CCM Professor of Acting and Department Chair Richard Hess recently traveled to Northern Europe to teach Viewpoints Training master classes to professional actors working in two Estonian theaters — Theatrum and Tartu Uus Teater.
Hess has shared Viewpoints Training master classes across the U.S. and internationally for the past 20 years. Initially developed for dancers in the 1970s by choreographer Mary Overlie, Viewpoints Training was then adapted for actors by director Anne Bogart and the SITI Company. It focuses on improvisational movement techniques that brake down two dominant issues performers deal with — time and space — into nine categories or “viewpoints”: tempo, duration, kinesthetic response, repetition, shape, spatial relationship, architecture, floor pattern and gesture.
Hess engaged the Estonian actors in a series of improvisational movement exercises where unified group action was the desired goal. “What you create with another actor is always more interesting than what you can create alone,” Hess said. “Needing and being needed are core principles of good acting.”
In the final exercise of the master class, Hess instructed the actors to pair up and — without speaking or planning — support a portion of their partner’s body weight to create a new shape that they couldn’t create alone. Hess first told them to support 50 percent of their partner’s weight, then directed everyone to support the entire weight of one person. “This requires actors to give generously and to be supportive in undeniable ways,” he said.
“The Estonian actors were so powerful and focused,” Hess added. “There is an obvious muscular quality to their work and it was gratifying to see them embrace the master class with enthusiasm and bravery. Estonian theatre is extremely impressive.”
The actors traveled from theaters across Estonia to participate in Hess’ Viewpoints Training master class, he said. They gathered in Uus Teater in Tartu, Estonia and Theatrum, which is headed by playwright and director Andri Luup in Tallinn, Estonia. Luup, who is known for writing and directing the film “Kinnunen,” arranged for Hess to offer the master classes.
“The work was simply on the nose,” said participant Karl Edgar Tammi, a professional actor from the Teater Must Kast in Tartu. “I was introduced to a set of great exercises, improvisation, stage presence and awareness, creativity, working with partners, space and, of course, music. It was colorful, refreshing and inspiring. I will practice and try and mix it into the current theatre scape of Estonia!”
As chair of CCM’s Acting Department for the past 22 years, Hess has taught actors who work throughout the world on stage, television and film. He is no stranger to traveling internationally in the name of theatre. In 2011, Hess brought eight CCM Acting students and alumni to Kenya as part of the Dadaab Theatre Project. He returned to Kenya in 2014 as a Fulbright Scholar and spent a semester teaching and conducting research at Kenyatta University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Film Technology. In 2015, Hess brought six students and one faculty member from Kenyatta University to CCM so they could participate in the 48-Hour Film Festival.
Look for a Village News post later this week about Hess’ upcoming production of Middletown, running in Cohen Family Studio Theatre Oct. 20-22 as part of CCM’s Studio Acting Series. Admission is free but reservations are required. Tickets become available at noon on Monday, Oct. 17.