Editor: We are delighted to publish this article by María Ferrara about her experience with Action Theater. María is an artist and blogger who lives in Málaga and writes in Spanish and English about creativity, perception, poetry and the performing arts on her blog: mariaferrara.net.
I came across Action Theater towards the end of the summer of 2012, visited Ruth Zaporah’s website, bought her book, read it from cover to cover, started attending workshops with Sten Rudstrom in Berlin, went for the week-long Action Theater Festival in May and dedicated the whole of last August to this training . I continue to practice. I continue to organise my life in order to carry on training and exploring improvisation… What’s got into me?Since I was little I wanted to be… everything. I wanted to be an air-hostess and a nun and a singer and Marie Curie and a mother and a detective and a writer and an explorer and a dancer and a geologist and… the only way to do all this was to be an actress. I trained and worked in text-theatre and also explored different body and dance techniques, including Contact Improvisation. I became interested in devising, left text behind and discovered clown work. I was using improvisation to generate material that I later set. Towards the beginning of 2012 I was asked whether I would perform my acting work by improvising. I’d never thought of that possibility. From then on I couldn't stop thinking about it. Was it possible with the tools I had?
Contact Improvisation (CI) had introduced me to sensing the moment, to listening, responding and proposing and to the feeling that nobody was doing what was happening, but that what was happening was “doing” us. However, I wasn't performing CI. The times when an audience was invited to watch generated questions in me, I felt too wrapped up in the close relationship with my partner to feel I was performing. Not to say that CI can’t be performed, but it’s not how I was doing it at the time. I started to wonder about focussing improvisation on performance and, interestingly enough, Inesperadamente Murcia, a two-week workshop that had started off based on CI, was taking the same turn… so we took the curve together. Following my body I started to dive into the caves, sunken ships and coral reefs of my depths. It felt intimate, delicate and fascinating, I seemed to be tapping into something that had to do with my original pre-language self, free of analysis or logic and soaked in sensation, feeling and a delicious silence of the mind. It seemed like a submarine visit to a different realm, and in fact sometimes it was hard for me to stay present in the time and place where everything has happening.
I couldn't leave the world out for ever, just like, no matter how much I love it, I can’t live in water forever and need solid ground too. I also didn't want to leave out the word forever. I love poetry: sound, musicality, metaphor, paradox... However, the improvised spoken theatre I had seen seemed to always revolve around the idea of a challenge, either in outwitting the other team or in dealing with input explicitly generated by the audience, the faster and cleverer the response the better. What interested me about improvisation was not making jaws drop in this way. Also, the performances I had seen were extremely language-based. And not only in terms of quantity; language was influencing the whole format. Language tends to be logical, linear, and constructed in accordance with very definite rules. Likewise, everything that I saw in these performances had a rational structure and there was no space for the more intangible, elusive, ineffable material, the slippery fish that I was learning to swim with.One of the teachers in Inesperadamente Murcia, Ingo Reulecke, put me on the track of Action Theater. I knew it, there had to be a way to bring water and earth together, great, I can do whatever I want, with no limitation on my form of expression, let’s take off! Well, no. Flying was really the last skill to be learnt, before that I had to learn to use my gills and feet at the same time, and that is precisely what I feel Action Theater training is helping me do.
In my practice I have noticed that language has a tendency to become boss. As soon as a word appears, it seems like that is the key and everything else has to accommodate. Or the word appropriates something else that had been happening and flattens the nuances with too bright a light. Even the poetic and more senseless quality of words can become evasive if my logical mind utilises language as an organising and explaining tool. I've also found that if I just dive into body experience and internal references without anchoring myself to time-space and what is happening around me, I simply disappear into the depths of myself, very pleasantly, I have to say, but it feels too intimate and individual to call it a performance. How to keep breathing under water, not to lose track of the fish, while I remain present on the ground with the people I’m performing with and with the audience? How to let the words get fishy and how to bring the fish out under the sun without killing them?
Action Theater is proving to be a useful methodology. This training works with body, language and sound free of hierarchies. I often realise that infinite choice can be so overwhelming that I end up falling back on what I know, a bit like finding zillions of ice-cream flavours in a shop. This practice encourages me to fly and invites me to be led by curiosity, wonder and trust. Practising continues to uncover possibilities and keeps me on my toes, so that I don’t get stuck with what is familiar, in terms of material, accessing it or composing it. I am training my earthy awareness of what is happening both outside and inside of me in order to give chances to the subtler or shier fish to show themselves. I am reminded to keep doing my work and only my work while I leave space for the audience, on the ground, to fill with their own fishy business.