Starting with Endgame: ACT I

by Guest Blogger

Editor's note: Last fall, Calla Videt '09 worked on a professional production of Samuel Beckett's Endgame with Complicite, an ensemble theater company in London. This week, Harvard Arts Beat is running Videt's four-part behind-the-scenes series about her experiences. You can read the introduction HERE. Today's installment is ACT I.

ACT I: OPENING GAMES

By Calla Videt

10:30am: Living breathing bodies arrive. Mark (Hamm). Check. Tom (Nagg). Check. Miriam (Nell). Check. Simon (Clov). Check. All actors are present. As people greet one another, Samuel Beckett’s lines pop up here and there. Endgame lingo has slowly seeped its way into a rehearsal language flooded with sarcasm, jokes, and clever puns. Everyone is beginning to speak fluent Beckettian.

"What next?" we all think to ourselves. Simon McBurney, the artistic director of Complicite, marches around staring at his feet, thinking about how to start the morning. Mornings often begin like this, in uncertainty. Simon doesn’t enter the room with a plan. He feels his way around a rehearsal. We wait. What’ll it be today? Tennis balls? Blindfolds? Finally, he calls out for bamboo.

Exercise #1: Bamboo Tango. The morning exercises begin—something to warm up and awaken the body. Sometimes this will be a sweaty game of ball or perhaps a group rhythm exercise. Complicite rehearsals are full of games. Not only do these prepare the body for the day, they are exercises in coordination, listening, reaction and working in a team.

Today, we explore tension as physicalized in space. Couples balance a bamboo stick between the tips of both partners’ fingers. We move around the room like that, with the stick held up and manipulated by both people negotiating the pressure which keeps the bamboo in place. Eventually, the sticks are taken away and the actors move in relation to each other as if the stick remained between them. The imaginary stick gets smaller, longer, or is balanced between different parts of the actors’ bodies—forehead to forehead, for instance. This serves as a tool for exploring the dynamic tension between two people. We clear the space for Mark and Simon to tango together like this, investigating the power dynamic between their characters. At times, their dance resembles a bull fight.

Exercise #2: The Reactive Sextet. Next comes a deliciously interesting exploration of Jacques Lecoq’s six levels of reaction. "These are like doing scales on a piano," Simon explains. He demonstrates by having someone continue a single action (such as sewing, or reading) and respond to outside stimuli (such as a siren) in different ways. Level One: The actor does not react at all. Level Two: The actor acknowledges the siren without changing the rhythm of action. Level Three: The actor stops, listens to the siren, and resumes the action at a slower rhythm before returning to normal speed. Level Four: The actor stops, listens to the siren, and resumes the action at a faster rhythm before returning to normal speed. Level Five: The actor stops the action completely. Level Six: The actor reacts. This can actually be quite hilarious to watch and dissect and informs different moments in Endgame such as when the alarm clock rings and Hamm hardly hears it or when Nell does not respond to Nagg’s questions.

TOMORROW: ACT II – POWER GAMES

Here’s more about Calla Videt and about Complicite.

Here’s the Harvard Gazette story about Calla Videt’s senior project The Space Between, which was performed last year at Harvard.

[Caption: Calla Videt (in stripes) during Complicite games.]