Friday, March 6, 2009

The E Word

The word of the day is ensemble. The Encarta Dictionary defines it as “something created from a number of individual parts put together deliberately”. I know in theater it can be more than that, it can be a safety net, a close group of people who can take artistic risks because of their report with each other. That being said how can we go about creating them? Can they be created, or do they just happen? It’s been on my mind recently because I’m interested in theatrical process and product that utilizes them. I have been a part of many successful ensembles and it has been amazing. The safety net that they created enabled me to take risks and do things that I never had thought I could do. I have also been apart of some fairly unsuccessful ensembles, shows where the cast never quite bonded, classes where infighting and outside social codes got in the way of creating an environment where everyone can flourish. I’m not sure exactly what makes a good ensemble happen, but I know when it does, it’s like nothing else in the world.
This past semester in Russia was all about ensemble. It’s the way that they teach acting at the Moscow Art Theater (MAXT). If one person is late to class, they ask the whole class where they are. We had to create etudes (short improvised scenes) together every night for 3 months, in order to show them in class the next morning. With 14 people in my core acting block, 14 very different people from all over the country who had never meet before, it was difficult. It sometimes took us 2 hours to come up with a 30 second scene to show in class the next day. There was fighting and bickering. Our ensemble did not simply fall together, even though we all lived and worked together 24 hours a day and were experiencing a whole new culture together. Something wasn’t connecting. And we all wanted it, we all wanted support so badly from each other, and still, we were not able to look out for each other. I’m not sure what it was but in the 2nd month something finally clicked. We all began to feel comfortable with each other, to care about each other, and to catch each other when we fell. I think for us it was the discovery that we all wanted the same things from the theater, that our aesthetic, despite small differences was actually very similar and that we all brought something unique to the process. It happened almost imperceptibly, and now I miss every one of my ensemble members dearly. I miss people who, at one point in the semester, I thought I might strangle. I’m meditating on it, I’d like to know exactly what it was so that I could make it happen again, but I’m not sure that there is any right answer. I think every group may be different. Some ensembles are formed overnight, some take 2 months. If I every find the key, I’ll be sure to let you know, until then, we’ll keep striving for it.

Ensemble- the relationships that breed fearless art

Lighter, Freeer, More Joyful.


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