I was going to write this article on the use of Viewpoints in the creation of performance. For those of you who may not be familiar with the technique, the Viewpoints is an improvisational performance tool, which evolved from postmodern dance. Its founder, Mary Overlie, took the two main elements used in stage performance, - time and space - and broke them down into six categories: space, shape, time, emotion, movement and story. She used them as a structure for dance improvisations. Then in the 1980’s Anne Bogart, began a collaboration with fellow director Tina Landau to investigate these six Viewpoints through the lens of the actor and deconstructed them even further. They came up with the nine Viewpoints we know today: spatial relationship, shape, architecture, topography, duration, kinesthetic response and repetition.
Over the last five years I have been investigating how to use the Viewpoints in theatre creation and was going to discuss some of my findings here, but an incident occurred just last week that has made me ask some more pertinent questions about why we actually make theatre and what benefit our work can have on the non-theatrical community.
As we all know 2014 has been a tough year on a global scale. World events seem to be escalating to an uncontrollable level. The troubles in the Middle East, Ebola, ISIS, Boko Haram, irreversible climate change, countries controlled by corporations, missing Mexican students, police killing unarmed men, passenger jets disappearing and being blasted from the sky and an unheard of siege in my home country, Australia. Democracy seems to be failing, people seem to be becoming more and more apathetic as they feel helpless to make any difference in this crazy political climate. Society seems to be getting more and more isolated with individuals relying on the Internet for any kind of inter-connection or sense of community. As an actor and theatre maker I have begun to question just what difference I can make when these enormous global problems seem to be taking over. How can my work as an artist have a positive affect in our current global climate?
My interest in experimenting with the Viewpoints and other forms of physical theatre expression, to create ‘experimental theatre’ sometimes seems rather pointless, even though my passion lies in creating work that speaks to our times and promotes the under-represented voice of women in contemporary society. This research and work doesn’t seem as worthy as stem cell research or finding a cure for cancer. However, it all comes down to my underlying desire to reconnect with the communicative power of the body, especially in an age where human relationships are dominated by our connection with technology. I didn’t realize just how powerful this aspect of my work could be until I traveled home to Australia recently to teach. During this time I had an extraordinary encounter that renewed my faith in the worth of the work that I do.
Two weeks ago I found myself in a small country town in regional New South Wales called Bathurst. Situated 200 kilometers west of Sydney, Bathurst is one of the oldest regional towns in Australia and was the birthplace of the first gold rush in the country in the early 1800’s. It’s a quiet country town where you can hear the crows caw and kangaroos can be seen grazing on the surrounding hills. There is a large university, an annual 12-hour motor race on the infamous Mount Panorama racetrack and a large manufacturing industry. Apart from the theatre department at the local university there’s not much going on locally in the experimental theatre scene. So I was quite surprised to be invited to teach a ‘community Viewpoints class’ and even more pleasantly surprised when I arrived for the session.
The class was held at one of the oldest community halls in Australia, complete with wonderful wooden floorboards, an old stage, extremely high ceilings and the amount of space one only dreams about having access to in New York City. One by one the participants arrived and the characters I met just warmed my heart. Most of the members of this group were middle aged, non-performers who worked normal Monday to Friday 9-5 jobs. This group of 12 meet once a week to practice Viewpoints just for the fun of it. When I asked what they liked about the work the reply was ‘It’s just so nice to get in a room and express yourself with your body. Nobody does that anymore and it’s a wonderful feeling to just move.’ This answer was extremely touching and so was the ‘work’ that ensued.
This group had a wonderful sense of play and pure joy that I rarely experience with actors or student actors. They weren’t trying to impress anyone, they weren’t trying to ‘get it right’ they were just having fun learning how to communicate physically. There was much laughter, so many smiling faces and the sense of connection that was established within the group was palpable. I came away from this class with such a strong feeling of community belonging, it made me almost want to move to Bathurst. We all went out to dinner afterwards and the group made plans to continue the class into the new year.
This Viewpoints group meets once a week, every week in a small country town to have fun moving. There’s no performance outcome, just a sense of belonging to a group that shares a common language. As I left town the next morning I felt a renewed faith in the ability of the arts to create a sense of community and belonging and encourage actual physical relationships in a world that is becoming increasingly virtual and disconnected. I thought that if I could give these 12 people the freedom to enjoy expressing themselves physically, even if only for two hours then that was my small contribution to encouraging inter-personal connectivity and community. Perhaps this is what’s needed to bring people together to promote understanding and hope in an increasingly isolating world.
 Sourced from The Viewpoints Book by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau