Poel Event 2014 – Report

The Poel Event 2014 was held on the 5th and 14th February.

Following feedback in 2012 from participating actors it was agreed that this year’s Poel Event should take place over two days. The aim was to provide twelve actors with an enriched and substantial experience in classical text, as they engaged with leading specialists over six two-hour workshops.

Professor Gavin Henderson, principal of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, very generously gave permission for the first three workshops to be held in the CSSD Embassy Theatre and a state of the art studio. These workshops underpinned the work the actors experienced in three further two-hour workshops at the National Theatre: two of these took place on the Olivier Theatre Stage.

Sir Nicholas Hytner has generously welcomed the Poel Event to the National Theatre for a number of years. No charges were made by either institution. Prior to the workshops, three days of auditions were held at the Spotlight premises off Leicester Square and our thanks thanks go to Nigel and Ben Seale as no charge was made for the use of the studios. It is thanks to this wonderful ongoing support from the profession that the Poel Event is able to continue, although fund-raising for the cost of workshops remains a challenge.

The Workshops
At Royal Central, the first workshop, Movement and Text, involved learning a Branle and combining the simple dance steps with dialogue from Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure, and The Tempest. The workshop leaders were Nicole Ribet, who teaches at PPA Guildford, and Emily Jenkins, writer and freelance director. The STR’s President, Timothy West, led the Shakespeare’s Sonnets workshop. The final workshop in the Embassy Theatre was Classical Speeches, led by Jane Boston, who is leader of MA Voice Studies and Head of the International Centre for Voice at Royal Central.

The day at the National Theatre began with a Physical Warm-up conducted by Nicole Ribet. This was followed by a Technical Voice workshop, led by Barbara Houseman, international voice and acting coach and formerly with the RSC. The Classical Duologues acting workshop on the Olivier stage was lead by director Rachel Kavanaugh who after the Poel Event went on to direct productions at Liverpool and Chichester. The final workshop The Voice in Action also took place on the Olivier Theatre stage and was led by Jeannette Nelson, Head of Voice at the NT. Jeanette worked on the classical duologue scenes, and offered advice and exercises to improve audibility in this challenging space.

Next year I shall stand down as organiser, but I shall continue as convenor. Emily Jenkins will take over the organisation and Howard Loxton and Warren Hearnden will continue on the committee.

Samples from the actors’ feedback
Firstly I wanted to thank you all for your organisational brilliance in making the Poel Event 2014 so enjoyable and beneficial.

The audition was very friendly, yet challenging in a good way and they took their time to get to know us and help us get a deeper understanding of the text we had chosen.

The two days have increased my confidence considerably and have given me a renewed sense of ownership and entitlement to speak those texts.

Nicole’s dance and warm up sessions were getting us into our body very quickly and made us aware of the differences in attitude and posture in those times …

I wish we could have seen ourselves when we put together Nicole’s dance … and Emily directed us

It was an honour to sit with Timothy West in an informal environment and explore Shakespeare’s sonnets.

He [Timothy West] took his time with each person’s sonnet and made it seem very easy. The time flew by much too quickly

Rachel and Jeannette used a varying approach and challenged us … They both put a lot of energy and passion into teaching us skills … and it was amazing see the changes through their work with us.

The environment allowed us all to be creative, playfull, collaborative and daring.

The remaining sessions on both days completely surpassed my expectations! What an exciting afternoon with Jane – so playful and adventurous. …She equipped us with an incredibly useful vocal kit. As did Barbara on the Friday morning. Both coaches were utterly inspiring and gave us different approaches that I will certainly remember and apply to my acting.

It was such a good discipline to work with Jeannette, because she was focusing primarily on voice. This meant you have to work on posture and vocal technique, but also play the scene and listen to your partner … continue to act and be affected by what they were saying …

I thought the selected participants were fantastic … I think you did a wonderful job with the selection process and allowed us … to find fellow actors whose abilities we respected.

The Poel Event was a wonderful opportunity to revisit some forgotten truths and techniques about voice, breath, text and Shakespeare learned at drama school, but perhaps not used for a while, as well as to pick up some new ones to add to the tool box.

The process of having the workshops over two days works so well.

I came home feeling exhilerated and yearning for more!

So thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Professor Michael Gaunt, Convenor and Organiser
25 March 2014

Pictures from the day can be seen on the Poel facebook page.

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