The Viewpoints Book
Anne Bogart and Tina Landau
Nick Hern Books
Viewpoints is a system of actor training rooted very firmly in the experimental dance groups of the '60s and '70s, in which the nature of dance—what movements could be referred to as dance—was questioned and work was created by the group, not by a choreographer or author.
The authors of this book took the Viewpoints philosophy and used it to formulate a physical approach to creating theatre with actors in the 1980s. While there have been articles written about the methods it uses, this is the first comprehensive manual for training actors in the Viewpoints system and using it to create group-devised work.
Viewpoints are separated elements of performance that can be worked on individually and intensively before they are all put back together. Some of these can be seen to relate directly back to Stanislavski, as the authors acknowledge, but there is a strong emphasis on the physical.
So the viewpoint of time is broken down into the tempo and duration of a movement, repetition and a reaction to movement from outside the body, whereas the viewpoint of space looks separately at shape, gesture, the architecture of the performance space, the relationship of objects to one another and the design created by movement through space.
Each of the viewpoints and their subdivisions is described and then illustrated with exercises, some of which are described more clearly than others—for a few, diagrams would have been helpful to show exactly which limb goes where. However this isn't just a book of exercises; there is a clearly defined, suggested pattern of training to introduce the principles of Viewpoints and gradually build up the knowledge and skills of the methods it uses.
As this is a method rooted in movement, the section on dialogue is past halfway through the book and quite short, but is still a useful illustration of how the philosophy can be broadened to include speech. There are also methods of improvisation through Viewpoints and for its use in rehearsal, plus a long section on creating work for the theatre as a group using Viewpoints, in an extension to the basic concepts called "composition".
These methods aren't for everyone as Viewpoints as a complete system lends itself to a specific style of physical performance. However there are elements of it that can be very useful in any form of actor training, and possibly even in rehearsals. The emphasis on the group can also be valuable to bond together a class or cast.
The description of Viewpoints in the book is very thorough and clear, but will take a few more reads to really grasp its full philosophy. I'm sure I'll be dipping into it from time to time to make use of individual concepts and exercises—in fact I recognised a few I'd used before without having heard of Viewpoints—but I suspect this pick 'n' mix approach may be what the writers refer to as "lazy or undigested".
Reviewer: David Chadderton