Pantheatre – UCLAN conference

At the beginning of January UCLAN hosted an international collaborative conference with Paris-based Pantheatre. During the week long programme students and academics came to take part in a variety of workshops and lectures which explored the intersections between visual and performing arts that culminated in an incredible performance around Hitler by the director Enrique Pardo. I spoke to Amy Rome to find out more about the project and to get a deeper insight into her journey as a performer/tutor and her association with Pantheatre.

The Two Hats: Hi Amy, you’ve been incredibly busy this past week, what’s been happening?

Amy Rome: Last week was the culmination of a big effort to bring the directors of Paris-based Pantheatre to work with us in a rare collaborative exchange between Performing Arts and Fine Arts hosted by UCLans School of Arts, Design and Performance.

TTH: What drew you to Pantheatre? How did you come across them and start working with them?

AR: It really was a very organic process. Originally through my own PhD here at UCLAN, and my original undergraduate work looking at the voice within my own practice and performance. I was trying to understand what it is about the voice of an actor or a singer that captures your imagination? And in asking that question fell into and came across the writing of Alfred Wolfsohn, who was the seminal founder of the voice praxis that was later evolved within the context of theatre by Roy Hart. Hart discovered a very different way of working with voice performance than what he experienced during his actor training at RADA. If you read reviews from critics who witnessed the work of the Roy Hart Theatre between 1969-1975, some are saying” it’s the most extraordinary thing we have experienced in theatre” and others are saying, “what are they doing? “. We must remember, historically the 1960’s, when the practice of the Roy Hart Theatre was emerging, is really a watershed moment in the Arts where we start to culturally shift.  Partly as a reaction from coming through two world wars and a search for an art that will speak about the violence of those events. Beautiful voices don’t’ express the bleakness of such tragedy.One of the reasons that Fine Art was so interesting in the conference is you see that artistic shift quite clearly in Picasso’s work drawing on Goya, the fragmentation in the image – and you see the cultural violence and the impact in the way they are working with the visual image.

TTH: So a shift from representation and into more expressionist forms?

AR: Exactly, and also that for Wolfsohn and Roy Hart and The Roy Hart Theatre to move into those more extreme vocal spaces radically challenged our traditional sense of working with voice in the arts. Roy Hart drew a lot on Jung’s psychology, his ideas. Whereas, more recently Pantheatre is more profoundly rooted in James Hillmans work.  We talked about this last week, how Hillman’s ideas, the founder of archetypal psychology, transposes itself in a meaningful and relevant way towards more postmodern / post structural phenomenological ideas. There I think Pantheatre is contributing a lot to evolving contemporary approaches to acting and performance training.

Pantheatre is the first and most successful independent satellite theatre company to come out of the Roy Hart Theatre’swork. One of the great things about them is they are grappling with how they can evolve as theatre makers and practitioners e.g. training performers. This is both a practical question and a theoretical one. In recent years Enrique Pardo, shared with us his series of lectures, which even after my lengthy relationship to the theatre company in Paris exposed his work in a different light and gave me a deeper insight into the nature of his postmodern aesthetics, the way he’s approaching the theatrical image and how he was drawing on particular fine artists – the work of Caravaggio and Tiepolo, these pre-postmodern artists.  There is something in the indirectness of the gaze within the figures in those paintings, in the fragmentation, the breakdown of representation, structure and harmony..The works of these fine artists, really gave me a deeper insight into how Pardo is influenced by their aesthetics and how he is translating this into his vision, his aesthetic approach within the context of his theatre making.

TTH: And so you’ve been working with or alongside Pantheatre for a while now?

AR:  I’ve been taking students over to the South of France to the Roy Hart International Voice and Performance Research Centre, for about 8 years.. Every summer, Pantheatre hosts an international conference in which international artists of all kinds; actors; dancers; musicians; site-specific; visual artists; academics; psychologists; philosophers gather together in the south of France for 2 weeks to share in both theoretical ideas that frame the work and how we can continue to evolve that work in those interdisciplinary interchanges & interactions.

TTH: How do these sorts of exchanges impact on the students and staff here?

AR: It is how it expands them and it’s also helping them to recognize that we now live in this global community. It’s a very intensive platform for the next generation of creative practitioners. It offers our students an opportunity to be on that international platform, to make those kinds of connections to be culturally opened  to different ways of being, right down to how we go to the weekly open market there in the south of France:what happens in that cultural event for the French is very different than what the British actors might have culturally experienced. Even different food and language, all those things are really good things for the young artist to do in that kind of intensive environment – where they are doing full days of practice and moments where there will be round table discussion between professional participants, academics observing the work and how we can enter into quite dynamic dialogues about evolving. Linda Wise, co-director of Pantheatre, rightly says “if we don’t continue to evolve our work it becomes a museum”, and that’s a big challenge to keep challenging our comfort zones, our way of working, how we think about our work which is valuable to do at student level, research level and teaching level both in practice and theory.

If we are talking about employment and we put on our business hats for them to be aware not just to be looking locally in Britain, but saying what kind of artist or actor am I? And where can I source my work?  It’s wholly important to be mobile in that way and be aware of where things are going on and how can I plug into that?

TTH: Does your work with Pantheatre influence your teaching at UCLAN?

AR: I’m very lucky in that there is no separation between my teaching and my research. There is something about the ephemeral nature about what we do as performing artists; actually we are always doing research. So I would go to France and work with practitioners and study and I would come back and explore that work through my teaching and also the development of my own practice. It’s interesting also within the context of the university’s debate around practice based research and how do we communicate practice based research, which even now is a very dynamic question.

TTH: When did you decide to bring Pantheatre over to the UK for a UCLAN -based conference?

AR: The founder, Enrique Pardo has been to UCLAN once before in 2002 as part of a conference that was spearheaded by Dr Julie Wilson-Bokowiec, who was my supervisor during my PhD research process. His return with Linda Wise who is co director of Pantheatre , was on one level my effort to complete a circle and to give the wider student body here direct access to these international artists/practitioners/ and theatre directors.

The conference was also a unique collaborative opportunity for faculties at UCLAN. When I came to UCLAN I chose this university because at that point we were under one degree programme, called Contemporary Performing Arts, and studies were based in the Avenham Building.

Because of my multi-disciplinary artistic background in terms of theatre, dance, and music,I wanted to work within a contemporary frame and blur those boundaries. It was very normal to be in the same space as students studying across different disciplines in performing arts; and also faculties collaborating across disciplines. We’ve since diversified – so the conference was also an effort to try to create an opportunity to have that space again, which I felt was very valuable. The other was a sincere wish for the faculty who I work with and who had never met the directors, to have an opportunity to collaborate with the directors of Pantheatre: I wanted them to know the work first hand.

One of the things that also spawned the conference was, we realised, Dr. Jon Aveyard; Dr. Nick Caswell; myself; a few of us who were in research meetings with Professor Lubaina Himid; we were using Fine Art as a language to try to.. I’ll use acting as an example -to engage our students in better understanding these contemporary postmodern questions about the nature of their work, about the nature of the theatrical image. So Fine Art gives us a visual language. So we say to the actors for example,“ok let’s look at Kandinsky’s blue square, What do you see?” … And sometimes they are very literal in the way they want to interpret that, or it means nothing! This in itself is interesting. And I say to them “I can look at Kandindsky’sBlue Square and maybe I just see the blue square, or I see the ocean, maybe I see my lover, my father’s eyes. What do you see?” This question of interpretation, of breakdown of representation, and how do they take that understanding into their work as theatre makers.

I’m sincerely interested in this next generation..what are they thinking about? Why does one want to be an actor for example? Their answers are variable, but I think it’s very good to ask those questions

TTH: Do you think there are similar answers, even though there is a shift in what is popular culture? Do you think there is still a similar drive from someone wanting to be an actor?

AR: I think we are up against a shift philosophically, when we see programs like the X-factor and people are made, very often instaneously, from being unknown to famous within a very short undermines those of us who believe in the ongoing importance of investing in creative work and process. I’ve been doing it a long time and still for me the investing is extremely important.

For those of us searching for depth in our artistic work,  I think we are challenged all the time, surrounded by a global tidal wave of technologically driven, consumerist and capitalistic culture. So the old world, the old ideals perhaps the romantic ideas of why one makes ones art within that global technologically driven culture, which is the young people’s culture.. I feel this tension going on and I want to culturally explore these shifting intersections.

Probably what’s driving that is coming out of an American Capitalistic culture where the value of the artist is wholly about the amount of money they make. I understand that quite profoundly from my own professional life. It’s those kinds of praxis like Pantheatre where the value is beyond the monetary thing. We have this massive friction in terms of the wider global capitalism that’s happened. Its done! Everybody’s bought it, China.. They’ve bought it, we’re in it. Now the whole world is now in this global capitalistic value system, what happens? To that question of the value of art beyond its monetary value system, How art opens up other possibilities, the way you look at the world, the way you think about the other guy, the way that you experience other people or the world around you. It’s like when I say to what I hope are the next generation of artists, What kind of music do you listen to? Do you go to the museum? Why not? Why, what’s there? Well go and see. Listen to a Wagner Opera, what happens? You know. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with popular music, not at all, that’s also very important. If we don’t keep that quality of depth, quality of what brought us to this place of those artists where they’ve evolved.. all kinds of arts, music, painters. For me when I look at Van Gogh I’m not just looking visually there’s something of music in his painting. Music is a good example in the sense of it speaks beyond words, we can’t always put it into words.. what moved you in that piece of music? The same with Kandinskys blue square.. Can you hear something beyond just the blue square.

TTH: Has there been much feedback yet from their student’s experience of the conference

AR: I’ve got some initial responses from students who participated in the collaborative conference……

Working with Pantheatre gave me an insight into the techniques they use and how these techniques encourage individuals to work to their full potential both as individual artists and with the support of an ensemble. I took part in a short vocal exercise with Linda and felt inspired by her ability to unlock my voice to encourage a more supported and rich sound. I was made to feel at ease when making choices about the work that I might not make in an everyday setting, provoking thoughts outside of the box, making the work that was created more individual and unique. Would love to work more with them! - Bonnie Anne-Leak, 2nd year acting student

The week of workshops and performances was an incredible eye opener, I have experienced theatre in a whole new dimension through performance and being involved in the interaction myself. I have certainly learned a lot about myself and how theatre can expand beyond my imagination. I great week, great fun. – Thomas Ingham, 3rd year Acting Student

The unique opportunity to work with Pantheatre will have effect of my own artistic practice and I would love the opportunity for this to happen again. I thought during the Pantheatre conference Enrique Pardo provided me with a cultural historical reflection. In the course of humanity’s iconic human tragedies and the cultural reactions to them, such as Hitler’s occupation of Germany, the slave triangle, and Hillman’s Post-Jungian notion of the re-emergence of soul. The theoretical seminars focused on the history of psychoanalysis through the works of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and James Hillman. During the practical sessions we explored the voice and the body. From attending the conference I feel that to accurately collaborate these two elements, imagination is the key to creating what Pardo terms: “choreographic theatre”.

I would just like to take this opportunity to congratulate Amy for making this successful conference possible, I fully engaged with this learning experience and enjoyed all aspects of the week. – Mark North, 2nd year Contemporary Theatre student

TTH: Considering the conference was only last week so it may be too soon to digest everything that happened but do you have any thoughts for doing it again, or bringing a different group over?

AR: You’re right, we have just completed the conference less than a week ago. I’m doing two things.. I already have ideas about where and how we can move on. I also want to not pre-empt that, I kind of want to see what comes through that sifting, how both faculties and participants process. To be open to that dialogue and see what it provoked and follow that through. What had meaning and what questions surface so I can be open and respond to that. It’s slightly different for me because I’ve been in the work for ten years. For people that have just been exposed to it, I’m quite keen to hear how their experiences of the conference work for them.

TTH: Were there many Fine Art students at the conference? I saw Pete Clarke there and I know he really enjoyed the talks he attended.

AR: Matt Gregory was here a bit and two or three of his students were around. They were a bit quiet, and that’s fine because it’s a very intensive environment to put people into.

TTH: Especially people that aren’t used to it. When you come into this building its full of people hanging around in the corridors and singing, or rehearsing and they are used to not having a hang up about other people hearing them express themselves. I think I’d of been slightly uncomfortable.

AR: What I found fascinating philosophically was this more contemporary shift both within art and performing arts from the person to the image..and not this question of the final product the artist makes but what is the artists’ process?..  That question we were exploring last week a little bit, that existential hear existential philosophy in the background.. What is the artist’s process?

For me it was very similar to the way we talk about the doing of the performance. What is the experience from the inside out? Not looking at the object/product, or looking at the text and illustrating the text. What is going on in the artists’ process?. How do you experience in the way that Derrida talks about the nature of Van Gogh’s work, it’s not the thing but its ‘nature itself speaking’. So if I try to unpack that a bit more it’s probably my adoration of Van Gogh it s not the thing itself that fascinates me, it’s the quality of the stroke, the roughness or fineness, you can feel his effort.

TTH: I suppose in a theatrical situation you are constantly aware of the image and how things look on the stage.

AR: I think it’s important to recognise that it’s not just the visual image it’s also the aural image, the smell image. It’s very important to understand image in a complex way. But we are a visual culture so the actors are very dependent on their eyes, so how can we help them to understand these other aspects of their sensing experience?

TTH: Do you think because we have primarily a visual culture that’s why it’s taken a while for the voice to move forward conceptually? You know I think it’s the same in Fine Art, sound and certainly I don’t know how much smell has been explored but not much I think? .. that they take much longer to develop and for people to start exploring them and breaking them down?

AR: It’s funny; at the turn of the 20thcentury one of the philosophers I studied said that the 20th century was going to be a century of sound, and it’s not what happened. It was a century of the visual image, of television. Now we’ve progressed even further technologically. So I think in some senses we have lessened the importance of connecting to those aspects of our sensing experience.

Another thing that’s really fascinating about Lubaina saying “not everybody’s visual” she’s right! How each individual perceives the world is very particular to each individual. We all perceive reality, whatever that is, in very different ways. Even in teaching now I try to provide in my language, offerings that hopefully encourage or facilitate different ways of going about ones work. Joan Chodorow, a researcher in dance studies talks about this a lot, she really opened my eyes in this sensibility of… you know some people are feelers, they don’t see a lot of image.

Some people say I dream at night and everything is like a lot of images in their imaginations, and then other people perceive much more through a sense of feeling. Dancers, because there language is the body, so their sense of touch of how they connect to their bodies.

TTH: That’s what struck me about Enrique’s performance was that it encompassed all of those things, the sound of the paper from the goose-stepping and the fluidity between the characters which were feelings of characters rather than descriptions of them. He seemed to encompass a lot of those ways of exploring a performance and articulating something. I don’t know if I smelt the paint.. I certainly had the sensation just from him doing it of what it might feel like to have all that paint in your mouth.

AR: I like very much what you’re saying about not describing Hitler or characterising Hitler but working much more in that postmodern indirect way of qualities. For me it was also fascinating because it was a very different performance study from what he’d done in the South of France, what was similar was how or where he was, the quality of the sound of the paper, or the quality of the musicality of the determination of the stepping – his marching, and how he shifted his relationship to what was speaking. Sometimes we were directed to the speaker and other times we just heard a voice, a distant image, a naked body – that opens up in another way, that isn’t describing in that more modern sense of representation, but actually something quite indirect that opens up in a more important way, that  leaves space for the audiences imagination to bring whatever that is for that person experiencing that work, which is a very different way of working than modern performing where the subject is the speaker and the interpreter of what you are telling the audience they should feel.

TTH: I wanted to ask you how an interested audience in Preston can engage with the work happening at UCLAN? Could members of the public attend this sort of conference at UCLAN? Are there any performances by students open to the public? or do the students perform in theatre within Preston?  and are there any interventionist performances happening within the town?

AR: Yes

TTH: Sorry that’s a bit of a long question.

AR: There’s a couple of responses I’d like to share. One is that the conference in one sense was placed within an academic frame, looking at exchanges between faculties of different institutions and faculties and students working in UCLAN, across disciplines – so across Fine Arts and Performing Arts more specifically. It also included people from the professional world – so we had people like Alex Matisse who’s currently on tour with Alan Ayckbourne’s latest piece of work, she’s working between London and New York. So it engaged people from outside academia working in the professional world in this instance Theatre. So I’ll put that sort of preface there.

In one sense the work has often and continues to inform actors and all different kinds of performers in how they are able to develop their work and also take their work to the public. We are continually exploring the transferrable skills that they learned through that training both in terms of technical things and artistic things. What are they learning and how do they take that experience into professional arenas – the public.  Already I’ve had artists;actors; performers, take that work and develop a piece of performance and done runs at the fringe in Scotland and Avignon in the south of France. So they are taking that practice into the wider field and interpreting it and applying it in their own ways and making their own work.

It would be very interesting to do that work with a mainstream audience of people and have them respond in a way that I think installation makers often have the opportunity to do. So in the context of doing a practice like choreographic theatre it would be a very good question and a fascinating study to bring a general public in to watch some of that process and see how they respond to the images that emerge from the practical work. Maybe that’s another project, and it would be great to do that as collaboration with site specific people and to have them in that interaction. So there are ways in which we could explore that within a wider mainstream platform. It wasn’t exactly the platform, for this collaboration.

TTH: I guess the other thing I’m trying to get at there is, say within the degree show or the final show.. Are there performances that the public in Preston can watch?

AR: In the acting degree, the last two years including this year now, they do three big public performances, in the final year. They also have taken some of that work into the wider market place. Two years ago they did Tony Cushner’s play “Angels in America”. So absolutely our ethos is very keen to give them as much exposure, particularly in that final year of study… as much as possible their work is open to the public and they do come. Lots of little things go on; Preston really is quite a jewel. Things like pub theatre goes on sometimes, I’ve gone to see actors making Pinter or Ibsen small living room setting plays upstairs at the Adelphi, or little pieces of public works above the Equator where they’re making their own work and testing it out, they are selling tickets the public is coming in and I want to encourage that as much as possible.. it brings a deeper artistic culture to Preston’s possibilities. I think as time goes on Preston will become even more of an artistic cultural possibility or a place where that kind of artistic cultural exchange goes on. So the work happening last week in terms of bringing that into Preston and giving Preston that visibility I think is very valuable.

TTH: Thanks Amy