Over the past two weekends in March, I have had the chance to learn from Smoking Apples Theatre Company and Norbert Götz.
Smoking Apples Theatre Company
I had a wonderful time learning more about Puppetry. Molly and Matt were lovely and had fantastic handmade puppets that we got the opportunity to work with. A lot of the work focused on the anatomy of the human body and how we can convey naturalism and emotions in the movement of the puppet. For a show I am in the process of creating, this was an excellent workshop to know how the body moves, and the difference between how muscles move in comparison to the skeleton.
We worked with methods of the Bunraku Puppet – a Japanese traditional puppet theatre using half-life size puppet dolls, created in the 17th century in Osaka. This is where three puppeteers operate one puppet. One person operates the feet (pulling down to give the illusion of gravity), one person holds the bottom of the back (pulling up the give structure in the legs) and the right arm, and the third puppeteer gives movement to the head and left arm.
After walking around the room portraying different emotions, we used a tea towel and a mug to create little puppets. Although simple, the illusion is very powerful when the puppeteers work with great focus to bring the puppet to life – when the puppeteers invest in the puppet, the audience do too.
Having done a bit of puppetry before, with Tom Pringle, I felt more comfortable making smaller movements and taking my time with the puppet (who we named Richard!). I received feedback that my face was too expressive – as I get told all the time! –, Which I am really trying to control. When I give the puppet a voice, it is so hard to not let my face react to the grumbles or giggles I give the puppet.
Overall, this was an excellent workshop that I learned so much from. I have been looking at gender in Mask, and looking at the differences between “feminine” gestures and “masculine” gestures, the way the skeleton makes the man and woman walk slightly differently due to the size of hips and where weight/gravity sits in the two genders. I do not want to do any stereotypes in my Mask work, so it was great to learn about the skeleton to use in art.
Shadow Theatre and Moving Image – Norbert Götz
I had a fantastic time with Norbert learning about Shadow Theatre and Light Images. From researching a lot about Shadow Theatre for a Solo production I am creating, I knew a lot about the differences of Shadow Theatre and Shadow Play – but Norbert gave me a lot more knowledge! There are so many more risks that can be taken in Shadow Theatre that I was not aware of. I connected a lot more to this way of learning Physics than I did in High School.
I signed up for the two-day workshop because I wanted to learn how to create emotion through light and shadow – I did not expect to learn so much! I had no idea how light reflection and distortion could be emotional and tell so many stories. I felt so proud that I was able to manipulate the light into shapes that I thought would only be possible from projections – which makes budgeting a lot easier! There were many techniques I learned such as fading and using the light as a camera. It was an incredibly beneficial workshop to work with 2D and 3D puppets, as well as the body.
The material you use for the shadows must “nurture the eyes”. The smallest details are the best; like the bird in a tree, the curve of a cat’s tail, the different sizes of planks of wood on the picket fence, and random lights on in a house rather than every light on. It really helps the eyes believe what they see rather than a perfect cartoon/toy like setting just shown as a shadow. Even down to the material of the sheet you use to cast your shadows, some fabrics are too thick, some the creases are difficult to smooth out, so it is very important to find the best screen for your show.
Overall, my expectations of this workshops were exceeded!! I am so grateful to have had the chance to work with Norbert Götz and am truly inspired.
Artistic Directors; Ewan Downie, Anna Porubcanksy
My week with Company of Wolves was a great way to start 2017. I knew already my comfort zones in my body; I tend to begin movement with my hips (I remember constantly being told in ballet class to stop moving my hips so much!) or moving my arms, and my comfort zone is resorting to spinning and moving gently on the balls of my feet. This course definitely pushed me out of my comfort zones and I am so grateful, I was pushed physically and vocally – a great way to start 2017!
Every morning we did our individual stretches before class started. From working with Vincent Mangado from Théâtre Du Soleil, he advises not to stretch too vigorously before the body is warmed up; therefore I either started with a quick jog around the space or a power walk to the venue especially as it was so cold outside. By the last day, I was practicing handstands and frog stands. I gave myself enough of a stretch to awaken the body, before we began feeling the sensations in every part of our body. We generally began by walking around the space paying attention to the feelings in our bodies – the feeling of the floor under our feet, the feeling of the space around our shins, the joint in our knees and hips. It is incredibly easy for your mind to wander during this, so it was a good exercise to “keep coming back into yourself”. After a while we would pick up the pace into a steady run that was easily maintained for a long period of time. It was rather liberating and we tried running backwards and sideways and dodging into empty spaces. I thought back to an exercise I did with Al Seed; the purpose was to find near misses with people (walking towards or past someone and at the very last minute change direction or pass inches behind them). I did not actively search for near misses, but when it happened accidentally it was great fun.
Over the course, we looked at body isolation. The first time, on Wednesday, I found that everything I did became very internal and it was almost like I was finding secrets between my mind and my body. Suddenly Ewan asked us to “look outward” and suddenly I felt very exposed (I used the word “vulnerable” at the time, and now realise that was the wrong adjective). Everything I had been doing was so internal it was almost selfish, so when I brought my eyes up to the space – even though there was no audience – I felt very exposed, as everything I had investigated was now no longer just for me. As a performer, we concentrate on the audience. We do everything for the audience, so our characters and their stories captivate them, if we do stuff for ourselves, the audience cannot get invested in the way a character feels. This is why I felt selfish – I was doing this completely for myself, and the idea of looking outward suddenly wobbled me. However – when we did it again throughout the week and I kept my eyes in the space and looking outward, I did not feel exposed or selfish, and felt like it was a connection between my body, the space, and the people in the space, which I always seek while on stage.
We also spent time challenging our “awkwardness” at touching other people’s bodies. A helpful exercise was to feel our partner’s back as if we did not know what it was. Then we were to construct an image for ourselves. On Robin’s back, I felt mountains where his shoulder blades were, and a canal where his spine was. On Sam’s back, I found a treasure chest between his shoulder blades that I desperately wanted to open but could not. Robin tried to find the bottom of my ribcage on my back and found it fun to play with the squidgy parts where my organs are in between the tougher parts of bone and muscle. My collarbones intrigued Sam, in particular, the balls-like bones at the part where the collarbone meets the shoulder bone. He thought of poles for pitching a tent, and tried to hold each vertebra between his thumb and index finger. It is very important to be comfortable with touch, as we balance with each other and lift each other. Trust is a huge part as well as comfort. We also explored breathing into our backs and feeling the vibrations in our partners. I wondered what would happen when the pitch of the hum changed. We then went on to “river bed” singing which was feeling your partners back and singing a note to them, and the person being touched with sing a note – not necessarily the same note – but in reaction to that one. By the end, the entire group was touching each other and singing. I had five hands on my body at one point all feeling a vibration. I eventually reached for Ewan and Marta’s collarbones and it was very strange feeling the vibrations there as we had been so focussed on our backs.
On Thursday, we continued looking at breathing into our backs, but while resting in “Child’s Pose”. We were to imagine ourselves as cells, with only liquid in our bodies. I could not connect to this image, but when we added in humming – my hum being so deep -, I suddenly found myself as an image of a boat in the night, and wherever Stacey touched on my back, I felt a beam of light come out as if I were a lighthouse. Other members of the class felt like watercolours blending together (which made me think of a bath-bomb), Stacey felt as though there was a tube where her spine was and the air was coming in and out of there. Next we tried “pouring into the floor” from all parts of our bodies. I really enjoyed this because I felt as though I was in really thick water and just moved slowly throughout the room across the floor. I even got to a wall and managed to pour my legs and hips up off the floor up the wall. I kept my eyes looking out into the space and watched as everyone almost melted across the space. I wondered what would happen if we melted into one another, so at some points I poured my leg or arm under someone’s body where they had created a bridge.
As we moved further into the week, we did more singing. I was very nervous, but I worked very hard at overcoming blocks. We would knock on each other’s backs releasing/forcing sounds to leave our bodies. This was great fun. It reminded me of when children shake themselves while shouting and their voices start vibrating. We worked on Drone Singing – inspired by a Bulgarian Women’s Choir; The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices. By the end of the week we had worked on Dissonance, and sang and danced together. It was a truly beautiful sound that we had created.
On Friday morning, we had a full body massage, which was very much needed! This was also a great way to get used to being touched and touching someone else’s body. After this, we told our partners what had happened to us in the past year going from month to month for 5 minutes. We were to ask our partners what we wanted to hear more about. Then we sat facing away from them and told our stories again. After this, we sat back to back and told each other memories that suddenly came into our heads. Each time we were to start with “I remember …” it surprised me how many memories came flooding back to me. Now that we had built a strong bond with our partners from massages to memories, we stood a length away from each other and were to walk with focus towards and around our partner to find where the “strongest current” was between us both – where tension was strong. Again, I thought back to Al Seed. Working on tension with him meant that we had to hold eye contact with our partner (with CoW, we were to avoid gazing into each other’s eyes for a long periods of time) and walk very slowly towards them. As soon as you saw your partner begin to smile or their gaze shifted, we were to take a step back, as this showed discomfort and that the tension was very strong.
By the end of the week, we were singing the song “Confitemini Domino”, we were moving in the space confidently, we were aware of our bodies and their limits, and everyone had grown in confidence. We learned aspects of Grotowski, and spoke of inspiring companies such as Song of the Goat Theatre. I thoroughly enjoyed the Winter Training Course, and I cannot recommend this company enough. Ewan and Anna are superb teachers and artists. I hope to work with them again soon!!
Working with Vincent Mangado from Théâtre du Soleil was one of the greatest opportunities I could ever ask for! I have learned so much in this incredibly physically intense week. Vincent worked us very hard physically – the company he works with train vigorously with their own personal trainers and Physiotherapists to ensure their bodies are strong. He compared an actor’s body to a sharpened pencil or a neat new paintbrush. The body is an actor’s tool and should not be mistreated – eat right, stay fit and healthy, and strong. But we are not body builders or weight lifting champions, we are just strong and flexible and able to hold our bodies in uncomfortable positions. We especially focused on the core and upper body strength. Now that it is the end of our four-day intensive session, my body is very sore and tired.
I took pages of notes throughout the time with Vincent. We worked on Chorus Ensemble and Silent Movies. We began to create strong connections and complicité with each other from exercises using balancing sticks and “leading the blind” to build trust and focus and learning how each other move and respond to touch. This also helped build major-minor roles. Improvisation was a very strong part of our work this week, listening to music and finding a vision to then improvise a scene. Learning to really listen to the music, as it set the tone of the scene, was actually harder than expected. I think this is because when we have a scene in mind or an emotion in mind we play that, and when a piece of music comes that forces us to change the speed of our movements it can throw us all off focus. Finding moments to stay still to create suspension was very important and one that we often forget – we think that because we are physical, we must constantly be moving, but there is so much strength and power in being still.
Vincent really taught us about respect for theatre: to speak with respectful language to each other and not using “pub talk”, not to break character on stage even when taking direction, and appropriate behaviours in devising. It was valuable discipline. We learnt not to be heavy in our movements, but not to be too light that we were floating. A big challenge was to find the balance between doing unrealistic movement without making them caricature but also making it believable – avoiding clichés.
As much as this week taught me a huge amount about being a physical theatre actor, there were great lessons every actor should take on board. Théâtre Du Soleil is an incredibly inspirational theatre company, and I urge every actor to get along to one of their workshops. Their entire ethos about theatre and stage and creation is inspirational and motivational. They have made me want to create stories to teach, motivate, encourage, and touch people with nostalgia, childhood, love, and magic.
I have always been incredibly interested in language – I practice French whenever I can, I am eager to learn the true art of performing Shakeapeare, and have a growing soft spot for poetry. No Man’s Land is a beautiful script – very eloquent and intellectual, and full of wit and metaphors. It is incredibly entertaining and makes curse words even more comical as they conflict with the rest of the language in the play. This of course made the castings of Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart excellent choices, as they are experts in portraying characters whose language is so eloquent – both training and working at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I would love to read the play to get a better sense of the language. What baffled me to begin with – once the play had ended – was I did not understand the plot. There was no severe development. But I came to the conclusion that this was the plot of the play – the characters all have incredible intelligence and creativity, but waste their time (getting completely drunk) on Earth trapped in their own little worlds, too afraid to dive into anyone elses. They finish on a conversation about if the subject never changes then nothing ever happens. They ask to stop changing the subject, clink their glasses, and the play is finished.
“You are in no man's land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but remains forever, icy and silent.” Spooner, No Man's Land by Harold Pinter
The set was basic but beautiful. I loved how the room was a circle – because that enhanced my conclusion because a circle never ends (nothing changes). The language used in the text was incredibly eloquent and full of metaphors, which made it very impressive.
But, of course, the highlight was to see Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart on stage. They were fantastic. They are my idols and so it was a pleasure to watch them live rather than on the big screen. Unfortunately, Patrick Stewart's voice was very tired and disappeared sometimes - but I loved his continuous effort. Having had my voice disappear on stage, or being unwell during a live performance, it is always amazing watching an Actor persevere. Plus - it is a reminder that actors are human as well, we get ill too.
Thank you Wyndham's Theatre for an amazing night!!
My first few lessons have been absolutely incredible - after my first two lessons, the pain was incredible!! It sounds stupid to say "I had no idea I would use so many muscles" because ... "physical theatre" kind of gives you that clue already!! - but the amount of tension in all of your muscles in falling, landing, holding yourself, and simply learning to walk all over again, was definitely felt when trying to clamber out of bed the following morning. But it was a good pain, it meant my body was learning and working and strengthening.
Yesterday, my final day in France before travelling home, I watched a Basque Improvised Poetry event.
The morning started with us continuing the baking and cooking for the event - a lot of food had been made yesterday, I made two carrot cakes and there were salads and pizzas and couscous. Today, I made the cheese cake (the best part is always getting to lick the spoon afterwards ...!!) Then we made lots of "pinxos" which is Spanish for "pinchers" meaning finger food (I learnt this while in San Sebastian the day before!)
The event ran very smoothly! Unfortunately, I do not speak any Basque, so I could not mingle as much with the audience members. Plus, I didn't understand what the poetry was about! Apparently it was very funny though! One of the highlights for me was when a goat from a nearby field decided to pipe in with the poetry with impeccable timing to match the rhythm of the poet on stage. It was incredibly entertaining and the whole audience burst out laughing. Well done to the performer, though, who carried on.
The food was disappearing rapidly, but I still managed to have some pinxos, cheese cake, a little cube of cheese cake, and some roasted chickpea stew. I love all this vegetarian food, and it is also freshly made from produce from the garden, which makes it even tastier!!
After a lot of preparing yesterday, today finally came to help Jane teach English to French primary school children. I was very nervous - as you can imagine! I wanted to use my experience of Drama Games and techniques of learning to be able to teach English.
I came up with a lesson plan, yesterday, and showed it to Jane, she loved it so much that she asked me to come along today. The lesson consisted of greeting each other in basic English, practicing animals, number and time, and colours. Today, we did not use all my games, as we are keeping some that work better for the younger children on Thursday and Friday.
Jane grabbed the children's focus by singing "Head, Shoulders, Kees and Toes", then we went around the circle and introduced ourselves and asking "what is your name?" the mispronunciation of some words was adorable! Then we learned some colours, and played with coloured balls. My idea was to pass the ball around the circle - encouraging eye contact, which builds team work and confidence - while repeating "I have a blue ball, I have a red ball" ... etc. This taught the children to recognise colours and build team work. To get the children used to eye contact and colours, we went around the circle describing eye colour "I have blue eyes, you have brown eyes ... I have brown eyes, you have brown eyes ...." etc. Then we went to the gym hall and played "What's the time Mr. Wolf?" Every time a number was called from Mr. Wolf, the children replied "big or small" referencing the size of step they should take. This taught the children sizes and numbers.
It was a wonderful afternoon, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed practicing my French with the children and helping them with their English; they responded very well to repeating what I had said or asking me questions - which was great. Plus, they were very understanding that I am not fluent in French!
After a very stressful and tough few months, I am about to embark on my new adventure!!! I am heading to the Basque Country of France, Hasparren to be exact - where it's currently 30 degrees - to volunteer in Santa Maria Hélette (a theatre and arts centre) for a couple of weeks!!! I'll be able to learn some French, see French performances, and be surrounded by theatre and culture! I am so incredibly excited!!
Mainly, I hope to get out of this a sense of reassurance and a way to live life harmoniously. I hope to discover a new culture and a new way of living life so I can live each day to the fullest.
The past few months, I have been dealing with a lot of detrimental anxiety - I hope it goes away.
I am finally on the plane to France. I have just been handed a complimentary goats cheese, honey and roquette roll, David Bowie is playing through my headphones, and the clouds have covered the view of the land below. There is no one sitting beside me, so I am enjoying taking advantage of the extra space around me, which is great because I keep getting little waves of anxiety. I am proud of myself so far, I have got on the plane, by myself. After the struggles that I have endured the past few months, this is a massive step.
It’s beautiful up here. We are soaring above the clouds with bright blue sky above us and the sun is making the clouds glow a beautiful white. It is rather impressive, especially with Bowie telling me “we can be heroes”!!
Writing is a wonderful distraction for anything, even anxiety.
When I looked out my window as the plane took off, I could not make out a single human being, only land and buildings. It made me think about how small we are, and yet how much of an impact we have on other people’s lives. I had a sense of relief – oddly – when I looked out the window and could not see anyone. It is nice to escape the manic energy that humans give off. When I look at the land and see peace and stillness it is quite remarkable and I laugh at the fact that I have let people effect me negatively.
Already, my hands are becoming more relaxed – which is great because it means I can type quicker without constantly having to delete loads of typos. I am not in a rush or anything it’s just nice to hear a voice in my head that isn’t freaking out. My stomach has stopped cramping now. Now that I feel better, I think I might go for a nap.
Attachez votre ceinture de securite – bon voyage!!!
So, I have managed to get to Bayonne!! What a beautiful city. I spoke to a couple of the locals and everyone is very friendly – I walked into a bar and was greeted straight away by customers with “Bon Soir!” and one guy even helped me get on my next bus to Hasparren. I have stopped stammering when I start to speak to people, which is fantastic! I get very nervous – especially with a different language – so I am very proud of myself!! Two very common languages here are French and Spanish. Some people speak a bit of English but most people I have met I have only spoken to them in French. Some nerves are coming back as I am finding it a little difficult to type again, but that will calm down soon. I sat on some grass and looked out over the canal with the evening sun coming in. Two girls drove along the bridge on a pink moped, which was so awesome. I have managed to buy lunch and water and have (brief) conversations so far so I am picking up the language rather well.
Everyone here is so beautiful and tanned … I can’t wait to get a bit of colour while I am here!!
It is now the 2 September. Last night, I visited Les Tilleuls and it was lovely.
The entire menu was in French, so I picked a wine - it genuinely tastes like maple syrup in a glass, fuck my life. I don't eat meat but for health reasons I occasionally have some fish, so with this in mind I order a starter - a croissant on salad ... Covered in bacon. Then I order a main ... I think it is scallops, but a massive slab of blooming turkey arrives in front of me. It's great having to send back a dish in a language you're not 100% on and with weird dietary requirements. Then I had an espresso coffee - at least I got that one right! I spoke French for 90% of my time in that restaurant – très bien!! I noticed every customer said Au Revoir to every other customer as they left. I thought this was fantastic, and incredibly friendly, and it made me eager and more comfortable to speak French to people.
I arrived at the Maison Santa Maria around 10:30pm, and met Dani (Brazil) and Pablo (Spain) – as well as our Hosts Tony and Jane. They are all incredibly friendly. For dinner we had some crusty bread with a home made spread, aubergine and anchovies, made by Pablo, it was so delicious. Then we had some wine and a dessert wine afterwards – it tasted slightly like cough medicine but I liked it!!
Today, was incredible!! It is my first day in this beautiful part of the South of France. I had some coffee and bread with some homemade Fig and Apple Jam for breakfast, then after I showered I headed outside to do some chores around the Theatre Centre; collecting and moving wood used for the enormous fireplace, weeding the cabbage patch, making tomato sauce from scratch, and then finally lunch!! We had some salads in the garden. I walked around the grounds and found their outdoor Amphitheatre – it is absolutely beautiful and adorable! Then we all went to a river on the other side of the mountains near us. It was so beautiful!! The water was so clear – however it was very cold and there were fish in it, so I decided against swimming. We then had some beers (me, a herbal chai iced tea with cinnamon) beside the river, before heading back home for dinner – Jane made us goat’s cheese and tomato crepes!!
I spoke with my family on Skype before bed, that was lovely!!
Today has been beautiful, relaxing, educational, and I cannot wait for tomorrow!
I woke up at 10am again today – 9am British time – to the church bells going off (they are so loud!). The bells chime on the hour and then again exactly two minutes after, and at 7am they chime a lot for about 10 minutes (I don’t know why). Today, we went straight to the market in the morning. There was French cheese, fish, and jams – it was lovely! I bought some postcards for my photo album. Then we headed to the beach, picking up two new volunteers – Katya (Germany) and Myra (Argentina). The waves were huge – très sauvage!! I saw a very large Hornet as well – bloody scary, basically a massive harmful wasp! Today was wonderfully relaxed, as there was no work to be done, but on Monday we will start work again. Jane has asked me to help her prepare workshops to teach English – I am extremely excited to start working on this.
It is now Sunday 4th September. Today has been excellent. I played with the kittens this morning, even gave one of the bigger cats a belly rub - baring in mine that I get very nervous around cats, this is a great thing!!! Tony, Jane, Dani and I went to a "Hippie Market" - it was so cool. This market only happens once a year in Mendione. There were so many stalls. I bought a book about a man and an elephant. It's all in French and has a Basque translation - wow!! I also treated myself to a pair of earrings! Everyone was so friendly and I practiced my French a bit but I was really nervous about trying it today. I dressed in my patchwork dungarees and felt very much at home there. We bought some wine and cheese and then headed back to the house after having a few conversations with people. I got to speak to my boyfriend and tell him all about my time here.
I have been thinking about the workshops for teaching English, and I am very excited to start working on them properly tomorrow.
Tony and Jane's friends arrived; Jill and Philip. They are so friendly and very interesting people.
While they all had a catch up, I sat by the Amphitheatre in the grounds and started writing up a sketch for a clown that I would like to start practicing. I am nervous about trying it out, but I love a challenge and I love learning!!
I made some fresh apple juice - delicious - then, Jane, Katya, Myra, Jill and I all went bramble picking. It was a very long walk - two hours - but we got so many brambles and saw so much beautiful scenery!! It has been wonderful!
We came back and started to cook dinner; ratatouille in buckwheat pancakes made by Jane and her own batter mix - I thoroughly recommend it!! Also, buckwheat is great for those who prefer gluten free! Then we sat around the table and had very deep wonderful chats.
The past few days have opened my eyes to a new lease of life. I wake up and I'm motivated, and happy, and I eat and I'm happy, I am not sitting bloated or feeling sick or unsatisfied. I eat only fresh produce from the garden or bread from the local bakery (boulangerie). We walk, we experience, we have philosophical talks, we have astronomy conversations, and learn constantly! I really think I can turn myself around and stop having panic attacks, and stop falling into just really super low moods, and stop feeling paranoid about other people. I had a great chat with Katya and Jane about my career plans and they were so positive and supportive, it was amazing to talk about them and not have someone looking at me with a disheartening expression.
Already, I am feeling better. A lot better.