Serious Play!

Theatre Ensemble



A long time ago, I used to make up plays and adapt story ideas with the neighborhood kids. I would entice them with promises of glory, and then enslave them in endless rehearsals in my large basement which my family had given over to me as a creative space! At that young age, I had no theater training and whatever we chose to believe and share seemed true enough to me. I was passionate about these moments shared with others creating together- for me “serious play!”


Some time later, I went to college and chose to study theater. My training started with the Method, as so often happens in this country. I codified what I learned into a strict set of rules, thus providing myself with a solid set of rules as to what was right and what was wrong-what was good and what was bad in theatre work. I fancied that I was becoming more discerning but I grew to dislike almost everything. This was a problem. For while I enjoyed being able to analyze the work I saw from a specific point of view, I missed the risk taking and the trust in my own ideas-my own inspiration. How would the two ever merge?


While I was engaged in that questioning-I happened to see work by Andre Gregory and his ensemble’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” and Kaleel Sakakeeny’s Stage One Theater Lab in Boston’s “Gertrude og Ophelia”. Here were plays that defied the definition of “good theater”. They had schtick, they had style, clarity of moment and engaging movement…they looked as though they might have been created by kids on a rainy day in my cellar years ago-and they felt honest and true. Of course the actors in these acting ensembles in the 1970’s, The Manhattan Project and Stage One Theatre Lab, had amazing technique and their evocation of child’s play was a deception- a deception of simplicity-the best kind in art. Why was their work so enthralling and why was it well beyond what audiences normally conceive of in American theatre? My conclusion was something was missing in actor training that they had discovered!


So I went and studied physicality onstage and ensemble acting with Stage One Theater Lab at the Boston Center for the Arts and worked with the ensemble for a number of years. What I realized was missing is what most young actors are missing when they begin the pilgrimage into a performing life-the ability to synthesize. Discipline and spontaneity, knowledge and instinct, technique and inspiration-how do you reach the place where these are integrated? A sudden simple insight: the BODY is the instrument. The crossroads exist within the body.


In performance, the actor’s body---alignment, shape, senses, eye focus, impulse, sound, gestures, relationship to one another, honest connection, tells the story. The words, the text, the sound/music must be supported by the truth of the actor’s body in each moment on stage. Start with the body.


This is why training in “a physical approach to theatre” in an ensemble setting needs to be required in all acting programs across the USA. I have worked to share this approach for the last 30 yrs within my own ensemble and with student actors in high schools and colleges and of all ages. To some it is a radical idea- but it is the only way to put inspiration, honesty and artistry back into American performance.

                                                                    (Sheryl Stoodley)





The training is a gauge to ascertain the actor’s readiness and availability to the moment. Through intense concentration on the body and voice, it serves as a litmus test for the actor to pinpoint a lack of control or ability to do something in a performance. One participates in this training not to master it, but to find out about ones self. It restores the wholeness of the body as a tool for theatrical expression.




The VIEWPOINTS  are a philosophy of movement translated into a shared vocabulary for training performers, and creating movement on stage.  They are points of awareness that a performer or creator has while working.


The VIEWPOINTS is first and foremost a working technique, which allows performers to enter the creative process with a clear perception and a minimum “of baggage”. This technique entails a suspension of judgment and an embracing of paradox. And it frequently puts one in direct conflict with the status quo,both personal and cultural.


The VIEWPOINTS are founded on the recognition that the activity of making art relies on insight, and the development of insight depends on having the courage and the tools to directly experience one’s medium… investigating the life of forms—how they arise, crystallize, are evaluated, fall away or remain. The VIEWPOINTS are a technique of great precision, for they entail a physical exploration of one’s world in more and more detail-awareness of kinesthetic response,shape, space, time and more.


The VIEWPOINTS came out of the work of choreographer Mary Overlie and her work with the Judson Dance Theater in the 1970’s. The subsequent growth and transformation of the VIEWPOINTS took place in The Experimental Theater Wing (ETW) at NYU and is now directly connected to Anne Bogart, founder and director of the NYC SITI Company, and the theater director-teacher most associated with the VIEWPOINTS now.


                        (From “Entering the Viewpoints” by Wendell Beavers)




Each ensemble theater moves in its own way, generating creative investigations.cultivating collaborative role-bending relationships in structures simple and wildly complex while also engaging audiences and communities in those investigations. Ensemble theater is a valid organizing principle that structures creative stakeholders in an ongoing responsibility and commitment to audience/community/mission. It values the creative flow released with collective responsibility.


                  (Mark McKenna / Board Chair / Network of Ensemble Theaters)





A Project of Cultural Images Group, Inc

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