Digging Deep - Conservatory Blog Day ONE!

Summer Session has drawn to a close, and the next nine weeks are devoted to a more rigorous, focused Conservatory Program. As part of their experience, participating artists will be blogging each week to share their thoughts, challenges, reflections, and breakthroughs.

 Jackie McCoy

Jackie McCoy

Today was the first day of the 12-week Conservatory where only the Conservatory artists are here for 9 more weeks. After training in the Summer Sessions and talking about all of our goals as a group, our personal goals and the array of projects during the conservatory, I could not wait to dive in. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect with the size of the group being much smaller and having more individual attention and focus. How would the flow of the class go? What would the energy of the room be like? How will we be pushed to new levels? But now that the first day has come and gone, I look on it and I am just so incredibly happy to be here!

The day started with a beautiful Monday morning physical workout, waking up those muscles (not bones) and getting our bodies, minds, and energy ready for what Kari would have up her sleeve. Training our actor warrior bodies in all the best ways! We had our actor prep, which lead to our first focus, which resulted in me being brought up in front of the class to identify and work through many of my personal tendencies and habits. We honed in on how I work a lot with my arms and focusing on how to lower where I am strong. I have a lot of tension that I hold in my neck and back that we are going to work through. It will take some time to get those muscles to relax and my posture and alignment to straighten out, but it will be worth all of the hard work. It was a struggle to focus on these specific muscles for an extended period of time, but the more I work them, it will feel natural. Then we worked on pendulums as a group and gave each other feedback after each person lead a series of five packets.

Lastly, we ended with the exploration of improvising with a set piece of a bed. Here is the twist of the improv, the person on the bed would choose different devices to service their character, which would inspire the others to speak text, or the text the others spoke would inspire the actor on the bed to make choices. It is very interesting that we are working with text from one of Trump’s speeches and exploring how the “boundaries” “fear” and “reality” which he speaks about can be translated to the worlds we create with the bed. The person on the bed would create the size of the world, and what the world may be in their scene. A few examples would be: feeling like the bed is a tiny confined prison that you want to get out of or feel trapped in, is it a ship in a big open ocean, is it a flying carpet bringing you through a journey of your fantasies, and so on. On the bed there were sheets and a pillow and those also had their own metaphorical meanings depending on where you were going in the scene. Was the pillow a shield, were the sheets suffocating you or on the contrary were they protecting you, did the pillow become a symbol of comfort, etc. These are all just a few examples of what could be possible, but there were so many more options to be explored. Thinking metaphorically is a skill set on its own that needs to be practiced and this is an incredible exercise to stretch our poetic minds. I have found that I find it much easier working as the character on the bed than being the actor in the chair speaking the text. There are many balls to juggle all around in this exercise, which makes it great to push our skill sets to new levels. At first I was very nervous, but I took those nerves and volunteered to go first. I have to say I was surprised and pleased with the result of what we brought to the table for it being the first time doing the improvisation.

After our training in the morning, we worked on our solo projects in the afternoon. This is my first time devising a piece on my own and i’m excited to begin the process. I am only at the very beginning stages of the process, but have a lot of inspiring ideas that I will be exploring with the subject I have chosen. For my piece I am exploring different behaviors and text of Blanche from “A Streetcar Named Desire.” For a long time I have been highly interested in this play and learning about Blanche with all of her complexities. I can’t wait to see where my research takes me!

The first day flew by! We worked on many different skillsets today, and I can see how at the end of these 9-weeks we will all have made incredible breakthroughs! Like I stated before, I am just so incredibly happy to be here!
— Jackie McCoy
Biggest lesson learned after the first day of the conservatory: IT’S ALL ABOUT INSPIRING.

I walked into the studio at 9:30am and the space was already inspiring (which really helped calming my first-day nerves down). There was a bed in the right corner of the studio and two car seats by the door facing the center of the studio.

We started the session at 10am with a workout that involved weights and planking for what felt like an hour (1st personal goal: it must feel like two minutes by the end of the conservatory). There was no mentioning of the bed nor the car seats. Kari kept reminding us during the workout to not conform our energy into the weights but to feel the resistance our muscles were offering against it. Already we were creating dramatic conflict with just work out exercises (brilliant!).

After working out our entire bodies and feeling our muscles conflicted by resisting to getting sore (2nd personal goal: not feeling sore by the end of the conservatory) we moved on to focusing on technique. There still was no mentioning of the bed nor the car seats. We started with a series of exercises that focused on the core inspiring a gesture in a particular plane. As we had worked through the exercise for what felt shorter than the time we spent planking, Kari finally referred to the car seats and asked us to sit down on them. We watched Jackie work the same exercise in detail as we gave her feedback. It was very enlightening to go into such specific detail and seeing the changes in the actor. Furthermore, the seats were super comfy.

Next, we continued working on pendulums. First we focused on getting the technique of it and then we moved on to a more advanced exercise where we created a triangle and one actor had the job to inspire the rest to follow his/her actions. As nervous as I was to start this exercise (and because the bed hadn’t been acknowledged yet), it also turned out to be very enlightening. It brought up the question: how do I inspire the other actors while keeping the technique and while planting the seeds to make clear packets? Because we were a small group of actors, we had time to explore it and discuss it. What stuck with me the most, since my biggest challenge during the exercise was to inspire, is that I can play with weight, force, and gravity to bring specificity into the manifestation of my packets, specially if I’m inspiring from my back without being able to use my facial expressions nor text. (3rd personal goal: ground my pendulums and find dynamics in them to inspire the audience by the end of the conservatory).

Finally, the bed was acknowledged! Our next and final exercise was going to be an improvisation using the bed as a set piece and having two other actors sitting in two different chairs in front of the bed speaking text from one of Trump’s earlier speeches about his negative opinion on the media. All of the negative adjectives and the words he used to persuade the listeners that his reality and his opinion are universal and affect all of us were going to be the pretext of the improvisation. Nevertheless, these were the limitations that we still had to apply and justify poetically:
1. The actor on the bed doesn’t speak. He/she must inspire or be inspired by the text.
2. Any devices can be used.
3. Cannot move beyond the border of the bed. (So decide, is the bed, for example, a tiny prison? Or a flying carpet?)
4. Cannot touch the floor (Is the floor covered in lies? Is the floor Trump’s reality?)
5. The bed can’t move. (So since the space isn’t moving, make a choice. What’s your world? Is, for example, the bed your reality and outside the borders of the bed Trump’s reality? How does the space change as it’s juxtaposed with the text?)
6. Make packets.

I felt the complete opposite of empowered when my turn arrived. With so many conditions in mind, I felt like I’d be very general. Yet, once I found myself in the improvisation, I found that sticking to the limitations and making strong choices about the space around me was enough the be inspiring. In my case, my first impulse was to examine the sheets and it inspired the other actors to speak the most poignant words in Trump’s speech which were “they will attack you, they will slander you”. Suddenly, the sheets had meaning and my action was justified. From then, we had the beginning of a story: a character who wanted to get rid of the sheets in her bed as she didn’t feel protected by them anymore. Her safe place or her reality was being challenged by her fears .

My experience improvising turned out to be, once again, enlightening. Of course, now I have to work hard towards more specificity (4th personal goal: create one event at the time and stay with it until the character solves it or changes conditions) but I felt completely supported by the limitations and the text spoken by the other actors. I thought that finding poetic meaning would be more difficult to accomplish but I was surprised to see that by building a story beat by beat it just happens naturally. When creating an inspiring world, I was used to first create it in my mind and then find the devices that would help me make it come to life, but this was a more efficient way of creating. I’m excited to keep exploring!

I’m very happy to be part of the conservatory. Being such a small group of actors, besides feeling terrifying sometimes because there is no way of hiding, provides the opportunity to dig into our habits, the technique of one or multiple devices, and improvise creative projects all in one session of training. Moreover, the fact that it’s a 9-week program provides me with extra motivation to practice as it seems like enough time to achieve, hopefully, all of my goals by the end of it. I can’t wait for the adventure to continue in both, the training sessions and the rehearsals of my personal project.

My personal project is a creative project that I’m just starting to come up with and I have all the creative license in the world to do so. The only limitation I’m working with is: it has to be no longer than 10 minutes. I feel very excited to use the tools the Margolis Method has available to not only personalize and embody a character I love, but also to become my own playwright and director. So far, however, at the very beginning of the process, I’ve felt overwhelmed choosing from all the devices. How do I know which one serves my character best? How do I even get the idea I envision in my brain on its feet? Kari’s advice: Keep it simple! Start with something (an image, a monologue, an object) that speaks easily to you and that will serve as a door that will quickly open to a story. So in my case, I’m starting with my character, Sally Bowles, a whisky glass, a doll, and using the device “actor to object” in different planes. I choose to start this way because during my research I came accross the discovery that Sally Bowles is comical and seems complex to other characters because she is full of contradictions. She always keeps a whisky bottle in her room but also her childhood dolls. I believe exploring her relationship to her dolls and to alcohol will open the door for me to find her humor but also the roughness of her reality and then I will be able to choose the direction of my story.
— Elisenda Bassas
 Elisenda Bassas

Elisenda Bassas