Tag Archives: AD

Actor Director Masterclass with Kristine Landon-Smith

Michela Sisti, participant director

In January of this year I observed Kristine’s “Introduction to Acting” workshop as well as participated as a director in her “Actors and Directors” workshop. The four short days I spent in Kristine’s class were rigorous, intense and absolutely packed with learning. I left our Arcola studio on the evening of the fourth day feeling tired and happy and quite transformed. I am very grateful to Kristine and Tamasha for giving me the opportunity to have challenged myself with such a rewarding method of working with actors.

The most important thing a director should nurture in an actor’s performance is that actor’s willingness to play. An actor at play is relaxed, open and, in Kristine’s words, “free to fly”.

Kristine’s approach to directing is both simple and rigorous: how do I get the actors in front of me to be at their absolute best? It requires a huge amount of focus and sensitivity from the director who must be completely tuned in to the actor’s performance in order to detect what is preventing this actor from being in a relaxed and open state of play. Likewise, the director should also be looking for moments in which the actor absolutely shines. If the director can figure out what is allowing this actor to fly freely then it is possible to guide them back to that open state in other moments of their performance.

So, Kristine’s approach ultimately places the actor, rather than a superimposed vision of the director, at the centre of every performance. It also requires the director to engage with each actor very closely and to understand that what may work brilliantly for one actor will not be right for another. Out of this understanding that each actor should be guided along his or her own individual path comes Kristine’s intracultural practice, which I will discuss in detail later on in this blog.

Part 1: Kristine’s Games/Warm-ups

One of the first things Kristine explained to us when we began her workshop was that a game or warm-up used in a rehearsal room cannot be random. It needs to have a purpose; it needs to take the actors on a journey.

Kristine began each day by playing a few rounds of volleyball with the actors in a circle. According to Kristine, the only thing that matters about this game is that it teaches the actors how to play well together. Kristine was actively directing even as she was playing with the actors. She was counting the number of times the ball was volleyed in a clear and energized voice while throwing in words of encouragement in between. She was also the ongoing bullshit police: if the group began to dissolve into unfocused hilarity, threatening to become children playing rather than actors playing, Kristine would firmly rein them back to the task at hand. At the end of this game any awkwardness or guardedness that had been clinging to the actors had melted off. The group was open and ready for more.

The next game was a variation on tag. It should be played at a stage when people are still learning each other’s names. The actors began by walking around the space. The person who is “It” is intent on tagging someone. The only way to prevent yourself from becoming “It” is to say the name of someone else in the space, who then becomes the new “It”. If you are tagged before you call out someone else’s name then you lose a life. If you are tagged after losing three lives you are “out”. When there were four people left in the game Kristine made the space smaller. The rest of us observed from the sidelines. As in all of her games, Kristine was actively directing: encouraging the actors who needed to be encouraged, goading or teasing the actors who she could sense would response better to cheekier feedback, and always keeping track of who was “It” so that could flow energetically without stumbles.

For the third game Kristine asked the actors to break up into two even groups. The members of each group formed a huddle and numbered themselves from one to seven (there were 14 actors in total), taking care not to let the other group know who had chosen which number. Next, Kristine asked the groups to stand in two rows, one group facing the other with space between the rows large enough for actors to move around in. Kristine then stood on a chair situated between these two rows, dangled a glove in the air and called out a number between 1 and 7. If Kristine called out “four!” then the fours from each row would have to enter the space and snatch the glove from Kristine’s hand before the other person did, then quickly run back to their row before they could be tagged by the loser.

In this game Kristine warned the actors against “playing too hard”. If each person called into the space only focused on snatching up the glove and dashing back they would miss a far more important opportunity: the opportunity to play. So, the actors were encouraged to actually stand the in that very charged and risky space and find out how to play with each other. This game also put the actors ‘on stage’ for the first time in front of their peers which meant that the potential for discomfort or anxiety was suddenly increased. The more experience and actor has being ‘on stage’ in the rehearsal room, the better equipped he or she will be to deal with any nerves that might derail a carefully created performance.

On my third day in Kristine’s class I had the opportunity to lead this game as a director and I found it difficult to pull off. I felt I did a good job setting up the game but when the time came for the actors to face off for the glove in the space everything fell incredibly flat. At this point Kristine cut me off and we took some time to cheerfully discuss why what had gone wrong. I realized that that the game began to fail the moment I had dropped out of it. Whereas Kristine had tantalized and provoked and teased and laughed with her actors when she led this game on the first day, I had l limply stood on a chair with a glove dangling from my hand expecting something interesting to happen.

During this moment of realization something Kristine had said earlier, that the director must bring her personality to the room, became especially clear to me. The director must always be in the thick of things, not removed from the action, because how can a director expect a group of actors to be vulnerable and open and present if you are not vulnerable, open and present as well?

Another game that Kristine led was used free up text for the actor. In the first stage of the game actors divided themselves up into pairs and took five turns each trying to slap the other’s hands, while the other attempted to remove them before being caught. Again, Kristine urged the actors not to be swallowed by the aim of winning the game, but instead to remain with each other and figure out together how to remain in an attuned state of play. In the second stage of the game Kristine instructed everyone to add bits of text to their monologues every time they went for a slap. The actors were told to resist imposing meaning onto their text, but rather to fling out the words almost unconsciously – they could be speaking gibberish and it wouldn’t make a difference. Through this game many of the actors realized that they had become used to speaking their text in a very rigid way. It took a few rounds of playing these games to loosen up those habits and open the actor to the text again.

Other games Kristine introduced to her actors had to do with building complicité among a large group. Kristine experimented with variations on sending rapid claps around a circle. The claps were passed one way and then another as the group strove to keep them as even and fast as possible. The claps then became movements with accompanying sounds that were passed around the circle. These movements and sounds could be transformed by the actors but the transformations had to be spontaneous. On a later date Kristine asked her actors to send rapid claps around two concentric circles, on clockwise, the other anti-clockwise. She challenged the actors by asking them to move from outer-circle to inner-circle and time their movement in order to catch the new clap. Kristine also led games that involved improvising and shifting rhythms.

One particular game Kristine used had the purpose of giving the actors a chance to feel stupid in front of each other. Everyone begins by sitting in a circle. Someone runs around the outside of the circle with a sock and secretly drops it behind one of the sitting members of the group and continues running. If the runner makes it all the way around the circle again and tags the person they’ve left the sock behind before that person notices, that person is out. This is another way of using the rehearsal room to air out any kind of anxieties an actor might be carrying with them that could get in the way of arriving at an open performance. It is important for a director to create an environment where actors feel comfortable enough to practice failing in front of each other and in front of you.”

Anna-Maria Nabirye, participant actor

“It was so refreshing being back in the room with Kristine. The open actor and the art of play is so delicate. It needs to be nurtured and revisited. As easy as it is to find the wave and be open in play is as easy as it is to completely forget that the wave exists and to close in on yourself. I had forgotten how easy it was when riding the crest of the wave, how many choices and I had at my disposal when open and having the pleasure to play. What these 2 days taught me was that I am responsible for remembering the ease of riding the wave, I am responsible for keeping open and finding the pleasure to play. If a director helps me on my way then that is a bonus. My career, my artistry my choices.”

Pooja Ghai, participant director

“I am an actor who is moving into directing, and building my practice. Joining Kristine on this workshop was both challenging and overwhelming, this was because after only two days we covered so much ground, and I left the room thinking about so much.

As a practitioner Kristine is fantastic to observe. She runs a room on honesty and has an actor centred approach. I have had the joy to work with her in a professional capacity as an actor. To be in the room and learn from her in the capacity of a director was wonderful.

Kristine is an instinctual practitioner; she works with what the actor gives and guides them to find their sensitivity with each other, and to discover each other through complicit play. I was able to see very quickly what my short-comings were, and understood where I needed to build my confidence and how important it was to find the right language for the actor. It has made me want to get back out onto the floor, to gain more confidence and build my practice. Thank you Kristine, once again an incredible workshop, that takes you to the heart of good practice.”

Ed Fromson, participant actor

“Tamasha’s Acting and Directing workshop focuses on the actor or simply ourselves. To try and make us use ourselves in the most sensitive and open way when approaching a text. Kristine focuses on making the directors ask the right imaginative questions that frees the actor from the cliché surrounding text/character/objectives that can sometimes muddle what’s needed. The result is that the actor can achieve his beauty on the stage. A wonderful workshop which I can’t rate highly enough.’’

Ery Nzaramba, participant actor

“I came out of the workshops rejuvenated and my confidence restored. And, mostly, liberated. Because the most important thing I learned was that it isn’t about the character or the background story or the story itself (that is all taken care of by direction, text, costume, design etc), it is about that moment in the scene, between you and your fellow actor(s). Not the characters, but the actual actors. It’s about “playing” with them. Using your lines and your understanding of them, you play with the other actors. Even use your native language/accent as a way in, if necessary – you are more likely to be “yourself” when speaking in your own voice. I found this method particularly useful for period pieces because they’re so far from us and you must use any means necessary to bring it to ‘you’. Bring the ‘character’ to you, don’t go towards the character – or you’ll just be ‘acting’ (it won’t be truthful). And with Kristine you know without ambiguity when you’ve stopped playing and started ‘acting’. She lets you know with no uncertain words. Which is great because you know where you stand but it can be intimidating and fear inducing. That fear is the one thing I wasn’t happy with, though it’s a personal issue: I’m thin-skinned and find it hard to take criticism. But I know it’s necessary to take it well so I do welcome it and just deal with my sensitivity.”

Anne-Marie Piazza, participant actor

“I like coming back to a masterclass with Kristine Landon-Smith because she cuts straight to the heart of what it is to be a really good actor. We worked on a text that was very new to me and by just telling me what my character needed and was motivated by she guided me to produce the kind of work I always wanted to do – honest and truthful theatre. Directors like this are rare, I’ve only known one other. And though she is now based in Sydney even this little refresher was useful to reset my ‘general’ acting into something specific, purposeful and true to me.”

Jen Tan, participant actor

“It is very easy to slip into bad habits and very easy to do an impression of good acting and I think we see a lot of this because we don’t challenge performances which are ok, even if at the heart of things we know that it’s an impression of a truth and it is so much more of a risk to step outside of pretence. Kristine always calls this out and I thank her for it. In the process of working with Kristine over the past 3 years I have found more simplicity and ease to my performance and since the sessions last week I have been reflecting on taking risks and pulling down barriers (or not putting them up at all) in my broader theatre practice.”

Mai Cunningham, participant actor

“I was initially quite nervous about taking this masterclass, but was glad I did. Usually the element of ‘play’ that one hears so much thrown around theatre, in my experience, often comes off as ‘enforced play’: making actors play games together in ways that make them act like they are playing rather than really playing. I have never enjoyed the ‘warm up’ sessions at the start of rehearsals, I find they don’t relax me or warm me up at all, and I prefer to get on with the script work. However, Kristine taught us all the value of play in order to create that connection with your fellow actors. To relax and enjoy the work. To enjoy the process of working with actors and to create a real sense of playfulness, and she did this all with such ease and a clear wealth of experience. She also taught actors the value of being ourselves and being genuine on stage. Something that is so easy to forget, and yet Krstine managed to remind us in two days. It’s a wonderful experience to feel so relaxed on stage while performing and being yourself. Her wealth of experience and knowledge is clear to see, and she shares it with great humour and openness. Her eye for recognising the mistakes and achievements we, as actors, do not realise we are doing is amazing. It was wonderful to work with new directors too and to see their learning processes in comparison with actors. It reminded me that directors are human too! I highly recommend this workshop to anyone. Absolutely invaluable.”

Kiran Sonia Sawar, participant actor

“The actor/director workshop with Kristine was absolutely a worthwhile experience. It’s an excellent way to learn new acting techniques and refresh existing ones post drama school. I also got to work with new young directors and collaborate with actors I hadn’t met before. I look forward to hopefully working with everyone again soon!”

Naveed Khan, participant actor

“I walked out of Kristine’s Actor/Director workshop feeling more confident as an actor. Confident to rely on doing no ‘acting’ at all. We usually learn this at Drama School. Though if it’s been a few years, you learn bad habits again. With Kristine’s experience and intuition, you quickly reach a beautiful realness in scenes. It was fascinating to watch the process and invaluable to participate in. I thoroughly recommend Tamasha’s workshops and look forward to working with Kristine again.”

Advertisements

Masterclasses with Iqbal Khan

Iqbal Khan

Shakespeare

“He’s incredibly knowledgeable about Shakespeare and acting generally and is very generous in his teaching and directing striking a fine balance between allowing the actor to indulge themselves yet at the same time guiding them without feeling hectored or taught i.e. he encourages the actor to discover answers for themselves. I most enjoyed working on my prepared monologue and listening to others perform their monologues. I enjoyed this because it was a revelation seeing that most of us were too concerned with our own performance rather than making sure the audience gets the message of what we’re saying. The feedback I got from Iqbal means I can practice the monologue by myself and not be worried about becoming fake by developing a preconceived intellectual idea of playing the part because Iqbal’s advice is to keep changing the performance without becoming attached to any one style of playing. Hopefully the end result of all this is that when I do finally perform to an audience that I no longer care about my performance as I’ve got the idea of getting it right out of my system.”

“Lovely – he’s someone who really knows and loves his Shakespeare from a performance perspective. He innately understands how to make the text come alive in performance. He’s also extremely approachable and patient and works very intuitively with the actor as an individual. It was refreshing to have so many guys in the room! So often I go to workshops and they are swamped with young middle class women so always a delight to work with a properly diverse group of actors.”

“I wanted to work on text and to play. The class was fantastic and I was left with lots to think about and work on. Iqbal got us playing, warmed up and ready to go. We worked on our monologues and then on Macbeth. It was very good indeed. I loved the fact that it was not all white, middle class actors! It was like being in a proper London setting. I am just really grateful that Tamasha hold workshops like this and that its affordable and enables one to meet such good creatives in the industry.”

Chekhov

It has encouraged me to look at Chekhov in a new way and inspired me to investigate other Chekhov plays I wouldn’t have thought of doing before. There is nowhere with as inclusive and interesting a participating workshop group as Tamasha attracts.”

“I absolutely adored working for the day with Iqbal. He has a very generous nature and a clear instructive manner. The way in which Iqbal uncovers the text and brings it to life is absolute magic. This was the first all day workshop I have been to. It made me crave work and auditions!”

“Iqbal was very relaxed and laid back, not at all intimidating which is sometimes the case when meeting directors! He was very open to answering personal questions and was happy to share his experiences. I really enjoyed breaking down the text and learning to read between the lines, which sometimes is a lot simpler than we think. We have the tendency to over-complicate characters, of course there is always subtext, but a monologue from the character can be so truthful that all it requires from the actor is to be open and vulnerable towards the audience. I’m definitely better equipped to read through scenes and break them down. I would pay more attention to ‘pauses’ and ‘beats’ in scripts – it all has a meaning. It’s so important to look at stage directions too; it gives the actor clues as to how their character is feeling at that moment in time, which is something not all directors will point out to their actors.”

Contemporary Texts

Made me realise that ethnicity/gender should not stop you from developing your imagination by playing parts that are against your type.”

“Iqbal’s empathy with the plight of actors, his depth of understanding with contemporary text and the feeling that he set up in the room which was one of lightheartedness and yet complete commitment to our learning.”

“I absolutely loved working with Iqbal. He gives his knowledge and direction graciously whilst highlighting our occasionally misguided decision making. He reminded me especially that the only thing that matters is truth.”

“The atmosphere that Iqbal created was very relaxed and I felt very confident to try things out in a safe environment. The direction was very clear and helpful and the advice I was given will certainly inform my acting in the future.”


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


‘The Arrival’ Rehearsals – Week 1

New Image3

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.

New Image2


%d bloggers like this: