Posted by: Bryan-Keyth Wilson (November 14, 2012)
My friend Shaunyce Sims-Omar suggested I take this acting workshop that was coming to Houston about two years ago and I have to say that my life was changed, I was introduced to Viewpoints and Composition. Now many of you in the business have heard of this and were introduced to it in a workshop setting or during a rehearsal process. So after many attempts of looking for information on the internet; I couldn’t find anything I could use in my continued training and the frustration followed, but then there was the trip to NYC! After a tour of NYU I went to the bookstore and it was as if the theatre Gods heard my prayers! I began to look for plays to read and there it was on a book stand cascaded by a LED overhead lamp, The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition. Was this true what was within my grasp and just one credit card transaction away from being mine? Was this the Holy Grail to what my creative soul was looking for? YES! A complete guide with exercises as well as a historical narrative of the conception of the technique. From that day forward my life as a Teaching Artist was changed. I needed something fresh other than the traditional methods I used in teaching my acting students. I needed more! So you may ask yourself what the HECK is he talking about!?!
A glance at Viewpoints
A viewpoint is a technique of composition that provides a vocabulary for thinking about and acting upon movement and gesture. Originally developed in the 1970s by choreographer Mary Overlie as a method of movement improvisation, The Viewpoints theory was adapted for stage acting by directors Anne Bogart and Tina Landau. Bogart and Overlie were on the faculty of ETW at NYU in the late 1970s and early 1980s during which time Bogart was influenced by Overlie’s innovations. Overlie’s Six Viewpoints (space, story, time, emotion, movement, and shape) are considered to be a logical way to examine, analyze and create dances, while Bogart’s Viewpoints are considered practical in creating staging with actors. Coming from a dance background this concept was the Yin to my Yang. I’ve noticed for many years that “producing” has become the be all, end all here to the process when developing a show. We are so consumed with the overall end product and forget about the nuance and exchange of energy and emotion for the sake of producing a solid show. Viewpoints immediately take you out of the script, music and choreography. If you are relying on those elements only while producing a production you are missing out on 90% of the experience. In the book it states, “When a rehearsal boils down to the process of manufacturing, and then hanging desperately onto emotion, genuine human interaction is sacrificed.” This training forces you to rely on ONLY yourself and the people and environment around you. It forges visceral relationships with fellow actors and helps in ensemble building. The book also tells how the training suggests fresh ways of making choices onstage and generating action based on the awareness of action, time and space instead vs. over thinking and fraudulent choices. I am convinced that this is a great way to build layered characters as well as organic moments on stage.
Viewpoints with Young Actors
I had mixed feelings on introducing my students to Viewpoints. I didn’t know if they were going to embrace the training and approach it with an open mind. Needless to say I was double wrong! Our scheduled thirty minute introduction turned into a 2-hour Open Viewpoint emotional breakthrough. I began with the basic Sun Salutation exercise in a circle and we proceeded with Exercises 2-8 which used repetition, jumping, chasing, gesturing, imagery and soft focus. I saw how they took to the exercises and we proceeded to the other exercises in the book. One thing I love about this training is that it allows you to go far with an exercise or keep it simple. We began to work on Topography and while exploring this exercise I was surprised at the commitment by my students. Each student was to think about their life, and use Topography to map it out. Once that exercise was completed we moved on. I’ve found that using my Yoga Pandora station set a holistic atmosphere. The Floor Pattern- Life Story/ Floor Pattern Expressing Character exercises took this secession to another level. As each student performed their life Topography the walls began to fall; tears were shared and trust was established. Students showed how they’ve overcame bullying, losing a best friend/ grandparent and self-acceptance. The Viewpoints training forces you to create an atmosphere that encourages discovery, truth and possibility. Actors young and old need a work environment that is stress-free and allows for growth. You must establish a trusting relationship from director to actor and this was accomplished in the Floor Pattern Exercise.
Talking to the Actor
I’ve learned that language is a determining factor on the overall tone and of rehearsal. You must have tact and tone during the process of working with artists young and old. The possibilities are limitless and the relationship becomes visceral. We’ve been taught by the theatrical powers that be to have a certain type of demeanor and use certain words as directors that at the end of the day are demeaning, intimidating and flat-out wretched to any creative journey. I’m learning to make the process communal while holding on to my creative vision as a director/choreographer. Instead of telling your actors what you want, ask the piece/ play what it wants. This allows for many creative discoveries from the actors down to the creative team. My students have embraced Viewpoints and we are growing together while we learn the vernacular of this ingenious approach to “the process.” We are currently choreographing a piece about bullying using Viewpoints in our rehearsals and I can’t wait to see that final product.
Continuing to Grow With Viewpoints
As you can see this is something that I’m passionate about, and look forward to learning more about the technique and teach others across the country. I taught at a writers conference in Ft. Lauderdale and brought my Viewpoints training with me to help other artist/ writers get out of the same ole same ole writing regime. I’ve also referred other colleagues in the theatre business to the book/technique and the success stories are rolling in. I’m in the process of directing MACBETH with The Eklektix Theatre Company and I’m using Viewpoints as the catalyst to mount the show. The training forges relationships, allows you to get away from the script and exchange energy artist to artist. In using Viewpoints there are gifts or as I call them my little nuggets of wisdom and they are Surrender, Possibility, Choice & Freedom, Growth and Wholeness. The possibilities are limitless if you allow the material to work for you. My motto for this year is: If you want something you’ve never had you must do something you’ve never done, and Viewpoints is the road map to your creative journey. Now go get the book and PLAY!
What a fantastic read. Thanks for offering this peak into the world of Viewpoints. And, thanks for doing the legwork on this book! Definitely on my list for this month. I'm interested to see how this technique might work within my Meisner training. Incorporating new perspective is always a good shot in the arm going into the winter! And, sometimes a different voice saying the same thing is heard above the familiar. I love the piece in the cafeteria. Brave, creative, soldiers - those kids - and you're the General!
(840 days ago)