- 1. Think of what is right an true.
- 2. Practice and cultivate the science.
- 3. Become acquainted with the arts.
- 4. Know the principles of the crafts.
- 5. Understand the harm and benefit in everything.
- 6. Learn to see everything accurately.
- 7. Become aware of what is not obvious.
- 8. Be careful even in small matters.
- 9. Do not do anything useless.
These tenants may sound like something spoken by the great acting teachers, Stanislavsky or Hauser. They are in fact written by Japan’ greatest Samurai, M. Musashi. Musashi understood that specificity and right purpose was the key to overpowering your opponent; nothing is wasted. I refer to Musashi as ‘Desire Under The Elms’ is a formidable opponent and if I don’t keep my focus it will overpower me. Eugene O’Neill’s writing demands the attention, discipline, and spirit that the Japanese would perform in the ritualistic sacredness of the tea ceremony or in practising the way of the sword. The smallest details could mean your life. And so our company has been working to deliver a specificity that mirrors the school of Musashi’s ‘Way of the Sword’.
There is a reason O’Neill is the greatest writer of the modern century. Having lived and breathed his words, it is only in the meticulous study and performance of it that I began to see how every word he wrote has a purpose, not just for the meaning but for the phonetical sounds of its consonants and open vowels to evoke a feeling in the musicality of it, much like Shakespeare. Every ellipsis, every hyphen, every pause, written, is necessary. And so I can see no other way you could approach the work other than how a martial artist would spend years just focusing on his/her feet.
However Eugene does not specify everything and so we must take the helm. Every word in the play you’ll hear has been carefully selected with right effort, every breath has been marked out in our scripts like a piece of music, downward and upward inflections deliberated on, the weight distribution of the feet and posture of the neck have been crafted like a sculpture, every piece of punctuation followed to a tee. It is a very old way of working, and a lot of actors may completely disagree that it inhibits their inner life but I must offer proof that dedication to the technicality has just the opposite effect. It gets You, the “I”, out of the way of the words, as the words already have a weight of their own, and releases you from that encumbering obligation to “feel”. Without that obligation, a healthy relaxation is intuitively allowed. It is my hope, that just as you wouldn't expect to watch a pro-boxer to throw general punches, or a MMA fighter to have a general understanding of ground game, that our ensemble you see will be as present, as specific, and as fierce, in their approach to the fight (performance).
“Know One Thing, Know Ten Thousand Things” † Miyamoto Musashi
The greatest teacher as a Director for me has not been the books, acting coaches, or masterclasses but participation in Mixed Martial Arts itself. I entered Martial Arts, specifically boxing, with a specific mindset to work on a part of myself. I’m glad I didn’t enter it with a mentality to get fit, or to fight, but to discover something intuitive about myself that I won’t go into here. But it illuminated that one needs to attack the work with the right mindset and direction of the right effort. The correct mindset allows you to tune into the right frequency, or the right rhythm of working, for the mindset gives you the discipline you make for yourself and it is something the great writers require of you: Attention to Detail and what the Japanese call “Kokoro Ire”, meaning inclusion of the “heart’s spirit”. When you have both of these disciplines working together, you revel in something beautiful. But it is just this simplicity that takes years to master.
Harmony and disharmony in rhythm occur in every walk of life. It is imperative to distinguish carefully between the rhythms of flourishing and the rhythms of decline in every single thing. — M. Mushashi
O’Neill possesses a certain rhythm, that hide beneath the words, a particular beat, that once discovered and tuned in on, is the force majeure of O’Neill’s own life force immortalised within the play. Understanding the beat of the prose has been essential in creating character, not only in deciphering their needs, flaws and wants but even their physicality. Everything is connected in that regard to the beating drum of O’Neill’s “Kokoro Ire”. Cicely Berry of the RSC stated that great writers hear and put to paper how a character breathes. I now know this to be true for the breath, despite being the vessel for emotion & voice, is in its true essence, life, and is what is giving this play its own life-force.
My attention to breath, feet and posture comes from the discipline I attained from the ring and knowing first hand (broken nose, fractured ribs) the importance of these in performance. I direct no differently than how my boxing coach would direct his fighters. A simple substitution of words and you wouldn’t know if I was talking to a fighter or an actor. But as I stated you have to have the right mindset in order to understand how one thing can relate to another, and is the meaning underlying “Know One, Know Ten Thousand”. It has taken a long time for me to discover my own style of working (directing) and only in walking with giants has that path been illuminated. The great writers lift you to their level if you give yourself permission to accept the task. And with the right mindset, which one must bear in mind, it is far more important to learn rather than to succeed, therein lies an inevitability of gushing forth the river of your innate power. At least that is what I have known to be true.
In Desire Under The Elms our maxim maintains that ‘everything is necessary and everything is connected’, for we work to reach that grand threshold. I feel we get closer to it with each passing day, but in the end you are the judge and we won’t raise your expectations to far for our own safety.
I hope this piece has begun conversation about what an audience should expect from their storytellers. I also hope it reveals the amount of work required of any performer, any dedicated one at least in my view.
We are two months away from opening this momentous play. The company and myself will keep you up to date about the different rhythms we encounter along the way; the fears, the joys, the discoveries. My next entry will discuss the importance of the feet, posture and physicality, for the characters in Desire Under The Elms.
Oss, 10th May 2016
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