Friday, 11 August 2017

Artist Toolbox: How To Learn Your Lines Faster


Learning lines (or not) can be one of the biggest challenges faced by a cast of actors. If someone doesn't know their lines, rehearsals can grind to a painful pace, shows can fall apart and tensions can form in the ensemble rapport. So what can actors do to help overcome this challenge?

Well, one solution is right there in your pocket.

Most people own or have access to some kind of device with voice recording ability -smartphones, computers, even a cheap dictaphone. Using recording tech like this can rapidly increase the speed at which you learn your lines and (just as importantly) your cue lines.

What you need to do is to record everyone else's lines from the scenes you are in, leaving timed silences in your recording for the places when you speak. For example, take this scene I did from Peter Pan The British Musical. In the show I played the role of Hook, so to learn my lines I recorded every line except Hook's. I just used my own voice, sort of did a bit of an accent to distinguish between characters but didn't spend too long worry about the quality of it.

As you can hear, there are long pauses in the audio, and this is so that I can play the track back in real time while practicing my lines at home. I listen to my cue lines then try to repeat my lines back from memory in the relevant pauses. If I forget a line, I simply check my script, start the track over and do it again. Always, I try to do as much as possible without looking at my script. I'll have it open beside me if possible, but try not to look at if I can.

This process drastically speeds up the line learning process and makes sure that cue lines are also learned. A few evenings spent doing this and you can have whole scenes down before you know it!

Scene 1.8
          The Neverland. A forest clearing.
Music 12: Pirates’ Song

Pirates (enter singing; ) Avast Belay, Avast Belay, Avast Belay, A ……….vast belay, yo ho, heave ho A-pirating we go And if we’re parted by a shot We’re sure to meet below! The pirates enter singing, 4 pirates  carry James Hook, their captain, in a sedan chair. He lies at his ease.    He is carefully polishing his iron hook. In his mouth he has a holder which enables him to smoke two cigars at once. The pirate women follow the sedan chair
Yo ho, yo ho, the pirate life The flag o’skull and bones A merry hour, a hempen rope And hey for Davy Jones.

Nibs briefly returns to retrieve his bow before retreating back into the safety of the forestBut Starkey sights him, and quickly pulls his pistol out   ― but an iron claw grips his shoulder 

Starkey Captain, let go.
Hook Put back that pistol first.
Starkey It was one of those boys you hate. I could have shot him dead.
Hook Ay and the sound would have brought Tiger Lily’s natives upon us. Do you want to lose your scalp?
Smee brandishing his cutlass Shall I after him. Captain, and tickle him with Johnny Corkscrew? Johnny’s a silent fellow.
Hook Not now, Smee. He is only one and I want them all.
Smee All of them! (to the rest of the pirates) The captain wants THEM ALL!
Pirates Ay ― let’s get them all.
General murmuring of agreement
Smee So ― unrip your plan, Captain.
Hook The plan is simple; to return to the ship and cook a large rich cake of a jolly thickness with green sugar on it. We will leave the cake on the shore of Mermaids’ Lagoon. The boys are always swimming about there talking to the mermaids. They will find the cake and they will gobble it up because, having no mother, they don’t know how dangerous ‘tis to eat rich damp cake.
The Pirates laugh. Hook gives a particularly gruesome laugh (pointedly) They will die.
Smee It’s the wickedest, prettiest policy ever I heard of Cap’n…..And how d’you reckon to make a rich, damp cake?

Music 13: Rich, Damp Cake
Hook Well, what are you standing around here for? Go to it, you swabs.  Scatter and look for them! The pirates scatter and exit  SR
Sedan chair carried off USL
Smee, Starkey, Cecco, BillJ stay with Hook

It’s the wickedest, prettiest policy ever I heard of Cap’n…..

Monday, 20 March 2017

Directive-Response-Response: complete lesson plan


- a strategy for collaborative creation
Workshop by Carl Robinson (with Cat Leclerc)

This workshop has been written for teachers here, but could easily be adapted for students learning about devising.

Directive-Response-Response is a strategy for collaboratively developing creative work, be it drama, art, music, writing or otherwise, in which students’ contributions are remixed and re-imagined by the collective over multiple iterations. The resulting work which is produced becomes ‘inextricably linked’ to each and every contribution which formed it, creating a rich and complex product at the end of the process. Touching upon the ideas of some contemporary performance makers (Goat Island/Forced Entertainment) and visual artists (Richard Serra), the workshop will be grounded in modern creative practices and principles.

This workshop is intended to give a basic introduction to the ideas and principles of some key contemporary performance makers (context here) and visual artists and provide participants with some exercises and techniques which can be used in a range of creative classes, not just the arts.

Photographs or other images (evocative images here)
Music (playlists available here)
Extract of non-fiction text (examples here)
Extract of fiction text. (example here)

Note: The timings stated here are shorter than the ideal, in order to fit into the 90 minute session time. Ideally you would take 2, if not more, sessions to complete these activities and to repeat presentations but with different music and in different styles allowing participants to experiment with timing, tone, speed, intensity, etc.

Step 1- First Directive -5 mins
Divide participants into groups of 4.
Give each group one of the four stimuli pieces (a photo, some music, non-fiction, or fiction). They read/listen/view this directive for 2 minutes, then give immediate statements of meaning (see Critical Response Process here).
  • I saw…
  • I heard…
  • I noticed…
  • I felt…
  • It reminded me of…
  • I wondered...

Step 2- Considered Responses -10 mins
Individually, participants respond to the their group’s directive by creating a new piece of art which is inspired by it.
✭ This could be in the form of a poem, a dance, a song, some music, a photo, a drawing, a list of words, some instructions, etc. The art should be inspired (directly or indirectly) by the directive.
✭ It does not need to be a ‘finished’ piece after 10 minutes, in fact it’s best to encourage participants to leave their work unfinished and incomplete so it can be grown by someone else in the next step.

Step 3- Group Sharing 1 -10 mins
✭ The group comes back together to share their work with each other.
✭ This sharing can be informal or formal, but it is worth keeping in mind that performance material often works best when it is ‘delivered’, with some ceremony. Participants might want to present their work (even if it is unfinished) in a formal way.
✭ Each individual presentation is followed by immediate statements of meaning.

Step 4- Response As New Directive -15 mins
✭ Individuals now select some or all of the material created in step 2 (by others, not their own material) and grow it. They can change, edit, add to, depart from, develop the material in any way they choose. It becomes the inspiration for a new piece of art.
✭ In the same way as step 2, individuals create a new piece of art in any medium they choose. It doesn’t need to be the same medium as they worked in for step 2, nor the same as the medium of the material they are currently responding to.  
✭ Richard Serra’s verb list can provide interesting suggestions of how to develop material. Try adding friction to a song, or hooking and heaping your movements.
✭ Any attachments to the first directive should be put to the back of the mind in this step. Allow new connections, themes and ideas to emerge from the material that the other participants have created.

Step 5- Group Sharing 2 -5 mins
✭  The small groups get back together to share their work amongst themselves.
✭  If there is time available, give immediate statements of meaning. If not, go straight to the next step.

Step 6- Compose -15 mins
✭ Each group must now compose the material they have created into a structure that makes sense and rehearse it ready to present to the whole group.
✭ It can use some or all of the material, including the material created in step 2 and/or the original directive material (if useful).
✭ Parts can be organised sequentially, overlapping, juxtaposed, etc.
✭ This is a short amount of time, so quick decisions must be made. The piece doesn’t need to ‘make sense’ or have a concrete narrative running through it. It’s just a structure within which the material can be shared.
✭ Finally, if there is time, groups should consider the beginning and the end of their presentation, thinking about the way that they will open and close their performance with a *full stop*.

Step 7- Full group sharing -15-30 mins
✭ Each group presents their work, using any materials/music/staging that they were able to throw together.
✭ If there’s enough time, allows the audience to offer immediate statements of meaning after each presentation.

Step 8- Reflect -5-10 mins
✭ What is challenging, exciting, surprising about working in this way?
✭ Which ideas, themes, thoughts emerged unexpectedly while working collaboratively?

✭ Which are the other mediums of creativity that this can apply to?

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Pedestrian Movement As Dance: complete lesson plan


"I’m not a dancer but that doesn’t stop me dancing."

A workshop for generating movement and choreographies from a range of everyday movements and gestures.

Ideally you would take 2, if not 3 sessions to complete these activities and to repeat presentations but with different music and in different styles allowing participants to experiment with timing, tone, speed, intensity, etc.

Warm up 10 mins
✭     ‘Twisting wrists
Starting with arms outstretched in front, curl the fingers in. Slowly add in body parts while continuing to twist and articulate previous parts. Once the whole body is twisting and walking bring the warm-up to a close.

✭     ‘Kittens fighting
In pairs. The kittens have to try to softly touch their partner on different parts of their body, while trying not to be touched themselves. Remind participants that kittens have very soft paws, also that they need to keep an awareness of others around them at all times. This emphasis of this activity is on warm-up and building a good pair/group dynamic, not on competition.

Group choreography from sport 40 mins
✭ Individually, select 5 short movements from sport. These can be from the same or from different sports. After selecting the 5 movement, ‘abstractify’ each by changing one element of the movement to make it less recognisable and more ‘dancey’. No need to order them.

✭ After developing the 5 movements, select the best 2. In pairs, teach each other the 2 moves.

✭ Pairs meet pairs, teach each other the 4 moves.

✭ The groups of four order the movements and make a routine that lasts 4 counts of 8. The routine should be easily repeatable, even if this means adding in a count of 8 to walk back to the starting position.
Optional- one movement must last for 8 beats, and one movement must last for 2 beats.

Presentation 1 15 mins
✭ Present the dances but with different styles/moods of music. Students have to work with or against the music, but maintain group timing.

✭ If given more time, the presentation of this exercise works best when combined with solos and students present with a group space and solo space, like in the following activity.

Solo and group dances combined 60 mins (minimum)
✭ As a whole group, in a clearly visible place write a 10 point list short of gestures/movements.
e.g. 1. Turn head
2. Raise hand
3. Put head in hands
4. Smile
5. Stand up/Sit down
6. Move behind a chair
7. Put your hand on someone’s face
8. Close eyes
9. Cross/uncross arms/legs
10. Clench fists

✭ Set up a bench or a row of chairs for 3-5 people, on the stage. During the presentation participants can choose and complete movements from the list. There is no limit to how many times each movement is completed, if at all. There are moments when a pause is also necessary and eye contact can be key. Except from a set action like a Smile, neutral faces is also necessary.

✭ For now though, put this exercise on hold before presenting to work on the solos.

✭ Give each participant a small piece of paper and a pencil to write a directive for a dance or movement solo. Participants choose one of two options:
- Write a well-known body related metaphor or figure of speech
e.g. My heart is breaking
        My legs have turned to jelly
        Keep your chin up
        A pain in the neck
        Butterflies in my stomach
        I’m head over heels
        I have a fire in my belly
        Brain Freeze
        There’s a thorn in my side
- Write a short description of nature or otherwise
e.g. Butterflies in grass
        Water rushing over a waterfall
        Spinning endlessly through Space
        Being kissed all over
        The building of Mt. Everest
        Lava bubbling and then cooling
✭ It may be useful to remind participants that they are writing a gift for another, and that the receiver of their directive should be inspired but not restricted by it.

✭ After writing, in a circle everybody passes their paper to the right. Give participants a few minutes to try out their new directive. The emphasis of this is not on developing a literal/mimic representation  so the audience are able to understand what the directive said, but on finding an abstract representation of it, that captures some of the essence or feeling of the directive, but is not necessarily easily recognisable.

✭ Now prepare the performance space. Define a group and a solo area like this:

Presenters start in the group area and complete gestures from the 10 point list (as above). This continues throughout the presentation (usually the length of a song). At any time though, a single presenter can move to the solo area and present their solo representation of their directive, for as long or as short as they feel necessary. When they have finished their solo, they can return to the group area and resume their gesturing.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Pina- Pushing a pin into it


The work of Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal has had a profound impact on my work as both an artist and a teacher. If you haven't seen anything of their work, then watching the 2011 film Pina is a jaw-dropping, heart-awakening place to start.

Among so many of her ideas and principles there is one that particularly stands out and continues to define my idea of performance- the idea of evocative images instead of illustrative.

Bausch wasn't your average choreographer, with a pre-planned vision of every piece she made. The work was driven by the dancers in the Wuppertal, by their thoughts, feelings, expressions.

There's a great section in Royd Climenhaga's book on Bausch where he references a time while she was working on the piece Walzer (1982). Bausch asked the company to explore the idea of a display in a natural history museum.

"In museums you can see where they collect animals, stuffed animals. You can see how they are preserved and how they stand there, the animals. or with insects, how they mount them so that people can look at them. An ensemble member questions, Do you want us to put it into words? and Bausch responds, No, I want you to do it, or do it to someone."
 (Was Tun Pina Bausch und Ihrer Tanzer in Wuppertal? 1983)

Climenhaga goes on to explain that Bausch wants to capture the pain of being mounted by a pin, or perhaps the discomfort of viewing such animals mounted in that way. She doesn't want her performers to recreate the image, it's too literal. You can imagine some novice students making the same mistake as some of her ensemble members back in '82 they tried to re-create the moment by pinning one of the others to the wall, and often we see students translate a prompt such as this into similarly literal expressions.

She wanted her ensemble to understand that  "It tells us about the feeling, but it doesn't give it to us. It's illustrative rather than evocative." She doesn't want to create an experience "where we may say "Ah, I get it, it's like animals in a natural history museum," because then you either get it or you don't, but in either case the image stops there, once the connection has been made."

(Climenhaga, Royd. 2009. 'Pina Bausch.' Routledge Performance Practitioners: 111-113)

This principle of "Don't show me the feeling. Give me the feeling!" is critical when devising work to have impact. It's turns one-dimensional scenes upon which the audience is but voyeur, into an opportunity for us to make our own connections and to experience the piece for ourselves.

If you don't know the work of Pina Bausch and would like to know more, then the film is a great introduction which you can follow up with Royd Climenhaga's detailed guide on her work. The book also includes many practical exercises to get your students creating in the same ways as the Wuppertal. Finally, although Pina sadly passed away in 2009, Tanztheater Wuppertal still performs many of her pieces all around the world, so if you can get to see it live, I would highly recommend it.