Report 2017 from participant Charlotte Gallagher
What better way to start a new year than with The Poel Event?
12 actors trundled up the steps of Central School of Speech and Drama on January 4th to a warm, friendly, and reassuring welcome which set the tone for an inspiring, explorative and evolutionary two days.
A warm up helped us loosen up our stiff, hibernated limbs, shaking out the nervous energy, after which Daron Oram, Central’s voice teacher, took us from the simplicity of receiving the impulse to breathe to inhabiting the sophistication of the Elizabethan worldview. We worked on releasing tension in our own bodies before meeting every other actor in the group with wordless noises and new-found gestures. Daron had set us up to be both vulnerable and daring with each other, beautiful ingredients for both days. He reminded us to receive to give, which could be another way of explaining the Poel Event.
Physically and vocally we were ready for Sam Yates to share his vision of full-hearted Shakespeare with us. He expanded us so that we could meet the largeness of the characters we were playing without sacrificing nuance. We ‘hit our ‘t’s’, prizing clarity and delivered our pieces with commitment and daring.
After lunch we piled into the theatre to work with Erica Whyman. Sam came too. Erica aired then absolved our fears and under the banner of ‘no hiding’ we worked our pieces. Erica’s agenda was gender – she wanted us to have the freedom of exploring the characters without limitation and with her they were allowed to live in both the past and the now. It is a delight to be directed by masters of their craft because the actor simply flourishes, which is what happened that first day.
It was rounded off perfectly with Emily Jenkin’s tutelage on our duologues for our next meeting; the Richard III / Lady Anne Act 1 sc.1 wooing scene. She gave us the tools to discover what Shakespeare was doing textually that makes the scene live. She helped us uncover stage directions embedded in the verse and gave us the keys to recognise Shakespeare’s cunning semantics. Invaluable acting tools! Thank goodness – as it meant that we were prepared for the second day.
It’s a testament to the Poel Event’s atmosphere that everyone had enthusiastically met up and rehearsed before congregating at The National at 8.30 am thirteen days later.
We warmed up on a set floor that was as slippery as banana skins in some places and hazardously splintery in others. But we survived!
Barbara Houseman took a generously diagnostic approach, sitting us in a circle and letting us tell her our voice worries while she prescribed us exercises for our individual needs before offering general voice health exercises. We focussed on engagement, letting the sound travel.
Paapa Essiedu arrived and led us in different ways to approach the text and we had a ball (in fact there were lots of balls in Paapa’s session, and also post-it notes!). By the end of the workshop each pair of actors seamlessly performed their section of the scene until Lady Anne was Richard’s.
Lunch was once again, a very important part of the Poel Event and we were welcomed into the NT canteen with its view of the river, preparing ourselves for the afternoon’s opportunity to perform on the Olivier stage.
Jeanette Nelson warmed us up and let us play in the space offering techniques and vocal guidance. It was a genuine pleasure to see everyone grow their performances to match and encompass the Olivier auditorium. And how can you follow on from such an experience? Well, Ben Crystal used sticks and tennis balls. He led us in a tennis ball self-massage to release and relax our muscles and then had us dancing at arms length with each other by virtue of the sticks we held suspended between our fingers. It was an adventure in proximity before touch and a way of exploring the physical dynamics of a piece. It was meditative, imaginative and playful and was a very freeing way to end the day.
Of course, it wasn’t the end; we had drinks in the Green Room bar because over the course of those two days we had become friends.
The Poel Event is hugely empowering. It has given us an incredible training and a beautiful foundation for performing Shakespeare. Those are true gifts indeed but they are made rare and exquisite by the atmosphere of the event. That you attract such high calibre leaders of their fields to uplift a group of working actors for free is a testament to the character of the Society. I hope you are proud of this event because we are surely proud to be a part of it. Thank you.
Report 2016 from participant Sarah-Jayne Butler
The Poel Event is an incredibly important facility for us as actors to touch upon, revisit and expand our knowledge of Shakespeare. It provides a free platform where we, as professional actors, can practice new ideas and approaches with directors and practitioners who are at the forefront of this work in our industry today.
The 2016 event had a roll-call of extraordinary guest tutors: Jeremy Herrin, Jeanette Nelson, Timothy West, Ben Crystal, Caroline Byrne, Barbara Houseman, Daron Oram and Nicole Ribet all helped to make the two workshop days varied, challenging and truly inspiring.
On the morning of day one at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Nicole Ribet took us through our paces with a rigorous movement session that helped to open our bodies, and in turn our minds, to the work we were about to undertake.
Following on from Nicole’s physical warm up was Daron Oram’s extraordinary voice and text session which focused on connecting the body and voice with the text through many of Kristin Linklater’s exercises. Reminding us of the significance of the elemental and bodily humors in Elizabethan belief and how this in turn informed Shakespeare’s work, Daron worked with us to unlock the emotions associated with these organs and areas of the body through the voice. By the end of the session we all felt very much like an ensemble. There is nothing quite like sighing with your knees interlocked to create a bond between participants!
We next embarked on Caroline Byrne’s text session on The Taming of the Shrew. As Caroline was currently working on this play for her own upcoming production at The Globe later this year, it was fascinating to expand and explore the themes and ideas surrounding the play with her as well as being an exciting insight into how production ideas such as concept, approach and edits are developed from the director’s perspective.
We began by splitting into two groups and creating a shortened, dumb-show version of The Taming of the Shrew, which allowed us to identify the key plot points of the play. The results couldn’t have been more different; one group took a comedic and slapstick approach to the storytelling, whereas the other focused on the physical telling – an approach which created a strong impact when dealing with Petruchio’s harsh treatment of Kate after they are married. Again, we were reminded about what a complete vision is required of a director and also how other elements can inform and support artistic choices.
The afternoon began in RCCSD’s beautiful theatre space, with a paragon of British theatre, Timothy West. We had been set individual soliloquies to prepare for this session and it was a welcome challenge to have the opportunity to look at some of Shakespeare’s biggest speeches. One by one he worked with each of us on unlocking the text on the stage. Tim helped us see that Shakespeare’s soliloquies can be broken into three categories that could help us to find the focus and address of each speech; these were the inner, the outer or the upward. The inner, comprising of working out ideas within yourself, the outward working out ideas with the audience and the upward, which discusses these ideas with broader elements such as time, nature or God. To try out new ideas, be introduced to new approaches and to be guided with the text individually by Tim was an incredible experience and his generosity and passion made this session extremely inspiring.
And so to the final session of day one, led by Emily Jenkins. Emily split us into groups of two and three to work on scenes and duologues, which we would later expand on during day two at the National Theatre. Our scenes were taken from Twelfth Night and centered on the relationship between Viola and Olivia. Working with Emily on the text we explored the sometimes erratic line structure and textual clues found in the scenes, with a view to meeting up in our groups during the intervening days prior to Monday’s workshops at the National. I had been given the first meeting of Viola and Olivia and what became apparent was how both characters spoke in different forms – Viola predominantly in verse and Olivia in prose right until the end of the scene where she falls in love and subsequently, into verse. Emily pointed out to us that verse was spoken because it was the truth at the heart of a character whereas prose was often used when a character was disguising something. This again gave us a fascinating insight into the inner life of Shakespeare’s characters.
Five days later on a frosty Monday, we were reunited at the stage door of the National Theatre – a unique opportunity for us to embrace the skills we had learned so far and develop them further. Beginning the day was Nicole Ribet with another terrific movement session that got our bodies responsive and prepared for the work we were about to embark upon.
We moved on from our bodies and into warming up our voices next with the inimitable Barbara Houseman. Barbara’s session was tailored to our own needs and requirements and allowed us to work on any areas we individually felt needed support and guidance. She took time with all of us, dispelling voice myths, suggesting exercises and helping to identify areas that needed work. It is rare as an actor to have the opportunity to ‘check in’ with technical skills after training and Barbara’s session was yet another reason why the Poel Event is such an invaluable resource in helping professional actors to improve their craft and to continue to develop and build their skill-set. We were now able to fully commit to the language we were about to work on and felt ready to begin work on the vast stage of the Olivier with director Jeremy Herrin.
Jeremy worked with us on the text as he would in rehearsals – excavating the language and meaning. He encouraged us to question and be bold with our decisions. We had the opportunity to work our scenes with him on the stage and through this work Jeremy helped us ensure we were not getting lost in the words at the expense of the story. A helpful reminder that all of our technical work so far has been to open up, release and connect with the text so we could best serve the story.
As we began to gain confidence with the text (and with the view of the Olivier’s 1,600 seat auditiorium!), we were introduced to the National’s Head of Voice, Jeanette Nelson, who took us through our paces with a thorough warm up before we began embarking on some more detailed scene work. Jeanette very swiftly worked out our individual areas of tension and offered useful ways to unlock them. The detailed and specific advice she offered to each of us during the session helped us all to connect with the space and perform with a newly found ease, on arguably one of the most important (and largest) stages in the country.
Having found our feet on stage at the National Theatre, we then headed back to the rehearsal room for the final session of the day with Ben Crystal. With Ben we worked using sticks to balance and find our centre and by doing so, releasing the focus from the text and allowing it to flow. The session was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with instinct and the body, and was a useful reminder that sometimes by using an outside focus, we can free the text and open up new possibilities of rhythm and relationship. The final half of our session with Ben and of the day itself focused on the First Folio text and how we can initially approach a speech through the clues in Shakespeare’s rhythm, line length and thought-structure.
Over the two workshops days we developed new skills and reconnected with the extraordinary language and form of Shakespeare’s work. By exploring his plays through movement, voice and text sessions we were reminded that as actors we must commit fully both technically and imaginatively in order to realise and release the depth of Shakespeare’s work and characters. The Poel Event has been an exciting and inspiring opportunity for myself and the other participants to continue developing our understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare’s work and it has made me eager to continue this learning.
Some Feedback from Participants
I absolutely loved both days of the Poel Event. It was incredible to be able to explore and play with a text without the pressure of having to get anything “right”, but simply to improve our craft. It was a luxury I’m not sure I even had at drama school! All the practitioners who came in to work with us were inspiring and supportive and I learned so much from each of them. The level of skill from all the participants was brilliant but what was even better was how generous, positive and kind everyone was. It was truly a safe place to play, learn and develop. I only wish I could do it every week! Emma Fernell
What you offer is an experience beyond what can be received for professional actors looking to further their skills. It was a gift for me to take part and work with other actors exploring and finding new techniques. All the practitioners inspired me and like most great things, it leaves you wanting more. Prince Plockley
What a treat, to spend two days playing with the best professionals in the business. It really is an extraordinary experience to come back to basic voice techniques, this time armed with the knowledge and experience of having worked in the industry, and then adapting this for one’s own use. I found it hugely beneficial in terms of checking back in with my warm-ups and vocal health and it was also brilliant fun. Felicity Davidson
After graduating, I had to find work alongside acting in order to support my children and me. Having made the decision to return to the world of acting full time, I found I was hungry for a refresher and some time to focus once again on the technicalities of stage acting and particularly classical text. This event was an answer to my prayers. I was able to learn from some of the most respected practitioners in the profession. I identified some areas where I’d slipped into bad habits over the years, learned new techniques and was pushed outside my comfort zone in terms of the roles I would normally choose to play, which opened up a whole new aspect of myself as an actor. All of this was done in a safe, nurturing environment and served to provide a much needed confidence boost. I was blessed to be working with genuinely lovely and equally hungry and dedicated actors as well as voice coaches, directors and producers for whom I have a real respect. The chance to perform on the Olivier stage was the highlight of my year – and my career to date – and has given me back the focus and drive that had been chipped away at after many years out of drama school.
It’s important to mention that all of this was delivered for free! In a profession where actors are regularly asked to work for free, encouraged to pay for development workshops (despite having paid huge amounts for drama school) and often expected to pay to meet with casting directors, there have been many occasions where I have wondered whether or not I can afford to be an actor. The fact that this valuable experience was offered free of charge is incredibly important as I wouldn’t have been able to take part had it been charged for – I’m sure I’m not the only one. As well as being a thoroughly enriching experience, The Poel Event is ensuring that access to education on classical text is inclusive. Sarita Plowman
The Poel Event 2016 was one of the best learning experiences I have ever been a part of. I haven’t had as much exposure to Shakespeare and classical text as I would’ve liked, so I wanted to take part in the event to challenge and help myself to be able to pursue castings in classical text with confidence. By the end of the event not only did I feel confident with classical text but also with all text and castings across the board. The practitioners we worked with had so much knowledge and understanding and really cared about helping us achieve our potential. My biggest issue is my own self doubt which, after working with these people, whilst on the Olivier stage I realised my self-doubt is what is stopping me from achieving my goals. It is very easy in this industry to stagnate and get stuck in a routine. To have something like the Poel Event which helps reaffirm your training with such distinguished tutors is invaluable. We were able to create a safe working environment where we were all able to make mistakes, learn and help one another whilst taking on board all of the notes that were given by the practitioners. Andrew Bowerman
The Poel Event was an inspiring workshop. We had the privilege to work with top professionals in the industry in a safe and trusting environment – it allowed us to play, experiment, and be creative. Performing on the Olivier stage was a highlight. The two days were intense and exciting and I only wish there had been more! For actors who have been in the industry a while, the Poel Event is a wonderful way to return to your craft without the pressures of the industry. I have taken away so many lessons from those two days and they’ve already improved my work. Aslam Hussain
I felt incredible lucky to have been part of what is a truly unique experience. It was amazing to be back in the room with a company of actors exploring our bodies, imaginations and voices. The experts that worked with us were the best in their field and gave us an opportunity to learn from their extensive knowledge.The play that was experienced and the bravery that my fellow actors displayed was a privilege to behold. I learnt freedom of voice and found my child’s imagination over our two days together, something that is easily forgotten as we grow. Thank you so much to the hard work and dedication this event takes to hold together, its a must for any actor wanting to explore their craft. Mia Keadell
This was such an invaluable experience – I feel incredibly grateful and lucky to have been a Poel Event 2015 participant. The opportunity to work with these incredible and highly experienced practitioners was just fantastic and provided me with such a diverse, yet wholly practical, set of approaches to working on classical texts. The amount of ground covered in just two days was astounding and I have come away with a renewed sense of confidence in regards to approaching and performing Shakespeare’s plays, and in acting generally. I feel that crucial aspects of my previous drama training have been both refreshed and deepened and it was great to be reminded of just how much work is required to maintain one’s ‘instrument’. Any complacency I had has been removed and I have been provided with the tools to really develop as a performer.
A unique experience made even more amazing by the fact that it’s completely free to take part. Molly Small
The Poel Event is simply a wonderful opportunity for actors, and one that I can’t recommend too highly. It provides two days of quality time with some of the best practitioners in the theatre world, giving their full focus and attention to help you improve, grow and develop in your craft. I’ve been a professional actor for several years, and have appeared in several Shakespeare productions, and my two days with the Poel Event have given me invaluable new insights into how to approach classical text and prepare my voice for performance. Jeremy Drakes
Being part of the 2015 Poel Event was an absolute gift. Working with phenomenal directors and voice coaches who are all incredibly inspiring; Blanche McIntyre was simply a dream to work with and watch the other actors work with. The voice sessions were just what you need after having been out of drama school a few years. A real boot camp under the best possible circumstances. Katherine Rodden
It is quite singular as an event. There are no other workshops of it’s kind that I know of. To be able to work with masters of their craft in a learning, non judgmental, supportive environment such as the Poel Event offers (at no financial cost to performers) an incredibly rare and wonderful opportunity. Emma Deegan
I can’t think of any workshop like The Poel Event. It is a truly unique experience that any actor should give theirs, and three of their friends, left and right arms to participate in. You learn an enormous amount over the two days and every shred is something that you can take away and use. I would urge any professional actor looking to develop their approach to voice and classical text to apply. I feel at a significant advantage and extremely lucky having done so. Tom Scurr