During the late 1970s I was a young director in New York City still finding my way in the performance and art scene when I had the extreme good fortune to meet the choreographer Mary Overlie. We were both teaching at New York University’s new Experimental Wing and together we collaborated on several productions. She introduced her Six View Points to me, which did nothing less than rock my entire world. At the time, the conventional New York theater scene did little to excite my imagination. But innovations from the dance and visual art world seemed like invitations flung precisely in my direction. Mary Overlie was very much part of this downtown scene and I recognized how her very practical technique could enable performers to generate exciting work together collaboratively and efficiently in the context of a rehearsal. The technique opened my own imagination to innumerable possibilities about how to rehearse and develop new productions with actors. Over the ensuing years, and much to Mary’s persistent chagrin, I regularly altered the Viewpoints to adapt to my own investigations and artistic evolution. Mary and I are still good friends but the issue of my going in a separate direction from what she had invented still causes a particular tension between us.
I continue to learn from and grow with the Viewpoints. The breadth and depth of the practice, the study, feels limitless. Issues addressed by the Viewpoints seem to expand and encompass whatever subject matter arises in my own research into the process of making plays including issues about acting and the ever-intriguing subject of the communion of actors with audiences. All of these diverse issues, and much more, can be scrutinized closely through the windows provided by the Viewpoints.
There seems to be a great deal of curiosity about how the Viewpoints might be utilized to direct or devise plays. For me, the Viewpoints are not a technique to direct a play any more than practice at a ballet barre provides a way to compose a dance. And yet I do find the Viewpoints intensely useful in the process of rehearsal. The initial half-hour of any SITI Company rehearsal includes both Suzuki and Viewpoints training. The Viewpoints sessions differ from the more rationally based process of dramaturgy and scene-work that happens later on in the rehearsal. An open Viewpoints improvisation provides the opportunity for all of us to activate and embody ideas under consideration without the onus of staging the play. Before the improvisation I feel free to share with the actors impressions and notions that I have been gathering without a practical sense of where they might belong in the production. The Viewpoints allow for freely associative, embodied thinking about how elements that do not necessarily belong together rationally might be activated and juxtaposed within the grammar and syntax of time and space. The improvisations allow us the freedom to explore freely, ultimately enriching the composition and language of what we stage later on.
The Viewpoints offer me the joy and satisfaction of continuous study. Working together with actors, the Viewpoints provide a laboratory in which theoretical and practical issues can be considered, juxtaposed, endeavored and sketched upon the blank canvas of the empty stage. The issues that I am presently most interested in investigating through the practice of the Viewpoints include the audience’s creative relationship to the theatrical event, the subliminal narrative of a performance, the actor’s moment-by-moment relationship to the audience, the audience’s actual physical relationship to the actors and the notion of touching without touching. Other themes that I am curious about, that the Viewpoints allow me to explore, are the concept of community as the central metaphor of the theater, the difference between movement and action, the power of non-hierarchical collaborative action in the world, action as a form of speaking, listening as the central mechanism for clear action and the art of reading and writing upon the stage.
Ever since I was a teenager, I have written in a journal. This daily action provides me with the space and time to practice forging sentences and paragraphs and to develop a point-of-view in relation to my daily experiences and encounters. I equate the Viewpoints with this activity. Together, within a Viewpoints improvisation, we collectively study the art of writing theatrical fiction upon the stage using the tools of time and space. And we practice on a daily basis. We base our writing upon what we are reading from the space, from one another, from the audience and from the situation from moment to moment.