Tuesday becomes the first day with the schedule we’d worked out: Depi in the morning, a long break, then me in the late afternoon. Monday had been crammed in because we hadn’t managed to book Sunday night for accommodation, necessitating a lot of emailing and facebooking to Alex and Virginia; Virginia took responsibility for the oversight. I’d spent hours with her in Athens and a bunch of other hours putting Depi’s fears at ease, and this turns out to be time well spent. On site Virginia is on top of everything, which turns out to be useful today as Panos is in a snit over the accommodation prices in our brochure. He’s an odd guy, clearly an ageing hippie who mixes business and personality, which can be wonderful but also tenuous.
His nose is out of joint because Christina has shown him the CATT brochure, and the prices we list are higher than what he charges. No matter that I point out that neither his name nor the name of the compound can be found on the brochure, and no matter when I tell him that we cover our administrative and promotional costs this way; he’s decided to be offended. Virginia keeps talking to him. Depi’s theory is that he’s feeling defensive because his partner Despina seems to enjoy talking with me and using her English.
Depi also presents a new, unforeseen problem; she seems to have developed a massive crush on me. Hours of evening talks about emotional histories must have done it. I’m nonplussed; it’s getting increasingly difficult with all the estrogen and the theatrics going on to concentrate on simply teaching and ensuring that everyone has a great time. I’m conscious that I must be hyper-considerate; with highly emotional people responses can be magnified into projections and then the train careers off the tracks.
The participants have settled in, relishing the meals, dealing with the heat, and hitting the beach for the first time. Before lunch and in the break between workshops I’m able to run for about 40 minutes in the scorching noon day sun, getting a thorough idea of Galaxidi, which I end up actually running laps around. I plan my second workshop day, with a clearer idea of how far the Greeks can be pushed and how to keep the Canadians motivated. I suspect none of them are sleeping much.
We revisit the neutral position to get it ingrained in their approach. Ramona asks how long it takes before it feels natural, and that’s a difficult question to answer, since I use it all day, every day and have for years. It’s good to be reminded that many things that are now second nature to me are not immediately comfortable to those who associate unbalanced, non-aligned posture with a natural feeling. Though I sense the trepidation we also revisit the Energy Flings, doing more of them and using both sides of the body. Sweat pours from all of us, though the work is brief. Water bottles are seized and greedily squeezed at every opportunity.
Then we do Sumo Walks, designed to open up the pelvis but also to help them experience the rare sense of heaviness and lightness with precision movement simultaneously. They do them poorly in the confined space and I truncate the exercise. On a hunch I try a series of walks in 4 and 6 beat variations; asking them to perform tasks to different beats such as stomping or clapping. The Canadians cannot lead the Greeks into any kind of sustained shared rhythm, although they try. Rhythm, a key to my work will clearly take several different approaches before their confidence builds.I decide to wait another day before hitting them with the rhythm work I’d planned, and instead we move into some ball work, revisiting Toss and Catch (without names this time) and then introducing them to the BoxWhatBox foundation game, Ball Basic, which encompasses every core acting principle and which reveals the passive/active default tendencies of participants. Surprisingly, given their lack of success at the rhythm work, they are able to keep the ball in the air relatively well. Considering there are four sizeable pools of water in corners of the room, plants at the edges, little light and a low ceiling, they do well.
I decide it’s time for Études and we move to the outdoor space. There was a time when with a mixed group of theatre and non-theatre types I would never even get to non-linear image creation work, focusing on games, precision and play. Increasingly in the past few BoxWhatBox workshops I have moved the players into targeted improvisation more quickly, to give them a sense of the tangible or material uses of the work.
The first étude is a simple one, no less difficult for its simplicity, for it is in simple play that our deeper fears are laid bare. I ask pairs of players to begin lying on the floor in a position of their choosing. They must awake, rise, dress, dream of the future, undress, and lie down to sleep. Their actions must parallel each other as exactly as possible. That’s it; that’s the whole story. Sam Beckett made a play out of this narrative, once. It’s a fiendishly difficult exercise, especially as I pair Greeks and English speakers and give them as little time as possible to work out movements. This is deliberate, as I want them to be forced to act decisively and then focus on their instinctive ability to sense the other.
Some of the work is really gratifying. There is a dramatic dynamic to the way some of the pairs turn away from each other or turn towards an imaginary window when dreaming; they eschew the easy road of having each other in view. The hard part, of course, is the dreaming, which is why I add it to the physical tasks. Can the actor dream even while focusing on replicating learned movement and trying to sense the other?
The second étude we do is one I created in Croatia and have refined. It involves antagonistic actions in pairs. So, for instance, one pair features someone digging a hole while the other is covering the hole. A second pair is packing and unpacking a suitcase; a third pair dressing and undressing a baby (this is actually a trio, as we need a baby); the final pair, also a trio, locks and unlocks a person behind a door.
Apart from the fact that all of these actions are fun, it’s instructive to see what style of playing the players select and whether they choose to work imaginatively or to follow the orders as they are given. The pair digging and covering the hole, for instance, could, if they work together, create a Beckettian sequence where one is never aware of the other and they remain in a mystery as to why their work is never done. What I expect, however, is that most of the pairs will choose to compete directly with each other and play in a realistic manner. The players tasked with locking and unlocking the door only lock the person behind a door once, and after much fighting between the “locker” and the “unlocker”, finally unlock the door. But the instructions were given in the continuous present: locking and unlocking is different than lock and unlock. It seems like an exercise in semantics but it’s much more significant than that in indicating how people listen and apply what they have heard. In the “scene” the players develop the fight (which is quite physical and a bit dangerous) over the key becomes the key part of the narrative, as opposed to the repetitive locking and unlocking. It could still make an interesting scene, but of the American kind: realistic, focused on the “HA” or explosive action rather than the pre- and post- actions, directly competitive rather than indirectly. They also end the scene arbitrarily after the door has been unlocked; but no task was given to finish the action and end the scene. They have “solved the problem”, a common error actors make when they become unsure of themselves. As my old clown teacher always told me, actors must “stay in the shit”. It can be a decidedly uncomfortable place to be, but out of that discomfort comes creativity.
Then, to my shock, three hours have passed. A rain shower pelts down and everyone bolts to the main house, leaving Ryan and me. We gaze out across the mesa to the hills and he talks volubly about his background, about learning how to fool people, how to figure out what they want in order to survive, the influence of watching his parents work fourteen hour days in the fish plant and his being the first in his family to make it to university and the first to get an “A”. He’s completely unfiltered, is our Ryan, a wonderful mix of cockiness and open-mindedness. We head back to the house where the vast vegetarian meal is spread out across the table. Panos looks slightly sulky sitting in the corner. I decide not to chat up his wife.