Maydays director, Jen Rowe, talks Energy & Rhythm, ahead of her upcoming Online Improv Elective: Energy and Rhythm for Character and Scene this Wednesday from 19:00-21:30 GMT.
“The moments when your energy fully connected you to the world and you received energy
back from that connection.” Patsy Rodenburg, vocal coach for the National Theatre, talking about Presence.
You step on stage and there is ‘tension’ in the room. We talk about it being palpable, that you can feel it. As your show progresses the audience leans forward in their seat, they might hold their breath, they may tap a toe to release that tension; you relax into the moment as you feel them carried along with you, you adjust a little to the audience, you adjust a little to each of the players on stage, and the audience adjusts a little to you. Tensions change, rhythms change, the atmosphere shifts and perhaps we all laugh and the tension releases and starts to build again.
The internet has played a great and wonderful role in bringing improvisers and audience together, but zoom doesn’t give you the physical freedom you’d get with a real-life class or show and it certainly doesn’t give you much feedback from an audience that is largely also sat at home, possibly throwing lines of encouragement on to a facebook page you might not even see until the end of the night. You’re largely performing to your team or into a void. Not that we should ever stop – practise is the key here – this is just a different sort of practise and one that brings with it its own fascinating quirks and challenges.
One such challenge is being sedentary. Some get around it by standing during a zoom call, but that’s not always possible for everyone due to restricted spaces or accessibility. So what then? How can we still bring energy onto the zoom stage?
As a teacher, I’ve often seen students slumping over their keyboard, or lounging on a bed or sofa, hell, I’VE been guilty of slumping over my keyboard – sometimes we can be stuck on our computers all day! But it can but lead to soporific energy and the dangers of falling into a rut of the same rhythm, same energy, same choices. I want to explore how we can counteract that by
finding energy from within and without and – looking forward – using the same process as we get back to ‘in the room’ classes.
When people tap into using their bodies in a different way that, in turn, affects the behaviour and outlook of their characters and improv choices. Putting tension in your body, controlling how much tension you hold is, in itself a powerful tool and can lead to interesting discoveries. And tension doesn’t have to mean ‘tense-ness’, it can mean letting tension OUT too, and it can also refer to the QUALITY of that tension.
An actor friend once told me that a younger performer – in awe of an amazing film scene he’d performed – had asked him what his secret was: how had he looked so desperate, so in the moment? My friend said that he’d squeezed his buttocks together really hard. Yes, I’m sure it was flippant and I’m sure there was a lot more to it than that (see ‘training for three years and a packed CV’), but that’s what he did at the moment he needed to get the scene in the bag. And whatever works for you, I say. It’s a bit different to Dustin Hoffman’s approach, but ‘so what?’ if it gets the same results.
Physical tension in your body creates tension in your work, just as tension in your work can create physical tension in your body. Just look at medical role-play – if you play a frustrated patient in pain all day, you’ll probably find yourself hunched and tense (and actually sometimes in pain too, I’m afraid). So can you find frustration through hunching and tensing your body? Or find the joy in a scene by releasing tension? If you imagine yourself flying as you sit in front of your laptop, or if you try to connect your awareness with the sounds outside your room, does that translate into a different quality scene than you would have done otherwise? Does listening to certain music before you start a scene lead you to play a character you wouldn’t normally play? This is, in part, what we’ll be exploring in this elective.
Join Jen Rowe this Wednesday 17th March 2021 from 19:00-21:30 GMT for our Online Improv Elective: Energy & Rhythm for Character & Scene