BERKOFF & PHYSICAL THEATRE
I've been leading workshops on Berkoff's theatre for more than 20 years and over that time I have tried out a large number of different exercises. In response to the occasional request from a teacher to provide more details of the workshop in advance I prepared this outline, which is, in note-form, a snapshot of my basic workshop plan, with names for each exercise and brief notes on what is to be learned from each. Obviously I don't want to give away all my secrets, and besides physical theatre is, like the martial arts, a discipline which can only really be passed on directly and cannot be learned from a book or a web page. So these notes are semi-intentionally quite opaque and will probably not make much sense until you have seen or taken part in one of my workshops. However, I do intend, over time, to rework this plan, explaining some parts in more detail, so that it may be more useful both to teachers and to students, (but without altogether replacing the benefits of actually booking me to do a workshop.)
From the very beginning I had to invent my own exercises, since although I had worked with Berkoff's material and with the man himself, I still had to find my own answers to the questions what does he actually do, how does he do it and how can it be taught? The exercises listed here range from what I call 'open door' exercises, intended to stimulate a general awareness, trigger curiosity and inspire experimentation, to more specific performance micro-skills and rehearsal techniques which students can immediately begin to apply in their project work.
As I often explain when I introduce myself at the start of a session - I am not Berkoff, and I am not passing on techniques and exercises he has taught me directly (although some of my exercises have stemmed directly from things which have come up during conversations or rehearsals I have had with him). I am George Dillon and in my workshop I teach what I know. But I am a fellow-traveller, sharing a similar vision of theatre, and my path has been directly and hugely influenced and shaped by many years of working in a Berkoffian style both in my own projects and with the man himself.
Essentially the workshop is divided into 2 parts. Part 1 is all about physicality, and part 2 about speaking. Unless I am briefed that the students have a piece of work that is already quite developed, I tend to find the speaking part is harder to make 'work' within the time available, so the balance between the two sections usually leans much more towards the physical.
INTRODUCTION: Berkoff and me - how and why I became an actor - bypassing rational thought.
PART 1: PHYSICAL THEATRE
TWO CHAIRS: Two complementary approaches to acting: internal/external, why/how, motive/method
PHYSICAL WARM-UP: Taiso from 'Kendo' - using Kiai to warm up voice and body together - discipline and spirit
WALKING AROUND: Awareness of self and the group's timing, energy and way of walking
TAG, MOVE & FREEZE: Working with the body
PASS THE MIME: Observe copy and mutate - starting to ‘think’ with the body
THE BEEHIVE: Grotowski's Beehive / Brook's 'empty space' inspired improvisation:
Acting on Impulse; The Golden Rule of Improvisation; ‘Play! Be! Do! Don’t Act!’; The Limitations of Words;
The Language of Physicality - Specificity, Ambiguity & Liminality; Collaborative Conflict; and much more...
THE 3 BASIC PRINCIPLES OF MIME:
Stages, Switches ('Clics') and Scale = 'sae' (Japanese word for 'clarity')
LEVELS OF PHYSICAL TENSION: (Suzuki/Le Coq) & the need for 'zanshin' - keeping focus & control at all times
LA MARCHE SUR LA PLACE: Berkoff's characteristic slow motion walk
THEORY: ‘Berkoff’s ‘Non-Concept Theatre’ directorial method
& HOW TO GIVE FEEDBACK: “It is not the critic who counts…” - The benefits of articulating the positive
THE BANQUET: Extended slow motion improvisation based on Berkoff’s ‘Salome’ with students giving feedback
THE THREE WALLIES: Controlling an audience simply using eye contact
DEMONSTRATION: extract from 'Graft - Tales of an Actor':
Words, Music & Movement; Stanislavski/Brecht/Artaud.
PART 2: SPEAKING
BREAKING UP THE LINE - dramatic pauses
'SING'-SPEAKING - pitch, timbre, volume, and other musical terms applied to speech
TEMPO-CHANGES IN LONGER SPEECHES - Effect of accelerating/decelerating tempo
WORDS/GESTURE PING PONG - One student does the lines, another does the moves
ON REQUEST: Directing students in specific Berkoff scenes
FINAL Q & A - Me, Berkoff, the Business, & anything else that comes up.
Of course each workshop will be a little different depending on the size, age range and abilities of the students, whether the teacher has requested a particular brief and sometimes (to be honest) my mood on the day! So not all of the exercises listed here will be included in every workshop, and there may be exercises not listed here which I either revive or invent on the spot!
George Dillon's Tour Dates
(as of Friday, 23 April 2021)