In Romania, in the most recent years, a lot of acting schools developed, not only for professional actors, but also for amateurs, not only improving acting skills for live performances, but also for film, acting in front of a camera. In this context, in 2007, the company “Teatrul Fara Frontiere” (Theatre without Borders) started to create and develop master classes for enriching acting abilities, being the first to present in Romania acting methods such as: Michael Chekhov, Sanford Meisner,Kristin Linklater, Tadashi Suzuki Viewpoints and Rasaboxes, Practical Aesthetics, clowning and melodrama.
In 2013, the programme managed by Theatre without Borders continued with three new workshops on the Michael Chekhov method (led by professor Ragnar Freidank, USA), Linklater vocal technique (led by professor Marsha Cox (Germany) and improvisation technique Viewpoints (led by professor Rich Brown, USA). This programme was financially supported by Administration of National Cultural Fund and was organized in partnership with The National Dance Center from Bucharest and “Anton Pann” Theatre from Ramnicu Valcea.
During the first workshop on The Michael Chekhov method, I had the particular occasion to observe Romanian professional actors experiencing its principles, focusing more on movement and developing their imagination. These are two key points from which this method is beneficial as it develops an inner common ground and a conscience of their personality that can be used on different productions they will participate in the future, no matter what: classical theatre, experimental one or film acting.
Therefore I asked professor Ragnar Freidank to answer the following questions: Why in particular do you think this work is important for an actors’ training?
I feel this work is so important because it is something you DO and FEEL. Thought or the “intellect” participates in this process as IMAGINATION. In this way this work is inherently PLAYFUL.
I feel this work speaks directly to the actor’s nature; and following Michael Chekhov’s suggestions is one way to make contact with and expand our own intuitive talents as actors.
During this workshop, did you discover some particularities of Romanian actors, some different ways of thinking or reacting from the ones you met from your various experiences during classes?
Now that I am trying to answer this question, I realize that everything I can say about my experience in Bucharest is now memory. And any class I ever taught before is now a memory. Trying to answer your question I am now comparing one memory with another. The ways these memories live in me are as feelings, images and the flavor of different atmospheres. And yet they are all united in one memory and that memory is mine. The person I am at this very moment is -as it were- inhabited by these memories. So in speaking about these memories, I am speaking about myself.
Yes, working with Romanian actors was very different than working with actors in the US or Switzerland or Rome or Japan, which are countries I have taught in before. It was very different for me, because I had never been to Romania and had never heard the language. While I was there I felt enchanted by your country, I fell in love with the sound of your language and with the people. It was mysterious, colorful and scary. And it was strange and beautiful. And people in underwear were walking the streets at night and cab drivers were grumpy and a former professor, extremely kind and cultured and speaking French, was one of the doormen of our theater-space. And a dog was sleeping on the road, his head rested on the curb of the sidewalk. And there was laughter and freedom and locked doors and an old woman selling me a tomato. And hair blowing in the wind while riding in a cabriolet. And someone sat on a hat but it now looked better. And that was what working with Romanian actors was like to me.
After a week period of this kind of training, what advices will you give to your students? How should they continue, how to make the exercises part of their everyday training as actors?
Some years ago I was teaching at a conference and found myself saying: “There is no such thing as the Michael Chekhov Technique”. Which is a strange thing to say for someone teaching the Michael Chekhov’s Technique. Why did I say it, I wonder, and feel that I was speaking the truth? Your last question reminds me of this. The actor himself or herself IS the technique. Michael Chekhov merely described the movements and perceptions of his own talent. His gift to us is that he described everything he found CREATIVELY. He described it in LIVING WAYS. What he was talking about can therefore only be discovered in the same living way. That obviously includes anything that moves through the actors’ body or consciousness. It includes any feeling, any thought, any impulse and perception. If we as actors follow what is occurring in us, we might find Michael Chekhov’s suggestions helpful or even liberating in finding our OWN WAY. In that case we might find it helpful to every now and then read in his book “To the Actor” or in his book “Lessons for the Professional Actor”, or to listen to the voice recordings that exist from the end of his life and are published by Applause Theater Books as “On Theater and the Art of Acting”, or to watch some of MICHA’s (The Michael Chekhov Association’s) Master Class DVDs (also streaming online at michaelchekhov.org). But most of all I would suggest to trust any resonance and inclinations in one’s own heart to develop and create one’s own “technique” for the time and culture we live in. After all, Michael Chekhov’s main concern was what will happen to the “Theater of the Future” – and that future is now. It was wonderful to be in Bucharest. I am very grateful that Mihaela Sirbu invited me and made this workshop possible. _______
Ragnar Freidank was trained as a mime and holds an MFA in Acting from the Conservatory of Music and Theatre in Hamburg. He received a scholarship from Villigst (Germany) to study the Michael Chekhov Technique in New York City; his long-time teachers were Ted Pugh and Fern Sloan, who were both certified by Beatrice Straight, one of the few actors to receive certification by Michael Chekhov to teach his method. He is teaching in the Graduate Acting Program of Columbia University and is facilitating The Open Class, an acting class and collaborative space in New York City. Mr. Freidank serves as a board member for MICHA (Michael Chekhov Association) and teaches regularly at international MICHA conferences. He also taught for and co-directed the DVD series: “Master Classes in the Michael Chekhov Technique”, published by Routledge.
Teatrul fara Frontiere: www.teatrulfarafrontiere.ro
Michael Chekov Association: http://www.michaelchekhov.org/
DVD with Master Classes in the Michael Chekhov Technique: http://www.amazon.com/Master-Classes-Michael-Chekhov-Technique/dp/0415422582
[the interview is exclusively published online, made by Florentina Bratfanof]