February Directors’ Course at Actors Centre with Kristine Landon-Smith

Ash Bhalla – Participant Director

I think performance is the most essential element of any film and I’ve studied a number of approaches to “working with actors” that amounted to transposing a preconceived reality onto the actor. For the past two days I have seen performances go from scratch to compelling scenes in minutes by enabling actors to do what they love: create an organic reality.

In a field loaded with various techniques, jargon and methods it is a relief to finally concentrate on a human being and trust that person to show you the truth of the scene, rather than making a decision about what the script requires and then asking the actor to “recreate” that truth.

With the actor-centered approach the actors play the scene, the scene doesn’t tell them what to play.

Guillaume Laroche – Participant Director

It all started with a desire to push myself where I’d never been before in a professional way – Directing. I’d shot a few videos and trailers and was a keen writer with a couple of projects in the pipeline but I had no way to know – Am I capable of this? Do I have the right approach? Can I communicate with actors the way I like to be spoken to when I’m acting.

Yes, I come from an actor’s background and I feel this week helped me tremendously and confirmed what I suspected: in my view, being an actor really helps to understand the process of working with actors. Sounds obvious but I needed confirmation. So, on the first day, after a delightful warm-up, we were thrown in the deep end and I found that switching from actor to director demanded a sort of mindset I wasn’t accustomed to…after five days, the switch was clearly established thanks to the hands on practice and work we did with Kris but also thanks to the wonderful set of actors she invited to the workshop to be “played” with.

The most important point that came out of the week for me was TRUST! Trust yourself, trust your process but mainly and without fail, trust your actors. Nurtured and guided well, actors prove to be magnificent, and with clear communication, the trust gained allows you, the director and them, the actors, to speak and act freely thus bringing life where there was only a text before. It’s pure magic! A well thought out warm-up is key to that and everyday this week, directors took charge of the warm-up in turn to deliver the best introduction to the day, i.e actors and directors alike joined in a very positive and ready to work attitude.

I also learned to talk less (which is a big deal for me) and let the actors find their way. Once again it all comes down to trust, trusting them to understand your vision almost instinctively and rise to the task with more assurance and deliver their best work.

Many of the actors left each day saying kind words or giving me a hug and this, to me, was the best feeling, proof that I did a good job with them more than anything else, learning to let them BE and PLAY, giving them my undivided attention. I loved the work, I loved the process Kris guided us through, I loved the participants and the actors and most of all, I loved what I was doing!

I left on Friday night feeling whole, in the moment, I felt like a director!

Tim Cowbury – Participant Director

Wednesday felt like a little turning point in the week for me. I’d been learning a lot and scribbling notes furiously all the way, but feeling very much like a hapless beginner, trying to second guess the master (and mostly not succeeding). I’d been thrown into the directing hot-seat on Monday and not managed to get anywhere with the poor actor who was trying to do a monologue from King Lear and had me interfering (directing). Having not prepared and not being familiar with the actor’s text, I think I panicked, felt I had to say something, anything, (and ohmigod there’s not much time!) and chucked a mostly random set of instructions (obstructions?) at her. We hadn’t reached any kind of end point when we had to show the monologue to the group. Myself and the actor sat tense and still in chairs on stage while she delivered the lines ‘at’ me and I tried to smile encouragingly at her. It wasn’t exactly an electrifying event. Afterwards it took Kristine ten minutes to completely free the text, the actor up, instigating an improvisation in Punjabi with another actor (rather than a frozen-with-fear me) the target of the actor’s words. The situation allowed the actors to play and also to be versions of themselves: they acted instinctively and when the text was brought back in, it was imbued with this sense of fun, play but also – most crucially – honesty. The difference between seeing an ‘actor’ as you watch, doing ‘acting’ to just seeing a real person, speaking, being.

This was of course an important lesson for someone trying to get a grasp of a director’s role. In the moment I felt like some sort of ridiculously simple magic had been done, and I was spending the week working out how to do the tricks, so I could learn to do what Kristine did with the Punjabi impro. But I also had lots of questions over whether this approach was transferable to different kinds of scenes. Or to live performance that doesn’t really contain ‘scenes’. The theatre that I make tends to mess around with or completely ignore psychological realism. I wanted to see how the use of improvisation and focus on creating something ‘believable’ would translate onto a very different style or mode of theatre. So on Wednesday I had my second go at directing, and chose to work with a scene from Caryl Churchill’s completely brilliant but completely and utterly absurd Far Away.

The actors I worked with were baffled when we first read the scene (it’s hard to get your head around even if you read the whole play!). They thought it was weird and had no idea what their ‘characters’ were on about. Interestingly, I think the actors were also quite baffled about these things even when we finished working, and baffled but pleasantly surprised after we’d shown the scene to the group. We managed to work with what was essentially a lack of or gap in understanding: we didn’t discuss or explore directly the meaning of this strange text, we didn’t talk about the characters (I banned the word) or really the fictional situation they were in, the world of the play. Instead we played some simple impro games based on a mixture of my ideas and the actor’s comments (‘it’s like they’ve both been smoking something but they’ve definitely smoked the same thing’ led to an impro of stoned people using repetitive language). We went back to the text once or twice, which felt risky, but on reflection was well-judged, giving the actors a sense of how the games we played might relate to the scene, without focusing on the scene really at all. If we had focused on the scene, tried to unpick it too much, I think we’d have ended up trying to make decisions about it. The strength of the work we did was that we didn’t make decisions about the text.

Because the work we did was really light, not consciously analytic  not geared towards the actors having a clear sense of the fictional people they were stepping inside the skin of, it felt like the scene might be a shambles. How could people who haven’t made sense, created internal motivations for, what they’re saying, convey any meaning or reality to the audience? It seemed like I’d be making matters worse when I imposed a new experiment on the actors for the running of the scene in front of the group, asking them to sit at a table, facing front, looking out at the audience as much as possible, and do it as if they were newsreaders about to go on air. But given the scant amount of time we’d had to work, the scene played very well, was believable: not actors acting, but people speaking, being. There was space for the audience to impose their own meaning; if the actors had made lots of choices and tried to ‘play’ the scene a certain way, with intentions and meanings to certain lines, this space wouldn’t have been there. Most interestingly for me, I’d deliberately chosen a text that was very different from anything else we’d seen that week, and I think from the sort of texts, styles, Kristine works with. I was testing her process in relation to mine, expecting to find that much of it didn’t translate. But in this case, with me thinking critically, more sensitive to what was in front of me, rather than grasping at straws as I had on Monday, a process geared towards one style of work (and actor/actor training?) worked surprisingly well in a quite different context.

Kati Francis – Participant Director

So amazing to see a master at work! Kristine is a tour de force as she skilfully, efficiently and energetically crafts her art…I felt for a lot of the week as if I was stumbling through a dark but beautiful forest that Kristine knew all the secret pathways to! She would constantly, generously point them out to me…I was able to tell at least when I was off track, but learning how to navigate through the undergrowth was often bewildering and a little frustrating- particularly when guided by someone who does it so effortlessly!

My objective for the week was to put aside all of my own practice as a director and to try on Kristine’s shoes for a while…this was very exposing as I purposefully refused to fall back on my own techniques…although this did not help my actors have faith in me, it really helped me to unearth her methodology. As a devised physical theatre practitioner, working outside of psychological realism I was a little at sea…usually working from a stylistic premise or a concept. The placing of the actors before text- working with what they brought to the space- was not a novelty for me- but working with that idea in Kristine’s way was! I stumbled, I flailed, I laughed, I had a crisis of confidence- I glimpsed success a few times and then I began to see how I could take this back into my own world…

After some reflection I can say that it was great to be so immersed in someone else’s process for a while and try out their style of work…it helped me to understand the psychology of the performer- what makes them tick- the need to constantly feed them- to keep them safe and secure in your directorial embrace whilst inspiring them to make their own creative leaps. A lot comes down to trust- trusting your own vision/ instinct/ voice/ idea…but also trusting the performers- what they can bring- what they have to offer: give them too much- tell them what you want and they will feel redundant and bored, give them too little- and they will exhaust themselves trying multiple options- unsure of what is working, feeling despondent about their performance and unmotivated to create material/ believe in what they are doing… offer them a seed- highlight the truth within the situation that they are playing- draw out their strengths so that they can feel confident enough to grow what they are doing from pastel hues to vibrant colours, reflect back the essence of the scene that they have found through relaxed, honest and engaged play- a generous offering of themselves, and you will produce compelling theatre.

Daniel Gentely- Participant Director

I came to The Actors Centre with an open mind and not knowing too much about what the week had in store.
After the first day it was clear that the directors involved were all from varied backgrounds and different theatre/film practices.

The first thing that stood out for me was how to create a group energy in the rehearsal space. I am an actor and have been in many rehearsals and simply forgot about how to warm a room up (or a good director can use the warm up to drive the week). This is something that when done well can create a energy and atmosphere that feeds through a company and creates a positive attitude and feel for your rehearsal.

Freeing the actor, relaxing the actor and giving them time to breath. This gives the company freedom to bring their wonderful ideas and interpretation to the rehearsal process. It is one of the first things that I latched on to and clearly made me realise what a good director can do ( as opposed to a director that imposes their vision form the off, this restricts and suffocates). The director gives the actor space and time to create and share their interpretation of the text. This organic process is a natural and positive practice that must be applied to the rehearsal process which creates the shared experience.

Working with a empty space or a restricted space. Towards the end of the week it became apparent that the actor can be restricted by the space you give them to work in. I found this section of the week really interesting. Creating an artistic environment for the actors to ‘play in’ is key to making the scene work. It was really easy for me to stick a table and chair centre stage and say ‘there you go, that is your room’. When questioned about this I simply punched myself in the head and realised how I cramped and suffocated the playing space. Such simple and basic know-hows are key to giving the actors a space that you WANT to ‘play in’, it enhances creativity.

All in all, the week was tough and exposing but also a real reminder that the simple things are sometimes hard to remember but once they are logged and stored you can access them and use for everyone’s benefit.

As a director you must be clear and make it evident from day one that you have a confident and clear working practice/ vision that will create a artistic atmosphere which encourages creativity.

I hope that makes sense and does not make me look a little mad. I think the key thing for me is Don’t clutter and keep it simple!

Anshu Srivastava – Participant Director

In May last year I began to imagine a new kind of work for myself that would be very artistic, generative, collaborative and pleasurable. The idea of becoming a director in the theatre immediately sprang from these first musings and last week I had the wonderful opportunity to take a major step forwards when I participated in the Tamasha week-long directors workshop.

Having attended several of Kristine’s actor masterclasses last year, as an observer, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of her approach and practice, but this time I would be working directly with the actors myself and here I had no idea what to expect… this was going to be all new.

During the first half of the week I was all caught up with ideas. I think due to my complete unfamiliarity with this kind of work, I was feeling pretty exposed and so I was kind of clutching at tactics, trying this or that idea that I had seen other people use to good effect, rather than explore my own capacity to play well; rather than trust my own voice. Some of these ‘moves’ worked better than others, as they were not entirely devoid of instinct, but they were a bit thin and couldn’t really sustain and nourish the actors enough.

The anxiety that surrounded these first days meant that I was sometimes zoning out and kind of freezing and flopping. The great thing was that I could feed these observations back into the group discussions and take encouragement from Kristine’s feedback and guidance. The feelings were never really catastrophic, I was enjoying myself too much, but they were inhibiting me from being good.

With these few flops under my belt, I began to relax and communicate more naturally and fluidly. I started zoning in and was able to listen and see more of what the actors were giving me and communicate back with more precision and simplicity.

The last two days went well, I really enjoyed the process of working one on one with the actors and together we produced some very nice work. Daily, I was blown away by the quality and commitment of the actors and my fellow directors. It was a real pleasure to learn and create through our respective and collective experiences. Kristine is an incredible teacher and constant source of inspiration and I thank her for her generous and straightforward guidance.

I’m now really looking forward to the next steps.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: