Monthly Archives: October 2012

Mini interview with Kristine before The Trouble with Asian Men sets off for Australia

ImageWhat inspired the title The Trouble with Asian Men and creating a show on this subject?
Well this is very unusual. We found the title and thought it was so good we made a show to speak to the title! I had observed the headphone verbatim technique and loved the quality of acting it brought from the actor, so we put the title and technique together and there you have it.

How long did yourself, Sudha Bhuchar and Louise Wallinger spend gathering and editing the verbatim interviews that make up the piece’s UK based script?
Getting the interviews takes a long time, it is very labour intensive, you can do a three hour interview and get nothing! All in all we spent about six months doing the interviews.

How did it go with getting the interviews in Australia? Were you pleased with what you got?
The Australian material is very good. Funny, touching and whilst similar at times in themes, it’s very particular to the Indian experience in Australia.

In the past, how have the interviewees reacted to see themselves portrayed on stage?
On so many occasions people have not recognised themselves. When people do recognise themselves they feel flattered!

Could you share with us some of your favourite moments or anecdotes from the Aussie show?
There are some very funny Australian nuggets, to give you an idea: “We Indians like to bargain… my dad gets very frustrated when he realises he can’t bargain with Telstrar.” Australasian woman giving advice: “Its important to find a good man to marry but much more important to make sure the mother in law is not too much trouble.” Poor Australasian guy who wants to get off with an Indian girl but he can’t as he never comes up to their standard – he had to go out only with Aussie chicks as they tend to rough it out a bit more!

Please could you tell us a little bit about the unique verbatim method used in The Trouble with Asian Men? What kinds of things can attendees of the verbatim theatre workshop expect to learn?
Its a simple but very effective and effecting technique. You record someone and listen to the interview. The most poignant bits of the interview surface quite quickly. We ask participants to choose a section and then start listening and verbalising what they are listening to at the same time. For the technique to work one needs to stay absolutely exact and not exaggerate, capturing all the idiosyncratic rhythms and expressions of every day speech.

We are thrilled to bring to Parramasala Festival, Sydney a new Aussie version of  The Trouble with Asian Men, featuring core cast members Amit Sharma and Niall Ray with a different local guest performer each night (Drew Fairley, Craig Meneaud, John Shrimpton, Vico Thai).

A Fine Balance in America: Sudha’s USA Diary

A Fine Balance – Divian Ladwa, Rina Fatania and Sudha Bhuchar | Photo by Manuel Harlan

Last week I attended the Neustadt Festival at the University of Oklahoma where I was thrilled to be invited by Daniel Simon, Editor of World Literature Today. WLT organises this festival and every two years honours a towering writer with the title of Neustadt Laureate and a prize of $50,000. This year the honour went to Rohinton Mistry, a writer I hugely admire and whose epic book, A Fine Balance, Kristine Landon-Smith and myself have had the privilege to adapt for the stage. It was one of Tamasha’s sell-out out shows which thankfully the book-lovers loved, and forgave us the compression of 600 pages into a two hour experience. Indeed as part of the three day festivities, Drama students from the University, under the direction of Judith Pender, performed extracts from our adaptation.

There was a gang of us staying at the Montford Inn in Norman; Beena Kamlani, Susan Andrade, Vijay Seshadri, Samrat Upadhyay, myself and the Mistrys; Rohinton and his delightful wife Freny.  Over our daily Tonhawa smoothie and bespoke breakfasts, provided by William, we all connected with a shared love of Rohinton’s novels and the experience of being writers from the Indian Diaspora. Indeed the word ‘diaspora’ itself sparked off a lively debate with Rohinton about whether we had indeed been ‘dispersed’ or whether those of us that had left our homes of our own accord could claim to be part of a so called ‘diaspora’. This is just a small snippet of the morning conversations that included much mirth at my large suitcase whose lock had been brutally severed during the journey.  Rather naively, in my British way I thought I might lodge a gentle complaint with the Airline concerned as my suitcase was now permanently un- lockable. The others laughed out loud in shared recognition of numerous personal experiences of cases that had been opened and combed through, with a note left inside if you were lucky. Apparently, I should have looked at the Transport Security Administration (TSA) guidelines and bought a ‘TSA compliant’ lock that can be opened comfortably by the security people. ‘Why did I bring such a large suitcase?’ enquired one of the group, who only travels with a small ‘carry on’. Well that’s another story. My teenage son had given me a shopping list from Abercrombie and Fitch (A and F) which is a current ‘must have’ American brand and never mind that his mum was only going to be in Oklahoma for three days, this was a priority.

The Memorial
Security aside, we had a warm welcome from everyone and I was struck by the amount of involvement the students had in the festival. Eager interns drove and escorted us everywhere and we made a short visit to the Oklahoma Memorial which honours the victims, survivors and rescuers of the bombing of the Afred P, Murrah Federal building in April 1995. On the soil, where the building had stood is a beautiful outdoor space; a reflecting pool framed by twin gates which have etched on them the time marking the moment of innocence before the attack, and the moment after when the city changed irrevocably.  There is a field of 168 chairs commemorating each of the lives lost and the small chairs were particularly evocative, representing the 19 children killed. What particularly struck me was the ‘survivor tree’, a 90 year old American Elm that bears witness to the events. In the shade of this symbol of human resilience I couldn’t help but think about the amount of innocent people that are dying everyday in the aftermath of 9/11 and the global ‘War on Terror’.  These people remain nameless to the World and there are no Memorials to commemorate their individual lives. Only their families remember them in their hearts and are left bewildered as to their huge losses.

The Shopping trip
The obligatory shopping trip was facilitated by three drama students who were in the extracts of the play and kindly gave up an afternoon for the pilgrimage to A and F. The shopping mall was an hour or so away and we had to drive, giving us plenty of time to chat about student life. While the sprawling University seems to be hugely well funded and has enviable Art collections and a huge library, the students have clearly got to be resourceful to meet their economic challenges. I got an insight into how they had to pay for cars (distances are huge and public transport is not an option), accommodation and fees through extra jobs, vacation work and still ended up with a huge loan after they graduate. As student loans are such a hot topic in the UK with Nick Clegg’s reneged promise and lukewarm apology, I was struck by what a huge reality they are to American students. There is no sense of entitlement to a free education but an acceptance of having to play a key role in paying for one’s own future. Apparently, unlike the UK, these students don’t have the buffer of waiting till they are earning a certain threshold. Student loans are never ‘written off’.  I felt a bit guilty asking Michael to model sweaters and fleeces for my son that he would really have to save to afford. Same here, but I justified my expenditure on my credit card on the excuse that the items were cheaper in dollars than in London. A delighted son on my return confirmed this decision as he admired himself in the mirror in his fitted sweaters that sculpted his body like the models in the ads. The sweat pants I bought hubby however had to be returned to the London store. The cut was ‘skinny’ and clung to hubby’s legs rather unflatteringly. The brand is not for people over 30 as I discovered in the heaving London shop, pumping out loud music down Saville Row.

The Award  
The visit culminated in wonderful award ceremony and a memorable keynote speech by Rohinton, including some wonderful singing, where he talked about leaving for Canada as a young man with one suitcase. The decision of what to include in his 22kg allowance and what to leave behind proved less momentous than he thought at the time. His body of work to date has proven that he never really left behind his homeland but looked back on it from the vantage point of distance and time. It is a credit to the Neustadt family whose enduring endowment supports this prestigious award that great literature is given such support and recognition. I continue to try and get this message across to our British Asian business community that the ‘profit’ of supporting the Arts is not in the commercial gain but in what we gain as human beings through nourishing our souls and looking to Art, to ultimately show us a better way to live.

I travelled back with my bulging suitcase and full of inspiration and hope. The students’ extracts from our play, performed by a multi racial cast, confirmed to me the universal connections that Rohinton’s work has achieved.  The accolade of Neustadt laureate is hugely deserved.

The Neustadt International Prize for Literature is a biennial award sponsored by the University of Oklahoma and World Literature Today. The Prize consists of $50,000, a replica of an eagle feather cast in silver, and a certificate. A generous endowment from the Neustadt family of Ardmore, Oklahoma, and Dallas, Texas, ensures the award in perpetuity.

Rohinton’s inspiring keynote speech and platform pieces from all the contributors will be published in the special January edition of World literature Today.

“Mistry writes with great passion, and his body of work shows the most compassionate and astute observations of the human condition, making him one of the most exciting and important contemporary novelists writing in the English language.”
—Samrat Upadhyay in his statement nominating Rohinton Mistry for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

A Fine Balance – Sudha Bhuchar as Dina Dalal | Photo by Manuel Harlan

Contemporary Texts Masterclass, October 2012

Anshu Srivastava, Participant Director Observer

This was my fourth such masterclass and after a series of classes looking at classic texts, this week we were looking at contemporary texts. The class in general continued to delight, inspire and provoke.

As the masterclasses have progressed, so my confidence to participate and comment has grown. At one point Kristine picked me up on not being precise enough with my comments and I was lost for words. I did however appreciate her challenge as it helped me to see what I might need to do in a similar situation in the future so not to end up stuck. I sense I must be freer and more animated in my communication. Not just to use words in a neutral voice from the sidelines, but to find in myself the pleasure to play my role as the actors are being asked to find the same pleasure within theirs.

Manisha Hirani, Participant Actor

After having just complete the 6 week masterclass I was curious to see how much I could learn from just a one day session. Turns out – a lot! I’ve never really known where I was going wrong, didn’t know how to push myself as an actor. However, when doing my monologue at the start of the class, Kris said ‘whatever I give you, you can do, so I’m going to push you to the next level’ – and she did! She created a situation where I had to learn to play along with the actor and Kris herself, I found it very difficult, becoming nervous really quickly because it was very much out of my comfort zone; but it was exactly what I needed. Kristine works with a vision and she instantly realises the potential of a scene; whether it’s working with the actor or just simply moving around props and furniture, at the end, what’s created is truly artistic. More than anything, I really enjoyed watching other actors reach a new level, and take pleasure in what they were playing. When learning to play down the character, and embrace your distinct characteristics, what is created is so raw and so satisfying to watch. Not having a plan or an idea of how a character should be allows you to feel something different, something you might not have ever felt before, you can shock yourself with your own reaction, which is again, what creates something so truthful. One big thing I am able to take away with me; I’m no longer afraid to approach a text and can even find peace in getting it wrong. Learning through mistakes – a great way of moving forward.

Alistair Donegan, Participant Actor

I had been interested in working with Kristine and Tamasha for a while, having heard from a fellow actor that the approach was vastly different to lots of the other work he and I had done before. The recommendation came from a friend who is also a director; he told me that now he only directs actors using methods learnt from Kristine. The reason? They’re more fun.

I signed up for the contemporary texts workshop in particular because I go up for a lot of contemporary set television from my agent and was really looking for a new impetus, something to get my imagination sparking again and perhaps break some habits that were starting to creep in.

We started by playing several games, each one introducing elements that continued work from the last. The sense of play that we enjoyed during those games was then applied to our texts. The difference when Kristine had us look at the text using that same spirit of play, from when we presented our own, was remarkable. Personally, Kristine’s work reminded me to enjoy what I was doing, to stop pushing and to have fun being at various points the bitter ex employee/the pretentious art owner/the malicious boyfriend etc.

Having recently worked with clown master Philippe Gaulier, I could see the lineage of the work and crucially a more clear continuation into contemporary acting and performance. In terms of the day, it was simultaneously light, fun and enlightening. Each moment of teaching made more sense as the day went on, and continues to now.

Since the course I’ve booked a job for the Sheffield Crucible. Partly coincidence I expect but also one of my greatest struggles in the past has been audition anxiety, which this sense of play and relish of what I’m playing has so far – touch wood – gone some way to overcoming. Recommended.

Poppy Corbett, Participant Director Observer

This was the final masterclass in the series. Time to consolidate some of the main points I have learnt:

– Start from the actor, not the text. The text is phase two.

– Remember ‘the pleasure to play’. Play as actors in a rehearsal room, not children in a playground.

– Don’t plan or come with too many ideas about the character/text, until you have seen the actor work on the text.

– Help the actor put their focus outside themselves – on their partner in a scene. Teach them to listen.

– The actors must control the text, not the other way around.

– Each actor will need a different key into their work.

– Consider the physical spacing of actors on a stage. Consider how they are stood/sat. If they are struggling, perhaps a different position will help to free them.

– Help actors to free up the text vocally.

– Be careful with the language you use with actors. Be specific.

– Don’t let actors ‘play emotions.’ (‘Sad’, ‘happy’, ‘angry’ etc)

– Don’t censor yourself in the rehearsal room – be honest with actors, use clichéd situations if it helps them.

– Don’t ignore problems in the rehearsal room – deal with them, or the work cannot progress.

– If you think an actor is unsure of HOW you have helped them be better, make them talk through everything you have done with them.

I’m looking forward to being in rehearsal and using some of the techniques I have picked up during these masterclasses.

Fariyal Wallez, Participant Director Observer

Following this third master class where I had the privilege to observe Kristine working with the participant actors, I had an insight about directing in relation to my new brace, which I had fitted to my upper teeth at the beginning of October. Physically, there has been no discomfort or pain; the issue I have is emotional. There is something about having this ‘thing’ attached to me, that I cannot move or get rid of, or change my mind about, or get distracted from…it is simply there and present in my life, constantly, with no break or holiday. This brace is commitment on a level I have not experienced since I got married three years ago…and reminds me precisely of the quality of presence that Kristine’s manifests in her artistic practice. The actors were from a diverse range of backgrounds and observing Kristine’s skill in working with them was, as always, fascinating.

Anureeta Kaur, Participant Actor

I have recently been part of the six week actor course and so the masterclass was a chance to continue to explore the pleasure to play through games, improvisation and scene work. Over the last few weeks I have been gradually feeling much more free and relaxed while playing actor-centric games and I definitely noticed the difference in the masterclass. I noticed how my concentration had improved through the use of games and how I felt more open, more outside myself and therefore less restricted. In the masterclass, this gradual openess allowed me to stay in the games for longer and play with actors which was a positive surprise for me! The games at the beginning of the masterclass have helped in freeing my creativity and thus I was able to give more during my monologue and scene work. By being more open, I was able to immerse myself into scenes and improvisations with a sense of pleasure and it is this pleasure which enables any actor to perform truthfully.

Alex Barclay, Participant Actor

For the work of a single day, Kristine Landon-Smith’s workshop provided a huge amount of food for reflection. I have always had a mental block with “monologue” driven auditions, which is what attracted me to the workshop in the first place. I left feeling much more able to approach them with a positive attitude. The warm-up games developed in a way that brought us together quickly and got us playing with each other, and learning how to play with each other. By the time we were working our monologues, the atmosphere in the room was positive and focused and really playful, and the effect of the games was visible throughout the work. Too often there is no correlation between the warm-up and the work. I have been in so many rehearsal processes where the first week has no continuation into the second week, where the warm-up has no follow through into the work etc. This felt holistic – everything had an effect on everything else. Kristine also has a lovely way of putting the focus on her actors in a positive unthreatening way, and being perceptive enough to key into a couple of things in them quickly that helps free them of blocks or move them forward. The actors in the room were quite a diverse bunch in terms of approach, and she worked with each of us individually, working to the person rather than working to a formula. Her creativity somehow revolved around enabling our creativity. And the focus was always on the actor and the work.

In the afternoon, we worked on reading scenes from Port. Much like in the morning where we brought a pre-prepared monologue, we were left to work in pairs for half an hour without assistance. She would then take what we brought to her and throw ideas at it quickly to both challenge us and move us forward in the work. She would not let us get away with failing to connect properly, and often stopped us when we were running down blind alleys, but again it was always about the work and everything fed in. There was much use of improv, and the improv was clearly set up and had a marked effect on the text when we came back to it.

The more people I meet like Kristine, the more it seems worth it to keep plugging at this job, despite the jungle of ego and dinosaurs out there. I really enjoyed myself, and left feeling empowered, happy, and awakened.

Armaan Kirmani, Participant Actor

Now I know why daytime soap operas are so successful despite their reputation . Kristine’s actor-centred approach has made me think that actors don’t really need to rely on writing, lighting or direction – although of course they would all contribute to a better product but not necessarily a more entertaining one. Bad writing, bad lighting and bad direction can be overcome by good actors by applying their craft to the project. People like to watch other people perform. Attention to detail is nice, but not at the expense of not giving your actors enough attention and freedom to perform. An actor needs nothing but themselves – you are the biggest tool for any production!

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