• Jon Campbell Acting Classes

  • Group Workshop Report 20th May 2017

    May 30, 2017 | News
  • People will be named. If, like trout, unlike trout, you now wish to turnabout and leap downstream, be my guest. You can always return for the invective later. Maybe even with a warm glow caressing your silvery scales. Invective. OK, here goes, a few lines of doggerel:

    We will show the strength of our city

    hand in hand. We don’t want your pity!

    We are ready to fight

    with our might, day and night

    and our strength will be shown in our love!

    I just made that up. It took less than a minute. It took less than thirty seconds. Shout it though, might sound not too bad. It’s not poetry. It’s doggerel. Frankly, it’s crap. Oh, sorry, my mistake, it’s Manchester being defiant. Hmm. Later. In the appropriate place.

    I repeat this later but am putting it here just in case you miss it. A wonderful comment from Freud, from his papers, Studies in Hysteria. (I regard Freud as one of the greatest imaginative writers of the previous two centuries. Worthy to be read alongside such luminaries as Kafka, Robert Musil, Thomas Mann, Hermann Broch, , – the giants of late 19th and mid 20th century Austro/Germanic literature). I’ll paraphrase. Freud said that it was no mean feat to be able to get someone from the point of Hysteria to that of Common Unhappiness. Wonderful! Common Unhappiness. This, I now believe, should be the goal of every human being in the first instance, – to achieve, at the very least, Common Unhappiness.

    Group workshop report for Saturday 20th May, afternoon of. It is, honestly. No digressions, impressions, and off-the-wall expressions. Joined-up writing, one thought leading to the next. Discursive. A narrative. Hmm. Maybe. First of all, it might perhaps be of some interest to those who have been following my progress in matters concerning health over this past year and more to learn that on the night of May 20th, succeeding the workshop, I actually got some sleep. A false hope for the future as it happened. The workshop clearly had a positive effect but there was to be no once-for-all cure. Since then, sleep has continued elusive, deigned to be glimpsed only in fits and starts. That night, a case in point.

    Right, I guess that’s me out of the way then. Except, no, because I just happen to be the one writing this. You may not be reading it. You may have your feet up, watching tele with a box of Maltesers. I envy you. But I’m writing this. Why? Because I have something important to say? Not really. I’m mainly writing it because I can. Actually, I don’t much envy the tele thing. The other day I switched on the tv. Hoorah! My personal jackpot was to be confronted by a programme titled ‘The World’s Most Pampered Pets.’ There was a photograph of a fat cat, Lula or something, a fashion icon, an ‘internet sensation,’ or so I was told. I wanted to kill Lula. But what’s that got to do with group workshops?

    There’s something in there, I think. Oh yes…Killing Lula. I can commit murder whenever I want to. I could do it on a daily basis if I wanted to, perpetrating it upon as many people as I pleased throughout the course of a single day. Who’s going to stop me? I have that freedom. I can kill indiscriminately. I haven’t killed any one. I’ve no desire to. But the point is I could. Yes, there would be consequences. But the fact remains. And if I don’t subscribe to the prevailing morality, I could do it without experiencing the slightest trace of guilt too. Just pick up a brick and cave someone’s skull in. As I say, I’ve never done such a thing, have no wish to do such a thing. But the point is, I could, so could you; all constraints removed, eschewing all conditioned vacillations.

    I used to think that the most important thing to aspire to was happiness. Now I know it to be, ultimately I guess, freedom. Happiness will often, perhaps usually, be dependent on circumstances ‘out there.’ Freedom is our own business. It’s what we do with whatever our circumstances might be, good or bad.

    Where was I?

    Yesterday I watched a documentary. It was called ‘Richter: The Enigma.’ It chronicled the life and artistry of the great pianist, Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997). It was by Bruno Montsaigeon. Very good. A life dedicated to art is always, in some way, an affirmation of life. But I was interested to hear what Richter had to say about himself right at the end of the doc. He said this: “I don’t like myself.” He’d actually come across very well, – broad smile, impish sense of humour, but – “I don’t like myself.” I’ve never owned a Self-Help book, unless you count those on philosophy, theology, psychology, of which I have a lot, (too many for them ever to be able to help me with anything in fact). Some of them, I know, go to specifics. But others are of a general kind. They say, care about yourself, love yourself, think positively about yourself, get rid of all negative thoughts about yourself. But I say this:

    If you dislike yourself it’s probably because you’re dislikeable. And if you think you’re a shit it’s probably because you’re a shit. You actually don’t have to shift your mental attitude towards yourself at all. You’re actually a crap human being. There, that makes it all so much easier doesn’t it? It’s always better to start with an attempt at honest appraisal. Of course, you don’t want to be a crap human being, that’s why you bought the book. You just are. Crap.

    People tend not to like it when they are told they might be deficient in some way. They struggle to justify their behaviour. In acting this means that they often start from a false premise about themselves. With the result that whatever they do subsequently appears false, appears constricted, suffocated by a mask, (persona, not talking here about the peculiar freedoms, specific, invested in the ancient mask which is a whole new ball game).

    Begin with the flaws. Much more interesting. In the end, much more true for being more revealing. No hiding. Hey, I feel a sub-head coming on!


    Those who know me will be aware that a long time ago, in a fairy land in which Bank Managers were so compassionate that they just lent you money, (£5000, no questions asked in my case. I think he was impressed by my inadequacy), I had my own theatre company. It went very well. I was very good but also very stupid. I should have extended the runs of one or two of the shows. But I was young. And not bright. And I ignored the good reviews and instead rushed headlong to oblivion. Well, I am now in the process of establishing another theatre co, (which to some extent is what BAD PARTY is about). But this will not be the same kind of beast as formerly.

    A few things I’ve learnt:

    A human being is first and foremost Body. Philosophically speaking the idea has been that a working definition of a human being is that he is rational and thus capable of reflection. I disagree. The best working definition of a human being, in my view, is that he is animal, dumb, blind, ‘Eyeless in Gaza’, but with the potential to be both rational and reflective. Not all human beings attain to rationality. The seeds can remain in a state of potency and may never become act. In navigating the narrow channel between Scylla and Charybdis you may remain an idiot, a retard, (in a literal rendering of that word). You are, of course, welcome to your idiocy, may you dwell comfortably within it, (idiots tend so to do). But first and foremost, a human being is Body. The dying Goya knew this, (hence the Black Paintings). Also, see Susan Sontag’s monograph: ‘The Pain of Others.’

    The Body. What does it mean to say the Body? It means that this fleshly thing enclosing is a kind of carapace from which there is no escape. None. My own case, which is to say my own experience, is this: part of my bowel protrudes from my torso. It is meat. It does not think. It does not reflect. It simply is. It behaves as it behaves. I have some power over it, but limited. Cancer in the cerebellum has meant quite bad attacks of vertigo. I have fallen over. My walking, though getting better, has been challenging. Again, I have some power over it but, again, limited. My speech has been slurring. I try to formulate words clearly and distinctly. But to speak is to feel tired and I’m tired enough as it is through lack of sleep. But enough of me. What about you? (Putting aside the undoubted complexities of the Mind/Body question). Your mother has just died. You feel you can’t cope. The thought of her eats away at you, (yes, we use an omnivorous metaphor, – it ‘eats away at you’). You are consumed, cannibalised by the thought. There is no rest. You try to think. You cannot think. There is no rest. For the Body takes charge whether we will or no. None of this puts me in favour of Radical Materialism. I’m simply talking about the Body as the one vehicle, at present, (though I’m sure the Brain in the Vat thought-experiment will strengthen or weaken over time and Sci-fi will continue to take its place on the rostrum of Sci-fact), that is impossible to escape, and that seems to me foundational.

    So, theatre company – we start with the Body. Then move on to sounds? Words? Have we really reached that point yet? The History of Language is a savagely interrupted narrative. Have we got to a place where we can really get to grips with the massive complexities of, say, a simple preposition or conjunction? In all their variety of meaning? After the Body, what? The grunt? The bellow? The roar? And perhaps not after the Body at all. But as part of the Body. Sound, noise, exclamation as a means towards the expressive rendering of Body. As some primordial means of exchange.

    Where have we got to? This could take a book. But I’m not writing a book, not today anyway.

    You are a BODY and you are looking at yourself, a pretty inadequate, flawed, probably most unpleasant human being and there are no words – bottom line. It takes ages to reach the bottom line. It costs, there are Humpty-Dumpty type breakages, there must be the, often forcible, removal of all illusions.

    Job lost everything he had, – his possessions, sons and daughters, everything. But he did not start cursing his fate until his body was covered in sores, Job 2.

    Theatre, my theatre, will be combined with technology. Camera. Sound. But for me a camera is not the the Eye of God. That would simply make it a passive/impassive observer. Say, two characters in a film are having a fight. Tell me, what the hell is the camera feeling?

    Enough, – this for another time. Onto…


    The naming of names. I’ve been quite lucky in my teaching life. (I’m not teaching at the moment due to lack of energy and general indisposition, – I am teaching but not new people who seem to bring about a general indisposition faster than anyone else).

    The naming of names. I’ve been quite lucky in my teaching life. When I first began, (probably because I started cheap, I’m still cheap), I’d have all sorts of fantasists knocking at my door. I’d have been quite content for them to go away to a darkened room, moan a little, cry a little and then shoot themselves. To my knowledge, none of them ever did. Since then I’ve actually had bona fide actors coming to me, or at least those who have a modicum of talent, talent with which I can get to work. So, a positive development then.

    Some of these actors are in BAD PARTY. Some come to my workshops. I won’t mention all of them because, well, basically I can’t be bothered. But here are a few:

    Lisa Ronkowski: a wonderfully, instinctively talented and versatile actress. I would like her to be in my theatre company. (However, she’s often too held in. There’s also a psychological or emotional ‘twitch on the thread’ coming from somewhere which often prevents her from letting go as much as she should or could. Needs to be addressed).

    Harriet Phillips: An actress who as yet doesn’t realise quite how good she is. She has only just scratched the surface of her talent but has the potential to be extraordinary. (However, there are times when she gets hung up on procedure and process, on technique. Once her acting has been eradicated I firmly believe she will astonish).

    Vivien Monory: No, she’s not there yet. Not yet. But she has one of the quickest minds I know and the progress she’s made in a relatively short time makes me believe that she will indeed get there. (However, her understanding of subtext is superficial. She smiles too much. She wears a mask too often, one so fixed and only apparently natural that I’m not even sure she knows she’s wearing it any more. Her mind is too fast for her talent’s good. She needs to cry, deeply, profoundly, she needs to weep).

    Carl Welch: A remarkable actor; when he’s being a remarkable actor, that is. I would like him to be in my theatre company. He’s one of the best I’ve worked with in forty years. He has the ability to get at the truth and to lead you there in turn. He’s versatile. His face is a Mount Rushmore. He’s quite special. (However, he has too many mannerisms and doubts himself too much and allows himself to get away with things he shouldn’t and sometimes he even deludes himself into thinking he’s ‘got it’ when actually he’s avoiding it. Speak, Carl, all you need do is speak).

    That’s a few. There are others. Mark Oliver, a fine actor, hampered only by a presumption that he knows what acting is. Debbie Krieger, a fine actress, hampered only by a stiffening at times, more nerves than she would prefer to let on about. She knows how important it is to relax but all too often, and as a frustrating contradiction, tenses in the very attempt at relaxation!

    Oh, Carling. Almost forgot. She has a fascinating mind. I don’t rehearse her much because I can see it’s all there and that even the shortest rehearsal could prove detrimental to her final performance. So, I tread carefully. (However, her weakness, to use a chess analogy, is the middle game. She’s good at the opening and, all things being equal, her end game will prevail. But her weakness is the middle game, that’s where the potential game-losses will be. Work on that, Carling, continue to thread the board throughout until all and everything has been expressed.)

    At the end of the workshop, another actress I have a lot of time for, Agata, who struggles with acting in the sense that she still gives me the feeling that what she seeks is a formula, came up to me and said that she had a private life. Manufactured for herself presumably. I don’t really know what a private life is. Does she really? At the age of about 20 or so, does she really? That’s interesting. I think that what she really means is not that she has a private life but that she has a self-conscious life. I have no private life. I’m a 60 year old man with cancer who has an overdraft, who, (previous blog), finds sex an effort, who used to find the whole dating thing a chore, who may live a while yet, who may die tomorrow, who leads a rich intellectual existence, who’s failed more than triumphed, who has no ego, who has no answers, who loves his wife. Is there anything else? I don’t reckon so. If you can think of anything I promise not to be offended. I don’t believe I’ve ever been offended by anyone, ever. My loss. Perhaps if I’d been offended more I’d have contemplated life rather more profoundly. But I’ve never been granted the gift of offense. I certainly have no private life. How could I have? I started as an actor. I have stood, metaphorically naked, in front of an audience. A private life will always act as a barrier between actor and audience. Actors, artists, don’t have the luxury of private lives.

    For some time we worked on the word ‘I’.

    There was something about a Hospice. Pain. What’s the difference between Pain and Agony? There is a difference. What is it? You tell me.

    A wonderful comment from Freud, from his papers Studies in Hysteria. (I regard Freud as one of the greatest imaginative writers of the previous two centuries. Worthy to be read alongside such luminaries as Kafka, Robert Musil, Thomas Mann, Hermann Broch, , – the giants of late 19th and mid 20th century Austro/Germanic literature). I’ll paraphrase. Freud said that it was no mean feat to be able to get someone from the point of Hysteria to that of Common Unhappiness. Wonderful! Common Unhappiness. This, I now believe, should be the goal of every human being in the first instance, – to achieve, at the very least, Common Unhappiness.

    Where have we got to? This could take a book. But I’m not writing a book, not today anyway.

    You are, first and foremost, BODY and are looking at yourself, a pretty inadequate, flawed, probably most unpleasant human being and there are no words – bottom line. It takes ages to reach the bottom line. Right now, you are in the process of stripping yourself of every illusion, every delusion. You think you know who you are. You don’t. You believe that what you think are your own thoughts. They are not. You think you tell the truth. You’re a liar. You believe you are free. You are not. You think you are making a difference. Not yet. These are hard sayings.

    And so to Manchester for a marvellous example of delusional thinking and yet more hard sayings.


    This, I dare to venture, will be an exercise in independent thinking. I refuse to mouth platitudes. I will swim against the tide. It is, I now know, my natural forte.

    So, 22 people died and Manchester looked to its defences. It, the city, will never be defeated it proclaimed. We will stand together, as we always have. Well, people stood together. There were vigils, candles, flowers, balloons, there were tears and hugs and lots of holding of hands. It was, indeed, a magnificent show of defiance. No, it wasn’t. It was sickening. It was Facebook out for a fucking stroll. What defiance? There was wallow and the self-indulgent illusion that somewhere in the vacuousness of it all was a nugget of strength. All you need is love! No you don’t. You need a damn sight more than that. With that attitude the next Salman Abedi will smash a much bigger target: netting 100 dead maybe; 200, 2000. How can it be stopped? While my hand is in yours it can’t do anything. It’s certainly incapable of making an adequate fist. But we cry and call it defiance. And then some geezer they say is a poet is pushed on stage and he recites his bollocks about solidarity and everyone feels better about themselves and they are soothed and defiant. We will never be defeated! Bring on another balloon! Well, actually, you’ve already been defeated. Abedi won. And anyway, poet-geezer, who told you that you were a poet anyway? You have the wit to use a bit of half-rhyme, (prove/love), assonance, employed to much greater effect by a real poet, Wilfred Owen, during the First World War. Beyond that, you’re shit. But the whole defiance thing is and has been shit, empty rhetoric, meaningless in any practical sense from almost the first sigh. And it’s still going on. Today one woman says, “it’s so upsetting.” Another says, “it’s nice to know people care.” Oh, please. It’s not fucking Stalingrad! Get a grip and rise out of your welter!

    Here, in my opinion, is an act of DEFIANCE. It was composed by Prokofiev in 1942, the Precipitato from his 7th Piano Sonata, one of his so-called War Sonatas, (Richter at the piano). (Btw: Soviet losses during the Second World War: approx 26 million dead. DEFIANCE costs. And keeps on costing.)

    Why do I say these things? I may, like you, be wrong. I hold a view. But more than that, I fancy, I have learned and continue to learn to embrace the hard sayings.

    Life, a paring away, to clarity, of sight, of insight, of expression, to the speech of the landscape, to, one hopes, common unhappiness if daring enough and relentless enough in pursuit. Common unhappiness I can live with, even welcome. Lies, I cannot, will not, especially the lies I tell myself.

    All actors should be on the alert for lies. Or else they will lie to their audience. And their audience will in turn lie to them. I make no allowances for myself, not a single one. I go in search of the truth, wherever my thinking might take me. I don’t always like where my thinking takes me. But I refuse to close the door. I make no excuses, make no allowances and will therefore make no allowances for you either.

    Finally, a fine poet, a proper poet, e.e.cummings (1894-1962).

    i thank You God for most this amazing
    day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
    and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
    which is natural which is infinite which is yes

    (i who have died am alive again today,
    and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
    day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
    great happening illimitably earth)

    how should tasting touching hearing seeing
    breathing any–lifted from the no
    of all nothing–human merely being
    doubt unimaginable You?

    (now the ears of my ears awake and
    now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

    There will be a Group Workshop on 17th June, 2-5. £20. Numbers are capped to no more than 12 places. Should you wish to come along please let me know.