This took the form of a free training day for professional actors. On Wednesday 31st October at the National Theatre the 24 selected applicants began a series of intensive sessions whish started at 9.30 am and finished at 6pm. The four main sessions were led by actress, Prunella Scales, Braham Murray (Founding Artistic Director of the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester), Jeannette Nelson (Head of Voice at the National Theatre) and David Carey (Senior Voice Tutor at the RADA).
How The Applicants Were Selected
All applicants were required to complete a form giving details of their acting or production experience and which also gave them an opportunity to make personal statements. Some applicants were subsequently telephoned, enabling them to clarify details and to make a good case for their selection. Applications were assessed by the Organiser, a member of the STR Committee and an Open University Lecturer, all three have performing, and/or production experience. There were approximately three applicants for every place.
Participants had to be professional performers who left an appropriate training over two, and not more than six, years ago. The selectors looked for evidence of a reasonable work record for the time any individual had been in the business.
With possibly one exception, all applicants had performed in several 'classic' plays in theatre. Some had substantial or leading parts in productions in Bath, Regent's Park and other well-known companies. Others got their theatre experience on tours and in 'studio' theatres. Most were also selected because they had a 50/50 work balance between theatre and other mediums. One or two had spent some years in another career. If the participant's work record was unexceptional, the selectors also looked for evidence or personal statements showing some spirit or enterprise. We gambled that, as a result of their participation in the event, all would proselytise for the continuing production of our dramatic heritage and better standards of speech, wherever they might direct or perform in future.
The finally selected group was made up of 13 women and 11 men, with ages ranging from 25 to 42. The average age was 31. All but one had English as a first language.
The day started in the Ashcroft Room at the National Theatre at 0930 hrs.
This was a brief talk on William Poel and his work by the Organiser, with information on his influence on classic theatre production through the C20.
Participants were then divided into five groups and each was asked to formulate a question that they hoped would be addressed during the day. (See Final Session)
Session Two (Rehearsal Room)
Braham Murray "I was taught how to approach verse speaking by Neville Coghill in an extraordinary one on one session before I directed my first professional Shakespeare and I've handed that on in the dozen or more I've done since."
Session Three (Rehearsal Room)
David Carey: Heightened language in today's world
Actors today, brought up in a culture that celebrates informal speech and the throwaway gag, have a very difficult balancing act to achieve when speaking classical text. This workshop explored ways to make the vitality and muscularity of heightened language, in particular Shakespearean text, accessible to both the contemporary actor and the contemporary audience.
Session Four (The Olivier Theatre)
Jeannette Nelson: Rhetorick: the art of persuasion Filling the space with the text: a workshop on restoration texts.
Session Five (The Olivier Theatre)-
Prunella Scales: Big Stuff Reading the Score
This session worked on speeches of the participant's choice, helping to incorporate the ideas from the other sessions of the day.
The final (informal) session
The day ended in a Conference room for feedback and a chance to wind down.
The five questions set at the beginning of the day were considered:
1. We want an invigorating day where we can play confidently with language, taking away techniques to re-use.
2. In striving to communicate Shakespeare's language truthfully, what relevance should one's own accent have?
3. How to use heightened language and communicate the truth of the text?
4. How much should the structure of the verse and the size of the [performing] space influence the truthfulness of the verse?
5. How can we explore the balance between technique and making the verse our own?
The group concluded that four of the five questions had been answered. The hesitation was over question four. The issue of the effects of the actor's playing space was only addressed in the Olivier session. After brief discussion, it was felt that some of the other techniques used during the day may have their effect on this topic but, if so, only over time. Most comments then concentrated on the positive value of working on the Olivier stage.
In summary, participants were very positive about the day; they said opportunities for further training were limited and often very expensive; they felt that some workshops aimed at professionals were variable in quality and usefulness. Some commented on how surprised and pleased they were that such an event with such high-profile tutors would be offered for free.
[See also post-event email comments.]
THESE COMMENTS WERE RECEIVED FROM PARTICIPANTS AFTER THE EVENT
"Many thanks for a great day on Wednesday. It really did invigorate and reassure me, and I'm sure others, and was a lot of fun. All four tutors were excellent, and it brought back great memories of playing with text and making discoveries. It was also great to be able to use the Olivier; and wow! it is deceiving on stage how much smaller the auditorium seems."
"I had a brilliant day and really found it not only useful but great fun! Please pass on my sincere thanks to all the practitioners from the day".
Prunella Scales summary notes "are sooo valuable I want to print them and read them each night when I go to bed like a mantra!!!"
"Thanks so much again for the other day, it was so much fun, and I learnt a lot, truly, and have written to the head at the National to say what I thought too!!"
The event "was extremely valuable and a great success. I think it's wonderful the level of good will that exists in the theatre world. ...I had a fantastic day, learned a tremendous amount and met some great people."
"I spoke to my friend and know he feels he gained a great deal from the day."
"I just wanted to say the whole day was extremely valuable for a young professional like me, as moving away from the training of drama school, the opportunity to refresh your skills is all too rare. I hope STR will be in a position to offer this wonderful opportunity to many other young actors in the future."
MORE INFORMATION ON THE VOCAL 'PROBLEM'
Peter Gill's Introduction to "Actors Speaking", edited by Lyn Hall for Oberon Books, is a fifteen-page analysis and commentary on the theatrical, social, economic and political influences on the actor's speech from the start of the twentieth century to today. For anyone seriously interested in theatre speech and the classic texts this is essential reading.
Poel Events wish to acknowledge:
Nic Hytner, Director of the National Theatre for his practical help and encouragement, the session leaders - Prunella Scales, Jeannette Nelson, Braham Murray and David Carey - for their desire to pass on their devotion to their craft, and from the STR - Eileen Cottis, Mark Fox, Valerie Kaneko and Howard Loxton - for their wisdom, advice and practical assistance.
STR News Archive
12th May 2008