Director Discusses Acting Methods
Director Ana Olivo Funes on directing Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue using The Suzuki Method of Actor Training and Viewpoints:
With the This play I felt that it was not just a play, but prose and poetry. With my training in Viewpoints and Suzuki I saw a perfect marriage. When you use these methods you are creating a place where all things are equal- the script, the actors, the stage, the lights, the sound and the audience.
Thoughts from Tadashi Suzuki of The Suzuki Method of Actor training:
“If your productions are only talking to people with whom you share a common language and culture—that’s entertainment,” he remarks. “But if the work is appreciated by those outside your language, culture, and values—that’s art. The theatre has a language barrier against multinational participation, so my goal is to diminish that language barrier.” Still, he does not eschew his roots, or the spoken word, for that matter.
“Some directors who have the same goals I do,” he continues, “have eliminated all linguistics, presenting nothing but a physical performance that is closer to dance. I think that’s incorrect. We can work with language. In my production of ‘Dionysus,’ for example, there are actors speaking in Japanese and others in English.”
The common language or “the Suzuki culture” is, as he describes it, based on a breathing method that leads to a release and then channeling of “animal energy, not unlike what happens when a great athlete or flamenco dancer performs. Our actors move better than dancers and sing better than singers. But then that’s true of all good actors.”
A Brief History of Viewpoints
What are the Viewpoints? To put this method for actor training into context, I think Anne Bogart and Tina Landau put it best. The following is quoted from Bogart & Landau’s The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition:
“A seismic cultural shift occurred in America during the middle of the last century. It was a shift marked by such events as the protests against the Vietnam War, the marches for civil rights, and the birth of abstract expressionism, postmodernism and minimalism. During the 1960s, this cultural explosion and artistic revolution gained momentum in New York City, San Francisco, and other urban centers and then spread across the nation. The movement was political, aesthetic and personal, and it altered the way artists thought about their processes, their audiences and their role in the world. . . . These postmodern pioneers forged the territory upon which we now stand. They rejected the insistence by the modern dance world upon social messages and virtuosic technique, and replaced it with internal decisions, structures, rules or problems. What made the final dance was the context of the dance. Whatever movement occurred while working on these problems became the art. This philosophy lies at the heart of both Viewpoints and Composition.“
So out of this tradition of experimentation and questioning arose the Viewpoints. The Viewpoints themselves were originally conceived by choreographer Mary Overlie, who had been strongly influenced by the Judson Church Group (including such innovators in dance and music as Robert Dunn, David Gordon, Yvonne Rainier, Meredith Monk, and John Cage). Originally, Overlie had only created six viewpoints (Space, Shape, Time, Emotion, Movement, and Story). But upon meeting Mary Overlie at New York University in 1979, Anne Bogart (and later Tina Landau) were inspired to expand these six Viewpoints dancers and choreographers into nine viewpoints for actors and theatre practitioners.
To again quote from Bogart and Landau’s book (because I think their phrasing is very important):
“It was instantly clear that Mary’s approach to generating movement for the stage was applicable to creating viscerally dynamic moments of theatre with actors and other collaborators. “
So Viewpoints have become an opportunity for discovering new moments in theatre. “Visceral” and “dynamic” are very important terms, because the Viewpoints are not meant to be a rehearsal technique or a performance method in themselves. They are spontaneous interactions between a group of actors that are useful for training our senses and sense of play as well as building an ensemble.
The Viewpoints adapted by Bogart and Landau are nine physical Viewpoints (Spatial Relationship, Kinesthetic Response, Shape, Gesture, Repetition, Architecture, Tempo, Duration, and Topography). There are also Vocal Viewpoints (Pitch, Dynamic, Acceleration/Deceleration, Silence, and Timbre).
Of course, all of these descriptions I am giving you are just words, and the Viewpoints are a method for actor training that is best experienced and not verbalized. Viewpoints, by their nature, are meant to encourage more risk-taking and bolder choices in acting that are not confined by any particular expectations or a strict process. Through the improvised exploration of Viewpoints, artistic discovery is possible on a personal and group level. You have to see it to believe it!