Tag Archives: Belgrade Theatre Coventry

‘My Journey’ by Made In India Assistant Director Corey Campbell

Ulrika Krishnamurti as Aditi in Made in India - Credit Robert Day

Ulrika Krishnamurti as Aditi in Made In India – Photo by Robert Day

My road here, from growing up in Alum Rock to becoming a Tamasha Developing Artist, has been a long one. Like many from my area it began with me misbehaving and getting into trouble with the police. The first people to offer me a chance were West Midlands Mediation, a non-profit organisation from Birmingham, they found me and asked ‘what do you want to do?’ They told me that my behaviour was down to the fact that I didn’t know how to express myself. At the time I thought it was arty-farty nonsense, but what they were offering sounded better than prison so I decided to give it a go. Initially I got into music, I was taught to rap and MC and it gave me a full sense of release. That led to me taking part in the E4 School of Performing Arts show, but they didn’t have any music slots left and the only spaces were for actors. I thought that actors were all extroverts and, as someone with serious learning difficulties and social anxieties, it wasn’t a career I’d ever considered, but I just had to go for it.

During that time I got into trouble again. It was serious, with the prospect of a long sentence, but here’s where my story gets interesting. Through working with West Midlands Mediation I had met David Vann, the person who went on to become my guardian angel. David, someone who to me was strange looking with pierced nipples and crossed legs, turned up again at this potentially disastrous point in my life. He said, ‘you carry on down this road and we can see it’s about to lead you to a lifetime inside a square box. You’ve only got one option left, you’re going to come with me and I am going to sort you out. They’re not going to hear from you again and you’re not going to hear from them again.’

I was only 17 and thought that if David wanted to be my Good Samaritan I’d just run with it. It turned out that he was the head of the part-time courses at the Birmingham School of Acting. The first thing he did was put me on a course during the summer holiday, so that I couldn’t get into trouble. He helped me relearn to read, get my GCSEs and GNVQs, he paid for the courses and then when I was 20 he also helped get me into drama school. Once again it was David who filled in the forms and put in a good word for me. When I started at drama school I was a terrible actor, the worst there. Some of the other guys had been doing it their whole lives. So I dedicated my time there to becoming the best. David’s passion had always been Shakespeare and I fell in love with it too. Particular highlights were performing Coriolanus at The Globe as part of the Sam Wanamaker Festival and an adaption of the Tempest at the Matedero in Spain.

Made In India-Rehearsal-68-SMALL

Made In India rehearsal at The Belgrade Coventry

The most memorable moment of all though came during my very last show at drama school. I was playing the part of Mack the Knife in The Threepenny Opera at The Crescent Theatre. At the very same time my Uncle had just been released from prison and he came straight to see me perform. As with all my family, he didn’t understand theatre etiquette so when the show finished he stormed up on stage, through the curtain and straight into the back stage area. We were both in bits, I was so pleased to see him and he was so proud of what I’d accomplished. It’s one of my strongest memories as it shows how what I’ve done has affected my whole family.

David died in October 2014 and it tore a massive whole in my heart. Since I was a boy I’ve been used to death, murders, cancers, all of that and it never fazed me at all. But this destroyed me. His passing made me determined to make my own theatre company, Strictly Arts. I remembered everything that David Vann had done for me and thought that I needed to be able to give the same kind of opportunity to other people. I have to be able to do that to honour the man who picked me up from nowhere and changed my whole life. He supported me through this very violent journey that I was taking, until I could finally be free.

Strictly Arts is now a springboard company at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry and I’m a creative associate there. The Belgrade took us on in 2015 and then in 2016 Tamasha agreed a co-producing partnership with The Belgrade Theatre Coventry for Made In India. As part of the TDA programme, Tamasha seek funding to offer a bursary to an emerging artist to become an Assistant Director for each of their national touring productions. The director Katie Posner and the Tamasha team were looking for an assistant and hadn’t been able to find anyone suitable. I came along, we got on really well and we successfully applied to the Regional Young Directors Scheme’s 3-month placement to become the Assistant Director. It’s another instance where my life in theatre has been a big stroke of luck, everything has just flipped into place, one thing after the other.

The full cast of Made in India - Credit Robert Day (2)

The full cast of Made In India – Photo by Robert Day

Being involved with Made In India has been very good for me. It’s an all-female cast, which isn’t something I’m used to, and that brings a very different dynamic. The characters are very strong and the actors also have strong opinions on the subject matter. My theatre company specialises in physical theatre and we therefore spend a lot of time being very boisterous, throwing each other around and testing our limits, whereas Made In India is much more text based. The read-through’s make for an interesting comparison. I’ve been an assistant a few times before but it can be a difficult role because you never know where you stand. Some directors really want you to be verbal and upfront, whereas others want you to be behind them to reinforce what they’re saying.

Working with Katie has been a great experience, especially seeing how subtle and organic she is as a director. Actors want to do what is right for their character but that doesn’t always fit with the way the director wants things to go. I’ve been in positions as an actor where a director has told me ‘listen, what you’re doing is crap, you’re going to have to change it,’ and that can destroy some people. Katie is very subtle in the way that she works actors round to seeing the process as she wants them to see it and helping them take decisions which suit the play, without ever telling them that’s the decision she wants them to make. She’s also fantastic at networking. Because I have these social anxieties, one of the things I fall down on is networking, and Katie has been talking to me about how to approach people in order to get what I need as both an artistic director and an actor.

One of the main reasons I wanted to be part of Tamasha’s Developing Artists programme was because Strictly Arts is now beginning to commission playwrights to write plays on our behalf and I’d never seen that process before. It was so helpful to be with the Made In India cast and the company, and have the writer Satinder Chohan in the room, discussing things tactfully and coming to such a great conclusion in the end.

Ulrika Krishnamurti as Aditi and Gina Isaac as Eva in Made in India - Credit Robert Day

Ulrika Krishnamurti as Aditi and Gina Isaac as Eva in Made In India – Photo by Robert Day

As part of my role I’ve been “seeing in” the shows in Edinburgh and Lancaster. It’s all about making sure the actors are comfortable and that the lighting is the way was during the opening run at The Belgrade, and making any necessary changes. Every space is different; some are naturally darker or have newer lights which are just ready to beam as the wattage is flying through them. Because the set uses a lot of screens it’s also about working with the actors on the transitions, helping them because the space has changed. At this point I’m not really interested in giving actors notes because the show is theirs and they’re doing a great job. I’m just making sure that the staging is working and the audience is getting the best possible show.

I’m also helping create a curtain raiser for the CREATE rural tour in April. It will be a 15-minute piece that people will see before the main Made In India show and I’ll be working with young people from the North East. I love working with young actors, especially those, like myself, who haven’t always known that this is the career they want. I didn’t know that this was something I actually wanted to do until I was put in the firing line to do it. One of the things that I try to standby is that I live, I learn, I progress and then I pass it on. I’ve lived, I’ve seen a whole lot of badness, then I learnt (thanks to David), I progressed in life and now it’s time to pass it on. Of course I want to keep learning too, but my whole existence is because of that one opportunity that he gave to me and if I can do the same for anybody else then I will.

Syreeta Kumar as Dr Gupta and Gina Isaac as Eva in Made in India - Credit Robert Day

Syreeta Kumar as Dr Gupta and Gina Isaac as Eva in Made In India – Photo by Robert Day

It’s great to be able to bring this show to rural places, and parts of the country that wouldn’t normally get to see it. It will be amazing to go and present this show to them and understand what they think or feel about the themes. Made In India is for anybody, woman or man, in particular anyone who has gone through surrogacy, the IVF process or has lost children; it affects people universally. The surrogacy industry in India is very unique, I didn’t know anything about it before, I had no clue that it even existed. It’s a massive industry for India, they’re making ridiculous amounts of money and many poor young women see it as their only lifeline and many are completely put through the mill. I still don’t know where I stand on it, it’s a really tough story.

I owe the RTYDS, Tamasha and The Belgrade a big thank you for all of their support. Not just for awarding the bursary but for seeing the potential in what I do and am trying to achieve. The fact that they have enabled me to work on Made In India means that they’ve seen some level of potential in me and that has given me a big lift. Everyone at Tamasha, especially Satinder and Katie, have given me such an invaluable experience. We need all the support that we can get in this life and I’m so grateful to everyone who has helped me. The biggest thank you, as always, is to David Vann.

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.

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