Male-Female the yin/yang of Theatre – key principle in The Seidenstein Method

By Ira Seidenstein

January 24, 2011

Male-Female the yin/yang of Theatre – key principle in The Seidenstein Method
After many years in Theatre I saw a pattern in my devised projects was about men & women and their relationship. It is known that every person has both feminine and masculine qualities. This is yin/yang, ida/shushumna, chesed/gevurah, Krishna/Radha all codifications in various metaphysical philosophies.

Although my artistic output on this theme is quite numerous, here, I will mention a few examples.

The male/female element may seem obvious in some plays and productions but it is the:
 a) conflict b) counter balance and c)resolution or tri-elements which provide the basic underlaying structure in a play or production encountering male & female. This is most commonly seen on the surface as the basic opposition between women and men. Venus & Mars. Triad brings liveliness to the binary. Binary is stagnant. Triad brings movement and dynamic. Yin, Yang, Tao. Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet. This is also codified as the Vedic “Three Gunas”. In the Noh theatre this is called Jo-Ha-Kyu. Yoshi Oida mentions this in his books and workshops and likely uses it when he directs. Zeami the original codifier of Noh Theatre established it as a principle. Yass Hashima, the Japanese/American mime/director also uses and teaches Jo-Ha-Kyu. I have created an exercise “Jo-Ha-Kyu” that establishes this principle as an embodied practice. It is one exercise in “The Four Articulations” (the introduction process to The Seidenstein Method).

Henry the Fifth done with 12 women, directed by Ira Seidenstein 1992. This project is discussed here  this is part of my show “Harlequin Dreams”. 4:15 into the video I discuss the Henry the Fifth project and the dream that led to the project.

I created this project based on a dream. In the first meeting with the 12 selected actresses one of them asked if they were to do the characters as women or as men. I replied that we would have to see what came out of the process. I assisted them to be themselves as people, actresses creating a role, and characters. They developed a way of performing that was simply using their own masculine energy and did not portray the characters as ‘men’. The production, performed once only as the conclusion of the workshop/project was the whole play, uncut. Only a unified simple overalls type ‘costume’. There were only three props – a chair, a leek, and a hairbrush.

Prior to this I had created a number of clown theatre pieces that examined the masculine/feminine. One was “A Clown’s House”. This I created in 1980 and it became my touring theatre show that I played in Sweden, Finland, Germany, USA,  New Zealand, and Australia in 1981 in an adapted form. At the time I used a stage name “Vincenzo”. The gist, in terms of the masculine/feminine was a solo man setting up a dinner for two. The show was totally non-verbal and had no music. The set up was an elaborate structured improvisation of slapstick, mime, movement to prepare a meal and a table complete with table cloth and chairs, plates, cutlery.  About 30 minutes later everything is set, for two. But Vincenzo is alone, and becomes lonely. Genuine pathos. With only my eyes and the smallest head gestures possible, soon, a woman from the audience would meet me eye to eye and either offer to come up or would be ‘invited’ to come up. Then the ultra slapstick would happen as Vincenzo ‘assisted’ her though due to his ineptness… she would have to assist him back up onstage as well as seating him. Then more ensued with the eating of the meal until eventually it was time for the woman to return to her seat and once again Vincenzo was alone. He packed up, quickly and departed the stage. Re-entering for the bow I would enter via a round-off and a few backflips.

Naturally this show could be done in reverse with a female clown and male volunteer. Additionally it could be a male clown and male volunteer or female clown and female volunteer. I always chose a woman for two reasons; a) it was a more clear cliche and b) women, in the general and admittedly cliche sense are more receptive and thus, generally speaking, are more able to blend with onstage, untrained improvisation.  I would scan the first two rows of the audience for a ‘volunteer’ i.e. someone whose eyes showed they were open, willing, ready to help the lonely clown. In one show in Christchurch, NZ at a festival there was only one person who fit the bill. I would stick to the first two rows because it needed to be easy and quick for the ‘volunteer’ to get to the stage. In the Christchurch show, the woman whose eyes said ‘yes’ was so bizarrely angelic looking that I daren’t. But, I did! She was a unique volunteer since unbeknownst to me she was not only a dancer but one whose speciality was improvisation. So we had a ball and of course were able to move, dance, and fall without any danger. She, whose name I can’t recall, was from France and after “A Clown’s House” asked me to dance with her in the festival’s outdoor concert the following night. More about that later.

In my San Francisco performance amongst the audience members were Bill Irwin and a director of clown theatre. They spoke with me after and due to the extreme slapstick with the volunteer they were anxious to know how I prepared the volunteer who they assumed was a plant (someone prepared before a performance). They were each shocked to realize I can generate such laughter and slapstick improvising physically with a total volunteer. I did this in a way completely different from other experts in using volunteers for comedy. Remember this show was totally non-verbal. Additionally I never whispered onstage instructions to the volunteer. I did this via a hyper-receptivity to my partner’s instinctual responses and subtle body language. I also accepted all of my partner’s offers. But perhaps most importantly I did this by faith and what in Aikido is called ‘blending’. Lastly, I timed off of my partner and gave clear actions in such a way that even more extraordinary, my partner/volunteer could time off me and get into the hang of getting laughs like a veteran comic!!

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