From craft to art

I offer seminars at universities and drama schools as well as independent workshops focusing on authentic presentation for instrumentalists, singers, actors and speakers.

The situation

We are all familiar with two kinds of impact that art has on us: one impresses us and sparks admiration or criticism, while the other touches us in a way that conversely leaves us lost for words. While the first quality might quickly be forgotten, moments of the second quality are those we remember for as long as we live. The difference between the two seems to escape all rationalisation. We can readily associate the first quality with technique or craft. The other is bound with the heart, with authenticity in an atmosphere of intangible magic. Given the profusion of brilliance, technique and craftsmanship in today’s art scene, magical moments are like small oases in a strange desert. Artists need to ask themselves the following question:

Can you learn how to create such magical moments?

The everyday life of an artist provides disheartening information. Instead of magic, we experience obstacles such as technical problems and inhibitions. We suffer stage fright and  fear to fail our expected performance level. We experience self-doubt, frustration, stress, physical symptoms, and see ourselves as victims of an uncontrollable situation. Occasionally magic hits like an unexpected gift, leaving us somewhat stunned…

The approach

As the old saying goes, one should “never get on stage with children or animals.” Neither children nor animals have technique or craft. They have, however, grown to master this magic – like Charlie Chaplin in the film Tramp. So there is magic without technique and technique without magic, and rarely a happy synthesis of the two. Artists possess two sources from which to create their work:

Me + material = creation

The material is the artwork, technique and the physical basis. It can be compared to a hose that transports something as substantially different as water from point A to point B. Professionalism is the bridge that allows us to straddle gaps in our authenticity.

How big is the gap to be bridged? Why is our wealth of technique often powerless when the naivety of a child can move us? Transformation via magic requires being moved in the proper sense of the word. It requires shifting our “I” from the level of only perceiving everyday differences and differentiated technique towards the level of perceiving our human sameness. However, as the example of the animal shows, we don’t need to identify fully with the audience, as recipients, or with the artistic entity. Animals don’t act, but Babe the piglet has the multiple identities of dozens of actors. Feelings aren’t transferred but projected. In order to reach the mind (and through it, the emotions), a learnable sequence of signals obviously suffices – as proven by ghost trains, techno and virtual reality. In order to reach the heart, one needs intention as well as an open and trustworthy attitude that is both vulnerable and unassailable to the same extent.

Creative expression requires us to go to a place beyond feelings. It is not about living out one’s own processes.

Distance between artists and their own processes produces projection surfaces that awaken emotions in the audience. It is precisely this distancing from one’s own emotionality that connects one to that particular authenticity that is the source of the magical moment.

The methods

Usually, ten years of learning how to avoid “banned” behaviour as well as the associated pervasive criticism of our natural impulses separates us from childlike authenticity. Our past injuries as well as our self-doubt have buried themselves deep inside our physiognomy and the functional sequences of our musculature. Defense mechanisms in our psyche have become independent obstacles to our spontaneity. The deepest physical roots of these blockages are evidenced in our breathing, which can regain its economy by experiencing its original, reflex-based autonomy. Natural breathing gives rise to a type of phonation that opens resonance chambers and instills the voice with power and expression in recitation and singing. Psychological willingness to permit the release of bodily functions can be encouraged using Arnold Mindell’s Process-oriented psychology. Various methods from Keith Johnstone’s improvisation theatre are used for play-based training of altered behavioural patterns.

The path

Mutual co-ordination of the personal “I” and technical repertoire can be achieved by consciously differentiating the two. An attitude of trust, while at the same time renouncing inhibiting control mechanisms, is developed on the “I” side, while the material is the tool of the transformation process.

Work on the “I”

Exposure of our deepest motivation to go on stage opens up and allows us to access the sources of fear and pain that are feeding the physical blockages. Experiencing the self-organisation of emotional and physical processes leads to trust. The role of “errors” will be re-explored and freed from their negative impact. Instead of fear of failure, a new, affirmative intention on stage is developed, clearing the way for the “magical moment”.

Work on material

Awareness of the entirety of communicated signals, including unconscious and “disruptive” parts, will be developed from the basic experience of physiological breathing and phonation. The different channels for conveying and perceiving signals are isolated as part of this and conscious switching between channels is gained through training. Problems are faced, researched and processed further for transformation and integration. Rather than a complex for avoiding errors, technique gives rise to a skilled repertoire capable of producing spontaneous impulses.

The aims

Participants gain access to a state that enables the occurrence of “magical moments”. The ability to transform oneself and the audience opens up, as does the ability to link artistic activity with pleasure and fulfilment. This transformation of one’s inner behaviour is accompanied by a resolution of mental and physical blockages. The general ability to experience freedom and spontaneity develops and results in a release of creative potential. Depending on the participant’s individual requirements, this workshop provides the first step towards an awareness of phenomena that are connected to presentation. One-off key experiences can show the way and initiate the personal development process that leads to artistic maturity.