European Unions: Chapter Two
Performance academics at Leeds Beckett University are collaborating with arts organisations across Europe to develop new, non-verbal methods of adult theatre education and increase participation in theatre.
The second leg of the EU funded ATIPIA project (Applied Theatre in Practising Integrated Approaches) took place in March at The International Roy Hart Centre which is dedicated to vocal research, and to its application in life and art. In this training episode, Leeds Beckett were represented by Dr Rachel Krische and Lisa Kendall, Senior Lecturers in Dance; Ed Woodall, Feldenkrais practitioner and founder of ‘A Sense of Movement’ and David Turner, Research and Enterprise Project Support Co-ordinator and Project Co-ordinator for ATIPIA Leeds.
The Roy Hart Centre is based at ‘Le Château de Malérargues’, a rural and isolated spot in the Cévennes mountain region of southern France and is described by the participants as secluded, idyllic and breath-taking. Woodall said ‘It seemed sometimes like the local builders in this area are geniuses at making even the simplest building a thing of beauty and the surrounding area is as if dry-stone walls have been chiselled into geometrically satisfying and highly functional units of work, rest and play’.
The Roy Hart Centre is a beautiful place for learning, teaching and creation that welcomes students, educators, and the curious from all over the world, who come to find unique approaches to the voice, body, movement and psychology, which can be used not only in the field of performing arts but also in everyday life. The teaching is diverse, but always in the tradition of Roy Hart Theatre, based on the idea – first developed by Alfred Wolfsohn and taken up by the actor Roy Hart in London that there is a profound connection between a person’s voice and their psyche.
The Leeds Beckett participants described their week-long training as immersive, intensive and intense - long days of working followed by rich and full discussions. The three Roy Hart teachers, two of whom were original members of the theatre group and had worked directly with Roy, were incredibly warm, open, generous, encouraging and all had a great sense of humour. Woodall stated ‘Their love of the work and of sharing it is very special indeed. In fact, I would say that their immersion in the learning process and their commitment to listening deeply and to “go with the flow” is the thing that I will take away most strongly from the week. They are masters of their art. This is most clear in the singing lessons with the piano.’
The Leeds Beckett practitioners described the importance and value of the morning warm up sessions where significant time and space was given to waking up the body and voice through yoga and Feldenkrais inspired bodywork, facilitated breathing and gentle awareness practice. These daily sessions served as a reminder to the importance of giving adequate time to the preparation to move and work and the discipline embedded within all embodied creative practice.
In summarising their experiences Dr Rachel Krische and Lisa Kendall made the following comments:
Dr Krische: “The daily 1 hour and 15min morning sessions reminded me of when I was a full-time practising dance artist, before academia became the more prominent job in my life. I was reminded of how much an investment in physical preparation used to be the unquestioned and expected norm in my daily activity and so it also served to also remind me of something really familiar and important to me”.
Lisa Kendall: “In my current daily employment, it seems a long time since I have had the opportunity to prepare for each day with bodywork, really focussing upon the self or a partner in pursuit of setting up for a day of practicing”.
The experience of attending a 7-day intensive training focussing on finding new and unique ways of using the voice, appears to have had some profound impact on the participants in terms of their own personal discoveries and possible future plans.
Dr Krische: “The morning singing lessons after the warm up sessions were the highlight of the training. These lessons were really powerful and illuminating. The gradual coaxing of vocal range including periods of individual solo coaching within each session were revelatory.”
Lisa Kendall: “Of particular benefit to me were the group singing lessons, which as the week progressed I realised more clearly were about the process and experience of making sound, as opposed to chasing and forming a final product. It was super-refreshing to be forced to place the attention in a particular place - nourishing and necessary at this particular point in my working life”.
Dr Krische: “What was useful on a really practical level was to experience a range of vocal warm ups and games that I could use with students on all our programmes: Performing Arts, Theatre and Performance and Dance. These would be particularly useful for the cross-disciplinary modules and support collaboration between the different discipline specific students and as a result has increased my confidence in my ability to support these students in the future.”
Lisa Kendall: “The singing lessons were also a great opportunity to experience and witness how training peers with specialist artistic and pedagogic training differing to my own, approached the tasks presented within each session. Howling like a wolf; rapping in an imaginary language; wailing in pain; throwing vocal fireworks; locating the chest voice in higher registers; and singing the Magic Flute, as examples of a line of narrative through a session, cannot begin to illustrate the positive-bizarre qualities of these singing lessons.”
Dr Krische: “It was also really valuable to be doing this work with Lisa. We are artistic collaborators as well as close friends and work colleagues. It was exciting for us to both really strongly feel that we would like to include voice and singing practice within our next research and artistic practice together.”
Lisa Kendall: “As an artist still immersed in making new and experimental works and as a recently registered PhD student, this training allowed me the time to think through practicing, to reflect upon my own more familiar practices, acknowledging the potential to expand upon those practices and also importantly to recognise the value of the more familiar lived experiences and practices that I hold within me. I plan to use this approach to sound making in upcoming performative research: I have a clearer idea about how I might sing as a duet in a field of cabbages and I look forward to this.”
Part of any collaborative project focussing upon the sharing of well-established traditions of embodied practice, often throws up challenges and questions. The Roy Hart experience was no exception. From hearing the reflections of the Leeds Beckett group, it became clear that the intensity of the days training was matched each evening, by an equally intensive series of conversations. Late night discussions between the Leeds group members ranged across numerous themes.
How to position traditional laboratory based performance training within contemporary art making and performance research contexts? How and whether to balance ideas and experiences of exclusivity with inclusivity? What vocabulary best characterises the specific learning and teaching methodologies of this international training centre? How does a well-established and globally respected company of artists and teachers committed so strongly to a singular training methodology, ethos and lineage of tradition balance offering students an authentic training experience which has both contemporary currency and awareness and practice of appropriate gender politics?
Lisa Kendall: “In pedagogical terms, I’m left wondering how the amazing learning and artistic experiences, could be explored and disseminated whilst offering the most support and points of entry and departure to all participants regardless of gender or cultural heritage?”
Ed Woodall: “You cannot escape the man or even the men; Wolfsohn and Hart are endlessly resuscitated and revered at the centre, which brings us to the question of how did it and does it survive? For me, there are clues in the present practice, which is more relaxed compared to the highly regimented first few years of the survival process in the mid-seventies. The work or play that is done here is at times quite extreme but when taken in the right spirit, it is truly life-affirming.”
Dr Krische: I think, consciously or unconsciously, what is fostered is a sense of ‘followers’ of this practice. This is heightened by the participants also at times experiencing emotional/psychological responses or connections with the practice that enter modes of the therapeutic. I think a healthy dose of humour, of ‘laughing at your own seriousness’ as Deborah Hay would say, is really vital to have in this environment, and this is not discouraged either.
The fourth participant from our Leeds Beckett delegation, was the brilliant ATIPIA project co-ordinator Dave Turner who works tirelessly, more usually offstage in the back office, to make sure the meetings and trainings run smoothly and efficiently. This time, Dave also used his filmmaking skills and took on the role of documenter, filming the workshops and recording interviews with the participants from the partner organisations from Hungary, Germany and Romania. He said this of his experience of the second joint ATIPIA training in Malérargues … “This was an unforgettable experience and marks a high point in my professional career. Not only was I afforded the unique opportunity to observe & collaborate with renowned performance practitioners from across the EU my time in France also allowed me to make direct contact with the people from the different organisations within the ATIPIA project. One of the many privileges coordinating European projects like ATIPIA is experiencing the full journey from initial application development to attending training events with project partners.”
The next leg of this European project, joint staff training number 3, takes place in May at Reichenow e.V, Germany, and again focusses on singing and vocal training. This 5-day vocal exploration will be led by two contemporary independent voice artists who combine their Performance Art experience, their own professional practice and the insights and training they received from Roy Hart, into a unique approach to singing and sound making.
Meanwhile at the time of writing this blogpost, the 27-member states of the larger European Union have just agreed to give the UK more time and space to attempt to find its voice in the cacophonic and all too frequent babbling currently taking place in the chambers of the UK parliament.
To be continued...