by Anne Flinders, dramaturg
A unique approach to making plays is through devised theatre, a technique that allows cast and staff members to build a play from the ground up, and from any starting point: a script, a social question or position, a set piece, a color scheme, anything that inspires the desire and direction to create a play. The script of Henry 5 already exists, of course. However, Professor Megan Sanborn Jones, this production’s director, chose to offer the realization of the play as a class project to Theatre and Media Arts students taking TMA 401 (Contemporary Performances Practices). One of the contemporary practices Professor Jones introduced to the class as a means to devise Henry 5 is called “viewpoints.”
Viewpoints is an acting technique that was developed in the 1970s by choreographer Mary Overlie. It is based on improvisational movement and gesture, and was adapted for stage acting by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau. Viewpointing uses 6 basic elements–space, story, time, emotion, movement, and shape–in various combinations to create movement and staging with actors (Bogart). This technique was put into practice during the second stage of auditions for BYU’s Henry 5.
At the beginning of the semester, the class chose the concept of this production of Henry 5 from a list of four possibilities they developed from their initial reading of the play. A couple of weeks later the class attended a workshop that taught some of the basic elements and execution styles of viewpointing. The class was broken into three groups, with one group consisting of the acting team, and the remaining two made up of the class and members of the production team. The groups chose a line from Henry 5, and created a movement piece built around that line, viewpointing their interactions with each other. These pieces were performed for the class. The class was then asked to watch the acting team’s piece and look for evidences that might suggest which actors seemed like good fits for the various roles in the play. Most of the roles were determined by the class using this process.
As some of the actors received assignments, it became more difficult for the class to determine which remaining actors should be assigned to what roles. Professor Jones then suggested some brief scenarios that the actors could portray through viewpoints, such as a scene depicting the character Exeter bringing the body of the Boy to King Henry. This enabled the class to make more casting assignments, until all but two actors and two roles remained, the role of King Henry and the combined role of Mistress Quickly and the herald Montjoy. Finally, to determine this last assignment, the class was dismissed and the remaining two actors were asked to do a brief reading from the play. Based on this, the two actors determined between themselves which one of them was the best fit for the part of the Henry the King.
After this unique audition process ended, the class was asked if they had ever experienced something like this before. Those who responded said that this was the first time they had been in an audition of this type. Even Professor Jones said she has never auditioned a show in this way before. “I thought that it would be a good way of casting a show that we have been trying to make ultimately collaborative. I think that if the cast/class is to have ownership over the production, they also need to have ownership over [the casting] decisions.”
Asked what she liked about using viewpoints as an audition process, Mackenzie Larsen said, “It helped me get to know the rest of the cast through a creative medium and gave us artistic purpose… [It] removed my anxiety [and] allowed me to act on instinct and observation. I was able to focus less on being right and more on being real.” Camilla Hodgson stated, “I liked it because it wasn’t high pressure. We were able to see people’s strengths in a collaborative environment. We were allowed to be very natural.” And Mary Matheson observed, “I liked how there was a certain degree of unconscious involvement in the process. Viewpointing is an open and liberating process; there are principles that provide guidance to movement and action, but within them, there is so much freedom, unlimited ‘right’ answers, and possibilities.”
When asked what some of the takeaways from this kind of audition process might be, Nathan Stout shared that “having the ability to engage bodies in a collaborative way was a huge breakthrough for me. To improve, I would increase focus outward towards other cast members.” Matthew Fife discovered, “[Viewpointing] works great to build unity in an ensemble. I felt very connected to my fellow cast-mates; viewpointing helps walls and barriers come down so that everyone can move forward together.”
Bogart, Anne, and Tina Landau. The viewpoints book: a practical guide to viewpoints and composition. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2005. Print.