NET/TEN Shareback: Art2Action Collective - Creating Physical Vocabulary for DRONE

2012 Fall Seed Grant Recipient

Art2Action Collective (New York, NY) visited ArtSpot Productions in New Orleans to exchange ensemble methodology and techniques, including a Grotowski-based training session and soundscape explorations. The companies explored the first phase of creating a new multi-media theater work, titled DRONE.


Andrea Assaf, Artistic Director of Art2Action Inc., provided NET with a video from their first residency with ArtSpot Productions, and interviewed Dora Arreola, special Movement Advisor for the DRONE project.

DRONE - Work in Progress from Art2Action on Vimeo.

Interview with Dora Arreola:  Creating Physical Vocabulary

By Andrea Assaf

AA: Welcome, Dora. During the first part of the exchange, you introduced us to different phases of Grotowski's training, including "Balancing the Space" and a series of exercises, and a process you call "El Vigilante." Can you tell us a little bit about those two different structures? 

DORA: Thank you for the interview. The first part was the physical training that I learned from the sources of the WorkCenter of Jerzy Grotowski in Pontadera, Italy, in 1987-89. At that time, the training was a structure with very specific phases of working the body, or responding with the body, especially to the space, and of course to the other participants--responding physically, but also going into very, very clear exercises...It's a structure that I introduce to a lot of groups...In the basic training, something that is fundamental is that it's a training for  performance; and performance needs to have an unblocked body that, through these particular exercises, will allow the actor to go more deep in later phases of the work--go more deep in stripping physical blocks. In the first foundation (the training), the participant needs to have a very intentional but also spontaneous connection with the space.  If the group is creating configurations in the space with their bodies, they need to have a very specific rhythm, and changes of rhythm. The participants are constantly adapting to rhythm.

AA:  Meaning, in the "Balancing the Space" exercise?

DORA:  Yes, the "Balancing the Space" is looking at a very concrete action or task that the actors need to do, asking themselves "where do I need to go?" to create  harmony in the space. It's an opportunity for the participants to test themselves, with others, in how they respond to a group dynamic. It's very specific that in the balance, [we] are creating layers of complexity. I'm talking about movement, I'm not even talking about creative process yet. I'm just talking about a technique that has different levels. The first level is the most concrete, precise task or activity...If it's balance, it's the first layer...with 100% connection with all the participants. Under this balance is another layer, the possibility of play--in the sense of what you can do in terms of playing or creativity, or connection with other participants, without being in chaos...It is to create, actually, an organic chaos. It's about how I am organized in chaos. And that is a very interesting layer, which I am exploring.

AA:  Do you want to say anything about the physical exercises in the training process, especially how the physical training relates to creativity, or preparing the actor for creativity?

DORA:  Actually, the whole training is a body preparation. It's not the creative part, or the creative moment of the group. It is very technical, very physical. But I want to bring something else from the Grotowski training, especially now when you're talking about the series of exercises that we are practicing. This has, for me, two major, important reasons: one is that you are not doing the exercise because you know how to do it, or because you have the ability to do it; you're doing the exercise because you don't know, because you can't do the exercise.  So the point here is not to do the exercise, but to find in the exercise, actually, all the difficulties that you have by doing it.

AA:  Is that what you mean when you talk about the "dialogue with the body"?

DORA:  It is. It's a dialogue because--probably, I know how to do the abdominals, the sit-ups, or the Cat, or the bridge; but if I do the exercise because I can do the exercise, it means I need to move to another one.

AA:  It's like in yoga, for example, the concept of practice:  that it's a continual practice, you never arrive. You're always searching for the next level of depth--

DORA:  Or the complexity in it. [...] And I'm not talking about a static or meditative idea, I'm talking about the essentials of the work in yoga, which is to have a vehicle:  the body as a vehicle... So one thing is finding this difficulty while you're doing the exercises, or while you're dancing. It's not that you've discovered already, and then you're showing what you discovered, no; it's like you are perpetually exploring. So it's this idea of going to a place that you don't know... […] There is a dialogue with yourself...These physical training structures have philosophical foundations and, of course, physical foundations. It's looking at precision, work with very specific movements,  technically; but not to show the technique, not to show the physical, but the metaphysical. To really to pass through the physical.

And from that, I can talk about the second part I was mentioning: This training is about connection. It's about responding physically, so that through this training, you are preparing to fully respond with the whole organism

[…] I have adapted and explored this particular training through the years. With my company in Mexico, Mujeres en Ritual Danza-Teatro, I've had the chance to use the foundation of this physical training to take another step [...] to explore, in that structure, very specific movements that come from Mexican traditions...

AA:  I want to ask you about "El Vigilante." What is that structure? Where does it come from in the context of Grotowski's work, and how are you adapting it, or exploring something else with it?

DORA:  Actually it comes from one of the actions that the group, the Laboratorio of Grotowski in Pontadera, explored in the '80s. It's based on "Watching." [...]There are very specific actions that the participants need to learn, or to play with [that] give the participants the sense of a personal journey. By doing this vigilance, I have the experience of seeing the same things that surround me differently [...]  For me, also, as a Mexican living so many years at the border of the United States, all the time with this experience of being under vigilance--surveillance...I flipped that. In this moment is we are objects of vigilance. So for me, it was taking this practice and turning the coin, inverting the oppression, to be subjects. How am I the vigilant one? Quien es en vigilia? [...] This particular notion of being vigilant is an element of Mujeres en Ritual's work.

AA:  And also, it's very relevant to the explorations of DRONE, because there's a whole element of surveillance with the DRONE project, and the question of who is watching who--and, how do we find a more empowered place in the face of this new technology that threatens to change everything we think about privacy and power? [...]  The other work you did with us was the beginning of our process of creating, or exploring, physical vocabulary for DRONE. I brought this prompt, "What are things that people do when they disconnect, or 'drone out'?" as way to begin explorations. Can you talk about your approach to creating physical vocabulary, and how you do that?


DORA: This [residency] was a very short time to work, but there was a certain readiness, a certain invitation. Sometimes it can be just something new, or a new leader in the group [...] In this case, with this group, we--I'm saying "we" now because, with you--we brought an exercise in which the participants jump inside of a circle to spontaneously create, the first physical or vocal response, to the notion of "droning out."

AA:  We use this structure for improvisation with a lot of groups, when we collaborate. This circle. It's an improvisation structure that is almost like collective brainstorming, but in physical/vocal response. 

DORA:  Yes. But definitely, the sessions before, were really preparing a communication between the facilitator, in my case, and the participants. It was a constant invitation to respond physically--proposing a physical approach to a particular theme. Now, in this circle to create movement, it was an invitation--not to lose the precision, or the ability to contain a movement--but to sustain a physical expression full of life. We could start inverse, with the circle and "everybody give ideas with your movement," and they will bring beautiful stuff, I'm sure. But the training prepares. The idea is to go to another place, that is not the obvious response. Although we want an immediate response, spontaneously, we also want precision.

AA:  So after this kind of collective brainstorming, to impulsively go with ideas, what happens after that, in terms of the next steps for creating vocabulary?

DORA:  So what happens with this brainstorming--actually, it was bodystorming --

AA:  Yes!

DORA:  Bodystorming--what happens here is that it's physical and vocal. The participant has the opportunity to go into the circle as many times as they want. That is an opportunity for them to hit moments--of course, also to choose, but first, to arrive--to places where they feel that what they are proposing is meaningful, something that is a seed to be developed in the future.

AA:  Or where it has a connection to life experience--

DORA:  Especially when they have some personal association. So from outside, as a facilitator, I'm observing these movements. The thing with this process is that we need to go immediately to remember the movements, or repeat them, without a break--to reconstruct. If the participants don't choose to reconstruct the movements that we found relevant for the project, we ask them to.

AA:  Or work together to re-member them. 

DORA:  So it's a reconstruction. We shift from the circle bodystorm, to a more open configuration, so we can see the movement isolated. And in this part, we're not creating stories--it's just physical gesture. But it can be the beginning of the physical vocabulary...a seed for developing more movements. In my work, I call  what they did the cell. And what we can do after is cultivate the cell, make it grow or reproduce...Multiply. It's important to keep the movements, as much as possible. You can record them, or write them down, or draw them. But don't discard them.

AA:  Then, after creating some shared vocabulary in the ensemble, we start to play with composition.

DORA:  It's raw material. This is the primal raw material that will have, depending on the process, a development phase.     

AA:  Yes, and we look forward to working with you more, as our Movement Advisor as we develop the DRONE project further! I know ArtSpot Productions wants you back also. We look forward to continuing to have your expertise, as we develop the physical vocabulary and composition for the performance.

DORA:  It would be a pleasure to continue working with Art2Action and ArtSpot Productions, especially the opportunity to go into the next phase, when you will combine the text.

AA:  Yes.

DORA:  It's an approach, that is, a devising approach, to invent a world for DRONE.

AA:  Thank you, Dora!


Dora Arreola is the founder and Artistic Director of Mujeres en Ritual Danza-Teatro, and an Assistant  Professor of Theatre at the University of South Florida (USF), Tampa.  She is also a founding Collective member of Art2Action Inc.  She has a MFA in Directing from the University of Massachusetts, and more than twenty years of experience as a director, choreographer, performer and teacher.  Her original work and teaching has been featured in Mexico, the United States, Italy, Poland, Nicaragua, India and Canada.  Arreola has taught body expression, physical training for actors, acting, directing, and dance in diverse cultural and academic institutions around the world, and has received grants and commissions from the National Performance Network (NPN), the Ford Foundation, Fideicomiso para la Cultura Mexico, more.

Andrea Assaf is the founding Artistic Director of Art2Action Inc. She is a writer, performer, theatre director and cultural organizer.  She’s the National Coordinator for the Institute of Directing & Ensemble Creation (in collaboration with Pangea World Theater) and a consultant with the Arts & Democracy Project.  Formerly Artistic Director of New WORLD Theater (2004-09), and Program Associate for Animating Democracy (2001-04), she has a Masters degree in Performance Studies and a BFA in acting, both from NYU.  Awards include: 2011 NPN Creation Fund Commission, 2010 Princess Grace Award for Directing, and 2007 Hedgebrook residency for "women authoring change." She serves on the Executive Committee of Alternate ROOTS,  the Board of CAATA (Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists, and the International Management Committee of WPI (Women Playwrights International), and is a member of RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers).




An article about the residency, "From Exchange to Creation: Building DRONE" written by Andrea Assaf for Alternate ROOTS, can be found HERE.

A longer video of the DRONE residency with ArtSpot Productions can be found HERE, along with other Art2Action projects, as well as video of Dora Arreola - Mujeres en Ritual Danza Teatro, on VIMEO. 

For further reading on Dora Arreola, and women's contributions to the Grotowski legacy, check out the new book by Dr. Virginie Magnat (Routledge, 2013): Grotowski, Women and Contemporary Performance: Meetings with Remarkable Women


Andrea Assaf,

Posted by: 
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

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