If Suzuki technique forces the actor to pare away all the noise and bullshit in her mind and her soul so that only her power and presence are left behind, then Viewpoints may just be for revealing by adding dimensions of stagecraft to a performance that can then only exist in that time and that place. Just don’t hold me to that.
I first really started learning Suzuki & Viewpoints with SITI members as teachers in September 2011. I wrote about it in the Suzuki article I linked above. I’d done a little bit of Viewpoints with my guys at Son of Semele but without knowing anything of the structure and use. After that training a year and half ago I understood a bit more, but was also a lot more baffled. I’m now taking more training with Anthony Byrnes and of course I can’t let go of (over)thinking its implications.
To work on Viewpoints is still to walk in a lot of mystery, as far as I’m concerned. But I’m coming to understand some of the point. To everything that is material – tangible, quantifiable – there are characteristics that are just what they are. There is nothing for a wooden chair but that it’s made out of wood. That is its accident. In Aristotelian terms that’s just how it is, and it’s not good or bad. It really only matters if you can or can’t sit in it. But the discipline of stagecraft asks that there be no accidents.
So…never mind the wooden chair and consider the empty stage. Whether it’s a tiny black box with severe sight lines, a high tech Broadway theatre, or better yet an atrium in an office lobby that wasn’t built for theatrical exercises. These places have characteristics accidental to them, possibly even unique to them. These characteristics could go ignored. Or, with discernment, they could be brought into the show and be as much a part of the performance as the words in the script or costuming. The reality and immediacy of the space could be as alive and valuable as the particular characteristics of any of the characters.
Viewpoints seems to let us work on finding the relationships inherent on the stage that we might not notice otherwise – the shapes, the architecture, for example. And we can bring intention to performance when we likewise take in the existence and movement of our fellows in the ensemble. (And make no mistake, Viewpoints was developed for and directly serves ensemble work to an extraordinary degree.) When we make the negative space between actors matter, when we call attention to gestures and then repeat them, we take movement from incidental blocking to intentional expression.
Now my favorite, at the risk of overdosing on this viewpoint, is kinesthetics. Within the scope of Viewpoints it’s one of the most dramatic elements of stagecraft, and for my purposes it’s the most human. All told this makes it the most interesting, most essential to everything that I love about theatre. It is action and reaction, intended for calling attention to a moment, an occurrence that transfers energy and dynamism from the thing that happened (the cue) to the actor. It’s an approach that doesn’t allow the moment to become tired and boring as the actor merely waits for her cue. A kinesthetic response should incite the next words or action.
What makes this different from any other staging techniques is that, even though they will be developed over the course of rehearsal, they will be brought in to each performance and given as much regard as any other facet of the show. That’s not to say that other techniques aren’t present, but rather that they ask the actor to invoke something private which remains shut away from the audience. The actor may cross the stage and, per the Stanislavsky system, remember walking in her grandmother’s house when she was a child. Viewpoints, however, doesn’t shut out the reality of the space in which the actor performs. It pulls out the play from the story written whenever it was to the present, the true now.
My very favorite thing about theatre, the reason that it’s my chosen art form (I’m pretty sure I’ve written this before, but I’ll say and write it again eventually) is communion. It’s sharing a moment, an experience in a perfect union of time and space, even if our points of view are wildly divergent. And what Viewpoints has led me to understand is that as powerful as an ancient play that has stood the test of time can be, it’s made truly vibrant and breathtaking when it is revealed in the time and space that I am in. It also helps ensembles crack open expressionistic and other challenging works, allowing us to deliberately invoke semiotics to tell the truth from another angle. Alternatively, Viewpoints offers a lot of tools for developing a piece from scratch.
This is a neat video I found of a basic exercise. The music was improvised, the movement would have been as well though the actors were probably given a vocabulary of movement they were allowed to make. The actors alternatively drive attention to the space between them, their tempo, gestures and repetition, and of course a surfeit of kinesthetic responses. (Sorry the quality of the video isn’t very good, there isn’t very much that I could find that so clearly illustrates what I’m talking about.) (BTW I noticed the Suzuki video was taken down so I’ll be adding something else that I found to the comments in that entry.)
Naturally, there’s a heck of a lot more to the subject. I’m sure I’ll ramble on more about it later.