Gettin’ Jiggy With It

iO Summer Intensive

Week 2

Instructor- Marla Careses

Monday

Marla has us this week and she gave us a clear warning today- this week will be the most physically active of the entire course so we should prepare ourselves. We’re going to be covering three main areas-

  1. Characters
  2. Ensemble Work
  3. Group Work

She said ensemble work has more to do with putting a group together and bonding it, while group work is more about how you work together on stage. And we’ll be doing a lot of Susan Messing exercises this week because she is the one who write the level 2 curriculum for iO.

We started with a warm-up where we each associated a movement with out name, and practiced until we had those down. Like, mine was throwing both hands straight up into the air. I only mention this because Marla said we’ll get to part two later in the week, which has me intrigued.

Then we did an exercise where half of the group (eight people) were walking around in the space, playing with levels. She warned us that she was going to call stop soon and then when she did we needed to where we could touch two people. This forced us into a rather close clump. Once she had stopped us and we were touching enough people she told us we should start moving again but we had to be touching a minimum of two people at all times. Marla also encouraged us to take big risks, to make bold physical moves and trust our team to have our backs.

This led to a mass of people all rubbing, sliding, wiggling, and stretching around and against each other. Not a good place for anyone with personal space issues. Each half did it, and then we did it all together. At one point I got picked up and passed across the top of the group, later I ended up smashed on the floor. Honestly- it was really fun. How often do you get to play like that as an adult? Plus, the entire group became much more comfortable touching each other in scenes. It would be weird to hesitate to touch someone’s back in a scene (as has happened in classes I’ve been in) when only a few hours before you were wrapped around them like a monkey on a tree or sitting on them.

We then moved to Leading With a Body Part. I’ve done this exercise a LOT. It seems to be a favorite for anyone teaching character work. I was a little annoyed to do it again but I tried to focus and get what I could from it instead of letting myself block it out due to irritation. And it was a little different.

While we were in neutral she had the class try to figure out what we led with, and what that implied, so that we would have a better idea of our natural state- of what we project when we play “us”. We then went through the standard paces. We led with different parts, then chose our own, then greeted each other in character. Marla did encourage us to try to find a real character who was at the same time not us or someone we play a lot. If the character felt too much like me I was supposed to dial it up, if it felt like a cartoon or a caricature then I was to dial it back a little. I definitely lean toward the first more than the second.

Then we used those characters, four at a time, to do interviews. It’s a Messing exercise, I did it with her when she taught a workshop in Minneapolis. Marla gave us a little more rein than Susan did, and a little more time. It’s interesting because the point is that the four of you already know each other, and are there together for a reason that you all know. But, of course, none of the actors have any idea what that reason is so it’s a process of figuring out together. Also, we were to avoid adding conflict right away. It was fine if it came up naturally later but not to start with. In fact, the interview I was in got reset because we all ganged-up on one guy out of the gate and were all unlikeable characters- three of us were mean and one was pathetic. Not fun for anyone.

The last exercise we did was some more character work but it was something I’d never done before and I love it! It’s one I want to make sure I remember it, maybe even teach it to some friends. It’s that fun/helpful. You start with five people on stage, in the following configuration-

 

3                             2

5

4                            1

Each person is assigned a role in the exercise-

  1. Assigns a posture (stance, how the body is held, etc)

  2. Assigns a vocal quality (tone, pace volume, accent, etc)

  3. Assigns a gesture to be repeated, as well as how often (if applicable)

  4. Assigns a catchphrase

  5. Takes on each quality as it is assigned, becoming a character

As each person assigns something they have to be satisfied with the way the person in the center is doing it back, can force them to keep adjusting things until it is accurate. Once the forth person is satisfied #5 steps forward and immediately begins a monologue as that character. The other four people tag in, fast and eager, and take over the monologue as the mood strikes. Their goal is to mimic the first speaker as much as possible, and that person can tag back in too.

It forced me to do characters I’d never do on my own, even with leading or whatnot. And it was a lot of fun to watch from the audience-you could see the person in the middle shift into a character while you watched.

Snatches from today-

  • Join in the physical as much as possible. It engages that much more of your brain, leaving less to get into your head with.
  • Everyone in an ensemble (or physical activity) needs to be a supporter, but also a risk taker. Everyone has to take risks.
  • The choice to “not care” as a character is a weak choice.
  • Don’t feel like you have to complicate things! VERY basic scenes are fine.
  • Simple scenes allow more complex characters to develop.
  • “There are two kinds of scenes- ‘slice of life’ and ‘the day the shit hit the fan’.” -Messing If the scene is the first then allow yourself to go deep and personal, to fully explore the moment. If it is the second then make sure you show it hitting the fan, don’t chicken out at the last minute. You’ve promised the audience a train wreck and they want to see it.
  • Be as truthful and deep as possible.

 

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