For our final semester of the two and a half years, the MFA class of 2013 ventured off to Malovice, Czech Republic to work with the theatre company, Divadlo Continuo. It is a company that has existed since 1995, led by the artistic director, Pavel Stourac. Their work falls under the umbrella of physical theatre, with many of their performances consisting of puppetry, object manipulation, mask-work, movement, acrobatics, live music and singing, and text. As we settled into our caravans at the plum-yard, we were fully welcomed and enveloped into their lifestyle and working process. The company lives as a community, with everyone doing their part to make the living and working conditions as comfortable and efficient as possible. With a full kitchen, indoor and outdoor showers, and comfortable caravans, the MFA cohort had everything we needed and more to create the show that we would tour at the end of six weeks.
Our days usually consisted of a physical warm-up in the morning, followed by exercises that we would then use to create pieces in the afternoon. The morning exercises were usually led by Continuo members, while the creation was guided by Pavel. The exercises always focused on a physical principle: leading and guiding one another from the pelvis, initiating contact from different parts of the body, leading and guiding one another from different parts of the body, pushing and pulling. Within these exercises we were always told to play with the tempo, rhythm and quality of the movement and, of course, to allow the body to speak while trying to keep the mind quiet. The exercises that we were given are the same that the group uses when they devise their own pieces, and luckily we were given the opportunity to see three of their shows during our stay. Each performance was incredibly different, but in all three we were able to recognize the physical principles that were being taught fully executed by the performers. They use their complete body as an instrument and, for them, the body must always be alive on stage and the movement needs to be done in full without any hesitation or block. As we created pieces each day, we would show our work and be given thorough, constructive feedback, where we would then continue to improve upon each piece.
Aside from physical movement, we also had several Voice classes where we created choruses using simple syllables that layered upon one another. In addition to voice, we had a music class where we created several instrumental pieces, which included drums, ukulele, bass, melodica and several small percussion instruments. Though these instrumental pieces did not make it into the show, it was wonderful to get the opportunity to learn how to create a solid piece utilizing simple composition skills.
As mentioned before, Continuo often uses puppets and objects in their work and we were able to have workshops with Pavel on the art of manipulation and animation. Working with different kinds of paper, we put together both small and large puppets and we were taught basic puppet animation techniques- finding the breath of the puppet, personality through movement including tempo, rhythm, and the quality in which it moves. We also had the chance to create “hybrid” puppets where we used large paper balls as the heads and our own bodies and put together both human-like and animalistic creatures. In addition we had the opportunity to play with various objects and explored various possibilities of movement and storytelling through the body.
As the weeks passed, our show began to come to fruition. The idea of a Bar was given by Continuo and they built for us a long bar made of five wooden boxes which lay on top of a metal bar that rested on two wooden, rolling saw-horses. Our performance was called The Things and centred around the characters who enter the bar, their interactions, why they come and why they seem to never want to leave, and the barman who never seems to want to serve. Our stories were told primarily through movement, utilizing many of the pieces that had been previously created. Through the guidance of Pavel and Continuo members, we were able to put together a solid performance that toured several cities in the Czech Republic, which included Malovice, Prague, Olomouc and Brno. Each audience seemed to receive the piece incredibly well and we were given very positive feedback. As an end to our two years, it seemed to be the group consensus that it was a wonderful way to conclude our experience. Though we had explored similar physical concepts before, working with Continuo gave us an opportunity to not only further our understanding in both a practical and creative way, but we were also given the chance to perform several times in new spaces with new audiences. By touring we learned the skills of setting up and breaking down in an efficient manner, quickly adapting to a new space and keeping the show fresh and exciting for each audience- tools that are essential for any and all performers. Throughout our weeks of creation and during our performances, our class, which was already a pretty good ensemble to begin with, was able to further work together as a unit, listen to each other on stage and off, move together, live together and in the end we left with an incredible experience that I do not think any one of us could have imagined.