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Friday, February 29, 2008

Artel to host one of Russia's "zasluzhenniy deyatel" (national treasure)

Evgenia Osipovna Zasimova, professor of solo folk singing and dance at the Moscow State University of Arts and Culture and founder of folk ensemble Karagod, is coming to Los Angeles to work with Artel!

This visit is quite an honor for us.

Ms. Zasimova has been leading expeditions to Russian villages to learn ancient and traditional songs, dances and games for over twenty-five years. Her ensemble, Karagod, performs at some of the most prestigious concert halls in Russia and abroad as well as provides music and musicology for numerous film and theater productions.

We greatly anticipate our first collective work with a Russian master. Not only will we be able to learn how to sing directly from the woman whose CD's have been teaching us many of the songs we have been sharing at our Gogol-Mogols but we will also deepen our experience, knowledge and perspective of both Russia and America.

Ms. Zasimova is looking forward to meeting and sharing her wisdom with the larger community of Los Angeles artists as well. Artel's [via]Corpora will host a weekend of vocal-movement workshops with her at our studio, March 15 and 16. See for more details.

Bulgakov's Law of the Conservation of Matter

Our performances at Highways in early December were precisely what we needed for making the next leap (today!) towards the Bulgakov performance we have been envisioning for the last two years!

Thank you all for coming out and supporting us in such numbers!
Two superb writers penned articles on the evenings, if you missed them, please see the Press section on the right side of our blog

Over the last few months, we have been taking the generous feedback we received from all of you as well as our own experiences of performing the two evenings and returning to the intensive work in the studio of shaping the Bulgakov material into the most concise, dynamic performance possible.

Our major concerns, besides our ever demanding vision of intensifying our physical and vocal edges in order to challenge our accepted forms of expression, have been the clarification of the story -- How much of the story is about Bulgakov and how much of it is about what Bulgakov inspires in us?

The big questions of Censorship, Transmission, the Role of the Artist, Terror and the Shaping of Consciousness, History and Man's Questionable Evolution have been gaining specificity and sharpness the longer we sit with them.

The fears of creating another theatrical biography are giving way as we find the more connected we are to the personal details and anecdotes of Bulgakov's life as well as emphasize the context around his writing career, especially his three marriages, the brighter the themes that brought us to the material in the first place shine.

We are preparing to show you all the new endeavor in mid-May.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Artel invited to Poland!

In November 2007, three members of Teatr Zar graced Artel's studio to lead us in a five hour workshop. This meeting was born in Wroclaw last summer during the Institute's Atelier between Bryan and Matej Matejka. Originally envisioned as three days of 8 hours, practicalities allowed for the one five hour day with Matej, Przemek Blaszczak and Kamila Klamut sharing a variety of daily physical exercises aimed at increasing concentration, trust, mutuality, coordination and psycho-physical expansion of expression.

Over the next few days, Artel found time to share conversations, songs, and a small showing of Bulgakov material with all of Teatr Zar, deepening our understanding of each others' work and vision. As all good meetings should, ours ended with a gentle sadness in our hearts fueled only by the commitment to meet again soon for a longer, more in-depth time.

In January, Artel received a formal invitation to Poland to work with Teatr Zar and friends of the Grotowski Institute, thus the Open Doors project was born! Open Doors is an establishing of relations between Artel, the Instititute, its resident theatre, its theatre associates, and its extensive Archives. Practically Open Doors is a two week intensive worksession (late July in Wroclaw and Brzezinka) between Matej Matejka, members of Teatr Zar, Ukrainian song theater Maisternia Pisni, and Artel to expand our expressive abilities, hone the Bulgakov material and develop our modes of creation!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Artel performance in May

Highways Performance Space is having a birthday! and Artel has been asked to perform as part of a curated evening of Highways favorite performers on May 10, 2008! We are honored to be selected for such a performance and willingly donate our time and work to such a bastion of live performance in Southern California.

Center for Performance Research in crisis!

CPR, the Center for Performance Research in Wales, is facing the struggle inherent in all theater practitioners lives, the sand we build our castles on is perilously close to the ocean. The Center for Performance Research in Wales, a deeply important enclave of theatrical research is in jeopardy of losing its funding! CPR is a model for Artel's [via]Corpora. For over ten years they have been creating international networks, offering some of the foremost worksessions in physical and voice work in theater today, publishing important journals and books (their next two years are almost solely committed to Polish theater and Grotowski). Wales has made itself stand out and seem like a beacon of light to artists who are underappreciated and undervalued in their own countries and now the Welsh government is disregarding this international "status" that it was beginning to develop and going the way of all conservative governments in an economically unfriendly time. In our letter of support we quoted this from Stanislavsky which seems mightily apropos:

The theatre is not a luxury in the life of the people, but part of its bread and butter. It is not something one can quite well do without, but something incontestably necessary for a great people....You can't postpone the art of the thetare for a while, padlock its workshop, and suspend its animation for a time. Art cannot go to sleep and then, when it suits us, wake up again. It can only go to sleep for ever, by dying. Suspend it, and it will perish...returning to life only centuries later, if then. The death of art would be a national catastrophe.

You can view letters of support from around the world here:
For direct information:
To view/sign the petition please visit:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Around The Teapot Inauguration!

Feb 9 saw the inauguration of a new outreach action from Artel, Around the Teapot, a discussion of the role of artists in society. This lively dialog grew organically out of our post-performance discussions and the research we continuously do. A small group of scholars, artists, critics and audience members with special guests, John Achorn and Steven Leigh Morris, gathered in our creative home for blini, tea and other treats.

For more information and to let us know you want to attend the next one, please go to

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Workshop to inspire Workshops!

On Feb 17th Bryan and Olya held a free workshop for 8 students (primarily from CalArts) in order to share our work with younger performers as well as to expand the potential and purpose of Artel's teaching opportunities.

With no set timeline or criteria, the workshop was an exercise in meeting. How do artists interested in something verbalized as similar meet to work with minimal discussion, meet by letting their bodies speak, meet by entering the unknown?

For three hours we traversed a series of exercises aiming at the expansion of awareness, of listening, of glowing. We all experienced the edges of ourselves and shared in the support of that experience as an ensemble of players should. As many of Bryan's recent worksessions have, this workshop ended in a jam of sorts with the intent of pursuing the expression of the freedom found in moments throughout the day's work.

As we discussed the practicalities of the work at the end, Olya asked how many hours a day the participants all worked together (as she was not involved in the setting up of the workshop and therefore believed they were all in the same level at CalArts). But in fact, two of the participants had never met any of the people in the room before!

Everyone expressed a desire to continue the work on a regular basis and this, together with Bryan's ongoing weekly sessions, have led us to realize how much our approach is needed in the Los Angeles community, the need for a transmission of a new approach to the creation of a strong practice a performer can call their own craft, one which allows them to meet and work with anyone at anytime, if even they just met that day.

So, at the least, monthly workshops will be forthcoming. Please check for details.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What is a Theater Laboratory?

Grotowski wanted his theater to be like the lab of Niels Bohr that his older brother Kazimierz once worked in,
a place for continuous exploration.

History of a theater laboratory

Claims for laboratory status in the theatre really began in the early decades of the twentieth century. Before that, there were clearly pockets of actor training in the West which were both investigative and systematic — Ian Watson traces the genesis of actor training back to the early 1700s in Britain and in France to 1786, with the birth of the Royal Dramatic school in Paris. But it was the late nineteenth century’s love affair with science and technology which spawned a new scientific rhetoric in the theatre, a development begun by Delsarte’s proto-behaviorist study of actors’ emotions. Delsarte’s work may have been criticised for its mechanistic approach but it heralded a new interdisciplinary language for actor training, a language which drew on the common associations of the scientific method: rigour, objectivity, systematic interrogation.

The laboratory in Russia

This language was never more embedded than in the Russian tradition of actor training; in Stanislavsky’s system (and in the ‘sub-systems’ of Meyerhold, Michael Chekhov and Richard Boleslavsky). From his first experimental Studio in 1905, to his final project, the Opera-Dramatic Studio, Stanislavsky’s preference was to develop a research culture outside of his main institution, the MAT. These satellite activities allowed Stanislavski a creative space to work with young actors and were designed to share what he called "the results of ... research into stage techniques". Increasingly, the research agenda was uppermost in his thoughts, and that agenda was couched in scientific terms.

The Opera-Dramatic Studio, Stanislavski's final project was to be the laboratory he called for in his essay, October and the Revolution ... He made it quite clear to the young actors and directors he gathered around him that there could be no question of gearing their work to performance; it would be done for its own sake, as research.

In Meyerhold's work, the appropriation of scientific terminology was both explicit and calculated. Indeed, of all Stanislavski’s pupils, his is the most emphatic use of an interdisciplinary language, fusing theatrical 'laws' with scientific laws — Huntley Carter called Meyerhold's actor training system, biomechanics, "the science of motion in acting". Meyerhold was founder of GITIS, the State Institute for Theatrical Art, an umbrella organisation which was responsible for the training of some of the key practitioners of the twentieth century, including Grotowski.

From Meyerhold's perspective, GITIS grew out of his attempts to realise an "exemplary model" of revolutionary theatre. Meyerhold's vision was of a mutually supportive, interactive organisation incorporating a stage, a workshop and a training school in which: "the discoveries in the workshop would affect the training in the school as well as what was exposed on the stage" in a three-fold symbiosis.

Everyone learned — students and teachers alike. It was a laboratory for working through the foundations of a new aesthetic.

GITIS was to be: A place unique in the planet, where the science of theatre is studied and drama is built. Exactly: 'science' and not 'art' — 'built' and not 'created.' Clearly for Meyerhold, the laboratory walls extended much further than the building in which he was working — the Zon theatre — for the experimental attitude he was adopting at a local level was reflected on a much grander scale — the huge social experiment of the October revolution itself. Central to this commitment to science was the emphasis on outcomes — the impact science had on the people. Such an emphasis may in part explain the popularity of the machine as a ‘symbol of the new age of mechanical and scientific industrialism’, as Carter puts it. The machine stood for productivity, for the benefits technology can bring a new society. Thus, the work of the laboratory was not seen in isolation. The laboratories of the Russian revolution fed the technological advancement of the society, the electrification of the country, for example. From a theatrical perspective, Meyerhold's work at GITIS established the same principle. The experimental findings in his workshop informed the presentations on the stage — the 'product' of a theatre industry.

The Threefold Model

Firstly, Meyerhold’s ‘exemplary model’, devised in the early 1920s, to be contrasted with Stanislavsky’s secluded investigations in the Opera Dramatic studio which set the stage for later instances of process-dominated practice such as Grotowski’s and Anatoly Vasiliev’s. With such work, there is no imperative to disseminate the research findings beyond the walls of the laboratory, no measurable outcome.

Secondly, Meyerhold’s model sees research as part of a wider picture. His laboratory shared with some of us that old fashioned notion that teaching is an integral part of research. It then extended that idea to incorporate research and teaching into the making of an original creative act — a performance.

Thirdly, is the related issue of outcomes. It is interesting to note that some ninety years ago in the new Soviet Union the research agenda was still pre-occupied with outcomes! The context is clearly a mechanistic one, related, as I have said, to the necessity to produce. But for Meyerhold it nevertheless promoted a dynamic symbiosis of original workshop research, pedagogy and performance.

The engine room of this triangular research model was the experimental workshop, described by Maria Valenti in recognisably research-oriented terms:

The students were not required to present preconceived conclusions, but were expected to find new paths, along with Meyerhold and his colleagues, to create new concepts of theatre.

What I believe is striking about this model is that, as a self-sustaining form, all areas of this symbiotic triangle feed into Meyerhold’s agenda of innovation, not because they are in themselves research but because the environment in which the activity is taking place, the wider picture, is essentially research-centered. And by that I mean:

· it stimulates originality and creativity
· it is underpinned by a set of theoretical principles
· it is designed to test the validity of those theoretical principles and to feed those findings back into the loop
· it utilises an organic system of dissemination.

In this holistic framework it is not necessarily the ‘instance of practice’ which is under scrutiny but the surrounding research environment. Research, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

please visit for more on Artel's teaching as research portion of our laboratory

The above excerpt is from a speech on practice as research given by Jonathan Pitches, author of Science and the Stanislavsky Tradition of Acting
The opening line is from The Grotowski Sourcebook, eds. Schechner and Wolford