Monthly Archives: April 2011

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Gallery. All photos: Robert Day

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Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 6

Talk with Director Bijan Sheibani. Photo: Andrea Milde

Lowri Jenkins – Director Participant

“Wednesday was a day of contrasting approaches to process. Our discussion with director Bijan Sheibani recalled some ideas from last week and the session with Paines Plough Artistic Director, George Perrin. Both George and Bijan have approaches that were fairly different from the actor-focused play that we were doing with Kristine. The discussion raised many questions for me. What protocol allows a writer, director, actors, designers and many more to work together? Is it about total collaboration? Or is it always a question of hierarchy? What is the difference between a leader and an authority?

I know how I feel ideologically (and artistically) about these things – ever mistrustful of the idea that some pre-ordained hierarchy exists, sceptical of any sovereign authority – but I know that even with the best laid plans, theatrical ‘collaboration’ can fall flat. Bijan succinctly put it down to one thing – chemistry. I realised that the protocols, however convoluted or prescriptive, are the director’s way of letting chemistry do its thing. We might have completely different foundations or processes, but we do need a foundation: something on which to build a common language, and let theatre happen all by itself.

It’s like football: the rules are not the game, but the necessary limits which allow the game to be played. And it’s not just about the director and her or his foundations; it’s about the tastes and preferences of the actors. When Kristine and Bijan discussed auditions and casting, this issue of actor-director chemistry came to the fore: after all, you want to play and be creative with people who are eager and willing to play with you. An audition is the place to find that out – from both the actor and the director’s side. Do we get on? And do you like my protocols (which are, after all, part of my personality, my way of seeing)?

After this afternoon’s work, I saw quite quickly how chemistry and protocols needs each other. At lunch, on pure gut instinct, I suggested that Jen and I co-direct a short play that she had brought in. We both wanted to work with the same actors, we both got on, she showed me the piece, I loved it – and it made sense to do it together. The actors, Haseeb and Umar, were a bit apprehensive at first – too many cooks can spoil the broth (!) – but Jen and I laid strong foundations to explore the piece, and didn’t just rely on our chemistry or enthusiasm. We planned our afternoon rehearsal, detailing each improvisation and placing them in a logical order. I insisted that we define our working relationship before we started. Jen was the lead director who would guide the actors; I was like a dramaturg/support, who would lead a few improvisations and add detail. Because we had this protocol – and this good relationship between the two of us and (I feel!) between the actors, the rest of the rehearsal felt like we were flying. With the foundations in place, we could push ourselves, the actors and the piece into new places.

And the experience of this afternoon has clarified some of the debates of the morning. It’s not that being a director means you are claiming the rights or supreme knowledge of a text or an idea. Rather, like Gilles Deleuze writes in the introduction to Difference and Repetition, a director, like a teacher, says ‘come with me; do with me’ not ‘do as me’. She encourages play and participation, not imitation. It is about being sensitive and responsive to the here and now, to the elements in front of you, not the imaginary or desired visions in your head. It is together that we make things; a director is just that person who lays out the first parameters – so that the company can go beyond them.”

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 7

Photo: Robert Day

Nimer Rashed – Director Participant

“What an incredible week. What an amazing experience.

Summarising the seven days of Tamasha’s Actor/Director Lab is a challenging task. Reading any of the accounts of my colleagues below, you’ll notice that those who shared the ride have reached out and grabbed the closest superlative to hand. “Outstanding”, “fantastic”, “wonderful”, “extraordinary” – all these words have been employed in the desperate effort to capture something of what we all experienced.

Yet the reality is that none of these celebratory words come close to capturing our time together, because words aren’t everything – people are. And at the heart of Kristine Landon-Smith’s process is a simple belief in this truth, and an ability to invest her attention, faith and confidence in the people in front of her to help them achieve extraordinary results.

When I first witnessed Kris’s “actor-centred” method of directing, I thought it was something of a magic trick. Actors who’d entered the room with pre-prepared monologues delivered with the melancholy stiffness of language learned by rote were quickly transformed into living, breathing human beings experiencing stirring moments of emotional weight. Incredible leaps and bounds in performance were achieved in minutes – and how? Simply by allowing the actors to be themselves.

From the actors’ point of view, this was immensely liberating. Although many had been told in the past that they could perform Shakespeare in their own accents, or that “being yourself” is at the heart of good acting, very few actually knew what to do with this idea, or what emotional anchor to use to centre their performances in truth. With deft skill and intuition, Kris quickly evaluated the individual actor’s needs and responded to the person in front of her by giving them a “hook” – an improvisation, an accent – to allow their personality to come the fore, investing them with confidence and warmth and allowing the person beneath the words to emerge.

From the directors’ point of view, this meant putting aside all notions of “character” and “text” and simply learning to look and respond to the light in the eyes of the person before us. I found this incredibly exciting. Un-learning the traditional director’s verbiage of “objectives” and “actions” and instead gently guiding performers to be themselves demands a level of concentration (and, crucially, a love both of acting and of people) that’s a far cry from the text-centric process which pervades many other rehearsal rooms. Yet this Gaulier-inspired method of inflating the room with a buoyant sense of possibility and delight, allowing performers to have “the pleasure to play”, was not only extremely rewarding, educational, and inspiring – it was also incredibly fun.

As we ended our seven days together, the assembled group looked around and marvelled at the mix of ethnicities in the room. Someone pointed out that this room “was London”, and a brief silence fell. In that moment, as we glanced at each others’ faces, I think we all felt the same thing: that the extraordinary collage of accents and nationalities before us were far more representative of the city we live in than the overwhelming majority of the stories we witness on stage, or the rehearsal rooms we’ve been in, or even the audiences we’ve sat among. In that moment, I saw twenty-odd faces beaming with the elation that emerges at the end of a learning process coupled with the pride of a sense of self-recognition, and while it was a moment tinged with sadness (for like all such moments, it could not last), I like to think we all left the room a little wiser, a little more confident, the lights in our eyes twinkling with hope. And who, really, could ask for more?”

Anna Nguyen – Director Participant

“Is it possible to change this much within the space of 7 days? Well clearly it is. Working with Kristine on the directors program was exhausting but equally exhilarating. I always left at the end of the day with a hunger and thirst for more and couldn’t wait to come back tomorrow and have another stab at it. It was frustrating at times, but as I could see her methods working so clearly I never doubted that sooner or later everything would click, and it did. I have always been fascinated by Kristine’s approach since our one and rare interaction in an intercultural workshop at Central. Her work really speaks out to me, and this was evident when I started introducing some of her techniques into my own rehearsal. I was amazed at how responsive and open my actors became, after just one rehearsal. Her work has become so relevant to my own practice that I am determined to find out more. I was particularly impressed by the one physical exercise she introduced, of course it was harder than all the directors had anticipated, but equally challenging and stimulating. I really appreciated the whole ensemble and the entire program.”

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 7

Photo: Robert Day

Sarah Kameela Impey – Actor Participant

“People keep asking me what it was like, and all I can really say is amazing, incredible, wonderful and more. I don’t really feel like it will end mainly because the people who have taken part are now so empowered and excited about what we can do together that we will do everything we can to keep that practice alive. I really had forgotten the pleasure of play. Carefree easy play, to do a game or perform a piece without too much convoluted thought and with absolute joy and comfort at being in that space with that person doing what you are doing together. When you find this ‘play’ you suddenly realise that you can achieve magical things, you have unbelievable breakthroughs and hours seem like minutes as you become immersed in your work.”

Rachael Young. Photo: Robert Day

Haseeb Malik – Actor Participant

““And now, the end is near…” I’m not going to lie to you – I do enjoy starting with a quote! However, at this point I must leave Frank Sinatra at the rehearsal room door. This was to be our last day together after a week of inspiring workshops, talks and performances. I do leave feeling like I’ve added to my acting palette, the extent to which I’m afraid I cannot say just yet. Nevertheless, I’m glad I signed up, threw myself in and as a result – enjoyed the whole experience! That’s not to say it hasn’t been difficult at times, there was a day when I felt slightly self-conscious but that was just the actor in me wanting to ‘get it right’ at the first go. I had to remind myself that I was there to learn and have fun. Sometimes learning isn’t easy, it can take you places you didn’t always consider but provided you can draw positives from it – it’s all worth it in the end.

Working with Kristine has taught me that bringing more of ME into my acting performance is okay, allowed and should be embraced. She helped me access areas of my toolkit (certain ethnic accents/languages) that otherwise would have probably remained under-utilised. The whole group was very open to her approach and produced brilliant work day by day. Everyone seemed to grasp the idea of ‘playing well’ with each other and boy did we play! Who knew you could get so much out of throwing sticks to one another or dancing your way through musical chairs? At the end of every warm up session, I would cut a sweaty breathless figure in the corner of the room but ready to take on the day ahead. Play is a simple but extremely vital concept.

One the final day the group performed two-hander scenes and this was a pleasure not only to do but witness too. The connections between the actors felt natural and genuine, the actors seemed happier and you could see a sense of pride glowing from Kristine. This was all testimony to her great work over the seven days which saw the directors come on a great deal too – developing their instincts of how to get the best out of their actors. As a group we now share a common language and practice, during the process everyone was sincere and trusting – a great collective! Is this the end? Who can say?”

Chandni Mistry and Renuka Jhalli. Photo: Robert Day

Daniel Naddafy – Actor Participant

“The Actor/Director Lab has been one of the most enjoyable workshops I’ve ever participated in. It will take me time to process exactly what I’ve learnt, but the most important thing was the time spent in a room with a group of inspiring and incredibly talented theatre makers.

Kristine made the directors question and justify every one of their choices, and really got some of the actors to open up- this was all very interesting to observe. As a group we worked tremendously freely and engaged with one another very early on – I rarely worried about making mistakes or failing. Kristine created an environment where this freedom could flourish through games and exercises. I made some good relationships from the course and am sure we will continue to work together as an ensemble – who knows where this will lead…”

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 6

Sarah Kameela Impey – Actor Participant

“Bijan Sheibani has an incredibly inspiring CV, and yet remains an amazingly open, relaxed and care free spirit. He involved the group immediately and in discussing his process showed us how easily he engages a group of actors and directors. By looking at the character lists of a few plays we understood how to use them to initially understand the play, of course the writer includes everything for a reason. How are they described, what are their relationships, what clues does it give about them and why did the writer include that information. I have never dedicated so much time to that page of a play before, but now I will do it with everyone I read.

I now know it doesn’t matter if the director does not work in the same way, this course has affected my approach, I have seen what I am capable of and it has restored a belief in myself that the character is there to fit me and not the other way around. No one has the same personal experience as you, no one can draw such deep emotion and reality from your centre as you can, as long as you connect with yourself first, attributes of you that allow you to be free and play.”

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 4

Andrea Milde, Jen Grant and Lowri Jenkins. Photo: Robert Day

Renu Arora – Director Buddy

Being back on the Actor/Director as a Director Buddy is a wonderfully interesting experience – firstly because, while observing, I get a real ‘sense’ of where everyone is at within the process, and having to ‘hold’ all of those energies in my own mind, to be ready for a chat with anyone in case anyone needs to offload & discuss. This is taking me back to my own Actor Director Lab last December – as the advice I’m giving out the to other Directors this week, is advice I often need to deeper heed for myself!

I am also using the course to further deepen my own process. Watching the other directors work with the actors, on the one hand, has helped me realise how much I’ve already integrated so far – and on the other hand, am becoming very aware that while my instinct is now to look at the actor, I am aware that I need to look even deeper – to the ‘extraordinary’, in order to take my work up to the next level.

Kris has an extraordinary way of intuiting the different levels in the room, and ‘holding’ this. For example, watching two actors work with a short scene, one actor may be struggling with the text more than the other – it’s fascinating to watch Kris set an exercise that both will enjoy playing, and as a result, evens out any imbalances that were previously there, so bringing them both to a similar level.

And what a fabulous opportunity to witness the collaboration between Kris and William (voice coach), working on texts. William’s insight with the voice totally complements Kris’ instinct with their performances. I am thrilled and very privileged to be part of the scheme once again, as I am learning so much more for my own process, whilst at the same time, giving back.

Actor / Director Lab 2011 Participants

Photo by Robert Day

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