Acting Workshop Blog with Kristine Landon-Smith – Day 3

"Kristine knew that one of the participants - "a young handsome boy" - had been usually cast to play an energetic boy. As soon as she said this, the boy blushed & agreed - both to the complement and the right guess. However, immediately he added that he didn't always like it. Kristine's instinct was right. She said that he would be good with energetic roles but he would also be wonderful with playing the role of a gentle young boy. I don't know how he felt - but I knew Kristine had given him a gift. A gift suited to him. A gift he embraced when he next went on floor. Whenever he forgets his gift, Kristine reminds him - and there he is on floor - "a young handsome gentle lovely boy."

During the past couple of days, lots of big words have been abandoned & only the pleasure to play has been focused on. Through insights, improvisations & play, the participants have been playing the game Kristine think they might like. Which has opened doors for the participants. And a window for me." Neha Nahata - Observer

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"Inevitably my reflection on this fascinating week so far is to some extent reflecting also on my experience of having been part of the Actor/Director Laboratory in November. This week is a great opportunity to re-visit Kristine’s approach and work through the process by engaging in a whole five days of playing and exploring, this time with a different and smaller group, and therefore in a more detailed way. I’m finding it really helpful to clarify and go deeper into things that came up during that week, and to further develop and consolidate my understanding through doing and observing in this context. By actually working through these processes again in an intensive way, it is helping me to marry what I learnt during the Actor/Director Lab with what I had learnt before then, have learnt since, and am learning now. As well as developing my own process, it’s so interesting to watch and be part of the development of each actor in a more sustained way than was possible during the Lab. The Lab was equally fascinating but a whole different experience, not least because of the dynamic of seeing and being part of Kristine working with the directors.

At the heart of it all though, is the simplicity of playing and connecting, and the notion of starting always from ourselves. Of course, rationally, we know to start from ourselves, completely ourselves unshielded, openly and truthfully, (and I don’t just mean actors working on a scene but all artists and creators). However, even knowing this, and knowing that having any preconceived or pre-learnt notion of how something is expected to be or ‘should’ be only holds us back, everyone at times has the temptation to use/return to what they have learnt or know will ‘work’ (either as an actor, artist or person approaching a given moment). Doing what we think or even know will ‘work’ may make something good but not extra-ordinary. By starting from ourselves, completely letting go of everything else, we find the keys to make what we are doing extra-ordinary. It is about really noticing and challenging the subtle ways we can at times slip into things that are safer as opposed to taking the risk of something murkier and less tangible. As Kristine said today, it is having the courage to ‘not know.’ It’s a fascinating journey and one we go on exploring and developing throughout our lives as artists, learning more and more to trust the intangible.

There is so much to say and document but just to give a sense of ‘shape’ to how this week is progressing: we are beginning to work more with how to bridge what we are learning with the next stage of working on/actually performing a monologue or scene in another setting (such as an audition or performance). The idea is that we can then take what we’ve learnt and apply it to a different scene, context, or requirement, trusting that we can set ourselves up through detailed steps and follow these steps through to create an extra-ordinary final performance. The specifics of these ‘steps’ are something we cannot know until we explore each situation or scene and then work through the process that is inevitably, and by nature as something ‘in creation’, ‘messy’ and uncertain.

Here’s to another two days of the course and to the future..."

Camila Fiori - Actor

Actor/Director Lab November 2011 Day 5

Taj Atwall – Actor Participant

“This week pushed my creative limits and exceeded all my expectations. Kristine's intense, direct 'hands-on' approach and really breaking your work down and working every little detail is something I have rarely experienced. From day one she created an environment for us to relax and dispel any nerves. With people at all levels and stages of their career on the course I was apprehensive about what benefit I would gain from the course. I have never used my cultural background or language this way before and regardless of where you came from we all had something to learn. From the get-go we were learning and creating and understanding the acting/directing relationship. Directors were really tested and questioned with every decision they made to help them make the best choices, all with the mind-set of 'getting the most out of you actor' and to 'make the actor the best they can be'. We had a diverse dynamic in the class and have never encountered such support and encouragement from a group of people before. We really let one another make mistakes without judgement, allowing everyone to exceed their potential. The different situations we got to work in were brilliant. From improvisation with monologues, to improvisation including your text and language to working on movement and text (Child of the Divide) with the whole class and even a fantastic 'clown' workshop. You learnt how to work in detail with your body and internal voice (not loud over-bearing 'stage' voice), on your own, in small and large groups with all ranges of text and language and even accents! After studying 3 years at drama school and college, this was by far the most I have ever learnt and gained as a multi-cultural actress!”

Ruby Rall - Actor Participant

“I’m feeling sad and a little emotional at the thought of today being that last day, because in reflecting back on my lab week I realised I had travelled a lot of distance over the five days  - in a personal, emotional, and educational unfolding journey. I’ve just experienced a liberating forum this week where I could open up. I liked that fact that Kristine created the space inviting and encouraging me to be real. I felt I could just let myself go and be authentically Yorkshire Punjabi, and bring myself along with all my ‘life stuff’ to draw from as an actress: the good, the bad and the ugly; warts and all because that what makes people interesting. At last I didn’t have to suppress any sense of having to ‘act’ like a character or create a pre-conceived, so-called perfect picture in my head, nor narrate myself of how I think I should be. I could let go of all that nonsense that doesn’t work and as I embraced Kristine’s practice I opened up more: unscrambling my old programming, and re-programming myself in a new way that serves me as an actress. It was exciting feeling like this, which is why I wanted to relish the experience even more and didn’t want to go back home so soon to Leeds where I feel suppressed in my non-acting regular world and conventional way of being. It’s now day 5 and somehow my onion layers had been peeling away slowly over the week and today I got to the very core of me – so no wonder I am feeling like this. I’ve also had an intense positive lunchtime chat with Kristine, where I felt I could trust her and value her opinion and didn’t have overly explain myself to her as I knew she already understood all the personal things I was sharing with her. This important conversation with Kristine polarised everything for me as an actress, as I had been deeply pensive all throughout the lab week about my acting experience, ability, how I felt as an actress, what I wanted to do in my acting career, and how I wanted to express myself in my work.

As the whole actor director relationship lab week was very much experiential, it is challenging to intellectualise it into words. The whole week has flown by with enjoyment and been such a wonderful five day journey where we have done so much together in the lab: we all had our moments of metamorphosis and it was a delight watching each actor transform instantly before our eyes in every performance piece.  It was all thanks to Kristine Landon-Smith passionately working at her practice and sharing it with us in such a way that we were weaved into the process as actors and directors and the marriage between the two entities resulted in such a good relationship, communication and understanding between the two which resulted in a great piece of work every time.  Kristine made sure she educated all of us in understanding why something did work and why something didn’t work – it was clearly important to know both in order to get it and then do it.

From day 1, when I introduced myself to the group, I was nervous and excited about what lay ahead. I wondered if we would all connect as people. How were we going to look at how we relate to each other as actors and directors? It was an intriguing psychology, about learning about myself and others around me. Kristine’s opening statement: “If a good actor is bad then it is the director’s fault, because they haven’t done their job of making the actor great”! Phew and Hallelujah I thought! I was glad she said that, not because it was easy to come from the point of view of blaming the director, but to emphasis that the director has such a responsibility in their job on how they are having an effect on the actor. It is all very well when things are going swimmingly, but in my past experiences no one seemed bothered enough to look at why things were going wrong between an actor and director. Yet, I know from having candid conversations with other actors that we all knew that we had so much more in us and our acting and the block/barriers, in the form of the director, start to affect our work in a negative and limiting way; and it is all so unnecessary. However Kristine was bothered and wanted to do something about it and I’m glad she created this lab so that we all could learn too. Thank goodness Kristine shared with us how it could all be avoided through focusing on the relationship between the actor and the director, and boundary definition of jobs we both had to do, and how important the communication needed to be clear, specific and helpful to the actor. It was not acceptable for directors to impose their pre-conceived views on how things should be, without being open to the vast array of possibilities of what the actor can bring to their work. It reminded me of past negative experiences where some directors had their judgements about me along with their stereotype of how I am as a British Asian female; yet in reality they didn’t have a clue what to do with me as an actress and wanted me to fit into a an unrealistic pattern that they had created. So, thankfully Kristine understood that, and explained this to the directors, I felt she raised respect for the actors and gave importance to getting to know who we really are as people. Hence her practice of understanding the actors’ ‘cultural context’ (be that using a mother-tongue language or anything else that made the actor feel comfortable) was paramount in opening up the door to the actor.

When I performed my first monologue, I was amazed at just how comfortable I felt speaking in my own Punjabi language and the way I was emoting felt so real. Kristine recognised that the next thing to help me be more powerful was to get me to project across the other side of the room to the supporting in actor who was standing on top of the stairs. I was scared that my voice would not go that far. In the end I had projected my voice strongly, and I could feel my whole body emoting, and could feel heat in my face and chest heavily breathing and my heart beating strongly in reality just as my the character in my monologue. I was in shock at what I had just done and happy about it at the same time – I could do it! Kristine explained that I needed support from the director to get me to be more grounded and which then in turn gave me more confidence. Some of the other actors came up to me to give feedback that they felt emotional in the audience, and a couple had tears in their eyes – my goodness I can’t believe Kristine supported me to get into that state so rapidly and unbeknown to me, it evoked such an emotion in the audience. Before day 1 was over I already had powerful experiences due to Kristine’s approach, supportively empowering me as an actor. I didn’t expect the results to be so instant. I had to let go of what I had originally created in my monologue preparation, and trust my own spontaneity as Kristine anchored me, and this in turn gave me confidence to use the power of my own voice. The scene did not require me to do anything else; it was powerful enough through the emotional journey of the improvisation which was then replicated when I went into text.

By day 2 I was beginning to appreciate the importance and relevance of playing games. Kristine explained that she wanted us to experience ‘play’ as adult actors as opposed to playing games like children in a playground. It was interesting listening to her educate the directors that they had to carefully select a game, thinking about its relevance and appropriateness to the work they had just done with an actor beforehand and what they were about start anew. She was asking directors to think if the they were doing their job to ensure we actors are comfortable during games and ‘open to play’ in the work ahead. She reminded directors to ask themselves if they were speaking in a clear, specific, exact and helpful way even when giving instructions to the actors about a game. Everything we did as a group, from game warm up to acting/play was connected. Kristine emphasised that a director must give a reason why they have given particular direction and complete the direction sentence with “I would like you to do X because of X” (explaining the reason why) to the actor. This then gave me further clarity and as an actress as to why my director had just said something to me, and I clearly understood why and didn’t have to be thinking about why they said whatever it was. Furthermore, Kristine made an important point to the directors about being careful they didn’t say anything damaging or negative to the actor that could dangerously have a long lasting effect on the actor, and get in the way of the actor’s thought process and ultimately affect the actor’s work.

Thank goodness Kristine was teaching the importance of the director being with the actor and being clear that it is not about what the director wants therefore there is no point in a director doing heavy preparation even before having interacted with the actors. Finally someone like Kristine had given the relationship between director and actor the importance it really needs, because it is at the core of the work that is being created between director and actor. Kristine made the actors feel important, and that in turn made me feel valued as a person and trusted as an actor. I was amazed that Kristine was watching all of us like a hawk and yet she was so subtly discreet about they way she went about doing so and noticing every single minute detail about all of us. She was exemplary at her job as a director in making it important to finding the key to open the door to me and all the other actors – she is taking note of everything, nothing goes unnoticed. During feedback to directors after a scene, Kristine’s psychological explanations were so insightful, and explained with tact, sensitivity when she was carefully describing how I am feeling as an actor, and telling the directors about what is and what is not working for me as an actress in a scene. Her exactness took the words right out of my mouth. It was a relief that Kristine was giving this feedback to the directors, because in the real world a director may not be open such honest feedback from me as an actress.

In future I endeavour to be more confident in subtly vocalising and requesting the director to be more clear and concise in their direction if something they are saying is not useful / helpful for me. My understanding now is that the actor director relationship has to be 50:50 if it is to work well in synergy. If the actor and director don’t have a connection, and don’t give their relationship importance then how can they work together and collaborate on a piece of work?

My confidence was steadily increasing as I got more comfortable with the other actors and directors, and improvisation and duologues were playful. I was found that I could improvise in so many different creative ways the more I was enjoying playing with the other actors. This resulted in experimenting with different improvisations, but essentially keeping the emotional journey the same, which evolved into the end performance being believable and spontaneous.

By day 5, my reflection brings me back to the beginning of my blog: I’d spent this intense five day journey with wonderful actor and director participants, and there was an opportunity to join the ever growing Tamasha Developing Artists network and carry on Kristine’s practice with like minded people. The lab week got the best out of me, maybe what years of drama school would not – so I don’t have any regrets now about not being formally trained at an acting establishment. Experiencing Kristine as a director and her passion for her practice, and her investment in me makes me feel valued and even more motivated than before that I want to create and play even more in my acting work. I will definitely be staying connected with Tamasha, the TDA buddies I made here, and keeping the cultural context practice alive because it feels right and feels real. Kristine’s intentions were definitely realised in reality: as an actor I definitely feel that she was with me - the actor, and she did a great job in making me look great as an actor. She made me feel comfortable as an actor and open to play. I was able to act upon her clear and specific direction. I felt complimented, encouraged and supported by her. My acting mojo has been revived along with my self belief in my potential as an actress – so I’m determined and excited to go onwards and upwards from here. I strongly recommend the actor director lab week to anyone – it is well worth the time and money – return on investment is high. Thank you to Kristine, Tamasha, participant actors and directors for a memorable and special experience. Here’s to creating great work through creating great actor director relationships!”

Shakera Ahad – Director Participant

“On the final day we arrived to begin work on our Checkhov extracts. Actors and directors had been put together by Kristine earlier in the week, and I was appropriately bumbling down useless alleyways with my two patient yet bemused actors when she arrived in time to set me back on track. “Simplify” were the words painstakingly repeated to me throughout the week. I had been trying so hard to follow Kristine’s method I’d overstressed the pressure on myself and over-complicated the process for the actors. We worked on relaxing the actors into the scene with an improvisation set in our real situation, a workshop at Graeae Studios. We moved to text without changing the scenario – it was just that the words were provided instead of having to make them up. Simple. Useful. Good.

Throughout the week I was challenged again and again to develop what I thought I already knew into a useful structure in which an actor can ‘be good’. I was taught the importance of stepping aside from what you think you see and what you want to see to actually seeing an actor; not their ‘character’ but the reality of themselves, of the situation. The workshop spun my perception of the Director’s role on its head, in terms of both working with actors and in the wider industry context.

The political and moral questions raised by the workshop were as challenging as the training. Whether we live in the Capital, a region or in the country, we exist as part of a National multicultural society. Yet in the (limited) moments I had to ponder during the week, I tried to recall the plays, events, conferences and rehearsals I have attended, with the same percentage of varied backgrounds present at this Lab. Not once in my life had the attendants been as diverse as we were in that room. This workshop was a celebration amongst all [actors and directors] and our shared willingness to truly innovate the industry in all senses of the word.

On the Actor/Director Lab, I got exactly what I needed and much more than I wanted... in the best way. It’s the most rigorous and challenging approach I have ever encountered. Simply amazing.”

Actor/Director Lab 2011 - Kristine Landon-Smith

“I have been reading participant's blogs and now want to share my own thoughts. I am so completely flattered by comments that have been posted and so struck by the generosity and curiosity and hunger from all the participants to learn. It’s a tough course but the participants are strong and really want to understand the rigour, the precision and the detail that is required to make an artistic and poetic piece of work. This goes for both actors and directors. What comes up time and time again is that the habits we pick up along the way are not always conducive to artistic creation - how do we keep monitoring ourselves and keep checking that what we are doing is true and meaningful and thoughtful. How do we discern what has been useful in our training and experience and what has not. How do we recognise what is simply received information which goes unquestioned through time but which may no longer assist the creative process. This conversation has been an active and full conversation throughout the week and all of us are questioning our own assumptions all the time.

I ask the actors to think of themselves... their pleasure to play something... I don't ask them to think about character. I ask the directors to look at what is in front of them... not what they think is in front of them, not what they want to be in front of them but what is actually in front of them... and work from there. I talk about the people who have influenced me in my own development: Maggie Gordon, actress and director who taught me when I was an acting student at The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Max Stafford Clark, when I worked as an actress in his production of Serious Money at The Royal Court and Philippe Gaulier over many years, studying and working with him in his school in London and Paris.

It was a joyous week and the expanding group of TDA artists engaged in intracultural theatre practice will be a force to be reckoned with!”

Actor/Director Lab November 2011 Day 4

Lauren Cooney – Actor Participant

“The penultimate day in my Actor/Director Lab experience began majestically with a late start for the actors, whilst the directors finalised their collaborative plans for out movement pieces. Adhering to the previous days work, in which we sequenced a piece with movement director Lawrence, honed and styled with characteristic precision by Kristine, this morning’s task saw us splitting into two groups (3 directors each) and choreographing our own. My group was masterminded by Emma, Antonio and Jonathan, who immediately made me feel safe and excited about the work. Emma clearly and calmly explained the directors' vision, Antonio deftly got us feeling nimble, and Jonathan helped us place our body tension one notch lower than the 'Californian Beach Dude' in order to feel the exhaustion and heaviness of our refugee characters.

They took their time in getting the opening of our piece perfect, but we were all sure it would pay off. And when we moved onto sculpting the rest of the piece, the results felt very organic and true. Thankfully, Kristine agreed with the company feeling, and offered us excellent feedback on our achievements. It was a very satisfying sequencing experience (something that can very easily feel woolly or embarrassing). Their attention to detail, and clear communication with each other and the rest of the company made everyone very comfortable and committed to the action. Hats off guys.

After lunch, Kristine worked on a couple of Chekhov scenes, observing first Antonio and then Jonathan as they directed the pieces, offering guidance as per. The rest of watched, and this was the most formal 'performance' and proscenium style work we had done so far. Although the rules never change, Kristine reminded us how quickly an actor or director can become intimidated by a canonical text. The actor must always be made to feel relaxed in the rehearsal room before they can play effectively, and an improvisation within their comfort zone is a great way to achieve this. Improvisations are in the actor's and not the character's interest. I'm really looking forward to being put through my paces tomorrow.”

Mikesh Bassi – Actor Participant

“On the morning of 24th the Actor/Director lab participants were split into two groups, each group contained both actors and directors and the brief was to devise a movement piece from the play Child of the Divide, a scene from which we had worked on with Lawrence Evans the previous afternoon. Kristine was due to come in before lunch to watch a performance of the mornings work and give the actors and directors feedback. The session started with the directors and actors warming up as an ensemble, after which the group divided, three directors were responsible for each group of actors.

In the group I was working with that morning the directors began by getting actors working on their physicality up by having us perform exercises on all fours, followed by a gradual build up onto two feet through seven different levels of tension. The exercise made the actors very aware of how they were moving and laid a foundation for how the actors would move in character. The directors were very hands-on in their approach, manipulating actors into positions they wanted to see them move in and making sure each actor had a clear idea of what level of tension they were expected to portray.

The scene the directors were devising was meant to show how the actors, playing refugees displaced by the partition ofIndia, travelled across the new Indian/Pakistani border and the hardship they faced whilst doing so. To get a sense of the claustrophobic conditions millions faced whilst making the journey and the chaos of an en masse movement of so many people, we were asked to perform an exercise where the actors huddled together in a group on one side of the room and moved across to the far side with the people at the rear of the group forcing their way to the front to get the group moving.

The directors gave feedback and advice to actors where they felt it was appropriate throughout the devising process. The actors were given the idea of what the directors wanted, and the scene was allowed to develop naturally through exercises and games they were asked to play.

Kristine watched and gave feedback on each performance and explained what it was we were going to be working on that afternoon before we broke for lunch. Half the group would work on scenes from Chekhov’s The Seagull and the other on scenes from Child of the Divide, the scenes would be worked on in pairs by the actors, with a director assigned to each pair. That afternoon we would watch two groups perform scenes from The Seagull under direction with input from Kristine, who asked the actors to improvise the scene in a new setting which familiarised the actors with the scene and made for a great afternoons viewing.”

Marcos Tajadura - Actor Participant

“Today has been a great day for me at the lab as Kristine has showed me I was able to ‘do it’. She has given me enough confidence and tools to understand and perform what I was meant to. But she has not only been great with me, she has taught the directors how to take the best out of the actors and get from them what the directors really were expecting. Through the lab I have been able to better understand the relationship between the director and the actor and for me, it is being a very challenging experience as my background is circus so therefore more physical activity and less text.

Also, it is being a great pleasure to share this fabulous learning experience with such talented people from different multicultural backgrounds. It is very interesting to see the versatility of an actor performing in different languages or in English with different accents. Kristine is very good at making the actor feel very comfortable in the improvisations and using different languages so that later when it comes to the text everything is much easier and natural.

The lab is being very fun, dynamic, captivating and of course very helpful and beneficial. I really don’t want it to finish!”

Actor/Director Lab November 2011 Day 3

Jonathan Young – Director Participant

“We had a frank discussion about our theatre visit - interesting to hear different perspectives on the show at the Bush (The Kitchen Sink), which then broadened into reflections on largely how 'white' much of mainstream theatre inBritain still is. What was clear is how crucial the work of Tamasha is (and such events as this Lab are) at developing alternative models and practices that reflect the full richness of global narratives for today.

The rest of the morning was a masterful introduction to clowning led by Mick Barnfather. Mick's games and exercises were a door opening on to how the upside-down world of clown can help performers - by listening and responding to the audience, finding their pleasure to play, risking to go towards 'failure' and the unknown instead of staying safe and correct. Often a big challenge for many actors beginning this work, but the benefits are clearly evident as Ruby's hilarious Who killed King John? showed.

Lastly, a powerful movement sequence, initiated by movement director Lawrence Evans and then taken up by Kristine. What is great to see is how such a scene of 'organised chaos' - people about to flee their homes across the border during the partition ofIndia- is worked on jointly byLawrence, then further carefully sculpted by Kristine. I findLawrence's work on encouraging actors to engage their imaginations physically through the senses simple but really useful. The professionalism both on the part of Kristine and the actors is clear to see, as gradually a lovely ensemble dynamic, of urgency and tragedy builds - interweaving simple moments and encounters between the company with a climax of a central story emerging. The work is demanding of the actors but the attention to details and repetition eventually pays off.”

Lowri Jenkins - ‘Buddy’ Director (Director Participant on April 2011 Lab)

“Returning to the Actor/Director Lab as a Mentor is a way to continue learning; reminding yourself and confirming your own development and vision as familiar scenes, gripes, and dilemmas are juggled by the current directors. As well as returning to well-known conversations, such as the state of ‘multicultural’ and culturally-representative theatre in Great Britainon Wednesday morning, different practical approaches are offered up. We spend the rest of Wednesday morning with Mick Barnfather on clown. I think the audience – and directors – had the most fun, being able to get in the mix and also observe how creating the right game and sense of play was the key to allowing actors to be comfortable on stage.”

Hemma Rai - Actor Participant

“Our morning moved onto a clowning workshop with Mick Barnfather. I didn’t have any previous clowning experience and was a little concerned as to what to expect. It ended up being a fun and interesting session, I hadn’t played grandmother’s footsteps since primary school! We then broke down the game and examined what it was we found funny as an audience member. The session continued in this fashion. It seems that what an audience finds amusing is the person on stage failing and getting things wrong in their activity. One needs to be happy to a make a fool of oneself and let go of any inhibitions and yet not push the situation in any way. There needs to be an unspoken dialogue with the audience and an understanding of when to change or continue a particular action. It was a very good morning, working with a true professional.

The afternoon consisted with the movement director Lawrence Evans. The objective of the afternoon was to re-enact a scene from a past Tamasha production. The workshop started with some warm-up exercises – some yoga based. We then did some visualisation work. This whole process took us to life as a villager, preparing the way for the narrative: A scene of a lorry departing filled with Hindus, leaving their native village at the time of the partition ofIndia. For me this was a very powerful exercise, as I felt transported to my mother’svillageofSouthern Gujaratwhere I spent some of my childhood. I was connected to all my senses that evoked such a place through the mixed up smells of cow dung, incense and food all blended into that very particular smell that isIndia, to the warm dry earth beneath my feet. It really did set the mood. We then worked withLawrenceand breaking down the scene into different stages, the scene was filled with chaos and panic as people began to gather their possessions and get on the truck. Once we had a rough outline, Kristine came along and worked on it further. It changed quite a bit. Kristine changed the choreography, making use of the whole space and timed all the different sub-stories so the audience had a chance to take it all in. Sound effect was also added by the directors who drummed on the table tops to produce the sound of the lorry. This added intensity and urgency. I played a village lady running in a swoop warning the other villagers about the lorry. I did this in my mother tongue of Gujarati.

The scene was a success - a very good collaboration between Lawrence and Kristine. Lawrence so effectively taking us on a journey, getting us to feel like villagers and bringing shape and form to the lorry scene and then with Kristine fine tuning it all with her strong visual eye and sense of timing. It was a step by step process and I realised that it would have been a challenge for any director in Kristine’s position to have created such a scene from scratch. It was essential for all the background work to have been completed in order to bring a fresh eye to the work and for it then to be chiselled into shape. For me it was a lesson in the power of good collaboration and practitioners doing what they do best.

A good day and I felt it was important to bring different people in with different ways of working.”

Khavita Kaur - Actor Participant

“It’s been a week since the Laboratory and I still can’t get over the experience. I still find my mind churning with thoughts, reflecting on the ‘AHA’ moments…of which were many!

I had these ‘penny drop’ moments...a few of them…actually many of them every single day. Working with Kristine, and simply watching her work was insightful. Like a Theatre Wizard she works her magic on a scene and it all just seems to come to life when the actor is honest, truthful and sincere and more importantly, when the actor is ‘being’ and not ‘acting’…

I need more of this for sure. There has been a seismic shift in my perception and I now need to get this into my bones…

It is refreshing to be able to bring as much of ME to a character than having to try and bring the character to ME

Kristine – a theatre genius!"

Actor/Director Lab November 2011 Day 2

Emma Faulkner – Director Participant

“The lab so far has been really intense and challenging but in a good way! Kristine's approach is so vastly refreshing and different to many of the directors I've assisted, in focusing primarily on who the actor is rather than the character. From warm-ups to scenes, she uses a vocabulary that is active and is quick to dispense of words that directors commonly use which in reality are closed and unhelpful. Working on scenes with the actors has meant rethinking how I normally direct but I am learning lots and so far can't recommend the Lab highly enough. By the end of Tuesday I felt excited, inspired and eager to learn more.”

Charlie Ward – Director Participant

“It can be hard to keep up with Kristine in the rehearsal room. She seems to see everything in minute detail, and has the ability to catalogue everything she sees and hears so she can refer back to specific moments when she responds to the actor. The concentration and attention she demands is exhausting. Where directors are often sat behind a desk, Kristine is often the most active person in the room, and that was particularly noticeable when she was helping Marcos (fromSpain) with a very difficult monologue. She got him to sit down and proceeded to shake him roughly as he performed with another actor. This might sound like physical abuse, but it was the perfect method to free up that actor, and his delivery by the end of the session was quite remarkable.”

Camila Fiori – Actor Participant

“At the end of day two I feel so cluttered with questions, yet knowing or sensing that I have to trust the questions to be answered, and maybe by allowing that to happen, without looking for the ‘right’ answer, I can create the space for something clear and truthful to emerge. In the same way, Kristine encourages us to resist the urge to anticipate what will or should happen in any given scene or piece of text, or to impose something on it. I know this so completely, and although I know I can often be totally present in the moment and go with my instinct, I can also slip into an almost automatic or subconscious pattern of creating an idea or image of something before it happens. I am finding it is often when moving from improvisation to text that I can switch in this way. Equally I know I can block myself by giving in to cerebral reasoning or questioning, all of which stunts any instinctive response. It is like a series of neuro-patterns that need to be broken or ‘unlearned’. Kristine encourages us not to try and ‘frame’ or ‘author’ a scene; not try to match it to any pre-conceived image or style or fit it to how we think it should be.

I guess the attempt to define or distil into any sort of ‘account’ or ‘step-by-step recipe’ of the process/methodology Kristine uses, parallels this need to know just how something is or will be, which essentially flattens any possibility of simply letting it discover what it is or can be.

Kristine seems to approach each situation or scene with an openness to just sensing the needs of each individual actor and the group as a collective and trusting her instinct and ability to gauge what each step should be. In the same way she encourages us as actors to just trust our own instinct to guide us.

However, in what seems like a paradox, there are some very exact parameters she puts into place, and the language she uses is extremely particular and nuanced. On one hand ‘there are no rules’, yet each decision must be completely specific and detailed.

Thinking back to my statement of interest, I wrote about developing a playground within which to play, and I guess that is what Kristine does so well. How though do we get ourselves to the place where we can ride with the ‘natural rhythms of the text’, ride with the natural rhythm of each moment? What she seems to be saying is that it is in ‘play’ that we find it. She talks about ‘playing well’, and although she very clearly makes the distinction between ‘child’s play’ and ‘playing as an actor’, the route seems to be the same. They are both made possible by engaging with the non-cerebral, sensory instincts that every small child has, which get broken down in different ways as we get older. The ‘play’ is intricately detailed, alert, sparky, but so simple, unforced, and uncomplicated – another marriage of paradoxes.

Much of what Kristine has been sharing with us, we may know on a cerebral level, and trust are true on an instinctive one, yet sometimes block ourselves from following through with. This week is about doing. For me it is about challenging myself on many levels but essentially learning to always trust that I can let myself just ‘be’ to explore my range and the things I have available to me, in order to find the 'rhythms' and 'textures' that make each moment real and unpredictable.

There is so much more I could say, not least about the great group of people sharing this week together, or all the exercises and games we’ve been exploring. But I really must ‘let this be’ for now, and trust my own natural digestion of everything that is happening on this intense week of TADding!”

Deven Modha – Actor Participant

“Warm-ups

Monologues

Duologues

Theatre trip

Tuesday morning started with a few group warm-up exercises. Yesterday Kristine stressed the importance of focussed warm-ups which centred around the actor – one of which being ‘The Winking Game.’ The game was thoroughly enjoyable – we all wanted to play – but it also enabled the directors to discern possible ‘blocks’ that individual actors may have and also explore ways in which to remedy those blocks. I began to understand that it is through useful games that actors can start to realise things about themselves as performers. By the end of the carefully selected game, I felt ready and open to work sensitively with my fellow actors. Through Kristine’s instruction, I came to realise here how crucial it is to set up a game ‘properly’ - how sensitive the rehearsal environment is, especially if you want to create high quality work.

Following the warm-ups, we went on to work on our individual monologues. I did mine yesterday and my experience with Kristine was so incredibly refreshing. It was the first time in a while where I felt a director was watching me for me as opposed to trying to mould me into a prefigured idea of what they wanted the ‘character’ to be. It was this openness and honesty about what I could bring to the rehearsal room which made me feel valued as part of the ensemble of actors. Rather than being inhibited in improvisation scenarios, I felt liberated and at ease to trust my instincts; finding a level of ‘play’ which was satisfyingly unpredictable – something which I have always tried to work on achieving. I realised from this point that Kristine’s approach is very unique.

After lunch we turned our attention to a series of duologues, examining our relationships to fellow actors on stage and the rhythms of text. I found that this proved to be challenging for both actors and directors on the course. Kristine brought us all back to the actor. What is the actor doing? Why are they doing that? Why does/doesn’t this model fit? Her finely tuned improvisation techniques ensured that all actors felt comfortable making that somewhat scary leap from a relaxed improvisation to the ‘dreaded text’ - scenes became detailed. Watchable.

It was brilliant to be able to go to see a show that very evening and apply Kristine’s practice to a piece of live theatre. Are the actors comfortable/being sensitive to one another? If so, why / why not? Do we believe them? It was fantastic to be able to come out of the theatre and actually be able to articulate clearly my response to the piece. One of the many things that I’ve been able to take away from the lab so far is the importance of clarity. I feel that I have been given a specific language with which to express myself in a bid to continually fine tune the craft of live theatre-making.

I have learnt so very much from these first two days and would highly recommend the Actor-Director Lab to anyone who wants to create theatre of the highest quality. It is through this programme that I saw Tamasha’s commitment to nurturing young artists and inspiring/instilling in them the enthusiasm to produce beautiful, moving and truthful work.”

Emma Sampson - ‘Buddy’ Director (Director Participant on April 2011 Lab)

“It was fantastic to be back on Tamasha’s Actor/Director lab this week as a ‘buddy’ director. For me it was a fantastic opportunity to revisit the things I had learnt on the course and to support the learning of the other participants.

This was an incredibly talented group of people and I was really impressed with how quickly they embraced the approach and were willing to try it out.

On Tuesday day I got roped into ‘acting’ because we were short one actor. I got to work with Kat (Actor participant) and Antonio (Director Participant). I have to say this was an incredible learning curve for me, seeing things from the perspective of the actor. I was nervous, frightened and I didn’t know what the director was asking me to do. If he talked around the point he was trying to make, which a lot of directors do, I got more nervous, thinking ‘what’s the problem, what’s the issue, why won’t he say what he wants me to do? What am I doing wrong?’ Of course it was best when he spoke directly (something Antonio got the hang of very quickly and it was wonderful to see his natural instinct for working with actors) and said ‘you’re too whiney. Don’t speak in that whiney voice; just speak in your normal voice.’ BOOM…

On Wednesday we had a fantastic clowning workshop with guest practitioner Mick Barnfather. This was really new territory for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it, I really like Mick’s interpretation of comedy ‘stupid people doing stupid things’. What was also interesting was to discover how much of yourself you have to bring to clowning, you can’t ‘play’ funny, the funniest moments were when people were themselves, reacting to the circumstances. It was great to play ‘Who Killed King John’ and ‘Red Light Green Light / Grandmother’s Footsteps’ with Mick. I’ve played these games a lot over the years but this was the first time I could really see their value. They were a great step into the comedy work we did, everyone were ‘themselves’ in these games and they were also very funny, taking enjoyment from the situation. I was amazed at how much I learnt about comedy from watching the group play these games.

On Wednesday afternoon we were joined by Lawrence Evans, a movement director who works a lot with Kristine. Lawrenceworked with the group to create a scene from Child of the Divide where the Hindus flee newly createdPakistan. This is a fantastic exercise, particularly for a director like me who fears choreography of any kind. I really likeLawrence and Kristine’s approach, they build and layer the actors’ movements in the scene, assessing what is good and keeping it and what is not and getting rid of it. It is subtle, intense work. It seems obvious when you’ve seen them do it but I think my approach in the past has been to just try and throw everything on to the stage and try and muddle it out. I won’t be afraid to approach this kind of scene in the future and I also won’t be afraid of the fact that it takes time to do, it must not be rushed.”

Actor/Director Lab November 2011 Day 1

Annetta Laufer – Director Participant

“Day 1 and my head is already buzzing with ideas and thoughts of my own working process with actors.

I was stunned at how quickly Kristine transformed the actors’ “performed” speeches into moments of complete honesty after watching them for only a few minutes. She very quickly found the right improvisations that allowed them to be natural and incredibly beautiful. This very natural and relaxed state is something I have always wished from my performers but have somehow struggled to capture.

So, when Kristine stated that when an actor is bad, it is the director’s fault, I felt a moment of shame followed by utter jubilation because this meant that I could finally do something about it! I could learn to change my approach. A wonderful prospect!

I have not seen improvisations used in the way Kristine used them today and I am excited, moved and hopeful, despite my insecurities about my past improvisation skills with actors. Watching Kristine create pertinent improvisations for the actors, using their cultural backgrounds as well as switching between improvisation and text continuously, I could see how important it was to pick a scenario relevant to the actor’s emotional journey within the context of the play/text, as opposed to an arbitrary setting that creates random emotions. I am sure I knew this before, but somehow today was the first time I really understood this.

My next big “aha” moment was understanding Kristine’s process of finding the “person” within the actor, as opposed to the actor trying to find a “character”. This is a revelation and quite contrary to every thing I have ever done. But again, an exciting prospect, as it means that there is no reason to start from a blank canvas and then bombard with cerebral ideas. The actor has already so much they can add before you even begin.

But how do you activate it? Well, from what Kristine has taught me today - observation is the key. Listening is the key. Discover who the actors are as people, emotionally, culturally, physically and then build on that. Give the actors the space to explore and play. This takes skill and confidence from a director, I think. Something, I challenge myself to for this week. I cannot wait!”

Anna Nyugen – ‘Buddy’ Director (Director Participant on April 2011 Lab)

“Day one. It was so nice to be surrounded by the buzz and excitement of new born TDA's again, with teas and croissants to greet us (a Tamasha special). Everyone was so beautifully hand picked, a vast concoction of people from different backgrounds and cultures which makes for a very intriguing workshop. We started the day off introducing ourselves and explaining briefly why we wanted to be here. It seemed that everyone around the circle had either felt their backgrounds had been shunned, ignored or left outside the rehearsal room at one point during their artistic endeavours. They all had that same hungry look in their eyes to be understood and to be empowered by their identity as artists. While this practice is sensational, it holds no prisoners, cuts no corners and is as direct and impulsive as it can be. Just walking around the room and listening in on some work, it seems to me that language will be one of the main themes this week.”

Antonio Harris – Director Participant

“The Actor/Director Lab so far has been fantastic. As a director, Kristine is teaching me to listen and look carefully at the actor or actors on stage. This laboratory has really been about the relationship between director and actor. Basically, cut out all the unnecessary nonsense, cut out the textbook words, cut out the generics and find a way to truly Talk to your actor. If you do this, or at least try (as I doubt I will be as quick as Kristine in a week, and trust me, she's extremely quick), you will get some refined, sophisticated results.

The lab has been fun, constantly moving and engaging and I will be looking forward to the rest of it. I'm really understanding the skill behind directing and Kristine definitely makes the directors constant attention to detail worthwhile. The team of directors/actors is great, multicultural and there is some great talent which makes everything even more exciting.”

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 6

Lowri Jenkins - Director Participant

"Wednesday was a day of contrasting approaches to process. Our discussion with director Bijan Sheibani recalled some ideas from last week and the session with Paines Plough Artistic Director, George Perrin. Both George and Bijan have approaches that were fairly different from the actor-focused play that we were doing with Kristine. The discussion raised many questions for me. What protocol allows a writer, director, actors, designers and many more to work together? Is it about total collaboration? Or is it always a question of hierarchy? What is the difference between a leader and an authority?

I know how I feel ideologically (and artistically) about these things – ever mistrustful of the idea that some pre-ordained hierarchy exists, sceptical of any sovereign authority – but I know that even with the best laid plans, theatrical ‘collaboration’ can fall flat. Bijan succinctly put it down to one thing – chemistry. I realised that the protocols, however convoluted or prescriptive, are the director’s way of letting chemistry do its thing. We might have completely different foundations or processes, but we do need a foundation: something on which to build a common language, and let theatre happen all by itself.

It’s like football: the rules are not the game, but the necessary limits which allow the game to be played. And it’s not just about the director and her or his foundations; it’s about the tastes and preferences of the actors. When Kristine and Bijan discussed auditions and casting, this issue of actor-director chemistry came to the fore: after all, you want to play and be creative with people who are eager and willing to play with you. An audition is the place to find that out – from both the actor and the director’s side. Do we get on? And do you like my protocols (which are, after all, part of my personality, my way of seeing)?

After this afternoon’s work, I saw quite quickly how chemistry and protocols needs each other. At lunch, on pure gut instinct, I suggested that Jen and I co-direct a short play that she had brought in. We both wanted to work with the same actors, we both got on, she showed me the piece, I loved it – and it made sense to do it together. The actors, Haseeb and Umar, were a bit apprehensive at first – too many cooks can spoil the broth (!) – but Jen and I laid strong foundations to explore the piece, and didn’t just rely on our chemistry or enthusiasm. We planned our afternoon rehearsal, detailing each improvisation and placing them in a logical order. I insisted that we define our working relationship before we started. Jen was the lead director who would guide the actors; I was like a dramaturg/support, who would lead a few improvisations and add detail. Because we had this protocol – and this good relationship between the two of us and (I feel!) between the actors, the rest of the rehearsal felt like we were flying. With the foundations in place, we could push ourselves, the actors and the piece into new places.

And the experience of this afternoon has clarified some of the debates of the morning. It’s not that being a director means you are claiming the rights or supreme knowledge of a text or an idea. Rather, like Gilles Deleuze writes in the introduction to Difference and Repetition, a director, like a teacher, says ‘come with me; do with me’ not ‘do as me’. She encourages play and participation, not imitation. It is about being sensitive and responsive to the here and now, to the elements in front of you, not the imaginary or desired visions in your head. It is together that we make things; a director is just that person who lays out the first parameters – so that the company can go beyond them."

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 7

Nimer Rashed - Director Participant

"What an incredible week. What an amazing experience.

Summarising the seven days of Tamasha's Actor/Director Lab is a challenging task. Reading any of the accounts of my colleagues below, you'll notice that those who shared the ride have reached out and grabbed the closest superlative to hand. "Outstanding", "fantastic", "wonderful", "extraordinary" - all these words have been employed in the desperate effort to capture something of what we all experienced.

Yet the reality is that none of these celebratory words come close to capturing our time together, because words aren't everything - people are. And at the heart of Kristine Landon-Smith's process is a simple belief in this truth, and an ability to invest her attention, faith and confidence in the people in front of her to help them achieve extraordinary results.

When I first witnessed Kris's "actor-centred" method of directing, I thought it was something of a magic trick. Actors who'd entered the room with pre-prepared monologues delivered with the melancholy stiffness of language learned by rote were quickly transformed into living, breathing human beings experiencing stirring moments of emotional weight. Incredible leaps and bounds in performance were achieved in minutes - and how? Simply by allowing the actors to be themselves.

From the actors' point of view, this was immensely liberating. Although many had been told in the past that they could perform Shakespeare in their own accents, or that "being yourself" is at the heart of good acting, very few actually knew what to do with this idea, or what emotional anchor to use to centre their performances in truth. With deft skill and intuition, Kris quickly evaluated the individual actor's needs and responded to the person in front of her by giving them a "hook" - an improvisation, an accent - to allow their personality to come the fore, investing them with confidence and warmth and allowing the person beneath the words to emerge.

From the directors' point of view, this meant putting aside all notions of "character" and "text" and simply learning to look and respond to the light in the eyes of the person before us. I found this incredibly exciting. Un-learning the traditional director's verbiage of "objectives" and "actions" and instead gently guiding performers to be themselves demands a level of concentration (and, crucially, a love both of acting and of people) that's a far cry from the text-centric process which pervades many other rehearsal rooms. Yet this Gaulier-inspired method of inflating the room with a buoyant sense of possibility and delight, allowing performers to have "the pleasure to play", was not only extremely rewarding, educational, and inspiring - it was also incredibly fun.

As we ended our seven days together, the assembled group looked around and marvelled at the mix of ethnicities in the room. Someone pointed out that this room "was London", and a brief silence fell. In that moment, as we glanced at each others' faces, I think we all felt the same thing: that the extraordinary collage of accents and nationalities before us were far more representative of the city we live in than the overwhelming majority of the stories we witness on stage, or the rehearsal rooms we've been in, or even the audiences we've sat among. In that moment, I saw twenty-odd faces beaming with the elation that emerges at the end of a learning process coupled with the pride of a sense of self-recognition, and while it was a moment tinged with sadness (for like all such moments, it could not last), I like to think we all left the room a little wiser, a little more confident, the lights in our eyes twinkling with hope. And who, really, could ask for more?"

Anna Nguyen – Director Participant

"Is it possible to change this much within the space of 7 days? Well clearly it is. Working with Kristine on the directors program was exhausting but equally exhilarating. I always left at the end of the day with a hunger and thirst for more and couldn't wait to come back tomorrow and have another stab at it. It was frustrating at times, but as I could see her methods working so clearly I never doubted that sooner or later everything would click, and it did. I have always been fascinated by Kristine's approach since our one and rare interaction in an intercultural workshop at Central. Her work really speaks out to me, and this was evident when I started introducing some of her techniques into my own rehearsal. I was amazed at how responsive and open my actors became, after just one rehearsal. Her work has become so relevant to my own practice that I am determined to find out more. I was particularly impressed by the one physical exercise she introduced, of course it was harder than all the directors had anticipated, but equally challenging and stimulating. I really appreciated the whole ensemble and the entire program."

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 7

Sarah Kameela Impey - Actor Participant

"People keep asking me what it was like, and all I can really say is amazing, incredible, wonderful and more. I don't really feel like it will end mainly because the people who have taken part are now so empowered and excited about what we can do together that we will do everything we can to keep that practice alive. I really had forgotten the pleasure of play. Carefree easy play, to do a game or perform a piece without too much convoluted thought and with absolute joy and comfort at being in that space with that person doing what you are doing together. When you find this 'play' you suddenly realise that you can achieve magical things, you have unbelievable breakthroughs and hours seem like minutes as you become immersed in your work."

Haseeb Malik – Actor Participant

““And now, the end is near…” I’m not going to lie to you – I do enjoy starting with a quote! However, at this point I must leave Frank Sinatra at the rehearsal room door. This was to be our last day together after a week of inspiring workshops, talks and performances. I do leave feeling like I’ve added to my acting palette, the extent to which I’m afraid I cannot say just yet. Nevertheless, I’m glad I signed up, threw myself in and as a result – enjoyed the whole experience! That’s not to say it hasn’t been difficult at times, there was a day when I felt slightly self-conscious but that was just the actor in me wanting to ‘get it right’ at the first go. I had to remind myself that I was there to learn and have fun. Sometimes learning isn’t easy, it can take you places you didn’t always consider but provided you can draw positives from it – it’s all worth it in the end.

Working with Kristine has taught me that bringing more of ME into my acting performance is okay, allowed and should be embraced. She helped me access areas of my toolkit (certain ethnic accents/languages) that otherwise would have probably remained under-utilised. The whole group was very open to her approach and produced brilliant work day by day. Everyone seemed to grasp the idea of ‘playing well’ with each other and boy did we play! Who knew you could get so much out of throwing sticks to one another or dancing your way through musical chairs? At the end of every warm up session, I would cut a sweaty breathless figure in the corner of the room but ready to take on the day ahead. Play is a simple but extremely vital concept.

One the final day the group performed two-hander scenes and this was a pleasure not only to do but witness too. The connections between the actors felt natural and genuine, the actors seemed happier and you could see a sense of pride glowing from Kristine. This was all testimony to her great work over the seven days which saw the directors come on a great deal too – developing their instincts of how to get the best out of their actors. As a group we now share a common language and practice, during the process everyone was sincere and trusting – a great collective! Is this the end? Who can say?”

Daniel Naddafy - Actor Participant

“The Actor/Director Lab has been one of the most enjoyable workshops I’ve ever participated in. It will take me time to process exactly what I’ve learnt, but the most important thing was the time spent in a room with a group of inspiring and incredibly talented theatre makers.

Kristine made the directors question and justify every one of their choices, and really got some of the actors to open up- this was all very interesting to observe. As a group we worked tremendously freely and engaged with one another very early on - I rarely worried about making mistakes or failing. Kristine created an environment where this freedom could flourish through games and exercises. I made some good relationships from the course and am sure we will continue to work together as an ensemble - who knows where this will lead...”

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 6

Sarah Kameela Impey - Actor Participant

"Bijan Sheibani has an incredibly inspiring CV, and yet remains an amazingly open, relaxed and care free spirit. He involved the group immediately and in discussing his process showed us how easily he engages a group of actors and directors. By looking at the character lists of a few plays we understood how to use them to initially understand the play, of course the writer includes everything for a reason. How are they described, what are their relationships, what clues does it give about them and why did the writer include that information. I have never dedicated so much time to that page of a play before, but now I will do it with everyone I read.

I now know it doesn't matter if the director does not work in the same way, this course has affected my approach, I have seen what I am capable of and it has restored a belief in myself that the character is there to fit me and not the other way around. No one has the same personal experience as you, no one can draw such deep emotion and reality from your centre as you can, as long as you connect with yourself first, attributes of you that allow you to be free and play."

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 4

Renu Arora - Director Buddy

Being back on the Actor/Director as a Director Buddy is a wonderfully interesting experience - firstly because, while observing, I get a real 'sense' of where everyone is at within the process, and having to 'hold' all of those energies in my own mind, to be ready for a chat with anyone in case anyone needs to offload & discuss. This is taking me back to my own Actor Director Lab last December - as the advice I'm giving out the to other Directors this week, is advice I often need to deeper heed for myself!

I am also using the course to further deepen my own process. Watching the other directors work with the actors, on the one hand, has helped me realise how much I've already integrated so far - and on the other hand, am becoming very aware that while my instinct is now to look at the actor, I am aware that I need to look even deeper - to the 'extraordinary', in order to take my work up to the next level.

Kris has an extraordinary way of intuiting the different levels in the room, and 'holding' this. For example, watching two actors work with a short scene, one actor may be struggling with the text more than the other – it’s fascinating to watch Kris set an exercise that both will enjoy playing, and as a result, evens out any imbalances that were previously there, so bringing them both to a similar level.

And what a fabulous opportunity to witness the collaboration between Kris and William (voice coach), working on texts. William's insight with the voice totally complements Kris' instinct with their performances. I am thrilled and very privileged to be part of the scheme once again, as I am learning so much more for my own process, whilst at the same time, giving back.

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 3

Farah Merani – Actor Participant 

There is no industry, you are the industry... a pearl of wisdom that George Perrin, of Paines Plough, dropped on us today. It made me think of a variety of sayings like, there is no I in TEAM and Marshall Mclughan’s gem, The medium is the message.  I wasn’t exactly sure why, but then as I pondered over the statement later on in the day, I realized that there actually is a correlation between the three sayings. One of the things that Kristine has brought up several times over the course of the week, is that the actor is not a solitary creature in the rehearsal room or on stage. There needs to be a continuous exchange between actors, and most importantly, between the actor and the director. The latter is something that this course is really emphasising and illustrating the value of and it’s something many of us actors don’t see enough of in practice. Many directors I’ve worked with don’t always take the actors immediate needs into account, but rather, focus primarily on the needs of their own vision. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as it’s necessary for the ultimate goal of the production. However, it’s really refreshing to work in a completely different way and know that my needs as actor are being directly addressed in a frank and straight forward manner.

Back to George Perrin’s session... it was a very fruitful and informative morning. I appreciated how he took the time to go around the room and ask everyone who they were, what they’re all about, and what they’d like to know from him. Then he addressed almost everyone’s questions as fully as he could and he had some really interesting things to say about the company, his role as a director, the casting process, and general wisdom…it was really great to hear a young director reaching for his goals and working hard to achieve them.”

Emma Sampson - Director Participant

“Are my actors happy? No they weren't… the first thing they said was 'I'm a really bad sight reader' and then they proceeded to read, their eyes glued to the page, never making eye contact and looking very unhappy. You didn't need to be Kristine to see the unhappiness; these were proper frowny faces. So we put the text in a corner and we spent 30 minutes of the precious 45 doing things that made us happy, things we enjoyed. We played and then in the last 5 or 10 minutes we picked the scripts up again. Hurrah! It works! The actors read the script and it was interesting, it was alive, it was 'beautiful'…

There's a lot more to do and the scenes that the other directors prepared this afternoon had moved a lot further and they'd come back to the text quite a lot more. But for me I'm quite happy at the moment just concentrating on 'are the actors happy'. I don't want to get more complicated than that, I just need to keep working on achieving that…

I am so utterly thrilled to be on this course. I’m still pinching myself because I can’t believe that I get to spend a week surrounded by such talented, amazing people, creating such fabulous work. What I’ve learnt about directing and about myself in just 3 days is so mind blowing… indescribable. I can’t articulate how much joy this workshop is bringing me or how grateful I am to Tamasha for the opportunity.”

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 2

Eleanor Buchan - Actor Participant

"Day One and I am immediately struck by the atmosphere Kristine creates in the room. 20 people who don't know each other have very quickly established an atmosphere of trust and openness and a distinct lack of neurosis. I have always felt that at an atmosphere like this, since I so rarely encountered it in rehearsal rooms, must be the creation of some grand and secret formula. But it seems, as far as I can tell, to be a combination of a director with an absolute confidence in her own ability, a no-nonsense attitude and a spoken belief that the actor, and thus the work, will be brilliant.

To me, this is a genuine and amazing revelation. Every time I have felt small, scared or exposed in a rehearsal room, I have always assumed that it was my, the actor's, fault for not being brilliant, prepared or professional enough. That tensions, blocks or troubles were the result of my actions or attitude. It is amazing to me that our fears are acknowledged and understood. What a new thing to regard the feeling in the room as a collaborative effort and that director and actor are in it together. That they might actually play the same game. That the director might sit up close to the actor as if they really care and really want to watch. It is amazing to begin with the idea that 'the actor is brilliant'. Naturally, I think this is genius.

Its extremely exciting to be in a room with such a mish-mash of accents, worlds and unique identities. I love the way Kristine goes for this hell for leather, refusing to tiptoe around our jittery political correctness. I confess that it makes me think of my own ethnicity (White British) as deeply dull. I wonder whether I'll be able to use this anyway. I am furious that I don't have a second language to draw on. But it's gold dust on stage; if you don't comprehend the words of the other actor, you have to work that much harder to understand the meaning. You listen so much harder. And that takes you out of yourself and onto the other actor. I love this. Can't wait for more."

Rachael Young - Actor Participant

"What can I say, my two weeks spent at Tamasha, prove to be an invaluable experience. Like so many of the participants I was interested in how my cultural context could impact my work as an actor, and also keen to understand how improvisation would play a part in this. I had some preconceived ideas about what I would gain from the course, and these expectations were completely surpassed on every level.

What I found was a very welcoming bunch of actors and directors, all full of enthusiasm to learn. I particularly enjoyed Kristine’s actor centred approach and found that when working with her I felt comfortable and uninhibited. I enjoyed the endless opportunities to play and was pleased at the freedom that this gave me in a performance situation.

I would unreservedly recommend this course to actors and directors alike; it has helped to reignite my fire as a professional and reaffirm my passion in acting!"

Actor/Director Lab 2011 Day 1

From 12 – 21 April 2011 at Unicorn Theatre, Tamasha ran the second Actor / Director Laboratory:  an intensive, subsidised training week for 18 artists (6 directors and 12 actors) which explored the relationship between the actor and director.  Participants came from a wide range of cultural backgrounds including Irish, Ind0-Guyanese, Welsh, Arab, Canadian, Southeast Asian, Black Caribbean, British-Asian, Pakistani, Australian and Indian  as well as British. The Lab is part of the Tamasha Developing Artists programme.

Andrea Milde - Documenter/ Audio- recorder

"Wow! The roles of directors and actors seemed to have got reversed for a change. The directors had to perform and show their ideas and skills, and Kris and other participants (particularly the actors) gave the directors feedback. It seemed like a very interesting and useful exercise (or method) to put the directors on the spot and the actors had a chance to say what instructions they found helpful or not helpful. What might have seemed as rather challenging in the beginning, made more and more sense throughout the day. I don’t think I have seen that way of working with a mixed group of actors and directors before.

Another theme that caught my interest today was that Kris approaches (short-term) judgement (of a specific activity in a specific moment) as essential in the rehearsal room as actors want to know how they were doing. According to her, the aim of directors should be “to make the actors brilliant”, and with clear guidance of what seemed to work and didn’t seem to work, the team can develop a shared language that is accessible and available for all participants. I thought that this is particularly interesting as her directing practice is very much based on improvisation. Today it became quite clear that setting up an improvisation that is actually helpful for the actor/s, requires good skills and a good eye for detail."

Jen Grant - Director Participant

"Having seen the magic actors can create when supported I understand why Christine has an actor centred approach to her directing. They really are masters of their craft. Its only day one but already I feel like I have learnt so much about actors, directing and myself.

I witnessed the richness and possibilities that engaging with the cultural context of the actors, whether ethnicity or class, can bring to the room and to their performances. It was extraordinary to see how actors were transformed by inhabiting their grandmothers accent or native tongue and able to experiment and explore at a much deeper level than before. I realized how as directors we are often so focused on the text and final performance that we fail to invest enough in building confidence and trust in the rehearsal room. The irony being of course that time spent on that will save us a lot of time later on and give us better performances.

I learnt that it’s okay to do nothing. That by needlessly adding paint you can ruin a perfectly good picture. I also witnessed how it can be better to create the space in which an actor can find a specific emotion or character rather than just directing them to it. The first part of today, that involved lots of games, was challenging for me personally as I realized that I hadn’t ‘played’ for a long time. I loved watching others but felt I was holding myself back. Once I’d gotten over my fears I found it liberating to re-find that side of myself and want to bring it much more into my rehearsal process. Directors just as much as actors have a fear of 'failing' but i really felt today that it is only by exposing ourselves (through taking risks, being vunerable and going with our guts) to the risk of ‘getting it wrong’ that we have a hope of ‘getting it right’.

I'm excited to see what tomorrow brings."

The Actor / Director Laboratory, day 5

 

Najan Ward (Actor participant):

“Wow, what a week. I got way more than I bargained for. The dynamic of directors and actors learning at the same time in the same space is what make this lab truly unique. Kristine uses improvisations to bring out the truth of a piece of text, I have learnt I need to less prepare my scenes so I can see what I can find naturally when I get it on the floor.

"I have no idea on how Tamasha conducted the selection process but it was spot on. I was surrounded by very talented individuals who were solely there to learn Kristine’s practice. I felt supported by the other actors when I was in scenes and felt comfortable when being directed by the directors. Another great aspect was all the different nationalities I got to work with, it really enriched the whole process. I got to see or be in improvisations in Spanish, Punjabi, Gujarati, Portuguese and French which took some of our scenes to a whole new level. When were working it seems very obvious to do but I have never seen it done before.

"In one week I feel like a better actor and have obtained a more natural approach to working with text. Thanks to everyone at Tamasha who made this possible and for giving me this opportunity.”

Julia Sandiford (Actor participant):

“It has been the most wonderful week – I have learnt so much and yet by now everything feels like a bit of blur. I know things will settle soon and I really believe I’ll be a much more open, honest actor as a result of this experience. What feels really empowering is that the things I’ve learnt and can use in future are very simple but can open a door to work that is so full and rich. It has been great to have a few flops but not mind as I might ordinarily and learn from them instead. I felt like all my usual defences were down and so I could be open about where to go next. It was great to stop when things weren’t working, admit that they weren’t, and then be given improvisations which shook everything up and moved the work forwards.

"I have had small revelations about the way I work – cheating naturalism rather than really listening to my partner or responding to the specific situation. I really hadn’t ever been aware that I do that before. Something that I used as a place of safety has actually been stopping me from fulfilling my actual potential. I want to start truly listening and hearing what is going on around me – it’s exciting!

"At the end of the day we worked in pairs with a director. In this final session I felt like it was evidence and a celebration of how far we have come this week. I loved working with Renu as I felt so free and trusting of her. Hierarchy between the roles of actor and director had disappeared – we both needed each other, instead of the actor praying the director will know all the answers and the director crossing their fingers that the actor is ‘talented’. Renu gave us a really helpful impro and with Silvana speaking in Spanish I began to truly listen because I had to to understand her.

"Thank you Kristine and Tamasha and every single person who I met this week – I don’t feel like I have to push or do it alone any more and I can’t wait to discover what will happen next.”

Silvana Montoya (Actor participant):

“The Actor / Director Laboratory has been a truly enlightening experience! I have learnt so much about acting, directing and the actor/director relationship. The possibilities are endless when there is total collaboration and trust and a mutual understanding that the actor and director are equals in the rehearsal room. Kristine’s workshop demonstrated, and allowed us all to experience, what happens when there is such collaboration: the director gets the best out of the actor because both are open in the knowledge that everything is already within the actor. This was very reassuring. It was also great to be reminded that without ‘play’ and accepting ‘the flop’, it is impossible to give everything as an actor.

"Another refreshing discovery for me was the use of the actor’s cultural context. This was something I’d never experienced, and now that I have I feel confident that this is invaluable in rehearsal and essential in making me more connected. I can honestly say that having my background acknowledged, celebrated and valued added a whole new dimension to my work.

"The actor/director laboratory fulfilled and surpassed all my expectations. I feel replenished. Kristine’s energy, passion and commitment to the work and to us has had an immense impact on me and it’s something I can now take away to noticeably improve my work.”

John Walton (Director participant):

“The final day of the laboratory. We started off with a clown exercise – individuals or pairs lip-syncing to a song that they didn’t know the actual words to. It was fascinating to see the level of sensitivity needed to keep with the audience. Those who ‘played too much’ were forcing their reactions to the rythmns and changes in the music, as opposed to letting themselves be suprised. It was these little moments of shock that we loved, especially when accompanied with a cheeky little nod to us.

"Then we had to present the group staging exercise – if ever there was a case of too many cooks spoiled the broth this was it! Five directors – one improvised scene. A recipe for disaster! Or at least continual compromise on the artistic vision… In reviewing the presentation, Kristine’s insistence on looking for the poetic as opposed to the literal was a great point. She removed all the little narrative strands we had authored into the scene and showed us what she meant by ‘sculpting’ with the actors. In the end, her version was simpler, distilled, and a lot more effective.

"In the afternoon we worked on our final scenes of the week. The change in the room’s atmosphere since Monday was palpable. There was a focused concentration, a real sense of collaboration between actors and directors. Perhaps because we were working together there seemed to be a lot less noise, much more creation. It certainly showed when the scenes were presented. It was amazing to think how far the quality of the work had come. We had all grown immeasurably. There was a lot discussed in the final feedback, but I think one thing really seemed to me the most striking. As I looked around the room I saw once again the group’s incredible mix of languages, nations and ethnicities. I realised that this group was a truer representation of London in 2010 than any I had ever been in before. That incredible diversity must be brought into our theatres.”

The Actor / Director Laboratory, day 4

Bhawna Bhawsar-Arya (Actor participant): “Its already Thursday and I just don’t want this workshop to end. I can’t believe how much I have learnt in such a short space of time. What resonates greatly for me is the improvisation techniques that Kristine has used to make the actor ‘beautiful, good and present’. The actor IS good at their craft and IS an artist. An equal collaboration, rather than a hierarchical one, between the actor/director and trust in the actor by the director would allow for a superb creation.

"I've learnt that what I need from the director is the set up of an appropriate improvisation, with a basic story/scenario and simple language to elicit it. Too much information and complex language complicates and restricts ‘play’. By doing these exercises with Kristine and the other directors, I even surprised myself how much of my own life experience, mother-tongue and cultural background I could draw on to springboard me into the text/scene we were working on. Before these exercises, my monologues were too rehearsed and I was trying to play them in a specific way which didn’t suit me, but now I have the correct tools to work on this.

"This workshop is giving me more and more self-confidence and the ability to trust my instinct. I feel energised and am thriving working within a group of multicultural actors and directors. I wish I was going onto a project where I could put all of this into practice!”

 

Ian Nicholson (Director participant):

“And today it seems like all is coming together. Certainly been a week that’s challenged a lot of my commonly held ideas about what a director should do but today things made a lot more sense, a lot more intuitive.

"When we were in discussion today with the directors and their roles it was interesting to hear how we still want to author and impose a narrative on what the actors were doing was still prevalent. It’s hard to let go of something you’ve done for years! But in letting go of the idea of what should be happening, the actors always found a lot more than anything we – the directors – could suggest. And as we talked I was reminded of a poem my Mum told me from years ago by Michelangelo (she speaks Italian – I sadly have never really picked it up) and after the session I had to dig it out of an old book she’d written it down in with a rough translation she’d done, it starts:

Non ha l’ottimo artista alcun concetto c’un marmo solo in se non circoscriva col suo soverchio

which translates something like: The best artist has not one idea that is not already contained within the unworked stone.

"And I thought that’s it. And this is it. Everything we could possibly suggest is already there, in the actor, if we just bothered to look and work with them, to make them beautiful in action on stage, rather than trying to force them into what we want. That’s something hard to learn, or un-learn what I’ve learnt, but it makes more sense and is infinitely more equitable than the current situation with actors and directors. And that’s the most essential part of this week and what I’ve learnt from Kristine, to trust that everything is already there, you just have to see it.”