Type of Proposal
Performance (Music, Dance, Dramatic Art, etc.)
Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Gina Lori Riley
24-3-2015 1:00 PM
24-3-2015 1:50 PM
Importance of the Project
Sponsored by Professor Gina Lori Riley, we began devising our original movement composition in October of this year. Inspired by the mysterious true story of Edward Mordrake, we used the methodology of the Seven Viewpoints -- coined by Anne Bogart of the Siti Company -- and Contact improvisation to explore the themes of depression, suicide, and the complexities of sibling relationships. Edward Mordrake is known as one of the most curious cases of medical deformity in human history. Mordrake was born with his twin sister attached to the back of his head.
The only factual evidence of his existence is taken from the medical book, Anomalies and Curiosities of Modern Medicine, which is where we gathered much of our spoken text for the piece from. Though Mordrake is estimated to have lived in the mid-1800s, his story of alienation and mental digression is one that is very much relevant today.
This particular research project is incredibly innovative, as we used the method of Contact in order to better understand the depth of human connection; how can two people be entirely interlocked through the mind, body, and soul, even when they aren’t touching? The giving and sharing of weight -- both physically and mentally -- is integral to the creation of character and relationship, and through this process we were able to discover how expression through the body can speak volumes, and how this work is not only applicable to our acting work, but throughout our daily lives.
Existing State of Knowledge
In the BFA Acting program at the University of Windsor, we are greatly privileged to have the opportunity to train under Professor Gina Lori Riley, who is an active professional in the dance and theatre world. She has strong connections with Anne Bogart’s SITI Company in NYC, who base their work in movement composition in order to tell a story. As we advanced in this program, we built our understanding of Bogart’s technique, which includes the Viewpoints -- Architecture, Shape, Gesture, Spacial Relationship, Kinesthetic Response, Topography, Tempo, and Duration. We had also experienced and been inspired by previous contact-based performances, some with impressive lifts and acrobatics, and some as simple as palm-to-palm touch. The idea is to connect one’s mind with the body and voice, and then to share this connection with a partner, then two partners, then as large as a group of five or more. An actor would begin by touching one part of their scene partner’s body, then rolling through this body part to explore the different ways in which the pair can be linked. Contact is not only used as a performance style, but as a rehearsal improvisation technique, wherein the actor brings in lines of text or a character from a scene and can physically explore their relationship to another character within the Given Circumstances of the play.
We posed the research question: can the physical connection, developed through the method of contact, strengthen the psychological relationship between two actors?
Within Anne Bogart’s method of devising original work, she teaches that one must begin the process of composing with an anchor, a question, and a structure. The anchor is the core of what the composition revolves around; we chose Edward Mordrake as our anchor, because we both agreed it leant itself to the method of contact since him and his sister were physically and mentally attached. After participating in the improvisations in class and researching more about the life of Mordrake, we created the question, “How long can one man stand up against the weight of the world?”; after solidifying this question, we were able to enter the rehearsal space and begin our contact improvisation as Edward and his Sister. We were able to explore and define the depth of the relationship they shared by using of the Viewpoints through the medium of contact; the structure of our piece developed from what we discovered in the space. We kept our set minimalist -- a single box upstage, and a stool downstage with a noose above it. Our structure was simple -- Edward wished to kill himself in order to free himself from his life-long burden, and his Sister yearned to live, and loved her brother and life itself although he believed she tormented him. We begin our piece on the upstage box, and it takes the entire piece (roughly six minutes) for Edward to reach his goal. To him, he bears the weight of the world on his shoulders; through our physical connection as a partnership, we pushed the boundaries of how long one person can carry such an enormous literal and metaphorical weight.
We explored a lot through head-to-head contact due to the nature of the characters’ direct physical connection; rolling through the head to mould into a lift, feet-to-shoulders, torso-to-torso. An element of their relationship we wanted to explore, was the fact that they were never alone. Due to the deformity, Edward was never not in contact with his sister. During our improvisations we discovered the elasticity of their relationship and how even when the two of us were apart, we always had the feeling of the others weight in the playing space. We used the song which had originally inspired us -- Poor Edward by Tom Waits -- to bookend our piece; the rest of it is filled with the use of breath to communicate thought, as well as text pulled from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat and Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. The method of Contact allows for simple and fast devising -- as long as both partners commit entirely to the sharing and receiving of weight, imagination and creation is limitless. It strips away complexities and we were able to understand what it truly means to be present for your partner -- because if you aren’t, injuries can easily occur. The strength of our relationship became so strong that we could mould our bodies together, acting in complete unison and becoming one powerful entity.
We workshopped our piece for our classmates, and we were immediately aware of the difference of having an audience; their energy fills the room, and it was interesting playing with our relationship to them would be. We had structured our piece with the essence of a freak show, and the audience members are the spectators behind the glass, the jury judging which of the two characters truly deserved their fate. Our classmates energies greatly affected our performance for the better; after fine-tuning our piece, we were ready to present it to the public, and it was greatly received. The piece fascinated our audience, and inspired them to go research more about Mordrake’s life, as well as seek to create their own devised work in the same minimalistic style that we worked with. By stripping down the set and tech, we were able to focus entirely on our characters and their interconnecting energies, which we came to discover was enough on its own.
In using the methodology of contact, we discovered a way to be entirely connected to each other as a partnership through an infinite cycle of energy. As mentioned above the most important discovery was that our personal connection to each other and the audience was enough in its simplicity; this is a progressive way to approach theatre, and institutions such as the SITI company are making waves in the theatre world with their devised work. We were able to create a piece that sent out our own ripples within the University of Windsor, and we are excited to be taking our piece further. Contact that is as simple as eye-to-eye connection in daily life is something that is important to be sensitive to; a smile while passing a stranger can change a day, and calling attention to the way in which we connect as a society is incredibly informative. In addition, contact is an extremely important technique in regards to acting work as a whole; applying contact to scene work with a partner, as well as character development is a visceral way to embody the world of the play while still sharing energy, and not allowing it to become self-indulgent. It is a movement style of the future, based purely on what it means to connect to another human.
Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine