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May 10, 2006

“Toward a Dispositional State of Possibility—with a touch of ‘madness’”

by Phillip Zarrilli

assisted by Klaus Seewald (Theatre Asou/Austria), Jeung-Sook Yoo, and Exeter University students

In The Metaphysical Studio (published in TDR) I reflected upon the relationship between 'presence' and 'absence' in actor-training and performance.

Absence is derived from the Latin 'absentia (...) state of being absent or missing'.
Presence is derived from the Latin 'praesentia', to be before one; 'pre + esse to be (...) at hand.

In the spatio-temporal realm of the ‘metaphysical’ studio, this workshop will further reflect upon and interrogate the relationship between presence and absence, between 'what is' as it 'comes into being' and 'what is not'.

I view this relationship as a constantly dialectical state of creative possibility. I will argue that only if the absent is constantly present (‘at-hand’) to the performer might ‘presence’ emerge as a performative disposition—a place of possibility and readiness.

The question in practice becomes how to prepare/train actors toward this dispositional 'readiness'.

To tease out this relationship between presence and absence, in addition to drawing Western phenomenology and South Asian paradigms and languages of practice and embodiment, I will elaborate a few Taoist principles that inform the inner dynamics of taiquiquan and the dynamic, dialectical relationship between yin and yang central to its practice.

After an introduction, the first part of the workshop is a work demonstration of pre-performative psychophysical exercises (yoga, kalarippayattu, taiquiquan) guided by the set of metaphors used to train and prepare actors toward this dispositional state of readiness. As important as the exercises per se is the studio-based language I have developed to held actors toward actualizing this dispositional readiness. We will explore and interrogate this dispositional state between presence and absence in advanced martial arts practice with weapons.

Two reflections will follow:
(1) how everything must be ‘forgotten’, i.e., one must enter a kind of ‘chaos’ where form is ‘abandoned’ in heightened practice;
(2) the ‘problem’ of the senses, sensory awareness, and perception, i.e., how an alternative language of awareness might move the actor toward a dispositional state of possibility.

The underlying principles of the training will be put into play towards acting as a few structured improvisations are ‘played’. Again, ‘abandonment’ is crucial to this process of ‘play’.

In the final part of the workshop, specific examples of the application of such principles and training to specific dramaturgies will be explored.

How is the dispositional state of the performer shaped by particular modes of being/doing appropriate to a particular dramaturgy?

What are the tasks most appropriate to helping the actor create a “dispositional score” in which presence might emerge?

Particular attention will be given to the actor’s inhabitation of performance scores in which media has played a central part in realizing the mise-en-scene, and in issues of documentation—Beckett’s Eh Joe and Rockaby, Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life, Charles Mee’s Orestes.

Time permitting, the workshop will conclude with a brief discussion of the ‘problem’ of documentation of non-mediated live performance—the ‘problem’ of ‘capturing’ an ephemeral/emergent ‘presence’ if and when it is not directed at or incorporating media as part of the mise-en-scene.

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