Stepping stones

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it. – Pablo Picasso

In the last year, since graduating from my directors training programme, I’ve discovered more about my identity, interests and ambitions as a theatre-maker than at any other point in the past few years. It’s all at once been a challenging year, filled with questions, doubts and uncertainties, and one of immense clarity, purpose and growth.

During this time of reflection and analysis I accepted a few things: firstly, that I still have A LOT to learn; secondly, that my biggest doubt and uncertainty is in myself as a PRODUCER; and, thirdly, that taking SMALL STEPS can be a good thing. There were also positives: that I want to make work with an international scope (especially Iberian and Latin American), draw on my love of books and create adaptations, follow my interest in the body and voice in theatre, engage with regional theatre-making, and be a profoundly political artist. This may all sound rather trivial, but accepting these things (rather than trying to be overambitious and a blur of everything) has enabled me to move forwards and begin to be a more effective and creative artist.

Thirst directed by Jude Evans | Playground, StoneCrabs Young Directors Festival

Thirst directed by Jude Evans | Playground, StoneCrabs Young Directors Festival

An opportunity arose to apply for the John Fernald Award earlier this year, an award for emerging theatre directors to work with a professional theatre company, in this case StoneCrabs Theatre. It presented me with the chance to confront many of the aforementioned elements head on. The roles included assistant producing and assistant directing, and, to my surprise and delight, on Spanish and Brazilian works. I applied for the award, pouring a huge part of myself into the application – it paid off when I got a call a month later.

I’m currently in the midst of working as Assistant Director / Assistant Producer on Skin in Flames by Guillem Clua, a co-production with Bots & Barrals (a Catalan theatre company led by Silvia Ayguadé) at the Park Theatre, London. It’s a continual learning experience!

Bea Segura & Almiro Andrade in Skin in Flames at Park Theatre

Bea Segura & Almiro Andrade in Skin in Flames at Park Theatre

Working with the production’s co-directors / co-producers I’ve observed how a full-scale Off-West End / Fringe production is shaped and managed from its preproduction stages through to its onstage performance. As part of my experience on Skin in Flames I’ve been careful to document and evaluate the process and the insight I’m gaining into it. There is too much to mention, but a few aspects include: the range and variety of marketing strategies and approaches; the logistics and detail of the get-in and tech period; and the level of coordination needed to liaise with all involved and to deliver the creative product. And that’s just the producing element!

I’ve absorbed the many ways of negotiating an intricate and complex play text: exploratory exercises; table-work; character analysis; teasing out rhythm, pace and underlying energy; space and staging. In fact, the list really could go on. Being in the presence of directors Franko Figueiredo and Silvia Ayguadé, has been a lesson in itself, watching how they build the overall staging of the production, whilst accommodating and working with the actors’ varied approaches to bring out the best and instil confidence them, and overseeing the elements of design, sound and lighting which feed into the process.

What’s simultaneously thrilled and challenged me, is being actively involved in the production, too. I’ve supported the marketing and PR processes, the production meetings, and the rehearsal process. I’ve led on social media activity, press night, and organised promotional photography. And I’ve done voice, text and line work with the cast and actively assisted scene work in the rehearsal room. The buzz and air of anticipation which surrounds everything is exhilarating, whilst the constant impending deadlines are somewhat daunting. By being engaged, proactive and an acute observer it’s been possible to consolidate and expand upon existing skills, along with learning new things and discovering aspects within the directing and producing process that I knew nothing about.

Bea Segura and Laya Martí in Skin In Flames

Bea Segura and Laya Martí in Skin In Flames

The significance of Skin in Flames being a piece of Spanish work is not to pass under the radar. It’s enabled me to thoroughly engage with a text from a country and culture I wholeheartedly love, and to embrace it as a part of my theatre-making identity. It’s a beautiful play, grappling with hard and brutal subject matter, written with great detail and delicacy. I’ve been able to add another piece to my unending theatre jigsaw.

The John Fernald Award and StoneCrabs Theatre have played a vital role in my on-going journey in the world of theatre, for which I have huge appreciation. This experience has helped me to face some of my biggest fears in my theatre journey, and to make positive steps forward in my areas of passion and interest. I look forward to my next role on Tieta. And who knows the next stage beyond that?

Jude Evans

Follow Jude’s future blog articles at The Red Room 

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Theatre beyond borders

Paulette Randall has recently “claimed that she felt “pigeonholed” because people expect her to only direct black work. She admitted she feared not getting jobs if she suggested directing non-black work. And I fully appreciate where she is coming from, as being a director from a minority background I, too, feel pigeonholed and have to fight hard to not let myself always be put into the same old box, in my case, the ‘Latin-American/Brazilian director.’

Last year I saw a few Brazilian theatre productions on the British stage. This included Companhia Mundana’s adaptation of The Duel by Anton Chekhov and My Uncle’s Shoes by Companhia do Meu Tio at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; a series of short plays featuring playwrights Newton Moreno and Jô Bilac presented by Theatre 503; StoneCrabs’ production Kitchen, a new play by Gael Le Cornec, and the capoeira-inspired show Play Low and Long Haul.  All explored a variety of themes, authors, aesthetics, but all featured Brazilian artists, some living in the UK and some not and the common ground that critics and programmers considered them all quintessentially ‘Brazilian’.

Bea Segura & Almiro Andrade in Skin in Flames at Park Theatre

Bea Segura & Almiro Andrade in Skin in Flames at Park Theatre, photo by Andrew H Williams,2015

I am often criticised if I am not spending more time creating ‘Brazilian’ theatre, which makes me ask, ‘What is Brazilian theatre?’ Does it describe plays written by Brazilians? Plays with Brazilian themes? Plays about Brazilians? Or a combination of all these things? Must I be always directing or creating Brazilian work?

I have directed plays by Brazilian and British writers which cover Brazilian themes or about Brazilians – but, interestingly enough, very few have actually been recognised as Brazilian work and the fact that I am a director from Brazil, doesn’t seem to be enough to classify the work as Brazilian.

As a theatre director born in Brazil, am I not, by default, creating Brazilian work? Or must I revert myself to the use of the Brazilian popular and native folkloric references or collaborate exclusively with Brazilian playwrights in order to be considered an ‘authentic’ Brazilian director?

There have been wonderful discussions about my work and how I merge techniques from various cultures on stage. I used Butoh [a form of Japanese dance] techniques when I directed Waltz #6 by Nelson Rodrigues (2005) and for my production of Asphalt Kiss, also by Rodrigues (2012) I made use of German expressionism. Asphalt Kiss also included Brazilian music by Caetano Veloso and Nana Caymmi but despite this at a post-show discussion, I found myself being questioned as to why I hadn’t supposedly use Brazilian music. Someone else asked why I insisted on using an international cast with various accents in my productions and another described my work as ‘world performance’. Personally, I was flattered by the different expectations and opinions from different audience members. I know of other Brazilian directors who also use similar methods to create their work. Theatre director André Pink, for instance, is known for using Commedia Dell’arte techniques when creating some of his work.

Photo from Ghosts of Kantan by Vlad Muntean - adapted and directed for East 15 Drama School 2015

Ghosts of Kantan – adapted and directed for East 15 Drama School 2015, photo by Vlad Muntean

Brazil is home to such a blended culture, and as such, it gives me the freedom to embrace other heritages and theatre techniques. For instance, Bahia (the Brazilian state where I am from) has a large community of people of West African heritage, which in turn has influenced lots of the cultural aspects of Brazil. This subconsciously influenced my productions of Queen Pokou by Dean Atta and The Burial by Nigerian playwright Bola Agbaje in 2013.  I have also collaborated with a Japanese company, and when we developed The Damask Drum by Mishima, we used Brazilian music, Japanese movement and worked with an international cast that included Brazilians. However, these productions were not considered to be ‘Brazilian’. When I staged the works of Brazilian playwrights like Nelson Rodrigues, Antonio Bivar, Plinio Marcos, Augusto Boal and Leilah Assunção in London, both as a producer and director, the recognition of Brazilian Theatre quickly came pouring in.

David Lee-Jones and Laya Martí in the production of Skin in Flames at Park Theatre

David Lee-Jones and Laya Martí in the production of Skin in Flames at Park Theatre, photo by Andrew H Williams, 2015.

There is no denying that Brazilian theatre is a hybrid form, despite the many cultural movements, which tried to rescue the ‘Brazilian’ identity such as Nova Dramaturgia Brasileira.  And I feel that there is much more to gain than lose from this ingrained multiculturalism found in our historical background.

By working with an international cast I am trying to break forms and conventions. By telling stories, either Brazilian or non-Brazilian, we are sharing knowledge and discoveries.

The choices I make stem not from nationality but from a search for humanism. I want to create theatre (be it in small or large scale) that tells stories and engages people at every level – not just in their minds but in their emotions, values and imaginations. If we want to be the drivers of real change we must learn to tell, and listen to, a new set of stories about the world we want to create.

My work is a hybrid. I am a Brazilian artist who uses aesthetics to create work that is visually exciting and challenging.  I am interested in stories of the diaspora created by world artists like myself.

I have just finished working on Skin in Flames for both StoneCrabs Theatre and Bots and Barrals at Park Theatre with an international company of actors; this is a Spanish Catalan political thriller in which the writer is not specific on which country the drama is happening. It could easily be set in any place that has suffered war and conflict. To many it doesn’t matter, but others criticise the fact that they cannot place neither the play nor the work in a simple box.

As a Brazilian living away from home, I am interested in creating theatre beyond borders: global theatre made local.  Does that take Brazil out of my work?

You can see Franko Figueiredo’s current work at Park Theatre until 6 June. 

This post was originally published with www.brasilobserver.co.uk

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The Daily Post

Thomas Edison, inventor of  the commercially practical incandescent lightbulb (among other things) and natty dresser. Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb (among other things) and natty dresser.

What can we, as writers, photographers, artists, and bloggers learn from American inventor Thomas Alva Edison? Plenty, as it turns out. Edison is famous for many inventions, including the phonograph, a commercially viable lightbulb, and the motion picture camera.

His success resulted from trial and error, and many, many failed experiments before creating a lightbulb that could last 1200 hours, just as an example. He could have stopped. He could have given up. He chose to frame his work in a positive light:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Edison’s philosophy is particularly compelling to anyone who does creative work:

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.

How many rough drafts, spoiled drawings, and blurry photos have you created before that stroke of serendipity? Are you looking at a…

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Directing Theatre

Ultimately, theatre needs three elements: actors, play, and audience. But for theatre to actualize its potential, a person would need to impose his or her point of view that would penetrate all aspects of the production. That person is the director. A director is needed for any situation, whether it’s a staged reading to a congregation, a reader’s theatre performance at reunion, or a full theatre production. A director is not only in charge of all aspects of production, as an artist he or she has a vision that ties all performance elements together.

While directing as an art truly came into prominence during the late nineteenth century, a director in one form or another existed since the classical Greek era. In ancient Greek theatre, the didaskalos, meaning teacher, instructed the performers. The Medieval age employed stage managers called conducteurs de secrets. Shakespeare may have directed his company at the Globe Theatre during the Elizabethan age. And Moliere coached his company.

From 1750 to 1850, the manager/director or actor/manager/director came into prominance. Forces which helped shape the need for a director at this time are public interest in antiquarianism, the development of scenery and scene shifting, and the focus on production over playscript. In Directing the Play, Cole and Chinoy further explain this era as a preparation for the director’s domain.

As production more and more usurped the power once held by the play itself, they perfected the implements with which the director would work — the rehearsal, the coordinated acting group and the external paraphernalia of archaeological sets and authentic costumes and props. Their activities revealed the creative contribution to be made by a single autocrat in charge of production.(1)

The director as a separate and important entity impacted the theatre world in 1874 when the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen toured Europe with his troupe of actors. The tour showed theatre artists the value and artistic opportunity a director could have. For six years prior to the tour, the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen implemented basic directing principles which continue to be used, if modified, today. His principles included intensive rehearsals, the demand for disciplined and ensemble acting, historically accurate sets and costumes, extensive use of stage business, the directorial need for vision and total control over all aspects of the production, and the value of minute detail.

Overall, the practices implemented by the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen continue today. The director has two basic charges: (1) to implement a unified vision within the finished production, and (2) to lead others toward its ultimate actualization. To meet these charges, the director must organize the realization of his or her vision. The director must decide upon the interpretation to be given the play, work with the playwright (if possible), designers, and technicians in planning the production, cast and rehearse the actors, and coordinate all elements into the finished production.

StoneCrabs co-artistic director Kwong Loke in rehearsals

Directors Ellie Chadwick, Kwong Loke (StoneCrabs co-artistic direcor) and Hattie Coupe in rehearsals

To decide upon interpretation, the director must analyze the script to discover the play’s structure and meanings. Without understanding, the director cannot make choices. He or she seeks to know what the play is about and to understand each character in terms of both the script and the demands that character places upon the actor. The director must be able to envision the play’s atmosphere or mood and know how to actualize in terms of design and theatrical space. And, finally, the director must be able to see the play in terms of both physical and verbal action.

Before rehearsals begin, the director meets with the designers. At this time, the director not only promotes his or her vision, but also listens to ideas from the other artists. This highly creative intercourse results in a compromise which often is better than the original vision, for creative ideas interact with other creative ideas. Ultimately however, the director decides upon the interpretation to be used. The director may have specific requirements that would need to be presented to the designers before their work begins. The director must be aware of actor movement when viewing a design. Also, the director must have an idea of what kind of lighting would help enhance the mood of the production.

When casting a play, the director is aware of the physical demands of a character. Physical appearance must fit the character. For instance, a thin Falstaff would probably not work well. Physical appearance must also be seen in relation to other characters in order to perceive that person’s suitability to the ensemble as a whole. The director also tries to discern acting potential. In his book, Theatre, Robert Cohen describes traits that a director often looks for:

Depending on the specific demands on the play and the rehearsal situation, the director may pay special attention to any or all of the following characteristics: the actor’s training and experience, physical characteristics and vocal technique, suitability for the style of the play, perceived ability to impersonate a specific character in the play, personality traits which seem fitted to the material at hand, ability to understand the play and its milieu, personal liveliness and apparent stage “presence,” past record of achievement, general deportment and attitude, apparent cooperativeness and “directability” in the context of an ensemble of actors in a collaborative enterprise, and overall attractiveness as a person with who one must work closely over the next four to ten weeks.(2)

StoneCrabs production of Kitchen by Gael Le Cornec @ Richmix photo by Alex Brenner

StoneCrabs production of Kitchen by Gael Le Cornec @ Richmix photo by Alex Brenner

The director’s most time-consuming task is to rehearse the actors. The director must be organized, for he or she focuses the entire cast during this time. The director’s medium is the actor in space and time. Space is defined by the acting area and the setting while time is defined by the duration of the production and the dynamics of the drama.(3) The director must be able to see the actor as a person and strive to draw out that person’s potential. Consequently, the director constantly must be sensitive to both the needs of an actor and at the same time think of ways to meet those needs in positive ways.

Directors tend to follow an established process during rehearsals. Initially, the director usually has the actors read through the script. The read-through allows the director to discuss his or her vision, character motivation, and interpretation which will help the actors begin to see their characters in terms of a unified understanding. The director then blocks the actors. Blocking are an actor’s basic broad movements which serve as the physical foundation of the actor’s performance. The director indicates movement such as entrances and exits and positions actors onstage. Often, this step takes preplanning. During this stage, interpretation begins to be worked out, for blocking is linked to a character’s motivation to move or position.

The next step would be to work on detail, which helps an actor discover his or her character. Detail includes working out stage business, which is an actor’s small-scale movement. For instance, making coffee, answering a phone, putting on shoes, or adjusting a tie are pieces of stage business. Hopefully, the actor will originate much of his or her own stage business.

Motivation and detail continue while time is spent devoted to lines. Interpretation of dialogue must be connected to motivation and detail. During this time, the director is also concerned with pace and seeks a variation of tempo. If the overall pace is too slow, then the action becomes dull and dragging. If the overall pace is too fast, then the audience will not be able to understand what is going on, for they are being hit with too much information to process.

Also, eventually, the actors will need to be off script. Once off script and the lines are memorized well enough that the actor is not thinking “What is my next line?” then the rehearsals enter into a very rewarding stage of development. For actors cease to read their part and truly make it living. They also discover new avenues of interpretation once off script.

StoneCrabs co-artistic director Franko Figueiredo during technical rehearsals for The Burial by Bola Agbaje, 2013

StoneCrabs co-artistic director Franko Figueiredo during technical rehearsals for The Burial by Bola Agbaje, 2013

Late in the rehearsal process, the director often has the actors run through the production. A runthrough gives the actors a sense of continuity from one scene to the next. At this stage, the director usually does not stop the actors but takes notes to give after the scene is finished.

Nearly all elements of the production — actors, scenery, lights, sound — come together at the technical rehearsal. The stage manager, prop crew, running crew, light and sound board operators all rehearse their various parts to play. Hopefully, light and sound cues will be set before the first technical rehearsal begins. A dress rehearsal is a technical rehearsal with costumes and makeup. At this time, the director must give over the production to the actors and technicians. The final dress rehearsal should be the same as a performance.

Nobody is more useless on opening night performance than the director. The director’s job is over at this time and is often lost and feeling alone. The best the director can do is to wish people well, sit, watch the performance, know every flaw during that performance, and sweat it out.

Article written by Debra Bruch, first published at www.danillitphil.com

(1) Cole, Toby and Helen Krich Chinoy, eds. Directing the Play (1953)

(2) Robert Cohen, Theatre, 2nd ed. (Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1988) 455.

(3) Cohen 458.

Striving for inclusiveness

Our Young Director Matthew Illife has written a brilliant piece for A Younger Theatre and we, the Gobstoppers Collective continue with our training and up to more planning and preparation for the Festival.

The Young Directors festival will be the professional directing début for most of the emerging directors in our collective. The chance to learn from leading professionals and theatre practitioners is invaluable and having the opportunity to direct our own plays is vital to career progression. Career progression in the creative industry without financial support is difficult. Without professional guidance and financial support, talent will never be nurtured – and perhaps never discovered.

StoneCrabs Young Directors in Training: Laura Remmler, Artur Assis and Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu

StoneCrabs Young Directors in Training: Laura Remmler, Artur Assis and Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu

There is a growing awareness of these difficulties and the lack of fair representation in the industry in terms of wealth, class, race and gender. As the Stage Directors UK campaign states: “Diversity and access are rightly being scrutinized at every level and if we don’t do something about directors fees urgently we’ll see less and less diversity.” The Gobstoppers Collective is determined to address the need for diversity in the arts and particularly, in the development of emerging theatre directors. We strive for inclusiveness and this is demonstrated by the wonderful diversity of different experiences and backgrounds of the StoneCrabs Young Directors.

However, the stark reality is this: many theatres that work to provide these opportunities are facing funding cuts. A lack of funding means a lack of opportunity. The lack of opportunities for new creatives means diminishing their voices and leaving them undiscovered. Stage Directors UK rightly state that: ‘Only those with parental backing can afford to spend several years learning their craft unpaid, which is unfair and impoverishes the cultural pool’.

The reality is that directing will very quickly become something that only those who can afford to – will, and those who can’t – won’t. The Artistic Director at the Almeida Theatre, Rupert Goold, stated in a recent interview with The Stage: “If we want directing not to be a middle class plaything – God forbid – then we do have to find a way of getting more understanding of the importance of directors and of nurturing emerging directors.

We agree, and the StoneCrabs Young Directors Programme is setting the example. It addresses the need for providing emerging directors with support and guidance. It addresses the reality that these opportunities are not always viable for young people due to their expensive nature. Rupert Goold acknowledges that when he graduated: “I would not have been able to afford it.”

poster gobstoppersAs a group of emerging directors, we rely on the guidance and training that is available to us. The StoneCrabs Young Directors Programme is an invaluable alternative to expensive degree courses or schemes that are, at the moment, beyond our reach. Not only does this programme offer a free opportunity, it also provides a nurturing environment – a welcoming and encouraging platform to educate us as both individuals and professionals. Our festival will help us take that crucial next step in our careers and with financial support, it can happen. And we believe it can. 

So that’s why we need your help.

We launched our Accelerator with Ideas Tap. With your help we are hoping to reach £3000. We return for your support we are offering a variety of brilliant gifts and will be delivering bespoke workshops to pass on our education and skills to other creatives in the industry. You can check them out here. Your support means everything to us. If you believe in equal opportunities and nurturing the development of new talent and emerging artists then please join us on our journey.

We will also be recording our progress on this StoneCrabs Theatre blog and with A Younger Theatre which will enable others to learn with us. The success of this festival will not only benefit the Young Directors, but also all those involved from our guest theatre practitioners to our actors, and of course – our audience members. Your support will demonstrate that change is possible, that creatives in the industry can fulfil their aspirations –and that we can do it together.

Sian Davila

Sian Davila

StoneCrabs Young Directors 2014 are Artur Assis; Camilla Borges; Sian Davila; Chloe France; Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu; Caitlin Heaton; Matthew Iliffe; Kwaku Kyei-Manu; Sigvi Johansen; Laura Remmler; Hannah Sharkey and Jennifer Iswara.

StoneCrabs Young Directors, 12 Days of Directors: Day 12-Artur.

What does theatre mean to you?

Theatre is a place as we know involves a lot of hard work but when the show begins just became a magical place where every single second is unique.

Why did you want to become a director?

My aim as a Director is try to bring to the theatre themes that will question contemporary society’s values and behaviours in order to contextualise the way of our relationships are being developing and changing.

How do you feel that your background influences your take on theatre?

As architecture and films are my back ground, gave me references and inspired me to get more deeply in this magical world of theatre. With previous experience in theatre field involved sometimes working as a set and costume designer and sometimes filming and producing theatre’s trailer created a spontaneous way that took me to wish to become a director.

What’s your favourite colour?

Magenta

Tea or coffee?

Definitely tea.

What do you hope for the future?

I hope for the future people get more committed not only with the local community but creating a world unit. With no differences between race, gender, religion and nationality.

StoneCrabs Young Directors, 12 Days of Directors: Day 11-Camilla.

Tell us about your play in 3 sentence.
It sounds like the Pulp album This is Hardcore, only if Jarvis Cocker had been on even more cocaine. It feels like the centre of a tornado, where sometimes you’re getting blown around all over the place, but then there are also these moments of respite where it feels peaceful, but you know that is going to end soon. It looks like a battlefield.

How do you start with a text?
I read it. And then I read it again. I’ll usually Google some things about the play or about the author or any key themes so I am familiar with the subject matter. If a previous production has been put on I might try to watch some videos, but I don’t like to know too much about other productions as I don’t want that to influence me and I want to feel like I’m making my own choices about the play. Then I’ll probably go through it again and pick out key moments and themes I feel are important and want to particularly focus on.

Tell us about yourself in 20 words.
The film Anastasia was actually based on my life, but it’s all part of a Scandinavian conspiracy.

What’s your drink?
I drink whisky at the minute because it makes me feel like I could be a writer in the 50s hanging out with Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, or a noir detective. Well that’s how I think I look but I probably look like a 16 year old who doesn’t know what alcohol they like yet so order whatever they think will make them seem cool. But I do genuinely like it.

What are you up to at the minute?
I recently won Gardener of the Year at the 2014 annual Lawn Competition, but my title was taken away from me after a dispute about manure. I am also currently trapped in a lawsuit over the death of my first husband who died in suspicious circumstances while I was definitely out of the country. I keep bees.