Seeing as the Gardzienice workshop lead by Paul Allain I attended yesterday left such a physical imprint on my body to the point where I have felt like a woman 50 years my senior all day, I thought it only fitting to blog my thoughts on it.
Firstly I should explain that there was a Gardzienice Workshop Round 1 which involved a very embarrassing incident involving my foot jumping on to a certain area of a man's body where one's foot should never find itself, let alone with the added impact of a jump. This red-faced moment was further heightened by an audience of around 16 people.
Gardzienice Round 2 was no less embarrassing as I found myself bumping boobs with many a member of my peers, which later turned into a bumping of the groins. Such a sight was a class of people apparently humping each other that I found it incredibly difficult to restrain the laughter that was bubbling in my belly, particularly when the noises started. Letting the natural voice flow with each bump of bosoms or groin led to a sound reminiscent of an animal mating season echoing through the studio and left me wondering whether the members of Gardzienice that invented this exercise were at all missing the sex that is banned from their tight knit group.
Jokes aside, the work of Gardzienice and the training they go through is unbelievably refreshing and liberating. By the end of the workshop I felt a connection to the people I had shared these exercises with. One can imagine that several years of living, eating, working and literally breathing with a group of people can create a beautiful ensemble, which was clear from the video footage we were shown after. Despite the language barrier, the consistent energy and focus of these people seemed effortless, and the sense of ensemble was powerfully poignant and entrancing. However, one has to consider the dedication of these performers; they have given up their lives to their director, Staniewski and this makes me question the contemporary theatre we encounter in Britain today.
It is true that Britain has, is and will produce powerful theatre, but it seems that Eastern European theatre reaches a point of transformation in the performers that can only be achieved through a strong ensemble. Indeed, Alan Lyddiard in his visit last week described how he spends long periods of time with the same actors, developing long standing relationships between groups of people. He tries to work with people that he 'loves' and is resistant to the 'jobbing actor'.
This, for me, presents three problems in British Theatre:
1. What hope do 'jobbing actors' have of becoming involved in an ensemble when they are so many other actors out there?
2. Do these British actors necessarily have the stamina for such an ensemble as Staniewski creates as we live in such a different culture to that of Poland? With most of what we have served to us on a plate, there is no need for one to work so hard in a theatre ensemble when better money can be earned acting in a commercial. This in turn begs the question; do British people lack the passion needed for a true ensemble? Or is the passion that is so obvious in the work of the Gardzienice ensemble based on the lack of options that are so readily available to us?
3. Lyddiard has surely worked hard through his life and deserves what funding he gets, but with cuts in arts funding, what chance is there of other ensemble companies being so lucky as to take 3 years to produce a performance?
The fact is, that in British theatre we have a very short rehearsal period of 4 -8 weeks, the funding simply isn't available for everyone to develop these 'community' ensembles (especially when finding a base for these companies to occupy is difficult and expensive) and long rehearsal periods just aren't practical when you need to pay the rent.
Finally this relates to my own production. We have 5-6 weeks to produce a play with no characters, an open text and a set which looks like it probably will involve several TV screens, some clever gauze and complicated lighting states. The time limit is constraining, particularly in relation to bonding our cast in some sort of ensemble so in this respect the Gardzienice exercises will be invaluable. But it does make me wonder; what hope do we have of creating something as poetic and compelling as Staniewski does, even if he has only produced 7 productions in 32 years.