Monthly Archives: September 2011

Amanda McGregor, Actor in Simon Stephen’s ‘Port’ at NIDA, where Kristine directs

Photo by Remy Hii

“In the process thus far, my startling discovery has been that I don’t know my process all that well… What exactly am I doing?

I am asking myself  ‘does it help me that I know a billion facts about my “character”?’ Or that I know the history of the town in which my “character” was born? These facts may color my world, perhaps provide vital information, but do they help me DO THE DEED? I’m starting to wonder.

Sometimes with so much information in one’s head, the thoughts swirl around, the “information” is confusing, my needs become unclear, and ultimately my storytelling becomes muddy.

The problem appears to be: playing out the story moment to moment, staying with the person with whom I’m interacting, being alive, being real, being honest, being open. But above all (for me personally), simplifying and knowing what it is I’m playing. Without these two things, the clarity evaporates, I become lost and I become, for want of a better word – bland.   One of the best discoveries I have made is that I can be at my emotionally “fullest” and committed during improvisation. To gain a sense of the truth of the situation, and of the level of commitment required, improvisation throws me into the unknown and forces me to respond honestly and openly.

The logical step would thus be to find that sense of improvisation when speaking text.  Improvising when speaking?? It seems so simple and easy – but the fact of the matter is, our “text brains” can lock us in the second we speak those words on the page, and prevent us from being alive and free to play!

For me, the process  working on ‘Port’ with Kristine has been three-pronged. Firstly, my task is to stay in improvisation mode ALL THE TIME. Secondly, that improvisation must be fully committed every time – there are no halves for me; it leads to what I now refer to as “nothingness”. Thirdly, there must be something clear to play. Identifying the all-important subtext has become tantamount for revealing the story. A tangible subtext that speaks to me, and that drives every word and every action I carry out. Without it, I flounder. And I fake it. And faking it will only ever be “good”, which is never good enough. Let’s go for extraordinary.”

Photo by Remy Hii

James Hoare & Ric Hizon, Actor in Simon Stephen’s ‘Port’ at NIDA, where Kristine directs

Photo by Remy Hii

“A lot of the time in the first few days of rehearsal was spent on games. First with simple fun musical chair style games, then into games which rely upon focus on the other person or object. It took us ten to twenty goes at trying to keep a ball in the air but when people stopped thinking about their own responsibility to the ball and about just keeping the ball alive we reached 131!

I started to relax around Kristine and the other actors (whom, even though I’ve known for three years, I still get jittery when we start a new project together). There’s fun to be had in plays and sometimes the expectation you put on yourself to be accurate or brilliant or just respectful to the text or character can interfere with your work and then rehearsals become painful.

With Kristine, so far we have worked first at finding a truth as an actor. We do this through an improvisation that is similar to a situation in the play and then we see what the instinct of the actor is…what is the reaction and impulse of the actor, not the character? Kristine does not like to use the word “character” in her rehearsal room. We then try and use the impro to help us move seamlessly to text work…in and out of accents (our own and theStockportaccent of the play). Every now and then Kristine asks what we thought, what we felt…we discuss it, but never too much … only enough to get a simple idea … too much discussion can complicate the process says Kristine.

Mostly in the first week we have found an ease and comfort with ourselves. Kristine has built this as our foundation.” James Hoare

Photo by Remy Hii

“Up on the floor, we’re set with the task of achieving and sustaining an open and relaxed state in which we can simply play the scene. It’s the enjoyment of the work that makes it worthwhile: finding a place of ease and simplicity that allows the most profound nuances to evolve out of simply playing. I became aware of something today…not something I didn’t know, but something I perhaps needed to be reminded of: I am more at ease playing something that’s not me.

Our first reads and improvisations were geared towards establishing a connection – thus, “character” wasn’t necessarily the focus of the exercise. In fact, we were encouraged simply to place ourselves. Kristine suggested I improvise aSouth East Asian streetvendor. I know the sort. I used to walk past them on my way to school. As a third culture kid, though they weren’t ever really that huge a part of my life. But I do know the sort. I was initially apprehensive – I just didn’t see the relevance. But it stuck.

“You, pretty lady, you come here, buy souvenir.”

It was generalized and caricature, but there was some truth in it. And it was,admittedly, kinda fun to do. It did ultimately get me to “play” the scene.

The biggest problem is moving from improvisation to text while maintaining that same sense of freedom, and acceptance of uncertainty; once the words I use are determined by a script, I immediately go back to my old habits of “the most desired reading” – not really playing, but rather displaying what I’d like to play. Having the additional layer of some sort of vocal or physical parameter that makes me instinctively change my own rhythms essentially freed me up – freedom through specificity. We even tried the scene with, as yet, amateurish renditions of theStockportdialect: suddenly, the text seemed to spring to life…” Ric Hizon

Sudha’s thoughts on the ‘creative case for diversity’

This week Arts Council England (ACE) unveiled the long awaited articulation of their plans for making ‘a creative case for diversity.’ There was a day long symposium as part of the Decibel Performing Arts Showcase at the Royal College of Music in Manchester. The conference was clearly over subscribed and we were in a room jam-packed with delegates. There was a great sense of urgency and anticipation from people looking for a ‘different’ conversation, one that would hopefully rid us of any ‘diversity fatigue’ for good. The programme for the day included a key note from Tony Panayiotou, (Director of Diversity Arts Council England) and follow up from Hassan Mahamdallie, (Senior Strategy officer Arts Council England) both of which certainly packed a punch and their passion was palpable.

They unveiled the key messages and offered an open invitation to engage in the dialogue, and take real and meaningful action to mirror the diversity in society through our organisations and art forms. Clearly the desire is there to bring the discourse of diverse artists out of the periphery and give it the prominence it deserves as artists. By re-situating artists firmly in an ‘artist led’ approach, it is argued, we can finally have a conversation about art with diversity at its heart, and a driver for innovation. This creative case is underpinned by the moral, legal and business case but argues a ‘clearer, simpler and more potent’ position that will take diverse artists out of the ‘deficit’ model, where imperatives around funding and ‘box ticking’ were considered the main drivers. This new position will be underpinned by policy and ACE will reveal its plans by April 2012, with National Portfolio Organisations (Tamasha is one of these) expected to respond with their plans by April 2013. ACE will play a leadership role in letting the sector arrive at its own conclusions. Resources will be targeted to develop a more diverse leadership and ecology, support a wider range of artistic collaboration beyond traditional touring circuit and ‘agents of change’ and ‘beacon’ organisations and networks will be sought. ACE will lead by example and expect its staff to change and be fully engaged and informed.

It would seem churlish not to welcome this new stance with open arms. After all, Tamasha’s twenty one year canon of work has hitherto taken place in the so called ‘deficit’ model of funding and we have long argued for our role as artists to take prominence over our role as ‘audience developers’.  I was therefore keen to hear from the responses and the platform about what the creative case meant personally to the speakers.

Diverse views emerged showing the complexity and delicacy of the subject: Deborah Shaw (Associate Director, Royal Shakespeare Company) felt liberated and not let ‘off the hook’ as in the previous ‘instrumental’ approach of box ticking. In her view, it allows for all sorts of imaginative possibilities that give people a sense of entitlement and allowed people in her position to be ‘enablers, not gate keepers’ while Fiona Gasper, (Executive Director, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester) acknowledged that diversity, excellence and opportunity is still a patchy conversation in the mainstream. She talked about the challenges of inflexible business models and imperatives around filling a main stage of 700 seats, which can be obstacle to really embracing diverse work. The studio allows for more freedom and there is a genuine desire to impact the work on the main stage. Things like the Bruntwood Prize have allowed for more relevant plays to emerge. She talked about the ‘tingle factor’ with great art where there is often the fusing of diverse practices.

Meanwhile, Alistair Spalding (Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Sadler’s Wells) was very persuasive with Sadler’s Wells having embraced a multi national, multiculturalism that has, in his words, ‘democratised’ the art form which in turn has democratised the audience that comes. The work is about the world right now. This was echoed in Skinder Hundal’s speech (Chief Executive, New Art Exchange) around a ‘smash and grab culture, a 21st century chaos’ that needs art to reflect, inform and explore dangerous and provocative thought that steps far away for a monoculture. His organisation ‘lives, breathes and bleeds the creative case everyday’; Madani Younis was short and sharp with his ‘Thank f**k for the creative case’. He wants to be ‘porous, plural and open’ and ‘lose control to artists that work and audiences that come’. He argued that the creative case marks a shift in the context in which artists set up a conversation. He was greeted with huge warm applause, not least as he is about to take up his position as Artistic Director of Bush Theatre – no pressure Madani!

All very heady stuff but can this shift occur seamlessly while inequality may still be a big factor? Hassan outlined that eight out of ten jobs still went to people within ‘closed’ networks. This is clearly still a huge challenge and it is unclear how the ‘creative case’ will address this. Someone in the audience summed up a precariousness felt by many young artists who are ‘sitting floating on a raft of loss’ and can’t see themselves creating any work, let alone their best work.

So what does all this mean for Tamasha and me personally? As I walked back to the station in my new MBTs, I wondered if the buoyancy I felt was from the creative possibilities ahead or from my innovative ‘diverse’ footwear that borrowed the technology from the Masai tribes.

I imagine all sorts of eclectic projects and collaborations will emerge in this new climate; some inevitably for the sake of a cultural hybridity that ticks a new ‘creative diversity’ box. One the viewpoints that really chimed with me was from Maria Oshodi, (CEO and Artistic Director, Extant Theatre Company). She said that artists need to be able to work in an ‘exclusive’ way, so that they can bring a clear practice to this cross pollination. Alan Davey talked of seeing Akram Khan’s piecezero degrees, the day after 7/7 and how it spoke to him about the ‘frailty of humanity’ and helped him to process what had happened. By all accounts Akram’s new piece, desh will also transcend, but at its heart is his personal journey as a second generation British Bengali going back to Bangladesh. It is these uniquely subjective voices that must drive a compelling creative case. Tamasha’s new play, Snookered, by Ishy Din, promises to introduce another such voice. Ishy is a taxi driver, turned playwright and Snookered, is a timely play about friendship and betrayal, looking at the lives of four young Muslim men juggling cultural constraints with a fragile masculinity. Simon Stephens has talked of Ishy’s work as “a play born out of real honesty and wit, written with energy and force and a deep insight into a world of unique humanity and humour” and we have Oldham Coliseum and the Bush Theatre as partners. I look forward to myself and Tamasha continuing to be powerful ‘agents of change’ in this new era. We welcome more creative conversation and collaboration.

Sudha, Co-Artistic Director

Step Up – Circus Participants’ Routine and blog post

View our Step Up participants’ routines after only ten days training with Upswing at Circus Space:

Step Up Circus Training Day 9 by Bhawna Bhawsar

“So we’re into Week 2 of this bruising, battering experience. It’s only this week I had a breakthrough with the techniques I’ve been learning on rope, silk and hoop.

When I think back to Week 1, I was convinced that they would ask me to leave because I just wasn’t ‘suitable’. Whilst it looked like others were advancing so quickly, I couldn’t even climb a rope, literally. I just didn’t have the upper body strength required to do this kind of work. I also didn’t appear to have the right body shape in comparison to others on the group. I felt emotionally unworthy and physically battered, bruised and in pain!

Vicky Amedume, the course leader, has been a real inspiration however. I remember her telling us how she would stick out like a sore thumb in an Aerialist line-up because of her look and shape. But, wow, she is amazing and graceful on the apparatus!

I can do this! I was determined not to be defeated by weaknesses. So I began to work at my own pace and persisted through the compounding muscle pain each day. The Body Conditioning exercises have been hardcore, but are so important to build up my core and upper body strength. I couldn’t remember the last time I did a handstand, let alone for over a minute! For those who think it’s easy – try it and see how quickly you’re arms start to tremble and collapse! Oh and the last time I did a handstand was at school! It’s been like Bootcamp!

So Monday morning, this week, was a major achievement for me because I climbed a 5 meter ‘silk’. And went on to do foot locks, vertical splits, asymmetric splits, gazelle, bird’s nest, half-angel, angel, front balance, back balance … on the iron hoop and silks!  I have learnt a lot, especially about pushing myself and finding my strengths in challenging situations. And it’s been great that we have supported and encouraged each other – what a fantastic group of friends! What an amazing opportunity!

We’ve now been asked to perform a sequence of techniques (of our choice) using the apparatus, for tomorrow. I’m not going recite poetry, Shakespeare or use music. I think I’ll do a monologue about my learning curve through this process. After all, it’s been my journey, my process and my achievements – that’s what defines me – us all!”

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Step Up Circus Training Day 10 by Sarah Kameela Impey

“How do you end two of the most amazing, physically exerting, emotionally challenging and friendship bonding weeks of your life? Like this – I don’t think anyone has been so excited to do body conditioning, we are all hoping we can carry it on day after day when we are finished but, just in case, we throw ourselves into it as much as possible and more. I did my first minute hand stand, a personal triumph followed by a very giddy feeling. Today we are showing our pieces, we have chosen our best moves from over the two weeks and put them either to music, accompanying a story or part of a monologue. I can tell everyone is slightly worried not knowing what everyone else has done, Vicki silently supporting at the side while we practice. The room is filled with the slaps of the crash mats as people fly onto the apparatus and the whispers of the creatives remembering their words.

When the pieces start, the room is in awe and I cannot believe how far people have come, I mean these are actual performances done with heart and soul and are completely mesmerising. Phoebe makes a monologue from The Merchant of Venice look like it should have only been performed on the hoop, Bhawna tells a tale called the The Circus Virgin, about her own personal journey, we were all so proud and I have to admit there was a slight tear in my eye. I wrote a poem  which blended with my moves with the ending moral being ‘you just had to climb to make your dreams come true’, Ella wowed us by emerging from her cocoon high in the silks to the song ‘Clubbed to Death’, Jess did a 50’s style dance with the hoop as her flattering partner, Sarah put her delectable dance physique into a montage on the silks, Sabrina’s monologue erupted as she climbed like a wave, Maya’s passionate and booming monologue came from her silk hammock, Sui made us burst into laughter with his cheeky Scottish speech, Milton bought out the Latin in us all as he flowed so easily as if the hoop was dancing around him, Dina climbed up high to tumble down so freely, mimicking her Arabic poem of Love, Kimmy used music and dance to tell a turbulent relationship with the silks as her lifeline, Vanessa played with the hoop combining dance and playtime into a wonderful childhood/love story and with insane insistence from the group Vicki gave us another dose of magic inspiration by performing a section of the show she had just done. She looked effortless yet powerful and we realised that all the performances that we had done had strong elements and the spark of the fire she was displaying.

In two weeks we have all pushed ourselves, come through unbelievable pain for the best and most valuable goal. I think people were almost disappointed at the end not to be hurting as much. I feel strong from my core to every extremity and there is no way I will not carry this on. We sat and ate cake and then went for a drink and although saying goodbye felt so hard, with so many thanks and praises to say, I know it will not be the last time we sit together and smile, this has brought into our lives forever circus and circus friends, as well said by Bhawna: ‘They were circus virgins no more.”

Milton’s routine is also available to view below:

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