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.”

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