Type of paper: Book review
Historical Background and Overview of the Book
The term Viewpoints as used in theater arts refers to a set of terminologies given to some specific principles of motion/movement through time and space; they simply describe what happens on the stage. The viewpoints can also be defined as an improvisation technique that emanated from the postmodern world of dance. The technique was developed in the 1970s by choreographer Mary Overili by breaking down space and time. Composition on the other hand is the art of selecting and arranging the individual components of theatre language into a combined work of art. Directors Anne Bogart and Tina Landau expanded and adapted Overilie’s viewpoints for actors to work spontaneously and instinctively generating a bold theatrical art. Mary Overilie influenced Anne Bogart during their collaboration at the New York University in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While Overlie’s six viewpoints (space, time, story, movement, emotion and space) are viewed as a logical way of examining and analyzing movement (as in dance), Bogart’s view points are considered practical steps in uniting the stage and actors.
The Viewpoint Book: A Practical Guide to viewpoints and composition, authored by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau, identifies and explains the viewpoints as those associated with time (tempo, duration, kinesthetic response and repetition) and those associated to space namely (shape, architecture, spatial relationship and topography). In this book Bogart and Tina introduced the vocal view points which are pitch, timbre and dynamic. They explain the basics of viewpoints training giving specific methods and examples of using the viewpoints in rehearsal and actual production. While to Overlie the viewpoints merely represented a physical technique in Borgart’s and Tina’s book they are also an aesthetic and spiritual aspect of theatrical work. It is also worth noting that while according to Overlie the story always takes permanence over the other elements according to Bogart and Tina the viewpoints are not ordered but are simply equal in importance. Bogart refers to her work at the SITI Company while Tina refers to her work at the Steppenwolf Theater Company.
Description of Bogart’s and Tina’s viewpoints
Bogart’s and Tina’s view points as described in their book are those that relate to time and space. While the story, emotion and movement are part of the original Overlie’s viewpoints Bogart and Tina did not give them attention instead choosing to add vocal viewpoints to the viewpoints of time and space. Suffice to say that space limitation can only allow a brief description of the said viewpoints in this paper without going into the detailed example of how they are employed in theater. Bogart developed the viewpoint movement as an integral part of her work as a theater director to prepare actors to become “creators” to create a common feel, collaborative vocabulary and encourage spontaneity. The viewpoints, particularly the viewpoint improvisation enhance the actors’ sense of compositional choice giving them the ultimate freedom so that they are not merely puppets of the director. Therefore in Bogart’s and Tina’s book the viewpoint improvisation is not merely a technique but a philosophical approach to motion on the stage and organizing movement on the stage. Their viewpoints primarily encompassed Spatial relationship, Architecture, Shape, Repetition, Kinesthetic response, Gesture and Tempo (Bogart and Landau 6). These are the viewpoints described here below.
Bogart’s and Tina’s practical guide to viewpoint and composition describes “Spatial Relationship” as the distance between objects on the stage. It could be the distance between an actor and another, between groups or between actors and architecture. Proper use of spatial relationship therefore creates a dynamic stage picture where movement of a small group causes the rest of the group to move thus maintain a strong spatia (Bogart and Landau 11).
Architecture has to do with the physical environment of the stage which includes permanent and non-permanent features. More specifically it is the actor’s use of or relationship to architecture. According to Bogart this viewpoint is probably the hardest to work with as it demands that the actor views and uses the architecture as a partner in the art. This basically means that the actor has to explore the room making the walls, the windows, the trees, the floor and many other physical components his/her set (Bogart and Landau 52). The actor has to let these physical components speak to him/her and such an actor who not only works with other actors but with their physical environment expresses a deep character. Architecture, spatial relationship and topography (movement along the landscape- which is not elaborately described in the book) are the space related viewpoints.
Kinesthetic response is the spontaneous reaction to an external stimuli or motion. In theater it is the actor’s response in moment to what is occurring in the room, the timing of movement (Bogart and Landau 8). The book gives an example of how an actor suddenly running across the floor would initiate a lot subconscious activity on the floor. Although all the viewpoints are important Bogart recons that this may probably the most important view point. The book implores actors to be sensitive to the potential flow of timing and to be aware that sudden motions, sounds and even shapes could be useful in initiating a spontaneous and immediate reaction.
Repetition is repeating of movements, shapes or even sounds either by an individual actor or in relationship to other actors (Bogart and Landau 9). For example an actor may repeat a gesture again and again or an actor may do a certain gesture which is then repeated by the group. The book suggests that repetition is the most important viewpoint for building mise en scene and that repetition builds the character’s depth. Tempo has to do with the speed or the pace of occurrences on the stage (Bogart and Landau 38). It was previously considered part of kinesthetic response but Bogart and Tina started treating them separately. Duration refers to the length of time before changing an event on the stage for instance how long an actor or a group maintains a certain tempo, movement, shape, gesture and/ or sound events occur before changing it (Bogart and Landau 41). These three viewpoints are time related viewpoints.
Shape refers to contouring body’s outline in space; it has to do with the outline of the body individually or in relation to others or to the physical environment (Bogart and Landau 47). Bogart instructs actor to explore creating sculptures without thinking on how the shape will turn out but focusing on allowing various shapes to be created through them as they enjoy the shapes. While gesture was initially considered part of shape Bogart distinguished the two stating that a gesture has a start point, middle and end while shape gradually takes the actor from one shape to another (Bogart and Landau 51). Bogart considers gesture to be purely cultural and urges actors to embrace the stereotype and to do it whole heartedly so as to make it work. The book also tackles the use of sound describing it as the vocal viewpoints which include timbre, pitch and dynamic (Bogart and Landau 105). The vocal viewpoints are unlike the others it has to do with sound and not movement, the other viewpoints are thus referred to as the physical viewpoints.
Having described each viewpoint Bogart and Tina assert that each actor has choose the viewpoint s/he finds easiest to work with. After a while each actor chooses another viewpoint and works wit it eventually choosing the one s/he found difficult and “doing it with vengeance”. Viewpoints improvisation therefore develops the sensitivity of the actor to create composition.
Other compositional aspects
According to Bogart response is the foundation of the viewpoint improvisation philosophy because improvisation is all about reacting and not initiating action; it is not about making things happen but rather seeing things happen. The actor needs to be aware of the entire room and respond to it. Another important aspect of the viewpoint improvisation is that of discovery. In addition to being a series of responses viewpoint improvisation is a series of discoveries or a journey of making discovery with each stimulus presenting potential for a new discovery (Bogart and Landau 204). The book encourages actors to discover together and work with the ideas in other words share the idea with the audience. The spirit of enjoying discovery appears to be important in the viewpoint improvisation.
The book also identifies fast paced movements as having blurring effect on composition thus encourages the actor to employ stillness (avoiding movement) and listen to what is happening in the room(Bogart and Landau 70). The book also encourages actors to use more variation in the composition stating that there should be differentiation (Bogart and Landau 52). Bogart and Tina also emphasizes on the need for clarity and specificity rather than doing general movements (Bogart and Landau 74). Finally Bogart and Tina comment that though stories and emotions are part of the viewpoint they are just “icing on the cake” stating that their occurrence shouldn’t be a deliberate effort thus should only be enjoyed.
Bogart’s and Tina’s book is a guide to the use of the viewpoints- Spatial relationship, shape, architecture, repetition, kinesthetic response, gesture and tempo- in acting to give the actors an awareness that helps them create the structure within which they can work. The book focuses on aspects of formal composition rather than on the narrative. Bogart acknowledges that there are other viewpoints and that she only describes the ones she finds most applicable with the actors she works with.
Bogart, Anne and Tina Landau. The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide To Viewpoints And Composition. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2005.