On the 22nd of May, an ensemble of performance artists hailing from Asian backgrounds, directed by MTC Associate Director Sarah Goodes, were welcomed to partake in MTC’s inaugural Contemporary Asian Australian Performance (CAAP) acting workshop. A bright and spacious rehearsal room, buried within one of many narrow hallways that cut through MTC HQ, set the stage for something unpredictable, poignant and wondrous.
I use the term ‘performance artist’ in an effort to encompass the striking diversity of practitioners; screen actors, trained theatre actors, comedians, writers, single mothers, students, ex-pats, teachers and lawyers. All connected by an irrefutable and unstoppable passion for storytelling, and a fervent curiosity to understand the human condition. Indeed, an intense sense of focus and trust appeared to be innately present before anyone could remember each other’s names – an unconscious agreement to be both simultaneously vulnerable, generous and self-assured, allowed this humble ensemble to create transcendental theatrical moments, in the short week we gathered together.
The lengthy, and sometimes gruelling eight-hour days were split between movement, text study and discussion. Practitioners divided themselves into small groups based on plays pre-selected by the group, to undertake an intensive scene study with the aim to ultimately present a showing. Fluctuating between forum, workshop and informal discussion – participants with a particular expertise, would take the helm and introduce us to exercises inspired by Grotowski and ‘impulse’. Goodes would regularly have each small group present excerpts of their scene work presented to the larger group. Goodes’ keen directorial eye meant no moment or detail was overlooked, as Goodes’ guided practitioners to excavate as much as possible from themselves and the scene – in physical presence as an actor, in understanding the larger philosophical, historical and academic context in which play texts are written – and also, from a directorial perspective. Indeed, a prominent and unspoken theme became excavating the concept of otherness, in performance and in life. In the practice of deeply analysing performance texts and techniques – we were also able to engage in comprehending what it truly means to be an Asian artist in contemporary Australia.
Perhaps one of the most startling and inspiring moments of the week occurred when the group engaged in an exercise that involved two actors performing their scene, and the rest of the group taking the form of a silent chorus. Half the chorus attended to one actor, while the remaining half of the group attended to the other actor. The only duty of this divided silent chorus was to physically cause (by literally pulling or pushing) their designated actor closer or further away from their other actor – in response to the objectives of the designated actor, distilled from the dialogue being performed live. In writing, this sounds like a somewhat academic exercise, but what occurred on the floor was sheer magic. Both choruses became a seemingly telepathic unit, carrying, protecting and fighting against their actors and working with the opposing chorus to silently choreograph and improvise a dance of stakes. Pain, joy and terror became extravagantly and intuitively amplified. I had never felt more tangibly connected to a theatrical moment. We spent over four hours, taking turns at performing dialogue and becoming the silent chorus. Exhausted, but never pausing for a break. When the exercise was finally complete, when we had all performed – we finally sat down, momentarily basking in the dissipating shadows of the spine-tingling dramatic moments that had just occurred. A collective realisation that potent, unadulterated theatre can be created with nothing but trust, generosity and a willingness to walk together into the unknown.
Thank you MTC, Sarah Goodes, Annette Shun-Wah and the CAAP for bringing us together for such a creatively challenging and joyous workshop; here is to many more future workshops.