Learning the Ropes with New Perspectives

This week, we have been joined by Lauren, who was with us for some work experience in the world of theatre. As this has been the week of the EP Company tour of This Place, she has done a spectacular job of helping out at each venue and during rehearsals, and learned a lot along the way! We asked her to write a blog about her experiences:

My name is Lauren, and this week I have been doing my work experience at New Perspectives. It has been an amazing week and I have learnt a lot about the theatre industry that will help me in the future.

Day One was spent at the office in Basford, where I was introduced to all the staff. I had the opportunity to watch the final technical rehearsal for this year’s Emerging Perspectives Company’s production of This Place. The show contained three original short plays, written and performed by emerging East Midlands talent. I found it really interesting to observe the rehearsal, and witness the technical aspect of putting together a production, and the decisions that have to be made.

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On Tuesday, I travelled with the company to the Bonington Theatre in Arnold. I helped to dress the set with Theresa, the Director, and was taught how to rig the stage lights by Alisia, one of the actors in This Place. It was fascinating to see the amount of work that went into setting up the stage and all of the equipment. As part of Emerging Perspectives, the actors were being taught about the technical side of theatre by Mandy, the Production Manager, so I learnt a lot about the whole process. I’ve always been interested in what happens backstage before the shows, and this gave me an insight into what working in theatre is really like.

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Wednesday took the company to The Old Library in Mansfield where, once again, I helped to set up the rails and props for the performance. Darrell, the Stage Manager, taught me a lot about the stage lights. I learnt about the three different types of lights (profile, Fresnel and par can) and how to focus them by altering the angle and direction, soft focus and hard focus, and then using the shutters (on a profile light) or by opening and closing the box (on a Fresnel light). However, on profile lights, you have to use the opposite shutter to whatever direction you want the lights adjusted. It was slightly tricky at first, mainly because I thought I was going to fall off the ladder, but once I knew what I was doing, I found it quite easy. In addition, I watched the full performance, which I thought was brilliant and thoroughly enjoyed! I liked how all the props were hanging from rails onstage, and I thought the use of space was really creative. The acting was also amazing. Seeing the entire process of arriving, setting up, technical checks and then the actual performance was a completely new experience for me, as normally when I go to the theatre, I never think about what has happened before the show starts.

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We went to St Peter’s Church in Thurgarton on Thursday, which provided the company with several challenges. The stage space inside the church was very small, so the set and lights had to be stripped back. The moving platform remained in the van, along with one of the rails and several stage lights. Theresa, Hope and the actors had to run through every scene change and make adjustments to the set and their entrances and exits, so that nobody clashed in the small stage area. I took part in the actor’s warm-up, which was very funny and bizarre, although nobody else batted an eyelid. Ryan’s warm-up was especially “interesting”. The church itself and surrounding landscape were beautiful, and provided a really nice atmosphere for the performance.

This was my favourite performance, as I have never witnessed a show in such a unique setting before. Watching the cast and crew adapt to such a space was also really interesting, and gave me an insight into the challenges involved with touring theatre. For instance, an unexpected performer made several surprise appearances in the form of the neighbour’s cat, who had managed to sneak into the building, and made several comical attempts to take centre stage. The actors continued despite the distraction, and showed no visible reaction to the incident, which I would have found very difficult.

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Overall, I have had a really fun, exciting experience. I’ve always been a huge fan of the theatre, and this experience has definitely made me want to pursue my passion in college and perhaps as a career. I have learnt so much and I feel like I’ve gained an understanding into a world I previously knew nothing about. All of the people I met were very lovely and welcoming, and I am very thankful to them for taking time out from their jobs to teach me about theatre. I’ve really enjoyed meeting everyone.

Thank you New Perspectives for the best work experience ever!

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Lauren Aitken, Year 10, Kirk Hallam Community Academy

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EP Session 3 – Hope Ward-Brown

The first element of New Perspectives’ ‘Emerging Perspectives’ company that excited me was the opportunity to draw on the experience of industry professionals and other emerging artists to challenge and further my own learning. Our last EP session exactly fulfilled this.script work

We began with a session with Jack McNamara, Artistic Director of New Perspectives. Despite this being the third EP Company session, being thrown into exercises and workshops has meant we know very little about each others backgrounds, only having time to ask “so what do you actually do?” gabbled between cups of tea and Tupperware lunches. Our session with Jack began with finding out about each other in the company; 6 performers, a producer, a musician and myself labelled ‘director’ (although that label must be applied very loosely at such an early stage in my own journey). We sound as if we’re about to board the ark. Jack also spoke to us about about a method he had learned early in his directing career from Katie Mitchell, and the 7 steps to take when approaching a scene. These 7 steps help to ground the piece in place, circumstance, change and characters before a company begins working more deeply in the text. Jack then spoke about the journey that New Perspectives has taken; emerging (no pun intended) from humble beginnings as a powerfully political and controversial theatre in education company in 1972, back in a generation when theatre in education had a political outcry, and spoke more of humanity than road safety. In recent times, as Jack took the helm of the company, he steered New Perspectives to produce “exciting challenging and engaging” work. And that’s what they were doing, literally under our feet.

Whilst we had been discussing the whistle-stop tour of New Perspectives over the last few decades, their latest production of Unforgettable by Tim Elgood was in rehearsal downstairs. Unforgettable tells the story of a brother and sister over their lifetimes, as they battle with the demands of caring for an ageing parent with dementia. We all piled into the rehearsal room to watch a working rehearsal with actors Lennox Greaves, Anna Lindup, Hayley Doherty and Adam Donaldson, directed by Theresa

Director Theresa Keogh works with Lennox Greaves and Anna Lindup in the rehearsal room.

Director Theresa Keogh works with Lennox Greaves and Anna Lindup in the rehearsal room.

Keogh. Aside from a handful of comments and questions from Theresa and the company, you could hardly tell they were mid-rehearsal. It was evident to us that the cast had clear foundations in character and circumstance to enable ownership of the text. This is all aided by Tim Elgood’s wonderfully fluid and conversational dialogue. As an aspiring director, I’m adapting and learning how to watch theatre with an eye of criticism and creativity. With this in mind, I considered how this could be a challenging piece in terms of structure within the scenes, being very dialogue-heavy and within the same setting. But Lennox and Anna moved effortlessly around the stage with natural ease and pace. I’m excited to see the finished production at Derby Guildhall and see its progression in our week of absence. After the open rehearsal we had a Q&A with writer Tim Elgood. It became evident that the ease of language I spoke of was a result of Tim basing Unforgettable on his own experience caring for his mother-in-law. He spoke about not wanting to make it an issue-based piece of theatre, despite its inherent topic being a highly topical issue. Rather, he wanted the piece to be fundamentally about the relationships between the siblings and the effects the ‘issue’ had upon them. This reminded me of the time we’d spent with Jack earlier in the day, discussing New Perspectives’ roots in theatre in education. I considered whether theatre is always issue-based, by its very nature? And is it purely the way in which we tell the story that differentiates the style? We finished the day taking an extract of Unforgettable and working out how we would approach the scene. I was astounded as to how quickly the piecHopee leapt off the page; thus is the strength of the text. Even on first reading the text feels human. We made quick decisions using the system that Jack had explained to us earlier, to put it into practice. The more action choices and decisions made by myself alongside the actors, the more strength and power the piece had. Making choices made the scene easier to read from the eyes of the audience. I look forward to being the eager-eyed audience when the plays goes into production.

To keep up to date with the Emerging Company you can follow me on Twitter @hopewardbrown.

Hope Ward-Brown

The Snowball Effect – Week 2 of EP Company

Week Two of our Emerging Perspectives journey, and where the 1st session set the bar, packed with inspirational wonder, the 2nd refused to fall short of this standard.

We started our day with an array of activities, making sure we were stimulated both intellectually and physically (boy, were some parts physical!).

Question:

If a stage is empty, is anything happening in that scene?

If a stage is empty and you add a chair, what is that chair saying?

If a stage is empty and numerous chairs are added, all in different positions, angles, and groupings, what is happening in that scene?

Answer…Everything!

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In what some may assume to be a very simple task, placing chairs one by one in to the space, in no particular order, we realised that a story can be told even through inanimate objects. Similarly, we questioned whether power, or the lack of, can be displayed without movement or sound, simply by where or how someone is standing on stage. For me these activities were very interesting; having previously done work which involved the use of silence and stillness, I have come to love these ‘techniques’ and feel that in some cases these moments can be the most powerful. Like most actors, I have always been taught that for as long as you are on stage, you are in character. Whether you are centre stage, reciting a monologue or sitting on a sofa, reading the TV guide whilst someone else is reciting a monologue, you are in character. Despite being the person with no lines sitting on a sofa and reading the TV guide you could still capture the audience, by being that character. As well as a new appreciation of the staging of a scene, this fundamental rule of acting was echoed for me during these activities.

For someone who has a near addiction to all the wrong things to eat and who has forsaken the gym on more than one occasion due to impatience and frustration, it came as no surprise that I worked up a bit of a sweat during our more physical activities. One in particular stood out for me, rivalling one of my all-time favourites. The only equipment: a handful of creative souls, each armed with a two pence coin… The aim of the game was simple, keep your 2p on the top of your hand – do not allow anyone else to do the same! Slowly but surely, our numbers diminished until only two combatants remained. One of my fellow Emerging Perspectives compared this stand off to fencing and although I have never had the good fortune to try it, drawing from only Hollywood-esque images, I can see the resemblance. Again, this was a simple activity that could be considered as just a ‘warm up’, something to get everyone moving. Nevertheless, I can’t help but see something more in this: yes I was moving, yes I was indeed very warm and yes I may have felt a tightness of chest afterwards but regardless of all this, to watch this display, in its own way, is performance. The movement itself was a type of physical theatre or dance. The unified effect achieved by all members of the group working together, a version of ensemble. The almost rehearsed interaction between the final two, in close quarters, back and forth, the attack, the defence, the riposte (fencing terminology, thank you Google). How do I define this movement? It is the epic fight scene, the moment the hero/heroine seems to be against unbeatable odds, the point where she is about to realise she loves him, the moment just before they win the championship, the peak of tension, still, unmistakably performative.

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The second half of our day brought to the forefront of our minds a crucial part of our time together (cue shocking sound effect): the scripts. Admittedly this filled me with a slight sense of dread, not because I was worried about the scripts or what the stories were going to be, nor the quality of them, but because I am very poor at reading something for the first time, especially in a group! Alas, onwards, we read the first, discussed slightly, read the second, more light discussion, then the third and final piece. Given I had no preconceptions of what they would turn out to be, or whether I would even enjoy them, I found myself enjoying all of the stories immensely, but especially certain aspects of each one, each for a different reason.

The first I enjoyed very much, feeling a great sense of connection to it. Certain lines within it I could hear being said by people in my own life, past and present, as if sitting amongst us, leaving me unable to avoid slightly smirking to myself.

The second I couldn’t help but enjoy, due to my sheer excitement of seeing this production off the page, plus a marvellous and rather ‘foxy’ reading by one of my comrades! The imagery this piece creates is so rich; the performer inside of me was salivating.

The third gave me so many images, colours, tastes. Images of rows of houses I had once seen, but had long since forgotten. Images of tea time at my Grandmother’s house, a place I loved visiting as a child, looking forward to this time of day, cold cuts, cheese, homemade scones, with a pot of fresh loose leaf tea.

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Safe to say I am growing increasingly excited about what each session will bring: the anticipation of the rollercoaster to come. Much like the snowball effect, I feel we will progress, gaining momentum, tackling any obstacle with ease, reaching the end of this journey, fully Emerged.

Kyle Futers

‘I am here. This is me, and I am fine.’ Masterclass with Alan Lyddiard

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‘I am here. This is me, and I am fine.’ That phrase is so simple to say, but it can be very hard to truly accept. At the age of 22 I’ve had my fair share of self-doubt, both about general day-to-day things and the rocky career path that is acting: I dance with the grace of a new-born giraffe, I’m terrible at money management, and I do daily exercises to suppress a lisp that could very well stand in the way of me getting work. Despite all this, however, it is my love for theatre that keeps me battling on and searching for ways to improve my skills and my knowledge.

It was only through a stroke of luck that I stumbled across the opportunity to apply for the Emerging Perspectives Company, but I couldn’t be more pleased that I did. After just one session it’s clear that it’s going to be a lot of fun working with the group – all of us like-minded theatre lovers with the drive to get the most out of this experience that we possibly can (and to put the most in to it).

What a first session it was, too! We were introduced to Alan Lyddiard – ensemble director and industry veteran. Having worked with intimate ensemble groups, huge, 500-man, city-wide community arts initiatives, and Lev Dodin of the Saint Petersburg Maly Drama Theatre, I have to say it was an intimidating experience entering the rehearsal room. I needn’t have worried, though; right away, even before sharing names, Alan familiarised us with his core philosophy – ‘I am here. This is me, and I am fine.’ Flaws and all, we need to accept ourselves as a whole in order to work effectively in rehearsals.

In order to achieve this, we were repeatedly put through a long-winded exercise of meditation and control – something of an endurance test for our concentration that ultimately paid off wonderfully. Beginning sitting on a row of chairs, comfortably resting against the back, feet hip-width apart and parallel, hands laid on our legs, we closed our eyes. Slowly, but thoroughly, we were to imagine a line travelling all the way up our body, connecting to key areas on its path. From the feet to the knees, then the hips, taking a moment to ensure the line was straight, the hips were firmly planted and our upper body wasn’t at all tense. Leaving the hips, it ascended to the belly and began to link itself to our breathing. From there the line rose to the solar plexus, then the heart, the throat, the space behind the eyes, ending out the top of our heads.

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To someone who hasn’t tried any meditative exercises before it can understandably all seem a bit farfetched, but as this imaginary line travelled up through these key points in the body I really did feel a physical change. I’ve done similar exercises to this before where you focus the mind on travelling through the body to consciously check on each individual part, mainly to relax muscles and prepare for rehearsal. The visualisation of the line in Alan’s version helped no end, though; it’s remarkable how focusing on its rising path gradually opens up the lungs and frees the breath, consequently giving greater control over movement.

Following this meditative stage, we opened our eyes and slowly carried out a series of motions: stand up; walk forward into the open space; pause; turn around and consider the chair; realise you would rather be back there and walk back; stop in front of the chair and look at it; turn back around, changing your mind yet again, confidently; walk back into the space; stop yet again and stare at your hand as it rises to eye level, then drops; say, simply ‘I remember’ or ‘I wish’.

In a list such as this, the sequence holds little meaning, but during the movement straight after our meditation it was difficult not to apply some kind of meaning. Alan pointed out the challenge that lies in striking the balance between overacting and wasting an opportunity. Perhaps the judgement of whether a performer succeeds in this challenge or not is the joint responsibility of the performer themselves and their audience; we certainly found so. I was one of a few who had the opportunity to step back and watch the rest of the group carry out the entire sequence. What I, and others who also watched, noticed was that we as an audience created our own stories to make sense of what we saw. Two people operating completely separately would appear as a synchronised couple; another would stand out as a leader due to nothing more than proceeding through the sequence ahead of others, and so on.Alan Lyddiard Photo 5

Alan has carried out this exercise with his own ensemble group every day for ten years. As the Emerging Perspectives Company we only did it for perhaps an hour (not counting its use in later activities) and already I could see the benefits it has in terms of both self and group awareness. Overall that is one of the most important parts of ensemble theatre – being conscious not only of your every move, but how your movement has an effect on the onstage image at any given time.

As a company we will need to maintain this awareness and slowly discover what our own identity is in order to work together at our best. I’m already more than confident that we’ll find success in this, not to mention very excited. We’ve all brought our own individual experiences and problems here with us, but the point is we are here now. This is us, and with any luck – and more excellent guidance from others like Alan – we’ll be just fine.simon butler

Simon Butler

For all the information about the Emerging Perspectives Company and our upcoming Masterclasses, visit our website HERE.