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Drama as Level

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For our AS Level performance piece we chose to perform iconic playwright-director Steven Berkoff’s adaptation of the story of Agamemnon. Berkoff was born in Stepney, London in 1937 and studied drama in London until he moved to Paris to learn and train the art of mime and physical theatre at the École Jaques le Coq. As a result, many of Berkokff’s productions contain elements of mime and non-verbal acting; they are often very physical and use great exaggeration showing inspiration from the likes of Jaques le Coq. Previously, none of our ensemble had experienced acting that diverged from naturalism, so we wanted to attempt something completely new. This would allow us to learn the methods of our practitioner in their entirety; gaining a better understanding of them.
Berkoff adopts European styles: mime, minimalism, characterisation etc. Berkoff says of mime- ‘It is a wonderful tool; it awakens the audiences imagination’. This is something myself and my group are aiming to do; to awaken the audiences imagination. We have found that in order to perform Agamemnon in the best and most suitable Berkovian style, we must use a fair amount of mime. We have practiced this by doing warm-ups that involve mime. For example, one warm-up that we do before each session is miming throwing a ball to one another. However, the ball size, weight, texture and the way it was thrown can change depending on the thrower. Therefore, if a large heavy metal ball was thrown then the receiver would have to catch it as if it were really that type of ball. We find this helps because it causes us to think in our feet but also be prepared to improvise. We can relate this warm-up to Agamemnon because we have to always be aware of what we have to do and what is going to happen next because of the physicality of the movements of the play.
Steven Berkoff believes in the importance of the whole body using ‘total theatre’ in his productions- the concepts that all elements of the theatre are equally important. Berkoff often directs his ensemble to envelop all of these elements in their physicality. An actor may alter their body to become part of the set through the implication of mime. In our piece, we emulate this by using mime and the ‘whole body’ to create the illusion of the set and props ourselves. In part of the scene, I become a table which the other members of the group eat off. However, I then become the meal, so I lose the rigidity of a wooden table, but take on the flexibility and weakness of a human body.
We believe that Agamemnon is a suitable play to perform in order to show our understanding of Berkoff’s style because this version of Agamemnon is Berkoff’s own adaptation. Therefore, he has included his own styles in the script which we can adapt and match to the actions. A key feature of Berkoff’s style is the use of exaggerated facial expressions. From the beginning of our section of the play to the end we will use exaggerated and different facial expressions to acknowledge our understanding of Greek theatre, which Agamemnon is mainly based on. Grecian actors wore masks to present to the audience their emotion or expression. We will not be using masks in our performance but we will make our feelings and expressions extremely clear by making them exaggerated.

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