Working in this way, I found that the intuitive actor was more adaptable and artistically free with these techniques than some of the others who had had a lot of experience in the more traditional theatre. After all, to work under the impression that you turn yourself into another character when you're on stage for many years, and suddenly to be confronted with the simple notion that you are always you, on stage and off, is a frightening prospect.
S.H.: Of course such work requires a great deal of confidence and security for an actor to be stripped of props, make-up, costumes and pre-established moves. Grotowski suggests that the best actors are those who can mentally strip themselves naked in front of an audience, but that this goal needs years and years of training. How did you aim to achieve this in two months' time?
L.M.: I didn't expect to achieve anything near that. Nevertheless, before every rehearsal we spend nearly an hour doing various exercises in order to free ourselves and give ourselves to each other. After much experimentation, we evolved our own peculiar brand of "energy transference," which is a difficult concept to describe and even more difficult to participate in correctly. The goal of the exercise is for the actor to strip away blocks-physical, mental, emotional-which hamper his ability to respond on impulse.
Obviously, this sort of goal requires years of deep concentration, yet we felt it important enough to try.
S.H.: Did you participate in the exercises as well?
L.M.: Oh yes, and the stage management and technical crew, as well. The idea was to evolve everything connected with the show simultaneously, as opposed to the conventional manner of presenting the cast with a drawing of their set and costumes at the first meeting.
The whole process of rehearsal has been like interpreting a drama; this fluid state has only been possible, I think, because within the structure of Chekhov's play we were allowed to spend so much time in exercises and experimentation. This was one reason why I chose Chekhov and not a loosely constructed modern play which, though it might be more "relevant," would allow us too much freedom to rewrite and re-create. Chekhov is like God to us: nothing can be changed without the most careful examination of why he wrote it-and when we find out why, we realize its need to be retained.
S.H.: I notice from having watched some of the rehearsals that your techniques lead to some odd conclusions; for example, replacing a samovar with a gaudy pink pillow.
L.M: The actors control the lights, the sound, the props, the set, and the costumes; even these technicalities will vary from night to night as new ideas are formed. Now if you have a silver samovar on stage, the object is so clearly defined that it tends to dominate the actor, and he can only respond to it in a muted, basically cinematic fashion. However, an object chosen to have no meaning in its own sense can mirror the actors reactions toward it.
Thus, if a pillow is said to be a samovar, what it does is to be a samovar for as long as the actors say so, and by their use of it, the actors can show the non-Russian audience more completely what a samovar means to Chekhov's characters.
Similarly, at other times the actors perform the sub-text of a scene as animals; if we show the sub-text of an object with something which is non-specific, we show the inner reality of a scene by playing against its superficial level. All scenes on stage are like icebergs, and when one prepares for them one discovers, hopefully, the 90 per cent that is submerged.
In theatre today that top 10 per cent is no longer very interesting because you can see it closer up in films. What we are trying to show is part of the other 90 per cent by these distortions and exaggerations.
S.H.: One of the most exciting theatrical experience of my life was watching Peter Brook's Grotowski-influenced experimental production of The Tempest in London, which he advertised as an "open rehearsal." I gather you did not want to use the words "opening night" or "production" in connection with Three Sisters?
L.M.: No, because this immediately suggests a "finished" performance. With our show, we have gone through a process of discovery, and each night we will present what we have discovered so far. Ideally, I would like to continue rehearsals for four more months, in order to condense Chekhov's play into something which is really the most intense essence of the thing, something which would only take an hour and a half at the most to perform. Much of what the audience will see is only a means to that end, but I hope that in a few places there are flashes of what we would like the final product to be.
S.H.: This surely is the luxury of a university theatre?