Blog by Stephanie Arsoska and the Practice Research Group.
This short reflection explores some of the processes and outcomes of working as an ensemble through the digital lens.
Prior to Lockdown, I ran an ensemble made up of dancers, actors and musicians that was rooted in movement-based improvisation as performance practice. As a term, ‘ensemble’ carries multiple meanings and Britton’s (2013) book Encountering Ensemble explores the history, foundations and practicalities of ensemble theatre. It highlights that concept of ‘ensemble’ working is full of contradiction with practitioners locating this practice in a range of different places, such as longevity, number of performers, shared practice, politics or a lack of hierarchy.
For my ensemble – Third Thread – the word ensemble is about a continued commitment to training and making together that prioritises the relationship we have with each other. In other words, the relationship is the work. We are interested in what emerges in real time between performers, in Thomas Richards’ something third’. During Lockdown, our question was whether or not we could find a way to sustain similar qualities in a digital format.
Experiment One - Duration
In the studio, we favour durational practices that allow us time to tune to one another. However, high levels of “zoom fatigue” made extended practices feel unpleasant, so instead, we experimented with a series of short morning practices that made use of micro tasks. Some examples can be found in this YouTube video.
Having previously been dependent on costly and intermittent access to studio space, the possibility of a daily practice had never before been available to us.
We found connections in the group had time to deepen through the regularity of contact in a way that we had not experienced through our weekly studio practice, and we were excited to connect to something that felt akin with Odin Teatret’s daily encounter.
Experiment Two - Finding Relationship through Shared Digital Practice
Moving on from this, we decided to enter into a three-month exploration made up of the following elements:
- A week of morning intensives once a month
- A Sunday social check-in
- A monthly digital making task
- A final in-person residency on Holy Island.
We began to translate many of our in-person practices into a digital format. This was not about lifting our studio practice online but about uncovering new ways of being together that carried the same resonance we had during in-person work. We played with our relationship to the camera, to image and location, exploring ways of finding the poetic in the domestic. Many things failed as we blocked by our perceptions of how we felt things should be, but when we remembered to look, as Stanislavski would say, ‘as if for the first time.’ When we did this, small breakthrough moments of connection did emerge.
We finished the three months with many more questions than we had answers, but also with a willingness to reconsider our relationship to the work and each other through a digital lens. Being online pushed us past our preconceptions about digital practices and opened up new ways for us to stay together, beyond the limits of the studio space. It made us reflect that if the concept of ‘relationships’ is the root of the work, then the digital ensemble offers higher levels of regularity in connection than a weekly studio practice; and it also enables a scattered, sometimes international, group of artists to continue to find ways to be together in exciting and novel ways.