Some things in Iceland stay. The slight smell of sulphur and the scolding geothermic temperatures of the shower. Water straight from the furnaces of middle earth.
Our first session was early this afternoon at the Academy. We're working with 12 artists, actors, musicians and educators throughout the week. We began with some image work just to get used to working together.
Sculpting is a brilliant way to get a group going, partly because it allows everybody to realise they have a unique perspective on the world. In pairs one person imagines themselves to be a great artist, the other a lump of clay. (We swap these roles - after all sometimes artists lose their powers and it's always possible fro clay to aspire to something more creative.)
Without talking the great artist gently manipulates the clay into a three dimensional image. The pairs all work at the same time and so in a few minutes a collection of sculptures fill the room.
The artists are then encouraged to tour this quickly assembled exhibition commenting on similarities and differences.
I always begin by asking the artists to create a sculpture called 'Mother.' In mixed groups this quickly provokes conversations about gender and culture. Within half an hour we're working and on our way.
The pairs swap roles and creating a complimentary (or occasionally conflicting) image called 'Father' these two images are then 'staged' in relief to each other. The discussion begins to develop an aesthetic dimension. A story is beginning.
From here I decided to repeat the exercise using creating images for 'Education' and 'Theatre.' Again the pairs created a composite image by deciding how to stage the two images in the same space. The results were fascinating.
Luka and Rakel are first to go. In their image Education is slumped asleep against a wall. Theatre stands in front, feet firmly rooted on the ground, but she bends over and reaches between her legs reaching backwards to take Education's hand.
The conversation focuses on who is pulling who. Is theatre trying to raise education from its slumber by pulling it through her legs. Or is it education that, tired of holding hands with theatre has slumped onto the floor, pulling her with him. The complication of two such disparate images still holding hands gave another cause for reflection.
Next up Olof and Savala. Olof's 'theatre' was a figure on all fours, looking up and begging at the feet of Savala's 'education.' Education seemed to be offering Theatre a coin. Both characters had their heads cocked to one side and were smiling. Most of the group saw an element of the fool in the theatre image, a sense of self-deprecation of playing rather than being low status. Education on the other hand was seen as self confident and patronising, relating to theatre as a curiosity rather than a friend. We felt that once the image dissolved the two elements would not stay in touch.
The third image from Vigdis M. and Tora saw the images stand next to each other, facing outwards towards the audience. Tora's 'theatre' stood as neutrally as possible, waiting for us to project onto her. Vigdis' 'education' sat cross legged, looking up from an open book with an expression of shocked amazement - perhaps at what she'd discovered. We couldn't help but feel, because of their relationship to us that both were performing for us.
The fourth image was created by Maria and Edna. Maria's 'theatre' used a shawl to cover half her face. The material draped down the length of her body, making a costumed disguise. The other half of her took up a triumphant and coquettish pose, weight on hip, hand extended and flirtatious smile. The duality was clear to us all. Edna's 'education' stood behind, again reading a book, but this time self absorbed, somewhere between indifferent to and bored by Theatre's charms. Some in the group saw a master/ servant relationship between the two with Theatre leading and Education following behind. When looked at like this the image reminded me of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
The fifth image saw Alda's 'education' in clear opposition to Torinna's 'theatre.' They stood facing each other, upper bodies leaning in slightly, as if in combat. They chose a place in the room, where the harsh rays of the now fast approaching Reykjavik sunset crossed their stage, which added an epic feeling to the work. Education stood taut and tense, fist raised high above her head, perhaps looking to land a blow, perhaps merely as a triumphant gesture. Theatre, by contrast, seemed defensive, one hand on her heart, one on her head as if to indicate the two most essential parts of her being.
Vigdis noticed how hard it was for 'education' to stay still in the image. The tension Alda was forcing her body into made her shake slightly and it was a real struggle to keep such an assertive form. Theatre, although on first appearance the more passive of the two, seemed in many ways more at ease with herself.
The final image saw Vigdis G's 'education' strangle Margaret's 'theatre' in another clear battle. Theatre looked out helplessly as education seemed to go in for the kill.
I was fascinated by how, overall, the group saw education, as a stifler of the arts rather than an ally or conspirator. It was also interested to notice how much strength the group invested in their images of education. Time and time again theatre was seen as the victim.
These initial impressions, clear, creative and tangible give us an excellent base form which to further explore the connections and oppositions between the actor and the teacher.
Mark is the Academic Director of the Drama Programmes at St Mary's University in Twickenham. He has worked internationally as a theatre director and educator for the past 15 years, focused mostly on youth, community, and conflict resolution work.
As a lecturer Mark taught at Goldsmiths College, Coventry University and was Head of Performing Arts at Canterbury College prior to joining St Mary’s in 2006.
His Professional directing credits include Henry V (One of US?) and Valhalla for RSC Education; The Wind in the Willows, Jack Cade, The Red, Red Robin for Sevenoaks Playhouse; Tender Souls, The Quality of Mercy and Playhouse Creatures for the Ambassadors Theatre group.
Mark is a director of subVERSE Theatre company for whom has directed fringe premieres of Chief, Dinnertime and OxfamC**t at Theatre 503.
Site specific work includes Purka and Shadow on Icelandic volcanoes and Novocento with students from the University of Genoa.