Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Blog Prompt 3: The Jazz Aesthetic & Movement Generating

Hello all, hope you are safe and warm!

Last week we began workshopping "Spoken-Word Orchestra", originally directed by Laurie Carlos and performed by the Austin Project. As I'm sure you all felt, this style of theater utilizes a different skill set than other forms of contemporary drama, putting more emphasis on the musicality of language and its inherent follow-up with gestural movement. The psychological context of dialogue is replaced with feeling as opposed to knowing [if this doesn't make sense to you, or you want to advocate a different approach, feel free to contact me!]

For this week's blog prompt, please design a theater game or warm up that you think would serve as a good lead-in to this kind of work in the jazz aesthetic. Think Bogart or Grotowski as opposed to Stanislavski. For example: how could you use Viewpoints to create movement, rhythm, and character? Please post your responses before class resumes next Tuesday 11/8.

*And for those of you who are doing the final play presentation [Marion's...] on Tuesday, think about actually having the class engage in one of your is time to get everyone on their feet!


  1. I feel that Music Box is the perfect game to explore this type of theatre. It would prepare the actors voices and state of mind. Which in turn would directly help them with the concept of "feeling" rather than "knowing".

    The game begins with all the actors circled up. They must turn off the lights and close their eyes. The goal is to slowly and naturally begin creating a song. Actors are allowed to use their bodies and surroundings to make noises in addition to their voices. The song should begin after many seconds of breathing, in order to connect to each other and become focused/aware. The next step is to build the song to a peak as a group, and then find it's end. This requires everyone's complete focus and ability to work as a group.

    I feel this activity is perfect for this kind of theatre because it is completely reliant on the group as well as the individuals feelings. It also helps bring the musical aspect into theatre, which is very prevalent to the jazz aesthetic.

  2. In order to warm-up for this kind of theatrical approach I would utilize a theater game that involves the improvisational musicality of the jazz aesthetic. In my warm-up, the group would first be instructed to find anything in the room to use as an instrument. This can be as simple as a pen to tap out percussion or a jug of water that can be shook. The group will then sit down in a circle on the ground. The entire group will begin humming and harmonizing with one another. Once the harmonizing has been established, one person will begin and then every ten seconds a new person will add their sound to the group. Once four people begin the person that has been doing it the longest will stop. Therefore, three people will be using their instruments at the same time and only three. Everyone will be humming the entire time. This is perfect for the jazz aesthetic because it’s improvisational, collaborative, and musical in a way that isn’t reliant on classic instruments.

  3. One theater game that I think could work involves giving everyone in the class a
    chair. The instructor then asks the students to explore the chair, find out
    what the students can do with the chair, what they can do to the chair. You
    can explore your relationship to the chair and use anything else in the room to
    do that. You can play with sound, movement, rhythm, beat, and tempo. It is
    important to note that, for at least the first half of the exercise, students
    should focus on their own explorations and not engage with other students.
    Part way through the exercise the instructor can ask the students to extend
    their focus to other students’ work and collaborate with the work.

    Another game that would use Viewpoints would begin with everyone walking around
    the space in neutral. Then the leader could explore speed and tempo by telling
    the students to change speeds. Next, the leader could announce different
    environments or worlds such as cold, alien planet, underwater, outer space,
    etc. and ask the students to experience these environments with sound,
    movement, and breath while traveling through the space. These “worlds” can
    also be a state of being, such as the world of sleepiness, the world of panic,
    and the world of manic happiness, etc. You could add dialogue to this exercise
    in exploring “worlds”. Or, instead of having the entire group doing the same
    “world”, you could have smaller groups of 3-5 students come up with their own
    “world” and travel across the classroom from one side to the other while in
    this “world”.

  4. I'm sorry, I don't feel at all qualified to answer this blog, but I'll try my best. I'm not all that skilled or knowledgeable when it comes to theater games, and I guess I prefer 'knowing' as opposed to 'feeling.'

    What I might ask my actors to do is to pair up and try to converse with each other using sounds and gestures, but not words. It would (hypothetically, I don't know if it would work) cause them to focus more intently in order to both convey meaning and understand each other. This style of theater requires collaboration rather intensely, so I would hope such an exercise would give the actors a stronger awareness of each other.

  5. One exercise that I think could work as a warm-up would be the machine. To start the machine one person would begin to make a repetitive sound that went along with a motion. To build on it one by one each member of the group would join in by adding their own sound and motion that connects with another one. This exercise would force people to work together to build a “machine” and also find different ways to use their voices and bodies while making a continuous motion that relates to someone else’s. Once the last person has joined the machine it continues on until a rhythm has been reached. Even though each person is not interacting directly, each new motion and sound helps to build on to another.

  6. A theatre game I have designed that I find appropriate for this kind of work entails the group creating a response solely from emotion. I would set the group up so that they were scattered across the room, all eyes shut. At this time the leader will say an emotion that the group must then open their eyes and convey through movement and expression around the room. Key emotions that will be used are those such as, fear, jealousy, grief, euphoria, and confusion.

  7. Thinking about the Jazz aesthetic really reminded me of group improvisation dance, the exercises for which can go on for an hour unimpeded. As a warm-up exercise, I'd be interested in seeing if it's possible to condense those movements and ideas down to a short practice for the theater.

    The warm-up would start with everyone relaxing on the ground in meditation, thinking about one quality of movement from viewpoints (without explicitly telling the other performers). At their own pace they would get up and explore the space, with their quality of movement still in mind, and when they're ready begin to interact with the other people, by either exploring the same movements or something more pedestrian. I think the natural end to the game is to wait for everyone to be involved in one dance. Often in group improv this has happened when everyone begins using the same movements, but it could also happen if the performers are all working the same "story" (for lack of a better word).

    I think this warm-up is extremely open ended, but to me that's the point of this Jazz aesthetic. It's fun for the people participating and gets them on their feet, while also getting them in the mindset of naturally working together to create something, with more of an emphasis on how it feels to them than how it looks to the audience.

  8. Benjamin Stopek: There is a game of concentration and awareness of your space and the people who are moving around in the space. It also brings up a smooth a fluid connection within the ensemble and incorporates elements of timing and pacing.

    You start out with on 5-foot pole, like a broom handle. Then you have everyone moving around the space at their own tempo and speed. Keeping their attention on what is going on around them in the space. You are allowed to hold on to the pole for 3 seconds, the pole is not allowed to touch the ground. You the proceed to throw the pole to other people in the space, making sure to make eye contact first. Try to keep the pole vertical when throwing it.

    If the pole touches the ground or someone holds it for longer than three seconds, everyone shouts BOOM! and fall to the ground for a few seconds, you then get up and start again.

    Once the group can deal with one pole you introduce another one. Until everyone in the group has a pole and there is a continuous exchange between everybody. You can even have (number of people)+1 poles and someone has two at all times. It takes a lot of concentration and coordination, awareness of your troupe and awareness of the space, responsiveness and participation to work properly.

  9. For this kind of exercise, I would set up a call and response. One person would shout or sing some kind of noise as long or short as they want (as long as it can be remembered) and everyone else would repeat it. This would continue in a circle so that everyone gets a chance. A variation would be that the person makes eye contact with a specific person and shouts or sings something to them. That person then reacts based on the emotion of the call, but responds to a different person with eye contact.

    Another exercise would pair everyone up with a specific phrase. Through dance-like body language and tone of voice, different emotions would be expressed between the two people until a kind of dialogue is formed.

  10. To stress the timing and intension necessary for the jazz aesthetic, I think it would be important to do a game that leads the actors away from the traditional importance of lines in a sensical context. I would have two or three actors have a conversation, but each actor may only use one word that has been assigned to them. They will have to depend entirely on intonation and inflection to convey their feelings. As the game goes on, the actors will be given more words to use, but they will each be given a "solo" in which they speak using their 3-5 words. This solo should be musical in its transitions from word-to-word.

  11. An exercise in the jazz aesthetic must focus on the sound of words, rather than the words themselves. As such, I believe potentially useful exercise could be to provide the actors with a set of lines leading to a complex suite of emotions. The actors would be instructed to take in those lines, and then transmit the emotions behind them using either no words at all, or words that are completely unrelated to those initially provided. This should shift a focus from the meaning itself to their feeling.

    Similarly, it could also be useful to do the exercise in the opposite direction: to focus on creating emotion from a meaningless or arbitrary starting point.