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Busby Berkeley

Cindy Tonkin - July 25, 2011

day 4 of week 2 – last day of this week.

girls in millennium park
proving that busby berkeley
comes naturally!



story exercise which had a name, but i didn’t write it down: cross “i am a tree” with shared story (announce what you are as you come in “i am the picket fence”, once you’ve established that you can move, you can also narrate, but all of the troupe is on stage at the same time, and no one stands separately, even to narrate).

busby berkeley was a hollywood choreographer / director who made use of symmetry and the beauty of repetition – see video).the exercise we did essentially exploited mirroring and rhythm to create interesting stage pictures.
we began with 10 of us lined up one behind the other centre stage. the front person did a gesture, and the 2nd person mirrored or complemented that (e.g. 1st person punches to the left, 2nd person punches to the right). Then 3rd person does a different gesture, which is mirrored or complimented by the 4th, and so on to the end.
then the first person peels away from the group, and the 2nd one mirrors or compliments, down the line. the piece then pretty much takes us a life of its own – sometimes your pair changes across the stage, with the outcome of creating something that looks interesting on stage. at the same time it will provide an opening which will provide ideas to pull from in the following scenes. very beautiful stuff happened.

mary zimmerman (no one is sure why it’s called this). in groups of 3 and 4 we had to mirror and heighten each others’ movement. then we re-did it for the class. some quite complex wordless narratives created (so does the audience just create a narrative even when one is not there? can we let ourselves off the hook and just do what feels right?)


Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium
Park. You gotta love a good
Frank Gehry design!

5 minutes to plan a piece we had exactly that, 5 minutes to “design” a 5 minute non-improvised piece, encompassing any of the stuff we’d done to date – busy berkeley, mary zimmerman, any of the strange and wonderful group mind exercises; the only constraint was that everyone must be on stage at all times, and that in the planning phase no one could reject or override any ideas – once it was decided we were being pumpkins, there was no saying “i don’t like pumpkins”, or “i think that’s great, but why don’t we do this instead” (sound familiar?) – i.e. no editing, only brainstorming, yes anding.  go deeper into the idea, rather than creating something new. did this in groups of 7, then as a whole class.

warm up: here comes susie: (a warm up provided by gerry from switzerland)
group chant: here comes x (their name),
individual: says what they are doing (digging up dirt), with the accompanying gesture
group: repeats “here comes susie, digging up dirt” twice.. mirroring their gesture
group: “this is how we do it” (3x),
group turning so they are front to front: “front to front to front to front
group turning so they are back to back: “back to back to back”
group turning so they are side to side: “side to side to side”
group: this is how we do it (return to beginning, “here comes x”)

dysfunctional family dinner similar to the porch exercise, 5 players at a dinner party, again we were looking to find a point of view for our character from the first few gestures we make and how we felt about those gestures or the imaginary food in front of us or where/how we are sitting

feedback; we finished the week with individual feedback: the whole class and then colleen said what they appreciated about each person’s play, and then what they would like to see the do more of, and we then played a scene doing something they had requested. i’m working on being a high status selfish male moron right now.


if i slow it down it makes it important, and then i remember it
if you get back into the body position of where you were, you remember things (kinesthetic memory)
you’ll be surprised how much group mind is already there, we just have to pay attention
we are brainwashing ourselves to be more like children

i’m as invested in your idea as you are in your idea
if you make a statement (tuesday is a good day for golf, then you need to say why this is true (it’s the day my wife is at bridge, the day anna serves beers at half price, the day my boss is at a board meeting)

you can play “sensitive” across a spectrum – sensitive angry vs sensitive fragile vs sensitive apologising

anger is flip side of sadness – see first ep of 6 feet under – pounding the coffin in sadness, last tango in paris talking to his dead wife

make a choice for your own character and point of view before you see what they do: gives a different dynamic

high status can also be benevolent