Monday, February 25, 2008

EATING THE ELEPHANT: A Class with Kari Margolis

**Article about the MARGOLIS METHOD in ATME Newsletter

Eating the Elephant: A Class with Kari Margolis
by Denise Myers, Millikin University

While as theatre movement teachers we may instruct from a variety ofmethods, we ultimately want to help our students become more free to have variety and clarity in their theatrical choices. For those of us who teach in academia though, our system is set up and therefore encourages students to compartmentalize their learning. Often what is learned in acting class, for example, is separated from techniques learned in Play Analysis, Voice, or Movement classes. While I'm sure that we all speak of the eventual necessity of integrating these studies, often we leave that blending to happen magically in production work or in an upper level "capstone" course. Is it possible instead to begin teaching theatre with out these divisions?

I took advantage of the offer made to ATME members from Kari Margolisto receive a free DVD that featured clips from her teaching, philosophy and performance work. Intrigued, I was able then to take class for three weeks this summer with her in Barryville, NY. I came away with some specific exercises, of course, but more importantlywith a way of teaching that is very exciting to me. Her methods integrate everything about creating a theatrical moment immediately. I was training as an actor, one who is capable of thinking feeling and moving in an integrated way, right from the beginning.

What I found was that my goal with her was not so much to learn a codified way of moving, but rather how to use a way of moving specifically to practice the larger issues of making theatre. The daily challenges for research would change, but the overall goal of creating something strong and vital emotionally, physically and thoughtfully was always essential.

To give an example, using "the international language of physics" Kari would begin by leading a simple movement score such as breathing down into the core through the top of the head ("whale spout") while the arms respond to that impulse by moving upwards. Then we would reverse the movement to breath up into the core through the tailbone while the arms respond by moving down. We would also transfer the motor to the arms pressing up/down causing the response to be an in take of breathin the core.

We then would improvise with those movements, but are instructed to say what we are doing out loud. Voice is therefore immediately connected to the movements as well as a conscious awareness of what movements are being done or attempted. If you begin to go into a monotone drone, you can hear that disconnect and change it because the exercise is to match the energy of the voice to the dynamic of the movements. Eventually then to change to any text is a matter simply of changing words, not of adding the mechanism and intent of speaking. It becomes difficult to waft through space just "feeling" it, because the mind is connecting to what is happening both by impulse instinct and by choice. The physics of the movement must influence the shape of the vocalization.

We are then challenged to devise a "packet" of sequential moves. The packet, like a beat, asks that the movements connect, transform fromone another, and develop through a beginning, middle and end. Once the movement cycle begins, active resistance is used to keep the character from coming to stasis. In something as simple as putting five moves together, you are drawing on techniques of play analysis, shape,dynamics, objective, conflict, and of course physics.

Then as you move in space, you also consider more elements ofdramaturgy, as for example, what do your three steps mean vs. your onestep? Where are you moving in reference to the space available and to the perspective of the audience? How do you take what you are doing and work with another person, inspiring the other through your voluntary actions and your vulnerable responses to what the other is giving you? What is the pattern/story that is developing and how can you work with it and your partner to find its conclusion or its development into the next moment?

What I especially like is her attitude towards vulnerability, speaking about it as a simple honest result of physics, rather than as an opening of your entire being and soul to the world to be ripped asunder as most of my students seem to think I'm asking them to do when I mention "being vulnerable". Margolis works with how you voluntarily set a movement in action, which then results in an involuntary response. As the actor you need to be able to instigate that initial cause, but then you also, to be truthful, have to be open to where that movement may take you or to be available to what it causes to happen in the other person. Sometimes your action goes just where you planned and other times you are surprised at the outcome.This process is of course, the same as a character's journey through a play. You, as actor and character, need to be able to receive the result of your action muscularly, psychologically and emotionally. You are asked to keep the history of the effect as the basis from which to transform into your next voluntary move. By keeping vulnerability as a result that continues to transform, it seems to position that notion as something more dynamic and useful and less emotionally terrifying and static.

Time to flail around is important time in class, and since Margolis terms all of this work as "research" I was encouraged to use that time to look both at what I was developing as well as how I was finding it,what was missing, and what was yet to be done. Questions of "what" "why" "where" "how" and "what next" were continuously guiding me through my solo investigations, my constructions of packets as well as my improvisations with others.

`Yes, you are trying to do, think, feel 2,573 things at once, and yes, it's hard and frustrating. But isn't multi-tasking what we are doing when we are acting? It takes practice to connect since we have all been taught so well to separate and to compartmentalize. It takes practice to find an honest psychophysical ease of acting in the moment, i.e., eventually to just do it. Even though I was there only three short weeks, I feel that I came away with a method that gives me a way to study further because Kari Margolis has created a method that integrates learning about how theatre works; I am deliberately practicing using the parts to create a theatrical moment ofspecificity and depth.

Yes, her method is about eating the whole elephant right away. While many other techniques and most academic programs start by munching an ear and then progressing to nibble at the right leg, I think with Margolis' work I can start with gulping a whole elephant the size of an ant. If I can do that, I get the whole elephant and have a good idea of what the elephant is. With practice I can then progress to bigger sizes, but I'm still working on the whole.

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