The Director’s Report to the STR Committee on the 2019 Workshop
The 2019 Poel Workshop was held at Royal Central School on March 8 and continued at the National Theatre on March 22.
Auditions were held at The Spotlight on February 21st,22nd, 25th and 26th. Further auditions took place at The Sheffield Crucible Theatre on 1st March. Auditions were conducted by Richard Williams, Howard Loxton and Warren Hearnden. Molly Leigh Moy was administrative assistant for the auditions. The auditions were publicized through the STR website, the Molly website, social media and through past participants. A diverse group of 12 actors with at least two years’ professional experience, were selected from the auditions. 9 actors were selected from the London auditions and 3 from the Sheffield auditions. As in the past an invitation to participate was offered to young National Theatre actors, but this year there were no takers.
The Garrick Club had previously granted the Society a grant of £4,000 for the Poel Workshop to be more inclusive geographically. Because the workshop days have to start at 8.30 in order to accommodate the number of planned activities, it has been difficult for actors living outside the London commuter belt to participate. The Garrick funding made it possible to offer auditions in Sheffield, to offer rail/bus fares and modest overnight accommodation for the actors recruited from the north of England. It should be gratefully acknowledged that the actors awarded financial help were painstakingly modest in their claims, thus keeping the fund at a good level for ensuing years.
The day started with a warm up session taken by movement expert Ita O’Brien (movement lecturer at Drama Centre and Royal Central School) and this was followed by a vocal preparation workshop from Daron Oram, lecturer in voice at Royal Central School. The morning session was completed by a session on breathing and vocal delivery from Peter Knapp, lecturer at Trinity College of Music.
The afternoon session was a single workshop delivered by Ben Crystal who introduced a number of new techniques to enable a clearer understanding of Shakespearean text. In particular he analysed a number of specimen speeches from the point of view of the clues on interpretation contained within the verse. These clues included a sharp focus on the variations in the use of the iambic pentameter and how this could suggest ways of delivering the lines.
Finally the actors were put into pairs and given a Shakespeare scene to prepare for the second day at The National Theatre.
The day started with Ita O’Brien giving a second warm up session, and his was followed by Nona Sheppard (senior lecturer at RADA and the Lir Academy Dublin) giving a workshop on the structure of Shakespeare speeches and how the actor could respond in performance. This was followed by Jeannette Nelson, Head of Voice National Theatre, working with the actors on the stage of the Olivier Theatre on their previously prepared monologues.
In the afternoon director David Thacker (Young Vic, RSC and Bolton) continued on the Olivier stage working with the actors on the scenes which had been selected at the end of Day 1. The day ended with a session from Barrie Rutter, sharing his insights into Shakespearean plays in performance.
The Poel Workshop provides a unique opportunity for young actors to refresh their knowledge of techniques of delivery of Shakespeare text, and to introduce new approaches and ideas. It is generally acknowledged that for most actors there are fewer and fewer opportunities for the development of skills and the chance to perform Shakespeare. The enthusiasm with which the workshop sessions are greeted is testimony to their value and importance. There is no doubt a demand and a market for the workshops, particularly when they are delivered by such high-profile professionals.
Feedback from Participants in the Poel Workshop 2019
I would like to express my sincere thanks to The Society for Theatre Research, The Garrick Club and all those involved in The Poel Workshop 2019, for an incredible experience.
In 2013, during my time at the University of Liverpool studying Accounting and Finance, I would watch Jeannette Nelson on The National’s Youtube channel teaching vocal warm-ups. I would apply and use these during my time at the university’s drama society, taking the vocal techniques and teaching them to my colleagues and friends. It was therefore truly surreal and an absolute honour to have Jeannette, 6 years later, guiding me on The Olivier Theatre stage and watching her guide my fellow ‘workshoppers’ through their speeches. You could feel the awe and passion coming from everyone in the workshop as we each took our first steps onto that stage.
Having not trained professionally, the opportunity to play on such a historic stage and to be taught by these knowledgable, dedicated people, was amazing; it has presented me with a stronger belief in myself and my own limitations, alongside a plethora of new practical skills to develop, improve and expand on.
I have only personally discovered the importance of yoga in the last 3 months and I am further inspired to continue with it after meeting Peter Knapp. His stories and life were like something from another world to mine and it was brilliant to hear the wisdom he had to pass on. I have already started to apply his breathing exercises.
After this workshop I will never be able to read a line of Shakespeare in the same way again. As I mentioned, I did not train professionally, and classes in analysing Shakespeare are fairly few and far between… However after the time spent with Ben Crystal and Nona Shepphard, it feels like a new language has been opened up to me. I would now feel immeasurably more confident approaching any Shakespearean text.
Ben’s teaching on the Kino-sphere and Ita O’Brien’s warm up were both wonderfully physical and exhilarating; it was great to be able to explore different perspectives and techniques to increase and explore our bodies’ reach. The time with David Thacker was also brilliant and great to meet him; his dynamic directing style was engaging and the improvement within 20 minutes that everyone seemed to make, was stark. A real honour again on that beautiful stage. Finally, Barrie Rutter, a real burst of energy at the eleventh hour (when all of us were pretending not to be a little exhausted by the thrilling intensity of the final day). His life force and Northern charm were rousing and his tales hilarious, finished off with some top drawer advice and real passion for Shakespeare.
This whole workshop was invaluable and I cannot thank everyone involved enough for the experience. It has given me a lot to reflect on and learn from, to apply to my future work and to hopefully one day teach to others. As a Manchester-based, Liverpudlian actor, London and the large southern theatres can sometimes feel quite far away, but this opportunity has animated me and I am only going to work harder to experience this scale of theatre work again. I will be recommending that every actor I know in the North applies for future workshops. My deepest thanks.
[Daniel was a recipient of a Garrick Club bursary, which enabled him to travel to and stay in London for the Poel Workshop.]
I want to say a huge thank you to the Poel Workshop team for awarding me a place on such a fantastic workshop! I feel extremely privileged to have taken part and I am so grateful for each and every work shop as I have learnt so much! I can’t wait to tackle some Shakespeare soon!
It was such a wonderful experience from the very first audition to the last workshop on Friday and I can’t thank you enough! I will 100% be telling everyone about the Poel workshop as I feel every actor who loves Shakespeare should apply next year!
Firstly, I want to tell you that I feel privileged to have met the Poel event team, you are all working on such an important project. In my opinion, the opportunities you offer are truly priceless. With this event alone, you have created a network of young actors and creatives that I’m sure will continue to stay connected, all thanks to the amazing work we were able to do together.
You facilitated and generously offered the opportunity to put my skillset to the test. Every workshop was valuable and connected. Not only did we all get the chance to explore what it means to work with Shakespeare’s texts in depth, but we also had the chance to do this with some of the most important people in the sector. As a young professional actor, theatre maker and producer, this is exactly the kind of work I want to be involved with, to continue to develop my understanding of how to approach this work. I think that each professional’s enthusiasm to share their knowledge and skills with us says a lot about how important this event really is, not only for introducing skills to young actors in the industry, but also for preserving the techniques that are needed when performing this work in the best possible way.
I had a fantastic time, and will carry all these techniques with me in my future work. I already have a large number of young actor friends who have shown an interest in being involved with next year’s workshops. Finally, I have to thank you for the generous help I received to cover my costs when travelling to and from London. So often events like this are made difficult to attend for young actors outside of London, due to travel and accommodation costs. It’s really fantastic that you were able to “lighten the load”, and make it possible for me to attend.
[Salvatore was another recipient of a Garrick Club bursary]