We’ve been publishing articles about the Gonsalves method recently, and last week we tested the Gonsalves method out “in real life”. Aileen (Gonsalves) came to Scotland to run a full-day workshop with some of the cast of Shakespeare @ Traquair’s production of Much Ado About Nothing (running from 30th May – 9th June, Wednesday to Saturday). This review shares our view of the results of the workshop.
Before going into the details of how Aileen ran the workshop, there’s a quick test of whether the workshop was worthwhile. Did it improve the performance of the actors? I know the Shakespeare @ Traquair actors quite well, having worked with them for perhaps 10 years. So did I see any changes in their performances?
Act Three Scene Three introduces Dogberry and the Watch. I saw two of the group’s better actors put on a Jacques Tatti like version of this scene using nothing but the names of the two characters. It was hilarious!
At the end of the workshop, Aileen rehearsed the conversation between Benedick and Beatrice from Act One Scene One. I have never seen the actors involved demonstrate such a powerful connection with their emotions, each other, and the audience.
I am convinced. This methodology works.
So what did we (I was only an observer, for this review) do in the workshop? (I’m not going to go into any detail on the methodology. If you’re interested, you can read Aileen’s articles published here: Objectives are essential to good acting; Objectives, Stakes, Entitlement Tactics)
The Gonsalves method proposes that an actor needs to be ‘affectable’ – acting is reacting (as Meisner and / or Aileen said, “you don’t say “Ow” until you’ve been pinched). Most of the workshop was spent encouraging the actors to look outwards: at the space we were in; at their partner in an exercise; and at the other actors in a scene.
We started by introducing ourselves to eachother: each person reaching out and holding someone’s hands whilst looking at their eyes; telling them our names; and then reaching out for the next person to repeat the process.
Then, we explored the room. We walked around the room, trying to see the room completely freshly; and then trying to make sure that the actors were evenly-spaced within the room.
And then we tried to see how we could be affected by another actor. We split into pairs and looked at each other across the room, only allowed to move towards or away from each other. Initially, using no words at all, we tried to sense what our partner in the exercise wanted us to do.
Then, one actor was allowed to call to the other, using only their name, in an attempt to get the other to come towards them.
Sometimes, this led to the two actors becoming face to face, almost in a stand-off.
Then, standing quite close to one another, the two actors took turns to observe the other and say everything that the other did: “Your arm is twitching”; “your eye blinked”; “you started to smile”. etc., etc. The observing actor was focused on the other, and perhaps more importantly, was not focused on themselves.
Aileen now introduced another key component of the Gonsalves methodology – Objectives. In every scene, every actor’s character has an objective. To get us used to this idea, we played rounds of the children’s game, Grandmorther’s footsteps (known as Red light, Green light in the US). This game is fairly well known so I won’t describe it – you can Google it if you want to know. The objective here is fairly clear – sneak up on Granny, with out being seen moving, and beyond that, it’s rather fun to play!
Still, we had not really been using words, but now they were introduced. In pairs the actors would face each other and one actor say what they saw the other one do. This phrase was then repeated by each actor in turn, responding to the emotional tone of the other. The phrase became meaningless fairly quickly, but the emotional content grew, often leading to aggressive phrasing. We had a couple of experienced Gonsalves method actors with us and they gave a demonstration of this technique. Their emotional strength and range was much greater, but through repeated exercises, the Shakespeare @ Traquair actors’ became more adept.
By this time we were about three quarters through the workshop and all the time, it seemed to me, was invested in freeing the actors from self-consciousness and making them focus on ‘the other’ to whom they would respond. It was only now that we started looking at the play.
In Act Three, Scene Three, Dogberry and Verges try to organise a rabble of watchmen. These two actors, using the rest of the workshop attendees as watchmen, tried to knock them into shape only using their names: “Dogberry” and “Verges”. This was no easy task, and they got a little frustrated at the limitations of what they could say, but from an observer’s perspective, the scene turned into an amusing Jacques Tatti-like (Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday) scene where it was quite clear what was going on, even if the script was pretty bare.
And then, finally, we rehearsed a scene: Beatrice and Benedick in Act One Scene One. The Gonsalves method suggests that you learn your lines with no intonation. Aileen wants the intonation to arise as you play the scene, and this makes it much “truer” than pre-rehearsed intonation. The two actors rehearsed their lines with no intonation. You’ll probably have guessed that the two actors weren’t initially allowed to use their speeches to begin with. Instead they used the script “You twitched your foot” repeated again and again,but following the emotional rhythm of the scene.
Eventually, they moved on to the script. Their speeches were given in response to the other actor, and an imagined person who best fitted the situation in the scene.
The results were astonishing, bringing full-hearted applause from the other workshop attendees. The two actors concerned have agreed with the director that they will now rehearse all their other scenes using the Gonsalves method.
This has been a rather bald exposition of the rough shape of the workshop. I have not gone into the detail of the methodology, because Aileen is doing that in articles already published on the web-site (Objectives are essential to good acting; Objectives, Stakes, Entitlement Tactics), and future articles to come.
Perhaps the stand-out learning for me, is that the words don’t matter that much (even Shakespeare’s) in communications. Indeed pretty nearly all the RSC workshops I’ve attended try to get the actors to forget the words. Michael Corbidge does this; Aileen does this; and both assure me that this comes from Cicely Berry, the doyenne of RSC Voice coaching.
I’d like to leave you with some quotes from the participants in the workshop as to how they thought it went:
Dogberry: “I genuinely do wish we’d had the opportunity of this some years ago. The workshop was incredibly instructive, from the concept of reacting rather than acting, the analysis of objective and other conditions, to line learning and paraphrasing, all were valuable tools that we can put in our acting toolbox, and which will bring a new dimension to rehearsal and performance. The exercises were huge fun but very revealing, and it was fascinating to see how the interaction between players in a scene, the chemistry and emotion, developed as Aileen layered on more of her “conditions”. Aileen’s energy and passion for her subject is infectious, and her knowledge, experience and insight shone through. As amateurs in community theatre, rarely do we have an opportunity to approach acting from a technical perspective. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to sample some of the training that professional actors receive.”
Verges: “A riveting introduction to a completely different way of approaching Shakespeare.. It will galvanise the way both actors and directors can work together to bring the text alive for audiences of all shapes an sizes.”
The Director: “Exhilarating workshop yesterday run by Aileen Gonsalves with most of the cast of this year’s Shakespeare at Traquair production Much Ado About Nothing. Giving Community Theatre participants a unique opportunity to learn something new and develop their passion and skills.”
The youngest workshop participant: “The workshop with Aileen was incredibly beneficial and interesting!”
Benedict: “Aileen is a great facilitator and workshop leader. Her depth of knowledge and light touch kept things flowing and interesting.
The essence behind it all, to bring a real performance to an audience, is clearly a highly desirable one for any actor. We look for it as much in community theatre as professionals do.
The process that she led Fiona [Beatrice] and I through was difficult. But really worthwhile. We both loved the way things changed at each stage.
We have already met with Scott [The Director] to try and implement some of the learning into our other key Beatrice and Benedict scenes.
A very enjoyable day, I would highly recommend the Gonsalves Method and Aileen personally to any theatre group.”
Beatrice: Beatrice was also impressed with the workshop – so impressed that she’s written an article about it. You can find that article at:
Beatrice’s view of the Gonsalves Method Workshop
As the workshop ended, the person who runs Shakespeare @ Traquair said to me that he would be interested to see what impact the workshop would have on performances during the run. That’s a good question, and the workshop attendees seem to be taking the steps necessary to roll out the learnings to the rest of the cast, and their other scenes in the play. And of course they can refresh their memory of the methodology, by reading the articles (more coming soon) on the methodology on Players-Shakespeare.com
Aileen is keen to run workshops for Community / Amateur Theatre Groups. She only asks that the group pay her travel (from London) and accommodation costs (she’s happy to stay with Group members). If you’re interested in having a full-day workshop with Aileen then fill in the following form, and press submit.
In the immediate future Aileen is available on the following dates:
US (New York or nearby):
Saturday, April 21st