GITIS Guest Workshop


- Building up a scene through improvisation -
Level: basic acting technique
            Even though etude and improvisation can mean the same thing, there can be confusion, since improvisation can be sometimes understood as a mere exercise in spontaneity (like Keith Johnston's kind of improvisation). But even in a proper dramatic sense, improvisations are usually understood as stand-alone experiences, which are not supposed to be repeated. That is why it is practical to distinguish between improvisation and etude.
            The term "etude" was brought in by Konstantin Stanislavsky but for some reason, it didn't catch up in the West, where the word "improvisation" is commonly used. In Russian theater culture, "etude" is a common term for any stage exercise that involves drama. "Improvisation" is used mostly in a sense of being in the moment or playing a part as if for the first time, so it is more about quality rather then method.
            More than anything else the etude approach is a method of artistic self-exploration for young actors, helping them to get in touch with their nature. If you set up a believable situation, and get in the moment with your partner, by the end of the interaction your nature may express itself in a way you didn't consider or didn't even realize about yourself.
            There are five core principles of the Etude Approach:
            1. In order to develop a situation for their interaction students should pick a life event they either experienced or personally witnessed. Those should be moments of a significant personal change, e.g. you made an important decision, broke or established a new relationship, someone made something very good or bad to you, you found yourself in an unusual and difficult moral dilemma, or at least your daily routine was unexpectedly and seriously interrupted. Whatever it is, some sort of relationship should be at risk, so you either confront or get confronted by another person.
            2. An etude has an open ending. Students discuss the circumstances with their partners, establish where their interaction takes place, arrange the space accordingly, determine what they want from each other, and who starts the interaction, but they DON'T DETERMINE HOW it's going to develop, or end. For the first try, it's a must. Then you can keep it as long as you don't come to a certain finale. Sometimes they have an open ending up to the final showcase.
            3. Students are supposed to arrange the space for their etude, make it look specific, make it theirs. All the props should be feasible. Etudes are developed in a realistic form, with minimum stage conventions.  We can be touching upon characterization and genre, as far as the stories would need it (e.g. playing a parent, even if you are not one in real life).
            4. A teacher doesn't give strict directions. At all. The teacher only asks questions (after a first try it's a must) or makes the audience ask questions clarifying the incoming circumstances, and maybe one or two key turning points of the interaction. The students take their feedback into account for the next try. After two or three tries the teacher can give more explicit suggestions about the logic of action.
            5. Students are not supposed to stop by themselves. They should keep going toward their goal until the teacher stops them, or they logically have to leave the stage.
Students' interaction is supposed to build up in an improvisational manner, and any behavior is legit as long as it comes from the given circumstances they set for themselves, and their partners' actions here and now.
It makes sense to work on an etude until it reaches its emotional arch and the blocking becomes stable. At that point the etude actually becomes a scene, so they can put it aside until the final showcase or play it a couple more times to practice playing it as if for the first time.
The content of every etude may be unique but in the course of rehearsal they all go through the same essential stages: the first try, search through repetition and stabilized blocking.
- getting a playable situation out of real life.
- selecting emotionally triggering circumstances.
- being in the moment with their partner, improvising inside a situation.
- repeating a successful improvisation as if improvising it for the first time, though following an already established blocking.
- developing a scene on their own, making independent artistic choices.
- motivation (what I want?)
- action (what I do to get what I want?)
- inciting incident (why I act now?)
- the initiator (who starts the scene?)
- obstacle (who/what gets in my way?)
- conflict (what my partner wants is an obstacle to what I want)
- given circumstances (to which I act accordingly = situation)
- attitude (what do I take it/him/her for?)
- turning point (what stops my current action)
- students are expected to have already been through some basic exercises on concentration, relaxation, and effective memory.
- students should wear comfortable rehearsal clothes.
- rehearsal space should be a floor, not a stage.
- chairs, tables, folding-screens, basic props, basic lighting
- video recording is welcome!
If you are interested in this workshop, please, email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.