„BURSTING THE BUBBLE “
STEPPING OUT OF THE BOUNDARIES OF ARTISTIC TUNNELVISION IN OPERATIC ROLE STUDY.
ON THE JOURNEY
It is the assumption that in order to deliver a touching and convincing performance as an actor or singer you have to BECOME your role. Is that possible? And if it is possible, is it desirable: trading in your very own personality, identity, history- your own inner universe of experiences and emotions for an artificial, assumed one? Is that what we call acting technique? And how do you know what you need or what you’re looking for? And if you do, how can you be sure not to ignore, neglect or deny something unexpected, unanticipated, atypical, that might just be the key to making this role your own?
What buildup of concepts, views, opinions, assumptions, clichés, views and emotions about the character are already inside of me? The conscious ones require a bit of thinking and writing. But how about the sub- and unconscious ones? How can I access and invite them to surface without controlling the process or censoring the outcome?
According to Uta Hagen „your own identity and self-knowledge are the main sources for the characters you play“. (Respect for Acting, 1973).
I came up with an experiment that allowed me to gain access to my very own, personal, individual realm of emotion, behavior and experiences. I used the exemplary title role in Richard Straussˋ Elektra which I premiered in February of this year. The performances serve as my artistic outcome.
CLAIM With this research I intend to demonstrate, how, from a stage performers point of view, the S.E.T. (Staged Encounter Transference) method serves as a complementary tool to traditional operatic role study. By entering three staged encounters (S.E.T.) I (as Elektra) „live in the moment as an actor, and let go of any idea of result. I „learn what it means to really do and to respond truthfully to a given moment based on what you get from your partner. Through improvisation, emotional truth and personal response learn to resonate authentically within a given circumstance. Only in this way will you begin to understand the definition of real acting, which is to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” (Sanford Meisner “On Acting” 1987)
My research proposal contains a REFERENCE RECORDING. In an attempt to create a reference map of my personal emotional carpet, my core reactions at this point, I used a spoken version instead of a sung one. Everything went through my filter, came out of me. No preparation. Purpose of that recording was to establish a zero point of core knowledge/ interpretation/ emotion at the beginning of my research process. I expected to recognize a difference, a growth, a development in the artistic product of the second year initiated by the research itself. As I worked on my reference recording I realized that it was almost impossible for me to let go of all the generalizations and assumptions I associated with Elektra. Is she a bitter and bloodthirsty monster? Is she a cold murderer? Is her soul filled with darkness and despair? Or is she the victim of circumstance? Is she all that for me? How can I make sure that what I consider my core reactions at this point really is nothing but my prison, my limitation, ‘my bubble’?
In order to filter the core-Susanne-behavior from possible triggered/ provoked behavior, I developed what I call „STAGED ENCOUNTER TRANSFERENCE“– S.E.T. out of the idea of Transference and Countertransference.
The name SET as well as the method is based on the teachings of Uta Hagen and Sanford Meissner a German/American Acting teacher who worked with what she called „substitution “: transferring your own experiences and remembrances by putting them in the place of the fiction of the play. In my experiment based on S.E.T. the „play“ consists of three different staged scenes in which I as Elektra encounter three different fictional interviewers:
- The Policeman: Elektra as the Main Suspect in the murder investigation.
- The Talk Show Hostess: Elektra, the King’s Daughter.
- The Shrink: Elektra, the Traumatized Wreck.
The situations are „staged“, therefore comparable to an actual opera performance: I am being transported, transferred into an unfamiliar circumstance. Three uninvolved writers provided the interviewers with an outline of the situation/ interview questions. This way neither the interviewer nor me had any knowledge of the questions or set-up. This happened to prevent any preparation. Spontaneous and unrehearsed encounters! The three encounters were videotaped and are unedited.
How can my behavior, reactions in the videos be evaluated? I transcribed and timestamped the interviews. I chose to invite focus groups made up from randomly selected respondents to view the videos and gather data. Three focus groups for three staged, taped encounters. Since none of the participants were trained psychologists or behavioral scientists and to make it possible for me to compare the results, I needed to provide the groups with an easily applicable system of evaluating emotion. I chose for „Plutchik’s Wheel “.
Robert Plutchik (1927-2006) was an American psychologist who proposed that „there are eight primary emotions that serve as the foundation for all others: joy, sadness, acceptance, disgust, fear, anger, surprise and anticipation.“ (https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/emotion-wheel/)
These primary emotions are color-coded and displayed in a 3-dimensional model. Emotions can intensify (e.g. joy increases to become ecstasy) or diminish (e.g. anger becomes annoyance). According to Plutchik, each emotion has an opposite: joy-sadness, trust-disgust etc. When primary emotions mix, become hybrids, they are displayed without color.
According to this model I asked my focus groups to color-code emotions/ reactions in the transcripts the instant they noticed them in the videos. This procedure provided me with color-coded/ emotion-annotated transcripts.
Regarding the focus groups:
- Most participants were not trained in recognizing and describing emotions and behavior.
- The three groups consisted of random members. They were not selected based on their skills. This means that some groups might have been more able to recognize and reflect on the emotions and behavior they recognized.
- The groups did not document their observations in the same manner. This means that the data gathered can only be compared to a certain extent.
- We did not tape the focus group sessions.
- The time to review the videos was underestimated which resulted in less deep review of the videos. Some groups worked more deeply at the start than at the end
- However, the focus group that reviewed the longest video did the most extensive review. Maybe this was caused by the individual character of the participants. (age, experience, etc.)
- The Oprah group at some point stopped writing down. They recorded the remainder of the session which was later on transcribed by me.
REVIEWING THE GATHERED DATA
How did I translate the data gathered by the focus groups into comparable information? I chose to use Emotion Time Lines.
- These timelines consisted of 30 second cells and included all Primary and hybrid emotions.
- Information gathered by the focus groups was transferred to those time lines.
Note: The information in transcripts was not always pinpointed to the exact moment in video time/ in text. Therefore, the translation to the timelines has some timing issues. Finally, it was chosen to add the described emotions to the time connected to the pages in the transcript. This also means that at some point emotions will be displayed simultaneously.
QUANTITAVE ANALYSIS OF DATA
- Amount of time per emotion: I counted the number of time cells per emotion and multiplied them by 30 seconds. Next, I took the complete time and calculated the percentage of time a certain primary or hybrid emotion occurred.
Note 1: there are moments in the transcript where no emotion was described. Either the focus group didn’t detect it or not describe it.
Note 2: Emotions occur simultaneously, therefore the total percentage does not necessarily equal 100 percent. Especially in the police and Oprah sessions the total amount of emotion is much less than 100 percent. In the shrink session the total amount of emotion exceeded 100 percent.
EMOTIONAL ANALYSIS THROUGH PLUTCHIK’S WHEEL.
We created a system to review the quantitative results we gained from the previous steps. Since Plutchik’s Wheel demonstrates the relationships between the different primary and hybrid emotions, we also tried to determine which group of emotions was most prominently detected and described. Therefore, we calculated emotional thirds and halves of the wheel:
- a third for example is A + ab + B + bc +C, which counts 1/3 of the 16 emotional compartments described by Plutchik.
- an emotional half is A + ab + B + bc + C + cd + D, which includes 7 out of 16 compartments, almost half.
We did this to find out if any side of the wheel was more dominant in the description. This information could then be used to compare the three sessions to find out similarities and differences between the sessions.
General observations about the use of Plutchik’s Wheel: some very commonly used concepts to describe emotions like hate, love, are not in the wheel or not considered primary emotions. Love is considered a hybrid. Rik told me that in the group he had joined there was a lot of discussion in terms of meaning of Plutchik’s concept. Sometimes the participants used words which they connected to but that were not in the wheel. During the process of reviewing the video the participants started to recognize the emotions in the wheel and used them more easily. I noticed when I visited the different groups that for some viewers it was impossible to label emotion without analyzing possible reasons for it or even discussing whether they recognized Susanne’s (my) reaction or „Elektra’s “.
OBSERVATIONS FROM THE EMOTION TIMELINES
- Which emotions were described in the POLICE Situation?
- Which emotions were described in the TALKSHOW?
- Which emotions were described in the PSYCHIATRIST SCENE?
At this point Rik decided to construct a calculation toll in Excel to automize these calculations. (see below)
OBSERVATIONS ON DOMINANCE OF EMOTIONS
- Includes all primary emotions except Fear.
Only two mixed emotions documented:
- Contempt 3,36% and Love 1,44%.
Surprise – Sadness – Disgust – Anger – Anticipation 19,2%
Primary emotions NOT observed:
- Trust and Sadness.
Most dominant Primary Emotions:
- Disgust 11% and Anger 10,4%
Most dominant thirds:
- Sadness – Disgust – Anger 12,48%
- Disgust – Anger – Anticipation 10,56%
- Anticipation – Joy – Trust10,56%
- Surprise – Sadness – Disgust10,56%
- Joy – Love – Trust 10,08%
- Trust – Fear – Surprise 10,08%
- Fear – Surprise – Sadness 8,64%
- Disgust – Anger – Aggressiveness – Anticipation – Joy 35,16%
- Aggressiveness 6,16%
Primary emotion not observed: None
- SURPRISE-SADNESS-DISGUST-ANGER 63,87%
All primary emotions ANGER, ANTICIPATION, JOY, TRUST, FEAR, SURPRISE, SADNESS, DISGUST have been described throughout the entire experiment.
The only encounter containing all primary emotions, is the one with the Psychiatrist. This scene also contains no hybrids.
Acknowledgement: Of course, this could also be caused by the focus groups not recognizing and/ or describing them and does not necessarily indicate that they were not present.
In the Police encounter the primary emotions that are NOT described are SADNESS and TRUST. 2 hybrids have been detected: LOVE and AGGRESSIVENESS.
The Talk show scene lacks the primary emotion FEAR. 2 hybrids are described: LOVE and CONTEMPT.
ANALYZING THE ACTIONS THAT DEMONSTRATE BEHAVIOR
About the data: when working with the data we noticed that the terms used in the description could not always be clearly identified as actions demonstrating behavior. Often words used already implied what could be considered an interpretation or result of an action. We had to keep this in mind when analyzing the data.
Organizing the data: we created an excel file in which all the actions/ behaviors described in the respondent’s transcriptions were listed. We used the following columns of observation which confer with the material presented:
63 behaviors/ actions previously described by the respondents in the focus groups.
ENTERING THE DATA
In the columns that indicated actions we added an x when a certain behavior was connected to a certain action type in the transcriptions. In the scene columns we indicated the number of times a certain behavior was pointed out by the respondents. This allows us to see which actions/ behavior was the most recognized by the respondents. Using the number of described actions/ behaviors as 100%, I calculated the percentage of each behavior to see any possible patterns of behavior and also in order to compare the behavior in the 3 encounters.
OBSERVATIONS FROM THE BEHAVIOR CHARTS
The most frequent behaviors (from a list of 63=100% described behaviors) in the OPRAH scene are:
- Laughing 8,82%
- Audible Breath/ Inhalation 6,3%
- Smiling 4,41%
- Sighing 3,15%
- Nodding 3,15%
- Open Hands 3,15%
- Hands stroking the table 2,38%
- Drinking 2,25%
- Increased Speed of Speech 1,89%
- Gesture emphasizes Emotion 2,38%
- Girlish Cute Behavior 1,89%
- Avoiding Eye-Contact 1,19%
- Being Careful 1,19
- Side-Eyeing 1,19%
- Twitch in Face 1,19%
- Overall Aspects in Coordinance
When speaking about her Father 1,19%
- Big Change in Face 1,19%
- Gesture creates Barrier 1,19%
Acknowledgement: You might find in the behavior list behavior descriptive expressions that use different terms to describe what seems to be identical behavior (e.g. “faster speech/ increased speed of speech”, “no eye-contact/ avoiding eye contact) I decided however, to keep them separate and use the same wording used by the focus groups.)
Most frequent in the POLICE scene:
- Closed Gestures (Hands) 3,78%
- Smiling 3,15%
- Laughing 1,89%
- Moving around 1,89%
- Childish voice 1,26%
- No eye-contact 1,26%
- Passive-aggressive behavior 1,26%
- Sitting back 1,26%
- Squeezing lips 1,26%
- Eyes & mouth open 1,19%
- Hitting the table 1,19%
- Moving hands 1,19%
- Raising voice 1,19%
- Sitting Angle
not towards interviewer 1,19%
- Sitting up straight 1,19%
- Trying to convince 1,19%
- Wiping the table 0,63%
- Sarcastic laughter 0,63%
Most frequent in the SHRINK scene:
Stuttering/ Repetitive Words 13,68%
- Laughing 8,19%
- Smiling 5,76%
- Closed Hands 5,76%
- Sighing 5,04%
- Nodding 3,78%
- Loud Insistive Speaking 3,15%
- Whispering 3,15%
- Closes her Eyes 3,15%
- Hands Clenched 2,52%
- Shaking her Head 2,25%
- Hands Open 1,89%
- Looking at Hands 1,89%
- No eye-contact 1,26%
My next step was to observe re-occurring behavioral patterns that are
- quite dominant
b) re-occurring in every scene
c) exclusive for each individual scene.
Re-occurring behavior could indicate my own individual core behavior: Susanne is reacting to the situation. Exclusive behavior could indicate, that the encounter itself provoked something in me which triggered an unusual, particular kind of behavior.
Most striking re-occurring behavior for all three encounters is: (ROB)
- Laughing (Oprah 8,82%, Shrink 8,19%, Police1,89%)
- Smiling (5,67 Shrink, 4,41% Oprah, 3,15% Police)
- Sighing (5,04% Shrink, 3,15% Oprah)
- Open hands (3,15% Oprah, 1,89% Shrink, 0,63% Police)
- Nodding (3,78% Shrink, 3,15% Oprah)
Encounter exclusive behavior (EEB) is:
- Drinking 2,25%
- Girlish/ Cute Body Language 1,89%
- Hands stroking the table 1,26%
- Gestures emphasizing emotion 1,26%
- Side-eyeing 0,63%
- Twitch in face 0,63%
- Moving around head/ neck/ body 3,15%
- Childish voice 1,26%
- Passive-aggressive Body language 1,26%%
- Sitting back 1,26%
- Squeezing lips 1,26%
- Wiping the table 0,63%
- Sarcastic laughter 0,63%
- Body language does not match speech 0,63%
- Eyes & mouth open 0,63%
- Hitting the table 0,63%
- Moving hands 0,63%
- Raising the voice 0,63%
- Sitting angle NOT towards interviewer 0,63%
- Sitting up straight suddenly 0,63%
- Trying to convince 0,63%
- Stuttering 13,86%
- Closed hands 5,67%
- Closes her eyes 3,15%
- Whispering 3,15%
- Hands Clenched 2,52%
- Looking at hands 1,89%
- Calmness in voice 1,89%
- Intention in her hands 1,26%
- Smelling 1,25%
- Small & quick Gestures 1,26%
- Slow Gestures 1,26%
- Jumping between Emotions 0,63%
- Reduced Body language 0,63%
- Eyes wandering 0,63%
- Hitting her Legs 0,63%
Most striking exclusive behavior overall is the stuttering/ repetitive use of words and syllables in the Shrink scene (13,86%), followed by audible inhalation with 6,30% (Oprah) and closed hands (5,67%) (Shrink).
Ranking fourth with 3,15% each are:
- Closing eyes (Shrink)
- Whispering (Shrink)
- Moving around head/ neck/ body (Police)
5th Rank with 2,52% each is taken by:
- Drinking (Oprah)
- Clenched hands (Shrink)
Ranking 6th with 1,89% each:
- Calmness in voice (Shrink)
- Faster Speech (Oprah)
- Girlish/ Cute behavior (Oprah)
- Looking at hands (Shrink)
I proceeded to count the number of behaviors/ actions that were actually described for each individual scene. Using the columns of observation from the emotional timelines I then looked, which of the aspects (BODY, GESTURES, FACE, VOCAL/ VERBAL) showed the most activity. Then I assessed the frequency of a specific behavior. The amount of individually observed behaviors was almost the same for the 3 scenes: Police 25 with an overall frequency of 40, Oprah 23 with a frequency of 76 and the Shrink 26 with a frequency of 117 described behaviors (out of a total of 63 for all three encounters).
We can clearly see in the diagram that most behavioral activity took place in the Vocal/ Verbal column. With 48,7% in the Shrink scene and 46,05% in the Talk show we have almost the half of all behavioral action represented in the voice. The second highest result we see in the Police scene: here the body language appears to be very explicit with 40%.
In the analysis of the emotion timelines through Plutchik’s Wheel it became apparent that all three encounters contain the primary emotions of DISGUST and ANGER in their dominant hemisphere. However, every situation has a slightly different center of emotional gravity.
- The OPRAH scene diagram shows an almost balanced circle of primary emotions with a slight leaning towards the left hemisphere: SURPRISE, SADNESS, DISGUST, ANGER-ANTICIPATION (19,2%).
- The POLICE scene displays the center of gravity in the upper left hemisphere: DISGUST-ANGER-AGGRESSIVENESS-ANTICIPATION-JOY (35,16%).
- The SHRINK scene displays the strongest amplitude in the far left hemisphere: SURPRISE, SADNESS, DISGUST, ANGER are the center of emotional gravity with the very high percentage of (63,9%).
The behavior chart shows us, that there are behaviors that are observed in all three encounters:
LAUGHING, SMILING is present in 3 out of 3 scenes, SIGHING and NODDING are present in 2 out of 3. It appears, that they are core behavior.
On the other hand, there are behaviors that are uniquely used in specific encounters. Most striking is the STUTTERING (13,86%) in the Shrink scene. It appears, that these behaviors were triggered.
The same emotions that are present everywhere: we can assume THAT is my core Elektra: embodied knowledge and assumption about Elektra intertwined with Susanne the person.
LISTENING BACK AT MY REFERENCE RECORDING at this point, I ask myself: is this part of the outcome of my research already audible? Do I hear DISGUST and ANGER?
What is it I observe in recording?
Initially I hear muted pain in the voice later building up to pride, determination, triumph. Sometimes it almost sounds like a child speaking (“… allein…weh, ganz allein…”), at other times the pace of speech picks up and the voice almost becomes breathless (“…und in einem Schwall, in einem geschwollenen Bach…”). I detect hints of sarcasm (“…und über Leichen hin werdˋ ich das Knie hochheben Schritt für Schritt…”); the range of pitch varies from low to quite high, from timid and vulnerable to convinced and powerful. A wide variety of emotion is displayed, however, no signs of laughing or stuttering as would be expected in regards to the outcome of the behavior chart in my research. When the focus groups gathered to watch my encounter videos, we also watched my reference recording. One of the respondents brought her 7-year-old son along. After watching the Reference, he insisted on letting me know, that in his perception the voice in the recording was a deserted child. I found that to be very touching- now that I am reflecting on the recording myself, I actually remember feeling like a deserted child, a deserted Elektra in the midst of oppression and sadness.
ALLOW ME to make a brief cut here and confess something personal. Assessing the collected data and reflecting on it is extremely difficult for me. I feel, that I am required to take a step back and disconnect or at least distance myself from my experiences in the encounters, on stage and therefore my artistry all together. My own notions and recollections are still very vivid in me- it feels impossible to trade them in for quantitative data. How can I disconnect as I actually AM my artistic product? Being purposive without purpose- Kantˋ s objective is very valid here. I suppose, that is one of the struggles of Artistic Research!
AND THEN LIFE HAPPENED…
Now, according to the initial timeline of my research, this is the moment to take the conclusions of the data analysis and of my encounters, apply and deepen them in the 6 weeks of rehearsals in order to use them later in the performances. The plan was for the encounters, the viewings through the focus groups and the data analysis, to take place before the beginning of the rehearsal process.
In reality the 3 encounters occurred and were taped when the rehearsals for “Elektra” had already started. Apart from the passing of time life is not linear, neither is art. Why expect Artistic Research to be? My process of encounters went parallel to the process of encountering Elektra and her family! While planning my original timeline, I never expected the organization of my experiment to be so complicated and time-consuming: from having the writers provide their scripts to finding actors for the encounters to organizing venues and camera / lighting equipment to inviting respondents for the focus groups.
Do I still think that whatever occurred in the encounters, whatever was triggered or provoked, had influence on my performance? Did something happen to me, did it do something to me?
Let me begin with the ENCOUNTERS WITHIN THE ENCOUNTERS!
The first video we produced was the police interrogation. Matthias (my director and at this moment actor to play the cop) and I went through the dark, narrow hallway in the basement of the theatre in order to get to the souterrain office that served as interrogation room. Both of us a bit nervous, not sure what was about to happen. Laughing, chatting away. Then the door closed behind us. Silence. Just the camera and us. At this point I am still observing myself from the inside. The interrogation begins. The questions become more insisting, so does the eye-contact. Sometimes the silence between the questions is almost unbearable. He is repeating my answers, turning them into new questions. Anger is building up. My anger or Elektra’s? I don´t care anymore. Before I know, my fist hits the tabletop and the glass of water in front of me is spilled.
When the encounter ended and the camera was turned off, Matthias and I immediately went into a silent embrace. Then laughter: “That was incredible! “WHAT was incredible? All I know is, that we were in a situation together, that transported us for that brief episode and allowed us to encounter each other anew- despite having known each other for numerous years and operatic productions!
The Psychiatrists scene was the second one to be produced, days later. Again, the actress/ Shrink and I are walking to the venue together. I lie down on my bed. She sits down, the closing door shuts out the voices speaking and laughing in the hallway. Silence. Tension. She is for a moment unaware of her language and begins the encounter in German. My mind is racing: What shall I do? Wait and hope that she realizes it herself? Interrupt and disrupt the energy of the moment? Finally, I make her aware. Both of us laugh… She gets up and leaves the room without comment. After a couple of moments, she enters again. The atmosphere has been thickening and is full of anticipation now. This time she speaks English. I relax and allow myself to let go of control, just following the sound of her voice. It’s almost hypnotic. I realize that I start freezing under my blanket. All of a sudden, I feel pale and sick without reason. Tired. Calm, calmer. I lose track of time. This is why the psychiatrist scene is almost twice as long as the others.
Encounter number 3 is the Talk show. The singer colleague playing the hostess is chatting away next to me in make-up: „I still haven’t decided on the outfit or the character of the questions! Shall I be more serious like 22 seconds or more like Rainbow Press? “We decide to leave it up to the moment. Because the table we are using to conduct our interview looks so lost, empty and unglamorous, the make-up artist brings two glasses of pink Cava. That finally settles the atmosphere and the title of the encounter „Truth and champagne with Christianne “!
And last but not least I encountered myself. Numerous little instants, circumstances, settings with different emotional backdrops. Situations that transported “transferred” me literally into a context that I have not yet found myself in: Susanne has not been interrogated by the police or been patient of a mental institution. The encounters provided me with opportunity to experiment, to be transported and venture beyond assumption and the conscious. Uta Hagen postulates in her book “Respect for Acting” to “aim for a cat’s spontaneity: unanticipated involvement in the moment”. For a number of performances, the singer of my sister Chrysothemis fell ill and guest singers were brought in. All together there were three different artists for the role. I consciously allowed myself to perceive these evenings for what they were: new encounters. Reacting, being in the moment, affecting and being affected.
The stage photographs and the DVD recording of the production illustrate quite a broad spectrum of emotional and behavioral expressions. There is a smiling Elektra with the axe, a laughing protagonist reminiscing about her dead father. We see playfulness, ironic cruelty, triumphant loud laughter. A longing, lonely dirty child. I also recall strong sentiments of irony and triumphant sensuality.
Do I think that whatever occurred in the encounters, whatever was triggered or provoked, had influence on my performance? According to Uta Hagen “Emotion occurs when something happens to us which momentarily suspends our reasoning control and we are unable to cope with the event logically”. Did something happen to me and did it do something to me and my role portrayal? My response is a clear YES. Let’s look at the Press Responses in support of my claim:
“Susanne Schimmack creates with incredible intensity the title character of the archaic Richard Strauss opera (…). She is an isolated, traumatized, mourning daughter of her father, obsessed with hatred for her mother. With a darkly ominous soprano, which traces the psychogram of its protagonist in all emotional volts (…) Schimmack lives up to the vocally murderous role with brilliant bravura. Immediately after the entrance of a (…) servants’ squad, she raises, with the ax of the murderers, her first monologue “Alone! Alas, all alone ” into a rapture of sound that paints the day of revenge as a triumphant sacrificial feast.
(…) Schimmack’s voice oscillates between desperate drama and lyrically soft tones. In the electrifyingly charged confrontation with her mother (…) Ulm’s Elektra operates with a superior, deadly ridicule for Clytemnestra.
The climax of the powerfully staged opera(…) of course, is the recognition scene between Elektra and her – as the avenger Agamemnon’s eagerly awaited – brother Orestes. (…) With devotion, the beauty of Strauss’s vocal lines flourishes in this passage. Fascinatingly little later the expressive jubilation, as Elektra hears the death cry of the mother felled by Orestes and also Aegisthus.” Die Deutsche Bühne 09.02.2018
“Upsetting: This “Elektra” is one of the outstanding productions at the Theater Ulm under the direction of Matthias Kaiser.
The music races, gasps, rushes and beats wildly. She rages, dances and exults hatefully. She dreams in sweetest tones, she indulges and fantasizes, she stings drunk lovingly deep into the heart. Brutal dissonances and enchanting melodies. (…)
Elektra, kept like a dog, lives in the backyard of the palace, in the ruins, in the abyss of a swimming pool: mangy, desperate, fanatical, obsessed with revenge and vulnerable and in need of love like a little child. She hopes for salvation, for the exiled brother Orestes, who is to atone for the murder, by nature bloody.
“I’ve sown darkness and lust for pleasure,” moans and triumphs Elektra in the end, when Orestes fulfilled his mission. Did she not hear how all rejoiced over the death of Aegisthus? “Do I not hear? Do I not hear the music? She’s coming out of me , .? “More opera drama was rare. And that is the claim that a house and its ensemble have to face if it puts this work on the board. The Theater Ulm has accomplished great things with this production, this “Elektra” will be a lasting event from the era of opera director Matthias Kaiser.
And that starts with Susanne Schimmack in the title role, who was acclaimed in the premiere. Hundred nonstop minutes of high drama, Elektra is a monster role: “She’s coming out of me… “, the music – this soprano is able to sing and express all this with great power, and admirably without false forcing and sharpening. With feeling and timbres and also soft tones. And Susanne Schimmack succeeds in playing this Elektra in hard naturalism. That’s first class.”
“Susanne Schimmack in the title role is overwhelming. With her Mezzo-soprano voice she takes the high notes in stride, her warm timbre resonates through all registers, from lyrical to dramatic, we never hear a sharp ton, her voice is powerful and expressive, shows the entire range of nuances: from rich to sensuously blooming, from delicately shaded to convulsively differentiated. And her role portrayal! (…) Susanne Schimmack has enormous charisma and stage presence. Her role identification is extraordinary. In her interpretation we understand (Elektra’s) mental agony and her fanatism bordering insanity.”
Der Neue Merker, 3/ 2018
FINALLY, what does this JOURNEY TO AND THROUGH me and towards Elektra mean for me as a singer as well as a teacher?
As an artist you depend on a solid craftmanship and technique. But you also need inspiration, imagination and trust in the powers of your intuition and your guts. Without that, everything remains mechanics. Inspiration is something very individual. You cannot command it to come, you cannot force or bribe or buy it. All you can do, is to invite it by wandering the world with open eyes and ears and an open heart. And if you are lucky, you will encounter inspiration, sometimes in unexpected places. The British Anthropologist John Lubbock once said “What we do see depends mainly on what we look for (…) in the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the coloring, sportsmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”
In our project however, we didn’t rely solely on fate and coincidence. We consciously chose scenes that are really outside of the context of the opera, we consciously chose people to work with, we staged the encounters. “We” stands in this case for 3 individual forces who each play their independent role in the “staging”: the writer, the actor and me. The project showed that S.E.T. can be used as a tool to induce an encounter, to create opportunity for something to be provoked. It can be used as a means to train the trust in your subconscious, your embodied knowledge. Any encounter can serve as a possible trigger for new inspiration. All it takes is the inner freedom and sense of calm, the willingness to conceive. Referring to John Lubbock’s quote, it might not even depend on the kind of trigger (inspiration), big or small, or what I consciously consider fitting. However, what does matter is, that everything goes into and through my very own individual filter. What it might provoke there and how and why is really not relevant. But relevant is, that I permit these inner reactions and associations, however their level of consciousness might be, to enter me and to find their way into my performance- without me previously judging or censoring. In a theatrical setting (also rehearsal) anything and anybody can provoke something in me. All I need to do is let the encounters happen! But because we initially staged them I gained the consciousness to recognize and value their relevance.
As a teacher I want to grant my students the same freedom to be found by that spark. It might be interesting to explore if we can recreate the experiment of S.E.T. I accept the challenge to create opportunity within our mutual work for inspiration (provocation) to arise. And I consider it my responsibility to make them aware of this endless ocean of possible “food” for inspiration.!
“Not losing yourself in the role, but finding yourself!” (Uta Hagen)
Uta Hagen “Respect for Acting” Wiley 2010
Sanford Meisner “On Acting” 1987
John Lubbock “The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In”
Der Neue Merker, Wien
Die Deutsche Bühne, Köln
ON A PERSONAL NOTE
Reflections on Susanne encountering Elektra in the Interviews…
- The first encounter that was taped was the police interrogation. The gentleman reinacting the cop was also the director of my production. We went through that darkish hallway in the basement of the theatre together making our way to the souterrain office. Still director and singer, friends, partners.
The instant the office door closed behind us, both of our behaviour changed. My initial nervousness was replaced by something else, some sensation of coldness and almost calculus. I had been so worried about how to avoid any indirect inner preparation. Being used to acting in a staged situation, I had to and wanted to rely on my re-actions instead. After an initial phase of constant inner observation I managed to give in to the encounter and gather the patience and inner calm to allow reactions to emerge. It is tricky to not be in a state of permanent inner expectation, observation and control.
One of the strongest memories of that session is the moment immediately after the encounter. The camera was turned off. Matthias (the cop) got up out of his chair and we embraced each other silently under the impression of those very strong emotions that apparently arose within the encounter. Also the tremendous physical and emotional tension all of a sudden became apparent and therefore also the relief when it was possible to step out of the situation.
- The second recording that was made was the shrink scene. I was in the „hospital room“ in the bed witing for the psychatrist to enter. In the hallway outside voices. The door opening very tenderly, the lady entering with an extremely calm, friendly and almost withdrawn attitude. The door closes, the voices subside, silence. Nobody says a word. Inner build-up of expectation, nervousness. Then something rather obscure happened. The actress started the scene in German. After a few sentences I had to interrupt to make her aware that the encounter would take place in English. The tension of the encounter was released, both of us laughed. To allow for another situation to arise, she left the room and returned only after a few minutes, this time speaking English.
Within the encounter I recall being surprised how it made me feel: calm, trusting, safe- almost liek a child. Sometimes the time between her questions or reactions to my behaviour felt very long which to my surprise did not result in anxiousness but even more calm. The shrink scene is the longest, almost twice as lon as the cop scene e.g. This happened unintentional and due to the atmosphere of calmness within the encounter. Towards the end of the recording I recall Susanne surfacing thinking „ we should end the scene here, it already is very long- how can I end it?“
Both encounters, the police interrogation and the psychiatrist left me quite exhaused.
- The talkshow taping was very spontaneous. Until the very last instant neither me nor the hostess knew, wether it would be a very serious and matter-of-fact interview or kind of a rainbowpress/celebrity situation. After we started, the encounter quickly took a turn towards the „Hollywood Reporter“. I remember feeling kind of conscientious, wanting to brace myself in order to prepare for the questions. I/E. did not want to give away to much intimate information! The interview contains quite a lot of laughter in my memory- sometimes that was genuine and spontaneous, sometimes almost technical and used as a shield against the obknoxiousness the talkshowhost. My facial muscles and jaw began to tense.
At the very end of the session as we raised our glasses for the last time, a large format painting that had been hanging on the wall behind us suddenly crashed down. I managed to catch it by quickly leaning against the wall, therefore stopping the fall of the painting with my back. Again this incident presened us with a welcome opportunity to shed the tension of the scene and we burst into laod and genuine laughter!