Applying Barba and DAH at Coe College, 2010-11
Dennis Barnett, Coe College
As all of you know, in the Fall of this school year, DAH Theatre from Belgrade, Serbia visited Coe College, performed two of the pieces in their repertoire and conducted three workshops; two for Coe students and one for the ACM Performance Educators' Conference.
In the same semester, I taught a class called Movement for the Actor. It was the fifth time, I have taught this class (only the third time at Coe), but each time the class has undergone significant revision. Each revision, of course, emanated from the successes and failures of the previous class, but also, since my own education in this area has continued with increased exposure to the work DAH theatre, many of the changes have also been due to my own growing competence in the area.
Perhaps the most significant discovery I made in this class was the applicability of DAH's use of negations and reductions in locating a realistic level in a performance. In other words, students began with wildly metaphorical or abstract movements, movements that were at all times completely precise and repeatable. The movements were attached to texts, or songs. When asked to reduce or negate these movement scores, they turned into beautifully believable, and completely realized realistic stage events. By realistic, I do not mean verisimilar, but emotionally rounded in a reality that "popped" – or as Barba says was "dilated." Moments that were extra-daily and theatrically seductive.
For the first time, I extended this work into a production. In the Spring, I directed Anna Deveare Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. (Carol Maxwell Rezabek, who was also part of the ACM workshop with DAH, was an invaluable assistant.) If you are familiar with Smith's work, you know that this is a collection of monologues taken verbatim from interviews with real people. It seemed like a perfect time to bring some of DAH's techniques into practice. Each student began to work on her/his monologues entirely from a physical perspective. Each monologue started as a movement score. The movements were derived in a similar fashion to the exercises in the movement class – only we added one further component. We asked them to think about expressing through movement, their character's immediate objective, which because of the interview context was more tied to how they would appear in front of the interviewer than it necessarily was to the matter they were discussing.
After weeks of developing the movement scores (always accompanied by the lines of their text), we allowed them to begin to reduce their movements. With about one week to go before tech, they began to find the appropriate level of movement to accompany their text. At no time were they to lose touch with the specificity of the movement score!
The end result, in most cases, was very impressive. Each monologue was performed with an unusual amount of specificity and attention to detail. The emotional life of the monologue was contained in the movement, and no matter how far the movement had been reduced, it was always present.
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