The following is an interview with Gerard Bayle, a professional theatre actor who has been working with students in the UK and India for many years. This interview was conducted by Kamala V Mukunda earlier this year.

- Editors

What excites you about theatre?

It was and probably still is a way to express myself. Even if it is artificial, I express more deeply than in real life. It is also a way to communicate with people (I mean when you are on stage you somehow communicate with the audience). This expressing oneself surely has something to do with what we call the ego: people will listen to me, I will not be interrupted, I may have a sense of power in front of all these people listening to me.

On the other hand, the art of acting may be in its best sense a way to know oneself; that is in acting you may get in touch with, and thereby discover something deeper ( and perhaps hidden) about, yourself.

Now, like every art, acting implies technique, preparation, exercises etc. …

Suppose there is a sequence in a play about a mother who has lost her child. The actress has to perform something very dramatic, she must feel something very dramatic, she may shed real tears, but the difference with real life is that through technique and training she knows how to master the feeling, she knows the right moment to cry, the right moment to be silent, when to make a gesture and what kind of gesture to make. Another example: suppose somebody has to play Hitler, the actor must through study understand that man, so that he can feel what that man felt … and, ultimately, the actor may discover in himself some hidden feelings he hadn’t discovered in daily life (some feelings he was not aware of).

We must remember that in ancient Greece the Tragedies (of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides) were for the audience a catharsis. That catharsis aspect and the opportunity in acting of knowing oneself may be why some directors (like Jerzy Grotowski or Peter Brook) seem to consider the art of acting as a ‘spiritual path’.

What are your educational goals?

In education, through the device of theatre, first of all there must be a sense of play, enjoyment. This is quite important. Especially in the body work that I do, we learn to work with other people. We are aware of the body. We realize that even if we don’t know dance or yoga, there are a lot of ways for the body to express itself—any movement is good.

When I was in drama school, I had a very, very good teacher. He stood on a little platform, and we were a hundred of us students watching him explain and act. Suddenly he said, ‘Have you noticed how each one of you has his own posture, his own way of watching me?’ There were one hundred different ways we were standing … so I learned that the body has an infinite capacity to express itself.

But is there no such thing as a ‘good movement’?

Yes there is, but don’t tell anyone … The best would be to develop in children an aesthetic sense, a sense of what is beautiful. In living pictures, the exercise that I do with the children a lot, I say that the aesthetics come from the beautiful Renaissance paintings; the ‘whole’ is harmonious.

But how do we, who are in the picture, know whether the whole looks beautiful or not?

In that kind of work it is good to develop the capacity to watch and to appreciate (that is when you join the picture, to add something to what is already there). We work at attention and awareness of oneself, the others and the space. The nonverbal way of learning is the best. An ambience, an atmosphere is created. For this we also use slow movement. If you move very, very slowly, you are not the same person as if you walk quickly, or normally. It can develop in oneself, this quality of attention.
It is a bit like music, very difficult to explain why we are moved by Mozart. So also sometimes the children, they invent something so funny, so marvelous, they enter something very deep; so that the watcher has a feeling something is happening in front of him. That is why I say that, if even for a minute, they are in touch with something deeper. And this could be one of the goals.

This is especially so with the little ones, so full of energy … They learn about seemingly doing what you like, but knowing just what you want to do. Often I give very precise instructions to start something. After that, I say, ‘Go one after another. Watch first. Suppose there is a story here, join the story. Put yourself into it. Develop a sense of something happening between the people’. It is like choreography—the ambience—like the Renaissance painting.

What is the difference for you between teaching body exercises, and directing a play with a script?

The deep feeling is a goal in both situations. Whether it is pain in the heart, sadness, laughing … feeling is the goal. In body work, the atmosphere plays a stronger part than in a play. With a script, the words are very strong, and feeling comes through those. You emphasize pauses; silence is very important. Also slow speaking, not slow movement, since it should appear natural.

In directing a play, there are some simple goals. We work to produce the right tone (not sing song). And the audience must believe it; the whole body must be expressive in a believable way. The aim is to make yourself understood by the audience.

Stanislavski said, that to feel something as an actor, try to remember that feeling in yourself. For young people, this may be difficult to ask for. I don’t ask them to remember bad feelings, so my short cut is to have them imitate me!

What about nervousness and stage fright?

Practice helps you overcome nervousness. You have to think, ‘I feel nervous but I still do the part’. But in a school there is much less rehearsal. And only one performance! This is not like in the professional world.

You are also interested in Krishnamurti’s teachings. Does this form a part of your love of theatre?

It might be true that acting itself is a way to emphasize the ego. It can be debated ... whether it strengthens the self. I try to be aware of this. Do I need the applause? Do congratulations and praise have an effect on me? I try not to be too much interested.

Stage people do need to be loved, adored. If you know there is this tendency in you, you can manage it, watch it. Or you can teach, not perform. I am aware of this need to be the centre of attention to some degree! It is part of the drive to act, but some, not all, are like this. Krishnamurti said to Bohm, you can be very, very good at something, but what about your daily life? These two often don’t match.