Cixin Waldorf School’s Class 11, directed by WTD’s David Anderson, opens Romeo and Juliet this week in Taiwan.
by Yimei Chen
What is acting? What is an actor? To use one analogy, in trying to capture the effect on the audience, it is like the moment when the flower blossoms. The flower opens and the audience experiences it. They feed its blossoming with their attention. How does an actor prepare him/herself to reveal this organic unfolding of life, so that when the audience experiences it, they feel its beauty?
As an actor, it is important to be able to receive; that is, to receive oneself, receive partners on the stage, the audience, and the field of their work. It is like you cast a net of awareness to cover all of this. Inside this net, all happenings unfold, everything is possible, including surprises and serendipity. The beauty that reveals itself is not just within the context that the actor created, but also something more than this. It happens in the same way that surprises meet us in daily life–surprises which usually bring us joy.
It is a conscious exercise. A capacity for active imagination. Something the body can touch and sense, not an idea. We need to taste the sensation from the body. For example, when we are in love, there is a simile that says, “like deer rushing into the heart.” What does that mean? Perhaps, some sweat on the palm, faster heart speed, faster breathing, unstable mind because there is another person in the heart. It can be expressed from the body level, instead of an idea. Then, how about feeling proud? How about feeling shameless? As an actor, we are able to express and convey this to the audience through our imagination.
The work as an actor is to capture the essence of those words, the reality at the body and soul level, and, when it is possible, the audience can feel it.
“Acting” is a misleading word with the connotation of becoming another. However, the ideal work of the actor is probably more about presencing–being available in our humanness to receive another possibility of the human experience by awakening a sensation and imagination of it. We don’t become another; we reveal, through our creative freedom, another possibility of being human.
In order to do that, it takes lots of inner work from the actor’s side. The sense of shape, the form, the body, the voice, has to be penetrated, to be felt, enlivened. The active imagination includes inner presences or aspects, such as earth, water, air, and fire; qualities of movement such as molding, floating, flying, and radiating; living gestures like to push or to pull, falling and rising qualities of experience, different colors – all via the body, the facial expression, and the voice, which all shape and reveal the character on the stage.
Each character is not fixed. To my surprise, it is not about my original assumptions about imagination of certain emotions, instead, it is a state of flow. In a big context, any change of one inner element or aspect affects or changes others, creating a constant state of metamorphosis and surprise.
It takes a lot of trust in order to be that flexible. Trusting oneself, trusting others, and a willingness to adjust and be open.
Walking the dog Theater’s work in China was the cover story in the Chinese national publication The Educator this fall. To read the entire article in Mandarin, CLICK HERE.
by Min-hsuan Chen, 6-9th Grade Class Teacher at Cixin Waldorf School in Taiwan
Going through the baptism of a Shakespeare play – Twelfth Night two years ago, the impact of participating in this play led me to look forward to performing with my colleagues again. In our next play, The Tempest, unlike my role of the CLOWN in Twelfth Night, I tried a very different role – the PRINCE.
Bringing with me both familiar and strange feelings, I started a new journey into this play. After the play ended, a lot of perceptions emerged from my heart and started to affect my soul.
Not long after the play ended, it was my turn to be the tea master in a Tea Zen class which I was participating in. Before other classmates came in, I got myself ready with a sense of ease by practicing a warm up which David taught the drama group before our performance. I looked at the tea set and decoration, which were like the props on a stage in a play. I closed my eyes and tried to connect with them while waiting for Master Wei Rong and other classmates to enter the room.
When my guests were ready, we all practiced pranayama and meditation for a while. I imagined them around me as the audience. I started to connect with them and the space. Suddenly, a picture previously described by David arose from my mind – a star was behind me infinitely far away. It sent light to me! I was surrounded by this light as I started my Tea Zen journey.
I was relaxed but I kept awareness. Although I still forgot some of the elaborate procedures, I was not disturbed by that. Just like David had often reminded us, through attending to the action and movement in a scene, the lines will come out automatically. There were several times that I forgot the next step, but what was so amazing was that, as I finished one process, the next process was awakened automatically. I did not need to memorize them forcefully. The more I relaxed, the more the process was fluid.
Although there were some mistakes in the procedure, I totally accepted my situation at that moment. I smiled and had no judgment or criticism, only change and adjustment. I sensed myself being comfortable and harmonized. Even the tea tasted particularly good and sweet!
In the feedback section of the Tea Zen experience, one of my classmates mentioned that she could feel I was pleased during the process. It seemed I had indulged in my own sense of a flowing, brisk process, and was not sensitive to other people’s needs – for instance, they might have liked to have a slower experience, in order to taste every moment. This comment reminded me strongly of similar experiences in drama and became an echo of my inner thoughts.
Looking back at play rehearsals, before I could memorize the lines or capture the archetypes of my roles, I had a hard time receiving responses from other actors. Fortunately, because I played the same role in both casts, I had more opportunities than other actors to practice the lines and movement. When I was skilled at the lines and could capture more about the characters I played, I could more easily ”receive” and “give”, and spontaneously respond in kind with other actors. This is like Tea Zen. If the basic training was not practiced enough, the tea master had difficulty sensing and responding to the guests’ needs and changes in the surroundings. Therefore, the basic practice is the foundation of everything.
My experiences in both Tea Zen and Drama have caused me to reflect on my life. Moreover, when I look back on The Tempest, these lines from Prospero are so impressively imprinted on my mind……
“Our revels now are ended.
These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve.
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
Each time I hear these lines, a four-line stanza from the Diamond Sutra always comes to mind:
“All phenomena are
Like a dream, an illusion, a bubble and a shadow,
Like dew and lightning.
Thus should you meditate upon them.”
How coincidental! The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last work, through the words of Prospero reflected his philosophy of life which resounded with the Buddha’s own words. It’s an interesting journey when Drama meets Tea Zen.
Here are some recent photos from an exercise in which participants played with a big round balloon, following its movement and assimilating its qualities.
Students met in Taipei in August 2016 with David Anderson and Yuanrong Liao for the second module of the Drama and Inner Development course. These photos capture some of the highlights!