Presence Workshop Notes

These are from this week’s Monday night workshop on Presence. Largely influenced by a combination of Patsy Rodenburg’s book Presence and Keith Johnstone’s chapter on Being There, with a bit of John Wright’s Why is that so Funny thrown in. 

Patsy’s book goes more into theory so I won’t write about that much here, but very briefly she splits presence into three circles of energy:

1st Circle – energy is going inwards, withdrawn, wanting to retreat from the space. Defending by retreat.
3rd Circle – broadcast mode, energy is going outwards but with no connection back to the actor, they are defending themselves by controlling.

So she says to aim for 2nd Circle energy, where there is a constant flow of energy outwards and inwards, a connection, and the person is present in the space and with other actors and audience.

So on to the exercises:

Stretches. Unlocking the knees. Reaching up with hands. Flopping down from waist. Hanging with head and arms low and nice and relaxed. Rising from base of spine. This happens at the start of loads of workshops I go to and it actually originates from Patsy Rodenburg. 

Sounds outside the room. Do straight after the stretches. The actors have their eyes closed and in silence listed for sounds coming from outside the room. It’s amazing how many sounds there are. This is excellent at making people present in the space and is very relaxing. I do it just before a show I’m worried about. 

Looking at things in the room. Actors open their eyes and just look at things in the room. Then they walk around naming them and touching them. It’s amazing how many things we normally miss.

Mirroring. Actors are in pairs and act as if there is a mirror between them. One leads and the other follows as mirror image. Do in silence and remind them to unlock their ankles and knees so the whole body can follow. Swap roles. Then do it where no one in the pairs is leading, they both copy each other at the same time and build on what is already happening. This makes people very connected to each other. 

We then did it where the whole group would copy each other if pairs were close, it seemed to create one big creature. 

Stimulus and response. Keep the same set up and energy as mirroring, except this time people can have a reaction to the move rather than just coming. It doesn’t matter what they do, just keep the connection. This is now the energy of 2nd circle, give and take of energy with constant flow between the two people. 

We continued this but with the whole group doing it together, working together as machines creating whole devices, and then flowing from one machine to the other. Keith Johnstone actually belittles machines in his book but I find them the most useful physical impro game going. 

Then something completely different, about being present with an audience. This game is either loved or hated. Some people do it and they don’t see the point, some people do it really easily, some people find it the hardest most frightening thing ever. 

You have to go up in front of the audience, by yourself, and without retreating just stand there nice and relaxed and repeatedly tell them “I’m not doing anything, I’m just stood here, I’m not doing anything, I’m just stood here, not doing anything.” But the thing is you actually have to mean it, and not do anything, just be yourself. 

Some people go up straight away and play it and there is a presence about them where we feel drawn into them, and feel like we know them even if this is the first time we’ve seen them. 

Some people go up and it feels like they are lying, for some reason we can sense a shield of defense that has been put up. So we keep the game going uncomfortably long. At some point, usually at the point where they are thinking ‘what’s the fucking point in this?’ they drop their defenses with a sigh or a giggle and suddenly we are momentarily let into their world and the audience laugh warmly. After that they hopefully stay there for a bit, and realise it’s fine to just be and they are not in danger. 

After that, quite an abstract game, I decided to do a more scene based Keith Johnstone game. I chose 3 words at a time from his Being There chapter. I don’t usually like word restriction games. My least favourite impro game in the whole world is the alphabet game – I mean have you ever seen this work in a show, ever? Who actually likes the alphabet game? 

Anyway, we started with the 3 word at a time game but I found it was actually making the actors un-present as they were just thinking about the words. So we switched to the 1 word at a time game and it was awesome, all the scenes were excellent. With only 1 word at a time there is less to worry about and the word that spurts out is usually summing up the overall feeling, or the most important stuff, or moving things on. 

Saying ‘keep the same energy and connection you had in the mirror game’ seemed to be a useful direction, and it meant that inbetween speaking the actors were emotionally connected and also very physical. 

Lots of fun scenes produced including a sailor desperately convincing a captain that an iceberg was coming, two teenagers on an awkward date on a farm, and a wife having an affair. All had platforms and action that were clear and fun, decreasing the words lead to really fun scenes that were easy to follow.

This bit is where a conclusion would go, but I haven’t got one. Other than impro done well with people focussing on the deeper things is fun to watch and magical.

Hoopla. Workshops every Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Shows Tuesday and Wednesday. www.HooplaImpro.com

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