Kathleen Ferrier: Whattalife

I am currently working with Lucy Stevens (Actor, Opera Singer and Writer) developing and directing her wonderful new production, Kathleen Ferrier: Whattalife. Taken from diary entries and letters home, this one woman play with music tells the story of Kathleen Ferrier, a Lancashire lass turned national treasure. The narrative invites the audience to travel with Kathleen as she is launched on to the British and world opera scene. In turns comic and tragic, this beloved contralto icon shares the joys and her pain of her short but extraordinary life.

Throughout my involvement with this show, I have fallen in love with Kathleen, and Lucy’s amazing attention to detail makes my job of facilitator a breeze.

Keep an eye out for tour dates, and check out the website.

http://kathleenferrierwhattalife.com

Ayse Tashkiran, (Movement Director, Artistic Practitioner and Teacher) shares her thoughts and insight into the history of Movement Direction within theatre.

This film produced by the Royal National Theatre, explores the history of Movement Direction and how our understanding of expression has developed the place of movement in theatre in recent years.

Movement Director Ayse Tashkiran looks back at the Central European influences of the 20th century

to the contemporary work of physical theatre companies including Complicite and DV8.

Laban

Ayse Tashkiran talking on the history of Movement Direction

You know it when you see it.

To be clear from the outset, I’m a Movement Director. I am not a Choreographer.

That is not to say that, if you needed a piece of 16th Century dance within a theatre production, I couldn’t do a whole shed load of research and come up with something appropriate and (although I say so myself ) pretty damn good. However, If you are working on a Dance piece I could do some dramaturgy work and maybe tinker, but the person you require is a choreographer.

I am regularly in awe of the grace and athleticism of dancers. Less so with the storytelling contained within dance generally. I am now preparing for an avalanche of abuse from folks who love dance and feel I’m just missing the nuance … or looking for the wrong stuff within it … That I’m blind or stupid or heartless.

To all that I counter … Maybe so.

From the vantage point of an interested fellow professional … someone who shares a similar but distinctly different skill-set … , to use an analogy which came to me while wandering in the countryside considering how to frame this blog, someone who understands the terrain but knows full well he wouldn’t last five minutes if he had to try and survive out there on his own … from there I know that I miss stuff, and I am happy to learn from anyone who will teach me. After all, every day is a school day.

Some years ago I had the opportunity to see a production of Swan Lake. I’d been to other productions of this ballet and enjoyed, to varying degrees, the staging and the fluidity of the performers.

This one however was a production choreographed by a guy called Mats Ek.

If you haven’t seen his work and you get the chance, do it.

His ability to find and transfer story through congruity and incongruity, through attraction and repulsion is breathtaking and speaks with a voice that is simultaneously wholly the dancers, wholly his own and wholly the audiences. I could go on.

Since then I have seen all I can of his stuff. It’s one of the very few things that make me think I’ve been wasting my time on all this other stuff I can do, when clearly I should have been …. Ah, but that way madness awaits.

This vid is not from that production. It is of some work by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago … But Mats choreographed it and … well, just watch it and see.

Another wonderful description of what a Movement Director does.

This video, produced by The Royal National Theatre, features Vanessa Ewan.
I had the pleasure of being guided by her as I formalised my own processes as a practitioner and completed my Masters Degree.
She is an extraordinary facilitator, allowing and encouraging the actor to explore and discover through that exploration strong and manifest character choices which they understand and own.
A consummate professional.

Enjoy

To be …. Or not to be … an actor

This is funny, and pretty much the way things are for much of the acting fraternity in the UK.
I wonder if it’s like this in the US?

The mindless musings of a nearly jobbing actor.

It’s strange to be writing to the world ….. virtually …. coz talking to large groups of people has been my desire for a long time.

I’m James. And I’m a jobbing (nearly) actor, living (nearly) in London and attending auditions when I get the opportunity.

So far it would be easier to call me creatively unemployed.

I don’t leach off the state, so you don’t have to get offended and stop reading straight away.

I take on temporary posts doing anything to make ends meet. They rarely seem to overlap.

I wanted to start this blog so that I could do two things.

Firstly to chart the meteoric rise to fame and international success of an ordinary bloke from a small town no one will have heard of and secondly to provide a guide for fellow actors and interested parties to the real life goings on within this buisness…

View original post 947 more words

My Latest Foray ….

My latest foray…

Image

 

Rehearsals are in full swing for the forthcoming Theatre Stramash’s production of David Greig’s play ‘Brewers Fayre’ and I’m having so much fun. What an amazing bit of writing.

My role is two fold. That of actor and Movement Director. The play is a multimedia tragi-comedy set on the outskirts of Edinburgh, taking in the trials and tribulations of a family who are finding it near impossible to communicate with each other, while finding more confusion than comfort in their relationships with the world wide web.

The writer provided dynamic, a multi-layered and deeply poignant narrative which allows for loads of play in the rehearsal room because, although he gave a list of characters, he also gives the guidance that the mother of the piece would be played, for the most part, by the audience themselves, with lines projected or made available through some other means … and also deemed it unnecessary to assign any of the lines to any of the characters per se.

The upshot of which is that our version is exactly that … it’s ours … our interpretation of how these words could be shared in order to best serve the storytelling.

The cast and other creatives involved are just as engaged and enchanted as I am with the process, looking forward to opening the show on the 24th of May for the closing week of the Brighton Festival, finishing on June the first.

Every day has been a voyage of discovery piloted by our trusty skipper Sandie Armstrong, a powerful actor and storyteller in her own right.

So, at the moment, I am waking up in the morning with a smile and a spring in my step.

 

Here’s wishing you joy in your endeavours …. and if you are in the area of the south coast of England, come see us … it’s going to be good.

Image

 

You could also find out more about who I am and what I do at dodgerphillips.com

Neuroscience and drowning in a livingroom.

Neuroscience and drowning in a livingroom.

Image

I’ll start this with a little story.

When I was about 7 years old, I was sitting watching one of those Saturday afternoon War movies which used to pepper our TV screens in the 70’s. It was called ‘We Dive at Dawn’ and, as you can probably imagine, was full of submarines and testosterone. Sat beside my elder brother we were wrapped by the narrative …. but the point I want to make is deeper than how propaganda can grab hold of a boy … Toward the end of the film, a torpedo slammed into the side of the ship. Pandaemonium broke out as submariners scrabbled around to fight for rapidly vanishing air pockets as the water rose in the cramped compartments.

While I sat watching this horror, my brother decided to point out, with no short supply of derision, that I was craning my neck and breathing through the pursed lips of a drowning man. I was watching the action as if I were there, going through the same thing. A shortness in my panicked breath, my heart pounding in my chest and a sense of claustrophobia coursing through me…. As you can imagine, I straightened my head and continued to watch from a more ‘Normal’ position … but secretly I was still trying to hold my breath. Since that time, I’ve always been aware of my response to well told narrative. If it’s a good comedy, I laugh like a drain, if a thriller, I am thrilled to the point of having white knuckles up to my elbows and there is never any need to try and jerk tears from me if the story is a sad one, much to my children’s delight.

Cute story, Eh?

But you see, for years I thought I was just a bit sensitive … easily manipulated …

It turns out that there is a neurological reason why I did what I did, and that reason was not discovered or formalised until quite recently.

It turns out that around the 1980’s a group of scientists including Giacomo Rizzolatti and Giuseppe Di Pellegrino discovered a very interesting area of research kind of by accident.

They were in Italy doing research into the motor-neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys … this is not to imply that you have to go to Italy to do brain research on monkeys … They just happened to be there …

The research went something like this.

Let’s put some monitors on the monkeys while they pick stuff up … something they want .. food for example, and record how their brains respond when they pick them up.

Being scientists, they had to do this for quite a long time, with quite a few monkeys, and one day they were tidying up after a long day of monitoring and, in the case of the monkeys, picking up food, when one of the scientists was a little tardy about removing the neural apparatus, while the other guy was a bit more efficient about tidying up the food left over.

As the second chap picked up the food, the monkeys brains fired as if it were them picking it up … Think about that for a moment …. the monkeys brains sent out messages that they were moving their arms and grasping food when they saw another, of a different species, pick something up.

At first they may have called this the ‘Monkey See-Monkey Do’ response, but soon the neurons involved were named Mirror-Neurons, and that was the start of something quite revolutionary in the understanding of social psychology. It turns out that these Mirror neurons are not only part of monkey’s brain function, but appear to be an active part of how humans experience and engage with the world.

When we watch, hear, or even imagine an physical process or event occurring, we experience it in an intrinsic and cognitively profound way. On a tiny level we reproduce the movements of others within ourselves. You may have experienced something similar… a sense of pressure upon you when seeing someone get a wave dumped on them while surfing … even if you don’t surf. The change in breathing while watching a high-wire act go through their routine. Feeling exhausted after watching a boxing match or a particularly good action sequence in a movie.. hence my opening story.

Working in theatre and film is all the easier once one knows that those watching will experience, on a very real and personal level, the peril, joy and anguish we explore. We just have to be good at it … and we are all too willing to point out those who are, and those who aren’t.

It would appear that we are ‘hard-wired’ to have an empathic response to those around us.

Now this could be taken as a reason to believe that human beings are fundamentally good and caring individuals, who are aware of the experiences of others in a profound, visceral and compassionate way … and that it’s just education which teaches us to be grasping, acquisitive and selfish … and to an extent, I hope that is true … but I have watched many small children and heard their parents saying things like ‘Give that back. You only want it because he/she has it.’

Of course they do …. Their Mirror-Neurons have informed them that the other kid picked that up and showed a level of satisfaction on their face when hold or playing with it.

It is a shame that this piece of science cannot justify a move toward us all becoming relaxed and caring hippies in a fare and compassionate world.

I will continue to use this stuff in my work, though … it is really helpful when creating a believable character …. and I’ll keep looking through scientific journals and anything else I can find, just in case they come up with a cogent reason to justify me wanting to be a nice guy.

What does a Movement Director do? Part 3 …. The Workshop

What does a Movement Director do?

Part 3 …. The Workshop

pentangle

So what would I be doing?

Facilitating. With the emphasis on the first bit of the word … making it easy … easy to explore in a safe space. It’s my job to keep an eye on the task and guide the actor through a process, drawing their attention to moments of expressive clarity discovered along the way ….  allowing the actors investigate the connection between the Weird Sisters and the triple-headed moon goddess Hecate, to the point where the three sisters combined are the physical manifestation of the Goddess herself … this could give a conceptual framework on which to construct a simple ritual, bringing each of the sisters on stage for a specific high-stakes purpose. To this end, I’d bring collection of ideas, images, materials and other tools in to the rehearsal space in order to feed the process of the workshop.

The different ages of the Sisters allow for experimentation through words, phrases, actions and qualities of movement based on the terms of Novice, Initiate and Crone, drawing attention to different areas of the body containing breath, weight and intention. This could assist in further developing individual differences between the characters. Bringing a sound-scape of a thunderstorm could provide an environmental atmosphere and illicit physical manifestations within the actors through engaging their imagination, Exploring the different responses each of the characters feel to this environment. Bringing a collection of little bags and bottles with stoppers will avoid the need for uncomfortable miming of imaginary props, and a long wooden staff maybe… to be the focal point for the ‘Power of the Coven of Hecate’.

Then it’s play time for the actors and focused work time for me.

This all being hypothetical, I can’t tell you how it went … But it’s been a fun exercise trying to provide a tiny glimpse into one of the many aspects of what I get to do for a job.

Going back to Stanislavski and his final layer of uncovering a play or role, that of personal creative feelings …. That is the gift the actors bring to the task of communication. I love that bit … It’s what keeps me on my toes and regularly blows my mind.

If you’re still not sure about what a Movement Director does … the truth is, I’m still working that out too. I’ve been asked to do so many varied things in so many styles and situations it makes me smile .. a lot.

I would recommend you go down to your local theatre and watch a play, research something just for the hell of it, and ask some questions … always ask questions.

What does a Movement Director do? Part 2 …. The Research

What does a Movement Director do?

Part 2 …. The Research

Let’s say, for arguments sake, that I’ve been called in to provide a movement workshop to facilitate movement exploration, creating a workable physicalisation of ‘The Weird Sisters’ in Act 1, Scene 1 of Macbeth by William Shakespeare.

Usually this would come after meeting up with, or at least chatting on the phone with, the Director.

A sensitivity of, and commitment to, the artistic and aesthetic vision of the Director is imperative …. It is their vision which will take to the stage in the end.

So we start with an in depth investigation of the play of Macbeth as a whole, as well as a close inspection of the content of the scene in question. Even given that it is a very short moment containing an entrance, sixty-two words shared between three characters and an exit, the ‘Weird Sisters’ scene in Act 1, Scene 1 of Macbeth, known as the ‘When shall we three meet again, …’ scene, opens the whole production. This position within the play holds the added responsibility of introducing the environment and style of, not only these characters but also the production as a whole, to the audience.

So what are the clues? Let me make this clear …  this is in no way a definitive academic research paper on this … it’s just to try and give an idea of some of the aspects of the job of a Movement Director … So here we go.

In the first folio of Macbeth the witches are called the weyword or wayard sisters. There are many ongoing debates as to what this may mean, some are as simple as signifying that these women go their own way in society, they are other and separate. This one clue could provide many options for staging and characterisation. One possible way to go with the ‘Three Witches’ would be to have them sit outside of the society within which most of the action happens … it might be interesting to have them have the clarity that distance can bring to a situation.

Within the later folios, however, these words are replaced with the word ’weird’, which appears six times within the play, (I. iii. 32; I. v. 8; II. i. 20; III. i. 2; III. iv. 133; IV. i. 136). Five times as ‘The Weird Sisters’ and once as ‘The Weird Women’. Within the Oxford English dictionary, the word ‘Weird’ is linked to the Anglo-Saxon noun ‘Wyrd’ meaning Fate. This could imply that the sisters are, in effect, to be considered either attached to, or the personification of, the Fates.  In his book The Greek Myths, Robert Graves asserts that the Fates, or Moerae, ‘are the triple Moon-goddess.’ (Graves.1960) This triple-faced goddess, also known as Hecate, appears in person later in Macbeth. Her appearance and clear power and status over the Sisters is very rich seam of information to be mined. Graves goes on to say that ‘The moon has three phases and three persons: The New, the Maiden-goddess of the spring; … the Full Moon, the Nymph-goddess of the summer; and the Old Moon, the Crone-goddess of the autumn.’(Graves, 1960)

moon phaseHacate

The research into these wider aspects of the Sisters could go on for ages … I for one find it constantly fascinating, but there is much to be discovered by taking a closer look at the structure and clues within the scene in question.

Within the lines of the scene, the First Witch asks a question which is answered by the Second and elaborated on by the Third. Could this status interplay between the three characters could be used to provide different ages for the sisters? … Young/Novice, Adult/Initiate, Old/Crone?

It is also worth noting that the first line ‘When shall we three meet again?’ implies they have already spent some time together and are about to take their leave. This could provide an opportunity to create a ‘ritual’ of some sort before the dialogue begins … a chance to set the scene and environment for the audience. The stage directions also ask for thunder and lightning, providing a sound-scape to play with.

Much of the rest of the dialogue draws attention to a point in the future when the Sisters will come together again to meet with Macbeth, implying fore-knowledge of events and, although not elaborated upon at this time, a reason for that meeting.

Both ‘Grey-Malkin’ and ‘Padock’ are words still used in the highlands of Scotland to denote a grey cat and a frog or toad respectively. These creatures are considered to be the ‘familiars’ of the Sisters. D.J. Conway, a leading expert on Animal Spirits within ancient and modern culture claims that ‘Hecate is associated with frogs in very ancient lore.’ Conway goes on to say that ‘In Scotland, the mother of the Witches is called the Mither o’ the Mawkins.’(Conway. 1995)

I could go on for ages about the layers of imagery held within the text, but you get the idea …

One hopes that this kind of research is also being done by the director, the actors and the designers involved, but you can’t always rely on that … putting on a play can be a logistical nightmare, and folks have to prioritise. For me though, research is an imperative and integral part of preparation.

Then one has to put the preparation to task …. and although I love to research and trawl for clues, this is when everything gets to be exhilarating and challenging. Each workshop is different and exists in the moment.

I’ll think about that and get back to you in Part 3