17. April 2017

Drawing back the curtains on the actor's 'private place': a personal journey into ISTA 2016

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Article by Vicki Cremona (Prof.) Chair, School of Performing Arts, University of Malta - and participant of the XV ISTA session in Albino, Italy (2016).

This article describes a personal journey into the International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISTA) during its fifteenth session in Albino in April 2016. It reflects upon the common elements underlying the different approaches to training in the different traditions that were represented by actors who are considered as 'masters' in their specific art forms. It highlights different techniques from both the West and Asia that were demonstrated and discussed. It takes a look at daily life during ISTA, as well as the training that the participants were asked to undergo.

Withdrawing to a private place
No one has as yet been concerned with establishing a private place where, in an atmosphere of simplicity, honesty, comradeship, and firm discipline, the young Servants of the Theatre will acquire the complete technique and spirit of their profession; where they will learn to consider their art, not as an easy game, a brilliant and profitable craft, but as an idea that demands hard, relentless, complex, often unrewarding work, to be achieved only through great self-sacrifice - work which is done not only with the mouth, not even with mouth and mind, but also with the body, with the whole person, all the faculties and with the whole being. (Copeau 1990, p. 25)

On Thursday 7 April 2016, inhabitants in the little northern town of Albino, situated 10 kilometres from Bergamo, Italy, were surprised to see a motley collection of foreign-looking people of different ages, generally armed with trolley suitcases or backpacks, heading towards the Sanctuary of the 'Madonna della Gamba'. The travellers' pilgrimage led to another destination close by: a monastery recently converted into a youth hostel where they would be experiencing 10 intense days of community life. As they walked, the travellers caught glimpses of the breathtaking views of wooded hills, whose valleys were, up to relatively recent times, famous for their range of textile industries, and which are trying to stave off the assault of non-European competition that has ravaged industrial activity in nearby areas. The quasi-monastical life to which the pilgrims were willingly dedicating themselves was based on the contemplation of the 'Actor's Know-How - Personal Paths, Techniques and Visions'. They were participating in the fifteenth session of the International School of Theatre Anthropology, better known as ISTA, a term coined by Eugenio Barba in 1980. Barba defines theatre anthropology as 'the field of study of human beings in an organised theatre situation'.1 ISTA sessions are periods of intense research into the acting techniques coming from different theatre traditions, in order to derive principles of acting and training that transcend geographical areas and can determine a common terrain of knowledge and exchange on the body-mind skills that constitute the actor's working tools. 'Body-mind' implies the necessity, for the actor, to eliminate the sensation of a mind commanding a body that executes when accomplishing a 'necessary' action ‒ that is, one that engages the whole body in a leap of energy, even when immobile (Barba 1995, p. 115)
Withdrawing to a private placeNo one has as yet been concerned with establishing a private place where, in an atmosphere of simplicity, honesty, comradeship, and firm discipline, the young Servants of the Theatre will acquire the complete technique and spirit of their profession; where they will learn to consider their art, not as an easy game, a brilliant and profitable craft, but as an idea that demands hard, relentless, complex, often unrewarding work, to be achieved only through great self-sacrifice - work which is done not only with the mouth, not even with mouth and mind, but also with the body, with the whole person, all the faculties and with the whole being. (Copeau 1990, p. 25)

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