STEP UP Creatives Ensemble: Directing Workshop

The morning session focused on directing and approaching a text and was run by Chris Hallam, both an experienced actor and director. The work started before the session even began as we were sent tasks the week before. It’s the most I’ve enjoyed homework since food tech and I dedicatedly practised – and by practising I mean eating cheesecake.

Chris Hallam (front) in Those Magnificent Men

We were sent the Harold Pinter sketch ‘Night’ to look at which became the focus of the session. I don’t want to overhype the workshop but it was, to put it mildly…brilliant! So if you’re kicking yourself that you weren’t there (and please don’t as it’s even more hopelessly heartbreaking than when my dog tries to catch his own tail) let me give you a rundown of some of these key tools for approaching a text.

Parameters

We learned that this is a great starting block for approaching and discussing a text. The three parameters are time, location and characters. In the instance of time we discussed how different the sketch and mood would be when set at, for example, 9pm, 11pm or 3am and how the year it was written -1969 – would affect the piece – no television, the couples courtship would have been post or during WWII? Where was it set – inside or outside? In the country or the city? Often there were no definitive answers but it immediately became clear that all of these choices affected the text and that the text affected all of the choices.  By continually exploring Pinter’s piece we were able to find new and exciting choices.

Uniting

This is simply splitting a play into manageable units. Not only was this helpful for the Night sketch but as Chris explained even more useful when approaching a play. Most interestingly these units do not have to be based upon narrative but could be based on moods or emotions or whichever way you want to approach the text.

 Character motivation

When looking at and exploring a character Chris explained that there are three key things:

  • Objective – What the character wants
  • Action – What they do to get their want
  • Obstacle – What is stopping them

There are three potential objectives for a character: what they want in a scene, what they want in the play (also called the through line) and what they want from life. For this to be effective there should be only one objective at work at a time for a character, however their objective can shift and alter in a scene. So first we need to know what our character wants, and secondly why? In other words the objective of our character has to be loaded – there needs to be an emotion there that is driving them.

Chris then set a drama exercise that demonstrated these things in action – objective, action, obstacle. The exercised focused on two of the ensemble; Jen and Chris. Chris was set the objective of getting a (sadly imaginary) lemon drizzle cake from Jen using actions such as lying, persuasion, flattery.  Jen was the obstacle to Chris’s objective as her objective was to keep the cake for herself. These three simple things – objective, obstacle and action quickly created drama and in turn showed how important the three are when approaching a text.

Our last task of the session was to split into groups and return to the Night sketch. Our aim was to find an objective of the two characters in the play (named Man and Woman) and what was driving this objective. A really helpful moment came when Tilly suggested that the two actors acted out a scene by only saying what was driving them. In our case the man’s drive was ‘I need you to desire me’ while the woman’s was ‘I need to know you desire me’. There was only a subtle difference between the two characters wants and this exercise really helped to solidify those differences between them. It also helped us to realise what  the ultimate driving force was for them – for example we realised that the Woman was afraid of being alone.

Throughout the session Chris was continually showing us that rather than limiting us, a great script can open up new approaches – I can’t wait to see the winning scripts for our performance!

Theresa Keogh, STEP UP Creatives Ensemble 2012 / 13

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