Rena Polley is a Toronto based actress, writer, producer and teacher. She has worked in theatre, television and film for over twenty-five years. She has written, co-produced and performed in three short films, including Four Sisters that have toured various festivals around the world. She is also a founding member of Michael Chekhov Canada and recently formed The Chekhov Collective to
explore classic plays using the techniques of Michael Chekhov.
Where were you born?
Where do you live/work?
What fuels your desire to act/create?
A desire to express my creative impulses, to make a connection with other actors and the audience, to tell stories, to use the full body for expression -my mind, body, voice and imagination and ultimately a desire to enter the higher self.
When did you find Chekhov work and how did this influence your development?
I was performing in a play and one of the actresses was doing really interesting work. I asked her what she was doing and she told me about the Chekhov work and MICHA (Michael Chekhov Association). The next year, I went to the international MICHA workshop in Croatia. I immediately
felt that I had found my artistic home. I was trained in the American method at HB Studio in New York and it never completely worked for me. When I went to the workshop, I found I had been instinctively working in the Chekhov way, but didn’t have a framework. The technique gave me the
form as well as lots of new tools.
Talk about aspects of Chekhov Technique that resonate the most with
I love that the technique taps into the imagination – which is bottomless and expansive and doesn’t rely on the personal – which is reductive and limited. I love that it uses the body and mind as the thinking/exploratory tool rather than just the mind. I love that it honours individual creativity. But
most of all, I love that it brings back the element of play and joy into acting.
Who are your strongest influences in Chekhov work and how does
their work transform/influence yours?
I would say the teachers at MICHA. They are actors as well as teachers and have dedicated their life to this work and sharing it not only with their students, but with each other. They bring their own creative individuality to their teaching and encourage us to do the same. Of course, none of this
would have happened without the passion and dedication of Joanna Merlin who started MICHA with the intent of bringing artists and teachers together from around the world to share their knowledge. I cannot thank her enough!
Describe some of the ways you practice Chekhov Technique?
As an actor and a creative producer, I try to use the technique in the rehearsal process. It can be difficult, as actors don’t always have the time and/or the desire to learn a new technique or vocabulary in rehearsal. So, I try to hold at least one workshop before the rehearsal begins where we
use the technique as an exploratory tool. More often than not, some of the vocabulary gets carried over into the rehearsal. As a teacher, I usually teach with two other Chekhov teachers so I have the opportunity to be a student as well as a teacher in these workshops. And I try to attend one or
two MICHA conferences a year to help deepen the practice.
What is important for you to share with your students in your classes?
It’s important to teach them that the imagination is enough; they do not have to tap into their personal lives to act. This technique offers an artistic framework that allows actors to take chances and feel safe. They can also step in and out of the work easily as it is just the imagination and not real life. So many acting programs manipulate and perhaps cross the boundary between the personal and the artistic.
The best thing about being an artist is...
That you can go anywhere emotionally or that anything can happen and it is only the imagination. To be able to tell a story, connect with the audience and consequently have a relationship with them and then walk back into your life after the show is awesome!
The biggest obstacle in working with self is...
Working with self. I’m not disciplined enough to do exercises on my own and hate working alone. I really do need a partner to work.
What advice you would give self at the very beginning of your training
and professional career?
To have less self-doubt and to get rid of those destructive voices in the
head – all it does is contract your energy and is not conductive to creating.
Are there any strategies/rituals you created to help self in times when
working feels difficult, when you feel stuck? Would you describe what
works for you?
The most difficult thing is to keep exploring and opening up to new possibilities and not making quick choices. It’s a trap I can fall into particularly since rehearsals are so short. I love the Chekhov idea of polarity. If I find I’m stuck or I’ve made a choice that I think is brilliant, (always a red flag!) I try to explore the opposite. So if I’m ‘giving’ in a scene, I‘ll explore what it’s like to ‘take’. It’s an easy way to open up if you are stuck. Sometimes I have so many ideas it’s difficult to make a decision.
As I get older, I’m trying to simplify my actions – it doesn’t mean there is nothing underneath the action – it’s just that I’m trying to continue with one action/objective in a scene as opposed to complicating it with three or four. I think audiences need the clarity of simplicity to hear the text and to understand the scene.
What other art form do you connect to? How does this craft/discipline
help you in your work?
Movement and Viewpoints – how to create pictures on stage. I have only worked a little with Viewpoints and would love to explore it more with a theatrical focus. Often in rehearsal, the director will follow the actor’s impulse in terms of blocking or composition. It’s a great way to work,
however it doesn’t always create the strongest pictures or create the most dynamic relationships. I just worked with a Russian director where the placement of the actors on stage and what pictures the actor’s bodies created (and consequently what story they told) was as important as the emotion or action in the scene. I found it fascinating and would like to explore it further.
What is important for you to teach your students?
That you need to be curious, that there is no arrival – there are always new things to explore and learn. Styles of acting are constantly changing - particularly in film and television, so it’s important to keep working on your craft; that acting is also a business; that sometimes you have to separate
the love of your art form from the business of acting (as it can be demoralizing); to keep working on having an emotionally open and free body and voice and to have an artistic framework so that at the end of the day you can let it go and make a life for yourself.
What are your creative hopes and dreams for future?
As an older actress, it’s challenging to find work, so I’ve started to focus on creating my own work. It gives me a larger creative voice and some control over my artistic destiny. I really look to my mentors at MICHA to help me map out the next 10 – 20 years. The dignity they bring to their teaching and the work they do is inspiring. A group of us have formed Michael Chekhov Canada and we hope to follow in their path by putting this technique into the acting schools and the rehearsal process.
How do you reward self for a job well done?
What a great question… not much. How sad is that! I don’t think we take enough time to celebrate our accomplishments, so thank you for reminding me. Having said that, sometimes the pleasure of working is a reward in itself.
In 2016, SUPER SPACE is serving as a vehicle to facilitate Created to Create Project.
CREATED TO CREATE
INTRODUCING ONE ARTIST PER WEEK, FOR 52 WEEKS IN 2016.
Beginning, January, 1st, 2016
ACTORS, ARTISTS, THEATRE MAKERS, FILM MAKERS, DESIGNERS, TEACHING ARTISTS, STUDENTS all chosen because they spend a part each day creating. Artists will be chosen in no particular order.
Introduce artists from different parts of the world. People who use different mediums and whose practice is at a different skill level. A thing they all have in common is unique sense of style and self-expression.