Lionel Walsh is Associate Professor of Theatre, School of Dramatic Art, University of Windsor. He holds a BFA in Dramatic Art/Acting from the University of Windsor and an MFA in Theatre/Acting from Virginia Commonwealth University. Lionel is also the Director of the Inspired Acting Lab at UWindsor, which is dedicated to the exploration of Fantastic Realism through the development of new acting exercises. He is a member of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association and Member-at-Large, Finance on the Governing Council of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. He is a Founding Director of the Great Lakes Michael Chekhov Consortium and of Michael Chekhov Canada. Recent directing includes Choking the Butterfly (Inspired Acting Lab and Rarely Pure Theatre, Toronto) and Brave Hearts (Ryan Rep, Brooklyn and The Box, Toronto). His most recent acting credit is Lyle in Whale Riding Weather (Brighton Festival Fringe and Plymouth Arts, UK). Teaching Awards include the Alumni Award for Excellence in Mentorship, the Alumni Award for Distinguished Contributions to University Teaching, and the Students of Dramatic Art Teaching Excellence Award.
It is my deep desire to share my point of view on the world and to affect change in the world.
When did you find Chekhov work, and how did this influence your development?
I first encountered a simple reference to Chekhov in Grad School in 1991 when the director of Caucasian Chalk Circle said something to the effect of “Michael Chekhov used to talk about Psychological Gesture. What is the gesture for ‘to beg’? Then, in 1998, I attended my first workshop in Chekhov Technique at the O’Neill Center, which began my artistic journey. I have not missed a Summer Intensive since. This work entirely transformed my teaching and my artistic process as an actor and director. It has given me an imagistic and imaginative approach to acting and directing that inspires me in my teaching, and my work as a theatre artist. I have come to believe in creative research on my feet, the power of creative individuality to lift the performance out of the mundane, and the actor’s central role in the theatre.
Talk about aspects of Chekhov Technique that resonate the most with you today.
I think what most inspires me about this work is the power the actor acquires through the connection between the body and the psychology. I find that when these two are combined through the workings of imagery, the actor’s work is lifted above the mundane, the everyday—that we go beyond mere Realism, into the realm of the Fantastic. And this element of the Fantastic is something tangible that puts the audience on the edge of their seats and draws them up into the performance, so they become active participants in the play rather than passive observers. Something visceral happens between the actors on stage and something visceral results in the audience. There is a document in the Archives at the University of Windsor called The Actor is the Theatre. This really is true when the actor is immersed in Chekhov’s Technique.
Who are your strongest influences in Chekhov work, and how does their work transform/influence yours?
Joanna Merlin: She teaches from her heart centre and is inspiring, especially in her teaching of PG.
Lenard Petit: He is clear, concise, and dedicated to moving the technique forward, which has inspired me to adapt exercises and develop new ones that adhere to the principles of MC Technique.
Ted Pugh: Ted teaches with such Ease and gentleness. He clearly has a great deal of respect for his students.
Cathy Albers: We are kindred spirits in our teaching of the Technique and often team teach at the Great Lakes Michael Chekhov Consortium (GLMCC). I am inspired by her love for her students, her clarity and her experimentation.
Describe some of the ways you practice Chekhov Technique?
First and foremost, it is the foundation of my teaching at the University of Windsor, in workshops for Michael Chekhov Canada and GLMCC. For a complete outline of my teaching, please see my chapter in the Routledge Companion to Michael Chekhov.
MC Technique also forms the core of my practice as a director. I am inspired by the imaginative process of researching the role and the play on our feet that Chekhov recommends. It is a path to inspired choices and a truthful theatricality that makes theatre exciting and compelling.
Finally, although I do not act often any more, it is central to my process as an actor. I find that I make more profound discoveries, connect more strongly with my fellow actors and the audience, and work in a heightened manner that makes acting thrilling and meaningful.
What is important for you to share with your students in your classes?
There are so many answers possible here. I could say “everything Chekhov said and all of his exercises.” However, I will attempt to answer more specifically. First and foremost, I want them to experience the power of the imagination, and the inspiration that occurs when the body and psychology are well developed through psychophysical acting. I want them to experience the joy of approaching training, rehearsals and performances from the Higher Self and to develop a strong sense of the responsibility of the artist to be courageous and point the way to a better life through his or her art. I impress upon them that everything they do in class, in rehearsal, and in performance is a “little piece of art.” I also want them to realise the power of their own creative individuality as artists of the theatre. This is transformative and will change how they view and approach their role in our art.
The best thing about being an artist is...
The best thing about being an artist is the communal nature of our work, which has the power to change lives.
The biggest obstacle in working with self is?
Self-doubt, feeling that I am not enough.
What advice you would give self at the very beginning of your training and professional career?
First and foremost, bring your Higher Self to your work/play. This will enable you to work from a place of love for the theatre, for your fellow artists, and for your audience. It will empower you to create from a place of altruistic confidence.
Are there any strategies/rituals you created to help self in times when working feels difficult - when you feel stuck?
I always begin by Crossing the Threshold and finding Ideal Centre. I then invoke the Four Brothers through Staccato/Legato. If I feel stuck in the middle of rehearsal, it is usually because I have lost the Four Brothers and gone from working through my imagination to working HARD with my intellect. I return to Crossing the Threshold, Ideal Centre and Staccato/Legato.
Talk about a piece of work, you experienced recently that moved you and how it found its place in your work?
The beautiful movie, Jesus of Montreal, which I first saw in 1991, has had a profound effect on me as an audience and as a director. The film follows the lives of a theatre company who are hired to perform a play that depicts the Passion of Christ at Easter. The lives of the cast begin to reflect the life of Christ and the director did such a good job of creating images that communicated this that the film did what so few films do…it became theatrical and imagistic. It was when I first realised the power of the image to excite the audience and gave me a desire to work this way. Chekhov Technique gave me a process to do so.
What other art form do you connect to? How does this craft/discipline help you in your work?
Chekhov stated that every form of art strives to imitate music. Music has always fed me, perhaps because my first connection to performing was as a dancer when at the age of 5. I think that I intuitively am drawn to its incorporation of the Four Brothers and use it to explore Plastiques in the training of my actors, and as a warm-up in rehearsal. It speaks to the imagination through image, can be taken into the body and psychology by inspiring movement, and can connect to story and emotion.
Describe a productive day at work.
When I inspire my students. When I walk in my classroom, we are all there to create and I feel that the Technique allows me to facilitate that in my students. They become independent and this excites them as artists. I feel that I have accomplished something when my students feel like actors in my studio rather than students in a classroom.
What is important for you to teach your students?
That they have a duty to the theatre that is not a burden, but a joyous obligation. This duty means that they create from the Feeling Centre and that they approach everything they do in the theatre with love.
What are your creative hopes and dreams for future?
I dream of Chekhov’s Theatre of the Future. This is a theatre that is excited by the Fantastic and engages actors and audience in a shared experience that moves both profoundly.
How do you reward self for a job well done?
With a glass of red wine (LOL). When our job is well done in the theatre, I want to prolong the experience through community. Whether that is discussing our communal experience or participating in a social experience does not matter. The point it to extend the joy of the process.
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.