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.”

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