To read more about Mike's background, click here.
June 2016 workshops
What an absolute treat it was to join in Mike McCormack’s workshops in June 2016...Many NWTC members will be familiar with Mike from Summer School. On the weekend of 18/19 June he ran three workshops—all based around physicality but each with very different elements:
Kicking off on Saturday morning with a two-hour workshop for the youth group entitled “Mime and Movement for youths”, Mike very quickly relaxed all participants and helped them to explore ways in which we communicate without text. Fifteen youths aged between 10 and 17 laughed and played their way through a gentle warm up into walking around the room being led by one part of their body. Mike asked them to think about how it made them feel and be aware of any alterations taking place physically. The group explored the difference between eye contact and no-eye contact as well as moving as though they were heavier and/or lighter than they are and noting again the changes which take place within.
A brief introduction to fight work emphasised the need to feel safe first and also to be precise. Measuring the distance to be sure you cannot harm each other, making eye contact and quietly counting were practised numerous times before ‘slapping’ your partner - this was a lot of fun!
Mike brought the skills together which had been learnt during the workshop by asking participants to assume a certain characterisation and then ask/give directions and also buy/sell something in a shop. This resulted in some wonderful physical acting and clear stories for those watching, even though words weren’t relied upon.
At the end of the youth workshop Mike introduced everyone to his personal collection of masks, which he had helped to create many years ago. Mike illustrated how certain masks result in a specific physicality manifesting and invited the youths to take a closer look at the masks after the workshop had concluded. All participants clearly enjoyed the workshop and were left wanting to learn even more!
A wonderful morning was only slightly dampened by the fact that the eight refugees who had been expected did not join us, but this seems to have been a misunderstanding. NWTC will invite them again later in the year.
Saturday afternoon was dedicated to NWTC’s current production, The Pillowman. After a gorgeous warm up of giving sounds with movement, it seemed as though the whole story of The Pillowman was told in two minutes through sounds accompanied by a few gestures! After this, Gav Guilfoyle explained to Mike how the group had been working. so far.
Mike introduced us to Vladimir Propp’s seven key character functions (villain, dispatcher, helper, prize, donor, hero and false hero) found in fairy-tales. He asked us to select one and act it out within our own, devised piece. We were then asked to repeat the devised piece, with the same lines but to change the motivation: those characters who had been true became deceivers and vice versa. It was a challenge to maintain the same text but the change in intention brought about some very dark and powerful presentations—perfect food for thought for all involved in The Pillowman!
In response to the feedback for a longer workshop (received after Janice Dunn’s workshop last January), NWTC asked Mike to run a one day workshop on Sunday. Any concerns that it may be too long were happily unfounded! Nineteen adults fully engaged with the “Physical approaches to acting “ workshop which ran from 10.00 to 16.00.
Mike invited participants to find ten different hand gestures. Despite some cultural diversity in interpreting these, we were able to find a way to converse using only our hands. We then made up stories with just gestures and shared them with other groups.
To develop this further, Mike asked us to consider playing with four variables: frequency, range, intensity and duration. Subtle changes to any one of these brought about remarkable results. For example, how someone tapped their watch gave very different meanings according to the frequency and length of taps and the intensity of taps. It really was incredible how such a subtle change could alter the story being told.
Enormous fun was had when the groups were asked to create a machine—we saw cars, engines and a washing machine come to life with each element of the machine have attitude! From the clothes being tumbled around the machine to the water getting tired and door becoming fed up at being knocked with each rotation this was just hilarious and exciting, giving us new ideas to convey meaning.
This process was extended to using a piece of script but telling the whole story through the body—no set, no props and no technical elements. It was just fantastic to see a few lines of a script jump off the page and become alive with people acting out the set elements as well as the characters. Sofas. Type writers, telephone lines and windows all with attitude—funny, interesting and helping all participants to release their creativity. What more could one ask of a workshop?!
The weekend also presented the opportunity to have some social activities with the Committee inviting current directors Gav Guilfoyle, John Brigg and Natalia Sanchez to a meal with Mike on Friday and an opportunity for summer schoolers to catch up with Mike on Saturday evening.
Feedback on the workshops given has been overwhelmingly positive with several asking for Mike to return! Big thanks to Mike for executing these very different workshops with such perfect aplomb and thank you to NWTC for organising and supporting this initiative.
There once was a magician called M
Who surprised us again and again
To Luxembourg he came
And raised up our game
Just by gestures amounting to ten!
(Clearly the editor needs help with poems—volunteer—please!)