Greek Tragedy Masterclass, September 2012

Sarah Johnson, Participant Actor

Throughout the workshop, I was particularly excited and inspired to see each actor touch moments of bringing a world to life and succeed, even if momentarily, under Kristine’s skilled work.

After making an initial attempt at the text, Kristine set up a scenario for us to improvise. It was a relief to play with my partner and discover moments spontaneously. We then layered the text back in and it became more of a rhythm rather than a cage. Something playful; no longer the driving force. It became easier to use as raw material to explore moments, rather than a weight hanging around the neck! This was especially clear to me in the work of other participants, when they were speaking in languages other than English.

Through improvising, in a related context, but not a precise replica of the situation, I discovered there can be a space between the improvisation and the text. This felt similar to the freedom and empowerment that comes from wearing a mask. Paradoxically, by using an oblique approach, a side step away from the text, when I returned to it, it felt like something more truthful began to emerge.

Spatially, I found the workshop fascinating. My background is physical theatre and I think most easily through the body and through movement. I enjoyed stripping all that away and playing sitting down. It allowed the freedom to try and connect in a different way.

The workshop felt like step one on a path. I look forward to returning!

Anshu Srivastava, Paricipant Observer

Following the first two workshops on Chekov and Shakespeare I decided to look up Philippe Gaulier on the web. Kristine had mentioned him many times and clearly was greatly influenced by her time with him. Reading Gaulier immediately put into context how Kristine feeds back to the actor in the session and how she is present herself in the session.

“It’s not bad, not bad at all, ok let’s see how we can (together) make it brilliant”. The feedback whilst being direct is not crude, it is actually very subtle.

So I came to the Greek Tragedy workshop interested to observe again with this new perspective and again I was impressed how quickly the actors trust this dynamic and reach that brilliance.

I’m having a great time. I feel very lucky to have happened upon this particular company and their way of working. It sits well with me.

Camila Fiori, Participant Actor

What Kristine really brought to the fore in our session was the importance, and in a sense, the simplicity, of understanding the text within the world we live in, not just as it was in ancient times.

Having already experienced the way Kristine works, when I did the ‘Actor Director Lab’ last November and then again in February during an intensive actors’ masterclass week, as well as in a secondary way through working with other TDAs for the recent scratch event, I was familiar with her system of fluid movement from improvisation to text, and I expected this would be the same approach used whether the text was classical, contemporary, Greek or in any other language. Working with us individually and as a group to make what could seem archaic, real, Kristine used the same principles I have seen her use before, with much success. The thing is, the process, and indeed any creative process, is ‘messy’. Hearing her say this again was a huge relief, when I often find myself longing to find a step-by-step formula for anything I’m doing, knowing full-well it is impossible, and at times allowing myself to get tangled in the process or jump around rather than work through a process. I mean this not just in acting, but also in writing, making or devising of any kind. ‘It’s messy’ – and this is what makes it impossible to define or pin down in any formulaic way.

However, using a carefully crafted set of principles, at the root of which is an emphasis on ‘the pleasure to play’, Kristine works through each situation individually. These may draw on different elements, often cultural, in the case of each actor, as her process is working with the specifics of that individual. By this, I don’t mean in an over-analytical or probing way, but more by getting some basic background information and with that in mind, trusting her intuition to discover what might work.

The action of ‘finding the pleasure to play’ is the way into this, and the warm-ups are so important for this reason. It was particularly clear to me this time how much we need to be constantly seeking out the opportunity to play in every situation during the games rather than just finding the pleasure when we find it. The ‘find’ is a search as well as an openness-to.

After another chair swapping game, Kristine asked us why it is a useful game to play in warming up, and one of the suggestions I made was that because it’s fun, it opens us up to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and take risks. No! That it is fun and opens us up is true but it should not be a risk – it’s not dangerous, we are not vulnerable. As actors working and playing together, there is no ‘risk’. The words ‘risk’ and ‘vulnerable’ highlighted for me my own fears around really, completely letting go, and that in being completely open there is still a part of me that feels vulnerable. We are not born scared, we develop this through experiences and witnessing others experience things. Somehow, just focussing on the play – on playing well and on having fun in playing with each person – it helps to reduce any sense of vulnerability or fear.

Tanja Pagnuco, Paricipant Director Observer

By the end of the day, I felt like I had been on a powerful introductory journey into a unique actor-centered approach. Kristine introduced her way of working gradually, allowing us all to live it first hand by playing games and discovering the joys of play. I had so much fun in these games, I could have continued all day, trying to have the most fun and being the best I could at playing it. I thought the transition to then using the Greek texts would create a break, a gap, a fall in playfullness, a change of mood but on the contrary I realised how Kristine encouraged all actors to continue playing, to continue having fun. Having fun doesn’t mean no hard work. There is hard work. A lot of it. But it can and should continue to be playful. A lesson never to be forgotten.

I then watched the actors delve into their monologues courageously and at first facing some difficulties but through Kristine’s direction, they all found amazing ways to release the tensions, the pre-conceived ideas about them as an actor, about the character, about the play… and created sometimes wonderful truthful moments. Trust, an openess to explore and play are essential in a rehearsal room. Kristine allows these to happen by first of all ‘placing the actor in a place where they are ready to play well’, in a place that belongs to them culturally. As an observer, it felt like the actors were finally allowed to be themselves, to express and explore their cultural identity and what they -as human beings- have to offer to the character. A very generous and open approach which clearly worked miracles in a very short space of time. I then wonder how to continue using this approach when working on the specifics of the script and characters at hand, how to continue building the bridge between where the actor is placed and where the characters breath.

I witnessed how the actors were actively challenged throughout the day to question themselves and their craft. It was wonderful to see all this humility in a rehearsal room. By the end of the day, I was eager to try directing using this approach and to be challenged / provoked by Kristine. I look forward to an opportunity of doing that soon on a Director’s Lab.

Gurkiran Kaur, Participant Actor

I first worked with Kris in 2007 and the one thing that is continually cemented and consistent is that once you can play, you can work. This is applicable whether it’s in a workshop class or a rehearsal room.
We began playing games, games to force us to play and if not to find out what was stopping us from playing. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies and in order to combat something, you need to find it first to hit it head on. Like some others, I found it easy to play as I’m a natural observer. In new situations I watch, learn and then I join in, I don’t really rely on going in blind.
Once we were playing, we moved on to working. I had learnt my monologue the night before and I knew I would be conscious of the lines before delivering it. So, I made a conscious choice of watching some of the others and encouraging my playing condition. Sometimes I could relate to other people’s hindrances and I witnessed their journeys. I noticed, I was always ready to help out in improvisations, whether it was in broken conversational Punjabi or English in a village based Indian accent.
If something works well, you stick with it. With Kris’ coaching, I found as an Actress for the purpose of this master class, I worked best with a scarf around my head, sitting on the floor with oddly folded legs talking with an Indian accent.
I watched her work individually as she helped unlock an internal passage to achieve the best at what each actor can do. All actors are individual and we must always use what and who we are. I may not be a regular Punjabi speaker but my broken and conversational Punjabi helps me especially when combating classical texts.
I chose to do the Helen of Troy monologue from Women Of Troy. Kris doesn’t beat around the bush, “It isn’t bad, but we need to make it great!” and that’s exactly what I wanted. Who wants not bad? I always want my work to be brilliant. After creating an energetic, funeral prayers scene for me to fight against, I was able to get out of my head and “stop watching myself” and it was no longer “a block of text”. Things are and can be as simple as “don’t sit that way because it doesn’t help you”. I watched Kris help every actor to become a great actor and I was impressed by everyone’s powerful and honest performances whether they were incredibly sensitive or ruthlessly strong.

Bushra Laskar, Participant Actor

This was my first masterclass with Tamasha. I really, really enjoyed the class, and that perhaps is the most valuable lesson to be learnt from working with Kristine, that is, acting is playing and it should be fun. Kristine emphasised from the start how actors need to get out of their heads and stop overthinking, which is something that I have heard several times over the years as an actor, but am always in need of being reminded. Kristine also emphasised how detrimental certain vocabulary, such as “risk” and “asking permission”, can be to an actor – they are just another trap into overthinking and stepping back from the “playing” the scene.

Kristine worked systematically and efficiently with each actor in our small group, and I was startled to see how each brought a unique and vibrant honesty to their monologue. It was joyous to see how we stopped acting in ways we had learnt to be acceptable and ‘the right way’ and instead brought our own individual personalities to the text and the character. In theory that sounds easy enough, but it seems to be something that would need practice, and I look forward to exercising those muscles.

Amina Zia, Participant Actor

To be honest, my mind hasn’t stopped buzzing since the Greek masterclass, yesterday. There were profound moments, breakthroughs, and plenty of play. Afterwards my body was tired, but my mind just kept dancing, wondering, and thinking. It was what felt like a day’s rehearsal.

After a game-playing session for starters, the actors in turn performed their Greek monologue of choice to everyone. I was quite moved watching every actor’s individual breakthrough. Kristine often asserted that her role was to bring out the best in the actor. After watching the actor’s own interpretation and the extent of their connection to the text, quite prescriptively she would transport the ‘greekness’ of the story to the heritage of the individual actor. Suddenly monologues and improvisations were spoken in Assamese, Portugese, Gujerati, West Country, Punjabi and in my case, Urdu.

I had chosen the messenger speech from Medea, because it’s my favourite speech, full of images and storytelling and I had performed it over a year ago and wanted to refresh it with a new approach. After hearing what felt like a stale and flat delivery, Kristine asked me to imagine that I was a matriarch speaking to members of the community about something awful my daughter in law had done. I assumed the sitting pose and began improvising a story to the actors in Urdu and slipped into Punjabi now and again when my character began to feel emotional. I enjoyed embellishing the story of my floosy daughter in law who would sneak out at night to be with her lover down the road and everyone was talking about it. In my improvisation, not one actor spoke the same language, and as all spoke in our individual languages, we all got a sense of what each other was saying. In fact, during this improvisation it felt like suddenly we all spoke the same language and that felt quite profound especially the connection between us. I was so comfortable telling that story I had discovered a fun character and as I relaxed into the character, Kristine asked me to start my monologue but in a Pakistani accent, and as I continued I began to discover specific characters within the story of the monologue – I found humour in the husband’s voice telling his wife to accept his sons gifts, there was a renewed connection to the words. Kristine tried to minimise my tendency to physicalise which was how I had initially told the story and instead I found a stillness and calmness and I could hear that everyone was listening. I was centred, I was in the moment like a kite that had caught the wind and I soared to the end of the monologue alone.

Watching other breakthroughs and being part of them in improvisation was also a huge experience.

What also made the masterclass so special was the diversity and use of language. I enjoyed the fact that as actors we were all so different. I was fascinated listening to the differences and similarities in the languages and consequently valued the connection that developed between us in our work. One of my favourite moments was when the English speaker made up her own language which was so convincing and truthful that we all asked her what it was and she said it was gobbledegook.

Fariyal Wallez, Participant Director Observer

I felt less nervous and much more willing to engage with the group of actors and director observers on this second masterclass. One piece of advice that really stuck with me from the day was about not censoring myself. I came away with a quiet and excited voice in my head wondering whether I could in fact explore the possibility of directing, as well as designing and writing. So much of our ‘personality’ gets in the way of letting us simply be and enjoying being and playing with each other. I realised that by not censoring herself, Kristine actually gets her personality out of the way to be present in the moment. For the actor, this is also one of the keys aspects of playing any character of any era, regardless of ethnic and cultural background.

What I heard loud and clear in today’s masterclass was that a director must love the actors, genuinely, for their willingness to be up there, on stage, showing themselves to the world. They are judged and criticised for their skills and ability to play, and as a director, once I understand that the actor is far better than I am at ‘playing,’ then my job is to respect and facilitate that brilliance.

I saw a process that cuts through all the analytical and psychological nonsense we make up about ourselves, to something beyond, where it is possible to be in the realm of the child and simply experience a joy in being there. Of course, it was not enough to simply ‘be present’; it is necessary to be with each other and play freely, letting go of the hang-ups of who we think we are, or are not. In those moments, where the work manifested into life, I experienced a timelessness.

I learned that the archetypes of Greek Tragedy from the ancient world are as relevant today as they were then; the death of a child, or the consequences of incest and murder. Kristine’s skill in directing an improvisation for the actor was in seeing how to open a door for each actor to be able to make an individual connection in a modern context. I noticed the subtle and dramatic shifts between moments when the actor is self-conscious (inward looking) and when they are free (outward looking). This is the muscle of skill that I need to practise and build upon. Thank you for an enlightening day.

Urmila Divani, Participant Actor

Kristine’s approach is to use who you are, your identity, to access text. She asked me to do my monologue which I started to do by being sad as it’s a sad monologue. She stopped when I was a few lines in and said that wasn’t sophisticated as I was playing the emotion. Then she asked me to improvise a scene where I was a Gujarati woman in a village in India where one of the village women had drowned her daughter because of her sex. I was livid that this had happened and other actors played the village women who all agreed to drowning this child. Then when the scene was well underway she asked me to go straight into my text with an Indian accent. I really felt I was Hecuba whose slain grandson had just been brought to her. I didn’t have to find the character, elongate the vowels, remember to breathe, find my full voice and project, think about my physicality because all of it just happened by itself. I was Hecuba and the speech just flowed and it felt great.

We were given dualogues to work with in the afternoon. Because the Indian accent had worked really well in the monologue I thought I’d use that in the scene. Kristine said that I had to really use my identity in order for it to work. We were then asked to improvise the scene where I was a fat, greedy, Gujarati executive whose company wasn’t making as much money as it should have been and wanted answers as to why this was from my employee and then go to text. I found the scene improvisation more difficult and also the scene didn’t flow as much as the monologue had. Kristine pointed out to me afterwards that I wasn’t fully committing to the scene. I realise what I have to do next time which is to be totally committed and play and take pleasure in playing with my character and with the other actor in the scene.

Poppy Corbett, Participant Director Observer

‘Don’t censor yourself in an artistic space.’

This was my third Tamasha masterclass. Every time I walk away from the room at the end of the day I churn over so many questions surrounding my own directorial practice. So often directors do not give themselves the time to challenge their own approach and this is what is so useful about these masterclasses.

I more clearly noticed in this masterclass how a slight shift in an actor’s physical position, or how changing proxemics on stage can completely help an actor’s performance improve. I have always believed the physical comes first and watching the actors in this masterclass helped confirm it.

During the masterclass I also realised that Kristine’s work is not only about the ‘pleasure to play’, but it’s also concerned with freeing up the text vocally. This is particularly important when working on a text such as Greek Tragedy which is not natural to our daily speech.

Kristine suggested not to have an objective or attitude to the script until the actor takes the first step – you must see their approach to it first and where they’re coming from when working on it, instead of trying to immediately impose your own thoughts on it.

Something else that strongly came across during this masterclass was that although a director must be careful in the language they choose to use to actors, you must not censor yourself in the rehearsal room. If an actor is flopping and bad, tell them – they probably know it anyway. If you want to use a clichéd situation – use it – as long as you can defend why you have. Don’t ignore obvious problems with actors who are not committing – challenge them and deal with the problems early on before they escalate.

Something very useful that Kristine did at the end of the masterclass with some of the actor’s was to make them talk through the masterclass, how Kristine helped improve them and to give improvised examples of this. I thought this was a great idea as then the director is 100% clear that the actor has understood the process and how to use what they’ve learnt to be great next time.

I’ve seen the first stage of Kristine’s work and I’m really interested in what stage two is. What happens when more detailed work on the play begins?

Suzanne Ahmet, Participant Actor

“Do not absent yourself from the situation you are playing”.
Kristine’s actor centered approach is about trying to locate a door through which each actor can play with pleasure.
And it’s different for every individual.

My work on several occasions with Kris has focused on playing “softly” or being on stage with a “soft centre” in order to have a broader spectrum from which to play. A default of mine is to attack, hitting the text too hard and thereby losing nuance and blocking off possibilities to play. “I don’t know where you go when you play too hard”, “we don’t recognize this person”.

That being said, I approached a monologue from Medea “softly” and Kris stopped me and asked what I was doing. I replied that I was trying to be soft and not attack. And she recognised that actually, I was putting on a skin of being soft, a sort of soft glow, instead of just sitting, as myself in the space and talking to the people sitting with me. Talking to them, as me. She did an exercise where everyone had to turn away from me, if they didn’t believe that I was talking to them. This brought out my own voice, with its London sounds and rhythms and a relaxed physicality. A classical text became fluid, accessible and open to me to take pleasure in playing.

By questioning me like this, Kris was encouraging me to articulate when something is working and when it is not and to try and discover, for myself, why. She had this kind of conversation with several participants.

The actor centered approach is not just about putting on an Indian accent if you have Indian roots or a ‘London girl’ voice just because you grew up in London. You don’t just put on a skin and think that everything will be OK. It is fuller than that. It’s about “committing to a fullness that is a gift to you as an actor”.

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