The conversation began with me (Rod) outlining the Whelan Recording Technique (WRT) as a method of rehearsing texts that I have been using for the last few years (encouraged and inspired by Phelim who has become a fundamentalist of the technique).
Essentially the WRT requires actors to record a unit of the script and then put the script down – they never use the script on the rehearsal floor. After Recording 1 they listen to the text and allow themselves to feel very generally whether the words they hear REPEL, IMPEL or COMPEL them – a very basic movement that means they respond physically to the script without trying to ‘learn’ the lines. In short this process is repeated five times with a fresh recording each time and different exercises that generate discussion and improvisation and impulses. After five separate recordings of the same unit the actors then get on the floor and speak the words – they are nearly always totally off book and they have not ‘learnt’ the words in the traditional sense they have ‘felt’ the moments. It has transformed my practice.
The technique is better outlined in Jeremy Whelan’s book ‘Instant Acting’.
The huge advantage is that actors are not visualising a highlighted page of text – they are immersed in the script as they are after four weeks of rehearsal (usually!) and often after three weeks of tour!
It’s not a case of ‘what’s my line?’ but ‘what’s my response?’
There is interaction, eye contact, physical impulse.
I adopted children 10 years ago and over the last decade we have learnt a great deal about their levels of anxiety as a result of early neglect and trauma. Their behaviour is often controlling and hypervigilant. Then I recognised something – this behaviour is commonly characteristic of actors in the rehearsal room! One major calming and ‘cure’ for the childrens’ anxiety has been movement – proprioceptic movement such as crawling and yoga. I quickly realised that a rehearsal room which is table based and still and cerebral is very often anxious and not very productive (obviously!) but having scripts in hands encourages this stillness and lack of movement connection. The WRT disallows stillness and cultivates impulses.
Patrick wanted to talk about the feeling of high ecstasy – or as he called it ACTASY – What happens when you are in ‘the zone’. This links very closesly to the feelings created when rehearsing with the WRT. My own research into neuroscience and the present led me to read about CHRONOS (measured TIME … seconds, minutes, hours etc) and KAIROS which is the moment of AWARENESS. When you LOVE a piece of theatre you sometimes have the experience of coming out after two hours and saying ‘the time flew by … I loved every minute’. This is KAIROS.
Olya talked about the later work of Stanislavski which was on the floor, actions not text analysis based on ETUDES and that emotions recorded not in words but in feelings. The discussion went on to see the connections in all the traditions that feed this work: Laban, Meyerhold, Meisner… Patrick made the connection between music and performance – that our bodies are finely tuned like a stringed instrument – not too tight, not too relaxed …and the audience respond to this and feel it …it is what makes a ‘good’ performance. Patrick went on to compare acting to a form of shamanism … a heightened state of awareness …which goes back to the idea of KAIROS.
Olya reminded us of FIVE RHYTHMS Dance Gabriel Roth’s Maps to Ecstasy and the discussion went on to compare this work to Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints which was taken from work in Dance by Mary Overlie… the ideas that there are planes of emotion – up to the Gods, on the earth and horizon , essentially the naturalism of East Enders or Ibsen (!) and down to the earth for the base and bouffon and the clown.

The discussion was long and ranging but essentially very useful and uplifting and triggered by the earlier discussion led by Mike on Ensemble and Olya’s call for a Director’s Lab linked logically together.