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Summer of Rasaboxes: Teach, Play, Cast – by Fernando Calzadilla

The summer of 2011 turned out to be very Rasaboxes. I taught three rasaboxes workshops: The Alley Theater in Houston, TX; The PlayGround Theatre and the Telemundo Network, both in Miami FL.

The Alley Theater’s workshop was oriented to teachers working with middle and high school students interested in incorporating rasaboxes into their programs. Although it was a short introductory course, we got to cover a lot of ground because most of them were already familiar with rasaboxes or had used them in their activities. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this workshop was the emphasis I put on breath and how breath can guide the rasa to later incorporate sound and movement. We worked with a short dialogue between Clytemnestra and Agamemnon from Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis. We got to analyze the text line by line in terms of rasa, and then apply those layers of emotion to the character’s underlying rasa and the result was astonishing.

In this manner, in a short period of time, they went from entering the rasaboxes searching for a pose to entering through breath, interacting with each other, interacting with dialogue, and layering the rasas in the interaction. The orientation of this workshop was to transfer as much methodology as possible so they could implement and expand it later in their practice.
In the photos, participants work at the beginning of a session, and then interacting with dialogue and layered rasas. Photos by Austin Cooke, July 2011.

The workshop at the PlayGround Theatre was the first of a series that we are planning with the Education and Outreach Department. It was open to the public and announced through our social network and local media. We got a mix of professional actors and artists mostly on their 30s and up. The focus of the workshop was different than the Alley Theater’s because it was longer and the participants did not have a goal in mind other than getting acquainted with rasaboxes for their own personal or professional reasons.

My goal was to explore developing a performance text using as a starting point the story of the House of Atreus. The first sessions were devoted to performance exercises to create ensemble and then to rasaboxes. In the rasaboxes exercises, we developed breath, sound, and movement with interaction but very little interaction with dialogue. There was more emphasis on developing character through objects and costumes, in working with memories and dreams. As a result, we got a very harmonious and connected group that were eager to explore character’s relationship within the parameters of their own personal discoveries and the Atreus story. Rasaboxes helped them understand how those relations work and how they can be applied to a performance text. The final exercise was a slow motion crossing exercise in character/costume, with the rasaboxes not in a grid but dispersed throughout the space. In the 3 to 4 hours that it lasted, participants further developed their own character’s relations with the others and started to get a feeling of the direction that this performance text might take. As a director/observer, I gathered information about characters/actors relations and bits of behavior that could be used later on as seeds for scene expansion. I will follow up with this work with another workshop this fall.
Photos by Fernando Calzadilla, July 2011.

Telemundo’s rasaboxes workshop was a unique experience. It all started with Telemundo’s next big production (working title) Físico o Química?  The story takes place around a group of high school students, their parents, and teachers. The focus of the workshop was to prepare the participants for the pressure of TV recording studios and the lack of narrative’s sequence in the recording. As in film, they might jump from recording the friend’s funeral to the lovemaking scene in ten minutes. But in addition to that, Telemundo decided to use the workshop as a casting tool. They began with open video-auditions and received 623 applications. Of those 623, 120 were selected to audition in person in Miami. I participated in that process. Out of 120, we selected 40 participants who then started the workshop with 3 teachers training in rasaboxes, character construction, and the TV Studio. I had two groups of 20 two days a week for the first two weeks. After the first two weeks, we screened them down to 20. Those 20 continued the workshop for another 4 weeks, meeting for rasaboxes, twice a week for 4 hours each session. The purpose of these 4 weeks, in addition to training, was to cast them; to match actors to characters in the production. They knew the characters but also knew that they were competing with each other. As an instructor/casting facilitator, I had to be totally impartial in the process and not show any preference for any match of actor-character as that could create false expectations in them and complicate matters for the network’s executives, the ones deciding the cast. Because of the age range in the characters, the participants’ ages were between 18 to 21 and were equally divided among males and females, ten and ten.

In the rasaboxes, we worked from entering and finding a position, to breath, sound, and movement. The fastest and most efficient way for them to enter the rasas was through breath and sound. Then we moved to interaction and worked a lot with interaction with dialogue, with short scenes that the Físico o Química’s author wrote for me, or with short monologues taken from other sources such as Garcia Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre and La Casa de Bernarda Alba.The most interesting work happened when we started layering the rasas. Because I could not reveal what I was seeing in them as potential characters but at the same time wanted to prepare them for the best possible option, I started to give them specific rasas to layer with a specific partner. For example, I indicated to an actor to have a combination of Raudra and Bibhatsa as the base layer and then Sringara as the top layer. To the other actor I indicated Sringara as base and Vira as top layer. They were to move between the Raudra and Sringara boxes. The interaction was explosive. The actors engaged physically as soon as they jumped into the boxes with the actor playing Raudra-Bibhatsa-Sringara turned into a ruthless defiler, which was my original idea. To another actor I gave Karuna as the base rasa with a little bit of Bibhatsa and then Sringara as the top layer. The character’s performance in interaction with others was self-loathing and submissive, precisely the characteristics of the character I was trying to match with the actor. Another example I tried was a specific match for a homosexual couple in the story. I indicated to one actor Sringara base and Karuna top, to the other Sringara base with Vira top. I did not give any further indication. The exercise was so beautiful and touching that in spite of my request not to applaud any exercise, they got a full spontaneous applause. I found very useful that I could make an actor embody a specific character without ever mentioning it to the actor.

Had I had more time to work with them, I would have further developed the work I started with the short monologues: I asked them to memorize the monologue, and then jump into a box related to the monologue’s main rasa and instead of using words to begin saying the monologue with sounds. I would coach them closely to expand the sounds and add movement, change boxes, until it became totally organic. Then, without stopping, I would indicate to slowly introduce the monologue’s words. After a while, the monologue would come out like a howling, an emotion-laden song. I would then ask them to come out of the box, breathe for a moment, then go back into the box, sit down and quietly say the monologue, this time without sounds or movements, just the words. The result was amazing. It would have taken me quite a few rehearsal sessions to get an actor to communicate so much emotion and sense in so little time. Another spontaneous applause.
Photos by Federica Wallis, August/September 2011

Rasaboxes Blog

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Rasaboxes Photography Project

I wanted to post a photography project that I did last summer at Dell’Arte’s Rasaboxes workshop with Paula Murray Cole. I used my Holga camera to capture each of the participants embodying the rasas. I worked with the actors to create a visual and emotional style that would best represent the rasa they chose. I hope you enjoy!

-Dara Silverman