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Fin Kennedy’s Speech at Tamasha’s 25th Birthday @ Rich Mix, 30th October 2015

Hello and welcome.

That rather sweary audio playing as you came in was some writing by none other than the legendarily sweary Ishy Din (who else) from a new site specific community project, Taxi Tales which Tamasha has been piloting with Ishy this year. Real minicab drivers performing monologues in their vehicles. The full audio is available on our website and we hope to be rolling it out bigger and better next year.

So, Tamasha theatre company is 25 years old. You may cheer.

They say at 25 you can no longer blame your parents for anything; you start to grow up. You might go out a little less, stay in a little more, take work a little more seriously, and of course start to go to lots of weddings. You might even be thinking about settling down yourself.

Kristine Landon-Smith and Sudha Bhuchar 1992

Tamasha co-founders Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith.

It’s true that this year, 2015, Tamasha did take a big leap, leaving its parents Kristine and Sudha behind and embarking on a new and, so far at least, exciting new relationship… with me.

But can a theatre company’s life stages really be so easily compared to a person’s? I thought it would be fun to find out.

You could say Tamasha was born in India – 1989’s debut play is set there. Untouchable, adapted by Kris and Sudha from the novel by Mulk Raj Anand, hit hard at the treatment of India’s lowest classes. Set over one day in the life of 17-year old latrine cleaner Bakha, it laid bare his daily struggle for survival amid the hypocrisies of the high caste Hindus. Here, Tamasha is full of the rage of youth at the injustices of the world.

Untouchable

Untouchable. Actor: Sudha Bhuchar, Photographer: Jenny Potter

In 1991 Tamasha moved house, into a new block of flats where House of the Sun is set, where we meet Sindhi refugees fleeing partition. A second generation has since grown up, hypnotised by the bright lights of Bombay, rebelling against a generation desperate to hold onto the old ways. A restless, adolescent Tamasha is starting to look to the future.

House of the Sun

House of the Sun. Actor: Surendra Kochar, Photographer: Alistair Muir

In Women of the Dust in 1992 we see a more overtly politicised company exposing exploitation of illiterate village women on Delhi’s construction sites – and the male bosses who keep them oppressed. This one toured India itself – Tamasha was spreading her wings.

Women of the Dust

Women of the Dust. Actors: Shobu Kapoor, Sudha Bhuchar, Nina Wadia, Jamila Massey; Photographer: Sue Wilson

1994 and Tamasha has got married – or at least turned her attention to marriage. A Shaft of Sunlight explored the conflicts that exist in a mixed Hindu-Muslim marriage, against the explosive backdrop of the same fault line within Indian politics.

A Shaft of Sunlight

A Shaft of Sunlight. Actors: Mina Anwar, Charubala Chokshi; Photographer: Jenny Potter

1995 and Tamasha has migrated – to Birmingham, of course – to have babies, or not. Ruth Carter’s play A Yearning took as its subject a childless young bride from India, who soon discovers the community that was once nurturing becomes increasingly stifling.

A Yearning

A Yearning. Actor: Zohra Segal, Photographer: Jenny Potter

Children did finally arrive – seven of them in fact, and from a mixed marriage – in 1995’s smash hit East Is East. Nazir, Abdul, Tariq, Maneer, Saleem, Meenah, and Sajid and their parents George and Ella Khan became seared on the nation’s memory, and Tamasha the proud parent basking in the success of her riotous brood.

East is East

East is East. Actors: Chris Bisson, Jimi Mistry; Photographer: Robert Day

1997 saw a sea change in the company’s profile, with A Tainted Dawn invited to open the Edinburgh International Festival, with music by Nitin Sawhney. Tamasha was all grown-up, and revelling in her success.

1998 saw a return to her Indian homeland with the riot of colour and song that was Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral – winner of the Barclays Theatre Award for Best New Musical. Tamasha the young adult was celebrating life.

Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral

Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral. Actors: Meneka Das, Parminder Nagra, Pravesh Kumar, Sameena Zehra, Raza Jaffrey, Shiv Grewal; Photographers: Charlie Carter

Hard work and the slog of making a living took over in 1999, with Balti Kings, a faithful recreation of the ruthless kitchens of Birmingham’s curry houses where price wars rage and fortunes are won or lost on the back of the nation’s most popular food. This was Tamasha the businessman, surviving in the cold hard marketplace of Britain’s inner city subcultures.

Balti Kings

Balti Kings. Actors: Nabil Elouahabi, Indira Joshi, Kriss Dosanjh, Ameet Chana; Photographer: Jenny Potter

2001 took a darker turn, with Tamasha’s first affair – and a murderous one at that. Ghostdancing by Deepak Verma saw an adulterous couple commit an act that would haunt them forever.

From 2002 onwards we see an interesting new focus on comedy, Tamasha discovering her funny bone. Ryman and the Sheikh, Strictly Dandia, AlI I Want Is a British Passport and The Trouble With Asian Men took on – respectively – the absurdity of Asian TV channels, inter-communal rivalry in North London dance competitions, satirising Mohammed Al-Fayed and hysterical confessional interviews with a variety of modern Asian males.

Ryman and the Sheikh

Ryamn and the Sheikh. Actors: Rehan Sheikh, Chris Ryman; Photographer: Joel Chester Fildes

But serious political commentary was never far away and A Fine Balance in 2006 and Child of the Divide in 2007 once again took on the chaos and danger of a newly-modern India living in the shadow of partition.

Child of the Divide

A Child of the Divide. Actor: Divian Ladwa, Photographer: Nic Kirley

From 2008 onwards we thrillingly start to see some of Tamasha’s real-world children coming through – the first fruits of the company’s pioneering Tamasha Developing Artists programme. Lyrical MC put London’s school students centre stage while Sweet Cider became the debut production by Emteaz Hussain, who so brilliantly puts East Midlands young people centre stage, both then and in her follow-up this year, the extraordinary Blood. Em is a brilliant embodiement of Tamasha’s commitment to new talent and shows a company with a big heart, eager to share its success by nurturing a new generation.

Lyrical MC

Lyrical MC. Actors: Busola Aderemi, Sarah Akinsanmi, Nana Owusu-Agyare; Photographer: Robert Workman

From this point on, Tamasha becomes very much a family home, with two generations living side by side, the ‘parents’ who can produce slick and timely adaptations  like 2009’s Wuthering Heights or 2010’s The House of Bilquis Bibi, alongside energetic new offspring like Nimmi Harasgama and her one-woman show Auntie Netta’s Holiday for Asylum; the soon-to-be legendary writer of Snookered, Ishy Din, and the brilliant young actors, assistant directors and designers, all graduates of the TDA programme, taking centre stage in the most recent shows such as The Arrival, My Name Is… and Blood.

So what have we learned from putting this unusually accomplished 25-year old on the psychiatrist’s couch? If you were to meet Tamasha, out there in the foyer, what would she be like?

Well, I think you’d find a softly spoken 25-year old, modest about her achievements, and eager to put those of her children into the limelight instead. You’d find a political heart, angry at the injustices of the world, but with a sophisticated set of skills to get her points across – intellectual analysis, humour, empathy, irony, wearing her heart on her sleeve but with the quick wit of a first-rate mind – and not afraid to turn that analysis onto her own community and hold them to account.

A young woman capable of straddling cultures with the ease of those with mixed heritage; a feminist, a fighter, with no time for chauvinism, hypocrisy or the abuse of power.

She would be a lover of language, and literature, of high art and low; fascinated by people, cultures, dialects and seeking out those overlooked by everyone else.

But most of all I think you’d find someone motivated by love, and by hope. Love for the world, its people, the mad, teeming, glorious mess that is humanity – and an unshakeable hope that we can, should and will do better, if only we were to understand one another more fully, and that theatre is the crucible where we meet to do just that.

It would be an unusually complex, accomplished and wordly 25-year old, if only you could meet her. But the good news is, you can. She is here tonight. She is each and every one of you, of us, her constituent parts.

So I’d like you to join me in raising your glass, and wishing Happy Birthday to the Tamasha on your left, the Tamasha on your right, the Tamashas in front and behind you.

We are all 25 tonight.

Happy birthday, Tamasha.

x

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Fin’s Speech at “The D Word” 11 May 2015 – Recipe for change: How to diversify new British theatre

By Fin Kennedy, co-Artistic Director, Tamasha

Tamasha is a national touring theatre company which puts the voices of established and emerging culturally diverse artists centre stage. 2015 is out 25 anniversary; we’ve been building new audiences and developing new artists across the UK during that time.

I’m going to focus on the text-based new writing sector, and diversity within a BAME context, because those are the worlds I know best – plus I only have 15 mins.

So, how to diversify new British theatre?

In answering this question, we need to first examine the existing infrastructure of new play development, and in particular the key ‘choke points’ in a new play’s journey from concept to production. By choke points I mean the points in the system where a key decision is made about that creative idea’s future, and whether it continues its journey to the next stage on the road to being presented in front of a live audience, or falls by the wayside, never to see the light of day. The points where a creative project can be killed off – however inadvertently – by the decisions of one or two people.

My expertise in this area, by the way, is not only as a professional playwright of 15 years standing, but as a professional playwright who, I realised with some resignation the other day, as I filed yet another rejection letter, has written as many plays which have never been produced as ones which have. And let’s be clear here, plays which remain unproduced do not, in my view, exist – even if they were commissioned and the writer got paid. Theatre lives and breathes in the auditorium; the page is just a blueprint for that event. Unproduced scripts are like the ghosts of unborn children. The smile across the dancefloor which forever goes unnoticed.

I also have the dubious distinction of having had a play rejected by every theatre in London – which then went on to win a big award. That play, How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, is now my best known work, and produced around the world. It’s also one of the most performed plays in the UK by students, amateurs and fringe groups, and in terms of popularity at least seems well on its way to becoming a mini modern classic of existential angst. Yet choke point after choke point meant it almost never saw the light of day. This back story led one critic at the play’s world premiere to wonder ‘how much other gold dust falls between the cracks of British theatre’. I myself have often wondered that if I – a middle class, resourceful, white male graduate – found it this hard to have a playwriting career, how many others without my cultural capital, industry nouse and sheer, over-inflated sense of importance also fell by the wayside before they got anywhere near a professional stage?

So, let’s start at the start. A playwright has an idea for a play.

No, it doesn’t start there. In that imagining, a playwright already exists to have an idea at all. How does one become a playwright? This is a question which preoccupied me for years when I was starting out. I’d done a Drama degree, but it wasn’t as if you opened the jobs page in a newspaper and saw ‘Playwrights wanted’ ads. The whole process is a lot more mysterious than that.

I’d argue the journey begins as early as primary school – with family expectations and encouragement to take part in creative arts activities at all. Choke point number 1. Not much we can do about that, you might say. But actually, if parents from under-represented communities more routinely see themselves reflected on stage they might be more likely to encourage their kids to take part in an activity which actively appears to welcome and reflect them. (A brief aside – someone on Tamasha’s Board is quite senior within the BBC. He told me which BBC department gets the most diverse job applicants. Any guesses? It is News. Why? Because they most routinely put black and brown faces on screen. It really is that simple – but if we get it right, this quickly becomes a virtuous circle.)

But we’re jumping ahead – we’re still in school. The past five years of government meddling – free schools and academies, the English baccalaureate, a relentless focus on league tables, measurable outcomes and economic applications for learning as the sole arbiter of its worth have all served to seriously downgrade arts subjects in British schools. Choke point number 2. Not much we can do about that either – or is there? Several industry-led campaigns from What Next (www.whatnextculture.co.uk), to My Theatre Matters (www.mytheatrematters.com) , to my own In Battalions campaign (www.finkennedy.co.uk/in-battalions) have had some success in moving this issue up the political agenda. The dust is still settling from last week’s election, making this a good time to collectively keep up the pressure. It starts with writing to your MP.

So you’ve got a young person’s interest and attention, you’ve got their school to champion and value the act of making theatre – backed by a government which values the arts – so we’re already in a slight fantasy land. But in any case the next choke point is that diverse young person’s exposure to learning the craft of playwriting. Choke point number 3. Playwriting is first and foremost the act of deciding whose lives are worth putting a frame around. This is why I think if we’re serious about diversifying theatre we need to put our efforts into two key areas: diversifying playwrights and diversifying producers (I’ll come onto producers later). But these are the two key roles who make fundamental decisions about what ends up on our stages.

So how do we educate that generation in the skills of this trade? Yes, many theatres run young writers’ schemes – many of them very good. But is a working-class Bangladeshi girl from East London going to trek across town on her own to take part in a Royal Court group? I’ve tried to make her, and she won’t. Multiple barriers exist around independent access to these offers, everything from no independent culture of theatregoing through to concerns around safety and appropriateness – and even access to transport. Choke point number 4. These need to be tackled via an ongoing dialogue with parents and young people, but the simplest solution for now is to take the offer to them – run our new writers’ schemes in schools. Many of us already do, but it can be piecemeal and ad hoc. The single best way to welcome new, diverse young voices into our profession is to open that doorway and keep it open. A model of long-term commitment to one or two key schools, strategically chosen, rather than a scattergun approach doing one-off workshops all over the country. Going back year on year to win trust and build relationships, augmenting playwriting courses with ticket offers, masterclasses, platform discussions and careers days.

Easier said than done and of course there are funding implications. But this is in and of itself another choke point – number 5.

Sajid Javid, the last Conservative Culture Secretary, was the first to put an emphasis on diversity in the arts. This is to be welcomed. The unfortunate irony was that Mr Javid came at the tail end of a government which had consistently slashed support for the Arts Council, including the single biggest cut for a generation, the direct result of which was the closure of access points for new talent as terrified theatres contracted around their main stages to save costs. If there is one argument for the reinstatement of arts funding in the next parliament, it is about keeping the doors open to a plurality of voices by having the resources to undertake the necessary long–term R and D this requires. My own In Battalions research showed theatres across the UK curtailing education work, closing youth theatres, cancelling open access workshops and writers’ residencies through which outreach might be undertaken – all as a direct result of funding cuts to Arts Council England. If Mr Javid means what he says, I hope he will be making our case, whatever department he ends up in.

So a diverse young person has had some cultural education, they’ve attended some workshops and written something, they’re ready to go and hungry for some feedback. Finally we get to theatres themselves. Those which still have literary departments are increasingly reconsidering how best to spend their ever-more-limited resources in the service of finding new plays to produce. Even in less austere times the ratio of unsolicited scripts being picked up for production was so tiny as to barely make it worth anyone’s while. I’ve been a script reader, and the pay is low, if indeed it is paid at all. I was a pushy, middle-class 21-year old, on a panel with others from very similar backgrounds. Yet I was the first and often only point of contact many new writers ever had with that theatre. Diversity and remuneration for script readers is choke point number 6.

But let’s say you impress our bratty script reader and get asked in for a meeting. What then? If the theatre in question still runs such pre-austerity luxuries as workshops, play readings and attachment schemes, our writer is expected to demonstrate knowledge of this opaque ladder of opportunity and pitch his or her ideas accordingly – with articulacy, passion and persuasion – striking just the right balance of ambition and humility. Imagine doing that while trembling with fear, and a sense of unworthiness. Pitching your work – and indeed yourself (a.k.a. social and cultural capital) is choke point number 7.

But let’s say one of those opportunities comes your way, perhaps an attachment, perhaps a seed commission – and our writer starts getting paid (a bit) to write. What then? Then begins the long road (years) of ‘development’ – seed commissions, meetings, competition entries, shorts nights, attending the right press nights and writers’ groups – all while holding down a non-arts day job while writing in the evenings and at weekends. The holy grail is to start to tip this balance – to consistently make enough from the writing to go down to 4 days a week temping, then 3, then 2 – until the promised land of Full-Time Playwright finally arrives – and all within a narrow window within which our writer can afford to take a few risks, before kids and mortgages make such risks irresponsible. I never reached that point in 15 years. Writing plays to commission has only ever been, at best, one third of my annual income. Choke point number 8.

But let’s say our writer’s play proceeds to full commission – at Writers’ Guild rates – Hallelujah! What then? Drafts, dramaturgy, meetings, notes, rewrites, deadlines, more drafts, more dramaturgy, more meetings, more notes, more rewrites. This is when a commissioned play is most vulnerable. A difference of vision. A cultural misunderstanding. Subjective taste masquerading as objective dramaturgy. All it takes is a whisper – ‘Not for us’ – and the whole thing vanishes in a puff of smoke. Choke point number 9.

But let’s say it doesn’t. Let’s say our diverse new playwright makes it through these hurdles and her play arrives at the fabled Programming Meeting – sometimes known as going ‘onto the grid’ – like a medieval torture method, or the gut-churning denouement to a reality TV show. It is here that the theatre’s Artistic Director, the literary manager and assorted Associates – all subject to the same cultural, educational and economic filtering processes within their own careers – make a final decision on whether or not to put not-inconsiderable resources into producing this diverse new play. One of the key decisions here (other than ‘Is it any good?’) is ‘Does it have an audience?’ But imagine you are the first of your kind. The question ‘Does this have an audience?’ requires a certain leap of faith. And any artistic director will tell you how long it takes to build up audiences for diverse new work. Choke point number 10.

So we’ve made it to production, and a celebratory drink on press night looking back at the past few years. There is one final choke point. Once a diverse new play gets staged, the critical reception it receives is a key factor in that production’s success, and indeed in whether it manages to prove itself, to prove the question mark around audiences, which in turn dictates whether other, similarly diverse work will get commissioned and produced in future. No-one is asking critics to be over-generous to diverse new plays out of the goodness of their hearts, but the diversity of those critics themselves is a whole other issue – though sadly not one we have time to go into here. Choke point number 11.

So looking back at this journey of a play from inception to production, it’s clear we’re talking about root and branch reform of almost every stage of new play production – from exposure to arts and culture in childhood, to coming into contact with professional opportunities during key life stages, to the decisions of funders we never meet, the make up of script readers, literary managers, artistic directors, dramaturgs and even critics – all decide a diverse new play’s ultimate fate.
Where to start in terms of reform?

Well, what about with writers doing it for themselves? I’ve long been of the view that the traditional commissioning model of new play production renders writers – of all backgrounds – almost wholly passive. I’m not a writer who has been fortunate enough to have one or two companies get behind me early on in my career and produce play after play after play. That used to annoy me. Looking back, I realise it made me a better artist. It made me more resourceful, less passive, less reliant on one theatre and its house style, or the largesse of one or two powerful individuals. Most importantly, it forced me to look outside the theatre industry as I struggled to sustain a career – and this led me into schools, and what was to become a ten year association with one school in particular, Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets, in the heart of East London’s Bangladeshi community. That relationship not only stimulated the creativity of that host community through the workshops and courses I ran, but also stretched and developed me as an artist, as I acquired a methodology to write with, for and about diverse communities far removed from my own, and to do so with integrity, authenticity and legitimacy. Ten years on, that work has led (directly and indirectly) to the founding of three new theatre companies – two in a school and one in a social services department – four trips to Edinburgh, a Scotsman Fringe First, a festival at Southwark Playhouse, the building of a new 150-seat studio theatre on an East London school campus and seven published plays for young people, with diverse large casts, which schools across the country now regularly perform.

This experience turned me into my own producer – and ultimately an artistic director. It is an experience I now seek to pass on to a new generation of writers. In my current job running Tamasha, I am proud to say these are by and large BAME writers, and a majority young women (some are in the audience today). I’d like to leave you with a few new initiatives we are trialling which I hope might take some of my accidental learning into a new, more strategic phase.
There are four real projects and two fantasy ones.

Tamasha Playwrights is currently an unfunded pilot though very much real – a new in-house playwright-led collective which meets in our offices after work. Not only do we examine the craft of playwriting itself, but also how the industry works; with visits from producers and literary managers, sessions on fundraising, budgeting and how to get their own projects off the ground. The idea is to put these playwrights in the creative driving seat, to become their own producers, reclaiming the power from the long and labyrinthine road of literary departments and opaque producing infrastructures. We’re also training them in how to sustain a playwriting career between commissions. This autumn we will be launching Tamasha Playwrights as an agency of diverse playwrights-for-hire, available for schools workshops, teacher training and bespoke young people’s commissions for colleges or youth theatres. Every year we will refresh this group, and add to the agency a new crop of diverse playwriting role models.

Schoolwrights is an even larger initiative which Tamasha piloted when I was Associate Artist as far back as 2010. As the UK’s first centrally-managed and quality-controlled playwrights-in-schools training scheme, Schoolwrights lasts a whole school year and draws up to 6 local schools together into a network of placement organisations for playwriting residencies, in which diverse, emerging playwrights co-create new plays with inner city young people, for performance in professional venues in productions directed by their teachers. Schoolwrights isn’t cheap, but it is potentially game-changing. Parity of esteem runs throughout – everyone learns from everyone else. We are currently fundraising for a three-year amount to run Schoolwrights both in London and regionally from 2016-19.

Tamasha’s third real project is Taxi Tales, a site specific community project on which one of our star playwrights, Ishy Din is leading. Ishy is a Middlesbrough minicab driver turned playwright, whose career Tamasha launched in 2012 with a national tour of Snookered. Ishy is now in hot demand, developing several theatre commissions as well as TV and film. But he’s always wanted to bring it all back home, and this year, with our help, he has – with a project which involves working with real minicab drivers in Middlesbrough to develop monologues for the drivers to perform to customers in their cabs. There’ll be a London show, and workshops about the process, on Friday 10 July – ask me afterwards for more details.

Our final real-world project comes from my long-time collaborators Mulberry School, who this year founded an Alumni Theatre Company – an ‘old girls network’ of former students making new work, run entirely by and for the Bangladeshi young women of the area. This entirely spontaneous, grass roots initiative has sprung up after twenty-five years of extra-curricular creative arts work, with which I have been involved for the last ten. Its existence excited me hugely because it is a sign that the work is taking root in the community, which suggests it is becoming locally-owned and therefore, hopefully, permanent. Tamasha has agreed to professionally mentor the Alumni Theatre Company, making our expertise and connections available to them on demand as they grow. It is a straightforward thing for any professional theatre company to make a little of salaried staff time available in this way, and I would encourage them to do so where opportunities such as this emerge.

And finally, the fantasies. The first is actually inspired by Mulberry’s Alumni company. If I had all the money in the world, I would build ‘Tamasha 2’ – a shadow national touring company, fully operational alongside ours, with shared offices and entirely staffed with new, diverse theatre artists at the starts of their careers, all of them on a salary for a year, and mentored by a core member of Tamasha staff. There would be a shadow Artistic Director, shadow Exec Director, shadow Marketing and Comms, producing, finance, development – all working together to create their own touring production, perhaps thematically linked to ours, and touring alongside it in a double bill. The costs would be high of course, but a sustained investment of this kind would be an apprenticeship like no other, and meaningfully train and launch five or six professional theatre careers, every year, for as long as it ran.

Perhaps more realistic in the current climate is the final dream: an Introduction to Producing course for diverse young people. In my first Artistic Director job, I’ve been on a steep learning curve this past 18 months, getting on top of co-producing agreements, box office guarantees, tour booking, fundraising and all the other assorted but often invisible back office functions of a theatre company which are as critical to making the work as the work itself. Whenever I learn anything new like this my experience in schools starts to channel my Inner Teacher to ask: How could I teach this to someone else in an eight-week scheme of work?

Yes, some similar-ish schemes exist, I’m thinking of the National’s Step Change programme or the Society of London Theatre’s Stage One initiative – but none are BAME-specific, and none aimed at an age group young enough to still be considering which career is for them. An Introduction to Theatre Producing module aimed at 16-18 year olds is surely not impossible to envisage, or even for an exam board to take on. With its mixture of arts and economics it could form part of not only a Drama A-level or BTEC but also Business Studies, Economics or even Maths too.

If you feel this is worth a further conversation, come and find me. It is something I would love for Tamasha to help set up.
I’ll leave it there, but for one final Thank You to our hosts Nitrobeat and the Unicorn. If this becomes an annual event, I hope to be back to deliver and update. I also hope that it won’t be too long before we move on from talking about the D-Word to the E-Word: Equality.
Thank you.


Tamasha’s Scratch Producer, Amy Clamp, attends our BBC Creative Skillset Pop-Up

Now more than ever, as a theatre Producer, I have to think about selling my work and my ideas whether that is to a venue, audience member or investor. With the industry increasingly saturated with theatre makers – and with it becoming more and more difficult to receive public funding – this idea of ‘selling your ideas’ feels like something many emerging artists may need to start doing in order to get their work seen.

It was for this reason that Tamasha Theatre Company, for whom I work part time, decided to host the BBC Creative Skillset Pop-Up workshop. The day aimed to provide practical skills to know how and when to find, refine, pitch or ditch an idea. As a company Tamasha are keen to support and encourage self producing artists and so the skills highlighted and practically explored in the BBC workshop will likely be very useful when applied to their own work.

I have been working with Tamasha Theatre Company as their TDA (Tamasha Developing Artists) Scratch Producer since March this year and so attended the BBC workshop to see if it could assist my work as a Theatre Producer in London.

To give you a little background, Tamasha was formed in the 80s with the aim of championing British-Asian artists and stories, and helping them make the crossover into the theatrical mainstream.  They have since been at the forefront of placing the voices of emerging and established artists from culturally diverse backgrounds centre-stage. Here at Tamasha, my role involves producing the company’s quarterly scratch nights. The position was one for an ‘emerging Producer’ with the aim of giving a young theatre maker a chance to work as part of an established theatre company. The position has been so fantastic for me, expanding my skills and knowledge, and allowing me to learn from those around me whilst having complete artistic control over the events themselves.

Tamasha was the perfect location for the BBC Creative Skillset Pop-Up as we have a catalogue of almost 2000 developing artists; these include actors, directors, film makers, producers, writers, designers and more. Since Fin Kennedy has come on board as Tamasha’s new Co-Artistic Director, this is a part of the company that is continuing to expand. Fin is really keen on helping, supporting and advising emerging artists on how to produce their own work and it is workshops like this that help enable artists to understand a bit more about how to do this.

Unlike TV and film, in the theatre industry (at least the subsidised area of it anyway) we aren’t ever asked to pitch an idea in front of a room full of executives. Generally productions leave the ground by the artists involved building strong relationships with venues and applying for money from the Arts Council or other such funding bodies. During the BBC Creative Skillset course we were taught to describe our vision for our work, thinking of it as a pitch, and this was actually very helpful. It is sometimes easy to forget that, even when you are extremely passionate about something and think your idea is the best thing since sliced bread, that isn’t necessarily enough to make the person you’re speaking to feel the same. Somehow you need to get that person as excited as you are, and to do that you must sell them your idea.

Over the past couple of years I have moved from the role of Production Manager to Producer. It has been quite an adjustment; from being the practical problem solver to a creative collaborator and leader. As a Theatre Producer it is necessary for me to think of ideas, develop and implement them, whilst providing and maintaining an environment in which my creative team can do the same. The Creative Pop Up helped me to think about which areas of this process hold my strengths and which areas I might want to find support with. Realisations such as this are vital in order to form a team that supports one another and also allows one another to flourish.

With conversations and exercises on leading creative teams, generating ideas and designing a pitch, I came out of the workshop feeling inspired and able to think about my work in a different light. I will definitely be carrying my learning forward and recommend anyone who produces, or is thinking of producing their own work to go along to one of these workshops.

To find out what Tamasha are up to, or how to become one of our TDAs then please visit our website – www.tamasha.org.uk

For more information on the BBC / Creative Skillset Pop Ups follow this link – www.bbcacademy.com/module/50494982

Blog by Tamasha’s Scratch Producer, Amy Clamp.


Writing Masterclass with Ella Hickson

ella hickson

Kat Roberts – participant

“It is a very difficult thing to cultivate an atmosphere where strangers feel comfortable enough to not present a version of themselves, but to simply be and create. But that is what Ella Hickson achieves instantly and seemingly effortlessly on her two day Masterclass. I have written more, thought about writing more and considered myself more of a writer in the week following the course than I ever have before. How? How has she done this to me? Actually, in retrospect it’s quite simple. Ella Hickson searches for honesty in everything; in her themes, in her characters, in herself and by extension, in the people attending her Masterclass. She invites you to do a very simple thing: to be honest. What’s the thing inside you can’t let go of? But what is it really? Let’s interrogate this feeling. What’s the question of your play? Is that active? Will that work dramatically? No? then what will? I don’ know… let’s talk about it… not later… now. Let’s talk about it here and now so you can leave and get on with your play. Here’s some writing exercises – Do I use them? Not really. Let’s do one. You didn’t do what I said, you did something else. But what you came up with was just as interesting. Why did you cross out that line though? Because you felt you should? Let’s get away from ‘should’. That feeling that you can’t do it, that you’re not good enough, it doesn’t go away. “Find your hook, and let yourself off it”. Thanks Ella Hickson and my fellow participants.

Ayndrilla Singharay – participant

The two days I spent with Ella Hickson and my fellow participants have been an absolute inspiration. Being new to writing plays, this masterclass was a perfect balance between the technical craft of playwrighting and the other, more personal and creative side of writing for stage. Ella was an excellent teacher. She is extremely knowledgeable, friendly, honest about her own experiences and passionate about not only theatre but helping and nurturing fellow playwrights. This is a wonderful combination of traits and made the class a wonderfully safe space in which to explore our own writing. The time was divided between practical exercises, tips for creating time and space for writing and focusing on our own projects. The masterclass has left me feeling infinitely more equipped to take my play forwards. I really hope Ella does another class in the near future, as I would certainly love to attend.

Shazea Quraishi – participant

I was fortunate to get a place on Ella Hickson’s playwrighting masterclass for Tamasha. As well as being a talented playwright, Ella is a wonderful teacher: generous, insightful, supportive… and rigorous. As well as generating discussions and exercises to free inspiration, she provided us with a tool kit to interrogate a script, scene by scene, to whip it into shape and get at its truth. Much in the way the bad cop interrogates a suspect (good cop having stepped out for some air). Although it’s uncomfortable playing bad cop to your own script, it really works. I feel better equipped to write the play I want to. I also met a great group of people who I know I will keep in touch with.

Michael Lister – participant

I’m so glad I took the chance and made the effort to take part in the New Writing Masterclass. I learned exactly the lessons I was hoping to learn and gained the encouragement I needed, so that I have been motivated to embark on a new play writing project.

Ella Hickson introduced herself with an open friendliness that immediately brought the group together. She continued this sense of honest sincerity, making revelations from her own experience in a way that encouraged everyone to express their own hopes and fears, blocks and aspirations.

She lead the class through basic ideas of structure, shape and analysis that she encouraged us to apply to our own work while at the same time acknowledging that our creative drive will come from a less cerebral place. We worked with a sense of urgency and seemed to achieve way beyond my expectation in those two days. From a starting point of a basic analysis of dramatic action Ella took us to the point of writing the first scenes of our new plays; plays which we are all committed to writing in the coming weeks.

An indication of the success of our collective Masterclass experience was our aim to all meet again to discuss our creative progress; we have agreed to meet together in April to share our newly written scenes and check these against our understanding of dramatic action. I’m looking forward to continuing the discussion.

Ellen Carr – participant

The masterclass with Ella was a great blend of developing a tool kit for us to use whatever we’re working on and discovering the questions we really want to write about – accessing the inner part of yourself where all the good stuff is hidden. I hadn’t done anything like this before, and had never really been ‘taught’ to write. I found discussing the main building blocks of dramatic narrative extremely helpful, and although a lot of the work we did on dramatic action and interrogating our homework scenes made my brain hurt (in a good way!) I now feel I have the skills to keep writing even if I do get stuck with an idea.

What I found totally invaluable in the two day masterclass was working with a group of people for whom being a writer is an actual career – even if it isn’t their career right now. Discussing the craft of writing, the industry, the various head-banging-desk issues you will face in a totally serious way provides validation to the idea of being a writer as a job which is something you very much need when you’re starting out. I now feel much more confident about my writing ambitions and ready to just work really hard to achieve them. I’m aware of the different ways I need to develop as a writer, and that I will only do this by producing work. Ella made the writing process more enjoyable and open, getting rid of any thoughts of what we ‘should’ be doing in our process.

The group on the masterclass bonded really well, and Ella helped to create a very supportive environment. We have set ourselves a deadline to share drafts of our work with each other! I’d say the masterclass was both practically useful and inspirational in equal measure – just what was needed.

Zella Compton – participant

Play Masterclass: to book or not to book, that is the question.

The word masterclass is rather scary. It implies that you think you are a cut above the majority of aspiring playwrights, but what – when you get there – if you’re not? Or worse, if you are and everyone else is not. The application was a big decision for me as I struggle to know how good I am, and not only did I have to fund it myself, I also had to take time off work.

But thank goodness that I did apply, fund and go. For every part of Ella Hickson that is genius, there is a small murky part which is tyrant – and that was the most valuable to me. The questioning, the justification expected and the raw honesty with which she made me think about every little aspect of my writing process has really opened my eyes.

The two days were so valuable in terms of putting craft around what I do, getting inspired and meeting an awesome collective of other people. Well worth the time and effort and money. Thank you!

Elena Procopiu – participant

The Ella Hickson masterclass was brilliant. Having never written much dialogue before, I now feel equipped to understand what would make a dramatic scene and therefore good dialogue. Ella’s knowledge and experience combined with her charisma and energy ensured that we did more writing in two days than I have done in the last six months and laughed a lot! Before we knew it, we had fully written scenes, done at breakneck speed with great enjoyment. The in-depth storytelling exercises were utterly essential, brilliantly structured and eye-opening. It just shows what you can do in two days!


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.”


Introduction to Acting Masterclass with Kristine Landon-Smith

Sanita Simms, participant actor

“I really enjoyed Kristin’s workshop with Tamasha. Since graduating from drama school it has been the first workshop which has allowed me to be open and free…and the key? Playing. As an actress, or I suppose any performer, I‘m always looking to further my craft and hone in on and develop new skills. What I learned with Kristine was that I had certainly forgotten the enjoyment of finding the true moments between myself and another actor. Letting go of stage directions and concentrating on ‘objectives’ have in fact been my obstacle. I had a fantastic time because I felt I discovered a major block and rediscovered why I’ve chosen this often flippant profession in the first place. My only regret is that I hadn’t tapped into Tamasha before and I feel privileged to have experienced Kristine’s way of working although she now lives abroad. Working with future directors and going for castings will be seen in a different light. Thank you for giving me this opportunity!

Kaushik Guha, participant actor

‘It was quite simply an amazing and inspiring experience. Kristine’s way of teaching is second to none! I have never enjoyed the experience of acting so much, as she truly sees each actor’s full potential, and uses ways only she knows how, to extract the best out of each actor. It was awesome to watch her in action and I loved every second of it. I am just sad Kristine has to go back to Australia now, as I feel I could learn so much more from her. Finding such a talented coach is like searching for a needle in a haystack. She has filled me with so much more confidence that I didn’t have before, and I just want to keep that feeling with me wherever I go now. Especially auditions of course… 🙂

Thank you once again, and I look forward to hearing about other learning opportunities with Tamasha throughout the year.”

Jade Greyul, participant actor

“I was familiar with the concept of the ‘actor at play’ before attending Kristine’s workshop, but I had never explored it alongside someone with such an innate capability to work directly with the individual; with me, and myself as an artist. Kristine guided us as professionals – not at all afraid to tell us when we weren’t reaching our potential for truth in each performance. The various group games encouraged an open forum, putting us all at ease to learn, share and most importantly, play! Kristine’s incredibly instinctive and straightforward approach was a refreshing change to hours of discussing character’s back-stories, attempting to discern who ‘they’ are and what ‘their objectives’ might be… for ‘they’ are, quite simply, us. When we stop placing the character outside of ourselves, what occurs is a beautifully organic process of talking from real emotions; a process which Kristine masterfully guided us through with carefully planned improvisations and an encouraged connection with our own cultural contexts. It was equally as insightful to watch Kristine work one-on-one with the other members of the group, each time witnessing the ‘performance’ fall away and the ‘performer’ come to life. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend working with Kristine in any capacity, as I hope to do again myself in future. Thank you Tamasha for another opportunity to creatively free myself, and remain open to the rewards of playmaking.”

Prinesh Mistry, participant actor

“One of the best acting classes I’ve attended and certainly the most playful!

Kristine has taught me that when we give ourselves the freedom to add a part of our self to the fabric of a character, we have the power to give a real, authentic and believable performance. No acting, just us being real in someone else’s skin. So simple. Accents, body language and physical appearance can all be manipulated , but the true essence of the character must be real. This is the important lesson I can take from the course. Kristine is a gem in a world where so many acting teachers manage to successfully overcomplicate the craft. Through her amazing level of perception she offers positive encouragement and simple straight forward advice. I was on such a natural high after the course!”

Jishnu Soni, participant actor

“Having a masterclass with Kristine is like rediscovering yourself as an Actor. She really knows how to bring out the best in you. The most important thing you learnt in the masterclass is that you are not acting a character you are performing yourself on stage. If you leave aside all the expectations of how a character should behave or say or any other stereotypes and perform as yourself, you will give out the best in you. Her theory of playing and improvisation and then performing the text as yourself is the important thing you learn as an actor. The other most important thing I learnt is using your own cultural heritage in the performance rather than following the standard norm. Use your own cultural background to your advantage; it helps you to create the person you are. Once you have master your own self, everything else falls into place by itself like accent, dialects, text, body, personality etc.”

Sangeeta Reding, participant actor

“I have done other courses but this approach was very different & useful for me as a working actress. It created an amazing closeness in a short space of time. I had to leave early on the first day to attend a casting- I got the job- what more can I say?”

Sneya Rajani, participant actor

“Inspirational, is the only word I could use to describe the workshop. Kristine is more magician less director. She has this amazing ability to hone in on your inner actor or rather shall I say the she hones in on finding ones self in the purest form. Where you have no inhibitions or pretense of what your role should be, just working on pure human connection and gut instinct to perform. Or in Kristine’s words the ‘PLAY’ theory. This theory can then be used in our future roles but has definitely inspired me to work harder and has made me see acting in a new light.

Thank you Kristine for giving me hope for acting and the tools to succeed.”

Teena Antia, participant actor

“As actors we live in a world of possible rejection. And that possibility can some times loom so large that we forget to do the one thing that we are meant to do…play. This workshop really focused on the important stuff – openness, professional vulnerability and honesty. These words sound lofty but Kristine Landon-Smith made it surprisingly easy to attain. She tuned into every one of us with such precision, it was almost like she could sense a false impulse before we even made it. She made us remember that we were good at our craft, so when she said “why is this so awful” it didn’t bruise our egos. She made us stronger and more vulnerable as actors and she reminded us to enjoy it all. I left the workshop feeling more secure in my acting than I have in months. She was one of those people you don’t ever forget.

Anurita Heer, participant actor

“It was great to take part in the masterclass with Kristine as her way of teaching and directing actors has been so important for my learning process as an actor. Kristine’s method is simple: she simply places the actor at the centre of any work. In doing so, the actor becomes completely free to play in improvisation or with a text and the result is a great performance. I have been through, as well as observed, this step by step process numerous times, watching actors transform in carefully crafted improvisations and then move on to perfectly directed text work. By taking the actor’s cultural context into consideration, Kristine always provides an environment for actors where they can create something magical for an audience.

Pema Clark, participant director

“I came to Kristine’s masterclass in order to further my own practice and research as a scholar-artist. In making links in my own mind around the place for actor-centred approaches within my own experimental interests, I was very enriched by Kristine’s work as it puts the actor/performer at the heart of any rehearsal and performance. As she reminded us, an actor can never be anyone other than themselves so, as performance makers, we might as well draw from their strengths and skills as creative and inspired resources. I would definitely attend another workshop with Kristine and highly recommend her as a teacher and director.”

Aysha Nawaz, participant actor

“I was quite nervous before I went along to the masterclass and so prior to going I tried to do a bit of homework and came across the concepts of ‘playing truthfully’ and the ‘intracultural approach’ that Kristine employs in her work. I got a vague idea but nothing can really prepare you for the actual experience…from the first moment, I knew this wasn’t going to be like any other class I’d attended.

I didn’t know any of the other participants before the class but by the time the morning was over, an intimacy and closeness had developed within the group and this allowed us all to connect and play freely with one another. Kristine encouraged us to remove the layers of what our perceptions of ‘acting’ may have previously been and by doing so uncover and reveal the true artist beneath.

When attempting to deliver our prepared monologues we were each taken on an individual journey of self discovery, a journey that taught me personally how the use of my mother tongue (Urdu) can be an extremely useful tool within improvisation, rehearsal techniques and as an actor full stop. I had never before attempted to use any aspect of my cultural heritage within the performance space. I instantly sensed the transformation within my delivery through Kristine’s careful guidance and intracultural technique; and although initially I felt quite vulnerable and exposed, the overwhelming feeling of being free from ‘convention’ was hugely liberating. I connected with my text in a way that I hadn’t done previously, it seemed to take on a whole new meaning for me – the ease and simplicity were all underpinned by an internal surge in energy and confidence.

I certainly look forward to working again with Kristine and Tamasha. Please don’t just take my word for it, I highly recommend this inspiring class to all artists regardless of age, gender background etc, I promise you won’t regret it!”

Rochelle Rose, participant actor

“I was excited to take part in the workshop because Kristine came highly recommended to me. However I must admit that I died inside when I found out we were going to be playing lots of games. But through Kristine’s encouragement and facilitation and her ability to hone in on the individual needs of an actor, I made much needed breakthroughs and enjoyed myself. I now have things to be mindful of whilst acting without being crippled by the things I have to work on. I also found it really helpful to watch Kristine direct the other amazing actors in my group. Watching helped me understand her process better and apply the advice she gave them to myself and my own acting. A very inspiring way to start the year! Thank you!”


Schoolwrights: A new playwrights-in-schools training scheme

Photo by Phil Adams

Schoolwrights is a new scheme which has just started in MulberrySchool, run by playwright-in-residence Fin Kennedy, new co-Artistic Director of Tamasha. It is a training scheme designed to equip a new generation of young professional playwrights with the skills to become writers-in-residence in urban state schools.

Six professional playwrights have been recruited. They include Alia Bano, who won the Evening Standard’s ‘Most Promising Playwright’ award in 2011, Morna Regan, winner of the Irish Times best new play award 2013, and Rachel Delahay, whose play Routes is currently selling out the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs.

All six writers will receive training and development over the course of a year the end result  polished productions which will be presented at leading new writing venue Soho Theatre, Rich Mix in Bethnal Green, as well as touring to each school.

The scheme is a partnership between Mulberry School, Tamasha Theatre Company, playwright Fin Kennedy and OffWestEnd.com, the leading listings site for off-West End theatres. Fin Kennedy has been MulberrySchool’s writer-in-residence for six years and has just been appointed co-Artistic Director of Tamasha.

The ambition is for Schoolwrights to become an annual rolling programme of playwrights-in-schools training, sharing the expertise in this field which Mulberry has developed over the years and it aims to establish a permanent two-way street between the theatre industry and London schools.

Schoolwrights blog by Fin Kennedy (cross-posted from www.finkennedy.blogspot.com)

This is a piece I have been meaning to write for some time, but after last week’s exciting news I thought I would wait a while so that it gets a bit of its own space.

The first public mention of Schoolwrights was actually in the Tamasha press release about my appointment, but regular readers may recall that it is a scheme I have been working out how to run (and how to pay for) for some time. The background is the long association I have with MulberrySchool in East London, stretching back almost ten years now, and taking in seven plays, three Edinburgh premieres, a Fringe First Award, our own London fringe festival and a published play volume.

Each year Mulberry and I have sought to evolve this work in some way, to produce bigger, more ambitious projects, to offer new opportunities to students, and to find new ways for theatre artists to work with them. In 2010, the SpecialistSchools and Aacademies scheme, under which much of this work was financed, was scrapped by the incoming coalition government. So, in 2011, I applied to Tamasha to work as their Associate Artist, in order to continue this work in a new form, and share the costs with a new partner.

The pilot playwrights-in-schools training scheme which we set up together attempted to test out a new model. It went phenomenally well. Even though the scheme was barely able to offer much more than expenses, we had over 60 writers apply for 8 places, proof of the strong demand among playwrights for some sort of managed training around working in schools.  The 8 writers we ended up working with, who included Sabrina Mahfouz, Tim Cowbury, Neela Dolezalova and Amman Brar, each wote touching, funny, quirky and heartbreaking 15-minute plays which Mulberry’s students presented at Soho Theatre.

To their immense credit, Tamasha really put their money where their mouth is. After the project was finished, they commissioned me to conduct a feasability study into how the scheme might be extended across the school year and be rolled out to more than one school, and even how it might become and annual programme of managed training with different cohorts of writers each year. I spoke to schools, colleges, new writing companies and playwrights across London, and put together several draft budgets for how the scheme might operate at different scales.

I’ve been very lucky in the partners this idea has inspired. My friend and longtime collaborator Sofie Mason, who runs listings site www.OffWestEnd.com entirely from private donations, and with whom I set up the Adopt-A-Playwright scheme, offered to back Schoolwrights and help me with fundraising.

Sofie once worked in opera so knows a lot of wealthy people. She specilaises in getting private individuals to donate to the arts. (Adopt-A-Playwright, for example, is run along a Roman or medieval patronage model in which private donors rally round one emerging playwright per year and donate funds to a pot to buy them out of their day job so they can write a first draft).

Sofie introduced me to a former hedge fund manager, Paul Wedge, and took me round to his house to talk more about my idea. This is what I think of as ‘proper’ fundraising! Not an Arts Council form in sight, just you, your idea, and a potential donor sat across the table. It was scary. But I must have done something right because at the end of the evening he pledged £6,000.

That first chunk was absolutely key. With an amount like that in the bank, we were able to go to further trusts and foundations and show that the scheme had some chance of becoming a reailty. Sofie marshalled a few of her contacts and between us we were able to raise further funds from The Writers’ Guild Foundation, the Herbert Smith Trust, and the Mackintosh Foundation. Tamasha also continued to support the scheme by pledging £1,500 of their own.

But towards the start of this year we were still £9,500 short, so I bit the bullet and put in a couple of weeks applying to ACE’s Grants for the Arts. It was the right time to do so – at that point we could show that the majority of the funding had been raised elsewhere but that we could not run the scheme without a top-up. We were successful. In total, we raised £26,000 in two years – a longer wait than we would have liked, but it was worth it.

So what is Schoolwrights?

Schoolwrights is a professional training scheme which sends playwrights into inner city schools, focusing initially on schools in East London. Playwrights are recruited from within the theatre industry and embark on a managed period of training to equip them with the skills to become writers-in-residence in an urban state school. They will have regular, direct contact with the school’s students, working with them to generate creative ideas for stories, and write a short play (15 minutes) in response. This first phase takes place at Mulberry, which is very well-placed to offer itself as a training base for this sort of work. It’s also a lovely, supportive school full of friendly, well-behaved kids, in which to cut your teeth if you’re doing this for the first time.

From now until Christmas is Phase One; a discrete term of work at Mulberry which doubles up as a training phase. I train the writers and pass on a whole host of creative exercises I’ve developed over the years, and support them developing session plans to generate the ideas they need to write the play for their group.

In January, the writers start a new residency in a second, nearby school, this time with more autonomy. They will work in pairs to support one another, though each will write their own short play with their own group of students. In total we have six writers who will work across three further schools. Each will deliver a further 15 minute play at the end of this second residency.

After Easter break, we will hopefully have twelve short plays developed across the four schools, each of which has those students’ voices at its heart. Each school will take responsibility for rehearsing these up with their students, in polished productions directed by their teachers. There is money in the budget for a masterclass for teachers with a high profile theatre director, as well as follow-up sessions where the director will observe rehearsals and give the teachers some notes. All the productions will be off-book and there is a small budget for set, costume and props.

The twelve short plays will then embark on a mini-tour in June 2014. Clearly, twelve 15-minute plays is too much for one evening, so we will present them in different combinations; once in each school’s own theatre, then at Rich Mix in Whitechapel who have generously donated their entire upper floor for one whole Saturday so that we can make something of a festival out of presenting all twelve across the day. And finally Soho Theatre have also offered to continue to support us, this time (we hope) on their main stage.

One of the key principles of Schoolwrights is parity of esteem between the venues and professionals involved. The same plays are presented in East London school theatres, at local professional venue Rich Mix, and at leading new writing theatre Soho. And for the professionals involved, everyone can learn from everyone else: playwrights from experienced Drama teachers, and the teachers from a professional writer and their process. Asking the teachers to direct the productions, rather than bringing in someone external, provides a professional development opportunity which many teachers are eager for, but all too rarely receive due to the pressures of delivering the curriculum.

I’m thrilled with the calibre of writers we have managed to attract. Since they are all now contracted and confirmed, and had their first day in Mulberry last week, I can exclusively reveal that they are:

  • ·         Alia Bano, acclaimed writers of Shades and winner of the 2011 Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright award.
  • ·         Rachel Delahay, whose play Routes is currently selling out the Royal Court upstairs
  • ·         Rex Obano, 2010 Alfred Fagon award shortlisted
  • ·         Jane Wainwright, Royal Court Supergroup and BBCWritersAcademy member
  • ·         Morna Regan, 2012 Irish Times Best Play award winner
  • ·         Abi Zakarian, 2012 Soho Theatre attachment scheme.

I admit that this year I made personal approaches rather than solicit open applications, just due to the workload that generates. But in years to come I hope to be able to open the scheme up to unsolicited applicants.

I’m also due to have a conversation with my publisher Nick Hern Books around digital publishing. With the twelve plays next year, plus the eight from the pilot scheme, we will potentially have twenty 15-minute plays written with, for and about London’s young people. I have a theory (backed up by every teacher I speak to) that there is a gap in the market for good quality, well-structured plays which can be read from beginning to end within one school lesson – with time to spare to then discuss and analyse them. And schools which might not be able to afford to commission them from scratch may well be able to stretch to a few pounds to download them as a professionally-typeset digital collection. This could potentially be a really happy marriage – quality plays for schools, available nationwide, structured to support teaching and learning, plus a steady trickle of income for writers.

Schoolwrights is a new way of working. It is a manifestation of one possible solution to the problems surrounding new play Research and Development identified in my In Battalions report. One silver lining amidst the gloom is that fewer resouces to go around means we will need to work together more, in particular with community partners. If we can find ways to stretch and develop our artists, which simultaneously benefit members of the community organisations which host them, then we might be onto a winning formula. And what’s more, we’ll make some great theatre together along the way.

Sofie Mason, Tamasha and I have every intention of making Schoolwrights an annual programme; the UK’s first centrally-managed, quality-controlled playwrights-in-schools training. We will need to be very on the ball around fundraising, but I hope that after this first year it will be easier to showcase what we have achieved, and inspire donors accordingly.

And at some stage, we will need an audience too. I hope to see you among them next June.

http://www.finkennedy.co.uk


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