HotHouse Intensive: A New Breath

Temple University Musical Theater BFA student José Raúl Mangual took part in a HotHouse Intensive this winter.  He documented the experience through daily reflections and photos that will be shared as blog posts as we prepare for the Summer Intensive.

HotHouse Intensive Day 6 (3/7/18)

I felt like today’s class was the first that I saw, without seeking, the parallels between exercises. (AKA: I feel familiar enough to explore the method in solitude now, as wished on Day 1 of Week 1!)

We saw how a new breath is a new idea through an exercise in which a two-person scene (from Passage, the Wilma’s recent world premiere) was read by two actors surrounded by a multitude of chairs, the seats facing inward. The nature of the exercise revealed just how employable punctuation and phrasing can be in the pursuit of an objective or, more generally, in the exchange of ideas with another actor. Often overlooked, the text of a theatrical work can be seen as a diverse, often character-specific terrain which informs what steps, leaps, halts, retractions, etc. we can make towards or away from what we want. If the punctuation/phrasing of the “terrain” is potholes, canyons, slopes, ice, etc., we learned in this exercise that breath often precedes, and arguably should always precede, an action: a skip across the pothole, a leap across the canyon, etc.

I have heard this concept of breath being a new idea before. It was noted in the beginning process of learning to speak Shakespeare, for example. The breath is a revving-up to drive the energy through to the end of the line, where it must, in addition to every word along the way, land with deliberate intention. I’ve seen the undeniable value of apportioning breath this way in my work on Romeo and Juliet as well as in Acting 3, (Temple’s Shakespeare-centric acting class) but the validity of this conceptual understanding of breath was proven to me in new fullness today. It was as if the breath is inhaling the information given to me and allowing it to chemically react with the inside of my body, progressing to exhale a new chemical, which is then inhaled by my partner, and thus a cycle is born.

HotHouse Intensive Day 7 (3/8/18)

Today’s class left me feeling confident in yesterday’s discovery. This work is full of information and freedom I have yet to find elsewhere. I am a thorough (the good side of slow [right?]) worker as it is, so having time in this expanse of exercises to breathe and introspect is enough to keep me entertained for a good, long while. I found that, if I relax and allow my body to breathe into the triangle, it will. I also found that my stress or withdrawal from the group and into myself can result in gripping the muscles in my lower back slightly, but enough that I cut off the opportunity for my breath to extend to my lower back and the perineum.

We also played with an exercise drawing from Cicely Berry’s methods, which was a glamorous wealth of experience and experimentation. Each member of the group acted like “ghosts”. We were voices inside the monologist’s mind, to me presenting an opportunity for each actor role, both monologist and ghosts, to be approaching the line being spoken from the received intention of the prior spoken line’s/words’/word’s intention. In the role of “ghost”, as I see it after today’s experimentation, every individual actor can “agree” or “disagree” with the perceived intention of the current line’s delivery.

To me, to “agree” is to:

  • Emphasize the monologist’s delivery of the approved word or phrase by bolstering* facets of it (such as an electric voiced s [z], the rhythm of a delivery, the received feeling of the word, others)
  • Say nothing (subtext being something of: this sounds good; keep going)

And to “disagree” is to:

  • Deliver the disagreed delivery in a way you see as preferable

HotHouse Intensive Day 8 (3/9/18)

Today’s exercises all left me feeling like we were a family of uninhibited children!

We returned to the exercise of resonating into our hands. This time, I was able to engage in such pure experimentation that I forgot I’d ever had trouble in my introduction to the exercise. The shifting of my shapes originated from my torso, initiated by the triangle from which our breath originates in the corporal sequence. Warping the positioning of my torso, specifically my diaphragm, opened me up to different sounds and, in tandem, different stirrings of emotion. In one position, I began to laugh as deeply as I used to in middle school, my eyes welling and my smile unbreakable. In another, I felt awareness spring up from my feet, as if I’d opened the door to the fight-or-flight response. I happened upon an especially fun asymmetry with my upper back hunched and my voice gurgling in a which created the image in my mind of myself as a sort of humanoid sea monster.

(José Raúl Mangual)

One exercise in particular felt totally free: we took turns being held by the rest of our ensemble, carried around in everyone else’s hands with our eyes closed, able to experience a unique form of play in which we were completely dependent upon the ensemble to control our corporal experience. There was a personally hilarious moment for myself when, floating above the floor (a given in this exercise) and spinning in a fetal-esque position, I could not shake the image in my mind’s eye of myself as a spinning cheesecurl, complete with flecks of flavoring dust. Some would call my experience nonsensical, but it only served to free my mind to experience a form of unbridled imagination I could not possibly hope to experience on my own two feet.

Read the first HotHouse Intensive blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *