Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Viewparsing (guest educational entry by JOHN TAFLAN)


Now, you may ask, what is Viewpoints? 1

Viewpoints can frustrate in the way it defies simple definition. In addition to nature, Viewpoints is a philosophy of ensemble creation while also being a set of names for how we walk and talk while also being awareness-guideposts for a performer to use if he or she wants to. In the context of an unexecuted theatrical idea, however, Viewpoints can be used as a way of composing a play/scene. Still confused?

Now, you may ask, what is composition?

Composition is a method for creating new work.

Now, you may ask, what is a method?

Method is a particular form of procedure for accomplishing or approaching something. 2

Now, you may ask, what is procedure?

Procedure is an established or official way of doing something.

Now, you may ask, what is something?

Something is thing that is unspecified or unknown.

Now, you may ask, what is a thing?

A thing is an object that one need not, cannot, or does not wish to give a specific name to.

Therefore, Viewpoints is a way you do a thing.


As with most things that need to be done, there is a way of doing them; that way is Viewpoints. 3

Viewpoints is made of Viewpoints. The nine Viewpoints of Viewpoints are as follows: Tempo, duration, kinesthetic response, repetition, shape, gesture, architecture, spatial relationship, and topography. 4

Tempo is how quickly you can escape from the cage or “grid” set up by Viewpoints instructors at the top of a Viewpoints session.

Duration is how long it takes you to recover from the 10th Viewpoint—beating—administered after a successful Tempo. 5

Kinesthetic response is the sneaky execution of a pre-planned reaction to an event you have already decided the outcome of.

Shape is what your body is all the time.

Repetition is for compulsives. Use sparingly.\

Gesture is what you do with your arms to distract someone while you try to remember your next line.

Architecture is any building, portion of a building, or room inside of a portion of a building where a Viewpoint can occur.

Spatial relationship is how close you are to something. Sometimes, you can get too close and give it everything you’ve got and hinge it all on the hope that maybe for once, just once, you might have a chance at happiness. But oh no no, she’s just like every other one of them and you should have listened to your mother but what does she know about things like this? It’s my life, dammit, and I should be able to fall hard if I want but Jesus, I hope someone will be there to catch me someday…

Topography is what you walk on if a floor isn’t available.

Of course, the honest-to-goodness key to understanding Viewpoints is to engage in it directly through a never-ending series of improve-isations. On paper, the Viewpoints are brittle and unattractive. On a spring-loaded, 80’x80’ reinforced, Thai bamboo floor however, the true magic of Viewpoints is revealed.


Actors constantly make the mistake of thinking they are people (directors are often afflicted by this delusioin, as well).

What am I doing here?

When do I want lunch?

Who does that dog think he is?

How do you get actors to stop yakking on about themselves and give someone else a chance to talk? 6 How do they free themselves from years of television viewing and lazy parenting? The answer may surprise you. 7

The answer are Viewpoints.

Viewpoints—being an open process (free of rigid technique) and dictated by nine, never-changing compositional totems which must always be adhered to while working—can be the way you can get those actors to finally shut the fuck up and start behaving like adults.

Can a creative process truly be collaborative? Can a group of strong-minded individuals work together to decide what is best for a play/scene? Yes, and you can make that decision if you are the strongest mind in the room and you make everyone do what you want them to do. The way that you make them do what it is that you want them to be doing is Viewpoints.

Viewpoints, however, are about practical application through live exploration. Viewpoints is to be freely xamined through a unyielding series of improvisations whose parameters must never change.


Sample Exercise 1: Flouncing ‘round the rotunda.

Allow your actors to stand in a circle. Have them engage their Soft Focus. 8

After about 4 minutes, set up the imaginary cage or “grid” on the Topography of the room. 9 Allow the actors to choose whichever Tempo they want—fast or very fast—and give them 20 minutes or so to try to avoid running directly into each other.

For the final minutes of the exercise, allow the actors to react audibly should they feel the Kinesthetic Response to.

After the exercise is complete, allow the actors to sit on the Topography to discuss things they may have felt. Don’t rest until every actor has given you what you wanted.

End the exercise with your actors standing in a circle, staring at one another. This is the most important part of the exercise.


As you can see there are many things we can learn from Viewpoints. By harnessing the nine, never-changing Viewpoints, actors and directors can truly make their next production of A Streetcar Named Desire a little different. 10

1. See “The Viewpoints Book” by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau

2. Not to ever be confused with the over-sexed, Americanized “method” of acting wherein you become a huge asshole while you’re rehearsing and performing your play.

3. See “The Viewpoints Book” by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau

4. How fast, how long, how did you, how how how how how, hOw, how can I, how does that thing, how do we both, and how do I go?

5. See “The Viewpoints Book” by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau

6. For God’s sake...

7. Or it won’t, I don’t really know anymore. Do you expect me to read minds or something? I mean, really… I bust my ass everyday to put food on this table and this is the thanks I get? Your mother slaved away over a sticky microwave for three and a half minutes, now eat your Stouffer’s and shut up; NCIS is on.

8. Cross your eyes and hold your breath for a count of 30. Quickly exhale, releasing all the air from your body.

9. (If a floor is unavailable)

10. Despite coming under near-constant scrutiny from both actors and directors who look at a theatre-creation technique consisting entirely of—on its surface, at least—walking in a square and pausing occasionally, the value of Viewpoints is almost universally understood (even if grudgingly so) by those individuals who have given but an inch of themselves to it.

With an experienced, intelligent group of individuals, Viewpoints sessions incorporated regularly into the early stages of a rehearsal process can, in fact, create an unshakable, gut-level bond within a group of, what are essentially, strangers who are expected to portend any number of harrowing, dangerous acts with each other. One cannot underestimate the human body’s ability to react and provide honest insight into relationships and surroundings when confronted with a physical stimulation; you know it when it hits you: The burst of steam from a lifted saucepan lid, the nose of a lover on the ear, the almost-got-hit-by-a-cab near miss at the corner of Clark and Addision. However, it takes the sophistication of an individual prepared to look and feel truly foolish (without fear of permanent bruise to the ego), to successful contribute to the creation of an ensemble wherein honest, necessary work can begin to exist.

As expertly—if not a bit clinically—laid out in their regarded work, “The Viewpoints Book,” Anne Bogart and Tina Landau provide the blueprint for peak engagement with the people you share your rehearsal room and stage with. What’s so crazy about the whole thing is that a good group (good actors, good directors) will realize these Viewpoints naturally (without the need to label or 218 pages of text). It’s precisely those individuals who would scoff at the idea of a floor grid who are most in need of the discipline and freedom that an imaginary square on the floor can provide.

Because it IS important how quickly you cross the stage. It is important to feel how a room affects your breathing. And it is important to take what is given to you and give it back without judgment or pretense. It is important if one wants to create meaningful work. Because a community is created every day in rehearsal and every night in performance.


  1. This still doesn't explain what's going on in a scene when I'm not talking. I will continue to assume it's "nothing important."

  2. And people think Scientology is nuts.

  3. I think I like Cromer's viewpoints "yeah, we discovered it in the 70s--it's 'just don't bump into shit'".

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