Category Archives: Observerships

Blood: in rehearsals

Observer Christa Harris has been sitting in on rehearsals for Tamasha’s new production of Blood at Belgrade Theatre Coventry. Here are her thoughts from the first week

Blood in rehearsals

Blood in rehearsals at Belgrade Theatre Coventry. Photo: Christa Harris

As an emerging theatre director I am constantly looking for opportunities to learn and develop my craft. My experience so far spans from amateur to fringe theatre, but I have had very little professional guidance; so when Tamasha offered me chance to observe their rehearsals for Blood as part of their Developing Artists programme I jumped at the chance.

My first morning began with a meet and greet with the creative team. It was great to have the opportunity to mingle with the group before getting our heads stuck into the text and I already felt like I was in good company within the first few moments of being there. By midday I had listened to the read-through of Blood by the brilliant actors Krupa Pattani and Adam Samuel Bal, got to grips with the space as well as explored the set, designed by Sara Perks.

The set, which has been described as an ‘urban box’ is gritty, isolated and multifaceted; to look upon it you can see an exciting city landscape and, in the next moment, a barren flat. There is a melancholia attached to the set as well as a simmering energy of rebellion. Its versatility which will host over thirty scenes in different locations is simply remarkable. The shades of greys incorporated in the set alongside the light boxes and the capacity to inject bright colour generate a clever metaphor of the love story of Sully and Caneze: two young people who find love in a despondent place.  I could already see that the prison-like quality of the grey and steel framework juxtaposed with colour and light would enhance the mind-set of our two protagonists: at times completely trapped and isolated and other times filling each other’s’ world with colour and believing in their future. Set design has always been something that has interested me, a well thought out set can help define an entire play as well as add layers and meaning and so I was thrilled when Tamasha’s set had exceeded my expectations on the first day.

In the afternoon, director Esther Richardson led a discussion in which the team delved deeper into the world of the play: its language, its timeframe and, most importantly, its characters. The discussion was a way of tapping into the foundations of Blood and finding out how the characters function on a day to day basis: who they socialise with, what their history is and what their words reveal. As far as a traditional play goes, Blood breaks all of the rules; the events take place on stage over a year, but contained within our characters’ memories. At times the audiences will be completely immersed in what they believe is the present, but then sucked back out when the characters turn to them and deliver their lines directly. This is incredibly powerful tool as we are asked, not just as an audience, but as fellow citizens to listen to Sully and Caneze – they want us to hear their story and remember it. This discussion felt important in laying down the foundations of the play and I felt that I could now conceive a clear image of two fully formed characters and the worlds around them.

One of the things that really struck me on the first day was the amount of people on the creative team. I have always loved the idea of having a large creative team behind a production but have always found it difficult to have everyone on board from day one. I never knew how useful it was to have a lighting designer, sound designer and set designer in the rehearsal room right from the start of the rehearsal process, but there was so much that came out of the read-through and discussion from having all members there to contribute to and deliberate over the play. The play already felt epic and I could not wait to see what the rest of the week would reveal to me.

By day three of the week, I had witnessed the two actors approach the first few scenes in a variety of ways. Not only was it important to Esther to dig as deep as possible into the characters’ psychology, emotions and their outer surroundings, but a keen interest in the poetics of how the characters speak and their movement was a vital part of the process. When writing this now, it seems natural to assume that these things are practised in a rehearsal room, but it was the amount covered within such a short space of time that was amazing to watch. The use of spoken word throughout Blood is something that at times injects a stylistic angle on the play, a fluid poetic style is overt and the body language of the piece comes to life in the short sharp scenes that portray a whirlwind romance which comes to a head. This rhythm which changes tempo throughout the piece, was complemented in the rehearsal room by both Assistant Director Ryan Harston, a physical theatre performer and director whose hip-hop roots really brought the piece to life, and Movement Director Kitty Winter, who’s work with Laban allowed huge amounts of experimentation with the proxemics for each moment. In continuously reaping over a scene with new approaches, new revelations were made and interesting nuances were created between the characters. After each scene was read a new discussion was held, the actors would question their motivation for everything their character did and Esther would guide them to find the right answers. I felt the work being done wasn’t necessarily about creating something which was technically ‘perfect’ but making something with a purpose. Mining the text in this way was fascinating to watch and I learned a lot from this process; it will definitely be something that I introduce to my own rehearsal room.

As part of my Observership I was very lucky to be able to interview Blood writer Emteaz Hussain. It was great to talk to Emteaz about her ideas for the play, what inspired her and where her preferences lie in terms of her writing style. Emteaz has a natural flair for spoken word performance and her life experiences have clearly inspired her to write a piece about the complexity of love, the exploration of identity and the courage of youth. No matter what the experiences that lie behind the play or whoever the people are who have inspired her along the way, her story is primarily about hope and love. During a discussion on day four of the observership, Esther spoke of how ‘love allows you to see everything vividly and in different colours. You’re so lucky if you have loved or feel loved. Otherwise, life can feel like a world without colour’. Esther went on to speak of how love is not being entirely a ‘spring meadow’ as one who loves also has a fear of losing the thing they love so much. This analysis of love, felt to me the absolute reason for the journey these characters go on. It was clear from the beginning of the week that Hussain and Richardson work so well together and listening to their rationale behind the play highlighted this even further. By the end of the week, I could see the bones of the first part of the play. Although the journey had just begun, I already felt huge promise. I had gone from a captivated reader of the play to an observer completely in love with the characters and the story.

A lot of the time when I go to see theatre I analyse every little detail to the point where I worry about clarify of thoughts and misconstruing actions; but with Blood I could see that everything was covered – new things sprung up every day and each and every thought was well-considered: whether this was contemplation on the entire arc of the play, a small design decision or inspection of the way a particular line was delivered. There was so much trial and error and it was amazing to witness a team work with the text attentively and wrestle with moments of uncertainty until there was an epiphany in the room. This was something I loved most about my observership, as it highlighted to me that you don’t always have to have the answers straight away, but instead, it’s healthier to test things out, mine for meanings and create something better than anticipated.

One of the reasons I was drawn to taking this observership with Tamasha was due to my passion for making theatre which holds a mirror up to society and investigates the culturally diverse community that surrounds us. My week with the company gave me a shrewd insight into the rehearsal room which was so helpful to my development at this stage in my career. I am so grateful for having the time to witness Esther create magic in the rehearsal room with the beautiful words of Emteaz Hussain and two very talented actors. The observership not only motivated me within my own craft, gain a set of new skills and ideas of how to execute particular rehearsals, but it allowed me to gain the confidence that from time to time I have lacked. It was one of the most insightful and exciting weeks in my career to date and can only thank the team for allowing me to be a small part of their journey and mine.

TDA Observer Lisa Peck on the 3 week rehearsals for ‘The Arrival

In rehearsals

In rehearsals

Week one.

Noun. Spirit
1. The vital principle or animating force within living things.
2. The general atmosphere of a place or situation and the effect it has on people.
3. A fundamental emotional and activating principle determining ones character.
4. Animation in action or expression.

Kristine uses the word “spirit” often when talking to actors and as I sit in rehearsal on Day One of the Arrival this is the best way I can describe the quality in the room. The human spirit at the heart of Shaun Tan’s graphic novel is one of courage, fortitude and collective hope. It feels like it is in the room with us.

As Kristine uses ‘play’ to activate the sprit of the ensemble, beneath and between a canopy of ropes, wires and poles, these performers embark on their own journeys. What is striking to me is how play releases the individual and collective spirit. The mixture of camaraderie and competition animates the bodies and voices and opens up a genuine open and creative connection between people. The group plays volley-ball, tag and a chair game and during the hour of “playing well” so much work is done with so few words. People relax, listen, discover their default positions and diagnose themselves. Kristine is able to twist the keys, tune the chords and tighten the strings of the individual whilst everyone works together to define and enjoy the spirit they will need for the journey ahead and to find a shared understanding of that. What is particular is that Kristine is playing too, as referee, coach and competitor. I witness how important it is that a director enables and models the “spirit” they need in the rehearsal room.

Week two.

Noun: suspension.

1. A mixture in which fine particles are suspended in a fluid where they are supported by buoyancy.
2. A time interval where there is a temporary cessation of something.
= break, intermission, interruption, pause.
3. The act of suspending something (hanging it from above so it moves freely).
4. An interruption in the intensity or amount of something.

The novel is the story of people suspended, physically and geographically and in memories of time, place, and people. The architecture of the circus and the movement sequences, which are being refined in week two, define these moments of suspension. It is in these’ moments between’ that so much about being human exists.

Bodies roll slowly across the floor as the boat creaks and the storm builds. The motion of the rocking ship suspends them for a moment before they are rolled the other way. With loss of balance and gravity bodies are tossed this way and that, desperately struggling to escape, climbing, balancing, dropping, hanging. What happens when gravity disappears and one is left suspended in that moment between, not knowing what the next moment will decide? Managing how to fall safely is fundamental to the circus performer and it at the heart of the poetry and poignancy of this story on an epic level and domestic level.

A mother climbs a rope to be on the same level as her son who is filled with
anger and confusion. His father has just said goodbye. He is travelling to the other side of the world and leaving his family behind. The actions of the performers as they play out the argument between mother and son are mesmerizing and heart-breaking. No words are needed. The movement up and down the ropes and the suspended moments of decision, tension and confusion is so sensitive and moving.

Week three.
Noun: Rhythm.
1. Something occurring at regular intervals.
2. The basic rhythmic unit in a piece of music.
3. An interval during which a recurring sequence of events occurs.

Intricate and detailed choreographed sequences take time to build and fix on the stage and Freddie Opoku-Addaie is working with the performers on the cockle picking scene. They have trays and rakes and scrape the sand with an almost hypnotic rhythm. As the sand is worked, trays are filled and emptied into the bucket, I am pulled into rhythm of work, of shared labour and our need for productivity, however precarious. This work is painstakingly detailed and the performers are counting sequences which, even having watched this scene in its various stages over the last three weeks, I still cannot decipher.

The show is packed with these extremely complex movement sequences where rhythm and timing is key. What makes these sequences so beautiful is the detail in the deconstruction of the rhythms. By “messing it up” a synchronsied or “held” form becomes human and identifiable and the subtlety of this defines the movement approach I see in rehearsal. The poignancy of failure, of flopping and of loosing ones balance is a defining human quality in this story.

In this final week the fine-tuning of these delicate rhythms takes over. The rhythm of an exit or entrance, the delivery of a line, holding of a moment and working with the musical score. Kristine has a heightened sense of these rhythms and how they affect the audience and at this stage she is orchestrating and conducting the rhythms of the show.

Thank-you Tamasha for your spirit and the opportunity to observe your process.

Rehearsal model box showing

Rehearsal model box showing

TDA Assistant Lighting Designer on the Fit-up and Tech

The Arrival

The Arrival

First day of fit up:

Today involved getting the lights in the air! Our challenge is to get the overhead fixtures up in the air as soon as possible so that the truss can be built.

Once that is up in the air we have been building booms, patching the desk, cutting colour whilst being mindful of how this will transfer from venue to venue.

It is really important to learn and absorb the different quirks to the lighting plan, and to learn what needs prioritising, what may take time/how long things take to do. All of this needs to be taken into consideration for the re-lights, I must know the rig inside out and learn how I can make it work in each venue.

Teching in Southampton:

So we are at the final stages of the technical rehearsals, everything is looking great and we have worked through without any huge problems.

Dennis and I have been working on the plans ready to send to the different touring venues, ensuring we have the right questions to ask and generally being as prepared as possible. The team changes now for the tour – no production manager, no lighting designer, so we must all fill each other in on how the show goes together.

Generally we are solving little problems and finding was around things, all working as a team to create a great show.

Very much looking forward to seeing the show now in dress rehearsal and we will go from there!

Tamasha gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Esmée Fairburn Foundation which has made this bursary possible.

‘The Arrival’ Rehearsals – Week 1

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John Walton – observer

I spent Monday, Thursday and Friday morning sitting in on rehearsals this week. Monday was a huge affair – with all the performers, creative team, production team, admin team, observers and Circus Space staff crammed into the Creation Studio. Adam presented his beautiful set in model-box form, and Kristine said a few words about the decisions and process that had been taken in the many years it had taken to bring the project to full production. Once the throng had dispersed, the performers had been measured up for costumes and final bits of rigging installed, it was just Kristine, the cast and a few others left in the room. The final leg of the journey was about to begin.

Coming back on Thursday, what was remarkable was how much the predominantly circus-trained cast had so fully responded to Kristine’s way of working. In the games that started the morning, they were totally committed to play that was full-bodied and total – yet still retained lightness and grace, fun and trickery. It is rare to see a company of actors having so much fun together. As a similarly impressed member of the production team put it, “actors try to find the intention, these guys just go for it”. This immediacy and open attitude was clearly shifting over into their on-stage work. The improvisations were simple yet full-bodied, the acting clear and elegant. On Friday, when I started to hear some of the voice-overs, I began to see what a unique production this will be, one that challenges convention by fusing movement, text, music, voice-over, projection and circus-skills. It sent shivers down my spine.

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Observership on ‘The Arrival’ at Alchemy Festival at Southbank Centre

As someone who is experimenting with visual arts, performance art & new circus crossover, I was curious about the showcase performance of Tamasha’s the Arrival at the Alchemy Festival, Southbank. I applied for the observership as I thought it could be a fantastic opportunity to witness a week of rehearsals leading to 9 performances at the Royal Festival Hall and to be a part of the creative process in such an unusual and site specific situation. The rehearsals were open to all and the staging of the production unfolded to passersby each day. It was a privilege to observe director Kristine Landon-Smith at work, leading a team of creatives, to be able to meet and engage with all the performers and the production team on a daily basis.

The daily rehearsals, which were fully open to the public, took place in the RFH foyer’s space on the 2nd floor, in front of large glass walls, surrounded by staircase, a lift and a seating area. The performance spot was rigged with circus apparatuses: 2 poles, silks, straps, rope and slack-rope all neutral in colour (black and white).These formed a part of the stage design together with a number of subtly suspended white paper birds and an enlarged sepia portrait illustrations out of Shaun Tan’s graphic novel.

The working conditions seemed quite challenging, with largely no rehearsal space privacy whatsoever. The director, choreographer, performers and production team needed to be able to block out the constant passing by and visitor interactions with the space, and the festival as a whole. One needed to be ‘in the zone’, concentrated fully on the task rather than on a flux of external stimuli ranging from frequent loud sounds of events happening in the space nearby (workshops, concerts and performances), through toddlers running into the rehearsing area, to the people ascending / descending the staircase and just general mingling of the public. What was remarkable is that Kristine as a leader kept calm, clear in her intentions and directions. She held absolute charge of the rehearsal process and schedule, assisted by production manager Tom’s attention to organisational detail.

My main focus during the observership was to see how a professional and experienced director works on a production that merges circus with theatre and visual arts. I was interested to particularly observe the following areas:

  • how a theatre director negotiates ways of rehearsing a circus / theatre performance piece and interacts with not only performers but the whole creative and technical crew
  • how  a work inspired by initial source that is purely visual, develops into a theatrical production
  •  the dramaturgical possibilities in site-specific performance
  • how one negotiates and organises timescale and the logistical needs and practicalities of such a process

A collaborative approach to creation of such a cross over genre is clearly essential. Kristine employed a talented young choreographer, Freddie Opoku-Addaie, whose role was to take care of the physical aspects of the performance – the football and a ship scene in particular. She also had Circus Space’s acrobatics lecturer, Glen Stewart, as an adviser present at a few of the rehearsal sessions. It was a joy to witness scenes being constructed and how the whole collaborative team interacted at ease, as Kristine is a very encouraging director for both her performers and collaborators.

Each circus performer devised their physical role and then fine tuned it under Kristine’s direction to suit the scene. The text, which referred to real life migrant and refugee accounts, was poetically scripted by Sita Brahmachari and beautifully delivered by the actors, Charlie Folorunsho as the lead character in particular. The role of music and sound was here crucial too as it evoked the external and inner landscape through which the characters were navigating and added a further emotional impact to the performers’ presence and movement.

It’s a shame that in this instance lighting couldn’t be employed – together with the noise pollution in my opinion, a major obstacle for working in such site-specific circumstances. As one can’t expect to have total control of one’s stagecraft as in a more conventional theatrical space, I felt that intimate and more poetic moments of the show and their dramaturgical impact got lost during some performances due to the ever present institutional light and competing festival sounds.

What I got from this week is a real insight into the complexities of working with a professional company in site-specific circumstances with the looming pressure of a deadline – which in my opinion is simultaneously limiting and enhancing. I realised what a physical toll such an intense work schedule takes on all, and especially on circus performers. In such a working environment, it is crucial to find ways of keeping the energy levels and focus up as the 3 performances were spread throughout the afternoon and the evening. The physical toll and aforementioned problems with noise and lack of control over lighting are however counterbalanced by the sheer amount of exposure this showcase gave to all involved.

Being a part of the Alchemy festival in the centre ofLondonbrought many thousands of people closer to the work and skills of Tamasha and Circus Space creatives, many of whom are probably new audiences for Tamasha, intercultural theatre and for circus/ theatre crossover in general.

Lara Ritosa Roberts – Observer

Week 4 Photographs of ‘The Arrival’ by Anna Nguyen

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