STEP UP Creatives Ensemble 2013: Devising and Voice Workshops

After some general housekeeping, during which time someone stuck his hand in the air volunteering to write what you’re reading now, it was time to crack on with the latest STEP UP Creatives Ensemble session. This week: a morning of Devising exercises and an afternoon workshop with Ben Spiller from 1623 Theatre Company focusing on Voice.

Devising Workshop

Admittedly, Devising is not something I’ve done a lot of since A-level Drama. Since then I’m worried I might have sleep-walked into assuming that a brilliant yet penniless writer, dimly lit and surrounded by mountains of paper and typewriter ink, must feature when creating a new piece of theatre. This is quite clearly wrong.

We started with some improvisation. Two or three people at a bus stop, a situation bland enough to force the actors / improvisers to make something “happen” yet lending itself nicely to the possibility of pretty much anything happening. We were each given a song lyric or tow on a piece of paper to somehow incorporate into the scene – with mixed results. Suddenly the bus stop became more akin to a group therapy session with poetic musings about love and loss, to be swiftly transformed into a centre of philosophical debate on linguistics as a coping mechanism for the death of a beloved cat. The bus never arrived.

Devising Workshop

Moving onto a more physical activity, we each had to pick three ways of interacting with a chair (out of the 50+ we were almost militantly forced to create, necessitating increasingly creative ways of sitting on a chair). These three moves were individually numbered and, as a group, we were directed to display each one at different times, at different speeds, and with different emotions, in order to create something interesting to watch. Each of us took a turn “directing” the rest of the Ensemble, garnering some good results. I, for one, was incredibly thankful to be “directed” to remove my chair from the sequences, as it was proving difficult holding it aloft for long periods of time.

Devising Workshop

The final part of the morning was the exercise of free-writing. This comprises of having a stimulus and then allowing yourself the freedom to simply and fluidly write. For an example of this consider what you’re reading now. It has all been free-writing, using the stimulus of Sunday’s session. Hopefully this can explain away any ridiculously long sentences, poor grammar, or just generally bad writing. But this is exactly what free-writing generates: some bad parts which it is best to discard but also an honest and uncensored stream of consciousness which can surely lead to something good as a result. It was incredible to see how different two people’s written responses to the same stimulus could be, leaving us with a real contrast and sense of variety.

Voice Workshop

After a rushed lunch it was back in the studio for our Voice workshop with Ben. Breathing was the first port of call, often a priority admittedly but this was a more focused and controlled take on the familiar activity. Breathing slowly is actually pretty tough at first. But after a few failed attempts I managed to use my lungs to their full(ish) potential and was averaging about two and a half breathes a minute (free-writing had to take a brief pause there for some quick maths).

Voice Workshop

To round the afternoon off there was a series of exercises exploring the use of vowel sounds in the expression of emotion. The emotion behind each word spoken is to be found in the vowels; cue a highly dramatic and engaging improv scene with no words but surprisingly informative vowel-based noises. It also became obvious how difficult it was to isolate and maintain a particular emotional sound for a prolonged period of time – as demonstrated by one of the most entertaining yet cost-effective toys you could ever encounter – a voice orchestra!

In conclusion, yet another highly educational and enjoyable session with the STEP UP Creatives Ensemble. That feels like an odd and abrupt place to stop this blog – but – in the true spirit of free-writing I really don’t have much say in the matter. Looking forward to the next meeting!

Sam Warren, STEP UP Creatives Ensemble 2013

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