Summer Issue — August 2006
by Nicole Baer
Gifted with the lithe precision of a martial arts practitioner, Daniel Mroz unfurls like a cat from his office chair and begins to gently roll his left shoulder. The languid motion encourages a subtle shift in his body weight, gradually teasing his hip, knee, arm and torso into the subtle choreography.
What the assistant professor in the Department of Theatre is demonstrating is a well-disciplined warm-up movement in his daily hour-and-a-half ritual of “performance callisthenics.” It’s all part of the “Dancing Word,” a complex training regimen that Mroz developed to teach stage actors new ways to use their bodies and voices.
The exercise program was one tangible product of Mroz’s recent foray into “research/creation” in theatre. While most research in the discipline is literature-based, this more experimental, performance-based category of study involves the development and staging of an original work, with the aim of pushing the theatrical envelope.
Last summer Mroz and four graduates of the National Theatre School of Canada formed the company, One Reed Theatre, and created a cutting-edge piece of theatre. The play, about a contemporary young Canadian who becomes mysteriously involved in the Spanish conquest of Mexico, is called Nor the Cavaliers Who Come With Us. It premiered in Montreal in August 2005.
Researching, writing, rehearsing and staging the performance devoured 720 hours, compared to the 120 hours typically invested in mounting a play. But the effort paid off as an incubator for fresh ideas.
For one thing, it allowed Mroz, as the director, to shape a unique signature — a look and feel for his performances that can be clearly identified with him. Mroz, a fluently bilingual native of Montreal, describes this as an “écriture scénique,” a scenic writing style. Without the crucible for creativity furnished by the research theatre experience, directors would ordinarily take years to develop a personalized style. “From my perspective as a director, I am developing a novel and authentic way of expressing myself as a theatre artist, a way that is striking and original and reflects my particular preoccupations,” Mroz explains. And once a director has a particular vision in mind, he or she also needs a way to convey it to the actors.
“One of the ways of fulfilling that vision is to make sure that your actors will do what you want them to do — to be creators and collaborators, rather than reciters. And the most effective means of doing that is to change the way they are trained.”
And so, while shaping the activities on stage and behind the scenes in the research theatre, Mroz drew on his eclectic background and interests in Chinese martial arts, human kinetics and traditional world music to develop the Dancing Word.
The program, which has both solo and group elements, focuses on the actors’ breathing, voice, movement and communication. The practical drills and exercises help actors control their own behaviour and strengthen their awareness of others on the stage. As the skills of the actors become more finely honed, the director is better able to translate his ideas into their actions.
Mroz teaches the Dancing Word in undergraduate acting classes. Graduate student Natalie Joy Quesnel has also applied its principles to aid in the staging of the play required for her master’s degree in fine arts.
For all the hard work, Mroz says research theatre brings its own rewards.
“I’m in a position to take the things we developed in the studio and share those with theatre students now. It gives people a whole new set of options and ways of working.
“It’s a way of contributing to the further development of Canadian theatrical culture.”
- Daniel Mroz's profile
- Theatre Department, University of Ottawa
- Ontario Arts Council
- National Theatre School of Canada
- One Reed Theatre