Those things do best please me

Throughout the writing of this blog I have been so fortunate that my colleagues in the team have added their own contributions.  This has made it a real group effort in the spirit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. Thus they have written whole articles, contributed reports of trips to other groups, supplied photographs and oral reminiscences and generally offered their support to what has turned out to be quite a mammoth undertaking – as well, of course, as lending their huge talents to appearing in the production. My thanks then go to Maria, Adam, Al, David, Tom and Peta for their invaluable contributions and their companionship on this theatrical adventure.

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Composite of photos by Topher McGrillis (RSC)

As one last piece of collaboration I asked the others to nominate for me their best time, experience or moment in working on the Dream2016. There was an element of the “reality show” format to the beginning of this project so it only seems fitting that before the credits role we focus on the participant’s “best bits”. I am sure they found making a single selection as much of a challenge as I did simply because there were so many bits of magic to choose from. However, here, in their own words, are their choices and, indeed, mine. 

Adam (Flute/Thisbe)

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Tower Team and professionals at the first read through

For me one of the most defining and best moments was very early on when the six of us London amateurs read through the Mechanicals’ scenes in the script, with the professionals, for the first time. We were all sat around the rehearsal room in Clapham and we’d only just met the professionals a few minutes earlier. We felt a pressure, applied by ourselves, to make sure we did ourselves justice. We gave it some energy and performance and the professionals, cast and crew alike, laughed and congratulated us heartily for our efforts. For me it was the first time we knew this whole project would work and we would be able to work well with these excellent actors. It really gave us a great springboard into the rehearsal process.

 

 

 Al (Snout/Wall)

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Al records his speech as Claudio

Writing from Italy where I happen to be at the moment, I have been thinking about Shakespeare’s imaginative world in this country and how the Dream does not form part of it! The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado, Romeo and Juliet and so many other plays have such a strong sense of being set here, but the Dream feels like England, and Warwickshire in particular. The references to Athens have always felt nominal to me, and the Mechanicals are a unique group of ordinary people who get drawn into those other worlds of illusion and Realpolitik in the play. With regard to Dream 2016, one of the many things I shall not forget is recording the speeches we did for preliminary Task 1. I had been allocated Claudio from Measure For Measure but because I was recovering from pneumonia when I recorded it I was late sending it in! I was relieved when David said he liked it and that it would do. We talked about why we had been given the particular speeches we each had, which led to some interesting speculation. I seem to recall that Erica talked about this at some point, and she may have referred to what I feel myself, namely that it is good for someone playing a grounded character like Snout to explore the terrors of the imagination and this mortal coil, and that brings us neatly back to the world of the Dream!

 

David (Amateur Group Director)

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The first run through (Sue Downing from the Nonentities stood in for Maria)

The first read through was special. We had a head start of course having prepared two of the scenes and run through the others several times, but I felt proud of the Tower team at that point. Then we got the first run through in Clapham. We were lucky being the London team and therefore able to step into the Mechanicals shoes, but again it showed that the work we had done for ourselves and with the RSC production team had “the play fitted”. But most of all I think it is an overall impression and remembrance that at every stage, from whoever it was, there was a friendly atmosphere and we were welcome and included. Without exception, during rehearsal in Clapham, at the Barbican and in Stratford we were never made to feel less than full partners in an amazing adventure.

 

Maria (Quince)

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Maria delivers the first prologue   Photo by Topher McGrillis (RSC)

My Dream 16 experience was wonderful. The reason I wanted to be involved was chiefly for the opportunity to work with a production team at the very highest level, from directors to vocal and movement coaches to  an award winning stage management team, to a wonderful professional cast and I just loved it.  If there is one thing I am personally most proud of, it is being able to say that I nailed that first Quince monologue “If we offend…”. That monologue haunted and terrified me for a whole year! I tried it every way I could think of and it just didn’t work to my satisfaction. Trying to demonstrate a piece of Shakespeare which is punctuated in such a way that it becomes a nonsense is really hard! We got to the last few days before the performance at the Barbican and I still hadn’t got there. However, with the brilliant direction of AD Kimberley Sykes, it all suddenly clicked and for the first time I properly got it! On our opening night at the Barbican, where an enormous surge of adrenaline was palpably pulsing throughout the entire cast, I flew onto that stage and delivered the speech to the audience with a clarity I had never felt before and in return, the audience applauded. I’m told for that speech, that is a pretty good result!!

 

Peta (Snug/Lion)

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Peta  in the RST space

For me a magical moment while at Stratford was the final workshop with Michael Corbidge (Senior Voice and Text Coach)) and Polly Bennett (Deputy Movement Director), which suddenly seemed to “unlock” the RST space for me. Such as having the courage to do things in a thrust space that would seem completely counter-intuitive on proscenium stage; for example, turning outwards instead of inwards and learning to communicate with EVERY seat in the audience. It energised me and made the Stratford performances even more memorable than the London ones.

 

Tom (Starveling/Moonshine)

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Tom as Moonshine with “lanthorn, dog and bush of thorn”

To paraphrase Shakespeare – “we were such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”  And the dreams will remain. It is the small things I remember most fondly. The friendliness of rehearsals and the drink and talk afterwards – especially at David’s; our first meeting with the professional cast and their continuing warmth, encouragement and cheerfulness; the delight the schoolchildren seemed to have absorbed and then radiated in their performances; the woman in Stratford who approached me to ask if I was the Man in the Moon; meeting the casts from the other companies and being introduced by Erica to Greg Doran at the splendid farewell party. We have been involved with the Dream for over a year and no other play remains with me as this one will. I can retire from the stage happy.

 

Me (Bottom/Pyramus)

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The Bergomask (don’t look too closely, it isn’t actually us)

I had a real breakthrough moment when I finally mastered the Bergomask dance at the end of the play. Dancing on stage (or at least as I have tended to think of it “co-ordinated” movement) has always been my bête noire and over the years I’ve talked myself into a position where I think it’s going to be a disaster before I’ve even started. Even David’s patience and Adam’s cheerful optimism wasn’t keeping my efforts afloat (I always found it distinctly ironic that my character was all for the dance and Adam’s wasn’t when in reality it was completely the reverse).  It was when I visited one of the school rehearsals with Miles, a brilliant RSC Education consultant, and saw how joyous and free the children were with it that made me determined to conquer it; if they could do it, then so could I. I repeatedly ran the training video supplied by the RSC and found that I knew it backwards at home. But as soon as I got it into the rehearsal room the cracks reappeared. Then once in a session with assistant movement director Polly Bennett we were encouraged to go for it and enjoy it even if we went wrong. That’s when I realised that to an audience it’s not so much about hands and feet as what’s going on above the neckline. After that my demons quickly dropped away and by the end of the run I was positively looking forward to that climactic joyous moment. Whoo!

There are so many other outstanding moments and wonderful memories that we will treasure from being involved in Dream2016. We have met the most incredibly kind, talented and generous people, from the cast, creatives and crew and the other amateur groups. We have made friendships which we plan to continue far beyond this project and we have learned what it is to be directed by a wonderful group of women at the very top of their game and who have helped us to recognise our potential as performers. We can’t thank Erica Wyman and everyone at the RSC enough for giving the Tower Theatre Dreamteam the opportunity to be involved in the most thrilling theatrical experience of our lives. We will never forget a single one of you and we love you all to bits!!!!

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Our three brilliant directors – Sophie, Kim and Erica

So, just one more blog post (probably) left to round out this extraordinary undertaking. Join me soon.


The Dream is now over. To find out more about the 14 amateur companies which took part, click on the side bar to access the page on each location.

Those things do best please me

All For Your Delight, Part 1

A picture is said to paint a thousand words…OMG cliché alert! However clichés, by their very nature, contain grains of truth and so it is in this case. There have been scores of photos taken by the participating  amateurs up and down the country commemorating and celebrating A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. And Tower Theatre is no exception. So here’s Part One of our story told in pictures which can be enjoyed for its own sake or as a substitute for reading the reams of words I’ve already written on the subject. Hopefully, of course, you’ll have a go at both. This section covers the application and audtion process, the preparatory tasks and workshops and throws in a little bit of Xmass for good measure.

Barbican onstage photo by Topher McGrillis RSC and Task 2 photos by Ruth Anthony

To follow the written story of the first part of our theatrical adventure, start reading here


The Dream is now over. To find out more about the 14 amateur companies which took part, click on the side bar to access the page on each location.

All For Your Delight, Part 1

Never anything can be amiss

If the various reviews which have emerged as A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation has toured the country are to be believed (and I think they should) the production has been a resounding hit. National and local critics, online bloggers and contributors to discussion boards and social media have been almost universally positive in their praise for the show (a digest of comments about Tower Theatre’s contribution can be found here). Ticket sales have also been strong suggesting a high level of satisfaction amongst the theatre going population. However, a number of blogs/articles have raised some question marks about the project and whether amateurs should or shouldn’t encroach on traditionally professional territory. As the final month of performances is now taking place this would seem to be an appropriate moment to address this point and the question of whether the experiment was a success and should ever be repeated.

Guardian blog

The highest profile commentator has probably been Michael Billington, a critic for whom I have the greatest respect. In his regular blog in The Guardian (and based on his viewing of the production in London) he gave the amateur cast a very positive review but raised the question of whether the project is or should be repeatable. He reaches the conclusion that it should remain as a one off:

If I argue that amateur and pro should generally be kept separate, it is because I respect the craft of both. Professional acting, as we all know, is a precarious business with a high unemployment rate… The RSC Midsummer Night’s Dream is a special case in which an honourable attempt has been made to create “a play for the nation”. It should be enjoyed as a one-off, but not become a template for future occasions. In hard times, we need to protect the status of the dedicated professional.

I have to say I find this argument a little disingenuous. The logical conclusion would be that in any given field only those specifically trained and dedicated to a professional standard should attempt anything. Really? By extension that would mean any actor struggling to find work should not accept a position as a part time tutor or waiter or call centre operator, etc because a) they’ve probably not trained for it and b) they certainly won’t be as dedicated as they would be to acting; that would clearly be both untenable and ridiculous. And who is to say that an amateur cannot make just as good a job of something as the “dedicated professional”? If I want a celebration cake and I know and can trust a good amateur baker, why would I necessarily go to a professional?

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A similar argument has also been raised in a piece in The Stage in which anonymised professionals (not quite sure why they need to be so) were asked their opinion on mixing the worlds of pro and am.  Would you let an amateur plumber mend your sink? muses “Albert”; well, yes I might very well given that the context and circumstances were conducive. It is also not the case that allowing an amateur actor to appear on the professional stage is going to threaten someone’s health, safety, life span or possessions and so comparing them to (for instance) plumbers, dentists or lawyers is not really helpful. To be fair some of Albert’s fellow professionals take a rather broader view:

I think it’s great to use community and amateur casts. Not threatening at all… I have massive respect for them and for the role theatre can play in the community. (“Jenny”)

Totally inspires me. I have worked on a few community-based projects and it definitely encourages authenticity and originality, especially in new work. (“Tina”)

However, as these are Jenny and Tina’s only reported remarks in the article their positive slant is somewhat overbalanced and a rather more pessimistic view prevails. There is particular opprobrium reserved for producers who take this route to economise:

You Me Bum Bum Train and Secret Cinema – both dubious in the extreme as to their using actors and not paying proper rates. Or even anything. (“Albert”)

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The thing is, A Play For The Nation was anything but a rentacrowd or a gimmick led approach. No Andrew Lloyd Weber talent show casting here! (Interesting that Gary Barlow has just announced a resurgence of the format for finding a new Fake (sorry, Take) That) From the get go, the amateurs involved were respected and treated as an integral part of the whole RSC production, not some media generating bolt on. Lyn Gardner in another, earlier, Guardian blog summed up this position:

Without the involvement of non-professional actors, the RSC’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream simply wouldn’t have happened. Community involvement was at the very heart of the project. It’s a very different case from a theatre simply deciding that it will use amateur actors because they can save money on the wages bill.

Agreed. And I think there are other subtler ways of cutting down on the bills. I have absolutely no idea what the budget for A Play For The Nation has been – I can only imagine. Despite that I have seen little by way of cheese paring. We have had phenomenal coaching from the likes of Michael Corbidge and Sian Williams, directing from the Deputy Head of the RSC and her talented team, a full and generous complement of highly skilled backstage and organisational staff and unbounded support from the professionals in the cast. Neither have their numbers been skimped on as a result of using amateurs. There are 26 adult performers in each show (18 professionals plus the 6 amateur Mechanicals). Interestingly there are only 14 all told in the current Globe production and a mere 7 in the production at Southwark Playhouse (see here) – indeed in the latter case the paucity of performers is the key selling point of the show. Aside from this the RSC has enhanced prospects for workers in the regions through touring the show to a number of locations. Far from taking away professional earning potential I don’t think that it’s going too far to say that much work has been provided through this particular project.

Christopher Haydon
Christopher Haydon

Christopher Haydon, artistic director of the Gate Theatre, in a blog piece rebuffing some of Michael Billington’s arguments goes further. He contends that rather than the project undermining the work of those fully paid members of the company, it acted as a clear demonstration of how great art does not have any boundaries – a seasoned pro, or a teacher from Hackney, can both find pathos, humanity and truth in the words they are speaking.

 

Puck
Lucy Ellinson

He then goes on to quote our very own Puck – Lucy Ellinson – who generously says:
I’ve learnt a lot from my amateur colleagues (the collaboration has been) “an important reaffirmation for me that when we tour the country with our work we’re not simply offering the local community something – we are making each and every performance with them.

 

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Lucy, and I  think I can confidently say that, reciprocally, we have learned a phenomenal amount of stagecraft from our wonderful pros and that this will undoubtedly inspire us in our ongoing work within our local communities.

Indeed a learning experience is certainly what it has been right from day one. Susan Elkin, The Stage’s Education and Training Editor has stated:

The whole concept is one of the most inspired celebratory training initiatives I’ve ever encountered – as well as producing a glitteringly good evening’s theatre.

In her article she roundly calls on the powers that be to deliver a repeat of the project every year; well I’m game!

So was it worth doing? An unqualified yes. It has touched the lives of so many people amateur and professional, young and not so young, actors and audience alike that I think it will be fondly remembered as a trail blazer for many years to come. Should it be repeated? If the end results are going to be so joyous, life enhancing and affirmative it would be criminal not to do so. I’ll leave the final summation to Erica Whyman:

It is a project on an almost unimaginable scale, but it is also a very simple idea: to make a new production of a great play in partnership with good colleagues. If it works it will strengthen those bonds and make visible a truly national passion for making theatre.

It most certainly did, Erica, and it most certainly has!

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Graham Fewell (who visited all versions during the tour) presents Erica with a poster signed by the amateurs

The production is now back in Stratford upon Avon. Click on the image below for details

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Never anything can be amiss

The true beginning of our end

“Hello. I don’t know if you remember but we met at the BBC Shakespeare launch”. The first person I set eyes on when entering the Barbican last week was none other than Simon Russell Beale. Although the Tower Dreamteam had met intermittently in the preceding weeks this was to be the evening when everything started gearing back up for our performance week of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. It was, I felt, rather a good omen, to bump into someone who had taken such an interest in the project previously and sure enough he enquired after the health of the production and wished us all good fortune as we moved forward. I have to say this did put me in a very good frame of mind for what was to come.

This first rehearsal of the final push was very much getting back up to speed. We ran through all the scenes in an upstairs room of the Barbican (the one where we had part of our very first audition) and were universally relieved to discover that the words, moves and bits of business seemed to have been retained.

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ASM Lindsey explains the mysteries of the cue light system

The next evening we returned to another old haunt; this time it was the RSC rehearsal rooms in Clapham. Here awaiting our arrival was Kim (Assistant Director) and Lindsey (Assistant Stage Manager). They gave us an overview of what we could expect in the next ten days and dealt with any admin aspects which were relevant to us. Lindsey also explained to us the mysteries of the call light system – no barging on stage whenever you feel the moment is right but a carefully regulated system of entrances and exits controlled by the stage management team. Then it was into a warm up and a concentrated look at our first scene. Despite the fact that we have looked at this section on quite a few occasions it was amazing how much there was still to be found in it. Kim, of course, was able to bring much extra understanding acquired as the tour had progressed. We must have worked on this section for a good couple of hours and as it is almost a duologue between Bottom and Quince the rehearsal was tiring but exhilarating.

For Thursday’s rehearsal (Clapham) we were joined by the lovely Polly Bennett (movement) and the redoubtable Michael Corbidge (voice) there to help us with the physical and vocal aspects of our work. We did plenty of stretching and limbering up (muscles and vocal cords) culminating in us trying out the Bergomask. I don’t think that I’ve made any secret of the fact that this routine is the bit which I have least confidence in. But a quite wonderful thing happened when Polly told us we had absolute permission to get the whole thing wrong as long as we stayed in the moment and enjoyed what we were doing. Suddenly there was a sense of liberation and – for the first (hopefully not the only) time – it went through without a hitch. We then concentrated on Pyramus and Thisbe for the rest of the evening. A lot of extraneous (and comforting) “business” was stripped out and some new ideas put in. Maria received particular praise for the prologues and, coached by Michael, I was encouraged to open up and let rip in the big speeches. Another full and exhausting/exhilarating evening.

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Heads full of Shakespeare

Friday (Clapham, again) saw the return of Erica into the fold. What a joyful moment that was to see her positivity and boundless energy being displayed. She had many tales from the tour and helped us to reach new levels in the work we are doing. The concentration this time was on the forest rehearsal scene. While this was already in pretty good shape some trimming, tightening and rearranging helped the scene to flow much better and gain in quality. By now I think we could safely say we felt in a good place but, of course, when you’re working with a professional company the imperative is always to stretch for just that little bit extra.

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But still loving it

So 12 hours of rehearsals and then the big one – an all day Saturday rehearsal back in the Barbican rehearsal room. Adam was called first to run through his final Thisbe speech. Then Karen came to work with me on the Titania scenes. I was generally pleased with the ways these went but can’t wait to get to do these again with the full cast on the proper set. The rest of the team arrived and we tried some variations on the scene where the Mechanicals await Bottom’s return. A key aspect at this stage is to make absolutely certain about entrances and exits especially – as stated above- because of the cue light system. It was nearly lunch break so just time to run through my monologue a few times and familiarise myself with the ebb and flow of this particular piece.

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Some hempen homespuns

After lunch we ran through all the other scenes (usually several times) picking them apart and reconstituting them again until everything flowed well and we felt comfortable with what we were doing. Just time for some sage advice from directors Kim and Erica before departing for home and the anticipation of the big week itself. I still can’t quite believe that what is happening is actually happening (in that sense I feel very like Bottom himself). Whatever happens now it has been an honour, a privilege and an absolute thrill and in the words of a character with Bottom like tendencies we now move:

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My intention over the next week is to try and write up a daily bulletin of the previous day’s events. This will all depend on what time is available. I know, for instance, that both Monday and Tuesday will be two 12 hour days so any writing will need to be fitted in around this. Anyway, do look out for the daily missives from Planet Dream and hope you’ll be able to come and see us in the next few days. Bottoms up!


This week the  production is  at the Barbican in London– click on the image below to reveal full details.

 

London

Evenings at 7.30 Tuesday 17th – Saturday 21st May

Matinées at 1.00 Thursday May 19th & Saturday May 21st

The Tower Theatre performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Barbican

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Cry “Havoc” and let slip the dogs of war (Task 1)

So it was back to square one in terms of location. The Tower Dreamteam gathered at director David’s house, where we had initially met at the start of this project, to consider our approach to the first task which we had been set by the RSC (details in last post). On the face of it this seemed quite simple. Learn a Shakespeare speech, perform it and capture it on film. However, as with many aspects of A Play For The Nation the reality is somewhat different. This isn’t just any old speech learning process but key preparation for one of the biggest theatrical institutions in the UK/the world. So serious face well and truly on.

Actually we had great fun! Though I’ve never belonged to one, it was much how I imagine a book club would be. Like minded people in a dedicated group discussing something which floats their collective boat and drawing out meaning from pieces of written text. We ran through our individual pieces (or in Peta/Tom’s case their duologue) considering context, characterisation and interpretation. Most of my colleagues were a fair way down the line with the learning part already. Shamefully I’d yet to begin; my excuse is that I need to understand what I’m going do with a speech before I can properly commit it to memory. “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action” kind of thing. That said the evening gave me a much needed “gee up” in making a start on the learning on the Tube going home; I’ve never quite known why but for some reason words always seem to stick in my brain better when I’m travelling. Odd!

 Adam gets the MC treatment - don't even ask what's going on here!
Adam gets the MC treatment – don’t even ask what’s going on here!

The following evening the team met again in the Foundry at the Bridewell – this time to participate in a text workshop led by the redoubtable Michael Corbidge. We had already met Michael in a workshop at our initial audition so we knew we were in for a fun but stimulating evening and he didn’t disappoint. While the workshop was designed to aid our work on Task 1, we kept well clear of the actual set speeches . Instead, concentrating largely on a piece from Richard II we proactively examined the text through a variety of group activities. We were being encouraged to form muscle memories which helps the text to be retained and makes our responses to it that much more immediate and real. The big revelation (to me anyway) came when Michael got Maria to tackle a lesser known speech from Two Gentlemen of Verona. A first run through resulted in a piece of prosaic recitation. Then with a simple piece of contextualising/direction the text sprang to life and kept me fully engaged from first word to last; essentially Maria went from reading to an almost fully realised performance in less than five minutes – amazing! Michael was as lively as ever and is a superb workshop facilitator. I can honestly say we learned a great deal in a very short space of time; we are so lucky, once again, to be benefitting from the RSC’s expertise. To add to the fun the BBC were filming the workshop and David Sprecher was also taking some great photos of us in action; a full set of these is available here and I think they demonstrate just what a stimulating time we were all having.

RSC coach Micchael Corbidge encourages David and Tom while the BBC film proceedings
RSC coach Michael Corbidge encourages David and Tom while Oana from the BBC films proceedings

So armed from this session with a new battery of techniques it was on to the piece of set text and the analysing/learning/decision making. My piece came from Julius Caesar (a perhaps serendipitous clash of initials!) I have to say, however, that Julius Caesar has never been a favourite of mine and I think there’s probably a very particular reason for that..…. Confession time!

When I first went to secondary school the Prefects were allowed to administer a punishment to the junior pupils in the form of a written imposition known as “A Plotter Speaks”. This was a piece from Act I, Scene 3 of Julius Caesar beginning:
“You are dull, Casca, and those sparks of life
That should be in a Roman you do want”
It’s 22 lines long and the punishment was to write it out in full as many times (up to five copies) as the Prefect deemed fit against a somewhat arbitrary sliding scale of so called offences. Clearly in the days before computers, word processors and photo copiers this was tedious to say the least. One missing punctuation mark and the piece would be ripped up and it would have to be done again. Although some of my fellow students did a nice line in selling pre-written copies of the speech to miscreants I’m sure for many others it left them with an unfortunate hatred of Shakespeare’s work. Not true in my case, fortunately, but it did leave me with a less than appreciative view of this particular play. Anyway, enough of my childhood traumas…

Task 1 JC

Caesar and Mark Antony - not quite the look we were going for (Altogether now -
Caesar and Mark Antony – not quite the look we were going for (Altogether now – “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it informe!”)

Coincidentally also 22 lines long, the piece of text I had been given was from later in the same play  (Act 3, Scene 1). It is the part where Mark Antony has been left alone with Caesar’s assassinated body for the first time so there are several things going on. He has just lost a dear friend and mentor; he realises that he may be next on the hit list and so is conscious of preserving his own safety; he has just been forging an uneasy truce with Brutus and Cassius, the main conspirators, and is racked with guilt about this; he can foresee a civil war breaking out and in a way wants this to happen; basically he’s hugely conflicted. Quite a lot to put over in less than two minutes which is where Michael’s active learning techniques came in really useful. Fortunately my learning coincided with a week’s stay in a very nice Portuguese pousada so it was great to be able to stride the grounds in the Mediterranean sunshine committing the speech to memory and contemplating meaning and interpretation at my leisure.

We had also been asked to consider how our given speech might possibly relate to our character in the Dream. Bottom, of course, is no Mark Antony but he does consider that it’s the sort of part he might play well on stage when he talks about being “a lover or a tyrant”. If we take the latter as meaning a man of action then clearly Mark Antony is both of these in the two Shakespeare plays in which he features. The particular speech is also of a type that Shakespeare parodies when Bottom treats his fellow actors to a short monologue (“The raging rocks/And shivering shocks”) and his grief over Caesar’s death has echoes of Pyramus lamenting Thisbe in the play within a play.

The final stage of the task was the filming. Having got back to home soil it was off to the Bridewell again to commit the piece to posterity. Clearing a space in the costume store we went through a number of takes before David and I were happy with it (well, happy that it wasn’t going to get any better, anyway). It’s definitely different when you know you have an Ipad lens trained on you and that your attempt is going to be analysed by experts at the RSC! Because I had another commitment I did my piece early thus avoiding the extra pressure when the BBC arrived to film the filming for their documentary film (following this?)

So by the time you read this our finished recordings will be on their way to Erica and the team at the RSC. We get feedback in a fortnight’s time and may possibly be requested to repeat the piece to the live audience of other Dreamteamers in the next live link up and/or when Erica pays the team a visit next month. Watch this space for the outcomes.

Cry “Havoc” and let slip the dogs of war (Task 1)

From The Bottom To The Top – The Story So Far, Part 3

(This blog post began life as part of the Tower Theatre Company newsletter and was first published in late February 2015)

The audition process took place on the Saturday morning. On Saturday afternoon and the whole of Sunday we were treated to three fabulous workshops run by professionals as part of the RSC’s outreach work with amateur theatres across the country. We had already been assured that the workshops were not intended to feed into the auditions so having gone in the first tranche we were at no disadvantage. Rather they were general workshops intended to provoke thought and improve technique. We spent our time with the other two drama groups who had auditioned in the first tranche and who came from Barnes and Dulwich, making us a group of 21 in all.

First up was Voice and Text with Michael Corbidge. I assumed that this would be the most sedate of the three workshops but not a bit of it. We spent the whole time on our feet and it involved quite a lot of movement. During the course of the session we picked apart several of Puck’s speeches concentrating not on meaning (again as I had wrongly supposed) but thinking of sound and delivery. We examined why the lines were constructed as they were and the importance of the first and last words of the lines. We spoke individually and chorally with various levels and degrees of emotion. Michael kept us hard at it but was a highly effective teacher with a wicked sense of humour.

On Sunday morning, and to the distant sounds of St Paul’s, we attended the Acting workshop with the wonderful Annie Tyson. She really invigorated us when I’m sure we’d far rather have been having a lie in with the Sunday papers. Lots of improvisation exercises culminated in us working on very short (six lines) pieces of text which we had to work up into a specific scene. These ranged from the comic potential of a disgruntled estate agent selling a house to the horrors discovered by three soldiers liberating Auschwitz – plenty of food for thought. This particular workshop just whizzed by; I, for one, could have stayed all day.

The Tower team with our fellow auditonees from Barnes and Dulwich
The Tower team with our fellow auditonees from Barnes and Dulwich

Finally after a light lunch (well, for some of us) it was time for Movement with the very encouraging Gary Sefton. We’d already heard alarming noises coming from that particular workshop and there were several people in other groups reporting scrapes and bruises so we went into this with some trepidation. Apart from nearly losing my trousers at one point (it’s a long story …) I suffered no damage though I’ll never forget Tom thanking someone for catching him during a chasing game and thus removing the need for him to charge around the room any further. It will also be a long time before I forget the sight of Adam’s watch breaking spectacularly as he tried to rescue the love of his life and their baby from a rapidly flooding dungeon (again, long story).

Soon it was 5.30 and all participants gathered to bid a fond farewell to two days of intense but exhilarating work. The long wait for the audition results could begin…..

From The Bottom To The Top – The Story So Far, Part 3