“Music was (and is) an integral part of the rehearsal process, not as a background but as a vital component structuring the scenes, providing infinite inspiration, making us aware of moods sometimes in opposition to the text, sometimes provoking new thoughts, often creating the thought in the first place.
It makes us aware of motion and space, and it takes us more into the unconscious world when it is coupled with the text. They marry and produce strange offspring.”Steven Berkoff. Extract from “Three Theatre Manifestos.” (1978) Gambit vol.32
In The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, from my second solo show, Stunning the Punters, I had music playing for my entrance and throughout the first 14 minutes of the piece. (I actually brought the music on with me with a portable cassette player). Originally it was only intended to provide an atmospheric background, but the more performances I got under my belt, the more I became aware of the music and began to synchronise my speech and movement to the soundtrack. With my next show, Berkoff’s Hell, the entire piece was synchronised and inspired by a musical soundtrack by Harold Budd. I continued the practice in all my subsequent shows, using Philip Glass for the soundtrack to Graft, and then graduating to having two live musicians improvising with me in rehearsal and creating original scores for Hell, The Gospel of Matthew and The Man Who Was Hamlet.
Working solo, without a director, I trusted in Berkoff’s method as explained in this quote, and allowed the music to ‘direct’ me. And of course it it not as simple as the actor mirroring the mood tone of the music. As Berkoff notes, sometimes it is precisely the opposition of the music to the text which creates the impact. Sometimes, alone in the rehearsal room, I would set up an ecclectic playlist on random, and then work the text with whatever music was playing, letting the clashes push me into areas I otherwise wouldn’t have gone. I also extended this principle when it came to mixing the final soundtracks of Hell and Graft, when I used pre-existing music, by not allowing myself the luxury of fading out any track I chose to use. Once a music track started I allowed it to play through to the end, and I discovered that if the actor and music are synchronised, then the end of a piece of music, and the silence after, can have an equal if not greater dramatic impact than the moment when music is introduced.
As a rehearsal tool, a random playlist is almost the perfect example of the ‘non-concept’ approach to theatre making – like one of Brian Eno’s oblique strategies – by having the audacity to embark upon action before analysis, and randomising the stimuli for the action, one discovers insights which cannot be arrived at by thinking alone.
The quotation passage comes from Steven Berkoff’s Three Theatre Manifestos which were originally published together with his adaptations of Kafka’s The Trial and Metamorphosis in Gambit vol 8 no 32, and are now very hard to find.
I once asked Steven why the manifestos were not included in later editions – was there, perhaps, some copyright issue, or maybe the publisher (or Steven himself) regarded them as somehow unworthy – a young theatre-maker’s attempts to emulate Artaud? He couldn’t recall! Whatever the reason, it is a great pity that they are not still widely available, as they contain many articulate flashes of inspiring brilliance, such as this passage on the vital role that music plays in the devising process.
I usually read this quote in my workshops after my first use of music, so that students can then be aware and practice working with speech and movement while directed by music, and I always suggest that any physical theatre rehearsal should be accompanied by music of some kind. It doesn’t necessarily have to be included as a part of the final production, but as a rehearsal tool music is a must!
Particularly the final sentence of this quotation has strongly influenced my own working methods in rehearsal, workshops and in performance over the last thirty years and more… “they marry and produce strange offspring!”