Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Our process so far…

Written by David, Assistant Director of Tricycle Young Company 

We started off mid-September building on company togetherness with Emily our Director. This was a really interesting time as we were getting to know each other. So we did a lot of gaming and improvising with the play in mind and this went on for a couple of weeks. It was good fun!

When Mid-October came we got a second draft of the Wardrobe. We decided not to waste any time and do a standing read-through of the whole play. We did this with everyone taking one scene each and performing with scripts in hands. We realised when watching the read-through – that the play travels through a lot of history and it is very important for the audience to know exactly what time and place the characters are in, to understand and care about each of them.

November was casting month and it took us some time to figure out the best scenes to do with the company we had. I think we’ve selected an interesting mix and it will be a nice combination.  Everyone was excited (as well as relieved) to know what characters they were going to be playing. They could now start character developing and of course, LEARN LINES!

In December we started working on character development and playing with the blocking and staging of the scenes. We ended our winter term on a high and with good spirits after an intensive period of work.

January has involved me running into one rehearsal room and then into another, trying to juggle all the scenes everyone’s doing. The company has continued wonderfully from last term in building on their understanding of their characters and the play as a whole.

Wardrobe 2014 HERE WE GO!!

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Thursday, 20 February 2014

A reminder of the past that speaks to the ‘Heart’…

Written by Matthew, Director - New College Swindon

This is my second year working on the Connections Festival.

Last year New College tackled Jonathan Harvey’s ‘Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy’ a tricky subject matter, but myself and the students soon took to the story and its characters and worked hard to realise the play.

Being accepted again for 2014 was very pleasing and I sat down with relish to read the 10 plays. Well, nine as one still hadn’t been sent out. In reading a play, there will always be something that catches you as a director. It might be a certain speech, a ‘moment’ or even a stage direction that fires your imagination and gets you thinking of how the play can be staged. I have to confess, having read the first nine plays nothing sprang to mind, nothing ‘spoke to me’ or fired up anything…I was worried! Now, that’s not to say that the plays weren’t well written but knowing the actors I had at my disposal and what would work for us, I didn’t feel there was a play that we could tackle.

Finally, play ten came through and I hoped! I read the quote on the front of the script:

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death… I can assure you it’s much, much more important than that.”- Bill Shankly

I knew this quote off by heart! From the age of 4 I had fallen in love with the beautiful game and, more specifically, with Bill Shankly’s Red Machine of Liverpool FC. When growing up when anybody asked me what I wanted to be, I always answered ‘Kenny Dalglish’. I didn’t care that that particular job was taken football and Liverpool were my obsession and my passion.

So, I tore into ‘Hearts’ with total enthusiasm and disbelief that a play about football had fallen into my lap!

Upon reading, I discovered not only a brilliantly hilarious play but memories that came flooding back of playing football with mates and the banter involved. I just kept my fingers crossed that the cast would like it as much as I did! After all, this play was for them and not the overweight director dreaming of glories past and what might have been on the football pitch!

Fortunately, they loved it! I think it speaks to them and their life experiences and also gives them the opportunity to get their teeth into great characters. As one actor put it:

“It’s like ‘The Inbetweeners’…only funnier!”

So, as we approach our first preview performance at our home venue, I can honestly say that I have thoroughly enjoyed working on all aspects of ‘Hearts’ and relish the challenge of working again with the play at the country’s oldest theatre, the Bristol Old Vic in March.

Monday, 3 February 2014

PRONOUN – Rehearsal Diary

Written by Laura, West Yorkshire Playhouse Youth Theatre company member

Thursday 12 December was our very first read through of Evan Placey’s new play Pronoun, which will be performed by the West Yorkshire Playhouse Youth Theatre as part of the National Theatre Connections Festival. We will be performing the play, first in Rehearsal Room 1 in the West Yorkshire Playhouse using an “In the Round Stage.” The second performance will be performed in The Courtyard Theatre as part of the National Theatre Connections Festival.

Pronoun focuses on the struggles and dramas of life as a Transgender teenager. The play follows Josh and Isabella who are childhood sweethearts. They were meant to spend their gap year together, they were meant to be together forever. But when Josh comes back from his family holiday, he is surprised to find his 16 year old best friend, Kyle, engaged and the love of his life has decided she wants to be a boy.

The Youth Theatre was joined by some guests for the very first read through of the play. Youth workers and Young people involved in a Transgender Youth Support Group based in Leeds were invited to the reading as well as Jude Woods who is organizing a Queer Culture Project at the Leeds Art Gallery. Both groups of people will be working closely with the Youth Theatre to help gain an understanding of the issues in the play and to ensure they are addressed sensitively within the performance.

With a few inspirational and spurring words from Artistic Director, James Brining and Associate Director, Mark Rosenblatt - who will be directing Of Mice and Men to be performed in the Quarry Theatre in March next year - we were ready to start the read through. It was great to finally hear the play being read out as a company. Reading the play alone has been interesting but you can’t help but wonder how the actors will interpret the character and text. The read through has always been one of my favourite aspects of the rehearsal process of any play I’ve been in, as it always makes me excited for what’s to come in the future sessions.

Hearing the characters being read out by their respective actors has been enjoyable and exciting and has brought the piece to life and I cannot wait for the next rehearsals to come. I feel very privileged to be a part of a group where important issues are being addressed through the medium of acting. The proof that live performance will continue to challenge audiences, spark conversation and target key issues is something I love to be a part of and I can’t wait to do so!

My next diary entry will be on the topic of our Photo shoot for our promotional poster.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Rehearsal Blog

Written by Greg, company member of Tomorrow's Talent

My name's Greg and I'm taking part in the NT Connections Programme this year, for the second time.
I have been involved in Connections before in 2012, playing Dave in Generation Next by Meera Syal which was an incredible experience!

This time I'm going to be playing Douglas in Daffyd James' Heritage. This is a really exciting play, which "explores the darker side of nationalism."

The vast majority of our rehearsals so far have been sat (or stood) in circles.

We have spent thirty six hours of rehearsals; without actually doing any rehearsing.
Instead, we have spent hours understanding, analysing and discussing the play. - It's all a bit English Lit if you know what I mean. 

However most of us like English Lit so s'all good.

We spent a lot of the time reading through the script, each time we had a task to do. The first time was a straight read through.

I've forgotten an important detail... - Gavin thought it would be a great idea to not tell us our characters until we a week before we started to set; meaning that we spent most of these rehearsals in anticipation. (However in hindsight it was actually a good idea as we became more understanding of the play as a whole and of other character's perspectives)

How did you do a read through when you don't know your character? I hear you begging for my theatrical wisdom.

...We just read it through line by line in a circle...

We read through the script once again. Instead of writing down facts, we broke the play into smaller sections, - similar to scenes - calling them units. Inside these units we would mark events in the script that affect every character on stage. This technique was actually really useful, not only did it break down the play into separate sections, it consequently made it easier to learn lines, - which is always a bonus! 

We also made a timeline of events leading up to the start of the play. We used post-it notes and stuck them on the mirror, however they weren't sticky enough and kept falling off. It was my job to order them correctly and write down the dates, so of course it was me, running around, flapping like a chicken trying to pick them up and stick them back on as more from the other side would fall down.

Including lots of sitting down in circles, we played some games and did many activities.

In one of the games, we had to stand (in a circle) and throw two balls to each other. When we threw the first ball, we had to shout the characters' name, and when we threw the second, we had to shout out a theme of the play. This was all well and good, until some bright spark thought it would be a great idea to include both balls at the same time...

...well what can i say, theatre kids and physical activity aren't a good mix.

Gavin then put us into pairs, with people that we hadn't really worked with much before. I was put with Amie (which was quite funny because I've known her since primary school but ssshhhh don't tell Gavin!) We had to talk about how we found/find school/college, a time in our lives where we have been scared and what we want to get out of the National Theatre Connections experience. 
·         I said about how for the first two years of school i was a bit of a loser, - I mean, my MUM did used to do my hair... 
·         Then I said about about when you're little and you lose your mum in Tescos, - that's scary. (I still do it though)
·         Then I said about how the Connections programme is so exciting and also so much fun. I like the idea of fully developing characters, understanding and interpreting the key themes and contexts of the play.

Our exercises then went up a notch in difficulty. We focused on our voice and the way we talk. We sat down (in another circle) and we went round the group, talking about how our voice changes when we're in different social situations. We then did an exercise where we had to read out some of the script. At every full stop we had to stamp our foot down and then change direction. At every comma we had to simply change direction, and at every question mark we had to swivel around. I tried doing this in front of the group, on my first attempt I rushed and I struggled. Then I slowed it down and tried again and it actually really helped to understand the structuring of the characters thoughts, and added much more meaning.

Oh man, 
the next weekend we finally did some setting.

It was sooo cool to get the play (literally) on its feet. We worked on the opening pages, I can tell from the beginning its going to be so much fun.

For those that don't know about Connections (I can imagine most of you do), you start off performing at your local theatre. Then you move onto a Partner Theatre, - ours is in Norwich. The way that we are setting and the way we are formatting the play is very different to conventional methods. (No I'm not telling you'll have to come see!) This is really exciting however it could be hard work adjusting when we're actually in the theatre.

Thanks a lot for reading!

Greg :)

- check out my blog for weekly (ish) updates on how we're getting along!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Choosing your play...

Written by Anthony Banks, Associate Director, NT Learning

Welcome to the wonderful world of NT Connections! Over the summer, you’ll be making your way through ten new playscripts, deciding which is the best choice for your company to perform next year. As well as being quite a stack of A4 for your eyes and imaginations to get through, choosing the script is a decision you’ll have to reach by thinking through several considerations. You might choose a play which has a theme that you know will land really well with your audience, or a play which you particularly want to have the challenge of directing. On the other hand, you may have a group of actors who have been together for a while, and you might therefore be looking for something which has the right sort of cast size and make-up to fit them. Whether the reason is political, practical or purely artistic – but hopefully a combination of all three! – choosing the right play for your company is absolutely crucial to having a successful and enjoyable time next year.

As you read the plays, I thought it might be interesting and helpful for you to find out about how I commission them. We know that the ideals and circumstances for each Connections Company are very different and unique and that is why we always try to make the portfolio of plays as wide and varied as possible. If there is one play in the pile that suits your company, then we’re winning. 

The Connections Writers are chosen after lengthy research and many discussions with people at the National, our partner theatres and literary agents. Connections is a national programme and it’s therefore crucial that the line-up of writers and the places the scripts are developed reflect the nation. Over the next few weeks I will be taking you through how each script was developed to give you a better understanding of where the ideas came from, starting with details of Matt Hartley and Catherine Johnson's plays.

Ludovic Des Cognets ©
Writer Matt Hartley is from just outside Sheffield, and he wanted to write a plucky drama about youth unemployment that took place during one afternoon in a shopping centre. So Matt and I set off to Newcastle upon Tyne to meet a hundred young people and explore the shopping centres where they hang out. We spent a few days at Live Theatre, Northern Stage and The People’s Theatre Newcastle workshopping ideas for Matt’s story, and then returned to The People’s six months later to hear the young actors read his script.

Catherine Johnson wanted to write a play about partner abuse so she came up with a story and wrote it in the form of a letter which became the centre of a schools project which Myrtle Theatre company ran in Catherine’s home town of Bristol last year. Catherine observed feedback sessions with the young people who heard the story and then set about writing the full stage version, which included her writing all the lyrics for the songs. Catherine and I then travelled to Winstanley College in Wigan where the brilliant drama teacher Jayne Courtney prepared a reading of it with her students and also set the lyrics to backing tracks they created and sang along to. 

Check back soon to read about the other eight scripts, and to see video clips from some of the workshops.