Flying Lessons

Jen O'Connor and Samson Kohanski race horses in Mary's Wedding

When we first contemplated taking on the Metamorphoses, I started thinking about the various ways that the human body can change and transform itself into something new. Whistler has always been a company that challenges itself both in terms of the plays we choose to produce, and the ways in which we produce them: we have found that by pushing ourselves to explode a text in a more muscularly physical way than we might otherwise do, we unlock vast resources within ourselves to venture down different avenues of exploration with the text. This style of approach has led to (among other things) the madcap commedia of All This Flying, All This Tumbling Down, the calvary charges and explosions of Mary’s Wedding, the chaotic revels of The Bacchae, and the violent mayhem of Family Stories.

So, presented with a text where human and gods are constantly changing and transforming themselves, it became vitally important to find a physical language that would really push us to explore the text in a truly heightened way. We’ve come up with two physical seeds for ourselves, both of which are exciting and terrifying in equal parts.

The first of these is an exploration of the work of Jacques Lecoq – one of the most influential theatre practitioners of the last century, and the artist who, more than any other I can think of, influenced the way we view the story-telling capacity of the actor in space. Lecoq spoke of the “corps poetique” – literally translated as the “poetic body” – and his life’s work was based in the idea that through the physical understanding and expertise of the actor, a story can be better shared with an audience.

In September we will be offering a workshop based in the teachings of Lecoq, and our company of actors for Metamorphoses will begin their journey into the physical possibilities connected to the text: how does one become a tree? What does a river move like when trapped in human form? We’ll have more information about that workshop, including how to get involved, in a week or so.

Jen learns the Rebecca split

The other major physical seed for our work is that of aerial arts – specifically aerial silks. This idea was planted in my brain during our run of One Flea Spare, when I was standing in the Factory Theatre and looking up, wondering how to make use of all that gorgeous vertical space. It seemed almost too crazy to work, but when I approached Jen with it a month later, she was game for seeing what we could do about learning silks.

Consequently we’ve been hard at work all summer taking aerial silks lesson over at AerialArts. The purpose of this summer’s work has been to ascertain whether, given two months of rehearsal, we can have enough skills under our belts to make full use of the silks, and to have actors comfortable enough on them to be able to create birds and gods who watch from above, while still being able to tackle the vibrant and difficult text.

Marie climbs high

So far, the answer is “yes”. In our fifth week, the three of us (Jen, myself and Marie Pollizano, another of our cast and a new Artistic Associate for Whistler are taking the classes) have agreed that while we are tired and sore after each class, we feel more comfortable each day with being higher in the silks. With each repetition of a move, we feel more confident to branch out and try something new.

Well, it's getting there...

It is very exciting to be moving forward with this – to know that we have the next 3.5 months to continue to explore and grow in this new skill, and that, in the tights confines of the Factory, we’ll be able to have our actors flying and plummeting through the air above the audience. We’ll continue to report back on our journey as we go.

This entry was posted in Jen O'Connor, LeCoq, Marie Pollizano, Ovid, physical theatre. Bookmark the permalink.

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