Space is the backbone of a piece of theatre. Learning how to use space is an essential part of the rehearsal process. The dynamic of an ensemble moving in space will create the atmosphere, narrative and emotions in the piece.
Complicite uses 6ft bamboo canes (gardening canes) in the rehearsal room as a tool for exploring the use of space. The bamboos should be as straight as possible and need to have smooth, unsplit ends.
There are a variety of games and techniques you can explore with bamboos. For example:
- Give everyone in the group a bamboo. Hold the bamboo vertically out in front of you, with its bottom tip about ten centimetres above the ground.
- Move around the space silently, being careful not to bump into other people, and keeping the bamboos upright and ten centimetres from the ground. The point of this exercise is to be very precise about keeping the same distance from the ground.
- Next, get into groups of three, doing the same thing but now moving as a tightly knit group. Change the leader of the group with each change of direction.
- Experiment with changing speed, rhythm, group formation. See what happens when the leader alters the position of their bamboo to create different shapes. For example, what happens when a group of bamboos moving slowly together in tight formation suddenly backs away from each other to create a gulf in the middle? What happens to the space they’ve opened up, and what does it suggest to onlookers?
This is a simple exercise that will build your understanding of space and movement. Bamboos are efficient and clear, but you can use any object. In The Master and Margarita, we substituted bamboos for chairs.
Practical application: devising from The Master and Margarita Chapter 4, The Pursuit
In this chapter, Ivan chases Woland and his retinue around Moscow, through streets, buildings and even a river. His journey is frenetic and quick. It is part of his descent into madness.
In order to stage Ivan’s journey, the company had to create all the environments and buildings he travels through on an empty stage. We used chairs for this, but you could use bamboos or any other collection of objects that are easily moved.
We split into four groups and each took a section of the chapter. Each group then worked out where Ivan was going and what was happening in that part of the journey.
In each group one person would play Ivan, with the others using the chairs to tell the story of his journey through Moscow. The important thing was establishing whether the space he was moving through was small or large, public or private, dangerous or easy to navigate. These distinctions helped us understand the emotion of Ivan’s journey.
Each group showed the result of their explorations and then we threaded each section together to create a single story. As a large group, we now added in Woland, constantly appearing and disappearing, but always just out of Ivan’s reach.
Words: Sasha Milavic Davies/ Image: Sarah Ainslie