STEP UP Creatives ensemble: Becci Hooper (performer)

This week we were mostly looking at…Devising.

Becci Hooper

I walked into the rehearsal space today and was delighted to see quotes on the wall from the winning DREAM UP scripts that we’ll be performing in our show in the summer, weird and wonderful objects dotted around the room and the smiley eager faces of my fellow Step-Uppers. My first thoughts were …today is going to be FUN!

We started this week’s session with a lovely relaxing warm up – Matt took us through Alexander technique – we specifically focused on breathing and relaxation exercises to focus on our bodies and free us of the tensions of everyday life so that they wouldn’t be evident in our performance. With the risk of sounding like a lovey, the exercise finished and the room was filled with a rather spiritual atmosphere of focus and calm.

Feeling rather floaty we moved onto a vocal warm up in which we worked on our breathing, resonance, opening up of the voice and articulation. Once we had finished yawning, stretching our faces, licking our noses, eating imaginary pieces of toffee and repeating our tatatatatatata’s, we were speaking with our entire bodies and were ready to embark on a creative journey through the wonderful world of devising.

After playing some quick warm up games, we all went for a walk around the space (as us performers so often do).  Every time Tilly clicked her castanet (she only had 1) we froze on the spot, looked in a different direction and then walked in the direction that we were looking. If (when we looked in another direction) we managed to catch the eye of a fellow cast member, we froze in our position maintaining eye contact and our position. The group then went on to inspect the scene presented before them creating a narrative for the two characters, deciding on status and the what, where, when, why’s and who’s of the scene. The two cast members frozen on the spot would then be asked to improvise the scene, instantly creating a mini scene from nothing – this was a brilliant devising task (used by Complicite). It allowed us to create short bursts of theatre from nothing in minutes!

After that, we went speed dating, yes that’s right, speed dating! This was very entertaining; each of us had to start our “date” with one of the lines displayed on the wall (which were quotes from the winning scripts). This was hilarious and some interesting characters were developed as a result of using the lines. One of my dates started with “say something profound” – you can imagine how well that went down. Other lines included “I’m so angry” and  “I killed a tadpole once”.  All I need to say is that there were some very interesting dates and some brilliant acting in action, at one point I genuinely blushed when Subika’s smooth operator character came onto me…EEK! She plays a brilliant suave man! An interesting task for exploring lines of the text.

It was at this point that we decided to put all of our ideas and devising techniques into a hat – a rather posh red top hat to be precise (us creatives always have to be different eh?!).

The first exercise to be randomly selected out of the hat was called – dull text. We got in a circle and two actors were sent to the middle of the circle and given some dull text – the task was to give the actors ideas of how to perform the dull text, we played with status, characters, speed and from one bit of boring text we made a million different scenes (ok not a million but a lot). This task taught us that an actor can apply and create so many different feelings, meanings, contexts with one piece of dull text – I look forward to using this task to help us to experiment and play when working on the scripts.

Believe it or not we did all of this before lunch! THERE’S MORE??!! I hear you say with excitement.

By far the most amazing part of the day (for me) was the durational improvisation that we did, a devising technique used by The Paper Birds. After lunch we stood outside the space and prepared ourselves for a marathon of improv, we were embarking on a 30 minute durational and there were RULES.

NB. Improvisational theatre is performing without preparation – when improvising performers might respond to text, image, and stimuli and might create narrative, movement, dialogue and context.  A durational improvisation is an improvisation which is extended over a longer period of time.

RULES

  • NO BEATING EACH OTHER (because we so often do)
  • NO BREAKING STUFF (again because we so often do)
  • We had to do something as an ensemble at one point
  • Engage with another cast member at one point
  • Use a creativity card at some point (The cards detailed possible ideas and actions like ‘focus on the bigger picture’ and ‘find your inner Lady Macbeth’.
  • Say a line from the wall at some point (lines from the DREAM UP scripts)
  • Use an object at some point
  • This is a performance

This was 30 minutes of sheer joy; we all played, experimented, shouted and taped each other up. We were kings, fairies, control freaks and maniacs. We put bubbles in a box, granted wishes and embodied a multitude of characters. The point of the durational was that it took us out of our comfort zone, often we improvise for a short period of time but when we extend the improvisation we as performers often become more creative and the improvised content becomes more interesting.

This was one of my most magical theatrical experiences because somehow it was a comfortable, trusting and creative atmosphere, everybody let go and nobody said NO, it was spontaneous and some beautiful moments were created – there was a particularly wonderful moment at the end of the durational where the entire ensemble stood in a line and danced – this made me feel emotional, we had finally become an ensemble, we were at one, a team. Ok, you get the picture…

This was particularly interesting for me because I found that during the improvisation a lot of different aspects of my own character came out – I was particularly surprised to see myself behaving rather rebelliously and ruining Beth’s plans to try and keep the room tidy. When we finished the improv we looked at this relationship that had developed and developed it further by replaying the events and editing and directing the scene – this was a great way to see how you might pick out the best bits and create a piece of theatre from the initial spontaneous action.

Devising day - rehearsal room

Another weird and wonderful task that we did included a text message game – three actors were given the task of improvising on stage whilst the rest of the cast shouted out text messages that they were receiving in the scene – This was fun! The scene consisted of some interesting characters, a lovesick boy, a compulsive liar, a stalker and a man called Mr Tickles. Need I say more? This was fun and again it helped us create some interesting ideas for characters and narrative.

Later, we did another task which was inspired by Forced Entertainment –six performers sat on chairs on stage and on each chair Matt placed a piece of paper with an instruction. e.g. sing, speak in a different accent, you have hurt your leg etc. During the improv we heard some pretty dodgy accents, people were in a lot of pain and we saw disagreements and hilarious comedy moments. I personally found it absolutely hilarious when Selina copied my every move – as an audience member this was totally creepy!

By the end of the day I was feeling emotional (I am sorry – this is the only word I can use…and yes…I am a woman). I felt like the ensemble had been on a journey in which we had shared, trusted and played together in absolute harmony – today’s session was exciting, inspiring, invigorating, refreshing and they are all on the ings I can think of right now.

I can’t WAIT to see the performance that we come up with!

Follow Becci on twitter: @becci_hooper – or the whole STEP UP Creatives training ensemble in one handy list.

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