Physical theatre is a major part of an actors or performer’s repertoire. Though some maybe more passionate about physical theatre and its tools than others, today we are going to delve into physical theatre, but mainly focusing on the Russian pedagogue Vsevolod Meyerhold’s Biomechanics and what the importance of Meyerholds teachings is to an actor pursuing physical theatre, drawing from the texts “Biomechanic’s: Understanding Meyerholds System Of Actor Training.” By Marianne Kubik edited by Nicole Potter in “Movement For Actors Part 1” and Jonathan Pitches “Meyerholds Key Writings.” Whilst also drawing from my personal learning and practical experience with biomechanics during my Creative and Preforming Arts course.
To begin, it is important to first acknowledge Meyerholds himself, not only as a theatre maker, but for his appreciation of the physical arts. Meyerholds was influenced by Constant-Benoit Coquelin and saw the performers body as a tool or more closely an instrument and the performer as the player of the instrument adopting the idea that the actor has a dual personality which is his first self, the player and is second self the instrument and that the two must come together and in the year nineteen fourteen Meyerholds said as written in “Biomechanics: Understanding Meyerholds System Of Actor Training.” “movement is the most powerful means of expression in the creation of a theatrical production. Deprived of words, costumes, footlights, wings, theatre auditorium and left with only the actor and his mastery of movement.” Now, how does one master the skill of movement and learn to play this instrument on the journey as an actor pursuing physical theatre? Not only with long periods of hard work, but accompanied by Meyerholds key teaching biomechanics. Biomechanics explores and demonstrates a formula developed by Meyerholds which has three steps, Otkaz the refusal or reverse of an action this is used to gain momentum for the action to come, Posyl the sending out or away of the action which is the middle where the gained momentum will be released or sent away and finally Tochka a stop or the end, this is where all momentum has been used and the end of the action. Though these are recognised as biomechanical techniques, just about all actions are broken into these three steps and this technique can be applied to just about any movement even when not being done biomechanically, to walk across a space we must first gain momentum, we then extend and send our leg away carrying the momentum with it and finally come to a stop when our action is completed. Though biomechanics looks far deeper into the walk itself, as an actor pursuing physical theatre to identify and recognise the biomechanical formula and understand a movement as basic as walking can be more than simply moving a part of the body from destination A to destination B, but a scientific process or as previously said a formula they will have a greater understanding of movement itself thus gathering deeper insight and further skill in physical performance which is exceptionally important. Clearly outlining what biomechanics is, establishing how a player can begin to tune their instrument and most importantly what the importance of Meyerholds teachings is to an actor pursuing physical theatre by setting a goal which is the “mastery of movement” by providing a tool or technique which is the biomechanical formula of “Otkaz”, “Posyl”, “Tochka” which can be applied to biomechanical and non-biomechanical movements.
Awareness is an important part of physical performance. If a physical performer is not aware of not only what is happening around them, but more importantly self-aware of their own body unintentional mistakes can occur which during a performance can have a devastating consequence such as ruining a performance or even worse injury. To achieve awareness, Meyerhold stressed that balance was key in terms of physical theatre as some sort of balance is always used in a physical performance and the focus it can take to achieve levels of balance heightens a performers awareness, with that he used the exercise “Balancing The Stick” to encourage and achieve awareness in a performer. In “Biomechanics: Understanding Meyerholds System Of Actor Training” it is outlined that Meyerholds preformers would “take a stick (¾” in diameter by 4’) and balance one end on both the middle and index finger of one hand.” They would then try balancing it, whilst preforming a variety of movements and motions such as sitting, walking and running to name a few. Actors would also transfer the stick to other regions of the body in such as the elbow or nose to create a further awareness. Meyerholds idea was that “The stick is an extension of the arm, which is an extension of the torso via the upper body and middle back muscles… therefore (the stick) is the ultimate test of balance.” The “Balancing of The Stick” should be regarded as important to a performer pursuing physical theatre because being aware and balanced is a key feature of any physical performance no matter how small and this exercise teaches the performer how to achieve this, further tuning their “instrument” and advancing them as “players”. Clearly establishing that balance and awareness is a key part to physical performance and can be achieved through the use of Meyerholds “Balancing of The Stick” demonstrating the importance of Meyerholds teachings to an actor pursuing biomechanics.
Once Meyerhold developed his formula he began to develop a series of movements that have become to be known as “Etudes.” Meyerhold used these Etudes to train his actor and performers in a vast amount of physical skills and techniques. A prime example of one of these Etudes located in “Biomechanics: Understanding Meyerholds System Of Actor Training” which I have used personally during my Creative and Preforming Arts course is “The Daktil” which is also used for fine tuning the “instrument” before the “player” begins their symphony that is the physical performance. Though “The Daktil” is only a small Etude It is worth noting that “The Daktil” has also been used and adapted into further Etudes such as “The Slap” and “The Throwing Of The Stone” which are longer in length and used as performances. “The Daktil” begins with a neutral stance to focus the performer followed by an inhale and a preparation. The performer will then gather energy, extend upward, collect energy, clap downward, extend, rise upward, clap again, extend down and finish in the ready stance. This is used to touch upon the teachings of Otkaz, Posyl, Tochka as well as to trigger the focus, awareness and balance taken from “Balancing The Stick” to prepare the performer for the movements they are about to physically preform. This can be recognised as important to a performer who is pursuing physical performance as not only does it touch upon the formula and Meyerholds exercises this simple Etude brings the performer to a full attention regardless of what it is they are about to perform physically, it brings them into the space, into the moment and into the performance itself regardless if the performance is biomechanical or not and thus adding an excellent warm up technique that can be used beyond a rehearsal and be brought into a performance itself which it has been done in the examples of “The Slap” and “The Throwing Of The Stone” and I have used it in physical performances during my Creative and Preforming Arts course for these means and outcomes also. Clearly demonstrating the importance of Meyerholds teachings to an actor pursuing physical performance.
According to Jonathan Pitches “Meyerhold’s Key Writings” besides also developing his own work, Meyerholds spent time watching and appreciating others and their work such as Chaplin. Now it is unconfirmed if Chaplin himself trained in biomechanics, but within this text it is exclaimed that “most importantly, what Meyerhold has to say about Chaplin (concluded through observation) is true of all great biomechanical actors, even if he didn’t train in biomechanics. He was a natural performer…. (this ability) could explain his elevated place in Meyerholds thinking.” The idea that is being conveyed here is that as a physical performer and though individual creative ideas and devices are encouraged it is also advised to study upon others. Meyerhold exclaims that “the maximum exploitation of expressive power can be acquired from studying Chaplin.” So as a subtle, but important note or teaching it is encouraged to an actor who is pursuing physical performance to study upon other creative pieces of movement from other collaborators and performers for then you may have an idea or achieve that “maximum exploitation of expressive power” that Chaplin and even Meyerholds himself had as that what all performances are an expressive power, because like I have experienced during my own creative works during my Creative and Preforming Arts course it is always wise to watch pieces of work such as “The Slap” which I watched and performed during the course followed by the task of having to adapt it into my own piece of biomechanical work which I could not have done successfully without first drawing from other creative works and adapting them into something that stylises myself and my personality or the characters personality that I wish to portray like Chaplin had done with his famous character “The Tramp”. Demonstrating the importance of Meyerholds teachings to an actor pursuing physical performance now not only in a physical way through physical techniques, but through the teachings of subtle ideas and views of other collaborators.
In conclusion it can be recognised through the paragraphs provided that not only is physical theatre still a major part of an actor’s repertoire, through the study and focus on Russian pedagogue Vsevolod Meyerhold Biomechanics it has been clearly outlined what the importance of Meyerholds teachings to an actor who is pursuing physical performance demonstrated through examples from the texts “Biomechanics: Understanding Meyerholds System Of Actor Training.” Which delved into “The Actor having a dual personality which is his first self the player and second self the instrument” which needs fine tuning and can be done by using the formula “Okatz”, “Posyl”, “Tochka” derived from the same text which also included “The Balancing of the Stick” leading into “The Daktil” being the neutral stance, inhale, prepare, gather energy, extend upward, collect energy, clap downward, extend, rise upward, clap again, extend down and into the ready stance. Whilst also drawing upon Jonathon Pitches “Meyerhold’s Key Writings” which showed how to advance yourself not only as a physical performer by using techniques and your own individual creative ideas, but to study other collaborators by divulging Vsevolod Meyerholds thoughts and opinions of Chaplin as a performer who in Meyerholds opinion “was a natural performer….(who had) the maximum exploitation of expressive power.” Whilst also drawing from my personal experiences throughout most of the paragrapgs and techniques to realise the importance of Meyerholds teachings to an actor pursuing physical performance.
Written by Martin Noonan (c3186803)