Tag Archives: Tamasha Theatre

Refuel – Seeding the importance of self-expression in young people – Blog by Cheryl Ndione

Refuel - A Tamasha Schools Project

Pupils and teacher Kate Hibbert rehearse their Refuel piece ‘The Lady

The Refuel project was introduced to me as I had been working with Tamasha Artistic Director, Fin Kennedy, on two separate youth theatre projects earlier in the year. Refuel seemed like the perfect continuation of a blossoming working relationship as it seemed like a great opportunity to create something brand new from nothing, a prospect that is always exciting, and also a huge responsibility in that we were to represent Tamasha as creative ambassadors.

I was asked to read the play Approaching Empty by Ishy Din to contextualise the project. I was going to be working with a writer whose work I already enjoyed. We would have 6 sessions to experiment with ideas to create a brand new 20-minute script with a group of year 8 students from Swanlea School in East London. Already, the structured openness of the project meant we had to jump in with no expectations and see what happened. Instinctively, the writer and I knew that the way to elicit the best work out of a group of young people would be to really allow them to feel that their ideas were at the fore of the creation process.

Having the project funded by AMAL, an organisation interested in celebrating Muslim culture support us to deliver this work at a majority Muslim school, facilitated by myself and a Muslim writer, meant that diversity and authenticity were already inherent, and this meant I could get on with my work to make a play that was well pitched and relevant for school-aged pupils; without race or religion overtly having to frame the proceedings.

Most participants had either little or no experience of practical drama work. It was not easy to galvanise sceptical minds and unconvinced bodies into full and keen participation but the more I worked with the group, the more I realised what an honour it was to be part of what I’d had an inclination would be an important journey for all of us.

Working with Asif Khan as the project writer was incredibly smooth sailing. We met ahead of the first session and had a long rambling conversation about lots of unrelated things and then briefly caveated the meeting with loose plans for the first session. We both agreed that we trusted each other implicitly to do our jobs, but that there was room for fluidly and off-piste exercises depending on where the session was going. Eureka moment came when meticulous planning met the energy of play. This meant no pressure and lots of space for discovery. Hot seating initial character ideas saw some of the students reveal hidden traits that provided great inspiration for characters later embellished in the script.

Our first session was tough. Swanlea School has a very small drama department and very large class sizes. The students were apprehensive to say the very least. They were also a little embarrassed when I let them know that we would be starting each of our sessions together with a physical warm up.

Luckily, we had the full support of Kate Hibbert, the drama teacher at Swanlea, which meant I felt free to push the students way outside of their comfort zone, and I insisted that we wholeheartedly embraced the spirit of drama activity. The students were physically and vocally reserved so my task was clear from the outset; to get these students to wilfully explore and express themselves. With this as my focus, Asif was given the space to piece together the vast tapestry of ideas that were generated and natural attributes the group were able to share through exercises and discussions.

Refuel's the Lady by Tamasha

Students at Swanlea School rehearsing Refuel piece’ The Lady’

Over the course of the 6 sessions we saw growth within each and every one of the students. By the time Asif had created his first draft, we had their full energetic investment. We saw improved ability to vocally project and articulate creative ideas, and also a willingness to contribute when unprompted. One participant in particular started off completely inaudible. She was extremely softly spoken, and as English was a second language, she was often reluctant to speak up even when asked direct questions. During the final read-through of the script, this same participant insisted on a larger speaking role, so much so that we had to do a last minute recast to make sure she was happy.

The best thing about the project was that having Asif as the writer meant that the work was culturally relevant, which made the group feel truly at the centre of the work and got them excited about sharing a perceptive that they fully understood.

The main given that we had to work with was around the set. The play had to be set in a cab office as the text will play directly on top of the set of Approaching Empty, a touring theatre production by Tamasha.

Synopsis: The young people are at the cab office as they have been allowed by one of their fathers to use the space for a few hours so that they can hold their own Eid party. People start to arrive but the party is then interrupted by an unwelcome guest. As the plot thickens, we are in introduced to a ghost – the title character, The Lady.

A project like this is so important as it seeds in the importance of self-expression from a young age. It really felt like a powerful catalyst on the participants’ journeys to learning how to relate to themselves and finding ways to relate to each other and the world around them. It was wonderful seeing how validated and capable they felt after each session. Attendance gradually improved and the energy in the room was palpably engaged. It is important that self-expression is nurtured and it is also important that culturally relevant work is supported, as this gives the students a sense of belonging and provides a space for them to take agency over their own public representation. For me as a Director, I find the work truly inspiring as we all had to work from the unknown and take a leap of faith together, and in so doing, have created something that I think is of immense value.

Find out more and book to see all Refuel performances here.

Cheryl Ndione

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The origins and legacy of REFUEL – A Tamasha Schools’ Playwriting Project by Iman Qureshi

Lyrical MC - Tamasha and Rewrite

Image taken from Lyrical MC – photo by Robert Workman

In the weeks following a number of terrorist attacks carried out crudely in the name of Islam, Fin Kennedy, artistic director at Tamasha Theatre, offered the Muslim writers on the Tamasha Playwrights group a space to come together and talk about being a Muslim writer in such a fraught political context.

So one cold January morning myself and three other Muslim playwrights met at Tamasha’s offices in Bethnal Green, and over cupcakes and coffee discussed how it felt to grapple with such issues in our work.

I felt stifled as a writer. If I were to write something, I felt I had a responsibility to answer for such horrors carried out in the name of my religion. But the problem was, I was as in the dark as anyone else about the drivers of such violence. My Islam was not the Islam of Salah Abdeslam, Khurram Butt, or Yahyah Farroukh.

I wanted to write other stories. Stories about Muslims that did not deal with so-called ‘Islamic extremism’ or terrorism, but rather about Muslims whose dating lives are disasters, who hate their jobs, who love trips to ikea, and like feeding stray cats. You know, regular human beings who are fully rounded, three dimensional characters.

And I wasn’t alone in feeling this. There was a general frustration amongst us Muslim writers about how we were constantly represented as Muslims. We only ever seemed to see certain types of Muslims beamed out at us from our screens, stages and news pages. And these ‘types’ rarely corresponded with the Muslims we knew personally – our friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances.

And so, Tamasha theatre decided to make a difference, by supporting us as writers to explore other aspects of Muslim identity in our work. And so, Refuel was born.

Refuel - A Tamasha Schools Project

Rehearsals for Refuel

Designed to support Tamasha’s forthcoming touring production Approaching Empty by Ishy Din, Refuel  paired four Muslim writers with an experienced director each and sent us into four Muslim majority schools across London to develop and write four fresh plays to accompany the main piece. The premise was simple – it must be set in a minicab office. Beyond that, sky was the limit.

Through a series of drama exercises, improvisation, character work, hot seating, real world interviews and discussions, and short writing tasks, I worked with the year 8 girls of Mulberry Girls School in Tower Hamlets to develop some concrete ideas for a play.

Each week we built on top of what we had created together the previous week. The characters we created in the first week, we had to place in a minicab office the second week with some dramatic interactions with other characters. The third week saw those dramatic scenes escalate into a more complex plot. Slowly, the forces of the play came together.

What was most thrilling for me as a writer was seeing the 11 year old girls go from wanting to write stories about Harry and Joe and Chloe and Kate, to becoming excited about writing stories about Khadija or Haleema. This switch from simply recreating the white majority they see on their TV screens at home, to actually representing their own lives and cultures and experiences in their ideas was really satisfying and I hope one of the lasting legacies of a project like this.

And this was where the real magic was – they’re humour, their sass, their depth really shone brightest when they began to mine their own experiences, or the banter they have with their own friends and family.

Our play gradually developed into an intergenerational story about three girls and their grandmother. It’s a story of aging, of not quite getting on with older generations, and of cultural gulfs that must be bridged within families which have migrants from different generations. It’s a story that is at once universal, but also intrinsically rooted in the Bengali culture. Everyone can relate to not giving their grandparents enough time, but yet not everyone’s grandmother is called Nani, eats brain cutlets, or tells stories of her village in Bangladesh.

The project has helped me as an emerging writer in many ways. Firstly, the opportunity to work with a brilliant and experienced director, Endy McKay in the classroom has taught me a huge amount about generating stories and ideas through performance. It’s also equipped me with a repertoire of ridiculously fun drama games which I hope I’ll have the opportunity to use soon.  Moreover, the support I had from Fin and Tamasha was completely invaluable and has meant that I’m now confidence enough and equipped with the skills to work on projects like this again. The production credit will hopefully put me in a good position to receive another similar commission in future.

But finally, working with young people in a collaborative and creative way is extremely liberating, because their imaginations are boundless. It was a pleasure to be let into their world for six short weeks, to hear their ideas, their jokes and their lingo. I think I learnt more from them than they ever could have from me, and based on our time together, I’ve got several stories percolating in the back of my mind. Perhaps they’ll pour out in the next play I write.

Find out more and book to see all Refuel performances here.


Actors’ Masterclass with Iqbal Khan

Last week we held a two day Acting Masterclass, led by Iqbal, on approaching complex language in plays, ranging from Shakespeare to Contemporary Texts. He looked at how actors can find this complex voice in texts which tackle big ideas.

‘What a thoroughly enjoyable, engaging and inspiring two days. Iqbal has an infectious passion for language and a way of letting everyone access the text with ease, with a focus on conveying the true meaning of a thought or idea. As someone who thought I’d never crack verse speaking, I now feel liberated and confident to explore the words on a page and not only to find understanding but also to express the ideas in a speech in a way that doesn’t alienate an audience but let’s them in. I feel that this will hugely impact my on stage delivery and can’t wait to put my new skills to work. Bravo!’
Vineeta Rishi

‘Iqbal is fantastic: out of all the workshops I’ve done, working with him has been by far the most enjoyable, challenging, and helpful. His talent, acumen, and teaching ability is exceptional: I can think of few ways to better hone my craft.’
Shamir Dawood

‘Working with Iqbal was exactly what I needed; he created a very honest atmosphere from the get-go and asked each one of us to tell him what our fears were when working with complex text. And that led to me feeling more comfortable with exploration of the text. Iqbal challenges you to not be lazy with text as an actor, he works in an extremely detailed manner and breaks down the text with you, but then allows you to run with it yourself. It was a wonderful boost for me as an actor and I feel so much more confident now going into an audition with a complex speech ready to perform.’
Dhiren Gadhia

‘Iqbal Khan’s Masterclass, was nothing short of extraordinary. Iqbal introduced a new way of approaching complex text, spending time on each of us, addressing our personal needs. He created a safe environment for us to not only be creative, but also ask frank questions about text, the industry and life as an actor. Personally, I learnt much which I can incorporate into my work, whether it be working on a play or prepping for an audition. Also, it was good to be introduced to new vocal exercises, which, although were challenging, if I should continue to practice, will help me no end.’
Bhella Candenti

‘A thoroughly helpful, encouraging and inspiring 2 days. Iqbal spent detailed time with every participant, working with them individually. We were given a useable toolkit to open up and share complicated ideas and language. There was a strong focus on sharing – with the audience and with your co-actor in a scene. We explored different emphasis within sentences/verse lines to find the clearest way to share an idea. This was an excerise to encourage understanding.

The most exciting work came through when the idea was being discovered in the moment, with the audience – putting yourself in an honest, vulnerable and therefore, exciting position and allowing the audience to discover and understand the text with you. Equally, we were encouraged to trust the language as well as focusing on being understood and in this way, organic, genuine emotion emerged. This helped us avoid generalised washes of anger, sadness etc. We put characters to the test: what do they want from this conversation, play that and see what happens, using the language as your tool to get it. Listen and pick up on words your partner has just said – how do they further the argument or test the relationship? The most unique and unexpected things could then happen because we were connected, open and our imaginations were free. For me, one of the most important discoveries was that anxiety can shut down your voice and shut down your imagination and you become an actor that the audience starts to worry about and not really listen to. When anxiety is out of the way, you have gotten out of your own way and you can then be the actor you really are.’
Suzanne Ahmet

‘The two day Acting Masterclass Workshop with Iqbal khan left me buzzing. I since have been unable to remove my nose from the spines of classic texts. The workshop was exactly what I needed – a boost of confidence to show me I already have the ability to attack and play with Shakespeare, Ibsen etc but also Iqbal seems to inject this passion into you that makes you, quite simply, excited to attack and play with these classic texts, or even all texts. It was just fantastic, I learnt so much and Iqbal was just wonderful to work with.’
Naomi Stafford

‘Iqbal’s masterclass was truly inspiring. He stripped away the mix of pretension and anxiety that can come with classical texts and gave us a range of tools with which to tackle the complex language. He worked with us as individuals as well as in groups and this one-to-one work was detailed, evocative and game changing. It was also very useful to watch others transform their work under his, frankly, magical touch! He tore down presumptuous and florid performing and taught us how to communicate a meaning with sincerity. It was absolutely brilliant, I’d go again’
Kerry Gooderson

‘The two days with Iqbal were pretty amazing. We worked on monologues and scenes from classical texts. I really enjoyed Iqbal’s approach to the work – to find the truth and the thoughts in the text. The text is the key. We explored a few different ways of tackling scenes, basically coming up with different ways of living it. It’s inspiring working with someone like Iqbal, who strives to bring out the best in everyone- knowing that actors work well when they’re comfortable. His style is organic and without pomp. The work is the work. Overall, the two days were incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling- what you normally expect from a Tamasha workshop.’
Ali Zaidi

‘As always the master class on Text with Iqbal was brilliant and hugely fun. Having worked with him previously I was  keen to ensure I had the chance again and it was well worth it of course. His skill and patience in conveying the subtleties of language from an actors perspective is precise and relevant to each actor’s needs. His depth of knowledge is vast and it was good to explore both classic and contemporary text. His charm and humour put you at ease instantly. A great two days. Thank you Tamasha!’
Llila Vis

‘The 2 day workshop with Iqbal Khan was an interesting insight into the use of heightened language and rhetoric in classical text. The work carried out was detailed and catered to each individual performer clearly highlighting our strengths and weakness’. A worthwhile refresher if you’ve been away from classical texts.’
Kiran Sonia Sawar


‘My Name is…’ Rehearsal week 2, Composer/Sound designer Arun Ghosh on creating the soundscape and music.

Arun discusses what inspires him to create music and sound for live theatre, how he became involved in ‘My Name is…’ and the challenges of scoring verbatim theatre.


‘My Name is…’ Rehearsal week 2, Assistant Director Diyan Zora: The Art of Storytelling

Rehearsal photos by Katherine Leedale

Week 2 of rehearsals for My Name is… has flown by. The art of storytelling has dominated the room. Our play is compiled from interviews with three people, Molly Campbell, her mother Louise, and her father Sajad. Each tells their story, describing events past and present and revealing the ‘truth’ behind the headlines.

How do the actors tell those stories? Do they relive them on stage, re-enacting a time gone by, or do they reference them as distant memories? There seems to be a whole spectrum of possibilities, which suits our rehearsal room perfectly. Philip’s process is all about uncovering the actor’s imagination. The extensive text and character work we did in the first week is being put to good use. Philip asks the actors to rehearse moments in the play with varying ‘points of concentration’. For example, there is a scene where a character’s objective is to tell the interviewer that they were ‘the victim’. The point of concentration might be the space around them, or the interviewer, or the weather… it can be anything, any given circumstance that might colour a situation.

Exploring all these backdrops changes the scene completely. It adds nuance and makes the scene more engaging, but most of all, it reveals just how many options the actors have. Watching so much spontaneity and play has made for an incredibly exciting rehearsal room, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Tickets for My Name is… are on sale now! Opens 30 April at Arcola Theatre: more here

Rehearsal photos by Katherine Leedale


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