For the last three years I have been exploring and practicing “Action Theater,” a type of physical (and emotional) improvisation training I first learned in choreography and improvisation classes at York University in Toronto. And since I am about to start my annual full run-through of a twenty-day Action Theater regimen, as formulated in Ruth Zaporah’s Action Theater: The Improvisation of Presence, I thought I would share it with you and encourage you to explore this amazing system of creative training.
Action Theater, created and developed by Zaporah herself, is a type of improvisation training and performance that is designed to expand and heighten one’s physical and emotional awareness of the moment – improvising presence – while exploring, and eventually ridding the practitioner of, various fears and inner judgments holding one back from fully opening up to one’s creative potential. I like to call it emotional Tai Ch’i, a way of allowing one’s doubts to move as gracefully as one’s confidences.
In the book, Zaporah presents a twenty-day plan for creative exploration through movement, and each chapter lays out a full day’s process. Through the use of multiple exercises, stories, anecdotes, and metaphors utilizing movement, vocalization, and speech, her technique slowly moves the practitioner away from preconceived notions of creative action and focuses awareness on the present moment; emotional barriers such as fear and boredom are removed in the process, and the practitioner is free to create without inner hesitation. The actual exercises themselves focus on time, space, shape, and energy, and the practitioner is taught how to examine, experience, and alter each as part of their new, expansive expressive palette. This kind of training is especially important to improvising musicians, as we tend to view the body as just ‘the body;’ the mind and fingers being the vital elements in the process of playing.
The first exercise for example, On/Off Clothes, is a playful exploration of a common action; reconfigured to be explored and/or pondered in a new way. You can either take clothes off or put them on, but whichever you do, focus your attention on every aspect of it and find a way to improvise each part of the overall action. If you are putting on a shirt, focus on breathing evenly while picking up the shirt off of the floor, like it is a profound action. Then you can try finding a new, interesting way to put it on inside out. The whole time you are doing this, try and be completely focused and aware of the shirt, and find ways to get your entire body involved in the process. Speed is also an option for exploration. Move fast sometimes, and other times move slowly. Do some things like you are in complete control and other things like you are being directed like a marionette, avoiding conscious thought in the process.
Playing with ideas such as this helps one see things anew, and often this new vision leads to new paradigms for exploration in music. It also helps build stamina and flexibility, two very important factors in stage performance for dancers, actors, and musicians alike. Can you find a way to apply what you have discovered with your body and your spirit in sound expression(s)? Action Theater provides a fun and profound creative way to move forward, and a wonderful way to live daily life.
For more information see http://www.actiontheater.com/index.htm
© 2013 Daniel Schnee.danielpaulschnee.wordpress.com