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The Michael Chekhov Acting method

posted Apr 30, 2018, 8:35 AM by Catherine West

The Michael Chekhov acting method is an approach to the acting process from an unusual angle, using illogical and irrational ways rather than logical and rational. This technique is based on eastern spiritual work and natural unconscious processes in our everyday lives. This acting technique is suitable for professional actors as much as for inexperienced, unprofessional people, and can help bring joy and ease to the stressful actors life. All the exercises are personal and can be fully experienced by any interested person.
 
Chekhov endeavored to uncover and teach ways through which actors could tap into their subconscious minds - and the universal experience of humanity - through various exercises. He felt that it was important that actors not limit their characters by drawing from their limited, conscious, worldly experiences. He felt that infinite experiences of humanity were stored in the subconscious mind and could be accessed through physical gestures and other exercises that were seemingly „external“ in nature. Specifically, one way in which Chekhov bridged the gap between the subconscious and the conscious - was through the use of „Psychological Gesture.“ Through this exercise, an actor will physicalize an internal need or emotion through an external gesture. This outward gesture, and its accompanying feelings, are then drawn back in and internalized.
 
This technique is very wide, but it has some key elements that are present through all the exercises: everything is psychophysical (body and mind connected), everything is personal to you (you can experience an exercise completely different from your colleagues), it is about some kind of physical and emotional transformation. The main goal of this technique is to transform.
 
In theory, through these exercises one can relieve himself from stress and too much thinking and start experiencing new feelings, created by his own imagination. Psychophysical transformation should help a person to leave his own problems behind and to experience a different character. Jumping from one feeling to the other, fully understanding a character helps one to better understand himself too.
 
See the video about pilot training in Lithuania here.
Artūras Dubaka

The art and power of ambivalence

posted Apr 10, 2018, 3:25 AM by Catherine West   [ updated Apr 10, 2018, 3:30 AM ]

Brighton Training round one.

I was surprised when we asked the participants to feedback on which moments of the training had had the most impact on them, that nearly all the group spoke about the very first exercise that we did together that seemed to have set the tone and indeed the values of the training. I say first, but I mean after we had had coffee, discussed how much snow might impact our time together, signed the European paper work, established where the toilets were and what time we were to have lunch.

So, what did we do?  I didn’t ask them to share their job role, their experience of recovery, their expertise in the arts. I asked them to accept that there is ambivalence in almost every situation and to answer the question

“what percentage of you wants to be here and what percentage of you doesn’t?”

What happened then is that people felt safe to share both their fears and their enthusiasm for the coming three days in a boundaried way. People reflected that it was useful to hear that they were not the only ones feeling anxious about the training and worried about falling behind with work tasks. It was also heartening to hear that despite the

 

 issues facing people in their personal and professional lives, they were enthusiastic, happy to be in the room and ready to learn.

Asking people to introduce themselves with their job role and experience, a customary practice in training, immediately sets up a hierarchical atmosphere where we consciously and unconsciously compare ourselves to others. For me working through the arts is a way of groups coming together and connecting equally as human beings outside of the world of status, hierarchy and shame. This exercise creates feelings of safety and equality where everyone feels valued as they are, and we begin to create a space where we can see each other as allies and create together without fear of judgement.

Secondly it is helpful for “professionals” to reflect on their own experience of being in a new group situation and help build empathy for the people that they work with who will bring their own ambivalences to any situation. By reflecting on their own experience, they may gain a deeper understanding of the experience of those in addiction recovery.

Thirdly and most importantly, ambivalence is crucial to artistic expression and allows space for us to work with and acknowledge our ambivalent and sometimes contradictory impulses. For example, “I want to know other people and be known” and “I fear being judged by others”. If we work through theatre and improvisation we can create characters that can contain this contradiction. If I am playing a character, it is not me. The audience, fellow trainees, cannot know how much of myself is in this role, so I can explore feelings and relationships safely without revealing too much. This lessens my fear of judgement so that paradoxically I may feel safe to give more of myself to the group. This is of course, not limited to theatre, a photograph, a drawing, a dance or any other art form has this ability.

In our current society, I don’t see much ambivalence. I see polarised opinions and definite stances. Through using the arts in recovery contexts, I believe we can learn from and create through the ambivalence in all of us. I will leave you with F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“– the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted onto my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true. “

 

Kate McCoy – April 2018

Thinking about Evaluation Creatively in a Creative Project

posted Mar 9, 2018, 1:39 AM by Catherine West   [ updated Mar 13, 2018, 2:02 AM ]

Our project team bring a fantastic range of perspectives, in both disciplines and management practices. We are discovering EVALUATION is an area with prevailing norms – with variations from disciplines and cultures (particularly cultures of work environments). We are actively learning from one another and expanding our approaches to find powerfully effective ones for art in health and well-being contexts.

As a funded project – and as a research initiative involving participants – we are evaluating participant experience, project progress, and comparing feedbacks cross-culturally. A rich and varied resource pool is emerging. In the process of implementing a “normal” evaluation, what we tend to do in arts programmes is attempt to fit square pegs into round holes. The arts are not often concerned with measures, statistics, outputs and so on, although these may work for example in singing to improve breathing, or dance to improve physical wellbeing.

With arts programmes intended for mental health improvements, some of the intended outcomes are more to do with human experiences that are not always measurable: “Feeling good”, “happy”, “at one with one’s self”. We could add other human emotions such as love, freedom from fear and so on.

Now of course, some of this may be captured by qualitative research.

Our Italian colleagues have devised two surveys of participants (differentiated between artists and health workers in conjunction with their first round pilot training. These will shortly be added to our page about Pilot Training in Italy

A German colleague – who particularly specialises in helping shape training programmes – provided this commentary  following an observational evaluation approach

A UK colleague has shared a tool developed in the UK by an artist youth outreach worker that is now used in a range of settings all over the world particularly to assess emotional perspectives and break down emotional blocks.

In evaluating our own progress against project requirements, we are learning about the impact of evaluation on the artistic process: As of the completion of our first round pilot training activities, two of four groups have commented that evaluation feels too frequent, and repetitive. However, we are also observing its fundamental importance to devising and delivering something that is successful. One of our colleagues has said, “The evaluation tool is fundamental within a project path. It gives you the opportunity, during the course of the activities, to see the critical and strength points and to make adjustments. In experimenting with a number of evaluation tools, we’re finding that even though the tools are different, the tools are replicating the questions, and we often write the same answers. Something designed for our specific needs – is emerging as very important.”

Another colleague has observed, “A few years ago I evaluated a programme implemented amongst people with profound learning disabilities. I was really struck with how “normal” evaluation methods were fairly useless. What I really wanted to do was to film the participants enjoying themselves. The viewer could then see what I could see, the wonderful affect upon a person with no verbal skills. Traditional methods may insist upon confidentiality, thus anonymising and potentially silencing this voice (expression). Researchers amongst children have made great advances in using creative methods in research and evaluation and I wonder if whilst working with adults in mental health programmes we should learn from such methods.”

In this project therefore our evaluation fulfils the requirements of the funders, but we are also capturing testimonies through film, photographs and the written word. Together they make for rich evidence. Unfortunately because the world is the way it is, the concept of evidence is often limited to that which is considered scientific. We hope through this project, that we can help create artistic evidence that is more meaningful and creative than a set of statistics ever could be.



Why the Artistic Process?

posted Jan 26, 2018, 6:59 AM by Catherine West

A collage of personal reflections of arts, health and training professionals after participating in a day of arts activities


  1. Working in pairs draw portraits of each other, using one’s non-dominant hand and/or never lifting the pencil from the paper


In the simplicity of dealing with the portrait of the other, who in turn also takes (draws) me back, something intimate happened.

It was difficult to think about myself when I saw how the person in front of me was looking at me and drawing me. At that moment I was thinking how he saw me.

She didn’t look at me as much as I think I studied her – but I wanted to allow her – I wanted to return the gift. It felt a privilege to be able to study her.

I was thinking about myself when the other person was drawing my profile. I didn´t see his eyes and my reflection in his eyes. Without the reflection in his eyes I had more possibility to see myself in my own mirror.

I think I can´t draw. Especially, when I have a task to draw a human being. To draw the person’s face, which is so important for the owner of the face. The mask. The image. The mirror of the person´s soul. The person´s presentation to the whole world!

When we worked in pairs,  as I was portrayed by the other person,  the artist challenged  me to think about some aspects of myself: to make contact with parts of me. I felt like a mountain, I felt the strength of the mountain, hard and heavy granite, which isn’t easy to demolish.


Looking closely at another felt a real privilege – to be allowed to gaze deeply. I felt trusted and in an intimate relationship. I could see when she relaxed, I could see when she felt awkward. I could feel when her guard dropped. Her smile was genuine and her eyes generous. We shared the experience, without a common language we became closer.


They worked in pairs: one as a “model” and the other drawing, so in a reciprocal portrait. The model was invited at reflect on words that can define his/her own personality, while in silence and firm. Faces could be drawn in profile, at ¾, or frontal. The participants chose freely the “partner” but were encouraged to work with someone from another a discipline (we had artists, healthworkers, trainers, and people in recovery from addiction) and with another language.


In the first exercise, the rule of the game was drawing with the hand that usually can't write and draw (the left hand or the right one if the person is left-handed), a way to forget how draw and start, all together, from our incapacity. I invite the participants at drawing in a size near the reality, do not draw a small face. It verifies at the end of the draw time, the presence of important traits of the face observed.


In the second exercise, the rule of the game was drawing with the hand that we usually use to write and draw without raise the hand from the paper: in that way the drawing follows a continue line and reaches a great synthesis.


On the table there are a big assortment of pencils, graphites, charcoal and pastels on various gradations and thickness, so that everyone could chose by personal attractions. The participants were encouraged to  experiment. At the end of this phase, all drawings were placed on a table or hung on the wall and people tried to understand the identity of the various “models”.




2) Create a self portrait in collage or wire



During the exercise I felt a sense of tranquility and peace with myself (it hadn’t happened to me in a long time) as if there was no ones else next to me, only me and the other "me" that was coming out in that cardboard.

I wanted to represent anger precisely because often it’s difficult for me to express this feeling through words, show to other people a moment of my anger , because I tend to hide it. I'm glad i had the chance to do it this way.

I created my self-portrait very spontaneously and quickly. Later I heard one interpretation on my quick work– you are living very quickly, very stressful. I noticed that people love to make conclusions very quickly. I think the reason of my quick work was different – I believe we have to answer psychological questions very quickly in order to have the most truthful answer.

It was an experience of intense enrichment both on a personal creative level and on a relational level. It allowed me to access first at a perception of myself and of how others perceive me as new person, even saying it better.

An unexpected image of myself emerged in composing my self-portrait. For the first time I saw myself attracted by desire and life, tempted by all experiences, but also with a deep need for rest. Of a long rehabilitation sleep. All this in the space of a sheet, cutting and composing with whites, blacks and reds, with the certainty that only through geometric shapes and primary colors could I be told.


A SELF PORTRAIT IN COLLAGE from fragments of cardboard cropped or ripped (black or coloured), glued on an oversize support (a paper dark or white, free choice of it). Everyone are invited to give the face to be realized the maximum expressions and add many personal symbolic elements.


A face of WIRE, inspired at Calder’s artworks, continuing the second exercise, the graphic ones. It is about “drawing” in the area with a line made of wire both ductile and resistant, finding a way to lead and tie the wire, going slowly towards the volume. At the end of this laboratory phase, everyone is invited to present her/his self portrait to the others and share the choices in relation to  the feelings that she/he felt.


3) Work in small teams to create fantastical creatures


I liked the team spirit, the chance to get to know others from a different perspective.


Initially everyone initially felt the need to respect the space of the other, both in the choice of materials to be used and in the characteristics of the artistic product to be developed, until little by little an authentic group dimension was created. A barrier naturally was brought down, and became a trampoline for the work of the other person. It was necessary to stand in a state of individual suspension in order to overcome one's own resistance and thus enter in the collective plane in a deep harmony.  Unconscious archetypal energies were then expressed through the creative work.

We´ve created Vento Vejas. He is living in the air. He is eating the gas and so on. But the most important thing for me is the name which consists of two languages: Italian and Lithuanian. Our group consisted of 5 women: Italian and Lithuanian. Two different languages, 5 different personalities, but the name sounds well. Two different cultures, but we can work together.

The method chosen was inspired by "Cadavre exquis" (corpse delicious) of Surrealists: one person started drawing a part of an existing animal and, one at a time, the others continued the drawings “transplanting” fragments of others animals. In that way, playful and unpredictable, it is solicited the part less rational of participants and it is integrated an aleatory part in the conception of the creature. This exercise creates a collaboration in the group: they  listen to each other and dialogue to finish the collective achievement.

Every chimera would be associated to a natural element (air, water, fire, heart). In current language we use idioms like “follow chimeras” or the adjective “chimeric” in relation with something impossible.


After the preliminary research on a paper for sketches, each group had a large paper (100x150cm) and at ones choice acrylic painting or oil pastels. At the end of the pictorial work, the group was encouraged to define the drawing up of a form with name and modus vivendi of the invented creature (habitat, food, temperament, the way of reproduction…).







An Art Experience for Project Partners, GAM Palermo November the 8th 2017

posted Dec 13, 2017, 3:27 AM by Catherine West   [ updated Apr 10, 2018, 5:10 AM ]

Creativity is an abstract word that generates attraction, perplexity and sometimes feelings of distance, can be an "other" look, a method, and a game. 

The idea of the Italian team to propose to the European Group during the Transnational Project Meeting in Sicily (Bagheria / Palermo18-19-20 October, 2017) to experience the direct relationship with art was an intuition. An intuition that arises from the need to offer all participants a transformation experience produced working with Art, in a suspended and safe time to overcome language barriers, roles, functions and anticipated expectations. As if individual and collective "baptism" was needed to find a shared and familiar language in order to be able to believe in art as a real work tool in training and therefore in the ultimate aim of the project: to take care of the health workers, starting from us, from the need of caring and expressing each of us. 

To get out of the speculations and grids of the project so  that everyone comes into the challenge, they expose themself as people who know each other in different way and face a small trip together. The artist chosen, the place, the interaction between participants would be variables, the outcome of which would have been uncertain. It is once again a question of cultivating trust and trusting "to the other." An exercise that aims to regain creativity as an inheritance, and which it does not expect excluded, winners and defeated people.

















 

 

Words by Elisa and Nuccia, Video by Theo, Translations by Marina, Artistic Experience planned and led by Anne Clemence

See the full slideshow of work created by participants HERE.

Read the Reflection-based Evaluation by the Artist HERE.

One word descriptions of how the experience made participants feel HERE.


"La creatività è una parola astratta che genera attrazione, perplessità e a tratti sentimenti di distanza, può essere uno sguardo “altro”, un metodo, e un gioco. 
L’idea da parte del team italiano di proporre al gruppo europeo durante il Transnational Project Meeting in Sicily (Bagheria /Palermo18-19-20 October, 2017) di sperimentare in prima persona il rapporto diretto con l’arte, è stata un’intuizione. Nasce dal bisogno di offrire a tutti i partecipanti un’esperienza di trasformazione prodotta lavorando con l'arte, in un tempo sospeso e sicuro in cui  superare le barriere linguistiche, i ruoli, le funzioni e le  reciproche aspettative. Come se fosse necessario un “battesimo”  individuale e collettivo per trovare una lingua condivisa e familiare per poter credere nell’arte  come reale strumento di lavoro e nelle finalità ultime del progetto:  prendersi cura dei curanti, partendo da noi,  dal nostro bisogno di cura e di espressione.  
Uscire quindi dalle speculazioni e dalle griglie del progetto per mettersi in gioco come persone,  per conoscersi diversamente, e affrontare insieme un piccolo viaggio.
 L’artista scelta, il luogo, l’interazione tra tutti noi sarebbero state delle variabili, il cui esito per quanto studiato sarebbe stato incerto. Si tratta ancora una volta di coltivare la fiducia e di affidarsi. Un esercizio che mira a riappropriarsi della creatività come eredità che non vede esclusi, vincitori e vinti."

 

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