Archives For Essential theatre skills

Go the extra mile - whatever it takes!

Go the extra mile – make your ideas BIG and BOLD (orange is optional)

Never be complacent with your achievements. One of the many beautiful things about theatre is that we always have the next show to work on – we’re never stuck in one place. We live in a sea of constantly changing requirements, ideas and possibilities. And the next show will be so different to the last …. To each new project you take the experience and the lessons from the last. If you’re on the case you will always improve and the process of creating theatre will be a wonderful experience each time. Continue Reading…

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The Wheelie Set

Barbara —  March 28, 2014 — Leave a comment
The whole set - everything else is on wheels!

The whole set – everything else is on wheels!

So you have a big cast and a play with LOADS of different locations – any one of which would be a challenge to stage. I directed Terry Pratchett’s ‘Wyrd Sisters’ a few years back and had just that scenario. I’ve said it before .. I will do anything to avoid a scene change. That moment when people dressed in black come on and remove things and/or add things just kills it for me. So we have ‘the blasted heath’, a road somewhere, a theatre, Nanny Ogg’s kitchen, a dungeon with instruments of torure, the throne room, a garden/wood and many other locations that are only required for an odd minute here and there. Of course you’re not going to build up each location and remove it afterwards – it would take all night. But how can you do it quickly, convincingly and creatively? Continue Reading…

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The set (and costumes/lights) for 'After Juliet'. by Sharman Macdonald. Rich colours and fabrics, moody lights. Beautiful.

The set (and costumes/lights) for ‘After Juliet’. by Sharman Macdonald. Rich colours and fabrics, moody lights. Beautiful.

This was a fantastic set to work on. After Juliet is a moody, brooding beast of a one act play set just after the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. It deals with the anger, pain and frustration of Romeo and Juliet’s family and friends as they wallow in the aftermath of the tragedy. It’s dark, hot, stuffy, moody and dramatic. The set, costumes and lighting had to reflect that. It is also set within the homes of various families and friends and also, crucially, in a central meeting place – a place for romance, friendship and fighting. We wanted a multipurpose set where homes were overlooking the meeting place – the plaza. We wanted different levels, colours, hiding places, narrow alleyways. We absolutely did not want a single set change to interrupt the action (actually, I never do). Enter scaffolding towers. Continue Reading…

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Everything on the set has purpose ..

Everything on the set has purpose ..

There’s a ‘dramatic principle’ that Chekhov famously illustrated about what you should and should not have on set (or in your play if you’re writing). He said something along the lines of ‘don’t put a loaded gun on stage unless you intend it to go off’ or ‘don’t mention there’s a gun hanging on the wall in Act I unless you intend it to go off in Act III’ (you’ll find many variations if you search for ‘Chekhov’s gun’). His point being that you should not raise the expectations of the audience by drawing attention to an item that actually has no purpose or relevance to the plot. Interesting. I have read about this a few times and the interpretation of his words always comes out slightly differently. So, what should you put on your set and what should you leave out? Continue Reading…

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Me and my set

Barbara —  February 16, 2014 — 4 Comments
If your cast are acting in a space like this you really need it weeks ahead! James & the Giant Peach.

If your cast are acting in a space like this you really need it weeks ahead! James & the Giant Peach.Peach design by Jim Rolt.

I have a very intimate relationship with my set when I’m directing a show. Very, very intimate and important. The set is something that starts to take shape in my mind long before the cast have appeared. As I read the script I start to play around with ideas. How will it look? What will it feel like? How can I create the required atmosphere? What do I actually need on stage? What would I like to have? And .. very importantly for me .. how can I avoid scene changes? (See Elegant Scene Changes for my feelings about scene changes). I start my design right there and it evolves with the production. There are lots of different ways to use to the stage – this is just my process, my take on it. My relationship with my set. Continue Reading…

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Get a good game going to loosen up the the 'comfort barriers'

Get a good game going to loosen up the the ‘comfort barriers’

Also in this series:
Offbeat Directing 1: The Vision Quest
Offbeat Directing 2: Understanding the Script
Offbeat Directing 3: Dreaming and Planning
Offbeat Directing 4: What Does the Director Do?
Offbeat Directing 5: Trial by Audition
Offbeat Directing 6: The First Awkward Read Through
Offbeat Directing 7a: Who Does What?
Offbeat Directing 7b: Early Rehearsals and Cunning Plans
Offbeat Directing 7c: Your Design Team
Offbeat Directing 7d: Infrastructure!

Ah .. the comfort zone. The place where most actors will stay unless pressed to break out. It’s that safe place where you walk in a way that feels ok, talk in your own voice or one you’re familiar with, interact with other actors in a non-threatening manner. It’s a safe, comfortable place to be. But it isn’t ever enough. Whenever you start to feel slightly embarrassed, uncomfortable, vulnerable or just plain scared, that’s when you’re breaking the comfort barrier. And this is good!

Analogy: Your body is remarkable. Your brain has a memory of every muscle you possess and knows exactly how far that muscle can stretch. When it reaches the stretch barrier your brain says ‘no, that’s quite enough stretching, thank you, this is where I’m staying.’ Pretty clever, keeps you safe. It bases this limitation on factors like how much you use the muscle and physical and emotional truama that have affected the area. You have a ‘range’ of movement that becomes normal for you. If you want to go beyond it, you’ll have to practise and reset the brain/muscle controlled barrier. So when you decide to take up yoga (for example) or any other stretching exercise, you have to repeatedly work on stretching your ‘normal’ range of movement until it is gradually increased. If you only do this once a week your progress will be very slow. The more you practise, the more you change.

Now think of theatre. Continue Reading…

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Directors are delicate creatures prone to falling over. Try to be kind by popping along to support them at rehearsals whenever you can ....

Directors are delicate creatures prone to falling over. Try to be kind by popping along to support them at rehearsals whenever you can ….

For no particular reason, (honest – my Maskerade cast are pretty damn good), I’ve recently been wondering why so many folk want to perform on stage, but don’t seem to appreciate that in order to do that well, (or even a bit well), you need to practise. I’m a bit pushy with cast when it comes to rehearsals (meaning I actually require them to be there), but even then there will always be one ….

ACTOR: If I don’t come to the rehearsal this week will I miss anything?
ME: Yes, you’ll miss the rehearsal
ACTOR: But is it important?
ME: If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t bother having it
ACTOR: (Slightly thwarted) Oh. So .. do I need to be there?
ME: (Withering look)

I can’t actually imagine a scenario where we all get to rehearsal and I announce “today we are going to rehearse all the pointless and unimportant parts of the play, feel free to leave before we start as I really don’t want to waste your time …” However, I suppose some people are just hopelessly optimistic.

I recently watched the last bit of a rehearsal for a show that was due to go on in 10 days or so. Most of the cast weren’t there. Nor was the (rather crucial) musician. I just can’t get my head round it. Where were they? Being in a play is a privilege. It’s a joyful commitment you make to create a performance with a whole load of other equally committed people that will be worthy of the ticket price and the audience’s attention. Why on earth wouldn’t you want to be the very best you can be? How can you bear to go on stage knowing that you haven’t given everything? So many rhetorical questions, so little time to bang your head against the nearest hard surface.

Well, it happens I know. A conundrum. Oddly, it also inspired me to write a limerick or three. There really is no reasonable explanation for that either. You may want to look away now …..

A lazy old actor called Fred
Preferred to rehearse from his bed
When it got to first night
An attack of stage fright
Drove everything out of his head

His lines were all over the place
His entrances quite a disgrace
He ‘died’ on stage
Three times every page
Of ‘character’ there wasn’t a trace

There are notions you need to dispel
If this rhyme is ringing a bell
It isn’t a curse
To need to rehearse
It’s the process that helps you excel!

Apologies. I’ll start writing a more useful blog post now!

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Anyone seen the poster?

Anyone seen the poster?

Also in this series:
Offbeat Directing 1: The Vision Quest
Offbeat Directing 2: Understanding the Script
Offbeat Directing 3: Dreaming and Planning
Offbeat Directing 4: What Does the Director Do?
Offbeat Directing 5: Trial by Audition
Offbeat Directing 6: The First Awkward Read Through
Offbeat Directing 7a: Who Does What?
Offbeat Directing 7b: Early Rehearsals and Cunning Plans
Offbeat Directing 7c: Your Design Team

Infra-what? For a show? Always makes me think of bridges and telephone lines – which is exactly right if you’re thinking of a society, a town or a community – the underlying systems that allow it to function. In this context I don’t mean the telephone in the foyer, I mean the underlying systems that need to be in place to allow the show to actually manifest, but happen beyond the stage. Actually, the telephone in the foyer is important! And the computer .. errr .. the front of House Manager .. oh, and the kettle. The person who will produce your show (might well be you, the director) needs to have a handle on the administration, marketing/publicity, creation of marketing materials, sponsorship, tour admin and transport (if applicable) and anything else you have a requirement for that isn’t actually on the stage! It is heartbreaking to put your heart and soul, half your life over the past year and a substantial amount of money into a show that nobody comes to see. Why don’t they? Because nobody told them it was on – doh! Continue Reading…

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the set, costumes and a dash of lighting for 'After Juliet' by Sharman Macdonald. Rich colours and fabrics, different levels to act on, moody lights. Loved it!

The set, costumes and a dash of lighting for ‘After Juliet’ by Sharman Macdonald. Rich colours and fabrics, ‘punk- Elizabethan’ style costumes, a plaza, scaffolding towwers to create different levels, moody lights. Loved it!

Also in this series:
Offbeat Directing 1: The Vision Quest
Offbeat Directing 2: Understanding the Script
Offbeat Directing 3: Dreaming and Planning
Offbeat Directing 4: What Does the Director Do?
Offbeat Directing 5: Trial by Audition
Offbeat Directing 6: The First Awkward Read Through
Offbeat Directing 7a: Who Does What?
Offbeat Directing 7b: Early Rehearsals and Cunning Plans

‘What team?’ I hear you say. Quite so. Chances are it’s just you and your best friend. But let’s suppose for the sake of this post that you do have access to people who will design for you – or at least be instrumental in getting your designs on stage in some form. Part of my ‘visioning’ period (that’s the never-ending period) involves visualising the design of the show in every way conceivable – the set, props, lighting, sfx, sound, costumes, hair & make-up. So, as soon as you can get together with each member of your team and talk through what you want. Show them your diagrams, sketches, design boards, fabric samples – anything at all you have collected whilst dreaming away! Try and find a way to make your design ideas a reality. I tend to be of the opinion that if my designer says ‘it can’t be done’ then I’m probably talking to the wrong person (although I do compromise when I really, really have to). Continue Reading…

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Get your cast relaxed and playing games to start.

Get your cast relaxed and playing games to start. Floaty costumes optional…

Also in this series:
Offbeat Directing 1: The Vision Quest
Offbeat Directing 2: Understanding the Script
Offbeat Directing 3: Dreaming and Planning
Offbeat Directing 4: What Does the Director Do?
Offbeat Directing 5: Trial by Audition
Offbeat Directing 6: The First Awkward Read Through
Offbeat Directing 7a: Who Does What?

You have a cast, crew and a whole host of people waiting to hear what it is you want and need in order to get the production underway (hopefully). Time to unleash the cunning plan – which consists of what you’re going to do in rehearsals and when. In Post number 7c we’ll look at Design Meetings and in 7d the Infrastructure you’ll need in place to allow the magic (or pay for it) to happen. By the way, all the ‘7’ posts are together because they all need to happen around the same time. But for this post, it’s just you and your cast. They arrive, they look at you … do you break into a cold sweat or deploy your plan? Well, let’s do both. Continue Reading…

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