International Conference, Athens 1-11 September, 2020

The Makings of the Actor: The Actor-Dancer is an international conference held under the auspices of the Michael Cacoyiannis Foundation, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and the Labanarium, organized by Post-doctoral Researcher Dr Kiki Selioni.

Conference Venue: Michael Cacoyannis Foundation, Athens.

The Actor-Dancer conference will be the first of a series of international events under the aegis of The Makings of the Actor. The mission of The Makings of the Actor project is to gather international practitioners and researchers, from diverse fields of performance practice and scholarship, to develop and disseminate (through conferences and workshops) an evolving performance pedagogy that addresses the needs of present and future actors.

In recognition of  both the global reach of the actor dancer network and the current pandemic, participants are invited to take part either in person or virtually.  Conference proceedings will be live-streamed; papers, and where appropriate workshops, can be presented remotely.

The Actor – Dancer

Stanislavsky asserted: “[o]ur kind of theatre is fragile and if those who create it don’t take constant care of it, don’t keep moving it forward, do not develop and perfect it, it will soon die.” (qtd. in Toporkov, 2004:106). The Makings of the Actor project seeks to explore how those who create theatre can continue to move it forward and develop it, with a particular focus on the training of the actor.

Through a dialogue between traditional approaches to the work of the actor and the “new triumphs of science” (Stanislavski, 1989:330) — such as those afforded by phenomenology and social neuroscience — The Makings of the Actor seeks to foster answers to questions formulated by Clive Barker (1995), questions which underpin any enquiry into acting pedagogy:

Given the multiplicity of methods of training and concepts of theatre, can we work to discover a basic common core? Can we start from certain basic choices? The voice useful against the voice beautiful? Free-flow dance movement against rigid systems? The principle that action must be released before it can be controlled? Anarchy preceding order and discipline? Are there basic spatial skills, the orientation of the body in space, which must be learned?
(Barker, 1995:107-8)

For his part, Laban sought to address such questions by asserting the commonalities that exist between the work of the actor and that of the dancer through his theory of effort, rhythms and flow. When referring to this commonality, Karen Bradley (2009) writes:

Laban saw theatre and dance as not-altogether separate spokes on the same wheel: artistic performance. In the book, Mastery of Movement, he did not differentiate much between character development for theatre and rich, clear dance performance.
(Bradley 2009: 41)

In developing his own innovative theories, Laban looked to the present as well as to the future, and also countenanced the past: he was dramatically influenced by Lucian’s book Peri Orcheseos, written in 2nd AD. Although Lucian addresses a kind of dance known in the Greek theatre as Orchesis (first referred to by Aristotle in About Poetics), he speaks about an ‘actor-dancer’ who acts without speech. The nature of the actor-as-dancer in Lucian’s sense is further exemplified by the work of modern luminaries, including Jaques Lecoq, Michael Chekhov, Tadushi Suzuki, and the Viewpoints model developed by Mary Overlie and Anne Bogart.

During performance, acting –like dancing – is experienced through the body’s rhythms, the flow of its movement, including the rhythm and flow of the voice, for, as Patsy Rodenburg (1997; 2015) asserts, speaking too is an embodied activity. In theatre art, each character is a unique synthesis of these elements. It follows that acting is the art of the transformation of rhythms, and thus actors must be trained in order to enrich their rhythms and flow.  Furthermore, critical to the development of the actor-dancer is that their body and psyche are “trained together to achieve a sense of inner-outer co-ordination.” (Merlin, 2007:18).

This model of the actor-dancer is mindful of both the actor-dancer’s origins in Greece and of certain contemporary training practices, while serving as a provocation for a discussion on how the pedagogy of actor training might continue to “move forward.”

In this regard, The Makings of the Actor acknowledges that “[s]ome phenomenological critics have asserted that teaching practices are often rooted in ‘commonsense’ assumptions that go relatively unchallenged by both teachers and students” (Giroux, 2011: XX).  Practitioners, argue Fisher-Yoshida et al (2009)

…tend to operate on tacit knowledge and base their future actions on previous experiences, without necessarily considering the theoretical underpinning of the approach; the range of practice may be broad and eclectic. Alternatively, scholars operate from focused depth in the grounding that theory provides. There are dealt with in their purest form, with little evidence of the blending characteristics of a more pragmatic approach.
 (Fisher -Yoshida et. al., 2009:2)

The questions that arise are:
What is the training of this specific entity, the actor-dancer?
How can the education in or out of the academies provide the right tools to the actor-dancer?
What is the spiritual and intellectual training of an actor-dancer?
It is in the space between — the middle ground — where the The Makings of the Actor: The Actor-Dancer conference aims to reside, drawing upon “the best of the worlds of both theory and practice” and “bridging the divide” (ibid.), seeking to advance the pedagogy of actor training through a dialogue between practice and scholarly research.