the Strasberg Institute, an acting school founded by Lee Strasberg in New York, start with trying to imaginatively recreate everyday objects and get harder as the objects become more complex and numerous. Sanford Meisner devised exercises that helped actors relate to the moment and be spontaneous. He thought that actors should first become some kind of inhuman robots to reach a truly personal yet untainted immersion in the role. “There are a lot of American actors who study a bit of Sandy Meisner, then they go to Stella, then to Lee, because they want to put it on their resume. But what they’re really trying to do is finding the central focus”, Sarah says.

Working with Lee Strasberg

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Lee Strasberg © Kristen Shaw Acting Studio

She then recalls the time she spent teaching at the Strasberg institute, before coming to France. Lee wanted the teachers to study with him before training students, so Sarah Eigerman got to watch a lot of his classes. Because he was an icon, he could point at his performance as Hyman Roth in God Father as an example of what he expected from his students. “At Lee Strasberg’s Institute, I saw that people really thought they were going to have some kind of epiphany if they just suffered enough” she recalls. Lee Strasberg could get angry very fast, and actors would get intimidated. They would feel unworthy of his teaching and be angry about it. Not at Lee Strasberg, the master, but at themselves.

Being aware of one’s emotions

Sarah Eigerman takes from each of those teachers’ legacy and applies it when teaching at FACT. She says she never asks her students “What makes you cry?”, but rather “What are you feeling.” “It isn’t about doing amateur psychoanalysis”, she muses. “It’s about knowing your instrument.” She argues that because of our training we have the habit of ignoring our emotions, and she helps her students unlearn this habit. She insists on the importance she sees in mixing theory and practice during her classes. “Because the imagination and the brain function pretty much the same way. So if I can imagine something, I can explore it sensorially and it will begin to have an effect on me”. She draws two complementary techniques: the transformation of oneself through sensory exploration and letting go.

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The Franco Américaine pour le Cinéma et le Théâtre ©fact.over-blog

The script is not the enemy, it’s a tool

Unlike Strasberg, Sarah Eigerman claims that she does not consider the script an enemy, but a source of information. She takes the stage directions out before distributing the scripts to her students, so they can figure out what is going on in the play. “I want them to say ‘I feel like sitting down here’”, she explains. “At a certain point I just say ‘Sit down after that line’, but I don’t want to say it the first week” She adds that if she could do a Shakespeare or a period play, she “would not like to add stage directions in the script”. But if she does not think that the script is an enemy, she hates to hear that people are saying a text. And period plays underline why Stella Adler’s emphasis on research is important. Speaking an Alexandrine, using an outdated vocabulary or syntax, or wearing old fashioned clothes that we do not wear anymore, form the given circumstances of a character. The actors have to learn about them to be able to live the reality of the play and to transmit it to the public. “Because you are your own instrument, your own raw material and you are the artist”, she says.

Acting to become more human

For Sarah Eigerman, everyone needs to be an artist in some way. Not to mention an actor should be able to live an imaginary experience, to live in someone else’s shoes in order to have the empathy and compassion that is lacking in the world. “Humanism is not possible without recognizing the creative spark in everybody”, she says.
If Sarah Eigerman dreams about the way acting could make this world a better place, she also indulges in daydreaming for FACT. “My dream for FACT was and still is, because it’s never been fully realized, cultural exchange on a one to one basis, in my little corner of the world”. She also wishes to open her own bilingual acting school in New York, and who knows, maybe elsewhere too. Continue reading “How acting should transcend you”

Who turns the Bay lights on?

They work in the dark to figure out how to reveal the emotions and the beauty of acting. Without them, theatre, opera, musicals and dance music shows would all look the same. Their unique and ephemeral works make them full artists who fight to protect their rights. Focus on lighting designers with the San Francisco Bay Area artist, Kurt Landisman. For a minute, imagine the picture above … Continue reading Who turns the Bay lights on?