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How do you train as an actor?

ALLISON: At the core of training is the power of breath. Notice your breath. Now try to get out of its way.

Just like a painter is keen on color, a sculptor sharp on shape, a chef shrewd to smells; the actor is acute to every intricacy of life. The pallete of the performer is all of existence.

This is why an actor could train anywhere, anytime, in tandem with any task. One studies life so all of life is a lesson. As a worker in the service industry, this meta-mumbo jumbo is especially helpful during long gigs, reminding me to practice focus, shift my center and try to use every opportunity as a point for growth. I have been enthralled by opportunities for collaborative playmaking with Ragged Wing Ensemble, Main Street Theatre, and Naked Empire Bouffon.

The Bay Area has a wealth of knowledge about physical theater, and a history of circus and cutting-edge ensemble companies. Recently, we Rascals had the chance to take a Foolsfuryworkshop at SOMArts, with SITI Company’s Leon Ingulsrud, where we worked to sharpen our stage presence with the Suzuki method and to connect to kinetic response with Viewpoints.

This work seeks to focus on acting in its rudimentary elements. We dug into a study of presence and controlled weight, and then explored delicate openness and lightness. The beautiful expansive black stage was full of artists, and it was a joy to learn and play with a large group. Leon was an erudite and sharp teacher, and I enjoyed his illuminating words that challenged and supported us. The intensely engaging exercises and challenging text that we worked with demanded rigorous clarity.

Here are some gems I have absorbed:

  • A body on stage is always speaking.

  • The good actor is sensitive to his/her entire environment without showing it, and is able to be spontaneous in ways that take care of the space and the ensemble.

  • When an actor transforms, they must also transform the entire room around them.

Actors are asked to harness spontaneity and create an illuminating slice of existence with the same score for every night of a run.

Acting is, in this sense, impossible. Every night brings a new audience, a new energy, and, with a touring show, a new venue as well. How do you build a show with a keenly connected ensemble, that is deeply moving and also constantly relocating?

My role as Artistic Ensemble Director of the Agile Rascals has been to tune our troupe to each other, to unlock the door to receptive creativity, and then to let the discovery happen.

At the start of our process we played within the broader themes of technology, spirituality, and capitalism, and then honed in on what stuck. We’d bounce between exercises in Viewpoints, character building, short and long form improvisation, and always adding to Dara’s sharp, big picture script. It has been challenging because we all come from different backgrounds in the theatre, but this allowed us to create our own vernacular, and to test each other’s theories of what this play might be. We are most creative when we are paying attention; plugged in to the space and devoted to the world of this complex play.

Since we started rehearsing, we have bounced from The Flight Deck, The Temescal Library and Omni Commons in Oakland and The Chronicle building in San Francisco. Fostering a connection as a team means first grounding and checking in. We come together from farms, schools and day jobs full of the images and energies of the day. After catching up on logistics, gabbing and planning, we enter the space with an exercise called ten-shin-go-so (gleaned from Theatre of Yugen), that connects us to the ever supporting ground. We get to know the space and we get to know our characters, to find the gem of the play we circle around.

What is it we hope to do every night?

We are trying to harness spontaneity, to “create an illuminating slice of existence,” and to tell a story that engages the senses and the heart, to search for some knowledge together in the breath-space.

The best part of creating this work comes when we run through the latest version of our show together, feeling the power of our collective energy. It can get laborious, or seem insurmountable, yet I believe good, big things move slowly and with great intention.

Leon told us about how in the Greek theatre, actors literally performed for the God of theatre, Bacchus himself, sitting in the highest middle seat; and the audience was caught in the crossfire. The Noh stage has a permanent pine tree set piece to bring the divine into each performance. I believe that we truly perform for God in all our actions. This makes the process, the soreness, all the life-from- art and art- from- life transcend.


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