Guest Post: Directing Theatre with Young People – Matthew Church

Matthew Church notes the limitations that many young people face when working in a rehearsal environment. In particular, he notes their seeming inability to ‘trust their instincts’ and places the blame squarely on the lack of attention paid to this part of their learning in the current drama curriculum. What do you think? Drama teachers, TYP people … ?

A Professional Environment

It is always interesting working with school students who have a keen interest in taking up professional theatre as a career. They show up to the first rehearsal of a production extremely excited for the journey ahead.

The problem with drama school curricula or school musical rehearsals is that acting intuition is lost from the working equation.

How can we train a new generation of actors when we are teaching them at school level to ignore their instincts?

We get started working around the table, breaking down the text, asking questions and they get extremely excited when they find out new information about their character. We play with a few improvisations, and end week one on a high.

As we begin week two I start to block the play. This is where the lack of attention in school drama curricula to rehearsing and rehearsal environments becomes apparent. Students expect to be told where to go; they wait for me to tell them “two steps to stage left”, or “look shocked on the word ‘Mum’.”  As a director, it so very saddens me when students work like this.

My work is primarily focussed on encouraging – pushing – young people to work as if they are in a professional environment. I assume the role of a professional director and I expect them to work accordingly. When a senior secondary student joins my cast, I ask of them what any director might do: make offers and play with the text. Students are challenged by this, but what astounds me continually are the types of offers that are made by young people. Their limited but very different life experience allows them to inform work in a very different way.

Theatre for Young People (TYP) is a powerful medium. It is an incredible sounding board for the next generation of actors who are being encouraged to work in a professional environment but it is also a wonderful medium for informing young people. That is what we can provide for them, not simply a stage, but a whole learning experience.

In my opinion, the role of a TYP artist is to encourage young people, and to prepare them for a career in professional theatre: NOT to take advantage of one’s own experience to get the best production.

Matthew Church is the young Artistic Director of Half Life Theatre. He is living the life in Trinity Beach, FNQ. You can find (and like) Half Life Theatre on Facebook

Letters from a voluntary exile: The Bellman’s Map

I have just spent the last two weekends exploring using the Bellman’s Map. The Bellman’s Map is from Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, where the Bellman, the captain of the group, presents them with a map that is “A perfect and absolute blank!” which his crew is delighted with, as it’s one they can immediately understand. Except for the bit about immediate understanding, I felt like a member of the crew being presented with a blank map by Scott Williams at a workshop on Meisner Technique, presented by Melbourne Acting Academy.

Scott is a teacher and director, originally from California, and trained with Sanford Meisner himself. He has been directing since he was 17, and has perused many activities both on and backstage, but directing and teaching has been his major focus. Since 1996, he has been based in London where he established the Impulse Company where he is currently Artistic Director.

I knew almost nothing about the Meisner Technique. I bought Sanford Meisner’s book  On Acting some years ago, but stopped reading it when I thought I really needed to do some of the exercises described before I could understand it. A friend of mine tried to explain Meisner to me just before I commenced the workshop, and succeeded in making me think, “Oh god, I don’t want to do that for four days.” Turns out she didn’t know what she was talking about. Didn’t stop her talking though. But I digress. Continue reading Letters from a voluntary exile: The Bellman’s Map

Review: Waiting for Godot – Queensland Theatre Company

Originally published 30 April, 2010

My theatre companion and I are currently trying to get through burgers the size of our heads before we attend this evening’s performance of Waiting for Godot. It’s been a long week, and we’ve spent the last half an hour whinging at each other about work. There’s a pause in the conversation and a thought rises to the surface: ‘I’m not sure if I really want to sit through Beckett tonight,’ I proclaim with a sigh.

This is nothing against the Queensland Theatre Company production team. Joe Mitchell, the director, has already proven he’s a deft hand with Beckett in the past. The line-up of the cast is tremendous, and I’ve heard nothing but good things. But I’m slightly hesitant because I’ve fallen victim to the most common misconception held around Beckett: that I’ll leave the theatre wanting to kill myself. A synopsis of Waiting for Godot reads like a guaranteed boring night out. Most beautifully described as the play where ‘nothing happens, twice’, the play concerns itself with two men waiting for the mysterious Godot to show up. And that’s it. Continue reading Review: Waiting for Godot – Queensland Theatre Company

Review: Hamlet in the box ‘Ugly-beautiful’ La Boite Theatre

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Top Posts of 2010

Originally published 15 February, 2010

Toby Schmitz as Hamlet Photo: Amelia Dowd

Let it be known, nothing sums this show up better than its poster: a soaking wet Toby Schmitz (very Trainspotting) arms raised as he pulls his hair back … with just a fine whisper of pubic hair on show. Whilst grabbing my tickets from the box office to see this not-so-subtle erotic piece of marketing on sale for three dollars a throw, I could understand how (if I were a Year 11 school girl) I’d have begun hungrily digging through the bottom of my school bag, gathering change from my tuckshop visit in order to pick up a copy. You get this feeling throughout the show: it’s sexy, cutting, and brutal, and it’s made for the 21st Century Twilight obsessed kid.

Ophelia is seen texting on her mobile phone, the Gravedigger grabs a quick digital pic with Hamlet, letters and messages are sent over an odd Star Trek-like video system. In addition (and I promise I’ll get to the finer points of the actual performances in a moment) it would be hard to find a group of more beautiful actors without resorting to Photoshop. Berthold has assembled a sexy cast, and he knows it. Skin (and on one occasion, full frontal nudity) is shown without hesitation, often in pairing with the four or five rock-opera style contemporary songs.

Hamlet’s play, in particular, makes you feel like you’re at some kind of incestuous drunk dance concert, and I’m not totally certain that this isn’t exactly how Shakespeare would have liked it.

You can’t begin to truly look at the show without placing it in its larger context. Continue reading Review: Hamlet in the box ‘Ugly-beautiful’ La Boite Theatre

Theatre Will Eat Itself (Guest Contributor: Paul Osuch)

Did you know there was a get together of independent theatre Artistic Directors and General Managers last week at Flipside Circus? It was a bit of an old school invitation in … umm … email instead of Facebook but, nonetheless, it was sent around.

I went along because I had recently sent an email and Facebook message around asking people if there was a Brisbane Theatre Producers’ network I could tap into to talk to people about my current project, the Anywhere Theatre Festival. I received a number of responses about things that had happened in the past (and generally imploded). Then, completely unconnected, I received an email from Markwell Presents’ Stephen Maxwell about the event at Flipside Circus.

What happened at the event? Well, I’m not supposed to tell you, but we came up with a secret handshake, discussed how we would form a cartel that would limit any kind of funding going to any other company, and devised a strategy to steal everyone’s audiences.  Pity you weren’t there. Or, in reality, we had some lunchtime food and drink organised by Flipside Circus and Markwell Presents, had a chat to a mixture of people we had and hadn’t met before (or for a while) and then decided we should do this again on at least a quarterly basis.

The event got me thinking. In Brisbane theatre I think we are great at coming up with new ideas and starting new things. I think we are pretty shite at admitting someone else has come up with something great and joining in or simply sharing. It isn’t an original thought. You may argue it isn’t even an accurate thought. There are exceptions. However, after attending many forums, sessions run by visiting international artists, sessions run by funding bodies or festival organisers, I’d have to say it could be a reason why many of these events are woefully underattended. Or is it? Continue reading Theatre Will Eat Itself (Guest Contributor: Paul Osuch)

Letters from a voluntary exile: An alternative life …

Hello Greenroomers,

Something unusual happened to me this month; I got work as an actor!

Coming to a new city is daunting. One has to re-establish oneself without any of the support networks (or fewer and smaller ones anyway) that one had in the old city. I have to go out and network. I have two problems with this: I don’t know how to network, and I have no idea how I managed to get known back in Brisbane anyway. So it’s been a slow hard slog and the two gigs were very welcome.

My two acting jobs arrived on the one day, one via my agent, one via a friend (part of my smaller and fewer networks.) The first was a 50-worder on Working Dog’s next film, tentatively titled 25. I’m sure every actor has thought when auditioning for a 50-worder, ‘Oh, why don’t they just go with a photo? They know I can act from my CV or showreel. Surely all they are after is a look.’ Well, Working Dog have heard our thoughts, I gather, and I got the job without an audition. Constrained by a confidentiality agreement, I cannot say more than that, not that I can tell you much more. It was a pleasant afternoon’s work with a good crew.

Incidentally, I got paid for that job within three weeks – superhuman speed compared with my other experiences.

The other job, which I got after the film but did before the film, was at a corporate function for Opera Australia. IMB were celebrating some 25 years of sponsorship (or some such) and the theme for the evening was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I, along with my friend Gavin Ingham, played a magic tree. I was downstairs and Gavin upstairs in the cocktail area. Corporate gigs are good when the crowd is moving, or you are; three jokes are enough to get you through the entire two hours. Here were mine: There were little dancing girls as fairies being guides to the guests. I would indicate one and say “That fairy there, her name’s Nuff. Fairy nuff.” Or I would keep very still until the guests were close, then spring into life wave my branches and say, “Don’t worry, my bark is worse than my bite.” Or as they went up the wooden stairs, I would say, “Be careful on those stairs, that used to be my mate Trevor.” Thanks to Anika Vilé and Opera Australia for the work – all part and parcel of the life of an actor. One of the reasons I became an actor was to avoid doing the same thing every day, and here was that life come to … well, life.

Being an actor often means one leads a double life: day job, and real job or however you want to phrase it. And then, there’s the fear that one’s day job may become the real job. And then what do you do?

Being an actor often means one leads a double life: day job, and real job or however you want to phrase it. And then, there’s the fear that one’s day job may become the real job. And then what do you do? This thought occurred to me at my other job – the one currently keeping a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food on my table. I work for Metro Trains Melbourne, the private company that run the metropolitan trains in the city. They have only been on the job for less than a year. Metro Trains have improved the service, so far as I can tell, but there is still a long way to go. I could go on about public transport but that perhaps is for another time and site.

The bosses held a meeting to keep employees informed on where Metro is at, and where they hope to go – all very good and useful, and, dare I say it, inspiring. The men and women who gave presentations were from all over the world with long CVs and a clear passion for their work. Yes, a passion for public transport and trains. It was quite infectious. All of a sudden I was considering my alternative life. I could work my way up in Metro, from Leading Station Assistant to – well just about anything. There is a wide variety of jobs on offer, actual career paths, promotions, structured pay rises, holiday pay. Creativity has its place here too – even in my present entry level job. It’s also a job I don’t have to think about after-hours. I do my work at work and leave it there. This is also attractive.

I don’t have to rush off to job interviews (or auditions) at odd hours and in odd places, at short notice, wondering what the hell do they want this time, I don’t have to pay for photos or voice reels – on my to-do list for the next two expensive weeks. I could go to theatre just to enjoy it. So what keeps me going?

Till next time, gentle readers,
Love and mercy,

Nick

Incidentally, I have started to hate the word passion. A beautiful useful word in itself, it is often used to excuse rudeness, ignorance and anger. It is also a meaningless buzzword in many advertisements:

I have also noticed among some arty types a snobbery, with the odd belief that only artists have passion. What a limited world view! My brother, a pilot, has a passion for flying. My grandfather, an engineer, had a passion for mathematics. I could go on. Let us stop misusing ‘passion’ and give it back its dignity and power.

This post is part of a series by guest blogger Nick Backstrom, a Brisbane actor and writer who is now based in Melbourne.