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Transcript of Steven Berkoff
Key features of Berkoffian/Berkovian theatre.
What sets Berkoff apart from theatre, in its contemporary form, is his focus on non-naturalism Here a few images that might help you understand better his key features.
Can you see any similarities in performances style from the pictures? Why?
Berkoff's performances style.
Okay, do my thoughts match or contrast your initial thoughts?
Techniques actors apply when working with Berkovian style
Berkovian actors use rehearsal techniques heavily reliant on physicality. High intensity warms up are key, as Berkoff or directors working in his style screen actors based on their stamina and physical dexterity.
Actors do exercises and stretches to increase their flexibility as well as physical theatre exercises, such as background movement, repetitive actions, and mime.
Also a lot of Berkoff's style is performed in chorus, monologues or duologues where pronunciation and clarity is paramount, so vocal warm ups and exercises are essential.
For instance, the 'accent imitation game' helps develops the actors understanding of phenology (study of the sound system of language) and their ability to reproduce those accents with clarity so dialogue is not lost.
The early beginnings of Steven Berkoff.
Steven Berkoff was born on the 3rd august 1937, and brought in London's East end (Stepney) after his Jewish grandparents fled Russia in the late 1890's. Berkoff had a troubled childhood, feeling he didnt get "anything I wanted was becoming awfully familiar" and in 1952 he was sentanced to a stint in borstal for stealing a bike.
He used theatre as an escape. He studied at City Literary Institute from 1957-1958 and the Webber Douglas Academy 1958-1959. He then went to the Laban School of Dance in Morely College. And Later attending the imfamous Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris. His first role on stage was in 1959 in Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge as Louis, performed in the Finsbury Park Empire in London.
Berkoff had a strained acting career to begin with, but in 1965 his acting in Albee's Zoo Story brought him critical acclaim. From then, he used his success to develop his passion for directing and playwrighting; forming the London Theatre group in 1968.
The Trial - directed by Berkoff
Metamorphosis - directed by Berkoff
East - directed by Berkoff
The Trial - directed by Berkoff
As mentioned before what sets Berkoff (Berkoffian/Berkovian theatre) apart from the norm is his emphasis on non-naturalistic style. He produces theatre that is not meant to realistic, in terms of form and composition. This is something he found it difficult to get into; his early acting career pivoted around naturalistic plays.
'Theatre was an escape not a reconstruction. '
His productions focus on the actor's
I began to realise that movement is another language
(Physical Theatre). Mime is seen throughout his productions but voice is integral also, as all the actor must be used and anunicated overtly to the audience as words must not be lost.
Using every part of the actor is central to Berkoff's idea of '
'. Whereby every part of the performance from lighting to costume to acting to foot placement must be utilised to
reinforce the key aim/intention
of the production.
is uniquely intrinsic to Berkovian performance style. Even though, visually, appearing exaggerated/farcical the nature of Berkoff's externalisation aids
the audience's ability to understand clearly without explanation verbally
who the characaters are, what they are feeling and what their intention is. This can be seen as more realistic and Berkoff's uses it to further support the presentation of an overall intention of a production. This is further supported by Berkoff's performances style of
performing to the audience
breaking the 4th wall
) instead of sucumbing to the norm of isolating the audience, presenting a scene detached and non-inclusive, by performing directly to the audience Berkoff professes it increases their participation and emotional investment, making them more easily manipulated
Edmund Kean (1787-1833)
An actor Berkoff admired and also someone he viewed as a role model. Similarly Kean had an underpriviledged upbringing, who fought to establish himself in theatre.
Kean's notably performed Shakespeare in a melodramatic form; a form Berkoff incorporates in his productions.
In 2006 Berkoff paid respect to Kean by playing one of Kean's most successful roles, Mathias, in Leopold Lewis' play The Bells, in a charity performance in memory of Kean
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)
Berkoff produces theatre with an intention/message. E.g The Trial's intention was the present hypocracy, in terms of injustice in the justice system. This is something he was inspired to do by Brecht who directed production which uniformly had a political/social message.
Also Berkoffs style of performing directly to the audience was inspired by Brecht who developed 'Verfremdungseffekt' (alienation effect) which Berkoff uses avidly E.g. in 'East' the actors abandon naturalism by, for example, addressing the audience.
Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) It is stated that Artaud innovation of moving away from structured melodrama towards a "theatre reinvigorated by danger and cruelty, using the power of words and gestures to release emotions" this inspired Berkoff.
Berkoff incorporates Artaud style in his production. E.g which can be seen in Berkoff's 'physical theatre' most notably mime.
Jacques Lecoq 1921-1999
French theatre practitioner specialising in physical theatre and mime
Berkoff studied at Lecoq's school in paris - L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in 1965
Any of those key features seen previously appear in this video?
'Decadence' directed by Berkoff.
Amateur (AS level) performance of 'Pool, no water' in the style of Berkoff. What theatre conventions are they using?
What have I learnt from researching Berkoff?
Berkoff has really helped me in the rehearsal room, in terms of, using his style and concepts on theatre to critique my own work. Using his techniques, such as 'Externalisation', it enables me to think critically about my performance evolving questions.For instance, What i am doing as they speak?, Where am i standing?, How am i standing?, What is my Center? What gestures am i doing on certain words?, how does my position change as the text contiunes? etc.
Its this very precise detail, almost 'perfectionist or OCD, that makes the devising of my performance more accurate and believable. This is because every part of my body, from foot to eyebrow, is utlised to communicate, whether that be overt or implicit, my characters purpose. This implicit nature of body language makes it difficult to act every little detail in strict accordance to Berkoff's 'Total theatre' ( through externalisation), but through having his concept in mind its aids my performance when devising as it enables me to understand my character's (and overall production's intention) and how i am going to go about conveying that to an audience