Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Shakespeare's Clowns" workshop with Ira Seidenstein

"Shakespeare's Clowns" is one of my new workshops launching in 2011.

"Shakespeare's Clowns" a weekend Quantum Clown workshop will assist any actor, clown, teacher or director to expand their understanding of the true and often hidden nature of Shakespeare's extensive use of clowns.

The format in this introductory weekend has six-parts:
A) Body
B) Stagecraft
C) Voice, text, grammar
D) Scene study, interaction
E) The Seidenstein Method's "Anatomy of Shakespeare"
F) Clown's Plot

There will be a short, highly effective warmup. Then several exercises for each of the six parts. The marriage of text and clown is approached as yin/yang i.e. or as is stated in Aikido as 'harmony and blending'  or in kabbalah as 'tiferes' or beauty/balance.

Ira has a unique and extensive background with Shakespeare and clown.

  • His first act as a clown was a Shakespeare act performed in pubs. 
  • Ira helped to establish Australia's national Bell Shakespeare Company 
  • Hamlet BSC in repertory with 3 plays to capital cities with 16 actors. Schools show with 5 actors.
  • Richard III BSC
  • The Merchant of Venice BSC
  • Following the year establishing BSC, Ira opened an acting studio in Sydney with its first workshop production of the entire, uncut, Henry the Fifth with 12 women.
  • The Merchant of Venice - Auckland Festival - Auckland Town Hall
  • King Lear with 15 clowns - text unedited, performance freeform, Denmark
  • The Tempest (Stormen) in Swedish
  • Macbeth - Norbotten State Theatre, Sweden
  • Pericles - Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream - USA
  • Macbeth - Suzuki/Frank based version, Switzerland
  • Voodoo Macbeth - Suzuki/Frank version, Brisbane
  • Hamlet Stooged - Suzuki/Frank based version, London, Wales, Chicago, Brisbane
  • Tadashi Suzuki saw Hamlet Stooged 2007 and gave Ira his highest personal accolades for performance and for training in Suzuki's own method SATM.
  • A Night With Hamlet - devised by Profs Tom Bishop, Murray Edmond University of Auckland, Directed by Ira and assisted by Dr. Rina Kim
  • A Girl's Guide to Hamlet - written and directed by Ira
  • Extensive experience teaching "Shakespeare as a Tool for Theatre" 
  • Following Ira's studio production of Henry the Fifth, six productions and numerous courses later, Ira was asked to teach Shakespeare in Scandinavia. This led to six years work teaching, directing, writing plays and establishing a set of universal principles of theatre called "Quantum Theatre: Slapstick to Shakespeare". During his time with BSC amongst many accomplishments Ira notably rectified at least two known "problem scenes" in Shakespeare. These happened to be clown scenes and Ira's breakthrough was noted by numerous directors, former RSC members, and Shakespeare scholars. As John Bell stated on first seeing Ira's version of one scene in rehearsal "That is the first time in 30 years that I have ever seen that scene work". Beyond those specific scenes, Ira is presenting universal information that can lead to greater practical understanding and performance of any Shakespeare role, play or production. Further Ira illuminates that what one can then understand from Shakespeare can be applied to any play or any devised production.


This workshop is beyond the scope of most approaches to Shakespeare clowning. One also needs to recognize that historically certain roles of several main clowns were written for the specific skills and even physical attributes of specific clowns such as Will Kemp(e), RobertArmin, Richard Tarleton. Additionally the endless work of a vast array of Shakespeare scholars continues to bring light unto the texts and even the manner of playing and production in Shakespeare's time.

Background with Shakespeare
Ira was hired in 1991 to establish Australia's national touring Bell Shakespeare Company. BSC was launched by John Bell and his benefactor in 1990 following John's lifetime encounter with Shakespeare including 5 years with the RSC. John is rightfully considered "Australia's Olivier". Ira may be the only person to act with and to direct John in the same production.

Our first conversation regarding BSC was in early 1991 when John asked me to choreograph the battle scene in Richard III. I had seen the BSC's Merchant in early 1991. A production from an excellent director Carol Woodrow. The production had numerous weaknesses and having known Carol's superb work elsewhere, one could easily surmise the issues she was facing. John then reconsidered the proposed two-weeks choreographic offer and said he would actually like me to work with the company for 3 months that would include the 9 weeks rehearsal and the launch of his real dream i.e. as possibly the world's last actor-manager of a touring Shakespeare repertory ensemble. To accomplish that, he needed an assistant such as myself. He then asked if I would come see his touring schools show that involved him and a few other actors. John and his wife, actress/director Anna Volska asked me after if I thought I could do anything with the actors bodies, implying clearly that neither John nor Anna, were satisfied with their actors movement. I replied that their bodies were fine, but their voices were more the issue. Anna asked "Well do you think you can do anything with those?". My reply "I can try". Soon John asked me if I would mind auditioning for him as an actor thus if I acted in the repertory he could keep me longer. My audition for John and Carol Woodrow was about one hour of me doing a single speech many ways as John requested on the spot. Then he asked if I had any of my own material which I then presented.  He offered me a one-year contract on-the-spot! Carol ran down with tears in her eyes and gave me a hug and congratulations. John too gave me a hug and thank you and had to dash to a production appointment.

Like any actor I had done bits before coming to assist John to establish BSC. He knew my reputation as a thorough and intuitive teacher with a wide range of acting and movement skills.

To pay my way through acting school (The Dell'arte School in USA) I created a Shakespeare clown act that I performed each weekend in several pubs. I would perform during the band's break. Usually there was no announcement and I would simply start to 'take the stage' (mostly the floor) as the band started to put down their instruments. I had a formidable skill in voice, movement, and improvisation to pull the focus and entertain the pub audience. With no use of microphone. After about 20 minutes of speech and action I would bow, pass the hat and earn plenty to live for the next week.

more anon...


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Male-Female the yin/yang of Theatre - key principle in The Seidenstein Method

Male-Female the yin/yang of Theatre - key principle in The Seidenstein Method
After many years in Theatre I saw a pattern in my devised projects was about men & women and their relationship. It is known that every person has both feminine and masculine qualities. This is yin/yang, ida/shushumna, chesed/gevurah, Krishna/Radha all codifications in various metaphysical philosophies.

Although my artistic output on this theme is quite numerous, here, I will mention a few examples.

The male/female element may seem obvious in some plays and productions but it is the:
 a) conflict b) counter balance and c)resolution or tri-elements which provide the basic underlaying structure in a play or production encountering male & female. This is most commonly seen on the surface as the basic opposition between women and men. Venus & Mars. Triad brings liveliness to the binary. Binary is stagnant. Triad brings movement and dynamic. Yin, Yang, Tao. Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet. This is also codified as the Vedic "Three Gunas". In the Noh theatre this is called Jo-Ha-Kyu. Yoshi Oida mentions this in his books and workshops and likely uses it when he directs. Zeami the original codifier of Noh Theatre established it as a principle. Yass Hashima, the Japanese/American mime/director also uses and teaches Jo-Ha-Kyu. I have created an exercise "Jo-Ha-Kyu" that establishes this principle as an embodied practice. It is one exercise in "The Four Articulations" (the introduction process to The Seidenstein Method).

Henry the Fifth done with 12 women, directed by Ira Seidenstein 1992. This project is discussed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmMHHw144ks&feature=related  this is part of my show "Harlequin Dreams". 4:15 into the video I discuss the Henry the Fifth project and the dream that led to the project.

I created this project based on a dream. In the first meeting with the 12 selected actresses one of them asked if they were to do the characters as women or as men. I replied that we would have to see what came out of the process. I assisted them to be themselves as people, actresses creating a role, and characters. They developed a way of performing that was simply using their own masculine energy and did not portray the characters as 'men'. The production, performed once only as the conclusion of the workshop/project was the whole play, uncut. Only a unified simple overalls type 'costume'. There were only three props - a chair, a leek, and a hairbrush.

Prior to this I had created a number of clown theatre pieces that examined the masculine/feminine. One was "A Clown's House". This I created in 1980 and it became my touring theatre show that I played in Sweden, Finland, Germany, USA,  New Zealand, and Australia in 1981 in an adapted form. At the time I used a stage name "Vincenzo". The gist, in terms of the masculine/feminine was a solo man setting up a dinner for two. The show was totally non-verbal and had no music. The set up was an elaborate structured improvisation of slapstick, mime, movement to prepare a meal and a table complete with table cloth and chairs, plates, cutlery.  About 30 minutes later everything is set, for two. But Vincenzo is alone, and becomes lonely. Genuine pathos. With only my eyes and the smallest head gestures possible, soon, a woman from the audience would meet me eye to eye and either offer to come up or would be 'invited' to come up. Then the ultra slapstick would happen as Vincenzo 'assisted' her though due to his ineptness... she would have to assist him back up onstage as well as seating him. Then more ensued with the eating of the meal until eventually it was time for the woman to return to her seat and once again Vincenzo was alone. He packed up, quickly and departed the stage. Re-entering for the bow I would enter via a round-off and a few backflips.

Naturally this show could be done in reverse with a female clown and male volunteer. Additionally it could be a male clown and male volunteer or female clown and female volunteer. I always chose a woman for two reasons; a) it was a more clear cliche and b) women, in the general and admittedly cliche sense are more receptive and thus, generally speaking, are more able to blend with onstage, untrained improvisation.  I would scan the first two rows of the audience for a 'volunteer' i.e. someone whose eyes showed they were open, willing, ready to help the lonely clown. In one show in Christchurch, NZ at a festival there was only one person who fit the bill. I would stick to the first two rows because it needed to be easy and quick for the 'volunteer' to get to the stage. In the Christchurch show, the woman whose eyes said 'yes' was so bizarrely angelic looking that I daren't. But, I did! She was a unique volunteer since unbeknownst to me she was not only a dancer but one whose speciality was improvisation. So we had a ball and of course were able to move, dance, and fall without any danger. She, whose name I can't recall, was from France and after "A Clown's House" asked me to dance with her in the festival's outdoor concert the following night. More about that later.

In my San Francisco performance amongst the audience members were Bill Irwin and a director of clown theatre. They spoke with me after and due to the extreme slapstick with the volunteer they were anxious to know how I prepared the volunteer who they assumed was a plant (someone prepared before a performance). They were each shocked to realize I can generate such laughter and slapstick improvising physically with a total volunteer. I did this in a way completely different from other experts in using volunteers for comedy. Remember this show was totally non-verbal. Additionally I never whispered onstage instructions to the volunteer. I did this via a hyper-receptivity to my partner's instinctual responses and subtle body language. I also accepted all of my partner's offers. But perhaps most importantly I did this by faith and what in Aikido is called 'blending'. Lastly, I timed off of my partner and gave clear actions in such a way that even more extraordinary, my partner/volunteer could time off me and get into the hang of getting laughs like a veteran comic!!