6 Week Actors’ Course

Armaan Kirmani, Participant Actor

I was excited about the prospect of working with Kristine and Tamasha as I felt that I would be able to rekindle some of the acting passion that was ignited under my first acting teachers Hilary Wood (RADA) and Justin Pierre (Actor Prepares). Tamasha has a history of promoting British Asian creatives but now has a more ‘multicultural’ focus as I was informed on my first session.

Just play she says – Actor’s need to play. It is the actor who is integral to the performance and entertainment. Not the character, not the writing – the ACTOR. This is the empowerment that we need and Kristine’s direct and honest approach is refreshing.

On my way to buy some milk for my dad’s cuppa I contemplate about why each acting session begun with competitive games. ‘It’s about learning how to play. Winning does not matter’. But hang on a minute, come to think of it – if the warm up volleyball didn’t reach the 100 count it seemed like the end of the world and during musical chairs even Kristine was devastated at not getting a chair once the music stopped. Perhaps there is no fun in playing unless one plays to win, But even if one does not win, they should take pleasure in the play as there can be pleasure in losing as well.

As an actor, for me, as Kristine says – less is more. But interestingly for others, less is less and more is more. We’re all different, but actually we all want to do more and not less – so finding truth in the ‘more’ is something that needs to be explored in more detail while accepting that less is more is a challenge.

The temptation to read scripts in a stereotypical way limit and confine the actor, and actioning a script although has certain merits can also have a devastating impact on truthful performances – so use it to find truth when all other things have been explored and yet some flavours in the scene are still missing. Don’t rely on it.

When Shakespeare, Chekov and Greek tragedy didn’t come across as convincing – we were asked to try it on our native accents. My native accent is from North London. Honest I went to private school and a top University. She wasn’t convinced – and here we were being the fresh off the boat Romeo and interestingly the performance was far more effective and engaging. Something about reading Shakespeare in a strong Indian accent – gives it a lot more meaning. Go beyond the stereotype and the social stigma and say ‘To Be or Not To Be’ with strong heavy t’s and b’s treat your accent like a sound and not a political statement – now you’re performing! Liberation. An actor’s job is to empathise and not judge.

Working with other talented actors is always an educational experience – we had a fun and talented bunch. You learn more and find more truth in any performance when you play with other actors. Improvisation helped to find more truth in performing texts – texts which often led the actors to shrivel up and lose imagination. When we stopped imagining, we stopped playing. When we stopped playing, we stopped having fun and the audience had no interest in watching a bored actor and they also lost interest.

The course indeed posed more questions and gave more food for thought. There is a new generation of British Asians, ones who were brave enough to follow their ambitions and dedicate time to a craft which does not provide a regular and stable income. But actors tell stories and stories influence society. This can be the start of something special, a revolution in our industry – it’s exciting times for British Asian and ethnic actors because the market doesn’t really exist. There is an acceptance of ethnic actors having talent, but there is yet to be acceptance that ethnic actors can play non-ethnic centred stereotypical roles – and until this change comes through, I will continue to train and perform! Otherwise there won’t be an industry – there will only be a competitive hobby called British Asian theatre and film. However, when this change comes through – I will be ready. Armed with all the tools that people like Kristine have given me – not being apologetic for my ethnic background or the versatility in character that my various other languages give me but instead using them to help celebrate my identity and to help tell more honest and meaningful stories.

Nelly Scott, Participant Actor

The past 6 weeks have been incredible, to get to know other actors through seeing their soul and pleasure shine in performance, background and experience don’t really matter in the moment where true beauty is present because it’s living in front of the audience, alive in the imagination.

I would dedicate today’s class to sophistication, precision and detail. As an actor in the course I have witnessed and experienced the importance of finding something sophisticated and unpredictable in how one plays, to stray away from what is most actors biggest downfall: playing the “meaning” of the text, we have been challenged to fill the script with our own personal colour unique from any other. As most of my work has been with improvisation today I truly grasped how precision underlining the text can really help an actor be open, when the actor knows his/her simple objective there is more room to play with the detail because there is no reason to feel lost or confused. Attention to detail was another important lesson, if we are too direct on stage we can not be sophisticated and unpredictable we will lose the audience to boredom for seeing yet again another version of the same scene we’ve seen 100 times before, its got to have that spice of something special.

Today’s class was especially fascinating as I found the errors in most scenes were alike and fell in to one of the aforementioned categories which all seem to be members of the same family. Sophistication, precision and detail are all the fundamental qualities of those theatre productions that leave you wanting more, leaving you in a place where you can dream for days as though the performance couldn’t have gone any other way. That is our work as actors to recognize when we’re on fire and when we’re just mediocre, its about how we can find that simple unpredictable perfection when we give the audience what they want without them knowing beforehand that is what they wanted.

Something that has come up a few times in after class discussion is “How can we find these moments alone when every director has a particular way of working and so many put all the focus on the meaning of the text?” and I feel this question will be our greatest challenge now that the course is finished. To continue working from a place of pleasure, a place that is open, free and comfortable in search of that moment where the text pours out as though everything was in the perfect time and place. We may have to keep coming back for a click of the recharge button whilst looking for opportunities to work with creative people with a similar goal.

This experience has been a blessing, I learned as much from observing as from performing and I recommend this course to actors and certainly directors who really want to focus on creating compelling and sophisticated work.

Emma-Rachel Blackman, Participant Actor

Armaan and I were working on a scene from Port. A scene of two friends who crossed ‘that line’ the day before and had sex. It was very unclear to me how my character, Rachel, felt towards Danny the day after and what her true feelings were about what happened.
Without talking to Kristine about my uncertainty, we got on stage and did the scene. I hoped that I would be able to answer these questions instinctively once I was on stage working with my partner. However, one the scene began, I felt extremely stuck. The character seemed to take my uncertainty as an actress, and Rachel became a quiet and somewhat odd person. It was obvious to me that this was not the right path for Rachel, given her lines, her age, her profession and of course, given the circumstances of the play.
We finished the scene and Kristine gave her feedback. I raised my question about how Rachel and Danny are with each other after having crossed the line between friends and lovers, and Kristine simply answered – they are just being nice to each other. Such a simple answer that just made it all fall into place. We did the scene again, after scrapping off the accents and the uncertainty of the relationship and just enjoyed being nice to each other. And it worked. And since there was so much pleasure in playing, I was relaxed and open on stage. Purely enjoying the time on stage and the relationship with my partner, Rachel seemed to laugh uncontrollably once there was too much silence between her and Danny and her physicality was much bigger and less held up tight than the first time round.
The idea of the pleasure to play that Kristine has introduced to us in this course is quite a new way for me to think of my craft. And yet it seems so vital. If I approach even the gloomiest tragedies with the actor’s inner thought of – ‘Yay! I get to share this wonderful story of true human pain in front of all these people in the audience!’, maybe it will be easier to avoid self-pity on stage and succumbing to the slow and lethargic pace of utter despair and sadness. I also believe that this pleasure to play is also better for the actor’s psyche, by keeping the sense of enjoyment of one’s craft whilst portraying a person in the midst of a life threatening catastrophe.

Michael Quartey, Participant Actor

Having taking this course I have learnt a lot about myself and what you, the actor, can bring too the role. I have learnt to play with my fellow actors and being able too engage with them from a game to a piece of text, which is vital in terms of the audience believing me as a actor. The course has allowed me watch other actors and progress on my journey as I have learnt a lot from them and Kristine.

Clare Barrett, Participant Actor

Week 5 of the Actors’ Course and I am deeply sorry that there is only one more session left after this. It is proving a transforming experience for all of us, I think. Certainly, in my own practice as an actor, I feel I now know the things that stop me from finding the pleasure to play and how to detect when they are cropping up and circumvent them, and I know how playing well feels. You can see this learning in every one of the performers in the group.

This week we looked at Greek tragedy and paired up with the task of finding a way to play a scene using both monologues. We started from the point of improvising a situation that helped both (or in one group’s case, all three) of us with our monologues. We then played the improvised scene again, but using our Greek tragedy monologues instead of the improvised dialogue. The result was like watching or being in a particularly intense Complicité exercise – brilliant for ensuring that we were playing well together, and really allowing you to feel when the rhythm of the scene was right or wrong.

The atmosphere in the studio throughout this course has been properly exciting – hard, detailed work going on everywhere, and everyone experiencing enormous pleasure in the work being done.

Sue Ahmet, Participant Actor

The weekly continuity of the masterclasses is proving to be invaluable. It gives you time to digest the feedback you receive personally and as a group. The amount you learn from watching your colleagues is of equal value and we are in a privileged position to be in a generous, open room, learning from one another.
When we let go of our ‘idea’ of a scene or playwright, or drop our need to control the situation or come to an understanding of what is stopping us from playing in the moment with our partner, the difference in the work is marked and truly inspiring. Kris often says we want to come to the theatre to see something “extra ordinary”. From watching and being with my colleagues last night, I am gaining a greater understanding of what this means. They excited me as an audience member and as a fellow actor when they came into the scene – their vocal rhythms, their individual physicalities flowing naturally from themselves. A smile, an inflection, an idiosyncratic hand movement or expression and all your thinking is – “this is lovely, more please”. You want the “play” to last, the moment to linger and everyone in the room is excited by not knowing where the improvisation/scene might go next. But within this freedom there is discipline – you must be with your partner, not running off on your own narrative or simply diving into a stale box of tricks. Audience and actors are not stupid. We are delighted and feel pleasure when the journey is organic and the play is happening for real, in this moment, in front of us.

Anurita Heer, Participant Actor

It has been an interesting three weeks so far. Having the opportunity to concentrate on the ‘pleasure to play’ has been very helpful as it has gradually allowed me to relax and focus on being in the moment. Exploring creative possibilities with a group of talented actors and observing how Kristine works with each actor has been an effective learning tool. Whether working on my monologue or now working on a duologue, I have been able to play to see what possibilities there are in a scene. One of the interesting ways to explore has been the use of one’s background and language. The opportunity to improvise in my mother tongue was freeing as it brought other sides of myself to the foreground and I feel that this actor-centric technique allowed me to enjoy improvisation and be in the moment rather than finding it daunting.

Ali Zaidi, Paricipant Actor

Two weeks in I have to say it’s been game-changing. The workshops are proving to be progressively challenging, and more fun. We’ve delved into the idea of play as a state of being for an actor – removing the idea of obtaining pre-set goals and instead enjoying playing with the other person in the moment. That is the very least I will take away from my time with Kristine.

It’s strangely comforting to uncover that everyone in the group, all of whom are excellent actors, seem to share similar issues in their work. The idea of being present, to enjoy the moment, and to use themselves (and all the various connotations that it entails i.e. culture, race, age, etc) as a valid starting point. The idea of a “neutral” starting point is an interesting one and one that particularly resonates with me. It’s weird, but until Kristine mentioned it I was happy to totally disregard my own identity in my approach to acting, when it is quite clearly my greatest asset. The idea of myself, an Asian actor, forcing myself to approach work from a White perspective does seem really strange, and it’s only because of this course that I’ve come to realize what I’ve been denying myself in my work.

On a personal note, I did my monologue (Othello’s Iago) the week previously. I had, at the beginning, admitted my fear of improvisation. We quickly found our feet in the situation provided by Kristine and were off. I was lucky that my partners were somewhat more confident than I was. Kristine has a really interesting way of working, and accessing an actors’ full being. She had me improvise in Urdu, then switch to English with a Pakistani accent before launching into my monologue. I found this liberating. An experience I had never had before. I found that I brought a lot of myself to the scene and, most importantly, that was absolutely fine. I hit a point in my monologue that Kristine calls “riding the crest of the wave”- a point where you, the scene and the words flow just right. And you are on the line, and you’re living it. I’ve felt it before in moments where I’ve known I’ve down some good work. Hitting that point was an indication for me. It showed me that I was doing myself a disservice by disregarding my own personal background and everything that essentially made me who I am. It also showed me that this process was something I could take with me and implement in my work, my art.

Sunnie Sidhu, Participant Actor

It’s refreshing to work with a company that celebrates and encourages the individuality of the actor, rather than oppress it. Working with Tamasha has reminded me to trust my instincts when it comes to text in order to find its natural rhythms and depth, rather than over analysis, which keeps you acting in your head rather than your gut. Most importantly, the workshops have reminded me to play.

Anshu Srivastava, Participant Director Observer

OK, third workshop in and I am properly excited (I also attended the Chekhov and Shakespeare masterclasses). This is a great group of actors! I’m especially pleased as this is going to be a chance to see the group develop over six weeks.

My observations from the Shakespeare masterclass were reinforced. To locate and enjoy the pleasure to play, not only within oneself but within the other and to hold that connection is important not only between the actors, but also between the actors and the director. A phrase that was used on the night was ‘to ride the crest of a wave and stay there as long as possible’. It’s clear that this place is temporal and not obviously easy to sustain. Some people asked how can an individual actor access that ‘sweet spot’ when they are alone in front of an audition panel. I began to wonder, how can you authentically attain that place, night after night in front of an audience.

I’m looking forward to the following classes where some of these questions can be addressed with the group.

Nitasha Rajoo, Participant Director Observer

“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” Edwin Land

Enjoying the pleasure to play – Director Observer

As many children growing up in Canada, we are all exposed to the breadth of society having grown up within a multitude of cultures. I, like others were privileged to be surrounded by an awe of diversification and I, like others witnessed the beauty and struggle that surrounded lives as west and east traditions tried to merge. However, in the melting pot of colours, cultures and languages, it still remains to be a question: What is our identity? Attending the workshop tonight reinforced that it is OK just to BE.

After I graduated university, I was ready to live my dream…on stage. Audition after audition I was unable to attain anything of merit, and it crushed the soul (every actor knows this feeling!). As an actor, we are stripped to a neutral starting point to be rebuilt and moulded – I witnessed this last night. Observing some of the actors wanting to question the premise of some of Kristine’s activities is healthy – I had numerous questions running through my head. But the end result – the work that was conjured was even better than the initial.

In a workshop years ago, I asked the question: “Where is the culture in the cultural sector”? and the response was silence. It was then skidded over and reiterated that culture was naturally the arts – encompassing dance, music, theatre. Naturally, but is there not a deeper meaning…a deeper layer? This was years ago.

I started a theatre company in Vancouver Canada called Shakti Arts – in a reaction to creating action for South Asian artists to emerge on stage. A place to express one’s cultural identity …one’s spirit. This again was projected in the first workshop – Kristine encouraged actors to participate in having fun. …to connect with the spirit.

As a drama teacher now, my ‘actors’ are raw, new and are open to the idea of play. The freedom and no inhibition in the game of tag, is a game I tried the next day with my year 7’s . They loved it. When I encouraged my GCSE group to play the same game, they started asking questions about the rules, the winner, the competition, all before the game could commence. They had the extra layers from shows (they just finished performing Othello).

I am a director observer on this project, but at heart I am ( and always will be ) an actor. I came into the session, excited to observe ( but I’ll be honest I was gutted not to be able to participate). However, after just watching I take away so much: ‘Finding a meaning through different voices, learning from the flop, and being able to make mistakes, showing conflict without all the noise’- these will all help in my delivery in the classroom but also it will aid in my own approach to texts as a performer.

I am very much an actor that likes to get into the nuts and bolts of the character. I like the challenge and exploration of the inner layers and makeup of a character – what truly makes them tick. I was thoroughly impressed in how Kristine used the idea of one’s mother language and improvisation to convey this practice. Getting to crux using our own cultural makeup makes our scenes, that much more real, and genuine.

It seems so simple. …Until next week…

Manisha Hirani, Participant Actor

I have only ever been taught on-screen acting, and even though it helped kick off my career, I felt like I wasn’t progressing anymore and I knew more work needed to be done but I wasn’t sure what. After 1 workshop I learnt so much. It was almost like going back to basics – which is exactly what I had missed, especially with having no theatre training whatsoever. The idea that an actor should take pleasure in their role is so simple but forgotten by so many including myself. After 1 workshop I already feel confident in approaching scripts, without having to worry about how I should be portraying the character, or succumb to (what i think) is other peoples’ idea of a particular character. Cannot wait for next weeks workshop!

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