Actor/Director Lab November 2011 Day 5

Taj Atwall – Actor Participant

“This week pushed my creative limits and exceeded all my expectations. Kristine's intense, direct 'hands-on' approach and really breaking your work down and working every little detail is something I have rarely experienced. From day one she created an environment for us to relax and dispel any nerves. With people at all levels and stages of their career on the course I was apprehensive about what benefit I would gain from the course. I have never used my cultural background or language this way before and regardless of where you came from we all had something to learn. From the get-go we were learning and creating and understanding the acting/directing relationship. Directors were really tested and questioned with every decision they made to help them make the best choices, all with the mind-set of 'getting the most out of you actor' and to 'make the actor the best they can be'. We had a diverse dynamic in the class and have never encountered such support and encouragement from a group of people before. We really let one another make mistakes without judgement, allowing everyone to exceed their potential. The different situations we got to work in were brilliant. From improvisation with monologues, to improvisation including your text and language to working on movement and text (Child of the Divide) with the whole class and even a fantastic 'clown' workshop. You learnt how to work in detail with your body and internal voice (not loud over-bearing 'stage' voice), on your own, in small and large groups with all ranges of text and language and even accents! After studying 3 years at drama school and college, this was by far the most I have ever learnt and gained as a multi-cultural actress!”

Ruby Rall - Actor Participant

“I’m feeling sad and a little emotional at the thought of today being that last day, because in reflecting back on my lab week I realised I had travelled a lot of distance over the five days  - in a personal, emotional, and educational unfolding journey. I’ve just experienced a liberating forum this week where I could open up. I liked that fact that Kristine created the space inviting and encouraging me to be real. I felt I could just let myself go and be authentically Yorkshire Punjabi, and bring myself along with all my ‘life stuff’ to draw from as an actress: the good, the bad and the ugly; warts and all because that what makes people interesting. At last I didn’t have to suppress any sense of having to ‘act’ like a character or create a pre-conceived, so-called perfect picture in my head, nor narrate myself of how I think I should be. I could let go of all that nonsense that doesn’t work and as I embraced Kristine’s practice I opened up more: unscrambling my old programming, and re-programming myself in a new way that serves me as an actress. It was exciting feeling like this, which is why I wanted to relish the experience even more and didn’t want to go back home so soon to Leeds where I feel suppressed in my non-acting regular world and conventional way of being. It’s now day 5 and somehow my onion layers had been peeling away slowly over the week and today I got to the very core of me – so no wonder I am feeling like this. I’ve also had an intense positive lunchtime chat with Kristine, where I felt I could trust her and value her opinion and didn’t have overly explain myself to her as I knew she already understood all the personal things I was sharing with her. This important conversation with Kristine polarised everything for me as an actress, as I had been deeply pensive all throughout the lab week about my acting experience, ability, how I felt as an actress, what I wanted to do in my acting career, and how I wanted to express myself in my work.

As the whole actor director relationship lab week was very much experiential, it is challenging to intellectualise it into words. The whole week has flown by with enjoyment and been such a wonderful five day journey where we have done so much together in the lab: we all had our moments of metamorphosis and it was a delight watching each actor transform instantly before our eyes in every performance piece.  It was all thanks to Kristine Landon-Smith passionately working at her practice and sharing it with us in such a way that we were weaved into the process as actors and directors and the marriage between the two entities resulted in such a good relationship, communication and understanding between the two which resulted in a great piece of work every time.  Kristine made sure she educated all of us in understanding why something did work and why something didn’t work – it was clearly important to know both in order to get it and then do it.

From day 1, when I introduced myself to the group, I was nervous and excited about what lay ahead. I wondered if we would all connect as people. How were we going to look at how we relate to each other as actors and directors? It was an intriguing psychology, about learning about myself and others around me. Kristine’s opening statement: “If a good actor is bad then it is the director’s fault, because they haven’t done their job of making the actor great”! Phew and Hallelujah I thought! I was glad she said that, not because it was easy to come from the point of view of blaming the director, but to emphasis that the director has such a responsibility in their job on how they are having an effect on the actor. It is all very well when things are going swimmingly, but in my past experiences no one seemed bothered enough to look at why things were going wrong between an actor and director. Yet, I know from having candid conversations with other actors that we all knew that we had so much more in us and our acting and the block/barriers, in the form of the director, start to affect our work in a negative and limiting way; and it is all so unnecessary. However Kristine was bothered and wanted to do something about it and I’m glad she created this lab so that we all could learn too. Thank goodness Kristine shared with us how it could all be avoided through focusing on the relationship between the actor and the director, and boundary definition of jobs we both had to do, and how important the communication needed to be clear, specific and helpful to the actor. It was not acceptable for directors to impose their pre-conceived views on how things should be, without being open to the vast array of possibilities of what the actor can bring to their work. It reminded me of past negative experiences where some directors had their judgements about me along with their stereotype of how I am as a British Asian female; yet in reality they didn’t have a clue what to do with me as an actress and wanted me to fit into a an unrealistic pattern that they had created. So, thankfully Kristine understood that, and explained this to the directors, I felt she raised respect for the actors and gave importance to getting to know who we really are as people. Hence her practice of understanding the actors’ ‘cultural context’ (be that using a mother-tongue language or anything else that made the actor feel comfortable) was paramount in opening up the door to the actor.

When I performed my first monologue, I was amazed at just how comfortable I felt speaking in my own Punjabi language and the way I was emoting felt so real. Kristine recognised that the next thing to help me be more powerful was to get me to project across the other side of the room to the supporting in actor who was standing on top of the stairs. I was scared that my voice would not go that far. In the end I had projected my voice strongly, and I could feel my whole body emoting, and could feel heat in my face and chest heavily breathing and my heart beating strongly in reality just as my the character in my monologue. I was in shock at what I had just done and happy about it at the same time – I could do it! Kristine explained that I needed support from the director to get me to be more grounded and which then in turn gave me more confidence. Some of the other actors came up to me to give feedback that they felt emotional in the audience, and a couple had tears in their eyes – my goodness I can’t believe Kristine supported me to get into that state so rapidly and unbeknown to me, it evoked such an emotion in the audience. Before day 1 was over I already had powerful experiences due to Kristine’s approach, supportively empowering me as an actor. I didn’t expect the results to be so instant. I had to let go of what I had originally created in my monologue preparation, and trust my own spontaneity as Kristine anchored me, and this in turn gave me confidence to use the power of my own voice. The scene did not require me to do anything else; it was powerful enough through the emotional journey of the improvisation which was then replicated when I went into text.

By day 2 I was beginning to appreciate the importance and relevance of playing games. Kristine explained that she wanted us to experience ‘play’ as adult actors as opposed to playing games like children in a playground. It was interesting listening to her educate the directors that they had to carefully select a game, thinking about its relevance and appropriateness to the work they had just done with an actor beforehand and what they were about start anew. She was asking directors to think if the they were doing their job to ensure we actors are comfortable during games and ‘open to play’ in the work ahead. She reminded directors to ask themselves if they were speaking in a clear, specific, exact and helpful way even when giving instructions to the actors about a game. Everything we did as a group, from game warm up to acting/play was connected. Kristine emphasised that a director must give a reason why they have given particular direction and complete the direction sentence with “I would like you to do X because of X” (explaining the reason why) to the actor. This then gave me further clarity and as an actress as to why my director had just said something to me, and I clearly understood why and didn’t have to be thinking about why they said whatever it was. Furthermore, Kristine made an important point to the directors about being careful they didn’t say anything damaging or negative to the actor that could dangerously have a long lasting effect on the actor, and get in the way of the actor’s thought process and ultimately affect the actor’s work.

Thank goodness Kristine was teaching the importance of the director being with the actor and being clear that it is not about what the director wants therefore there is no point in a director doing heavy preparation even before having interacted with the actors. Finally someone like Kristine had given the relationship between director and actor the importance it really needs, because it is at the core of the work that is being created between director and actor. Kristine made the actors feel important, and that in turn made me feel valued as a person and trusted as an actor. I was amazed that Kristine was watching all of us like a hawk and yet she was so subtly discreet about they way she went about doing so and noticing every single minute detail about all of us. She was exemplary at her job as a director in making it important to finding the key to open the door to me and all the other actors – she is taking note of everything, nothing goes unnoticed. During feedback to directors after a scene, Kristine’s psychological explanations were so insightful, and explained with tact, sensitivity when she was carefully describing how I am feeling as an actor, and telling the directors about what is and what is not working for me as an actress in a scene. Her exactness took the words right out of my mouth. It was a relief that Kristine was giving this feedback to the directors, because in the real world a director may not be open such honest feedback from me as an actress.

In future I endeavour to be more confident in subtly vocalising and requesting the director to be more clear and concise in their direction if something they are saying is not useful / helpful for me. My understanding now is that the actor director relationship has to be 50:50 if it is to work well in synergy. If the actor and director don’t have a connection, and don’t give their relationship importance then how can they work together and collaborate on a piece of work?

My confidence was steadily increasing as I got more comfortable with the other actors and directors, and improvisation and duologues were playful. I was found that I could improvise in so many different creative ways the more I was enjoying playing with the other actors. This resulted in experimenting with different improvisations, but essentially keeping the emotional journey the same, which evolved into the end performance being believable and spontaneous.

By day 5, my reflection brings me back to the beginning of my blog: I’d spent this intense five day journey with wonderful actor and director participants, and there was an opportunity to join the ever growing Tamasha Developing Artists network and carry on Kristine’s practice with like minded people. The lab week got the best out of me, maybe what years of drama school would not – so I don’t have any regrets now about not being formally trained at an acting establishment. Experiencing Kristine as a director and her passion for her practice, and her investment in me makes me feel valued and even more motivated than before that I want to create and play even more in my acting work. I will definitely be staying connected with Tamasha, the TDA buddies I made here, and keeping the cultural context practice alive because it feels right and feels real. Kristine’s intentions were definitely realised in reality: as an actor I definitely feel that she was with me - the actor, and she did a great job in making me look great as an actor. She made me feel comfortable as an actor and open to play. I was able to act upon her clear and specific direction. I felt complimented, encouraged and supported by her. My acting mojo has been revived along with my self belief in my potential as an actress – so I’m determined and excited to go onwards and upwards from here. I strongly recommend the actor director lab week to anyone – it is well worth the time and money – return on investment is high. Thank you to Kristine, Tamasha, participant actors and directors for a memorable and special experience. Here’s to creating great work through creating great actor director relationships!”

Shakera Ahad – Director Participant

“On the final day we arrived to begin work on our Checkhov extracts. Actors and directors had been put together by Kristine earlier in the week, and I was appropriately bumbling down useless alleyways with my two patient yet bemused actors when she arrived in time to set me back on track. “Simplify” were the words painstakingly repeated to me throughout the week. I had been trying so hard to follow Kristine’s method I’d overstressed the pressure on myself and over-complicated the process for the actors. We worked on relaxing the actors into the scene with an improvisation set in our real situation, a workshop at Graeae Studios. We moved to text without changing the scenario – it was just that the words were provided instead of having to make them up. Simple. Useful. Good.

Throughout the week I was challenged again and again to develop what I thought I already knew into a useful structure in which an actor can ‘be good’. I was taught the importance of stepping aside from what you think you see and what you want to see to actually seeing an actor; not their ‘character’ but the reality of themselves, of the situation. The workshop spun my perception of the Director’s role on its head, in terms of both working with actors and in the wider industry context.

The political and moral questions raised by the workshop were as challenging as the training. Whether we live in the Capital, a region or in the country, we exist as part of a National multicultural society. Yet in the (limited) moments I had to ponder during the week, I tried to recall the plays, events, conferences and rehearsals I have attended, with the same percentage of varied backgrounds present at this Lab. Not once in my life had the attendants been as diverse as we were in that room. This workshop was a celebration amongst all [actors and directors] and our shared willingness to truly innovate the industry in all senses of the word.

On the Actor/Director Lab, I got exactly what I needed and much more than I wanted... in the best way. It’s the most rigorous and challenging approach I have ever encountered. Simply amazing.”