Taste the emotion

Yorgos teaching in a physical theatre workshop
Yorgos teaching in a physical theatre workshop – image courtesy of Tmesis Theatre

Recently I had the pleasure of returning to LAMDA to take part in another workshop with the genius that is Yorgos Karamalegos. Yorgos teaches physical theatre at LAMDA and various other high profile drama schools, and I first discovered the magic of his teaching at the month-long Shakespeare workshop at LAMDA last summer.

Yorgos’s workshops help the actor delve into their emotional reserves and use this to explore a physical way in to a character. Back in December I attended a weekend workshop of his that used many of the exercises we had explored during the summer course, such as blindfolding, the pleasure exercise and grounding, plus some new treats. During the summer I’d found his classes especially had a profound effect on me and my approach to a character, so when I heard he was running a workshop I was thrilled. The workshop group consisted of not only actors, dancers and singers, but a life coach, a teacher, and of course me, a press officer. What we all shared was a love of performing, and of the emotional release found in that performance.

Some beautiful work came out during the workshop, and it was a pleasure to be a part of such a talented and creative group of people. Although I felt challenged I unfortunately didn’t relax and open up emotionally as much as I hoped to, and felt quite frustrated when I saw the raw emotion coming from my colleagues but wasn’t able to get to that point myself.

The second workshop was a different story. This was a day-long text intensive with a smaller group, including a few familiar faces from the previous workshop. Most of us had a monologue already learnt, which we could play with and develop throughout the day. I used Evelyn’s speech at her thesis presentation from Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things, but cut and pasted to get a compilation of my favourite bits. Anyone who knows the play will appreciate how long the original speech is!

The whole group did the ‘grounding exercise’, which involves sending the energy down through the floor as you step from one foot to the other, feet parallel, hips free, everyone moving in unison to a rhythm. This connects you to your present surroundings, your breath and your centre – for me, it gets rid of all the crap I’m carrying.

After this we worked individually on our monologues in the room, some sitting, some kneeling, others standing still, walking, or even lying on the floor – whatever we felt the body wanted to do as we spoke the words. One by one Yorgos worked with each of us, and when he approached me he told me to ‘say yes to the emotion’ that he could see was welling up. I doubled over as pain surged up and out of me like a volcano and tears coursed down my cheeks. All the frustration and anger that I’d been carrying, as I’m sure many of us do, poured out and left me a quivering ball of snot curled up on the floor. The whole time Yorgos guided me, reassuring me that it was ok to give in to the emotion.

After the initial outpour I went through my monologue, this time really tasting the words and what they meant to me. Some words I spat out, others I lingered over. At ‘obsession’ I slammed my palm onto the floor in anger. Once the emotion had died down I remained still in a little ball until the shock had subsided, then went off in search of a desperately-needed tissue. Actors see each other in all kinds of state, but I’m sure snot plastered over one’s face isn’t a favourite.

With the suppressed emotion gone, I was free to properly feel my way through the monologue, and this time as I walked around speaking the lines I felt a bitterness creep in that hadn’t been there before. A slight swagger appeared in my hip, and a disdain that until now I hadn’t managed to find. Whether this is how the monologue will stay or if it will evolve further I don’t know, but each new discovery like this is startling and wonderful.

The idea of a lot of the exercises Yorgos teaches is to free that suppressed emotion that is weighing down everything else inside you, suffocating the true feelings underneath. It tightens your muscles and tenses your body. The very act of pressing down emotion and shutting the lid is one we often face in our everyday lives; after all, you can’t simply have an emotional outburst in the middle of Waterloo Station, or on your walk to work, and definitely not at work, where we all must keep that smiley mask of perfection polished to a shine and perfectly in place.

When you do let that emotion out, however, the creative and emotional freedom you are left with is wonderfully liberating. One of Yorgos’ favourite sayings in these workshops is ‘taste the emotion’, which is a beautiful phrase and one I carry with me into every new situation I encounter along my journey as an actor.

For more info about Yorgos and his company Tmesis theatre, go to: www.tmesistheatre.com

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