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NMCA History

The National Michael Chekhov Association informally began in 1993 with the three founders, Mala Powers, the Chekhov Estate Executrix, Lisa Dalton, the American representative on the International Michael Chekhov Association’s Board and Wil Kilroy, University of Southern Maine Professor, presenting workshops at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE). Due to the tremendously positive response and multiple inquiries from theatre faculty as to where they could learn more specific ways to teach Michael Chekhov’s work, Professor Wil Kilroy initiated the Chekhov Theatre Institute in 1994 in the USM Summer Sessions.  Several years later, the course was granted full graduate and under graduate accreditation from the State of Maine Educational System. From 1994 through 2006, the three teachers team-taught the program at USM, initiating the first Michael Chekhov Teacher Certification Track globally. USM and the National Michael Chekhov Association accredit the Teacher Certification.  For a jointly accredited (USM/NMCA) Teacher Certificate, two sessions of the course must be taken with formal enrollment through the USM system. The two attendances can be at any location for a NMCA accredited Certificate.

 

A Turning Point

In 2007, shortly before our June workshop, Mala Powers passed away. With her blessing, the NMCA continued with its growth, inviting Andre Malaev Babel as a guest teacher that year.  While the course has continued to present to be offered by USM Summer Sessions under Professor Kilroy’s guidance, in 2008, the NMCA began offering additional training opportunities with a newly revised structure. Charlie Bowles came on board as a producer and teacher candidate, hosting that year’s program at the Creative Arts Theatre and School in Arlington, Texas. Mr. Bowles addition to the NMCA team allowed the programing to grow technologically, in visual and colorful graphic seminar presentations, website and marketing, and the consolidation of course notes into the current 200+ page Michael Chekhov Technique Playbook. Mr. Bowles also facilitated the formal incorporation of the National Michael Chekhov Association, Inc.

 

Since 2010, in addition to the University of Southern Maine, universities that have hosted the NMCA’s training programs include University of Texas, Arlington, Chapman University in California, and University of Florida, Gainesville. The NMCA has been offering intensive trainings twice per year, usually over New Years and July 4th. NMCA welcomes inquiries to host our customizable programming.

 

In 2014, the NMCA introduced an advanced intensive training for alumni of the Chekhov Training Intensive. The Deeper By Demand program is specifically designed to enrich the personal experience of the participants as artists. The 2014 program offers strengthening the elements of Concentration, Imagination, Radiation, Centeredness, Lightness and Ease. It also introduces peripheral elements included in the Michael Chekhov Theatre Studio in the 1930’s at Dartington Hall, UK. These include Eurythmy and Steiner Speech Gestures. It also features pre-Dartington Hall exercises from Russia and Latvia and Lithuania. The ensemble is devising an original fairytale piece using Chekhov’s recommendations for the Theatre of the Future.

 

Pre 1993:  How Mala, Lisa and Wil came together

In the fall of 1987, Mala Powers, the Chekhov Estate Executrix, offered a six-week experimental workshop held in the community hall of the First Church of Religious Science on Pass Ave, Burbank, CA, under the kind donation of space from Revered Marlene. The majority of the 8-10 participants were colleagues of Mala’s from the Anthroposophical Society.  It was Ms. Powers’ first Chekhov teaching endeavor. For previous years, Ms. Powers, then Vice-President of Book Publishers International, had also been busily engaged in her roles as Author, Mother, and wife of Hughes M. Miller, along with fielding the occasional inquiry into Michael Chekhov’s work. Her international travel schedule beginning in the late 1970’s had gradually led to a very limited acting career though she maintained her Dial-a-Story audio recordings. In the early-mid 1980’s, Mala was frequently travelling to her New York apartment and when she was in Manhattan, she sometimes attended, as a student, Ted Pugh’s acting classes at Beatrice Straight’s Michael Chekhov Studio. Lisa trained with Ted Pugh since he began Chekhov teaching in the early 1980’s, and met Ms. Powers on those special occasions when Mala joined the class.  Approaching 1988, Mala had recognized a steady growth in the number of inquiries she was getting of late-some 33 years following Mr. Chekhov’s death and so was led to begin sharing the work directly. The participants of this six-week course wanted more and so Mala planned another workshop for February 1988.

 

Meanwhile, in the fall of 1987, Lisa Dalton, was participating in Ted Pugh’s first three month long Chekhov intensive held at the Anthroposophical Society in New York. Feeling ready to set her sights on a film-acting career, Lisa moved to Los Angeles in December of 1987 and contacted Mala Powers. After several meetings, Mala and Lisa created a class plan for the new course. Lisa, having been a teaching artist for 12 years in New York, would lead the first portion of the class, introducing the Chekhov cannon of psychophysical exercises. Mala would take the second portion of the class, sharing what no one else in the world could—how Mr. Chekhov coached her in preparing her starring film and stage roles. This collaboration occurred under the title of The Michael Chekhov Drama Group, a subsidiary of Book Publishers International. Mala was the MCDG president. Lisa was the MCDG vice-president. Lisa also offered a series of Chekhov classes for professional actors.

 

In the fall of 1988, Wil Kilroy arrived in Los Angeles, seeking to expand on the Chekhov techniques he had learned from Blair Cutting and others. He responded to an advertisement for Lisa’s professional classes and in January of 1989, was cast in a Michael Chekhov Drama Group production of Enroute presented at the Pass Ave. community hall.  He also began working with Mala Powers, allowing the three Chekhov-passionate souls to recognize a common bond to share this work, along with a work ethic of the highest standards. All three were Actor-Director-Teachers, auditioning for Film, Stage, TV, Commercials and Voice Overs. They began to collaborate on applications in every aspect of the profession including auditioning, marketing, and self-development and cross-referencing the emerging sciences that support the Chekhov work. Wil began teaching in Santa Monica and then landed the position at the University of Southern Maine, where, in 1993, as a member of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) he invited Mala and Lisa to join him in presenting a workshop in Philadelphia, just before Lisa and Mala traveled to Russia for the Second International Michael Chekhov Workshop.

 

As interest in the Chekhov work grew gradually across the world, Mala, Wil and Lisa began their intense dedication to crafting a pedagogy-a way of teaching the techniques for actors, directors and self-development. Here is more detail about the NMCA Pedagogical Development.

 

Evolution of the NMCA Pedagogy 

 

The Pedagogy of the NMCA distinguishes itself through the use of the Chart for Inspired Acting, which we have now renamed, Chart for Inspired Action, a Seminar Series of Practical Applications and the emphasis on Love in Our Profession. We feel that knowing how to integrate the pedagogy into acting, directing, producing and design creates a great reason to learn it. Cultivating the spirit of Love as he recommends gives our artistic and personal lives a richness of purpose. Additionally, we support integration into various self-development modalities in keeping with Mr. Chekhov’s and the NMCA’s mission.

 

The practical use of the Chart for Inspired Acting evolved over 20 years of collaboration among the founders of the National Michael Chekhov Association: Mala Powers, Wil Kilroy and Lisa Dalton, who were all actively working in film, stage, television, and commercials. As Executrix of the Chekhov Estate, a long time personal friend and a private and group student of Michael Chekhov, Mala Powers’ impact on this program is indelible and contributes to its prestige. Mala Powers was the only student who was privately coached on starring roles and then went on to teach. And because Mala had no formal training in Stanislavsky’s System, Mr. Chekhov gave her an approach to the part that integrated the System. Together with the Chart for Inspired Acting that he personally drew for her and the intimate personal knowledge of him, these contributions are a key part of the NMCA pedagogy. But even Mala was unaware of some aspects of the work, which others knew well. Much of what Mr. C taught was defined by the students themselves in the questions they asked in class or in private as evidenced in Lessons For The Professional Actor and On Theatre And The Art Of Acting audio series. The knowledge gained by each actor was therefore unique. For example, some inquired about his underlying spirituality as Mala did. Some were purely interested in the emotionally based work, others purely in its psychology. Students of Mr. Chekhov, who went on to teach, shared an understanding of his work stamped with their own creative and sometimes conflicting individualities. Furthermore, how and which concepts were taught in group classes at the various locations, as Mr. Chekhov migrated from Russia to Hollywood, also changed measurably due to the needs of the actors and his personal aims at the time.

 

The NMCA pedagogy is influenced by deep research into his Russian life and strong personal contact with over 20 of his students from the 1920’s through to 1955 in Hollywood. Because of this, we have been able to compare and contrast understandings and find the common threads. We unite the entire range of his ever-evolving methods and ideas by harmonizing his writings with the teachings of those many creative individuals. It is a pedagogy no single student of Mr. Chekhov’s could have developed. We hope our certified teachers will also develop the pedagogy according to their creative individualities and respect that of others.

 

The NMCA way of teaching is a highly refined synthesis adapted to the needs of the 21st century actor, director and educator/health practitioner. In deep ongoing commitments to understanding Mr. Chekhov's work, Mala, Wil and Lisa vigilantly sought out newly emerging science, athletic, quantum physics, self-development and learning studies to cross reference with his theories. The result of this is an approach to teaching designed to reach those who learn through different modalities, to speak their language. Examples of this are parallels ranging from an action-oriented athlete to a metaphysician to a science geek. 

While other Chekhov teachers may bring forth the power of aspects of his technique, this is a complete Michael Chekhov toolkit after a century of development. And just as Mr. Chekhov’s ideas evolved throughout his life, so does the NMCA’s pedagogy.

 

Inspirations

The training of an artist takes many pathways.  There are first lessons by schools and actor training programs, followed by advanced teachers and specialists in specific techniques.  There are books and videos and advice from knowledgeable friends and acquaintances.  Then artists learn from other co-workers, cast mates, directors and other artists they read about or see on TV.  There may well partners in their professional life and even friends and confidants who provide pieces of the framework that becomes their Art.

 

For each of the NMCA teammates, there are many such resources and influences.  Not all of them can be described here.  Check the Bibliography for information on published resources.

 

But here we want to acknowledge and thank the following people who have provided some piece of the puzzle that created these authors, this Pedagogy, and the NMCA program.  They’re listed here in alpha order only, not order of importance.

 

Joerg Andrees (Berlin)
Wilfred A. Hunt (Hollywood)
Liisa Byckling (Finland)
Dierdre Hurst du Prey
John Berry (Paris)
Marina Ivanova (Moscow)
Lloyd & Dorothy Bridges
Jobst Langhans (Berlin)
Phil Brown (Star Wars)
Felicity Mason
Frank Cady (Green Acres)
Andrei Malaev Babel
Blair Cutting
Joanna Merlin
Jack Colvin
Arkady Nimerovsky (Moscow)
Michael Dante
Gytis Padegimas (Kaunas)
Graham Dixon (Australia)
Lenard Petit
Nelly Djugar-Djabon (Siberia)
Mala Powers (Hollywood)
Eleanor Faison
Ted Pugh
Daphne Field
George Shdanoff
Eddie Grove
Vincent Sherman
Mel Gordon
Beatrice Straight
Sarah Kane (UK)
Mary Lou Taylor
Richard Kiley
Victor S. Tkachenko
Andrei Kirillov (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Rosa Tolskaya (Moscow)
Slava Kokorin (Irkutsk)
Anthony Quinn
Hurd Hatfield
Paul Rogers

And, OF COURSE, Mr. Chekhov