Creating theatre on the South Bank 

Induction week is over and the real thing is about to start. Tomorrow is the first official day of term at drama school and we can’t wait to start. We’ve had seven days of introductory sessions, Equity and Spotlight talks, headshots and general getting to know each other, and now we’re ready to get down to some work.

Last week we had a day out in London with the other postgraduate students. It was a chance to get to know people on the other postgraduate courses, explore a bit of London, and create a piece of new work – a 90-second performance.

Otaiti by Francis Picabia, in the Tate Modern - the image we chose as most representing our quote

Otaiti by Francis Picabia, in the Tate Modern – the image we chose as most representing our quote

We were split into groups of around 10 people – each person picked a quote out of a brown envelope, and we had to find the other people with the same quote (to form a group), without speaking any words or showing the quote to anyone. You can imagine the hilarity and mild panic that ensued as we all flitted around the room, desperately miming parts of our quote at each other whilst trying to spot anyone miming something that could possibly fit with ours. It was desperation-fuelled and fun and it certainly broke the ice.

Once in our little collectives each group was given a destination, and after a visit to the toilet for some of us (namely, me), and a stop-off at the school cafe for a coffee, we headed off to the tube, already chatting to new people in our groups, making new friends from different parts of the world.

We had a list of tasks to accomplish and orders to reconvene outside the National Theatre on the South Bank at 5pm, where we would perform our 90-second pieces in our groups.

On the tube we discussed the meaning of the quote to us as a group – what did it make us think of? Did it remind of us a moment in our own lives? In what different situations might it be said? Our quote was from Macbeth (yes, I said it. I will also say Voldemort, if the occasion arises), and is spoken by Lady M:

“Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty!”

We spoke of times when you pray (if you believe in a god) for the strength to cope with something difficult, but we also looked at the element of self-sacrifice in the quote. Lady M is willing to give up part of what makes her who she is – the so-called ‘female’ traits of empathy and compassion – in order to commit the dreadful act of murder, which will help her husband achieve his ambition of being king. We could also imagine this being said by someone wanting revenge.

My group’s destination was the Tate Modern, a breeding ground for inspiration. I’d only been once before, in the summer of 2012, so I was excited about going back there and seeing some of the old favourites, plus any new installations. I was thrilled to see Dali’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus again – one of my favourite paintings – and spent a good five minutes gazing into its rich colours and fluid landscape.

Here our task was to find an image or object that best reflected our quote, consider which of the four elements resonated with the quote (we chose water), and find a new image reflecting the elemental aspect of our quote. The image a few of us settled on for best representing the quote visually was an oil painting by Francis Picabia called Otaiti (see picture). I felt its thick texture, dark colours, and the nakedness and posture of the woman, with her parted lips and upturned eyes, illustrated the sexual and malevolent nature of the words. A beautiful and very powerful painting when you’re standing right in front of it!

Another of our instructions was to explore what sounds might surround the words. We focused on the voice and the breath, and used this in the performed piece we created.

At 5pm we all congregated in a circular area near the Laurence Olivier statue outside the National Theatre, and one by one each group got up to perform their piece, arranging the audience as they wished beforehand. People walking along the South Bank stopped to watch. A few stayed through all the performances, others came and went. When all the pieces had been performed by applauded ourselves and each other, then applauded the public who had taken time out of their day to watch us. That has often been me in the past – wandering along there on the way to a bookshop or a cafe or the theatre, stopping to watch something that’s piqued my interest. This time it was the other way round – I was the one performing, and it felt special.

I had a wonderful day – meeting new and interesting people, getting to work with them, exploring London a bit, having stimulating creative conversations and getting the chance to perform outside the National Theatre….. if only for 90 seconds!

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