Actors’ Masterclass with Iqbal Khan

Last week we held a two day Acting Masterclass, led by Iqbal, on approaching complex language in plays, ranging from Shakespeare to Contemporary Texts. He looked at how actors can find this complex voice in texts which tackle big ideas.

‘What a thoroughly enjoyable, engaging and inspiring two days. Iqbal has an infectious passion for language and a way of letting everyone access the text with ease, with a focus on conveying the true meaning of a thought or idea. As someone who thought I’d never crack verse speaking, I now feel liberated and confident to explore the words on a page and not only to find understanding but also to express the ideas in a speech in a way that doesn’t alienate an audience but let’s them in. I feel that this will hugely impact my on stage delivery and can’t wait to put my new skills to work. Bravo!’
Vineeta Rishi

‘Iqbal is fantastic: out of all the workshops I’ve done, working with him has been by far the most enjoyable, challenging, and helpful. His talent, acumen, and teaching ability is exceptional: I can think of few ways to better hone my craft.’
Shamir Dawood

‘Working with Iqbal was exactly what I needed; he created a very honest atmosphere from the get-go and asked each one of us to tell him what our fears were when working with complex text. And that led to me feeling more comfortable with exploration of the text. Iqbal challenges you to not be lazy with text as an actor, he works in an extremely detailed manner and breaks down the text with you, but then allows you to run with it yourself. It was a wonderful boost for me as an actor and I feel so much more confident now going into an audition with a complex speech ready to perform.’
Dhiren Gadhia

‘Iqbal Khan’s Masterclass, was nothing short of extraordinary. Iqbal introduced a new way of approaching complex text, spending time on each of us, addressing our personal needs. He created a safe environment for us to not only be creative, but also ask frank questions about text, the industry and life as an actor. Personally, I learnt much which I can incorporate into my work, whether it be working on a play or prepping for an audition. Also, it was good to be introduced to new vocal exercises, which, although were challenging, if I should continue to practice, will help me no end.’
Bhella Candenti

‘A thoroughly helpful, encouraging and inspiring 2 days. Iqbal spent detailed time with every participant, working with them individually. We were given a useable toolkit to open up and share complicated ideas and language. There was a strong focus on sharing – with the audience and with your co-actor in a scene. We explored different emphasis within sentences/verse lines to find the clearest way to share an idea. This was an excerise to encourage understanding.

The most exciting work came through when the idea was being discovered in the moment, with the audience – putting yourself in an honest, vulnerable and therefore, exciting position and allowing the audience to discover and understand the text with you. Equally, we were encouraged to trust the language as well as focusing on being understood and in this way, organic, genuine emotion emerged. This helped us avoid generalised washes of anger, sadness etc. We put characters to the test: what do they want from this conversation, play that and see what happens, using the language as your tool to get it. Listen and pick up on words your partner has just said – how do they further the argument or test the relationship? The most unique and unexpected things could then happen because we were connected, open and our imaginations were free. For me, one of the most important discoveries was that anxiety can shut down your voice and shut down your imagination and you become an actor that the audience starts to worry about and not really listen to. When anxiety is out of the way, you have gotten out of your own way and you can then be the actor you really are.’
Suzanne Ahmet

‘The two day Acting Masterclass Workshop with Iqbal khan left me buzzing. I since have been unable to remove my nose from the spines of classic texts. The workshop was exactly what I needed – a boost of confidence to show me I already have the ability to attack and play with Shakespeare, Ibsen etc but also Iqbal seems to inject this passion into you that makes you, quite simply, excited to attack and play with these classic texts, or even all texts. It was just fantastic, I learnt so much and Iqbal was just wonderful to work with.’
Naomi Stafford

‘Iqbal’s masterclass was truly inspiring. He stripped away the mix of pretension and anxiety that can come with classical texts and gave us a range of tools with which to tackle the complex language. He worked with us as individuals as well as in groups and this one-to-one work was detailed, evocative and game changing. It was also very useful to watch others transform their work under his, frankly, magical touch! He tore down presumptuous and florid performing and taught us how to communicate a meaning with sincerity. It was absolutely brilliant, I’d go again’
Kerry Gooderson

‘The two days with Iqbal were pretty amazing. We worked on monologues and scenes from classical texts. I really enjoyed Iqbal’s approach to the work – to find the truth and the thoughts in the text. The text is the key. We explored a few different ways of tackling scenes, basically coming up with different ways of living it. It’s inspiring working with someone like Iqbal, who strives to bring out the best in everyone- knowing that actors work well when they’re comfortable. His style is organic and without pomp. The work is the work. Overall, the two days were incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling- what you normally expect from a Tamasha workshop.’
Ali Zaidi

‘As always the master class on Text with Iqbal was brilliant and hugely fun. Having worked with him previously I was  keen to ensure I had the chance again and it was well worth it of course. His skill and patience in conveying the subtleties of language from an actors perspective is precise and relevant to each actor’s needs. His depth of knowledge is vast and it was good to explore both classic and contemporary text. His charm and humour put you at ease instantly. A great two days. Thank you Tamasha!’
Llila Vis

‘The 2 day workshop with Iqbal Khan was an interesting insight into the use of heightened language and rhetoric in classical text. The work carried out was detailed and catered to each individual performer clearly highlighting our strengths and weakness’. A worthwhile refresher if you’ve been away from classical texts.’
Kiran Sonia Sawar


Tamasha’s Scratch Producer, Amy Clamp, attends our BBC Creative Skillset Pop-Up

Now more than ever, as a theatre Producer, I have to think about selling my work and my ideas whether that is to a venue, audience member or investor. With the industry increasingly saturated with theatre makers – and with it becoming more and more difficult to receive public funding – this idea of ‘selling your ideas’ feels like something many emerging artists may need to start doing in order to get their work seen.

It was for this reason that Tamasha Theatre Company, for whom I work part time, decided to host the BBC Creative Skillset Pop-Up workshop. The day aimed to provide practical skills to know how and when to find, refine, pitch or ditch an idea. As a company Tamasha are keen to support and encourage self producing artists and so the skills highlighted and practically explored in the BBC workshop will likely be very useful when applied to their own work.

I have been working with Tamasha Theatre Company as their TDA (Tamasha Developing Artists) Scratch Producer since March this year and so attended the BBC workshop to see if it could assist my work as a Theatre Producer in London.

To give you a little background, Tamasha was formed in the 80s with the aim of championing British-Asian artists and stories, and helping them make the crossover into the theatrical mainstream.  They have since been at the forefront of placing the voices of emerging and established artists from culturally diverse backgrounds centre-stage. Here at Tamasha, my role involves producing the company’s quarterly scratch nights. The position was one for an ‘emerging Producer’ with the aim of giving a young theatre maker a chance to work as part of an established theatre company. The position has been so fantastic for me, expanding my skills and knowledge, and allowing me to learn from those around me whilst having complete artistic control over the events themselves.

Tamasha was the perfect location for the BBC Creative Skillset Pop-Up as we have a catalogue of almost 2000 developing artists; these include actors, directors, film makers, producers, writers, designers and more. Since Fin Kennedy has come on board as Tamasha’s new Co-Artistic Director, this is a part of the company that is continuing to expand. Fin is really keen on helping, supporting and advising emerging artists on how to produce their own work and it is workshops like this that help enable artists to understand a bit more about how to do this.

Unlike TV and film, in the theatre industry (at least the subsidised area of it anyway) we aren’t ever asked to pitch an idea in front of a room full of executives. Generally productions leave the ground by the artists involved building strong relationships with venues and applying for money from the Arts Council or other such funding bodies. During the BBC Creative Skillset course we were taught to describe our vision for our work, thinking of it as a pitch, and this was actually very helpful. It is sometimes easy to forget that, even when you are extremely passionate about something and think your idea is the best thing since sliced bread, that isn’t necessarily enough to make the person you’re speaking to feel the same. Somehow you need to get that person as excited as you are, and to do that you must sell them your idea.

Over the past couple of years I have moved from the role of Production Manager to Producer. It has been quite an adjustment; from being the practical problem solver to a creative collaborator and leader. As a Theatre Producer it is necessary for me to think of ideas, develop and implement them, whilst providing and maintaining an environment in which my creative team can do the same. The Creative Pop Up helped me to think about which areas of this process hold my strengths and which areas I might want to find support with. Realisations such as this are vital in order to form a team that supports one another and also allows one another to flourish.

With conversations and exercises on leading creative teams, generating ideas and designing a pitch, I came out of the workshop feeling inspired and able to think about my work in a different light. I will definitely be carrying my learning forward and recommend anyone who produces, or is thinking of producing their own work to go along to one of these workshops.

To find out what Tamasha are up to, or how to become one of our TDAs then please visit our website – www.tamasha.org.uk

For more information on the BBC / Creative Skillset Pop Ups follow this link – www.bbcacademy.com/module/50494982

Blog by Tamasha’s Scratch Producer, Amy Clamp.


Fin Kennedy’s Westminster Media Forum Speech June 2014

The In Battalions report, published by Tamasha co-Artistic Director and playwright Fin Kennedy and researcher Helen Campbell Pickford in 2013, received widespread coverage and formed a significant part of the recent debate about arts funding cuts, in particular around theatres’ capacity to take risks on developing new plays and playwrights in an age of austerity. Below is a transcript of Fin Kennedy’s Westminster Media Forum speech on how we assess the cost versus the value of the arts, in order for the sector to better make its case to politicians and the public.

“I’ve been asked to speak today because last year I wrote a report entitled In Battalions, about the effect of cuts to the Arts Council on the British theatre industry’s capacity to develop new plays. The results made for grim reading. The report is available online so I won’t repeat its findings here. Instead I would like to address a philosophical point which I feel often gets overlooked in this debate, and that is about the difference between the cost of the arts to the public purse and the value the arts generate for public life.

There is a prevailing ideology you come across when this debate comes up. Phillip Pullman calls it ‘free market fundamentalism’. I prefer the softer term ‘market value’, because it is not a wholly illogical or unreasonable position. But it essentially states that if any play cannot attract enough paying theatregoers to cover its costs then it should be allowed to go to the wall. Let the market decide.

I’m in my first year of a new job – as Co-Artistic Director of a small-scale touring theatre company, Tamasha – and I’d like to offer a few reflections on this.

Small scale theatre tends to confound the market value principle, and here’s why.

A 90 minute new play with 3-5 actors will always play in what we call a studio or black box theatre – small auditoria of around 150 seats. So far, so cheap you might think.

But if you’re going to do things properly – which is what being a professional artist is all about – then costs begin long before show opens. Commissioning a playwright and developing the script is the first step – and can often take place years ahead of first night.

Once the show is cast there are the actors and other professionals such as the director, designer, company manager and stage manager. Then there are material costs, back office costs, producing costs, admin support, publicity – and if the show is required to tour, travel, accommodation and per diems.

All this means that even a modest four-hander play, with three weeks’ rehearsal, a three week run in London and four weeks’ touring can easily cost upwards of £100,000. Given what one can charge for shows of this scale – and even if the show does roaring business (a big if) it will make back on box office perhaps half what it cost – at best.

Small scale theatre is essentially economically unviable. It cannot exist without some kind of subsidy.

But the question we should be asking of such shows is not ‘Did it make money?’ but ‘Did it create value?’ – a far more amorphous concept, and one at which our sector is notoriously bad at successfully making its case.

I’d like to demonstrate the difference between cost and value with a brief example from my own company’s recent output.

My Name is… is a three-hander verbatim play written by my colleague Sudha Bhuchar. The play has just closed in London and Glasgow, where it received a clutch of rave reviews and in Scotland standing ovations. The play tells the real-life story of Molly Campbell, a mixed race Scottish-Pakistani girl who, in 2006, was reported as having been kidnapped by her father and forcibly taken to Pakistan. The truth turned out to be a lot more complicated.

My Name is… tells this family’s story in its own words. It has been a huge success, with audiences in tears, TV and radio interest, and a national tour booked for September and October. Even so, it will not make more money than it cost.

The value in a show like this is manifold. It tells the truth behind a story located along an important cultural fault line which exists in our society. It gives visibility to often-misunderstood or vilified minority groups. It creates understanding in audiences of other cultures with which many share their cities.

Performing in the show has been a stepping stone for all three of its actors, for one it was her professional debut and another has been nominated for an award.

The show was accompanied by workshops in inner city schools, exploring what it means to have a dual heritage in 21st century Britain.

In Scotland, Asian audience members urged me to remount the show for a longer Scottish tour because of the social and cultural community understanding such a show can create.

This makes it sound worthy – it wasn’t. It was funny and warm and heartfelt and human – and desperately sad.

But perhaps most movingly, the real Molly Campbell and her mother came to see it. They loved it. They came back – several times. They brought extended family. After the third time they had seen it, Molly herself said, “It was like going back in time and looking at us all … I got to see my mum and dad falling in love … I was just a little girl who was stuck but not knowing she was stuck and having to choose. I was scared in the beginning that people would blame me for what happened but watching myself being so innocent it’s finally hit me that I don’t have to carry that guilt anymore.”

If there is a price you can put on that, I have no idea what it might be.

My Name is… took five years to create. The project is a quintessential argument for public investment in the arts – ‘market value’ would never have come up with this show. Don’t get me wrong, now that it is a hit, Tamasha are doing everything in our power to exploit its success. It may, one day, break even. But it will never make a profit. Does this mean it is without value?

I’d like to close with a quote from Lorne Campbell, in a recent think piece for the Guardian about whether an obsession with value for money is trumping concerns of artistic quality.

“Perhaps this is the role of the cultural organisation now?” Cambpell writes, “To be the buffer between the market system we operate in and the non-market place that must be created if we are to begin to dream a new more equitable way for us to be as a society?”

So, I would repeat again: the question we should be asking of our publicly-supported theatre is not – or not only – ‘How much did it cost?’ but ‘How much value did it generate?’ for British society.

Thank you.”


‘My Name is…’ Rehearsal week 2, Composer/Sound designer Arun Ghosh on creating the soundscape and music.

Arun discusses what inspires him to create music and sound for live theatre, how he became involved in ‘My Name is…’ and the challenges of scoring verbatim theatre.


‘My Name is…’ Rehearsal week 2, Assistant Director Diyan Zora: The Art of Storytelling

Rehearsal photos by Katherine Leedale

Week 2 of rehearsals for My Name is… has flown by. The art of storytelling has dominated the room. Our play is compiled from interviews with three people, Molly Campbell, her mother Louise, and her father Sajad. Each tells their story, describing events past and present and revealing the ‘truth’ behind the headlines.

How do the actors tell those stories? Do they relive them on stage, re-enacting a time gone by, or do they reference them as distant memories? There seems to be a whole spectrum of possibilities, which suits our rehearsal room perfectly. Philip’s process is all about uncovering the actor’s imagination. The extensive text and character work we did in the first week is being put to good use. Philip asks the actors to rehearse moments in the play with varying ‘points of concentration’. For example, there is a scene where a character’s objective is to tell the interviewer that they were ‘the victim’. The point of concentration might be the space around them, or the interviewer, or the weather… it can be anything, any given circumstance that might colour a situation.

Exploring all these backdrops changes the scene completely. It adds nuance and makes the scene more engaging, but most of all, it reveals just how many options the actors have. Watching so much spontaneity and play has made for an incredibly exciting rehearsal room, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Tickets for My Name is… are on sale now! Opens 30 April at Arcola Theatre: more here

Rehearsal photos by Katherine Leedale


‘My Name is…’ Rehearsal week 1: If the bee stings, be stung

TDA ‘My Name is…’ Assistant Director Diyan Zora shares her experiences from the rehearsal room

My Name is... rehearsal room Diyan's blog

My Name is… rehearsal room Karen Bartke and Umar Ahmed

I’ve never been stung by a bee, yet the analogy that keeps popping up in the first week of rehearsals for My Name is… makes perfect sense. The idea is, if you have an instinct when rehearsing a scene, you should follow it through.

Thankfully, our actors are completely open to following their instincts. Philips process is designed to free the actor, to give them the tools to respond in the moment and be totally open to where the scene takes them. That kind of freedom takes preparation; detailed character analysis, improvisation around objectives, exploring the physicality characters have, and much more.

It’s exhilarating to see that preparation unveil itself when the actors try a scene.  My Name is… tells the story of Ghazala, a 12 year old Scottish/Pakistani girl who flees to Pakistan with her father. Based on the real life story of Molly Campbell, and generated from interviews with Molly and her parents, the play explores the realities of these peoples lives, a reality seemingly absent from the majority of the press generated in 2006 when Molly left Scotland.
The play takes on some big issues; cultural identity, religion, racism and much more. However, at the heart of the story is a little girl caught up in a marital breakdown. Our rehearsal room is about finding this core, about stripping away our misconceptions and getting to the very root of these characters. It’s made for an incredibly exciting first week of rehearsals, full of discovery. When Friday drew to a close, and we realised just how far we had all come in five days, we had the urge to head down to the bar and toast an incredible week. If the bee stings…

Tickets for My Name is… are on sale now! Opens 30 April at Arcola Theatre: more here


Writing Masterclass with Ella Hickson

ella hickson

Kat Roberts – participant

“It is a very difficult thing to cultivate an atmosphere where strangers feel comfortable enough to not present a version of themselves, but to simply be and create. But that is what Ella Hickson achieves instantly and seemingly effortlessly on her two day Masterclass. I have written more, thought about writing more and considered myself more of a writer in the week following the course than I ever have before. How? How has she done this to me? Actually, in retrospect it’s quite simple. Ella Hickson searches for honesty in everything; in her themes, in her characters, in herself and by extension, in the people attending her Masterclass. She invites you to do a very simple thing: to be honest. What’s the thing inside you can’t let go of? But what is it really? Let’s interrogate this feeling. What’s the question of your play? Is that active? Will that work dramatically? No? then what will? I don’ know… let’s talk about it… not later… now. Let’s talk about it here and now so you can leave and get on with your play. Here’s some writing exercises – Do I use them? Not really. Let’s do one. You didn’t do what I said, you did something else. But what you came up with was just as interesting. Why did you cross out that line though? Because you felt you should? Let’s get away from ‘should’. That feeling that you can’t do it, that you’re not good enough, it doesn’t go away. “Find your hook, and let yourself off it”. Thanks Ella Hickson and my fellow participants.

Ayndrilla Singharay – participant

The two days I spent with Ella Hickson and my fellow participants have been an absolute inspiration. Being new to writing plays, this masterclass was a perfect balance between the technical craft of playwrighting and the other, more personal and creative side of writing for stage. Ella was an excellent teacher. She is extremely knowledgeable, friendly, honest about her own experiences and passionate about not only theatre but helping and nurturing fellow playwrights. This is a wonderful combination of traits and made the class a wonderfully safe space in which to explore our own writing. The time was divided between practical exercises, tips for creating time and space for writing and focusing on our own projects. The masterclass has left me feeling infinitely more equipped to take my play forwards. I really hope Ella does another class in the near future, as I would certainly love to attend.

Shazea Quraishi – participant

I was fortunate to get a place on Ella Hickson’s playwrighting masterclass for Tamasha. As well as being a talented playwright, Ella is a wonderful teacher: generous, insightful, supportive… and rigorous. As well as generating discussions and exercises to free inspiration, she provided us with a tool kit to interrogate a script, scene by scene, to whip it into shape and get at its truth. Much in the way the bad cop interrogates a suspect (good cop having stepped out for some air). Although it’s uncomfortable playing bad cop to your own script, it really works. I feel better equipped to write the play I want to. I also met a great group of people who I know I will keep in touch with.

Michael Lister – participant

I’m so glad I took the chance and made the effort to take part in the New Writing Masterclass. I learned exactly the lessons I was hoping to learn and gained the encouragement I needed, so that I have been motivated to embark on a new play writing project.

Ella Hickson introduced herself with an open friendliness that immediately brought the group together. She continued this sense of honest sincerity, making revelations from her own experience in a way that encouraged everyone to express their own hopes and fears, blocks and aspirations.

She lead the class through basic ideas of structure, shape and analysis that she encouraged us to apply to our own work while at the same time acknowledging that our creative drive will come from a less cerebral place. We worked with a sense of urgency and seemed to achieve way beyond my expectation in those two days. From a starting point of a basic analysis of dramatic action Ella took us to the point of writing the first scenes of our new plays; plays which we are all committed to writing in the coming weeks.

An indication of the success of our collective Masterclass experience was our aim to all meet again to discuss our creative progress; we have agreed to meet together in April to share our newly written scenes and check these against our understanding of dramatic action. I’m looking forward to continuing the discussion.

Ellen Carr – participant

The masterclass with Ella was a great blend of developing a tool kit for us to use whatever we’re working on and discovering the questions we really want to write about – accessing the inner part of yourself where all the good stuff is hidden. I hadn’t done anything like this before, and had never really been ‘taught’ to write. I found discussing the main building blocks of dramatic narrative extremely helpful, and although a lot of the work we did on dramatic action and interrogating our homework scenes made my brain hurt (in a good way!) I now feel I have the skills to keep writing even if I do get stuck with an idea.

What I found totally invaluable in the two day masterclass was working with a group of people for whom being a writer is an actual career – even if it isn’t their career right now. Discussing the craft of writing, the industry, the various head-banging-desk issues you will face in a totally serious way provides validation to the idea of being a writer as a job which is something you very much need when you’re starting out. I now feel much more confident about my writing ambitions and ready to just work really hard to achieve them. I’m aware of the different ways I need to develop as a writer, and that I will only do this by producing work. Ella made the writing process more enjoyable and open, getting rid of any thoughts of what we ‘should’ be doing in our process.

The group on the masterclass bonded really well, and Ella helped to create a very supportive environment. We have set ourselves a deadline to share drafts of our work with each other! I’d say the masterclass was both practically useful and inspirational in equal measure – just what was needed.

Zella Compton – participant

Play Masterclass: to book or not to book, that is the question.

The word masterclass is rather scary. It implies that you think you are a cut above the majority of aspiring playwrights, but what – when you get there – if you’re not? Or worse, if you are and everyone else is not. The application was a big decision for me as I struggle to know how good I am, and not only did I have to fund it myself, I also had to take time off work.

But thank goodness that I did apply, fund and go. For every part of Ella Hickson that is genius, there is a small murky part which is tyrant – and that was the most valuable to me. The questioning, the justification expected and the raw honesty with which she made me think about every little aspect of my writing process has really opened my eyes.

The two days were so valuable in terms of putting craft around what I do, getting inspired and meeting an awesome collective of other people. Well worth the time and effort and money. Thank you!

Elena Procopiu – participant

The Ella Hickson masterclass was brilliant. Having never written much dialogue before, I now feel equipped to understand what would make a dramatic scene and therefore good dialogue. Ella’s knowledge and experience combined with her charisma and energy ensured that we did more writing in two days than I have done in the last six months and laughed a lot! Before we knew it, we had fully written scenes, done at breakneck speed with great enjoyment. The in-depth storytelling exercises were utterly essential, brilliantly structured and eye-opening. It just shows what you can do in two days!


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