Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Actor / Director Laboratory, day 5


Najan Ward (Actor participant):

“Wow, what a week. I got way more than I bargained for. The dynamic of directors and actors learning at the same time in the same space is what make this lab truly unique. Kristine uses improvisations to bring out the truth of a piece of text, I have learnt I need to less prepare my scenes so I can see what I can find naturally when I get it on the floor.

“I have no idea on how Tamasha conducted the selection process but it was spot on. I was surrounded by very talented individuals who were solely there to learn Kristine’s practice. I felt supported by the other actors when I was in scenes and felt comfortable when being directed by the directors. Another great aspect was all the different nationalities I got to work with, it really enriched the whole process. I got to see or be in improvisations in Spanish, Punjabi, Gujarati, Portuguese and French which took some of our scenes to a whole new level. When were working it seems very obvious to do but I have never seen it done before.

“In one week I feel like a better actor and have obtained a more natural approach to working with text. Thanks to everyone at Tamasha who made this possible and for giving me this opportunity.”

Julia Sandiford (Actor participant):

“It has been the most wonderful week – I have learnt so much and yet by now everything feels like a bit of blur. I know things will settle soon and I really believe I’ll be a much more open, honest actor as a result of this experience. What feels really empowering is that the things I’ve learnt and can use in future are very simple but can open a door to work that is so full and rich. It has been great to have a few flops but not mind as I might ordinarily and learn from them instead. I felt like all my usual defences were down and so I could be open about where to go next. It was great to stop when things weren’t working, admit that they weren’t, and then be given improvisations which shook everything up and moved the work forwards.

“I have had small revelations about the way I work – cheating naturalism rather than really listening to my partner or responding to the specific situation. I really hadn’t ever been aware that I do that before. Something that I used as a place of safety has actually been stopping me from fulfilling my actual potential. I want to start truly listening and hearing what is going on around me – it’s exciting!

“At the end of the day we worked in pairs with a director. In this final session I felt like it was evidence and a celebration of how far we have come this week. I loved working with Renu as I felt so free and trusting of her. Hierarchy between the roles of actor and director had disappeared – we both needed each other, instead of the actor praying the director will know all the answers and the director crossing their fingers that the actor is ‘talented’. Renu gave us a really helpful impro and with Silvana speaking in Spanish I began to truly listen because I had to to understand her.

“Thank you Kristine and Tamasha and every single person who I met this week – I don’t feel like I have to push or do it alone any more and I can’t wait to discover what will happen next.”

Silvana Montoya (Actor participant):

“The Actor / Director Laboratory has been a truly enlightening experience! I have learnt so much about acting, directing and the actor/director relationship. The possibilities are endless when there is total collaboration and trust and a mutual understanding that the actor and director are equals in the rehearsal room. Kristine’s workshop demonstrated, and allowed us all to experience, what happens when there is such collaboration: the director gets the best out of the actor because both are open in the knowledge that everything is already within the actor. This was very reassuring. It was also great to be reminded that without ‘play’ and accepting ‘the flop’, it is impossible to give everything as an actor.

“Another refreshing discovery for me was the use of the actor’s cultural context. This was something I’d never experienced, and now that I have I feel confident that this is invaluable in rehearsal and essential in making me more connected. I can honestly say that having my background acknowledged, celebrated and valued added a whole new dimension to my work.

“The actor/director laboratory fulfilled and surpassed all my expectations. I feel replenished. Kristine’s energy, passion and commitment to the work and to us has had an immense impact on me and it’s something I can now take away to noticeably improve my work.”

John Walton (Director participant):

“The final day of the laboratory. We started off with a clown exercise – individuals or pairs lip-syncing to a song that they didn’t know the actual words to. It was fascinating to see the level of sensitivity needed to keep with the audience. Those who ‘played too much’ were forcing their reactions to the rythmns and changes in the music, as opposed to letting themselves be suprised. It was these little moments of shock that we loved, especially when accompanied with a cheeky little nod to us.

“Then we had to present the group staging exercise – if ever there was a case of too many cooks spoiled the broth this was it! Five directors – one improvised scene. A recipe for disaster! Or at least continual compromise on the artistic vision… In reviewing the presentation, Kristine’s insistence on looking for the poetic as opposed to the literal was a great point. She removed all the little narrative strands we had authored into the scene and showed us what she meant by ‘sculpting’ with the actors. In the end, her version was simpler, distilled, and a lot more effective.

“In the afternoon we worked on our final scenes of the week. The change in the room’s atmosphere since Monday was palpable. There was a focused concentration, a real sense of collaboration between actors and directors. Perhaps because we were working together there seemed to be a lot less noise, much more creation. It certainly showed when the scenes were presented. It was amazing to think how far the quality of the work had come. We had all grown immeasurably. There was a lot discussed in the final feedback, but I think one thing really seemed to me the most striking. As I looked around the room I saw once again the group’s incredible mix of languages, nations and ethnicities. I realised that this group was a truer representation of London in 2010 than any I had ever been in before. That incredible diversity must be brought into our theatres.”

The Actor / Director Laboratory, day 4

Bhawna Bhawsar-Arya (Actor participant):

“Its already Thursday and I just don’t want this workshop to end. I can’t believe how much I have learnt in such a short space of time. What resonates greatly for me is the improvisation techniques that Kristine has used to make the actor ‘beautiful, good and present’. The actor IS good at their craft and IS an artist. An equal collaboration, rather than a hierarchical one, between the actor/director and trust in the actor by the director would allow for a superb creation.

“I’ve learnt that what I need from the director is the set up of an appropriate improvisation, with a basic story/scenario and simple language to elicit it. Too much information and complex language complicates and restricts ‘play’. By doing these exercises with Kristine and the other directors, I even surprised myself how much of my own life experience, mother-tongue and cultural background I could draw on to springboard me into the text/scene we were working on. Before these exercises, my monologues were too rehearsed and I was trying to play them in a specific way which didn’t suit me, but now I have the correct tools to work on this.

“This workshop is giving me more and more self-confidence and the ability to trust my instinct. I feel energised and am thriving working within a group of multicultural actors and directors. I wish I was going onto a project where I could put all of this into practice!”


Ian Nicholson (Director participant):

“And today it seems like all is coming together. Certainly been a week that’s challenged a lot of my commonly held ideas about what a director should do but today things made a lot more sense, a lot more intuitive.

“When we were in discussion today with the directors and their roles it was interesting to hear how we still want to author and impose a narrative on what the actors were doing was still prevalent. It’s hard to let go of something you’ve done for years! But in letting go of the idea of what should be happening, the actors always found a lot more than anything we – the directors – could suggest. And as we talked I was reminded of a poem my Mum told me from years ago by Michelangelo (she speaks Italian – I sadly have never really picked it up) and after the session I had to dig it out of an old book she’d written it down in with a rough translation she’d done, it starts:

Non ha l’ottimo artista alcun concetto
c’un marmo solo in se non circoscriva
col suo soverchio

which translates something like: The best artist has not one idea that is not already contained within the unworked stone.

“And I thought that’s it. And this is it. Everything we could possibly suggest is already there, in the actor, if we just bothered to look and work with them, to make them beautiful in action on stage, rather than trying to force them into what we want. That’s something hard to learn, or un-learn what I’ve learnt, but it makes more sense and is infinitely more equitable than the current situation with actors and directors. And that’s the most essential part of this week and what I’ve learnt from Kristine, to trust that everything is already there, you just have to see it.”

The Actor / Director Laboratory, day 3

Milton Lopes, (Actor participant):

“What I learned or rather, re-learned from today is the total responsibility that the actor has of his work and that he has everything in him to do any kind of character. With Kristine directing, the actor finds a path where he shows and explores a spectrum of emotions common to the whole human race by focusing on his my own cultural background and individuality. This helps him to achieve a unique performance even when he delivers a Shakespeare monologue.”

Japjit Kaur (Actor participant):

“When I heard back from Tamasha and Felicity said “Congratulations! you have been selected for the actors workshop”, I was over the moon. But then came Sunday evening, and I got a bit nervous as I was unsure of what to expect!

“And now as I write this on a Wednesday after yet another insightful, wholesome and truly magical day, I cannot wait for the morning to come so that I can be in another session with Kristine and my fellow actors and directors.

“Kristine really understands how people work. It’s like she has this x-ray vision and can read you from afar. She instinctively knows what would work best with who. Once a friend said to me that no one else can be better than you at you being you – Kristine brings out the best of YOU! Over the past few days, I have discovered stuff about myself that even I didnt know was there, well at least I wasn’t in touch with it. Her way of working gives you clarity, freedom, trust and most importantly it shows you the art of ‘play’. In the workshops we have all seen really captivating and beautiful sides of each other that we probably wouldnt have ever seen had Kristine not tapped into that part of us. People of different cultures, races, backgrounds, speakers of many languages- all came together so beautifully, yet individually into this lovely melting pot. So effortless! So beautiful! It’s simple when you think about it- but no one seems to practice it or know much about it! Kristine Landon-Smith has the secret! She’s a magical sculptor! I’ts been so much fun! I haven’t stopped smiling since Monday! :-)

The Actor / Director Laboratory, day 1

From 6 – 10 December 2010 at Graeae’s Bradbury Studios, Tamasha ran the first Actor / Director Laboratory:  an intensive, subsidised training week for 16 artists (5 directors and 11 actors) which explored the relationship between the actor and director.  Participants came from a wide range of cultural backgrounds including Turkish, Greek, East Asian, Columbian, Portuguese, Italian as well as British and South Asian.

The Lab is part of the Tamasha Developing Artists programme.

Photographs by Robert Workman.

Renu Arora (Director participant):

“What an inspiring first day on the actor/director lab. It’s inspiring to once again witness Kristine’s unique style focusing very much on play, and the journey from a game, to improvisation, to text, keeping the thread of play alive throughout. I love that the games are purposefully and carefully tailored to the level of the group/actors at any given time.

“I find fascinating how quickly Kristine intuitively knows exactly what is stopping the actor being totally present and open, and sets up very appropriate improvisations which act as a springboard into text. After working on a scene with the actors myself today as a director, I realise I need to be much more specific and clear in my language, and keep my senses attuned at all times. I am very much looking forward to exploring and honing my own style during the rest of the week.”

Suzanne Ahmet (Actor participant):

“Listening acutely felt key today. And from that space finding a truthful arena in which to play, freely. One often enters or leaves the first few days of an intense course with feelings of acute desolation and self-loathing. Your ‘mistakes’ or “flops” shinning big and bright and you wonder why anyone should employ you. Nothing to do with the course leaders I hasten to say, just a personal default! However, this feels unnecessary and perhaps even detrimental today. It’s just another block to hearing, seeing and implementing tangible solutions. If your head isn’t crammed with self-doubt, you are freer to hear and hopefully develop.

“Watching other participants respond so delicately to improvisations and then take that same free dynamic into a text was also tremendously helpful and inspiring. I would like very much like to avoid broad brush strokes when reflecting on these sessions as the aim of them is to find subtly and nuance.

“Various ‘blocks’ arose in the room today. My personal one “being too strong”. A phrase which seems to be haunting me at present. Kristine explained that always choosing to be strong or hit the drama of a scene blocks me from all the other colours/possibilities available. “Your door needs to be wide open”. In fact, it blocks you from finding out, discovering, playing with the person opposite – who is infinitely more interesting than a fixed idea. The story and its nuance lies in being present, in the situation, with your fellow actor – then are you both free and unique. You are unique when you are not driven by a fixed idea and it seems a director is most helpful when he/she is not doggedly sticking to a solution/improvisation that’s only kind of working.

“Be rigorous with yourself. As an actor, speaking personally, hear when every choice is ‘strident’, ‘strong’, ‘argumentative’, ‘going for the drama’. Maybe pause, reconnect to the present moment, the person opposite you and PLAY with what is there and living instead… ”

Jackie Kane (Director participant):

“As ever, Tamasha has assembled another talented and interesting group of actors and directors for its workshops at Graeae’s base, and Kristine shows us how she does it.

“As a relatively newbie director, I am both in awe and terrified of the ease with which she manages both to knock us into shape, yet tease out – and help us as directors to tease out – more layered and nuanced performances from our actors.

“As a director who is also an actor, I am particularly grateful to be part of this workshop, as I wish to be able to support and encourage my own actors in a way that is rare in a time when we’re continually being reminded that we need to ‘serve the text, trust the text…’. I think we have forgotten that we need to trust our actors, and Kristine – refreshingly – sets her actors at the fore.

“First day today and we played. Played properly. Well, tried to – it’s not as easy as you might think just to allow yourself to ‘not do; not think too much; jump on the first bus; fail, even – win, even (isn’t competitiveness a dirty word these days?) or however you’d describe just taking what comes along and using it and not forcing anything. The games we discovered via Kristine and participating directors led us into improvisations and scenes which, in turn, improved upon work already done by the participating actors. Every performer had Kristine tailor bespoke improvements to their monologues which left all us of in no doubt of the benefits of a workshop with such an experienced “actors'” director at the helm.

“It’s quite late on Monday night now and I’m a tad shattered, but I’m looking forward to what’s in store for us all tomorrow. I’d like to pretend I know more than I do as a director – but Kristine would only sniff my ruse a mile off and bring me up on it. As Manuel says in Fawlty Towers… ‘I know nothing…’. But I know that, by the end of the week, I will know a lot more than I do now.”

Jennifer Bryden (Actor participant):

“What a fantastic and fulfilling day! Today was the start of our Actor / Director Lab and it brought a conglomeration of emotions – thought provoking, exciting, and inspiration in abundance. I was most taken with the notion of “play”; I had absolutely forgotten how fun our job should be and actually is. It is all too easy to take myself too seriously and to worry about not getting things right. And actually sometimes it’s as simple as changing a mindset; as soon as you re-label otherwise frightening exercises like improvisation as “playing” the whole process becomes more liberating. Kristine provided a safe, energetic and insightful environment in which I certainly felt free to rediscover the joy in performing and in which it was also okay to make a flop. Having always approached all roles with the text first and now being thrown into a workshop in which it’s the actor that comes first I face the rest of the week with curiosity, excited to see what new processes become available to me!”

Deborah Leveroy (Actor participant):

“The morning of the first day we were all introduced to several of Kristine’s working principles. The first is the idea of finding pleasure in our play, the second is the link from game to improvisation into text, and the last is the observation of the actor – what is happening and why?

“In the games we played the aim was to come to an edge of quality of play to something that more resembles a game. As actors we were warming up to play and then considering the texture and level of play. Through games we looked at how can the actor top up their level of play ; playing simply and openly and playing to win (but not too hard!)

“Kristine then introduced us to a way into text which uses discussion and improvisation as the route in to text. It also revealed Kristine’s ability to ‘diagnose’ the actor (for blocks or habits) which she (as director) then provides strategies to overcome. It felt liberating to have the ‘responsibility’ placed on the director to make the actor ‘good’ or not. This structure took the form of asking the actor to describe the scene; the actor then improvises around the scene with another actor (sometimes in another language, keeping the essence of the scene); and then moving into text in a way that is connected with the improvisation so that there is no ‘gap’. The idea is to look at the actor first before the text. It is clear that there is an art to setting up an improvisation which determines the outcome of the scene. It was fascinating watching Kristine train the directors to work with the actors, and her ability to read the actor.”

The Actor / Director Laboratory, day 2

Monica Nappo (Director participant):

“We started the day playing (using balls and other tools), then each of us as directors started working on actors and their monologue and then Kristine saw each work. She started talking about the improvisations and how to set up a good improvisation that’s gonna help the actor.
Kristine: ”You’ve got to put the actor in a situation where how great the actor is comes out easily.”

“Another issue is the aesthetic of the improvisation: where you’re gonna choose the positions for them, positions that help them and that contribute to the work and in the meantime are also useful for it. Always find a connection with the text, when you set up an improvisation that brings you to the core of the play, of the scene. As a director you’ve got to move quickly, you have to move 5 steps ahead the actor, because you don’t want a situation where while the actor is improvising they start thinking ”what am I doing here? what’s the use of that?” The actor needs to know how to travel and where to go, and the director as well. So it’s good to set an improvisation with good and useful details. Then the actor will add his/her own. So, to set a good improvisation that is gonna be useful, you GOT TO LOOK AT THE ACTOR! At the quality of the actor, at the way he/she talks, moves, talks, if there’s any accent you can use to help the situation. Use those things to improve the scene.

“Then there’s another piece of work on a scene from Shakespeare (Bhawna’s one), and after a while, Kristine interrupts her asking if she’s from Leicester because she’d like to set the work on this accent, to set up an improvisation about that and Kristine asks Nags to get in the improvisation. So here they are, having a conversation about shopping centres in Leicester, and she can’t stand him and what he says, and then when it’s time she moves to the text. And it really works!

Kristine: “As an actor you have to bring yourself into the play and the director must know that, and use it.”

Then we start talking about auditions, how is difficult to bring yourself to an audition..

Kristine: “I always do a little improvisation with the actors with an audience, to make a connection, to make it more alive, so that everyone can participate more, it’s not just (as an actor): “I’ve done my audition!”

How important it is to have a lot of ideas, to change quickly and give many ideas to an actor, but not being like a teacher in a vocal session, it’s good to be imaginative and artistic with an actor, that’s the director’s job: you have to build the set –the support around the actor so that he/she’s gonna be extraordinary giving extraordinary things. And then you have (as a director) to ask yourself: how can I propel this, to move it forward? That’s the question about how to move forward from an improvisation so that you can have the play working. It’s good not to get stuck, as a really good improvisation may work for one day and then it doesn’t work anymore and you need to build a structure to hold the actor’s work.”

Jennifer Tan (Actor participant):

“Day 2 of lab week and I find myself directing. Right. OK. I came to this as an actor participant but today found myself volunteering to direct. It was one of those moments where you’re sort of doing something on impulse, without actually thinking too much about it. But I suppose that’s pretty in keeping with where good theatre comes from.

“So I’ve got a couple of actors, a script which I’ve never seen before and zero directing experience. But actually I think these things end up working to my advantage; I’ve not overanalysed the script, I’m not end gaming it and I only have the tiny arsenal of techniques I’ve picked up over the last day and a bit. So everything can come from the actors, which is completely in keeping with where Kristine comes from and utterly brilliant for an actor. So what if I can’t see what they need? What if I don’t know how to make them brilliant? I decide not to think about it and just do it – I know they are brilliant, I’ve seen them be brilliant. I need to trust the very same instincts which I know, when trusted, produce my own good acting.

“They read the script through once. I look at them. What do they need? This is a whole new part of my brain thinking here. Somehow I manage to think of an improvisation which helps. But it’s helped Julia and not other Jen. How can I bring something more out in Jen? Another improvisation. No. Another. Yes. They are still exhibiting some of their actorly habits. I ask Kristine how to resolve them, expecting her to help me out with a game they can play. ‘Just tell them, Jen’, she says. Now that’s hard. An actor telling another actor they can see their tricks. We’re all so bloody nice to each other all the time. I do hate that incidentally. I skirt around the subject but then after going for the jugular with it, relief all around and we can move on, more brilliantly than before. At the end of the day, I’m pleased with my little sketch. It had its mistakes and rubbings out, but when we ink it in, no one will be able to see those. Not bad for a first attempt, I don’t think.”

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