Monthly Archives: October 2011

TDA Emma Sampson visits NIDA where Kristine directs

“I’m currently in Sydneyand incredibly lucky that my time here coincides with rehearsals for NIDA’s graduating students’ production, directed by Kristine Landon-Smith. NIDA is probably best described to people in the UK as Australia’s RADA equivalent. Cate Blanchett, Judy Davis, Mel Gibson and many other esteemed actors trained there. It is rare to have the opportunity to see what goes on behind NIDA’s doors and I consider it a great privilege to have been allowed to observe a tech rehearsal for Port.

NIDA trains actors, designers, technicians and stage managers. The final year production is a full-scale production, in a professional theatre with high production values. Watching the tech rehearsal was really eye-opening because it is quite different to the kind of theatre projects I’ve been involved with where usually the budget is very tight, resources are limited and the production team is one or two people. The role of the director is very different when they are collaborating with so many people and it was incredible to watch Kristine working with this team and with the actors.

Having participated in the Actor/Director Lab, I have seen how Kristine works with actors and it was great to see how that extends to working with the whole creative team. It’s quite interesting to see that her discussion with a lighting designer isn’t that different to a discussion she might have with an actor. She is always clear in how she communicates; ‘That is not ideal’, ‘That is better’ and ‘That is good’. It probably sounds quite redundant but you can’t underestimate the importance of being clear and certain with your communication during this process.

Tech rehearsals can often feel quite hectic, stressful and even shambolic. I think this is because people don’t communicate well and aren’t clear in what they mean. Today’s rehearsal was completely the opposite and you could feel within the room how calm (and relieved, because I felt like people walked into the room preparing for it to be a bit of an ‘ordeal’) everyone felt. I think the tech is often where the actors start to worry a bit or feel like they don’t know what is going on and again this wasn’t the case for today’s rehearsal – everyone was kept in the loop and so everyone could feel confident in what they were doing.

Most tech rehearsals I’ve been involved with have been done cue-to-cue because time is usually tight. I’ve always been told that the tech is ‘not for the actors’ and often the actors are told not to ‘act’, just to say their lines. Kristine made it clear from the beginning that the tech was a fantastic opportunity for the actors to keep working, discover new things and that under no circumstances were they to ‘walk it’. It was fantastic to see how much the actors got out of the tech and many new things were discovered and changed. It made me realize what a great opportunity the tech is to keep working on what the actors are doing and how much is wasted by doing a cue-to-cue.

Certainty, making decisions quickly and confidently really helped to move things forward. Kristine was open to suggestions from other people and it was great to see how flexible she could still be about where an actor might move to, how something might come on stage etc. I think in many situations an actor might have gotten upset or lost confidence if they were suddenly asked to do something differently but it was clear that these actors felt very confident in what they were doing and weren’t thrown by the suggestion that they move to a different place on a different line etc. I remember Kristine saying during the lab that you have to make sure the actors are ready to leave the rehearsal room. It was clear that this was the case for these actors.

It has been great to have this opportunity and to see how theatre is made when it is done in bigger spaces with bigger budgets. I felt that today was an extension of the experience I’d had a few weeks ago when I co-directed (with fellow TDA Lowri Jenkins) Tamasha’s Small Lives, Global Ties scratch night at the Unicorn Theatre. I’ll sound naive but it really was a different experience working with a full lighting rig, professional technician etc and I have to admit my mind went blank. Like many of us, I work mainly on the fringe and usually I’m trying to be as creative as possible with limited resources, which is an important skill to master but is just as important to learn what to do with the resources and the personnel when you do have them.”

Whitney Boyd and Rebecca Barbera, Actors in Simon Stephen’s ‘Port’ at NIDA, where Kristine directs

“Kristine’s process has reminded me of some of the essential elements to being a performer: to be open, alive, playful and receptive. It is so easy as a performer to slave away over the mechanics and technical elements of creating a character. By engaging in the idea of playing well and being an open and fearless actor, it gives you complete access to your senses, you become active in the scene and you start to intrigue your viewers. The trick is to be IN the scene, listening and responding and above all playing.

Then the questions start: Do I change my vocal tone? Do I create a different walk from my own? Mmm, that sounds rather laborious and traditional. In relation to the process that we are working on with Kris, the answer would be to use myself in the given circumstances of the scene. If I am committed to my own thoughts and responses, my voice, my body and this notion of “character” will organically create itself. I won’t be Whitney acting as 73-year-old woman, but rather Whitney playing and engaging with a 73-year-old version of herself.

Today we discussed the idea of recreating moments on stage once they have been discovered. We, as performers, seem to have it in our head that we either hit or miss the mark. Kristine reminds us that it is not that difficult if we remind ourselves that “hitting the mark” is more to do with tapping into our own process that makes us open and able to play well …… it is not about hitting the mark around traits of “character “. The actor knows what the structure of the scene is, they know what they want to achieve within the scene, and they know the lines, so all that is left to be done is to play moment by moment.

For me, this process is really about maintaining this subtle and naturalistic approach whilst grappling with the technical elements of the theatre. To create simple and understated work that is not diminished by over articulating or giving prescribed gestures.

This way of working is thrilling. There is something really exhilarating about performing intimately with my fellow actors. Instead of pushing a performance onto the audience, we want to draw them in, have them at the edge of their seats and listening as hard as they can.” Whitney Boyd

“These last three weeks have been challenging, but incredibly fun and exciting. I’ve been taught a way of working, which only requires me to draw from myself and have the joy to play with the other actors in the scene. Kristine’s worked with all of us on developing our own, individual ways of preparing and working that allows us to play to the best of our ability in our work. It’s been a tough learning curve at times. Sometimes I’ve felt like I’ve been working without the kind of roadmap that I’m used to. Often, I look inward at what I’m  doing: how I’m standing, how I’m  speaking, what I’m  thinking etc. It’s been wonderful to try and stop thinking about all that (in my case it’s been pretty hard!) and just focus on playing with the other person and what they’re giving you. The funny thing is, when you really play, you’re the best actor you can be, and everything else is taken care of.

I’ve asked my dad to fly across fromPerth and see this show. He isn’t keen on theatre, but I think he might like this show. I think that while watching it he might realise why it was worth me changing course after two degrees to study acting, because when the work is really good and has the capacity to really affect people, you remember what an honour it is to do this job.” Rebecca Barbera

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