Five for fighting
Five for fighting
What a lovely afternoon with my youth theatre yesterday. After really good warm up I got them to start exploring the idea of ensemble more thoroughly. We had a go at the leading exercise and really ensuring the quality of the movement, reminding them to take their time. We foolowed the leader and they passed the focus quite well. They commented how certain members had their own style and when they took control they found themselves in a ‘Samism’. This could certainly have its place in building characters to a see, certainly with a Samism it made it quirky and added humour as it was typical Sam moves. I urged them however to remain neutral for the time being.
We moved on to group movement the motion exercise where all students are moving and then they stop, as if they had received infor via secret headphones at the same time that made them react simultaneously. We did this a while. I explored adding different movement. So we had a start, stop but also a point in a direction and a touch to the floor. I let members come out of the fray to watch for a while and tap someone else out once they had made observations. When we had all had a go we stopped the exercise and listened to What they noticed. Common theme was that it worked like a wave rather than it being leader less. They realised how much they had to keep their eyes on the room. A couple of the younger members who were keen to lead, moved too quick. It was interesting to see that although this was clearly an advanced skill they recognised what the aim was and why we at some point had a zone (mainly when all focused on me). Yet I was taking my lead from them. The game mentality of wanting to be the one who stopped or started was lost on some of the younger members how ever it still made for interesting observations in our movement and the potential for drama and narrative to evolve.
I led the next task and looked at them in two groups. Maintaining focus this time on 1 leader. This was one of the exercises used in the introductory weeks and it made for really interesting group dynamics, showing gang identities.
My groups geared towards something similar when they reflected on what it felt like or could lead to they went along the lines of a ‘sass off’…
Samism led to this partly, the next part of the session was really exciting they liked this movement and it’s potential. They now just needed to explore where this could come from and lead to. Where were they? Who were they? They keenly started scribbling ideas from competitors in a dance competition, rival clique gangs in school. I threw in the Shakespeare element, the Romeo and Juliet what if… so that’s about where we ended it. They improvised a confrontation between the two groups and that left us with the potential to revisit more movement to add to dialogue. Perhaps the round by through certainly lifts and falls and so the potential for drama was tangible yesterday. The promise of the groups cooperation and investigation of the work starting to embed its self in how we can explore work and begin to see what stories we want to tell.
In the up keep of my writing practise, here goes another blog.
pleased with myself that I have submitted a draft of my annotated bibliography and still a week to go before the deadline. I have managed to get on and read and respond to a few tasks that people have done and hopefully I may even get to respond to another task before next week.
Reading other blogs from my MA peers has been interesting this week. I’m struck by how well they are presented. I tend to be a bit of a waffler. And don’t always offer much structure. Sorry about that. Good to see how everyone is talking about their self study and seeing that I’m not alone in my worries or concerns. I shall continue to dip in and comment on the blogs. I have really enjoyed some of the responses and the opportunity to discuss what others maybe thinking and feeling and investigate what that might mean to them or me. There is a real honest and openness that comes across in the posts. Coupled with a desire and underlying passion for the reason why we are doing this. It really questions the important aspects of where this will lead us and I can begin to see the direction that some of my peers are leaning towards or certainly wanting to lean in a little further towards and make new discoveries. I think I share this with them and it is an exciting but also scary part of the journey as not all the fog has lifted.
I am a little frustrated at how incompetent I am at doing all the techie stuff, copy and pasting others comments so I can see reactions and responses. It must be an age thing I’m ok once something is shown me but absolutely terrified of discovering or navigating round it myself. Comfortable getting my thoughts down. Trying to process how all this will feed in to the work. I think even learning from my peers about how to use this stuff more effectively will help me so much. Already with Spotify and just spewing out my thoughts is a step in progress with using these forms of media to give me some clarity.
Doing all this and reading a chapter of The half Blood Prince as well every night with the 5yr old.
I’ve also been using the back of my book for impromptu poetry and thoughts. Topics to write about have been from long lost purses to the little things that remind me of my eldest boy . The young man in my life who no longer lives with me and for the time being we are not speaking. Yet seeing a gum shield reminds me of him, watching ‘Grimm’ and seeing that the TiVo box has recorded ‘myth-busters’. Memories of a life we had together, of the activities we shared or I supported. All remind me of that there is something missing. A part of me feels lost.
I have a few things to preoccupy me. The reading list is extensive. There a books that are continually added to the recommended reading list and ‘if this interests you try…’
with only a few weeks to go before our next stint in London I want to get a few of these books under my belt in order to help me pursue my writing self study.
i have also had a few thoughts on how to facilitate more of what I have learned so far into my teaching practise. Having used the Forum Theatre in lessons this week as a way to reinforce that we can all collaborate and work together to support the work of our class mates.
I was having to fill out what actions I have implemented to get progress in the different year groups after our recent assessment point. Thinking of my year tens and what they need to do, I was struck by how poor they are at giving themselves targets. So developing a program that I can incorporate into their learning where they recognise areas of skills that we need to develop but that they take an active level in talking about it. Mmmm maybe a blog?
Unfortunately we don’t have the facilities to accommodate this so instead I’m going to get them started on the ideas of video diaries. Giving them things to think about on the Showmyhomework website. We can begin this when our showcase is out the way. The first one will be a reflection of how well they performed in the showcase which takes place after Easter.
In mean while, having spent a lovely morning yesterday with Chloe, Merel, and Jessi I caught up with some Moby on the Spotify today. That led me to a chill out album that played while I answered emails after work.
I have been back at work now, practising in the class room for a couple of weeks.
Each lesson , what ever the objective : has started with physical and energetic warm-ups. Not that I am adverse to that.
I like the shock that the registers on some of my students faces at the fact that I am nearly 4 times their age so there is no excuse for them to be slacking. Most of my students actively participate and it starts the lesson off well, acclimatising the group to the weather of the class room.For some and it’s the ones you know who hate PE, or those who already at a young age are unfit and overweight and are already in that rock and a hard place of being at the mercy of their weight but if they can just start to try then they can get that bit fitter but trying seems so hard. So mental as well as physical barriers.
I have banged on a lot about terminology the past fortnight.
One of the things I take away from all this is the spin that can be used in the classroom with new terminology. A new perspective takes away some of the fear of ‘performing ‘ in the drama room.
I have really looked at how the preparation for assessments can be broken down. The starting point in the class to begin work by allowing them to collaborate and just getting them to get to their first ATTEMPT.
The questioning is really helpful here as I get my students to investigate why I have chosen this word to describe what they are aiming for. And pretty quickly the responses I am getting is that they are just ‘ Trying ‘stuff out. They are ‘having a go’ at stuff. I am careful to tell them that this is the ideal time to try stuff out and maybe that first is attempt turns out to be the performance but at the moment they are playing with their ideas.
The next lesson from the attempt has been for them to discover what should happen next?
The next thing is the Presentation. A development from attempt but not a performance, certainly not a finished piece. I have been asking my students why I am not calling it a performance. The feedback that has been given comes from the chance to Improve, to practise and a phrase I liked as it could work two ways was to ‘fix’ the ideas. One might mean to consolidation those moments that work and of course to rectify the moments that don’t. The idea that it is a presentation still infers that they are just delivering ideas. Nothing is cast in stone and still working progress.
Now my students have been working on their various projects for a couple of weeks and we really need to start shaping their ideas and giving them some clarity. This is whole class collaboration in the sense of using Boal’s Forum Theatre. The students starting to understand they can direct the scene, even take a part to give a character some energy, focus or life. Here comes the focus and re-evaluation, the opportunity for others to give guidance, directors to emerge and for the audience to ask for clarity in the ideas that the groups are trying to present. This structure already has merit within the class. My groups are having fun but they are also seeing that there is a process starting to unfold. I have had really good engagement from the students too. Maybe the content of the proposal of what they are trying to do is a benefit, but I think that a refocus on the words used has taken the pressure off, they don’t feel like they are acting or performing – just trying stuff out!
As one of my tasks for self study I have been using my Spotify as much as I can.
Ihave introduced more music to my rehearsal room in school and even just having it on in art lesson as an incentive for kids to feel rewarded for working quietly is quite a boon.
The function I like on the Spotify app has to be when you type in an artist, is that it also makes other suggestions. Some I may have heard of or haven’t listened to in a long time and it is great to be reminded of them and their tracks but what is really great is the artists I would probably never had heard of.
So my list of people that have now been downloaded onto my device include the following . Please feel free to check them out. There a number of soundtracks already I find myself listening to in a light of how I could use this in a performance, or would this be a great track to use along side the building blocks.
Kate Rusby, very folky
Sara Barielles. ‘She used to be mine’ is a gorgeous track
Ingrid Michalelson, Kate Nash, Fiona Apple, A Fine Frenzy, Feisty… all recommended because I do like a bit of Regina Spektor
listened last night to a play list because I like Richard Hawley and the following artists too are worth a listen: King Creosote ( bats in the Attic)
Flo Morrissey,Jessica Hoop, C Duncan, Slow Club…. and I have only just gotten started.
The above title needs to be sang to the tune of the popular Mcfly tune ‘It’s all about you…’
Just as many a painter has practised their craft reproducing images of their face and body and singer/song writers have sung a life that feels familiar to you in lyrics and melody; so the performer has a canvas and aria of their own. A life lived; no matter how, can produce material for a performance.
I remember an exercise that I took part in at drama school many moons ago that involved just such a moment. The task quite simply was to tell a story of something that had happened to you. The memory that sprung to mind on this occasion was the day I avoided death with a few scatches. I recalled this memory to my group, going into the details of the event.
I was six seven or perhaps a little younger. It was week night. I know this because mum was downstairs watching Coronation Street. My brother and I should have been asleep but we were playing ‘shops’. She wasn’t aware we were still awake as we were jumping from the tall boy chest of draws under the window to the bed. It was warm and still light at 7o clockish outside. I opened the window in the bedroom and my brother and me continued playing our ‘let’s pretend’ game. There was a point when Paul, my younger sibling exited the room to search for more ‘shopping’ in my room. It was then that I sat in the windowsill and went to lean on the pane. Much to my shock I fell through the open window and time slowed as gravity did its thing and I went down,down,down.
It was only a first story bedroom so I suppose not that far and I was lucky; completely avoiding the rockery below. I landed with a thud that knocked the wind out of me. My bare feet landed in the muck and my bum on the lawn. I’m not sure how long I lay on the edge of the grass like that but I did get up and took myself to our back door. It was locked, my dad was at work and mum wasn’t expecting any visitors so I had to knock on the door. Waiting for the door to open seemed to take for ever and I truly wish I could recall the look on my mothers face as she seen me standing there. When she asked me how I got there all I could do was point to the window and cry. Up to that point I hadn’t cried… there was more to the evening as neighbours came round and mum had to go to a neighbour to ring for an ambulance and it was quite an event in my mothers life and mine. I got to watch this moment unfold during this short exercise at drama school as my group recreated the moment. The twist to the exercise was that I couldn’t be me and so my part was performed by someone who could only imagine what I thought and what I felt.
I’m sure there are countless episodes in people’s lives like these and all worthy of recounting. To perform something autobiographical as a performer seems an instinctive thing to do. After all it is a way to explore the effects the world has had upon you. To explore the emotions of what made you react like that or make observations that are useful in being able to store to that ’emotion memory’.
For tackling autobiographical work I have seen many productions that use direct address; it’s a simple and truthful way to approach it. There are many ways to approach it and removing yourself slightly from the event and being able to collaborate and get ideas on what other perspectives could be very useful. I say this as I recall a piece that I did during my HND studies. I poured my heart and soul into something that was a hugely traumatic part of my past. My lecturer told me at the time that it was ‘Self Absorbed’ and I don’t think to this day I truly understand what she meant. I don’t even think it was a criticism. Looking back I found movement, monologue and tried to create a stylised set with what we could, even a Eddie Brickell track that seemed to tell my story for me. If I had the chance again I would get direction and ideas from others to provide me with that essential eye to provide a lens on what you cannot see yourself. As above all even thought is about me there needs to be a truth in the telling which can be lost in the truth of what we remember as it is personal. There will be a connection with the audience, others will have experienced life changing events also.
Regarding the near window experience It would be great to explore that moment, the childhood activity to the falling from the window. What would be the soundtrack?How could I use the set and stage to explore this. Just like in the exercise we did at drama school, It would be interesting to see the interpretation of another performer bring that moment into the present. To use physicality and the frantic build blocks that work with movement and create that fall. The possibilities are endless. The autobiographical journey can be fearful to reveal things about yourself and fun to give life to a moment once past. I think as a performer we have all looked at potential moments that could be part of a story even if it’s not all about me.
So now something close to everyone’s heart, cake!
The cake analogy is very simple concept and I’m sure I’m probably not alone in using it. The idea of that students are given the Same basic ingredients to produce something. Let’s call it a cake for now.
You have the right equipment and you are set up ready to go with an idea of what you want your cake to look and taste like and there is a time frame in which all this needs to happen. You have Flour, eggs, milk, butter and bowl. The oven is on, the timer is set. You have the tin in which to put the mixed ingredients or maybe paper cases for lots of little cakes with the same ingredients.
How does that cake turn out? If you follow a certain recipe and make sure you have got all the instructions right your cake should be light and fluffy in texture, sweet to taste and give you a moments of pleasure as you take a slice and eat it. Maybe it will make you want more, if done right.
What happens if you leave it in the oven too long?
What if there is a key ingredient missing or you missed out a vital part of the process in the mixing of the ingredients?
will it taste as good? Will you want any more?
Too much sugar, not fluffy but stodgy- the analogy could continue.
I am of course trying to break down the practise of rehearsal for devising drama and collaborative theatre making. The point I am try to make for my students when I start down the cake route is not just the fact that I like cake. But ultimately given the right ingredients and tools and equipment. For drama; acting , character skills, staging, time frame, stimulus, drama conventional and techniques. A chance to discuss, decide and then do. They should be able to attempt a presentation together. These basic cakes are also just the starting point. They maybe perfect as they are but there are also many toppings and fillings they can add. Icing, decoration and many other options there maybe in the patisserie of life.
the plain and simple cake may suit the pallet as much as the chocolate ganache filled one and of course some cakes may look great but when you really bite into them they can be disappointing-something is missing.
SO the idea that theatre is a massive cake, it’s not for everyone but most people like cake!
During our two weeks with Frantic assembly aspart of our introduction to Collaborative theatre making we got to meet some of the artistes that have and do collaborate with Frantic and others as part of making theatre. They werepivotal in understanding that it doesn’t matter how successful they were, they were human and fallible. Adrian Sutton was a hugely personable speaker, humble and very down to earth given his success. As a composer who can put the soundtrack of well known productions such as ‘Warhorse, and ‘Curious incident of the dog in the nighttime’ as part of his portfolio, he was open and very honest in his dialogue with us about his career and how he works.
Adrian started with a great approach, he set up a clip of Warhorse played with 5 different soundtracks to accompany the scene. This was a leading exercise in seeing how important the soundtrack is within a piece and what that music adds to the scene. It certainly highlighted the influence and powerful subtext that music has on the overall context and meaning that is conveyed to an audience.
Adrian discussed the idea of the rehearsal room being a safe place as fear can lead to paralysis. Being able to see something that didn’t work was something that could have a positive perspective, after all not everything can be premeditated.
It was interesting to see where a composer starts in the collaborative process and the information they need to get to the heart of the subtext that needs to be invoked. Adrian said for him it can be the theme of the story, Warhorse for instance there is a definite essence of human suffering. It can also be the central character. Adrian spoke of the struggles he had with ‘Curious incident’ until he realised that it was about the main character and that ‘he’ was the key to him being able to unravel what the audience needs to understand about that character. Adrian talked about how music can characterise quirky things, traits, idiosyncrasies about a character. Adrian found his way in for the main character of Christopher in ‘Curious Incident’ through the character’s love of numbers and counting as it was also his autistic nature that was part of the story. ” Music was the centre of his universe ” Adrian had to get inside the characters head. When we explore the actors role, this is something that you would very much expect to hear about how an actor gets into character and how they would approach the part they were playing. So this was surprising to see how this was just as useful a part of the process for the composer as an actor or director.
Another key thing that came across was that it was essential that a soundtrack didn’t duplicate information (Mickey Mousing) telling us something that we already knew. The music should unearth something that is going on, something that is not being conveyed by the actors or text. “You want your audience to be sitting forward not sitting back”, this was a phrase that came up time and time again in the mantra of theatre collaboration. It was something that clearly mattered to Adrian and he was clear in emphasising the idea that absence of sound was very important too.
I learned that there is a danger that if you can overstimulate the human brain. The rule of 2 and a 1/2 , something to do with 2 elements being blended is a technique that works but when you start looking at doing more than that it will become a mishmash. You have to be able to hear the actors and you can start with an idea that is small and simple and just give it clarity. I really understood that that we need to be ruthless and we have to serve the drama. Adrian ended his session with a Sondheim quote that went something like this… ” If you can take the song away from the scene and nothing changes, then the song never belonged there.”
Adrian was clear in his overall message to us, yes he has a catalogue of work but what he wants for his work is not to be rough and ready but to have clarity. I really got the underlying sense of his ability to give space and trust his collaborators and to invite people in. He told us that the best directors were the ones who could tell him what the play is about as he needs to know what motivates the main character. Music has the power to influence scenes and it can get misunderstood.
As the time draws on a pace and the another week is almost drawing to a close I have continued to change key vocabulary when practising in the class room. It is interesting as it is a simple change to begin with. Establishing the values of what the warm up achieves and getting student s to recognise the value themselves. This week the focus has shifted slightly in letting students make their attempts at creating pieces of work and putting their ideas together to how to move onto what happens between the attempt and the presentation.
We spent an exercise with Simon during the introductory course on the MA in collaborative theatre making, cogitating and discussing what order this sort of process might take. I didn’t do the same with my students but I asked them what they thought would happen between the two . It was good for them to explore their vocabulary with ‘rectify’and ‘improve’and ‘practise’. I stuck consolidate in there and let them fathom out the meaning of that. I also made a point of sticking with the word ‘presentation’. Explaining that it wasn’t a performance they were necessary putting together, but this was another opportunity to run through their ideas. The pressure wasn’t on performing, of course if they were fully committed to their ideas then a performance is something we might get but I felt it was really important to let them know this was another stage that was open to change, improvement and further developments.
using these key words and terminology seems simple and I am looking to gauge a difference in the rehearsal room in the coming weeks. At the moment it seems too early to tell?
I have to at this point share one of my little classroom analogies, occasionally I’ll find myself going along that root in class. They pop out quite unexpected and they can also be a useful tool and getting a class to visualise what it is they need to do to be making progress. My most recent one is the little green ball. I demonstrate holding the ball in my hand and saying what happens if I go bonkers and just chuck it anywhere with as much force as I can. I mimic the ball bouncing off the wall and ceiling, maybe even careening off a few heads and bodies along the way, adding a few sound effects for emphasis.
Then of course we have the little or no effort in throwing the ball so that it drops to the floor and just makes a couple of dull bounces until it comes to a standstill at your feet.
And finally where I have focus and direction, I take aim I throw the ball it can be caught and then the next person can follow. The whole enjoyment and building of skills is built on the effort that goes into the ball. The ball is not a ball it’s the the work in the room but the effort is key. The work will fall dully to the floor and stay there if there is no attempt made to generate ideas and work well together. Equally there will be no direction or focus if you come at it from all angles chucking it around the room. Maintaining focus and skill and the right amount of effort keeps that work moving around, fresh and if you do drop the ball at anytime anyone can go get that ball and bring it back in to play. Surely that’s collaboration .
So now it is time to start thinking where I need to direct my gaze…
As a teacher and youth theatre director it is very easy in some respect to see how I can best utilise my new knowledge or practise my ideas. It is fascinating to explore the practical elements that I have taken part in and start to engage with this and development the skills of those I work with daily/weekly. One: it keeps it all alive and in the memory and two: it leads on to being able to share in the experience and perhaps stimulating a discovery That will be of creative value.
I recognised the value in this when talking to Scott and Simon in my check in with them. I spoke about the opportunity I had between the two weeks to work with my youth theatre and how in an improvisation task I had set them off on before my MA introductory course with Frantic I was now able to take the exercise and experiment with some new material.
The improvisation in its self was a fun task, they had played with status but not really fulfilled the brief of applying the numbers I had given them. Also it became manic, there was no focus. I had let them play it out without really giving too much other direction other than maybe to spotlight any key moments but once the spotlight had gone it descended into chaos once more with none of the performers really able to find some key moments.
Having started off the following session with Hymn Hands and Round,by,through the students had to find focus in the putting together of the string of materiel and trying to remember the actions, when we played about with them we came up with relationships and information about the characters some then put these into that cafe scene. It was an altogether different experience. Having to remember the moves gave them a deeper focus, it wasn’t just “I have got to perform and be loud or funny !”
Scott said this was a good opportunity for me but not just a case of thinking how I can use this with others but to be ‘selfish’ and find ways of developing how I can benefit from these exercises too. How I can start to direct with more detail.
The chat with Simon and Scott was really to touch base with. I think overall the two weeks highlighted insecurities with not being able to have that outside eye when actually involved in practical exercises. ‘Was I as good as everyone else seemed to be when modelling work?’ Vanity on some level, feeling that bit older and frumpier. But a real sense of insecurity none the less. I also spoke to Scott and Simon about the pressures of the academic side of the course and how also there were insecurities there also but mainly in trying to get my head around the wordiness of the books and information that I am trying to absorb. So as part of my study I am trying to build on knowledge of other practioners, already there are avenues of exploration that is an absolute must as part of the written work but also these books and their authors lead us to explore other people, authors and other practioners whose work and experiences may open up connections with what I want to do and how I want to do it. Become a better director, know how to lead an actor to a place of discovery. Anne Bogart writes that a good director needs to give the actors breathing space and room. I want to know that I can do that too.
I’ve already talked about how I was happy with my fitness and the way I had undertaken a level of attack and felt myself through the week getting fitter. Even the other day the exhilaration I got from my work out at the gym in a group training class was still there. Luckily I am familiar with the instructor and we can have a laugh but I genuinely felt that motivation and acted on it shouting ‘ Come on!’ And the odd ‘woo hoo’ I just felt the need to have that ‘ we can do this!’ vibe that we were encouraged to build in the rehearsal room. This is also part of my practise I want to instil and develop as part of my self study. Not just the team vibe but the way we get students to engage and use terminology. To get them thinking about the motivation they need in a class to be successful collaborators and to get their heads round using those phrases and key words. To see the importance of the warmup, how it highlights the way they may interact with each other. I want to get the ones who don’t or won’t engage and find how you can get them to feel this is a worthwhile investment, conditioning them, opening them up to be more considerate and responsive In their attitude to tasks and people. Creating the right environment and how I develop my practise is important I often have great ideas but then the executing of those can be bogged down in administration and lack of quality time but if the right foundations are set there is something solid to build on and expand, the course has made me realise that in the use of the devising blocks. And the ethos behind these can also be there in the classrooms. Even getting the students to see themselves as collaborators after all in its simplest form they can be an effective collaborator by listening to the ideas or instructions of others and performing the task.
So speaking to Andrea today has been helpful in highlighting a few things as Part of my self study. There have been a few things that occur to me frequently and it is good to review your own practise. One thing was to reintroduce music to my workshops. Seeing that the environments changes and it was something I had lost touch with. I perhaps need to listen to more music myself. It is often a source of great inspiration and opportunity. I went through a phase in the days of lime wire of illegally getting hold of music (shh don’t tell anyone) and in doing so discovered numerous artists I would never have listened to. I don’t listen to as much music as I would like and so this would be a great habit to get into. Perhaps cataloging artists and the style of music. I have already joined Spotify so Hopefully the app can enhance and build my digital technology awareness as well my music collection.
something else that I have been thinking about is what I will do on the advanced course. I have mentioned it in part of the conversations that have cropped up and that is the idea of writing. To ‘Wright’a play. This will certainly require me to see a bit more theatre and read more plays. Simply however just starting with some writing practise, of putting my ideas down and starting with some automatic writing perhaps. Or even blogging!!!!!
I have written plays in the past as I devised with groups and we would need scripts. Perhaps revisiting these and seeing their merit and look at ways I would improve them. I never thought of myself as a writer when creating these, but as something of a necessity when students needed to remember what had happened in rehearsals. Finding time to do this may be an issue so my thoughts also turn to organisation of time and thoughts. I need a process through which I can make clarity of all this. The way I collate my thoughts and how. Books, files, I don’t know yet this will be something that is part of my study. Only through possibly doing this will I be able to get on top of developing some key strategies. And then it’s just getting it done!