Views on Viewpoints

Picture this: Twelve people walking, jogging and sprinting on an invisible grid. They change direction, play with tempo, alter duration, lie down, spring up and repeat familiar gestures such as scratching one’s head as well as

more abstract movements like an elbow jerk or spine roll. The rules are unclear, as is whether or not the group are making decisions as a unit or as individuals. To watch is amusing, at times baffling and always mesmerising. These actors are practicing Viewpoints.

On Tuesday 21st and 28th February I had the pleasure of assisting director Ned Bennett on his two-part Viewpoints workshops with Mono Box. Like many directors, I’d heard of Viewpoints but wasn’t entirely sure on exactly what it entailed. Thankfully, observing Ned shed some light.

The Viewpoints method originated in America in the 1960’s and was intended as a form of actor training as opposed to a rehearsal technique or a performance tool. Ned introduced us to Anne Bogart’s nine Viewpoints: Spatial Relationship, Kinesthetic Response, Shape, Gesture, Repetition, Architecture, Tempo, Duration, and Topography.

I hugely admire Ned’s work (Yen = genius) however I have to admit that at the start of the first session I wasn’t entirely sold (Viewpoints felt a tad interpretive dance-esque for my liking...) HOWEVER by the end of the second session I was converted. Viewpoints proved to be useful for:

1. Ensemble Building

2. Improving one’s ability to “read and write”.

3. Entering a state of flow.

4. Improving physical fitness.

When practicing Viewpoints excellent group awareness is essential otherwise injury will occur. As the group gained confidence Ned challenged us to be bolder in our movement on the invisible grid, darting in and out of the gaps and moving backwards. For me, the real strength of practicing Viewpoints is its ability to build mindful ensembles rapidly.

The practice of Viewpoints also assists actors in what Ned calls “reading and writing”. It is an actor’s duty to offer ideas (writing) as well as responding to others on stage, the setting and environment (reading). As part of the sessions, Ned called for the group to surrender “influence” allowing all your actions to be in response to others and the environment. This activity is geared towards sharpening one’s “reading” skills; before flipping the activity and focusing on what one is offering to the group (improving one’s writing).

Exploring the nine Viewpoints enabled the group to enter states of “flow”. As a director, I am thrilled when actors enter this magical place; a place in which actors are open and responsive without self-doubt threatening to sabotage. Finally, Viewpoints gets very sweaty and is lots of fun. It involves dynamic movement, varying from bouts of stillness to lengthy durations of sprinting. I’m a director who likes my theatre playful and active. I am often attracted to plays that require a certain level of physical fitness from my casts so I look for warm-ups and activities that stretch an actor’s physical limitations. Viewpoints is an exercise that does just that.

As the clock tolled 9:30pm on the final session (or more like 9:50pm, Ned is a curious cat who very often gets lost in his exercises) I was left with a fiery thirst to learn more. And I wasn’t alone. Watch this space for more Viewpoints sessions with Ned later on this year at Mono Box.

By Gemma Aked-Priestley – Sunday 5th March 2017 - Mono Box’s Assistant Director - @GemmaAkedP

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