Monday, 31 October 2011

Bertolt Brecht - The Baden-Baden Lesson on Consent (Lehrstrucke)

This play makes up part of Brecht's experimentation with making the audience part of the performance, to move them from spectator to auditor in a way we believe audiences of Greek Tragedy behaved. There were several texts/performances on this idea, all of which have open interpretation on repetition, removing pieces, etc.

This one in particular is rather interesting. It is structured like a Greek Tragedy, with the chorus talking to the "Tragic Hero" which here is a fallen pilot (or multiple fallen of the available interpretations). Here, though, the "crowd" is a character, who would have people placed throughout who know what is going on and lead the participation. The Crowd has conversations with characters, or repeats words almost in the style of a voice exercise to get at the meaning of the text.

Placed right in the centre of this is an almost slapstick comedy act with two clowns and Mr Smith, which feels like it is a mix of Shakespeare and Charlie Chaplin. But unlike those, the tale of Mr Smith is quite clearly an allegory for man asking others to take care of his problems.

While parts of the text feel heavy handed in their style, I could see creative ways of bringing this to the stage.

image: Leonard Braskin - Bertolt Brecht

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Luigi Pirandello - Henry IV

I am beginning to feel like Pirandello really could see the future. The more of his plays I read, the more I feel like he took the naturalism of Ibsen and Chekov, diced it up, added some spice, and made it into something completely new, but still containing the same parts.

Henry IV focuses on a man who is believed to be insane, and has lived the last 20 years thinking he is Henry IV of France, forcing those around him to live in such a way as well. The web of truths, half truths, and questioning what truth really is winds so seamlessly in this play. It would be enormously fun to produce. I really like the smaller side-characters who act as accomplices to the madness, and also to his subjugation by those that keep the fantasy going.

Tim Crouch - The Audience

Funny to have this assigned as reading, just as I was considering how one can make the audience not just intellectually complicit in the theatre act, but physically so. I have been thinking about what happens if scenes are staged entirely in the dark? Or entirely lit, audience too? Or with mirrors behind the actors so the audience see not only the fronts, but the backs of the actor, and themselves?

Crouch's play takes my musings to an amazing level of actualization; the 4 characters sit among the audience, with no real stage space, talking sometimes in full dark or full light, or bathing the audience in "stage" light. This is a meditation on the active role that audience/actor/writer play each and every time the play is performed, and the impact this can have. The play discussed here is extreme, clearly for effect...but one can extrapolate the implication that any play does (and should!) have this effect to some degree.

I couldn't help but consider that producing this play would not be possible in traditional theatre spaces. Or could it? An empty stage, while the house is lit and the lines come from the house? The presence of that empty space would create a 5th character, which I think might change the implications of Crouch's play.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Anton Chekov - The Three Sisters

I have always felt an affinity to Masha in this play in previous readings; her struggle, stuck with the old, wanting the new, but unable to really know what she wants, always made me feel that this was the depth of Chekov's argument. Reading it again (double whammy...prep for Acting Space and also reading for Theorizing in a few weeks) I really felt that Andrei's position in the play rang out to me. This man of words and knowledge is forced to give that up for the more menial, in order to survive. His horrible, social-climbing wife Natasha has subjugated not only his body, but his soul.

The images of cutting down trees, people trampling through the garden, everyone leaving this grand old home, brought the sense of former grandeur, lost to the pursuit of the future.

What a lovely, sad, play.

My Little Girl Wants To Be a Platypus

Went to see the installation FeMUSEum presented as part of Trashing Performance by the group Split Britches. They are well known theatre artists here in London, for their gender-bending questions and performances. Like a good mom, I brought my 7 year old with me; it is never too early to learn to question feminine identity as society presents it to us. The installation had several stations related to women. The one she was most fascinated with was a table with many items for "putting oneself together" - false eyelashes, powder, deoderant, jewelry, etc. Sarah said to me "it feels like we are in the bathroom". A keen observation from the young mind.

We left shortly after, and as we walked talked about why those things were in the room, why the women were wearing what they were, etc.

Later on in the day's adventures, we were trying to sort out a last minute halloween costume for her. She really wants to be Perry the Platypus from the TV show Phineas and Ferb; Perry is a crime fighting Platypus who fights the evil bad guy. After an hour or so of unsuccessful searching for a teal sweat suit, I asked if she just wanted to wear her fancy dress and some wings and be a fairy. She looked me right in the eye and said "Mom, No Way. Platypuses are way cooler." So i've been told. And I guess we're doing a pretty good job with balancing gender identity in her young life.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Review - Top Girls by Caryl Churchill - Trafalgar Studios

I love seeing a play that I love presented well. With the exception of one actor, whose voice I found hard to listen to, these ladies presented Churchill's gutsy play with every ounce of real, juicy, funny, harsh activity that it deserves. It is remarkable that a play which premiered in the year I was born still has such loud resonance for the condition of women in society. Churchill's argument, that women through time have had these struggles, and despite our "successes" continue to, was loud and clear in this production. Suranne Jones is outstanding as Marlene, the power-hungry emblem of the Thatcherite quest for power; every ounce of her being was poured into the shifts from Marlene at dinner, to work, to home. Her vulnerability whilst defending her choices hit me in the gut, and made me angry at her choices, but also angry at a world which causes women to feel they must make those choices to achieve success.

Even today, 2011, I get amazed looks when people learn that I've managed to "do it all"; Management job, child, extra curricular work in the theatre, and now going for the MA. If a man chose to go for the MA "later" would he be "amazing" or anything of the sort?? (I say "later" in quotations because I truly believe 29 isn't at all old to be completing an MA and expounding my thoughts about the theatre on the world..I've only just begun!)

The other thing that really struck me was the reverence to Churchill's text and the originally intended production style. Part of me was happy (and amazed) that this didn't feel dated, but felt to resonate more as a result. But part of me wanted Churchill's text to be played with, to consider the role that heightened sexuality of women in the media and its resultant affect on young girls. To consider that we are still in a place (arguably further back than in 1982) where women are cruel and difficult to other women, where they judge one another and put them down to pull themselves up.

In any case, I think this was a fabulous production. And it made me think.

The Blue Danube

Today's movement class was led by Darren Royston, a choreographer and dance teacher who works at RADA. He along with Darryl lead the Language of the Body portion of our course. This was a fun, silly, and awakening sort of class. We began by moving around the room, dancing and imagining we were young Laban exploring the ways in which our body can move. From here we extrapolated into following him through some Laban scales and various movement qualities. Put in small groups, we had to create a scene showing the extremes of movement, putting a story to it. It was fascinating to watch as each group went through their scenes with various degrees of extremism, and the characters and feelings that were evoked throughout. Finally we looked at the planes of movement; door, table and wheel. Interacting with one another in these planes was quite interesting.

Overall the class was fun and informative; we spent 3 hours seemingly goofing about, but by the end felt as though we had learned about how we physically interact with one another, and how this can be dramatized. This work, unlike some of the more theoretical Laban work, felt like it echoed the outside-in style of work I had done with Brenda and Theatre Incarnate. Simply allowing the body to go to a position, and then explore that position physically and intellectually, was quite lovely. I feel like we get caught up in how a character should move based on time period and status, that we lose a little of the authenticity in the movement....this kind of work can bring us back to it.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

We're sill friends...

Today's dramaturgy class was great. We were learning about the side of the dramaturg's job that focuses on understanding classical texts, either to defend a decision to portray them in a way (EG as a tragedy) and in terms of managing the length, making informed cuts to the script to meet a production's length requirements.

This was lots of fun. Each group had to construct an argument either to show the play as closer to tragedy as Aristotlte describes it, or to another form; for Malfi it was a Melodrama, and for Measure it was comedy. It was really informative to have to craft an argument to support a side, even when you may not necessarily agree with that position as it pertains to the play. We got a bit snippy with one another in the spirit of debate as well.

Prior to that we rehearsed Duchess. My group has been assigned act 3 scenes 1 and 2, so one of the most juicy scenes in the play, where the duchess is found out by ferdinand. Once again I have been cast as the duchess, which makes me quite happy, as I find her to be a completely fascinating character. We have crafted a very still, frightening scene which clearly illustrates her movement from trying to cover up what is perceived to be her indiscretion, and "coming clean" so to speak. I am really excited about this scene, and hope we can bring something that really surprises and moves the class and Tom.

And you know we are really down to business when I'm reading Nietzsche on the train at 11:30pm. Preparing for my Theorizing assignment which involves writing a questionnaire to engage theoretically with one of the performances we have seen. We don't need to answer the questions yet, but rather do need to provide a bibliography that will support answering the questions....and then for our final assessment in this class will be a questionnaire engaging with two of the performances, which we then need to answer. It is an intereting mix of essay writing, and preparation for the idea that we'll likely one day be in a position to be creating exam or essay questions ourselves. That class has a lot that is structured to position us as tutors and educators, which is exciting. And terrifying.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

An Over Active Mind

This evening's Scene Study class was really useful in getting my mind going. We were discussing Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, and positioning it in the cannon of tragedy, specifically in comparison to The Oresteia as an example of Greek Tragedy and Hamlet as an example of Renaissance Tragedy. Ibsen's play is situated at another time of change, written in 1882, and seems to be re-emerging the idea of tragedy in this new world where the rational, thinking individual is at centre, and science (proof) is emerging as the new god.

I couldn't help but find the parallels between Stockman and Nietzsche's ubermensch in Thus Spake Zarathustra. He comes from the north (on high...a hill) down to the city as an outsider, with a mask to tell the people of the scientific truth of the poison...then once he has their trust, removes the mask to try to help them get beyond good and evil....and is ostracized because they are scared of this. The parallels are fascinating. I consulted with Aiofe (tutor) on thinkers who may have explored this and she pointed me to one....i may have just stumbled upon my "tragedy" essay topic.

image: Nietzsche portait - Basil Baroda

Sophocles - Antigone

This has been a favourite play of mine for a very long time. The clash of forces between the ruler (master) and citizen (slave), father figure and daughter, law and reason is very vivid, and ignites my imagination. Antigone does what she thinks is right, and sticks by this choice...then cannot live in a world where she is condemned to death for this. Her suicide seems initially like she is cheating, however she has no other choice; this way she dies at her own hand and not that of her oppressor.

Interestingly, this play, unlike many Greek Tragedies, has a single action, but many side-actions. I hesitate to call them sub-plots, for they are still along the initial line of Antigone's plight, but the love story, suicide, etc almost tend toward our more modern understanding of plot.

image: Woman Struggling to Break Free of Contentment - Naznin Virji-Babul

Henrik Ibsen - Ghosts

What a beautifully twisted story. The lives of these 5 people (and one deceased, but ever-present Captain) are intermingled far beyond their knowledge at the start of the play, with the exception of Mrs Alving. This woman's deception, to achieve control and maintain status, tears apart those around her intellectually and physically, until they have all reached a point of despair. Osvald is physically and mentally ill, but for reasons he does not understand. This echoed strongly of the curses on a family we see in Greek tragedy....however Ibsen's searing criticism is that these curses originate in someone who lies with all their power to maintain a veneer of propriety.

This would be a really interesting play to tear apart and re-imagine. The matriarch Mrs Alving, although we initially feel for her situation, eventually becomes villainous as the information unfolds. These characters cannot be fulfilled; they are devoid of all hope and joy of life.

This also called to memory Kierkegaard's night of infinte reservation....the orphanage burning through the night is a test of faith, which these characters ultimately fail.

image: Edvard Munch - Two Women On The Shore


It has now been nearly 4 weeks of the MA. The time has just flown by, I can't even conceive of what I've managed to do already. Directed a scene from Duchess, performed in a scene, created a presentation, read a mountain of plays (some required, some chosen). Agreed, disagreed, viewed 3 performances (two for school), had to turn down 2 amazing experiences (Marat/Sade, and Ralph Fiennes masterclass). Been amazed by the skill and talent around me, both in tutors and fellow students.

What is really resonating with me is the theme of choice. In the characters, in myself, in those around me. We were debating a bit yesterday about who the main character is in the Duchess of Malfi, and the role of the duchesss in the story. Are we meant to feel sorry for her? I don't necessarily thing we are to feel sorry for her, but I do think that the play as a whole hinges on her making a choice. Another student debated with me that she is selfish and doesn't think of the impact her choice to marry/have kids will have on others.....I'm not sure I agree on that being the case. She chooses not the specific act of marriage/kids against her brothers' will; she chooses power. Power over her own life, and those directly related. And what we see is the consequence of someone choosing power; ultimately her downfall. I don't see the Duchess' situation as necessarily female - even a man, choosing power (Macbeth anyone?) will suffer a downfall. For me, this is the tragedy in the play. Of course there are hundreds of other perspectives, social norms, etc, that play in to the situation, why her choice causes these events...but again it all comes back to choosing power.

The other major topic of choice for me is selecting the play on which I will write my dissertation. Somehow this feels like the most significant choice of my academic life; what if I choose poorly? What if the play I select doesn't align with my ideas about theatre any longer by January or February...what then?? Realistically I don't see this changing too much, but the idea of making such a significant choice, standing up for rather frightening.

Overall, I am feeling good in the course; there are always moments that bother me, but surprisingly they have been on the academic side more so than on the practical side of the course. This is surprising, as generally one thinks that the subjective artistic side will be where disagreements form. Instead, I feel like each day, each tutor seems to re-affirm a thought or inclination I have had about creating work, approaching the work. Conversely the academic side sometimes bristles against my sensibilities; I keep wanting to yell out to challenge the reduction of theatre to a series of symbols, influenced and informed only by what the audience brings to the theatre. Shouldn't good work allow audience members to interact on all levels? Whether "well-read" or not at all....whether they come with a lot of theatrical viewing experience or not. This was really getting to me, so I have been reading in full the argument for phenomenology in the theatre in the States text. I am hoping that positioning the idea in the full argument will help me better understand, for right now it is feeling reductionist, and making me angry.

I should clarify the image as well - for me, this close up looks like someone reflecting on choice, how to proceed, what comes next. There is a mixture of despair and hope.

image: Edvard Munch - The Sick Child

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


Wow. What a day. Began with a meeting about Ludus Danielis at King's College to learn some details about the production, budget, expectations, etc.

Then to rehearsal, and quickly after to scene study where we did our presentations. I was feeling anxious heading into today, as although I felt our group had a good idea and concept, I was nervous that we were under-rehearsed. We managed to pull it off though, with some nice comedy and a great pulling in of the facts. Our Current Affairs in 1613 discussion was framed as Question Time, including the epic long intro music, and fiery debate. This was well received by the class and by Tom which was great. I was also really rather impressed by the quality of research and creativity in presentation from my classmates. It was amazing to see creative individuals engage with historical research in a theatrical way to produce a product that would be informative and entertaining. I did leave the class feeling overwhelmed with information. Because of the performance based nature of the presentations, I almost felt like I had sat through 6 fringe plays in 3 hours, my mind agreeing to one reality after the next, which is mentally exhausting!

We've now divided Malfi Act 3, and begin rehearsals Thursday. As we continue to progress, I am increasingly interested in the techniques to dig into the text and find the best way to crystallize the message and images of the play in the performance.

Then on to Theorizing. This was an interesting class, focused on discussing the impact of architecture and structures in the theatrical performance. We discussed a lot of immersive theatre techniques, and site specific techniques, in many cases specifically related to Decade. What I really continue to come back on with this production is a feeling that they set me up, but then failed to deliver. The security entrance mirroring US Customs set the stage for post 9/11, then the restaurant positioned the audience in the building pre 9/11....and then the majority of the show was reflective, from a position once again post 9/11. Rather than having the impact that immersive theatre should, it just made me more aware of the artifice of the thing.

Have our first assignment in Theorizing due Nov 4 that I can get started on too; we are to write a questionnaire to engage with one of the plays we have seen for the course, to tease out specific questions on a theme. I find this assignment rather interesting, as it is preparing us for the practicality of essay preparation, but also in a way preparing us for the potentiality of teaching, and eliciting intellectual scholarship from others.I am rather excited to begin this.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Henrik Ibsen - An Enemy of the People

As with seemingly all Ibsen plays, this one begins with a fairly pedestrian, middle-class problem and situation. It then delves into a land of opposing ideologies, tearing away at that middle-class comfort and challenging the ideas that drove society in Ibsen's time. Reading this play, with its argument for doing the right thing, regardless of the personal impact, to ensure the greater good, really highlighted to me how unfortunately little has changed with respect to political and business dealings. People in power continue to be influenced by people with money, and vice versa...and Ibsen's greatest argument; that the "liberal majority" are comfortable and stuck in their ways, so will never actually give up their comforts for that which they state they feel is still as resonant today as it was more than 100 years ago.

Ibsen's characters here are a colourful embodiment of the types they symbolize, and come across with full three-dimensional life despite coming across on paper as a mere archetype; the crooked self-interested politician, the liberal journalist, the gutsy young student.

The only thing that I don't feel was fully in line was the ending (a problem I have with many other of Ibsen's plays). I often feel like he rallies against society, but stops just shy of full refusal to comply. Clearly this was a sign of the times; as they stand, Ibsen's plays caused riots when they were first produced, so perhaps he didn't have much choice. Although certainly Ibsen's famous Hedda does take the final step to leave her captivity.

image: Ian McKellen and Charlotte Cornwell

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Anonymous - Mundus Et Infans

To round out our Morality-Play Sunday, I read Mundus Et Infans. Imagine the speech from As You Like it on the 7 ages of man, as a play...with conscience and various vices re-naming man as he moves through each stage from childhood to old age. It has quite a few locational references which the others do not have, and again here the vices are quite explicit in their words (though not in their actions as in Mankind).

Again, I feel like reading Everyman in school (repeatedly) is a cheat of some more fun Morality Plays.

Anonymous - Everyman

This is a Sunday Morality free for all. Read Everyman, which I had read a version of previously in undergrad (I want to say for Theatre history?). I feel like we get the short end of the stick in school with morality play selection, given how fun Mankind was. If I design a course in future (when i design....) I am going to select another play. Or maybe two plays.

Anyway, on to Everyman. This is very clearly delineated, as all Morality Plays are; Man is expected to be good, but is tempted by vice, which in this case is embodied by 5 wits, beauty, discretion, etc. Man fails, and is given another chance by God to not sway from good behaviour. Maybe it is just positioning, but Everyman comes across as far more didactic in comparison to other morality plays...i realize this is the point...but the vices and temptations are also less "bad".

Inspiration in Surprising Places

Yesterday my daughter and I ended up at the Science museum, after seeing the enormous Saturday afternoon lineup at the Natural History Museum. The science museum might be one of the coolest places I have ever been. The exhibits are really interactive, including showcases of objects and information, and then computer/objects to interact with to actually try out the idea displayed in the section. In addition, the design of the building's display made for a fabulous setting for learning; high ceilings, objects on the ceiling, lights, and actual spacecraft were all contributing to the atmosphere.

One of the coolest exhibitions was on the science behind the development of electronic music, starting with Daphne Oram's experiments at the BBC in the 1950s. It was amazing to see her original work with film strips to create a sequencer, the precursor to programs like abelton, reason, cubase, etc.

The best part of the experience for me, and the location of the surprising inspiration, was an installation called "listening post". This was a large, dark room, with around 100 small LED reader boards mounted on the wall along one side. The reader boards displayed text from online chat conversations of over 100,000 people, which had been filtered for certain words. These were then read out one by one in a computerized voice, accompanied by a chilled synth. The series we saw were all "I am" sentences....I am pretty, I am 17, I am sad today.... Listening and watching this, I couldn't help but feel the absurdity of our modern communication. These expressions of a need to connect, sent over a series of 1s and 0s, cold, empty...and utterly meaningless. It was exactly what the absurdist playwrights have been writing about of 50+ years...but somehow our modernity has only escalated this, not solved the problem. We still can't connect, depsite all the devices that are supposed to solve this problem for us.

Anonymous - Mankind

Everyman was on our reading for Theorizing, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to read a couple more morality plays (why not, right?). I grabbed an anthology with three; Everyman, Mankind, and Mundus Et Infans.

Mankind was up first. Despite being attributed to somewhere 1400-1600 England, I was struck by just how modern the evil characters come across. Nought, Newguise and Nowadays, along with Mischeif, are not at all unlike the "bad" characters we still see in movies today. I was also surprised, given the religious attachments of Moral Plays, at the vulgarity of their actions. They were no less crude than some of Shakespeare's base characters, with no lack of penis jokes. The other thing that sort of stood out was the shock factor of these characters; almost like pre-Artaud shock. I don't know a lot about his influence, but for some reason reading this I thought of him.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Judith Thompson - Palace of the End

I was searching the RADA Library, and was pleasantly surprised to see two Canadian Playwrights in good supply; Judith Thompson, and Michel Tremblay. I always love Thompson's work, and was feeling the need for her picked up Palace Of The End, one of her newer plays.

It consists of 3 monologues, adding up characters on stage, so that even once they are "gone" they remain in view. It builds from images of a young female American Soldier, to a British Scientist, to an older Iraqui woman. We are taken through each of their stories; beginning in the typical poetic, disjointed style Thompson is known for with the American Soldier. The language solidifies more, with bursts of frenzy, but mainly rational sounding debate with the British Scientist. Ths sound is still poetic, broken, but has moved beyond the Thompson one might expect. Finally, the Iraqui woman, whose heartbreaking tale of defiance in the face of tyranny wrenched my gut, is written in beautiful prose. Calm, collected, smooth. The injustice of each person's acts is directly related to the disjunction in their speech.

Thompson always puts her audience in a place of discomfort; not from graphic things happening necessarily, but from the people she creates, and the things they do to one another and those around them. These characters are frighteningly close to people we know and see every day.

This is not an easy play to read, and would be an even harder play to watch. For good reason.

Don't Be Too Well Behaved

Our regular voice coach, Adrienne, was away to attend a funeral, so had Katya Benjamin for our class. Although Katya is primarily on RADA staff as a movement teacher, she (as she told us) has a fascination with voice. She teaches in Alexander technique, and uses it (as Alexander did) to free the natural speaking and singing voice.

All our exercises began with looking for ways to align our bodies not through telling them what to do, but asking what they need to do to free the voice. So we did the stand/sit from a chair exercise, imagining pusing down to get up, and forward and up to sit down, in varying degrees of exaggeration. Adding text to this was quite surprising; I used a Goneril soliloquy I have known for ages, and managed to surprise myself a couple times through this simple physical action. We then went on to look at aligning; we went around the class and looked at each person's body, then Katya made adjustments to us and had us speak. We did this one by one, watching the change in others; it was remarkable to see and hear the difference a couple simple physical adjustments could make in a voice. For me, pressing into the floor while allowing the body to float up really works; I can make more space in my rib cage, and even more between my shoulders than I have built up in the past. This centered my voice to my body quite significantly.

We then did a great exercise for the spine; with a partner, one lying face down, the other first holds a hand with light pressure on the sacrum, feeling the hips and pelvic bone relax. As we did this, I felt almost a separation of my legs from my body, so it felt like they were attached only by tendons. Then the partner takes their fingers and goes up the back, feeling one vertebrae at a time, until they reach the top. Then the one lying down gets up and walks about the room. I felt an immense lightness but confidence in my movement after this, and my voice was placed at that nice centered location. I want to do this exercise every day.

Finally, we did the "octopus" where you lie on the floor, fully feeling the floor support the body, then begin to move limbs and body about as if you are under water. Throughout, feeling that everything is relaxing, driving into the floor.

The final, most important piece of advice Katya had was for us to not to be "too well behaved" - we talked a bit about how an actor needs to be a little naughty, willing to laugh, cry, yell, scream, and be calm at once...and that our bodies need to be poised and ready for this. Mischevious, perhaps.

Tonight's excitement includes finishing dramaturgy homework, Laban homework, and more reading...while the hubby goes out to enjoy Ministry of Sound. Looking forward to his pictures of the night!

Thursday, 20 October 2011


today was a meandering sort of a day. Spent the morning reading and researching in preparation for Ludus Danielis. Also discovered the greatness of Foyle's bookstore, which is my official favourite place in London, I think. Short of going to a theatre-only book store, this shop has the largest selection of theatre, criticism, and SO many plays.

From here I had various meetings with my groups for Ludus Danielis, and then for Scene Study presentations. I'm feeling a bit anxious about these presentations, if only because of the very loose parameters we are working under. I think I have done my part of the research sufficiently, and we're going to rehearse it over the weekend. Part of me is anxious because I like to be in control, and have things done early....but it is good for me to feel this anxiety. At least I tell myself that.

Finally got to Acting Space. Our course leader, Sue Dunderdale, was observing part of the class today. Today Brian had sent us some Shakespeare texts to review in advance; 1.1 from Twelfth Night, and Marcus' speech upon finding Lavinia in Titus. I was excited, as I really love the character of Viola, and absolutely love that specific speech from Titus, having used it as a starting point for my physical piece Lavinia I created a few years ago. We began with some basics; read the Twelfth Night scene, decode what it means, then get in partners and talk it through colloquially from memory, to get the thought process going. From here, we began to discuss verse and how to approach it. Brian is a believer in understanding the pulse and rhythm of the text first, fully feeling in your whole body how the text moves rhythmically; from here you back off the technical reading of it and feel the emotional content.

We tried this out with a short few lines between Romeo and Juliet. Something Brian really emphasized is the need to fight for each word, and to push through to the end of the line, particularly in scenes, so that you are passing the energy and rhythm to your fellow actor. This was a lightbulb moment for me, as I realized that so much of the Shakespeare I had done previously was on soliloquies and sonnets...and I hadn't really given a ton of consideration to how to share that energy when someone else is doing half (or more!) of the speaking. One thing he had me do, which really worked, was to push against him and try to move forward as I said the line. This made me need to give each word its own space, literally having to fight for each one, and stopped me from grazing over words.

We then worked on the Titus speech; similarly we began by saying the text colloquially. From here we talked about things like technique; Brian was very cautious that any "rules" are dangerous. Anyone saying "always say a line in x way" risks losing the life and vibrancy of the text. It is important to know each word, why it is there, think about its meaning, and always feel the pulse of the da-dum da-dum da-dum underneath...even in cases of trochees or feminine endings. Another important thing is to keep that rhythm going between lines...don't let the ball drop so to speak.

The next exercises were really moving; we did focus work with our partner, just sitting silently and observing whether we were emerging or withdrawing from them. From here, we took a single line of the Titus speech and spent several moments just imagining it with closed eyes, breathing, in intense detail. From here we opened our eyes and said the line. The imagery in the words came to life in a way I have never personally been able to achieve before; my line was beginning "Alas, a crimson river..." and i literally saw this happening before my eyes in my imagination. I want to do more work like this as a way to approach text that is extremely descriptive, something I have always felt just a little detached from.

Neil LaBute - fat pig

What awful people. The characters in this play are horrible, shallow, self-centered and judgemental. With the exception of Helen, who comes across as really genuine, and honestly seeking connection with someone. Jeannie and Carter specifically call to mind those terrible, juvenile, people we all have encountered at some point in our lives; so insecure in themselves that they ridicule others. And though we have some hope for Tom's ability to connect with Helen, looking beyond physical and social "rules" eventually even he fails.

I was really angry at the end of this play; at Tom for doing what he does. At Helen for sitting there taking it.

But grateful to LaBute for facing the subject. I only wish he had managed to not have his character succumb; I was left feeling hopeless for our consumer culture, that we will never break free from these false idols and obsessions with meeting certain ideals.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Luigi Pirandello - Absolutely! (perhaps)

Oh. My. Goodness. I loved this play. The conversation of the characters, fixated on the lives of others, caught up in meaningless obsession paralleled beautifully with today's celebrity obsession, despite the play being nearly 100 years old. I couldn't help but imagine ways to stage this, my mind was racing as I read the play. The character Laudisi was hilarious trying to help the townspeople see the absurdity of trying to pin down "truth". This play presents a great opportunity to explore the ideas of watching others, judgement, and truth-seeking in a theatrical experience. I want to do more with this.

Why don't I read more Pirandello?

Snow at home

I have seen, thanks to the glorious technology of facetime, that there is already snow at home in Winnipeg. Albeit the icy, only-on-the-banisters kind, but snow nonetheless. Things are getting colder here, and some trees are turning, but many are still rather green and fully leaved. Right now it is great, although at some point the curiosity of ever-green might wear off. I'm told it gets "brown" here, however having lived through Winnipeg springs for the last 29 years, seriously doubt it can be quite as brown as my least favourite season.

Spent a lot of time in the RADA library, picked up some reading, mainly for my own purposes; Absolutely! (perhaps) by Luigi Pirandello, Three Late Medieval Morality Plays, Sophocles' Antigone, fat pig by Neil LaBute, and Palace of the End by Judith Thompson. Also a book on the context of Medieval Theatre for research on Ludus Danielis, the play I will be co-directing for the King's College MA students with two fellow RADA MA's. I want to do a bit of dramaturgical work for this specifically, because my previous experience with the Medieval plays is limited to discussions in Theatre History back at UW.

On to class; today we were discussing Aristotle and Plato's ideas about the theatre, followed by an in-depth look at the similarity and difference between The Oresteia and Hamlet in terms of structure, function of the characters, and presentation of argument. I found it quite interesting to re-read Aristotle and Plato in this context, with only excerpts (and from poor translations...) to guide us. I felt compelled to argue in defense of Plato, who was presented separated from his view of the human condition (cave image) and from his later Phaedrus. For me, Plato's false idols are still a problem, however not an indication that all art is bad.

We did an exercise creating an image of the plots of Hamlet and an Aristotelian tragedy. This proved really difficult, partially because I felt our group lacked significant focus. I am not entirely happy with the result we produced on this, and am going to spend some time on my own creating an image system to do this task. I am hoping this clarifies my thoughts, particularly those about the point of climax in stated in an earlier blog, I feel that the deaths are not necessarily the climax. This is an argument I want to play out some more

Shakespeare - Hamlet

Have read this one many times in the past as well, this time as required reading for Birkbeck Scene Study. I think my read this time was influenced by having just read Othello the day before, but i really felt the stagnancy of the pace in Hamlet's first acts this time around. Although much happens, the movement of the play is rather sustained until nearly the point when the Mousetrap is played, after which it spirals quickly.

Sort of fuelled by class discussion today as well, I began to think of where the climax is in the plot of hamlet. I almost feel that the play steadily rises at a crazy level of intensity until one moment; for me, the deaths at the end of the play are a denouement, the inevitable consequence of a decision. The climax, then, is the moment when Hamlet finally reasons with himself to the decision to kill Claudius. From here, the tension between action and inaction is imbalanced, moving swiftly from one action to the next.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

What do we know?

Today began with rehearsals for our Malfi scenes, followed by Scene Study class with Tom. Our group presented our scenes from act 2 to moderate success. Tom noted that the understanding of the text and ability to present the text was good, however the level of conversation was missing, as a result of the pace being too quick. Stepping back. I definitely see this as well. In addition he challenged some of the choices our director made, particularly as they related to the Duchess; these were actually things that I had questioned in rehearsal, but stepped back to honour our director's wishes. While I agree the choices were odd, I do think that good learning came of doing things this way; it really made evident the importance of establishing power and status in a scene, even if you want to break with some of the conventions of the style.

After the second group presented, and we talked through what Webster was doing with the play, Tom took a few minutes to direct an Act 1 scene for us. He played with the Duchess, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, in a more informal setting. What really stood out in his direction was the sibling dynamic; for the first time we saw them as siblings, each of whom has some power. I was able to believe that the Duchess from this place would rebel against her brothers. Tom's note, and I think it a very important one, was to make sure to establish what we know about the relationship of the characters. If we get caught up in staging, power struggles, etc too soon, we risk losing the very base of their relationship.

Next week are our presentations; my group will be presenting on Current Affairs in and around 1613 when Webster wrote this play. Looking forward to the result of everyone's research!

Theorizing the Contemporary tonight focused on understanding the actor as a symbol. We discussed this both in reference to actual performances (Fiona Shaw, Irish production of Hedda Gabler) and fictional performances (George Clooney as Hamlet). There was a significant focus on the role of celebrity in our understanding of a play in production; the expectations we bring to the theatre in the audience, and also the argument that we bring along the other characters this actor may have played. I am not sure I agree with this; while watching The King's Speech (for example) I wasn't seeing Mr Darcy. I want to work at clarifying my argument on this. I don't necessarily think that the actor isn't informed by previous roles; a large role like Hedda Gabler sits with you for life, and will inform how a performer approaches future roles, even subconsciously. But (for me anyway) I don't feel like that happens as an audience member. That said, I do think that we might bring previous performances from other actors...for example, I couldn't help but compare Shaw's Hedda with my personal favourite, Glenda Jackson.

Finally we split into two seminars to discuss this at length. My group focused on Othello, and two particular productions; first with Lenny Henry, and second with Laurence Olivier. In further depth we discussed the role of style, historical context, and celebrity in an audience's understanding of the play.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Eugene Ionesco - The Chairs

this is a second-read for me while I am trying to nail down the perfect play (!) for my performance-based dissertation. I have an affinity for the absurdists, which in readinig this blog you have likely picked up on. I really love theatre that can be entertaining, frightening, fast, slow, intellectual and bawdy all at the same time.

The frenzy of this play is unreal, despite only 2 "real" characters. The sense of unrecognized despair really stood out; The Old Couple are desperately searching to assign meaning to their lives, actualized through ambition..."you could have been a General" and many other fabulous lines. They are limited through their need for acceptance by the crowd. The Emperor adds a layer to this, as they try desperately to impress and please this arbitrary higher power. But they have no acknowledgement of this absurd state.

Something else that stood out to me was how infantilized the old man is through the play. This rang in simiilarity to the end of another Ionesco play, The Lesson. Going to do some reserch to see if anyone has published on the subject of Ionesco's men as young children.

This stands out as a potential choice. But part of me still feels a strong affinity to Kane......still a month or so before I need to discuss my choice. Keep reading!

image: Public art, couldn't attribute the artist, but found here -

Shakespeare - Othello

I have read this many times, for various purposes. It has always stood out to me as one of my favourite of the Bard's plays, simply because of its focus on jealousy and the result of assumption. This time what really stood out was the pace; while some plays take awhile for things to happen, in Othello the events fly by (despite the play's length) and the audience too feels swept away by the lies and deceit, until the moment Desdemona is killed. From here one almost feels suspended in time and the moments take gut-wrenching years, while Othello learns of the error in his ways.

Also really apparent to me this time was the abundance of crowded feet and female endings in the metre, along with the seamless transition between verse and prose as Iago goes from spinning his web to trying to maintain his cover. This is likely influenced by all the Berry I have been reading, but it stood out nonetheless.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Adventures in the Park

Decided that today would be a good opportunity to take in another of this city's amazing parks. Since S has been itching to play with other kids, we decided upon Kensington, the home of the Diana Memorial Playground. This might well be the coolest playground I have ever seen; designed after Peter Pan's Neverland, the playground includes a giant wooden pirate ship (including ropes and masts!), a tipi village, a tree fort, and tropical looking trees and plants. Part of me wished it wasn't so busy so I could play too (without trampling a toddler here or there, that is).

Continued to walk around the park, took in the grounds of Kensington palace, and the flower walk. Also walked for a bit within the borough, and found a great sandwich shop. There isn't nearly enough food talk in this blog, so that was your tidbit.

All the while the massive amounts of reading continues. Some non-plays I have read on the course so far include Aristotle's poetics, Peter Brook's The Empty Stage, and Cecily Berry's The Actor and the Text.

Despite having read the Poetics countless times before, what really struck me this time was the hard emphasis on imitation. Perhaps it is because of distance from my last read, but this really struck a chord this time. As well, it made me really think of the basic tenets of Brecht and of the Absurdists, and even of physical theatre; representation is what we are doing, not living on stage. The play, actor and director cannot get caught up in what is real, for if they do they miss the opportunity to represent that which is universally true.

Brook's book was a great read, i found myself plowing right through it, and simultaneously wondering why I hadn't read it before. His harsh criticism of what he calls the Deadly Theatre is a reminder that so often it misses the mark, "as a whole, the theatre not only fails to elevate or instruct, it hardly even entertains" (pg 12). It really rang true with my feelings about so much theatre work that is created (and attended!) just for the sake of it, never really evaluating its goals or accomplishment to those goals. Brook's focus on the Berliner Ensemble's work in the middle part of the last century intrigues me; I am going to do some digging to look at reviews and accounts of performances from this time, and also from earlier Brook productions.

Berry's The Actor and the Text was a brilliant reminder of why I find voice work so important for actors. I came across some new exercises too, which I can't wait to try.

More reading....Othello for our Theorizing class, Hamlet for our Scene Study class....and some Ionesco for fun.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Sarah Kane - Blasted

"No God. No Father Christmas. No Fairies. No Narnia. No fucking nothing." And yet in a twisted way, what remains is hope.

This play is brilliant. Beginning with a "normal" setting of two real people, in a real place, it quickly departs normalcy and drives ever toward the absurd. Yet strangely the events and relationships get starkly more real, despite the world almost literally falling apart around the characters. The use of our most base human desires and needs as tools to demonstrate our animalism is not shocking, but truthful; in fact the ability of the characters to abuse one another as they do shows us just how civilized we really are (not).

Kane's language appears sparse on the page but is fiery beyond the imagination, with remarkably few words to incite such images of violence. Not simply violence of action, but violence of spirit.

The surreal nature of the play causes the actions of these characters to become more than they are on the surface; somehow we aren't shocked by the sex because it takes on not the act of sex itself, but the impregnation of the disease of thought in us all in today's media-saturated society. Layers upon layers of shit sliding down hill.

Language of the Body

Had our first class in Laban Friday afternoon with Darrell Aldridge. He began the class by talking a bit about his background, and about the background and history of Laban. Darrell is a very passionate teacher, who began with a degree in dance but then moved further into movement theory and personality analysis. After just a few minutes, we got on our feet, and Darrell took us through a devolution to get us from walking human beings all the way to jellyfish. From here, we slowly worked through a physical evoluation from jellyfish to fish, quadropeds, apes, and then humans, focusing on the specific movements of the spine and 6 limbs (arms, legs, head, tail) through these. This was paralleled with the physical development of a baby. Quickly I learned that despite having never specifically studied Laban, I had encountered these concepts through other teachers in dance years ago.

We then learned one of Laban's physical scales. The scales are structured in a similar way to a centre floor adagio, but with the intention to move the body in oppositions, opening and then closing from the navel in all directions. I really enjoyed this connection of movement.

Next we moved into the efforts of movement within the 3 dimensional cube, exploring how to exaggerate movement as light, sustained and indirect (float) or strong, direct and sudden (thrust). Homework is to complete the cube, filling in the remaining combinations of movement quality through space, time and weight.

After this, we attended a performance from some NYU students on exchange to RADA to study the arts of Shakespeare. These young american students had been studying the music, dance, combat and clown of Shakespeare's time, and performed about 1.5 hrs worth of sonnets, scenes and song/dance. What I found interesting to watch was the clarity between those performers who really understood and felt comfortable in the language compared to those who didn't. When the performer really understood the language of the sonnet or scene, the immediately relaxed, had better vocal quality and a more confident physicality. By contrast, when the actor didn't connect with the text they were wooden and awkward, and tended to poor vocal habits (bad diction, poor connection with breath).

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A Lusty Widow

Began with rehearsals on Act 2 of Duchess of Malfi today. I am playing The Duchess, in her expectant but secretive state in scene 2 of the act. The rehearsal was bumpy, working with so large a group (and 3 directors!) but overall we managed to develop a good sense of what Webster is intending and what is going on, along with the blocking. I must admit, The Duchess is quite fun to play, particularly in this scene. As a young Duchess (for she is still quite young) she has a feeling of entitlement, and also of defiance against those who want to restrain her or fit her into a mould. More rehearsals Tuesday, then presentation.

Then our first dramaturgy class with Paul Sirett. Such fun! We began with looking at the function of dramaturgs as they relate to new plays. We read several new short plays as "readers" for a literary department of a company, then debated the merits of each as something potential for our fictional company to pursue and potentially produce. It was interesting to hear what people took from the various plays, and the debate over some got fairly intense. Mountain of homework for this class (we only have 4 total, so have to jam it in!) including writing an External Report to the Literary Department on one of the plays.

As well, I have taken on a project (along with two classmates) to direct a Medieval Latin play for King's College with their MA students. The production takes place in April 2012.

image: Helen Mirren as The Duchess of Malfi (1981)

Bertolt Brecht - Antigone

I have felt a connection to the story of Antigone for some time. At her core, Antigone is a woman who does what she ought to and not what she is told by convention; her defiance of expectation to do what she thinks is right echoes through later heroines in theatre history. And she stays with this choice, even when offered the opportunity to declaim her actions and save her life.

Brecht's interpretation, translated by Judith Molina, is an interesting update of the story. Brecht focuses on the politics of the story; contrasting the Elders' blind faith in Kreon with Antigone's action to honour her brother. For me, this breezes over the important philosophical argument, to reach the political argument. Clearly this is influenced by Brecht's views on the role of theatre, and also the time he is writing for. But for me the more important piece of Antigone's development is that she will not renounce what she believes in, even if given the chance to live.

This has made me want to re-read the Sophoclean original....with some ideas.

image: Antigone by Albert Toft (1907)

Samuel Beckett: Radio Plays

In the edition of Play I picked up, there were also two short radio plays included: Words and Music, and Cascando.

In both of these, the music becomes a character, arguably the impelling agent in the action, moving things forward. The voices are silly, lost, repetetive, and only the music pushes them forward.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Samuel Beckett - Play

I am a huge Beckett fan. Seeing this on the reading list (assigned for Theorizing the Contemporary) made me quite excited, as it was a piece of Beckett I hadn't encountered before.

Stark. Empty, but filled with 3 people, 3 objects, 3 faces, 3 voices. The sense of detachment, and an acidic take on human attempts at connection are what stood out for me. Hope is absent when we rely on other people.

Interestingly it is 2 women and 1 man. Not 100% decided on what to take from this. All 3 are equally bad, though W1 seems to have been wronged....her actions quickly eliminate her potential as protagonist.

There are no heroes.

image; Alan Rickman in a 2001 production of Play

Random Encounters With Various Centuries

Began the day (after yet another trip to the Greenwich council to sort Sarah out with school....still somewhat unresolved) with a trip to the National Gallery. Sarah decided she wanted to look at paintings from the 15th century. This is certainly an odd request for a 7 year old, but we complied. She really enjoyed moving through the rooms on that side of the gallery, looking at the various ways religious iconography was represented. Of course, being 7, any painting with a dog or a horse was immediately of interest. Also amusing was a 17th century peepshow from a Dutch painter whose name is escaping me. I couldn't help but think about how remarkably old and yet new this idea was, and was drawn back to an exhibit of Wanda Koop's work that I had seen over the winter at the WAG. The feeling of actual overt voyeurism in art, reminding me of the necessity of a level of voyeurism for the audience of any work of art...otherwise what is the creation for?

Another thing that stood out was a friend's comment, upon looking at some Rembrandts, that he seemed to "get lazy" as he got older. In fact, the relaxing of the lines in his later work signifies to me a more intense level of work; his ability to capture the human spirit evolved with the seeming devolution of rigidity in his lines. Just thoughts, I suppose.

On to we had the Birkbeck portion of Scene Study, in which we discussed The Oresteia triology (Aeschelys). The discussion was interesting, but I found it frustrating for a couple reasons. First, we seemed to focus a lot on the plot details, and only at the very end got to the ideas within the play, never reaching the images through which these ideas are examined. Secondly, I sort of felt throughout the discussion that I wanted to speak and jump to these points, but could sense that this would not be well-received. The focus on things such as who made up Greek Audiences, etc, tended on the Anthropological for my tastes, today at least. I was itching to discuss the meat of the play, but didn't really get the chance. I am hoping the debate in this class is able to progress beyond; i would love a great discussion of the nature of Tragedy.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Aeschylus - The Oresteia

Required reading for Scene Study at Birkbeck. This is split into 3 parts, developing the line of the same family, but each could stand on its own. My thoughts:

- pain and sacrifice are major themes. Also the "truth", and what this is.
- women are portrayed in very specific roles:
1. Innocence - Iphigenia, who is eventually killed as sacrifice
2. Whore - Helen (of Troy) who causes the war, out of which all events ensue
3. Manly - Clytemnestra, in this play is stoic, the word Manly is used to describe her as she acts in society without her husband.
4. Servant - Cassandra

- the imagery of lions stands out

- vengeance
- family (what is family? What are the ties of family?)
- grief
- major images are to do with snakes, specifically Clytemnestra's dream

The Eumenedies
- builds on the previous, with a focus on duty & responsibility

Overall the women are what really stood out to me...The story itself is terrible, and a sad story of betrayal and the demise of a family.

image: Martha Graham as Clytemnestra (dancer) in 1958

Scene Study (2) and Theorizing the Contemporary

Scene study today was our presentation of the first act scenes of Duchess of Malfi. We went in order of the play. The first group up had some challenges with the language specifically, watching you could see some need for more clarity in purpose. That said, good things did come out of watching the group. Tom's comments were quite forceful about the specifics of what he had seen. The expectation for clear intention and clear speaking of the verse was also made clear. Although this isn't an "acting" exercise it is a good opportunity to make clear the impact an actor has on our ability to understand the text (practically) and the role of the director in teasing this out of the script.

Our group was up next; our scene went reasonably well, there were moments that felt rushed and some of the detailed physicality was lost, but overally we conveyed the scene clearly. Tom commented that he was a little confused at times as a result of how we had to deal with double casting and limited bodies, but this rectified itself quickly. I agreed, that I would like to try staging this scene on the same ideas but with the full "body count" so to speak. One other thing I found interesting was the response a couple students had to the scene after Tom asked them to only listen; they noted that they could hear the sense of status from the characters vocally (yes!!) and also that the sense of using the space was clear, even if they couldn't see the performers. This made me quite happy.

The next group presented the final scene of the act; the image that stood out to me was the way the Duchess turned about during her monologue (they did a long column stage with audience on two sides). She seemed almost to be in a whirlpool, a metaphor for the choices she was making and their eventual impact on her in the spiraling out of the play..

We continued from here to discuss the play and what is going on. One piece of advice that stuck with me was when Tom advised us to always look back to what the playwright is giving you; what do they want you to see? Why have they given us these people at this moment?

We were divided into larger groups and assigned sections of act 2. Becaused I directed this week I'm acting for the new week, and will be playing the Duchess of Malfi. Rehearsals on Thursday.

After a break for dinner we moved on to our first actual class Theorizing The Contemporary with Dr Aiofe Monks. This class is intended for us to see theatre from the audience's perspective; why do we go to theatre? What impacts the way we experience the theatre? and then how do we talk about this? There was a great discussion about the effervescence of theatre and its immediacy. We also did an exercise in iconography and our experience relating to symbols, imbuing meaning in simple images created by two still objects. We moved from simple description (EG black chair, made of cloth and metal, one foot from a toy doll, etc) to imbuing meaning on this image (what does this make us think? What is the narrative??).

I don't know that I agreed with all of the assertions about us needing to understand certain images to understand theatre. I feel very strongly that a good play or performance will bring something for people with no "social" or intellectual references to compare and also for those who have a background of higher education. I will continue playing out this tension and my thoughts on this as we continue the course.

Practically, we also spent some time discussing our assignments for this class, of which there are two. More on those later.

Review: Saved by Edward Bond - Lyric Hammersmith

The stark bare stage greeted us. White background. The house was quite loud, but I could faintly hear some pre-show sound, which I was able to distinguish as that which was used later in the show between scenes. It sort of sounded like the reverb heard in your ears after a loud noise....or the sound movies use to show the impact of a very loud sound on our hearing, to create momentary deafness.

The stage was set mechanically between scenes, with all actors in full light bringing things out and placing them, almost as in a rehearsal. Also interesting was the fact that for nearly all scenes, a wall was brought down so that the scenes used only half the stage. The sense of claustrophobia in this was apparent...although it did sort of make me feel sad that there was so much wasted space.

Now the show itself....I've thought this through awhile. I think my feeling is that I liked the script and design, but not the direction. This play's core is about disengagement; that the overbearing and controlling nature of our day to day existence (particularly that of the poor or underclass) drives us to be de-sensitized to extremes, and specifically extreme violence. This was driven home by the disengagement of the audience from the play via the set and mechanical setup between scenes. But the characters didn't convey this. Rather, particularly Pam, but most characters played at a high pitch of anger throughout the play. This made it exceessively difficult for me to believe that their response to the stoning would be cold indifference. Given the level of anger at everything, I expected this to bubble over into a response against what happened....or at least a defense of it. But this didn't come.

I wanted to be shocked. I wanted to be made to think about the kind of person who could let this happen and not do or say anything. I even entertained the idea that nothing happens on purpose; that they very point is to make me mad. Maybe it was. But I am not sure I appreciated this. One must assume that if the playwright is doing a talk-back on the production, he condones the maybe it is just me.

here are some links to others' thoughts on the play:

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Introduction to Group Work

Today's class was a bit of a mystery to most of us when we first saw it on our outline, and we weren't sure what to expect. Would it be silly office-style team building exercises? Was the emphasis on group work because there had been some sort of issue last year with people not collaborating?

So to our pleasant surprise, this afternoon's class was focused on working as an ensemble, feeling the group energy, and being aware of one another in a physical and vocal way on stage. The class was led by Associate Director of RADA Nona Shepphard. Nona began the class with a nice long warmup, set to music. This warmup merged physical dance-style warmup with vocal warmup exercises. I really liked this merger of the two; so often we warmup our body and then our voice, or vice versa...but this really brought the two together. I suspect I will find myself doing some of these exercises moving forward.

From here, we moved into some living tableau work; creating various scenes only moving within specific limits, and feeling the group dynamic, not speaking to one another. This was challenging, particularly when it came to making really specific scenes (such as a plane crash in the do you communicate the desert bit??). We continued to do various physical exercises in the space as a group. We also moved into some familiar exercises; pattern in a circle (including a sound and gesture component) and selecting A/B to attract/repel. We ended with having to create an equilateral triangle of us, A and B, without speaking (or knowing whose A/B you might be). This was a really great metaphor for the creative process as we moved through our challenges and frustrations in trying to complete a task, while others did the same around us.

Friday, 7 October 2011


Today was our first voice class with Adrienne Thomas. This made me quite happy, as I am rather "at home" with voice work, and love exploring the connection between my body, voice and thought. Adrienne is lovely; she studied at the Central School, including their MA in Voice (a program I seriously considered before selecting this MA at RADA) and also recently became a certified Linklater instructor. The class was a nice ease into voice work. We began with an exercise interviewing a classmate, then introducing them, presentation-style, to the class. From here we moved into some stretching and physical work, focusing on either basic vocal interactions such as introducing ourselves, or on physicality eliciting sounds within us. The 3 hours flew by, and despite having done most of these exercises (or something like them before) I did feel something fresh about them. More reading tonight: The Oresteia. That's big Friday night plans include a trilogy of Greek tragedy. I am that cool.

Sarah Kane - Psychosis 4.48

This play really grabbed my attention. I happened upon it after several tutors talking about Sarah Kane's work, and me realizing that I hadn't even heard of this woman. So I popped into the library, and this title stood out at me.

The language is beautiful; savagely beautiful and abrasive. Structurally I liked that it isn't completely clear who is speaking immediately, but that a clear character emerges quite quickly. Similarly the movement from individual, poetic language into 2-handed scenes really appealed to me. I couldn't help but consider options for how to bring this to the stage, how one might deal with the pages of heightened inner-monologue without being pitched too high for the full show. Or should it be?

One of the structural ideas of feminist theatre is that there can be multiple climaxes in a piece, rather than following the Aristotelian ideal. This play nearly felt like several continual climaxes, without anything more than a few lines comedown before the next fever pitch.

I don't know yet what I will do with this. But I suspect I will be drawn back to it.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Acting Space

Today began for me with a trip to the Library to grab The Oresteia. Because I don't have enough reading to do, i also grabbed a copy of Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis, and a thick book on the "century of revolution" from 1604 onward. Well, that last is preliminary reading before my group meet to discuss our presentation on current affairs and influences on The Duchess of Malfi in three weeks' time.

Next on to Scene Study rehearsal, where we staged our section of Act 1 in The Duchess of Malfi. Went quite well; we had the idea that Ferdinand's court is busy, and everyone is drawn in to Ferdinand and then repelled...with many people constantly watching on, but not necessarily part of the immediate action. We have found a neat way to stage it with this in mind, allowing people to move in and away from Ferdinand, illustrating his power, while also giving light to the power alliances showing themselves early in the play. As well, we were able to come up with a solution for some double-casting necessities given the volume of characters in our section. We'll do another bit of rehearsal on Tuesday and then present to the class for discussion. We'll see how it goes!

Finally, on to our actual class; Acting Space with Brian Stirner. As a RADA grad himself, Brian began the class talking about how we were all feeling after our first week, how overwhelming it can all be. He offered some great advice on taking it all in....and then sort of forgetting about the "big deal" of RADA and remembering that anything is only what you make of it yourself and with those around you. It was quite nice for someone actually to talk about it out loud, from a position of authority, but also knowing just what we were feeling in the moment. We quickly dove into exercises; beginning with some walking around the room, changing focus from people's feet upward, all the way to making eye contact. From here, we had a bit of a chat about what acting is, and what our expectations are of performances, which felt like a great starting point to further work. This included sharing a Matisse sketch of a woman (like the one above...not quite the same one). I really liked how he likened acting to the sketch; the text is the firm lines, and the excitement, the life, is everything else bubbling around it. This is what we strive for. After this, he had a couple people up to do the "moment of silence" in front of the group, which I had done back at UofW. This was a more friendly version though....starting and ending with applause for the person. This made it feel warmer in a way, less abrasive than its method-acting counterpart I had endured in undergrad. Building on this, a physical activity was added, and then a second person...and lines. Building on what made things easier.

From here, we all had a single line, and had to walk about the room, sharing this with people we came into eye contact with, taking them in, or trying to assert ourselves against their emotions. This was interesting, as one could see quite clearly what we put on to words vs what the words give us on their own. Then...drumroll...time for script. We worked in groups of two on a section of After Liverpool focusing on the text and just what came out of reading it. For those unfamiliar, this script has "small talk" conversation, but is missing the "details" so to a line will simply be "my name is." without the noun, but the structure of the ensuing conversation is as though it were there. Clearly this allows for many interpretations. My partner was Holly and we had a fun time interpreting this short scene, into one where my character (A - impelling agent) was quite needy, nearly to the point of creepiness. I felt it imperative to have a quick pace to help us drive this pull between my character's need to befriend, and her character's desire to disengage. When we got up to share with the class this worked quite well, and Brian's comments echoed this instinct.

Overall this was a good day for me. Now, time to read. A lot.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

First Impressions

Had our induction and first class at RADA yesterday. The first bit was administrative; selecting our play for Scene study groups, learning the building rules, meeting the administrator and our professors, and learning how not to get in trouble with The Academy.

Next up was a tour and workshop on the RADA library, to help us orient ourselves and know where to locate things. Upon completing my assignment (to locate visual images of clothing for the various classes in Measure for Measure) I had some time to look about. There was a small section of the Anthologies dedicated to Canadian plays, so I went to have a look. It contained the obligatory CanDram text Modern Canadian Plays, with Zastrozzi and a couple others. And I was excited to see the collection of essays Contemporary Issues in Canadian Theatre, edited by none other than Per Brask! It was very exciting to see a name from home in this prolific library.

From here, we dove right into classes. The full MA group was divided into two at RADA with half exploring Measure for Measure, and half exploring The Duchess of Malfi. I was assigned to Malfi, with Tom Hunsinger as our instructor. I was very excited for this; we began in a circle going around the room talking a little bit about how we came to RADA and what we were expecting from this course. It was amazing to see the varied experiences of everyone on the course. Following this, Tom allowed us to have a Q&A session, which varied on everything from questions about his course, what kind of work previous students had done, to Tom's writing process and his work as a director.

We then dove right in; divided Act 1 of Duchess into 3 sections, set up groups, and started working. Our assignment is to stage our section, which we'll share with the class next Tuesday, and then discuss the play, meaning, themes, and also our choices in staging. I volunteered as director for my head-first!

The day ended with a brief tour of the RADA buildings, showing us where various rehearsal rooms were and the theatres...and also the bar. As we walked through the halls it was everything I could do not to squeal when I walked by photos or names of people I look up to. I fully intend to wander casually through on my own and take some photos like a little fan-girl.

Tonight is induction at Birkbeck where we'll learn the details of our responsibilities for that half of the course.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Review - Decade - Headlong and National Theatre at Commodity Quay

Associate Director Robert Icke stated in this afternoon's talkback that Headlong wanted to create theatre that made the audience uncomfortable, that made them think. In that, they most certainly succeeded. With their space in Commodity Quay, a former trading floor turned into a purpose built performance space, created to feel like a restaurant "On The Top Of The World" and innovative staging that used the full room, from first entry to the space the audience was unsure what to expect next. The play, a composite of multiple scripts commissioned by Headlong Theatre, had a variety of perspectives and rather coming from a position with a clear indication of how we should feel about 9/11, its only real message was inquiry. The spirit of exploration was most present, as the various characters moved through scenes exploring their various interactions with 9/11 both as the event was occurring, and in the decade since.

Most interesting to me was the merger of music, dance, and theatre to create this piece. Each aspect contributed to the next, balancing a challenging, political monologue or scene with a softer, more intrinsic scene with physical reactions to the subject. Importantly, though, even the intellectual "Break" offered by the dance segments was political, bringing the people together, and pulling from modern dance, classical forms, and folk traditions. The cast moved seamlessly from one to the next, jumping into various characters effortlessly. Notably the cadence and accents of many New Yorkers were presented clearly, bringing the production a feel of authenticity that served an important role.

Also contributing to the overall aesthetic was the impeccable sound and light design, which could transport the audience from a bustling cafe, to a busy train, to a classroom, and many other locales with a flash. The sound design on more than one occasion had me questioning whether the sounds I heard were actually bleeding in from outdoors....a brilliant use of stereo sound in theatre to unnerve the audience.

These technical aspects played well together, allowing the idea of the play to ring through. I can't help but think that without the seamless production, the play's message would not have had the same force. One character stated that the best retaliation to an act of terror is an idea; and you can't bomb an idea or destroy an idea. This production did a brilliant job of helping that idea come to life, resonating within each of us.

This is the kind of theatre I feel strongly that we need to make more of. Inquiry into our interactions with current political events, including horrific and shocking events such as terrorist attacks, is what I consider to be one of the most important functions of the artist in society. We cannot sit quietly while things occur around us; it is the responsibility of the artist to delve into this difficult subject matter, and make it ok for people to talk about it. Only through discussion can we come to those ideas which will stand the test of time. And that theatre will, too.