Rose Bruford Graduation 2013

6 Comments
The graduation day finally came!

The graduation day finally came!

After 8 years of studying in my “spare time” the day actually came. I graduated with my BA in Theatre Studies from Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, yesterday!! To say I’m chuffed is an understatement.

It has been the most thrilling, exhausting, challenging, frustrating and fun 8 years of my life. I had no idea the journey I’d be on when I started back then. It’ll be a cliché I know but embarking on this course really was THE BEST decision I’ve ever made.

Graduation cupcakes - yum!

Graduation cupcakes – yum!

I’d never have started this blog if I’d not been on the course (and I’m blown away this blog has had over 100,000 readers since I started it). It really has impacted every area of my life. So looking back what were my most memorable moments and parts that stand out?

Firstly it’ll be the people I’ve met on the course, the tutors, staff and fellow students. I’ve got some amazing friends from this course and have had great banter with them, The tutors have stretched me and it’s been a good experience to disagree with some of them (especially on Stanislavski, Peter Brook, The Method), they’ve also helped me to hone my own views on theatre.

Myself and Kevin, we disagree on lots of things theatrically, but we always enjoy debating our differences!

Myself and Kevin, we disagree on lots of things theatrically, but we always enjoy debating our differences!

Top of the Class goes to our Scottish student Calum.

Top of the Class goes to our Scottish student Calum.

Programme Director Jayne Richards and Mary Lynch the Administration Manger a HUGE thank you to them. I really couldn't have done it without them.

Programme Director Jayne Richards and Mary Lynch the Administration Manger, a HUGE thank you to them. I really couldn’t have done it without them.

The course encouraged me to go and do all sorts of things such as, a trip to Dublin to see Brian Friel’s Translations  (and falling in love with that play and city). Getting up on stage and acting myself, becoming a theatre producer and spending a placement with Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. They’re the experiences that come immediately to mind.

There are 3 specific areas I’ll always be thankful to the course for:

  • My Theatre of the Absurd module literally changed my life – it’s not hyperbole, it’s true. The plays and philosophy I read for that module, just “clicked” with me. I found a philosophical outlook on life that made sense of this crazy universe to me. Devouring the works of Sartre, Ionesco, Beckett and especially Albert Camus has been life changing. A huge thanks to Dr Harry Derbyshire who taught this module deserves a special mention he was an amazing tutor, teaching my first and penultimate modules. Thanks Harry!
  • Encouraging my critical skills. I never imagined I’d become a theatre critic when I started the course. Eight years later here I am, critiquing away. It’s also led me to be invited to officially critique productions and be asked along by others to act as a dramaturg giving input and advice on numerous productions. Thanks to tutor David Chadderton for his Theatre Criticism module and helping me to think in a much more focused way about my theatre critic vocation.
  • Opening my eyes to such a huge variety of playwrights. It is their work that has been what has kept me going on these 8 years. Now I’ll be honest I’ve read a lot of tosh(that’s an academic term!)  also over the last 8 years on this course,  However these plays are special to me:

The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan – I remember reading this for a module and sobbing tears at the end of reading it. I dried my eyes and read it again immediately. My love and admiration for all things Rattigan is due to this course.

Oleanna by David Mamet – I read this very early on in the course and the confusing emotions and feelings it aroused suddenly made me realise the power that theatre has. Mamet’s wider writings on theatre have also been inspirational to me.

Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall – This caught me totally by surprise,  a tight, thought-provoking and dramatic piece. Seeing someone address mental health in such a clever way, blew me away.

Translations by Brian Friel – I owe my love of Irish playwriting to this play (and the Irish Playwriting module). As I said earlier, I took a trip to Dublin to see a revival of this piece as I was so keen to see it rather than just read it. That’s currently the furthest I’ve travelled   just to see a play. A testament to the power of it.

  • The work of director Augusto Boal also radically changed my outlook on life/theatre. Specifically for me, it has led to my active support of Cardboard Citizens. This has been an enriching experience for me and I’m blown away by the help and support they give those who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness.

So I’m sad to be at the end. It really has been a hell of a ride, but I’m grateful for it in so many ways.

President of Rose Bruford College Sir Richard Eyre quoted Sir Tom Stoppard in his address to us, it is a fitting end to this chapter in my life.

 “Knowledge is good. It does not have to look good or even sound good or even do good. It is good just by being knowledge. And the only thing that makes it knowledge is that it is true. You can’t have too much of it and there is no little too little to be worth having.

DSC01502

Three Blind Mice – Cardboard Citizens / Bola Agbaje – Toynbee Studios – Review

1 Comment

Off I headed to Aldgate East on Wednesday night to see Three Blind Mice, I stopped at a cashpoint to get some money out to pop in the donations bucket for Cardboard Citizens and was amused to be given the following options by the  machine with regards which language I’d like; “English”, or “Cockney”!! In hindsight I wished I’d pushed the cockney option, perhaps next time.

The Toynbee Studios was heaving, a tangible atmosphere as we mingled prior to going into the theatre. I was amazed at what an amazing space/theatre the Toynbee Studios is. London has many theatrical gems tucked away in all sorts of places. This is a fabulous theatre, which I’m pleased to say was packed. I recognised a few faces in the audience, they were cast members of the previous Cardboard Citizen’s event Life ‘aint no Musical that I saw earlier this year. Adrian Jackson (Artistic Director) greeted us all and informed us this was the 30th out of 46 performances of this play. It’s been touring hostels prior to it’s two night at the Toynbee Studios and it’ll then finish off touring.

Forum Theatre is a slightly different form of theatre, developed by Augusto Boal. Cast Member Terry O’Leary explained the concept to us. It’s easy to understand, the play is performed straight through. Then we voted on which character/scene we wanted to focus on. The cast then started performing again but at ANY moment a person in the audience can shout out “STOP!”. The audience member then gets up and acts out how they would do things differently.

The play itself struck a chord with me as I have a close family member who lives in social housing and they had their own problems with mice and rats, just like these characters. We followed the mice as they worked their way through three flats and the human inhabitants they found in each one, and the issues each was facing. Cardboard Citizens felt it would be useful to have a play that looked at the issues people face when they go into their first house. Often this is when some of their real troubles begin. Bola Agbaje’s script contained the right amount of drama and fun and the cast performed superbly well the multiple roles they each took on. Jonathan Whitty, Shara Ismail, Helen Donoghue, Andre Skeete and Terry O’Leary, gave compelling and powerful performances.

Jonathan Whitty and Andre Skeete

Then it was on to the Forum Theatre part, what an experience! Again I must say how impressed I was by the cast. They not only perform a play they then have to improvise it with strange people on stage with them trying to change the play’s action. Their improvisational skills are some of the best I’ve seen. The suggestions from the audience ranged from the insightful, helpful, not so helpful and frankly hilarious. My personal favourite was a suggestion to take two of the protagonists onto the Jeremy Kyle show! Despite the serious issues being discussed, I found the Forum Theatre section to be absolutely joyous. I was surprised how we all engaged and Terry O’Leary’s experience as a Forum Theatre Joker showed. The Joker role acts as “chairman” of the Forum Theatre section – no mean feat with all that’s going on!

I left with an insight into the struggles that people face when they go into social housing and realising how powerful Forum Theatre can be in helping people look at consequences, actions and how they can change the course of their lives.

If you want to give an Xmas present which will make a difference, please visit their website and give as generously as you can.

Terry O'Leary - There's a Rat in the Flat!

Cardboard Citizens

1 Comment

I’ve mentioned their work before (here and here ) . To me it is something VERY special. I just want to bring to your attention a few up and coming projects and productions that readers may be interested in:

For those that don’t know of Cardboard Citizen’s or their work here’s a brief video that explains it (and for those that do it’s a good reminder too!)

Their new production called Three Blind Mice written by Olivier-winner Bola Agbaje and will be playing to the public on the 28th & 29th November at Toynbee Studios. Tickets are available here. This is before the production goes on tour to 40 hostels, prisons and day centres with it. If you’ve never experienced Forum Theatre, or you want to see what it’s about, this will be the place to go.

For those that are not in London:

Mincemeat (written by Adrian Jackson and Farhana Sheikh) is based on the extraordinary story of a WWII deception, a secret war which never made the history books.

“A rare theatrical treasure” – The Telegraph
“I was utterly gripped by this marvellous production.” – The Guardian
On 2009’s Mincemeat

This will be on Radio 3 on 13th November at 8.30pm.  So tune in.

Looking ahead to 2012 :

A Few Man Fridays, will be running at Riverside Studios from 10th Feb- 10th Mar 2012.

A Few Man Fridays unearths an inglorious episode of British histroy. Between 1967 and 1973, the population of the Chagos Islands was evicted to make way for a US military base. For 40 years they have fought for justice, in an epic struggle that is unlikely to end even when the European Court of Justice delivers a ruling later this year.

They would love your support in promoting it and bringing all your friends to see it. Tickets go on sale soon. Watch this space!

I really recommend you catch one or all of these events as they’ll be something very special and different.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, they rely on the generosity of good folks like yourself, so please go to Cardboard Citizen’s website and donate.

Life Ain’t No Musical – Cardboard Citizens/ACT NOW – Review

4 Comments

I’ve said previously that theatre can be so much more than just entertainment. I love a feel good musical as much as the next person, but likewise, I know that theatre can have a transformational effect. Often as an actor/director this occurs during the process of getting the play/production together. Also as an audience member sometimes a theatrical piece can just blow you away and cause a paradigm shift in consciousness to occur. When it happens to both the cast and audience it’s a very special event.

I was privileged to be part of such an event on Friday night.

ACT NOW is the youth theatre project run by the amazing Cardboard Citizens.  I came across their work whilst studying Augusto Boal for college. It truly is a very special work and I commend it to you.

After the Arts Council cuts that were announced earlier this year, I blogged about how this had inspired me to support a few theatrical companies and projects. Cardboard Citizens was one I’ve chosen to support.

This was my first chance to go and see some of their work. I’m glad I did.

Only 4 weeks ago, ACT NOW brought these 12 young people with experience of homelessness, who had never worked with each other before or done anything like this before together. They had four weeks to create this work. If I could bring such a powerful piece of theatre to fruition in just four weeks I’d be extremely pleased. It’s a credit to them. I know some professionals who’d not have the guts to take up this challenge of producing a musical in 4 weeks!

Director Tony McBride is to be congratulated for directing this group and channeling the talent they have. Also appreciation must go to Arun Ghosh for his musical direction and composition. His enthusiasm on stage brought a smile to my face.

The musical focused on the “lessons of life” these young people had learnt so far. I was touched by the honesty of the young people as they chose to tell us of the highs and lows of their lives so far. There were moments of laughter, aswell as more poignant and serious lessons. Violence, heartache, fear, confusion were all visibly brought to us.

The poetry and script these young people had devised had some really beautiful and clever lines throughout, “Home is not my home”, “Love is heavy joy”, “What speed is happiness”, “My pen is to the paper”, “If he wasn’t dead, he’d have ended up inside”, are a few of the gems I managed to jot down.

I was especially pleased they used an uncomfortable length of silence in the production. Silence is a powerful theatrical device, seldom used, as it’s REALLY hard to be on stage and do/say nothing. These young people could teach some more seasoned theatrical types a thing or two about how to “do” silence!

The production led us through depths of despair, but took us to a hopeful conclusion, as the balloons rose to fly away, we saw their hopes for the future rise too.

As this was the last night, the audience were invited to join the director and cast, for their awards after the show. It was genuinely moving to see each member being awarded for their hard work and contribution. There were tears and laughter.

These young people (and the hundreds of  others who are helped by this project each year), have been given a chance to impact their own lives and ours too. The whole group deserves the biggest round of applause.

The project still has to raise £40,000 by March 2012, please go to their website and give as generously as you can. This isn’t just about theatre, it’s about helping young people gain qualifications, work placements and jobs. For them to be engaged with support services from mental health to housing. In short transformation, but then actually that’s what theatre’s all about isn’t it?

Small is Beautiful

4 Comments

As you can see from my previous posts, and reviews I visit theatres of all shapes and sizes. However there is something about intimate/small theatres that for me is very special.

Theatre is about the relationship between what’s happening on stage and the audience member. In smaller theatres this can really be intensified and make for theatre that is profoundly effective.

In the UK we have a thing called the Little Theatre Guild http://www.littletheatreguild.org.uk , which I only heard of due to being involved in a theatre which is part of it, the Miller Theatre in Caterham www.millercentretheatre.org . I’m off to another theatre that’s a member of this guild next week, The Archway Theatre in Horley  http://www.archwaytheatre.co.uk to see Patrick Marber’s play Closer, which is one of the plays linked with my college module this year.  It’s worth finding out if there’s a guild member theatre near you, it’s impressive what these small theatres are doing and the vast range of plays that are being put on across the country.

Members of the Little Guild are all amateur theatres (which in no way is to denigrate their work, some amateur productions I’ve seen are better than “professional” ones). I’ve performed and seen productions in two small professional London theatres, namely The Barons’s Court Theatre and Jermyn Street theatre, these seat 50 and 70 people respectively and are wonderful little venues. I saw Timon of Athens at the Baron’s Court theatre last year and the cast of  11 literally filled the stage.

Too often we get caught in the trappings of “bigger is better” while missing the fact that theatre can be equally effective in smaller and less lavish settings. When I was a street performer, playing the larger crowds was a real buzz, but so was performing for a small group of 10 – 20 people, whose faces and names I got to know.

I’m currently reading lots of plays for college, we’re encouraged to imagine these as they would be put on and I’ve been challenging myself to read and imagine them in different settings to the standard 19th Century proscenium arch theatre.

Theatre Royal, Brighton. By http://www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo/

“Each show is the size of the theatre it is played in: if the space changes , the size of the show also changes.” – Augusto Boal

Earlier this year I was in an “in the round” production at the Miller Theatre, personally I prefer performing in the round, as that’s what I’m used to with my background as a street performer and magician. I also find it easier to connect with the audience when they’re all around me.

The actor standing in the centre surrounded by the audience looking into the whites of their eyes is a powerful and vulnerable place to be.

Transform

5 Comments

To think, or write, or produce a play also means: to transform society, to transform the state, to subject ideologies to close scrutiny.

Brecht 1931

I’m currently immersed in the work and world of Bertold Brecht and Augusto Boal for my assignment.  This is involving me reading widely and delving into topics such as Marxism, Communism, Fascism and the Brazilian dictatorship of the 1960’s/1970’s (heavy stuff admittedly and gets some great looks on my commute to work!), on top of reading both Brecht’s and Boal’s writings and works. My assignment is looking at how the sociopolitical context affected their directorial innovations. This is proving to be absolutely fascinating. One of the key things I’m gaining an understanding of though, is the fact that theatre can (should?) not only reflect the sociopolitical climate of the time but also seek to change it. Boal and Brecht perhaps are especially pertinent exponents of using theatre to change society.

The West End theatre bucking the recession trend is such an encouragement, especially as one of the reasons that play attendance is up is that when people have been asked, they reply that they want to see something with depth, which TV and Hollywood aren’t providing. Audiences want to be engaged with, there’s a time and place to go to the theatre, sit back and enjoy some light entertainment. Yet there are times when the theatre can ” not just show real things, but how things really are” (Brecht). We’re living in tumultuous times, and the theatre can show those, yet also offer ideas and even possible solutions for the way forward for society. A lofty ideal perhaps, but one I feel is true, historically and currently. (just look at the history of dictatorships or countries with poor human rights, one of the first things they clamp down on or censor are theatre’s before most other things). I’m grateful that I live in a country where the theatre is relatively free, I’m also conscious that it’s liberty is under threat from fundamentalists of all persuasions who claim they have a right “not be offended”, which is silly as no-one has a right to not be offended. Often the truth hurts and theatre is perhaps the best art form to confront people with truths they don’t wish to see, for example in Hedda Gabler when Judge Brack says “ But, good God Almighty…people don’t do such things” , Ibsen is clearly showing his uptight Victorian audience with its head in sand that such things do happen, not just on stage but in their towns, communities and even families. What uncomfortable truths can today’s theatre confront us with?

I’m also so encouraged to read about Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre projects, not only that he did, but the centres and groups all over the world that are continuing his legacy and using theatre to help people in the here and now make positive decisions in their lives. While Theatre is about plays, the West End, Greek Theatre etc. Boal’s bringing of theatre to “non-actors” is  inspiring and refreshing to read about. Once the assignment’s complete I hope to look more into the current UK projects using his Theatre of the Oppressed systems.

So while doing the college assignments can sometimes seem a bit cerebral, it’s worth remembering the power of theatre, in our own lives, and in society too.

Assignment Options : Brecht and Boal

2 Comments

Well, my college assignment is looming and I had to make a decision on who to focus on for the question set for me.

This module has opened my eyes to numerous directors work, which has been fascinating and stimulating. However when I looked at the assignment question it asked me to select just two to focus on and their innovations in relation to their socio-political situations.

I whittled the list down to five potentials;

  • Bertolt Brecht
  • Ariane Mnouchkine
  • Robert Lepage
  • Augusto Boal
  • John McGrath

Each one has particularly struck and resonated with me during this module. Mnouchkine’s use of Commedia Dell’arte, John McGrath’s thoughts and battles against Thatcherism, and Robert Lepage’s vision and developments are simply astounding (I was fortunate to attend a lecture Robert Lepage gave at college a few years ago, it was some of the best teaching I’ve received)

However, after some thought, I chose Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal.

Brecht’s plays and thought’s have really “clicked” with me and have helped me to define my own thoughts and understanding on theatre. I like his sense of humor and know that studying him further for this assignment will stretch my own thoughts on theatre and life beyond my comfort zone.

Boal is similar, reading his material and having seen a couple of videos of him on You Tube, you can’t help but get inspired by his enthusiasm and passion for life. I’m reading his autobiography ” Hamlet and the Bakers Son”, and I’m regularly laughing out loud at his funny observations. Yet I’m all but too aware of the pain both physical and emotional he’s suffered for his art.

So as my research continues for this assignment I’m aware that my theatrical knowledge will grow and change , but in order to do justice to their thoughts and views, I myself must change too.