Brief Encounter with an Archetype
‘I enjoyed your workshop yesterday very much. It felt a bit like Commedia del Arte without masks and without having to keep to your character’s stereotype. Using text with these archetypes was a great exercise towards “truthfulness” of the lines. As an actor I want to be flexible and open for new things when I work on a character and going through the different archetypes with the text allows me to train that flexibility and openness I want to achieve.’
Yesterday afternoon I had the great pleasure of introducing a small group of 3rd year students to the process and concept of working with Archetypes. I volunteered to give a free workshop, and they chose to show up of their own free will. What. A. Blast.
Why do I like this process so much? Because it is a fantastic way to experience failure, over and over again, until you learn to love it – failing. ‘Love me, or leave me’ goes the song, and each Archetype seems to promise love and security right up to the moment when you think you have captured its essence, and then you realise you have slipped into Stereotype and have to start again.
Because there is no such thing as an Archetype. It’s an idea, a way of being human, and humans are made in such a way that we are all complex combinations of lots of Archetypal qualities. When the actor tries to embody a specific Archetype, she brings all her cultural and social and behavioural experience to the task, and is obliged to recognise, and then to begin stripping away all judgement, bias and prejudice – or as much as possible. And it is impossible to strip it all away, so again, she experiences failure.
So rather than engage with the Archetypes as intellectual or cultural concepts, we engage with them physically. We explore the physical sensations of imagining the features of the mask of the Archetype as our own features. We experience how the body shifts, how its alignment, its centre shifts as it responds to the act of imagination by becoming the body that accommodates the mask/features. We adopt the belief system of the particular Archetype, its own sense of self and then we discover how the voice also responds physically (and therefore aurally) to the imaginative act.
This work is deep, intellectually and physically challenging. You don’t ‘get it’ in a 3 hour workshop. You get a taste, a tantalising glimpse of its possibilities. I hope you also become infected with the desire to explore it further, and all the amazing and impossibly possible of ways of being human.