Lunch and Learn: Masters of the Space (Crystal and Rusher)

Hello! It’s me, Mary Finch, one last time to live-blog today’s Lunch and Learn session presented by Ben Crystal and Warren Rusher of Passion in Practice.

“I love space. I’m fascinated by, what I would call, an original practice space.” – Crystal

What is an original practice space? It is a space with a similar dynamic to the space that Shakespeare’s actors would have used. These spaces are becoming more common, with pop-up Globes and container Globes; there’s a growing fascination with these spaces.

Crystal’s fascination began with the language and the meter, going to see shows at the RSC as a child and asking his father about the actors aren’t moving. Crystal thought “surely there must be a way to marry” movement and voice-work. That fascination grew to include an interest in ensemble work, similar to how Shakespeare’s company must have worked–the group equivalent to the similarity of the Folio and the Blackfriars.

Crystal plans to demonstrate some of the practices and disciplines he uses with his company to explore how the space can effect the work the company does.

This first example is similar to Viewpoints work, which always uses music.

Crystal turned on some instrumental music, and using a bamboo stick, Rusher began in a neutral standing position balancing the stick on his finger, and then began walking across the stage. When the stick falls (which it will as this is not a balance exercise), he will catch it, hold, and reset, and continue walking with eyes fixed on the top of the stick.  Crystal then demonstrated as well. They do this “for hours” as a litmus test for tension that needs to be released to facilitate fluid movement.

The next exercise involved Crystal and Rusher traversing the space together, each with their own bamboo stick. This forces the actors to begin listening to each other as well.

The Passion in Practice shows are never blocked, “for better or for worse” (Crystal) and instead relies upon the relationship between the actors on stage.

As a tactile society, productions sometimes use touch without considering status or exclusivity. So Passion and Practice uses what Crystal calls the “Sphere of Contact,” which is approximately two arm length’s apart and is inclusive. Using the sticks as a measure of closeness, creating limits of proximity, far and near. Pressing the sticks between their hands, they demonstrated dynamics of power, depth, nearness, speed, and height.

Dropping the sticks, they presented “Push, Pull, Yield, Resist” by standing palm to palm, showing the different dynamics of tension. They then dropped their hands and did the same exercise using only visual cues.

“It’s a question of tuning into each other and listening to each other” (Crystal).

Turning specifically to the architecture, Crystal began acknowledging the lighting, the stage shape, the pillars, the gemoetric shapes within the space. The spaces can make more sense of the plays, such as in Twelfth Night works better in a traverse space illustrating how not everyone on stage could see all the characters.

Marking out the smaller dynamics of the Wanamaker playhouse, the presenters then used smaller sticks to compensate for the more intimate structure. They also have to compensate for different lighting–they use candles, sometimes different candles for different productions and different locations in the playhouse.

They discovered that the strongest point to stand is not where it traditionally falls in a proscenium stage. It depends upon the lighting, the pillars, and the ability to see the audience which flanks three sides. At the Wanamaker, being too far downstage makes communing with those near the upstage area was difficult, and was actually a very intimate location. Therefore, upstage was more powerful and more public.

The traditional stagecraft is flipped on its head in spaces like the Wanamaker playhouse. Transposing proscenium shows to original practice spaces is very difficult for that reason.

How can we adapt to these spaces to improve our original practice playing in these spaces?

Without the scholarly work, actors and directors would not be able to take the original practice stage craft work forward. Scholarship makes a perfect marriage for actors and original practice ensemble and production work.

One thought on “Lunch and Learn: Masters of the Space (Crystal and Rusher)

Comments are closed.