Bootcamp for young actors
August 27, 2013
Many actors are keen that young people should be invited to find Shakespeare enjoyable and would like to see pathways open to them. I heard of an exciting initiative at the RSC which I wanted to explore - a three-day bootcamp for 24 young actors.
Ideastap, an online network which creates opportunities for people with creative talent, financed the venture and the RSC ran the day.
Hannah Miller, Head of Casting, saw the project as a chance for young actors to experience the skills employed in classical acting and consider whether it might be something they would be interested in as part of their repertoire.
Accessibility was an important aspect of this experiment, Hannah explained. Because membership of Ideastap is free, the RSC could engage with some young actors not in its traditional pool.
Ultimately there would be no winner, the RSC would not be hiring an actor Apprentice-style. Rather those who were thought to have potential would experience taster workshops on approaches which might help to demystify Shakespeare and the RSC ways of working.
Chosen from over 600 original applicants, the criteria were: to be over 18 with a commitment to acting and with no professional credit on a Shakespeare play. Invitations were finally sent to 30 young actors. Most had drama training but five had not.
How Shakespeare's actors rehearsed
Patrick Tucker enlightened the group as to how Shakespeare's own actors rehearsed. He showed how an actor would have had to work on a text- not a whole performance text but just their own roles in it which they had to read for clues, picking up ideas of status and mood change from the text itself.
He was keen that that they should explore the differences between the thou/you address, a great clue in detecting where the scene is going and the gear changes sometimes indicated by a switch from poetry to prose. 'What we want is the actor's response to the text and it's all in the text', Patrick insisted.
Communicating the truth
Jacquie Crago soon had the whole group on their feet on The Courtyard stage. Above all she said you have a duty to the text and that means not only playing the truth but communicating the truth to the whole audience.
You have to articulate with energy to support this so you must be physically fit with muscles to support multi-tasking on stage. You are not playing a part but could be pushing a tank or swinging from a rope as you speak, you move and speak at the same time.
Some actors feel that they are betraying the truth if they are projecting but you must in theatre use resonance to reach everyone. And as she led them in a rigorous physical workout she talked of getting rid of habits – outstretched arm gestures putting a barrier between you and the audience, your own physicality not that of your character.
She talked of receiving a line not just delivering your own and insisted words are your tools as much as your physicality.
This session, led by Gary Watt, Professor of Law at Warwick University, looked at the rhetoric employed by Brutus and Mark Antony in Julius Caesar.
He saw Shakespeare using the rhetoric he would have been taught in Stratford Grammar School for Brutus' speech and then a 'scarily brilliant' handling of a different type of rhetoric in Mark Antony's.
Two of the group volunteered for the roles on stage and demonstrated the difference between Brutus' language, revealing his patrician class and that of Mark Antony who knows how to work on his audience democratically.
After a movement workshop on Elizabethan dance, Lyn Darnley, Head of Voice, took a text workshop on Titus Andronicus, insisting 'there are no rules, only possibilities'.
She was able to refer to and build upon what they had learnt the day before while asking them to consider the lexicon of Titus and Tamora, their use of simile and metaphor and where the actor might employ modulation and poise. 'The active text is what we aim for, to be on the moment', she told them.
This was taken up by Scott Handy in the afternoon as he showed them what works for him as an actor.
Do not think in terms of a perfect presentation of poetry he told them. Resist the pressure to perform. For an actor where do the words come from? Not from a memory of reading the script. We are given words from the past but they need to be in the present. So find an image for the word- say 'home' and let the image come before you say the word. Sound should be related to image.
This two-hour session was with three RSC assistant director working on this season's shows: Marieke Audsley, Tinuke Craig and Katie Lewis. Each took a group of eight and worked on a classical text other than Shakespeare. Each had a different method of working.
On Sunday Nia Lynn shared her musical expertise with them, working on the texture of the voice and an actor's range: use your voice with awareness, am I modulating? Use your whole vocal palette she told them.
They worked on two versions of Under the Greenwood Tree, one traditional the other modern from the current As You Like It, Nia showing how music is used in production. The impact of choices made derived from the text.
Finally Stephen Kemble worked on Greek Chorus, actively involving the group in breathing exercises and sound-making.
They became much more sensitive to each other's sound - their contribution to it in supporting and in answering.
When they used text Stephen told them: Don't stomp through it. Honour the words. It's better when not declaimed. So they intoned, they whispered and with a similar variety of movement it came excitingly together in a final performance.
by Viv Graver
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