Category Archives: Kristine’s blog

Intracultural Actor Masterclass with NIDA via Video Link!


Read below some of the comments below on our exciting experiment to see if we could lead an Intra-cultural Actor Masterclass with Kristine, students and observers from NIDA and the UK, all in a very high-tech space via Video Link:

“As an artist and researcher in intracultural artistic practice I find Kristine Landon-Smith’s method of work inspiring and seminal within the theatre field.”

“I wanted to revisit things covered in the actors’ workshops I took with Kris in 2012. Observing the session, as opposed to participating in it, allowed me to write down the warm up exercises and the process. Seeing the actors work made it easier to detect patterns of intracultural acting and what processes were similar to all the actors when approaching their texts with Kris’ guidance. Watching Kristine’s way with actors as she incorporates cultural and linguistic backgrounds in the work process in today’s multicultural environment is something I feel strongly about and I learn a lot from it (as an actor but also as a director). I was there as an observer and the time went by very quickly, the experience was very rich and watching only allows you to be more analytical without the pressure to “perform”. Observing only was a highlight for me as I was free to take notes and not worry about “lines” or “performing” in any other way. Using modern technology to work on a piece despite time and space constraints was very interesting and I felt very inspired upon leaving the masterclass, Kristine is a great teacher live or on screen. Always a pleasure to be involved with Tamasha, I have a great respect for the work the company does and the opportunities it provides. It is a rare thing in the industry in this day and age.”

“It was incredible watching the actors in London engaging in an intense scene with the actors in Australia!!! Via webcam. Unbelievable. Theatre is often such a specific experience that only the actors and audience in that room feel. But the actors in Australia and London were able to create this tension and relationship virtually. It’s difficult to put into words but it felt almost magical when the scenes between the actors were alive and true. I had been to a workshop with Kristine before, as an actor, and loved it. I was, of course, too absorbed in the experience to fully acknowledge the techniques she was using on the actors and how they responded and were affected by her suggestions. As a just starting theatre-maker myself, I want to see as many different methods so I can use them in my future work. I also found Kristine’s method exceptional – so really wanted to be able to use it in my own work.”



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).

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.”

Whitney Boyd and Rebecca Barbera, Actors in Simon Stephen’s ‘Port’ at NIDA, where Kristine directs

“Kristine’s process has reminded me of some of the essential elements to being a performer: to be open, alive, playful and receptive. It is so easy as a performer to slave away over the mechanics and technical elements of creating a character. By engaging in the idea of playing well and being an open and fearless actor, it gives you complete access to your senses, you become active in the scene and you start to intrigue your viewers. The trick is to be IN the scene, listening and responding and above all playing.

Then the questions start: Do I change my vocal tone? Do I create a different walk from my own? Mmm, that sounds rather laborious and traditional. In relation to the process that we are working on with Kris, the answer would be to use myself in the given circumstances of the scene. If I am committed to my own thoughts and responses, my voice, my body and this notion of “character” will organically create itself. I won’t be Whitney acting as 73-year-old woman, but rather Whitney playing and engaging with a 73-year-old version of herself.

Today we discussed the idea of recreating moments on stage once they have been discovered. We, as performers, seem to have it in our head that we either hit or miss the mark. Kristine reminds us that it is not that difficult if we remind ourselves that “hitting the mark” is more to do with tapping into our own process that makes us open and able to play well …… it is not about hitting the mark around traits of “character “. The actor knows what the structure of the scene is, they know what they want to achieve within the scene, and they know the lines, so all that is left to be done is to play moment by moment.

For me, this process is really about maintaining this subtle and naturalistic approach whilst grappling with the technical elements of the theatre. To create simple and understated work that is not diminished by over articulating or giving prescribed gestures.

This way of working is thrilling. There is something really exhilarating about performing intimately with my fellow actors. Instead of pushing a performance onto the audience, we want to draw them in, have them at the edge of their seats and listening as hard as they can.” Whitney Boyd

“These last three weeks have been challenging, but incredibly fun and exciting. I’ve been taught a way of working, which only requires me to draw from myself and have the joy to play with the other actors in the scene. Kristine’s worked with all of us on developing our own, individual ways of preparing and working that allows us to play to the best of our ability in our work. It’s been a tough learning curve at times. Sometimes I’ve felt like I’ve been working without the kind of roadmap that I’m used to. Often, I look inward at what I’m  doing: how I’m standing, how I’m  speaking, what I’m  thinking etc. It’s been wonderful to try and stop thinking about all that (in my case it’s been pretty hard!) and just focus on playing with the other person and what they’re giving you. The funny thing is, when you really play, you’re the best actor you can be, and everything else is taken care of.

I’ve asked my dad to fly across fromPerth and see this show. He isn’t keen on theatre, but I think he might like this show. I think that while watching it he might realise why it was worth me changing course after two degrees to study acting, because when the work is really good and has the capacity to really affect people, you remember what an honour it is to do this job.” Rebecca Barbera

Amanda McGregor, Actor in Simon Stephen’s ‘Port’ at NIDA, where Kristine directs

Photo by Remy Hii

“In the process thus far, my startling discovery has been that I don’t know my process all that well… What exactly am I doing?

I am asking myself  ‘does it help me that I know a billion facts about my “character”?’ Or that I know the history of the town in which my “character” was born? These facts may color my world, perhaps provide vital information, but do they help me DO THE DEED? I’m starting to wonder.

Sometimes with so much information in one’s head, the thoughts swirl around, the “information” is confusing, my needs become unclear, and ultimately my storytelling becomes muddy.

The problem appears to be: playing out the story moment to moment, staying with the person with whom I’m interacting, being alive, being real, being honest, being open. But above all (for me personally), simplifying and knowing what it is I’m playing. Without these two things, the clarity evaporates, I become lost and I become, for want of a better word – bland.   One of the best discoveries I have made is that I can be at my emotionally “fullest” and committed during improvisation. To gain a sense of the truth of the situation, and of the level of commitment required, improvisation throws me into the unknown and forces me to respond honestly and openly.

The logical step would thus be to find that sense of improvisation when speaking text.  Improvising when speaking?? It seems so simple and easy – but the fact of the matter is, our “text brains” can lock us in the second we speak those words on the page, and prevent us from being alive and free to play!

For me, the process  working on ‘Port’ with Kristine has been three-pronged. Firstly, my task is to stay in improvisation mode ALL THE TIME. Secondly, that improvisation must be fully committed every time – there are no halves for me; it leads to what I now refer to as “nothingness”. Thirdly, there must be something clear to play. Identifying the all-important subtext has become tantamount for revealing the story. A tangible subtext that speaks to me, and that drives every word and every action I carry out. Without it, I flounder. And I fake it. And faking it will only ever be “good”, which is never good enough. Let’s go for extraordinary.”

Photo by Remy Hii

James Hoare & Ric Hizon, Actor in Simon Stephen’s ‘Port’ at NIDA, where Kristine directs

Photo by Remy Hii

“A lot of the time in the first few days of rehearsal was spent on games. First with simple fun musical chair style games, then into games which rely upon focus on the other person or object. It took us ten to twenty goes at trying to keep a ball in the air but when people stopped thinking about their own responsibility to the ball and about just keeping the ball alive we reached 131!

I started to relax around Kristine and the other actors (whom, even though I’ve known for three years, I still get jittery when we start a new project together). There’s fun to be had in plays and sometimes the expectation you put on yourself to be accurate or brilliant or just respectful to the text or character can interfere with your work and then rehearsals become painful.

With Kristine, so far we have worked first at finding a truth as an actor. We do this through an improvisation that is similar to a situation in the play and then we see what the instinct of the actor is…what is the reaction and impulse of the actor, not the character? Kristine does not like to use the word “character” in her rehearsal room. We then try and use the impro to help us move seamlessly to text work…in and out of accents (our own and theStockportaccent of the play). Every now and then Kristine asks what we thought, what we felt…we discuss it, but never too much … only enough to get a simple idea … too much discussion can complicate the process says Kristine.

Mostly in the first week we have found an ease and comfort with ourselves. Kristine has built this as our foundation.” James Hoare

Photo by Remy Hii

“Up on the floor, we’re set with the task of achieving and sustaining an open and relaxed state in which we can simply play the scene. It’s the enjoyment of the work that makes it worthwhile: finding a place of ease and simplicity that allows the most profound nuances to evolve out of simply playing. I became aware of something today…not something I didn’t know, but something I perhaps needed to be reminded of: I am more at ease playing something that’s not me.

Our first reads and improvisations were geared towards establishing a connection – thus, “character” wasn’t necessarily the focus of the exercise. In fact, we were encouraged simply to place ourselves. Kristine suggested I improvise aSouth East Asian streetvendor. I know the sort. I used to walk past them on my way to school. As a third culture kid, though they weren’t ever really that huge a part of my life. But I do know the sort. I was initially apprehensive – I just didn’t see the relevance. But it stuck.

“You, pretty lady, you come here, buy souvenir.”

It was generalized and caricature, but there was some truth in it. And it was,admittedly, kinda fun to do. It did ultimately get me to “play” the scene.

The biggest problem is moving from improvisation to text while maintaining that same sense of freedom, and acceptance of uncertainty; once the words I use are determined by a script, I immediately go back to my old habits of “the most desired reading” – not really playing, but rather displaying what I’d like to play. Having the additional layer of some sort of vocal or physical parameter that makes me instinctively change my own rhythms essentially freed me up – freedom through specificity. We even tried the scene with, as yet, amateurish renditions of theStockportdialect: suddenly, the text seemed to spring to life…” Ric Hizon

The Culture Secretary is wrong to knock ethnic minorities

Text of the article published in the New Statesman by Kristine Landon-Smith, 18 September 2010

Jeremy Hunt’s comments show he does not understand the reality of art in modern Britain.

“Public money will no longer be given to arts organisations simply because they hire a high proportion of women or ethnic minorities, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned,” reports the Daily Mail.

And here were we at the Asian theatre company Tamasha, labouring under the misapprehension for these last 21 years that the Arts Council fund us because we stage plays the British public want to see! The implication in the minister’s speech that artists such as ourselves only receive money because of our gender and race is cynical in the extreme.

The claim of a “box-ticking” approach to funding artists from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds promotes the notion that artists from minority groups are nothing but jumped-up quota-fillers. We would expect it from the Mail but when we start hearing it from the Culture secretary, it’s alarming.

Hunt told the delegates at the Media Arts Festival that, “The days of securing taxpayer funds purely by box ticking – getting cash simply because a diversity target has been hit – are now over.”

Under Labour, the arts were charged with challenging social exclusion, celebrating diversity and reasserting Britishness. At Tamasha, we’ve encountered our fair share of box-ticking theatres, wanting to collaborate with us purely to get Asian bums on their seats, but it comes with the territory. We’re wise to it and don’t collaborate with those theatres.

Yet the suggestion that artists of colour have been enjoying an Arts Council-funded joy ride demeans us and shows how little Hunt understands the reality on the ground.

Now that the critical pendulum is swinging away from the Arts for social ends back to the “purer” criteria of intrinsic artistic excellence, we are seeing a retrogressive new conservatism at work. After all, who decides the criteria for judging artistic excellence?

Cultural diversity is not important in and of itself, but because it allows us to contrast different values and beliefs and take positions on them. The arts offer a special forum in which to engage in political dialogue and debate that can help create a collective language of citizenship. We see that most clearly in our work in schools.

Ironically, in the very same speech Hunt urged arts organisations not to dump education outreach when the cuts come in. His headline-grabbing comments about funding women and minorities shows a lack of political and artistic vision. The box ticking was never of our choosing and nor was the labelling. Ministers come and go but we will continue to make plays with or without their interference.

Kristine Landon-Smith is co-director with Sudha Bhuchar of Tamasha Theatre Company

%d bloggers like this: