EN-gage Theatre Arts drama facilitator training

New company EN-gage Theatre Arts recently ran a one-day training workshop at The Edge Theatre and Arts Centre in Manchester for its band of drama facilitators, including yours truly!

EN-gage Theate Arts

The company, run by performer and facilitator Hebe Reilly, delivers drama projects in English for non-native English-speaking students. These projects are tailor-made to the school or students’ requirements, and give the young people taking part a fun and educational experience where they can practise and develop their spoken English with a native speaker, make new friends, and gain creative and life skills through drama.

I first met Hebe working on an English summer camp in Russia, and we were instantly united in our passion for sharing the joys of theatre with young people and our love of travel.

Workshop 2

The goal of the training session was to share activities and facilitation tips, but also to establish a common language and mission statement for EN-gage Theatre Arts. The company already has two drama projects in Russia under its belt, and it brings together a group of theatre professionals with a wealth of experience in teaching drama, both in the UK and abroad, but Hebe felt it was important to try to establish a set of common principles that all EN-gage practitioners share. While retaining the individual skill sets of each company member, what is it about the EN-gage experience that all clients will get when they book a project with us?

As soon as we’d done the warm-up and kicked off the session with some drama games I was filled with joy at getting to just play. I’d almost forgotten what this felt like!

Workshop 1Throughout the day we took part in group activities that involved devising and planning theatre projects in English for different age groups. This was interspersed with leading the group in various games and activities we had each prepared for the session, sharing ideas and experiences.

Training sessions like this are so important, not just for sharing knowledge (and of course having fun!), but for building a strong company where all members feel part of a whole and support one another. Acting is obviously a very social activity in itself, but leading drama workshops can be a more solitary activity, in that you’re not surrounded by your peers every day if you’re a freelancer, so it’s great to feel part of a collective.

I left the training very much having a sense of us being a team, and hope that having this support network of fellow facilitators will greatly enhance the projects I do through EN-gage Theatre Arts and my professional development as a whole.

Russia summer camp: teaching English through drama

This summer saw me head off to Russia again to work at a summer camp on the Black Sea for a month, running drama workshops in English.

I worked directly with CLASS Study and Training Centre this time, an English language school based in Rostov-on-Don, and there were three of us going over from England – myself, Hebe Reilly and Emily Sly, all of us East 15 graduates!

It was a fantastic experience – completely knackering but so rewarding. For the first half of camp I worked with the middle group of students, mostly aged 11, 12 and 13, then in the second half I worked with an older group of 13–16-year-olds. Both groups were wonderful – the first took a few days to settle in, so were a bit of a handful at the start, but once we were used to each other they turned out to be a very caring, creative and attentive group of kids. Being that bit older, and most of them having been to camp before, my second group of students were ready to get on with the work in our sessions right from day one. Check out the Facebook page we created for this year’s camp to see photos and videos of what we got up to in the sessions. My thanks to the wonderful Drama Menu book for some new games and activity ideas that I put to good use this year.

IMG_8770

My second group with their camp certificates

The camp sits on the coast of the Black Sea, not far from Nebug, nestled between imposing hills carpeted with trees and a beautiful watery horizon stretching off into the distance. Looking out to sea from the fourth floor balcony in the main accommodation building, the view is breathtaking – such a huge expanse of space, the blue sea below, the blue sky above.

Like last year, the students devised their own pieces to perform to the rest of the CLASS group at camp. The theme of this year’s camp was jobs, and each day a different job or area of work was explored through the ‘quests’ the teachers prepared for the students. I used this theme with my first group and asked them to choose a job to create a piece of theatre about, looking at a day in the life of someone doing that job. As is so often the case when working with children, the results were not quite what I expected – we certainly had some unusual job titles come up, and not so much a day as six months in the life, but it was the students’ work, not mine, and that was the important thing.

With the second group I decided to try a different approach, and rather than just leaving them to their own devices I came up with the idea of creating a sort of news programme with two presenters and a variety of shows contained within it. I asked two students if they would like to be the presenters, then mostly gave the rest of them the option of creating a news report, a film trailer or a commercial. The key element here was that we were focusing on good news – this started with a group discussion early on in the process about the phrase ‘no news is good news’, looking at how so much of the news we consume focuses on negative events. We wanted to highlight the positive things happening in the world and the more positive side of human nature, from the serious to the slapstick. In the end we had a mixed tone to the overall piece, with a news report on a utopian version of camp (where the kids had ‘loud hour’ instead of quiet hour, they could get up at whatever time they wanted, and they got to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast), a quiz show, a puppet weather report, a chat show with a message about valuing how a person is on the inside, and a film première.

I felt so proud of both groups and the amazing pieces they created. They say that a great teacher inspires their students, but every time I work with a new group of children, whether 7 or 17, I find that they are the ones inspiring me. Their ideas, their energy and enthusiasm, the questions they ask, the way they approach a problem and find a solution, all of this makes me see the world differently, through their eyes, and I realise I have just as much to (re)learn from them as they have to learn from me. This is why I do camp. The beach is a draw, as is the wonderful team of teachers I get to work with out there, who make camp such a special experience for everyone, but the main reason I do it is the kids. They make it one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Russia: drama summer camp

This post is so ridiculously overdue. Like many of my posts! In the three weeks since I got back from my first ever trip to Russia I have sat down a total of six times to try to write this post, and each time I’ve come up with nothing. Not because there was nothing in my head, but there was too much. How to put into words one of the most memorable experiences of my life? Impossible. But I had to write something, so here goes…

This was my second trip with Oxford World Theatre (the first being Sicily), and this time I went with a fellow team member, the amazing Olive Supple-Still. It was a huge comfort and support having her there – not only could we bounce ideas off each other, but it made the experience even more special having someone to share it with.

IMG_7282

We worked with teachers and kids from CLASS, an English language school in Rostov-on-Don, catching the sleeper train with them from Rostov down to the summer camp near Nebug, on the Black Sea. On that train I experienced just how hot Russian trains can get in summer, and I got well acquainted with the first of many mosquitoes. It turns out I am allergic to Russian mosquitoes, as we discovered when one bite caused my whole ankle to swell up.

Over the first few days of camp we adjusted to the pace of life there – we had 24 days ahead of us with no days off and only really two hours of free time a day. The rest was mostly spent with the kids. This took a few days to get used to, but once we were in the swing of things it was fantastic.

We ran drama workshops with two groups of children – one for the first week and a half and then a second group for the latter. These groups were divided into three smaller groups based on age. Check out the Oxford World Theatre Facebook page for pictures and clips from the sessions. With the first lot, I worked with the oldest group (13-16), Olive the middle (10-13ish), and we worked together with the younger ones (7-8). With the second lot of kids Olive and I swapped age groups. I’d never worked with children in the middle age group before so this was a great chance to gain some experience.

At the end of each group’s stay they performed short pieces of theatre they’d devised with us to their peers. It was fascinating seeing the different ideas they all came up with, and how two groups of the same age could have such different approaches and be interested in completely different subject matter. In the first older group the sketches varied from a horror story to the 1960s, with a brilliant piece about Harry Potter and how social media has taken over our lives, with such delights as Voldemort deleting Harry Potter’s Facebook account, Harry and Draco taking a selfie mid-duel, and the boys inventing a whole new social media network. In the end, however, the message shone through that we all need to spend a bit more time talking to our friends in person rather than constantly through a screen, when Harry and his friends decided to throw their mobile phones on the floor and be done with that social media business. (I would like to add that no mobile phones were hurt in the making of this play, thankfully! The guys had the brilliant idea of taking the less breakable backs off their phones and throwing these instead.) Olive’s older group explored some pertinent issues in their pieces, including bullying and prejudice. By creating a safe environment of trust and respect, Olive managed to explore some very difficult issues with her students and create some deeply affecting and important work.

In my sessions I tried out some new games and was thrilled when the kids responded so well and really got involved. You can see pics and a few clips of their work in the sessions and their performances on the Oxford World Theatre Facebook page.

Aside from the sea of young, smiling faces, the sunshine, the beautiful surroundings and the pure awesomeness of being in a new country (I went to RUSSIA!!! Woop!), what made this project really special was the warmth and generosity of my colleagues. I was so lucky to meet some of the funniest, kindest and most inspiring women I have ever encountered. The teachers I worked with from CLASS are super-human, I swear! (Though of course, being the daughter of a teacher, I know as a fact that all teachers are.) And with Olive, I couldn’t have asked for a more open-hearted and talented partner in crime. Sound like I’m gushing? Well I am, and rightly so.

The LAMDA Legacy – turning strangers into smiles

So the adventure is over… for now. Four weeks of laughing, crying, playing, living and breathing Shakespeare, practicing historic dance steps in swishy skirts, prancing around with childlike glee, slurping coffee on the way to school, contorting myself to avoid a faceful of armpit on the morning tube ride, dancing barefoot like there’s no-one watching, rehearsing, discovering, making friends, developing trust, exploring who I am and what it is I want, tasting the poetry of my lines, daring to give it a go, finding neutral, letting go, working out, exercising every muscle in my body, singing old lute songs, discovering my head voice, exploring tension levels, working, people-watching, demonstrating Laban efforts, experimenting with masks, throwing consonants at the ceiling, bouncing vowels off the walls, connecting mind, body, voice and soul, turning strangers into smiles, has come to an end. 

These last four weeks have changed how I look at things, how I approach my work, how I see others and myself, and have added fuel to the fire that was already  glowing there, so that it now burns brightly. I have had the pleasure of meeting, working and playing with some wonderful people, whose creativity and bravery I’ve found inspirational. I’ve experienced just a taste of what it is to train at LAMDA, an appetizer that has left me wanting more of what this wonderful school has to offer.

Although it’s now back to the day job, the fire still burns fiercely within. I will never forget this magical month I’ve just had, and all the people I’ve shared it with along the way. I’ve seen the start of friendships and creative partnerships that will last long beyond our brief time at LAMDA, and though the Shakespeare workshop itself has ended, this is really only just the beginning…

 

LAMDA week three – letting go

As the physical theatre classes have increased with intensity, the singing classes introduced me to the wonder of my ‘head voice’ (quite a revelation for me actually!), and the scene study sessions frustrated me more and more with my general crapness, I have discovered the importance of ‘letting go’. If last week I made the decision to be brave, this week I have been focusing on the result of being brave – letting go. Letting go of me, of my habits, of my fears and insecurities, of all the emotion pent up inside, straining to get out and be freeeeee. When I say letting go of me, I’m not talking about wiping the slate clean completely, just being able to get to a state known as ‘neutral’ and knowing how to return to that state before getting into character. Sitting on the tube, walking through London, eating my breakfast, I will remain as me, with all the wonderful (and not so!) little things that make me me. But in the studio, the rehearsal room, or backstage, before I transform into Viola, Rosalind, Portia, I can shake off me and find that neutral state, then let the character in.

During our work on neutrality with the wonderful John Bartlett, we had the brief chance to do some mask work. Normally this takes weeks or even months to work on and build up to, but given the brief nature of the course, we were given a sneak peak into this wonderful world and the creative possibilities it opens up. We each chose a mask, as much on impulse as possible, then spent a few minutes getting to know our mask. I ran my fingers over its face, felt the prominent cheekbones jutting out, the deep eye sockets; brought it close to my face and rubbed my cheek against its. I held it above me and looked up at the look of a parent; held it below in my arms – the look of a child; held it behind me – the look of a stranger; lay down on my side with it – the passive look of a lover. Once acquainted with our masks, we closed our eyes and put them on. Unfortunately, my eyes being stupidly close together, I struggled with some discomfort to see properly out of the mask; indeed at the end of the session, as I pulled the mask off, my left contact lens, which it had apparently dragged out of my eye, fell into my palm – ouch! However, this aside, the effect of the mask was a powerful one. We were told not to sink and pull it down to us, but rather to lift ourselves to it. Walking around in neutral, executing actions on impulse, listening to what our bodies wanted to do and where they wanted to go, and listening to what the mask wanted to do, we were transformed. I felt my body move automatically, without any conscious thought, as if controlled by some other power, some other force. It was a strangely liberating experience, that loss of conscious control, that letting go.

Our group chilling during a line run at rehearsal – first time using the panorama function on my new camera so the pic’s a little messed up in places!

In my physical theatre and movement classes my body is becoming more and more attuned to letting go, and in my voice classes too, as I drop all the tension I normally carry across my chest (seems all those years of ballet weren’t a good idea after all) and let my breath sink in deeper. The problem I’m facing is putting all this hard work into practice in the rehearsal room. Working on a scene with Viola and Olivia from Twelfth Night (me playing Viola), I’m finding it takes so much time in each session for me to open up and let go of myself. Once I manage to do this, the effect is obvious, and suddenly the scene has an energy and life it was lacking before. One can only presume that, through drama school training, you develop the means to put into practice all the techniques you learn without having to consciously bring them up and go through the exercise each time. I have faith that, if I work hard and open myself to every creative possibility, this could happen. However, for the meantime I need to get this scene nailed by the end of this week, and for this I just need to let go.

Welcome to LAMDA!

Ok, so it’s the end of my second day here at LAMDA on the four-week Shakespeare summer school, or ‘workshop’ as they call it. I’m living in London for the month, renting a room in Finsbury Park, so not only is it a Shakespeare mini adventure, it’s also a London mini adventure. I’m getting used to just cooking for one rather than three (well, two, but my boyfriend eats enough for two people), and having a bit of ‘me’ time in the evenings, which at the moment is a novelty, but I’m sure I will soon be missing my other half and his not-so-tuneful renditions of Les Mis around the flat. He’s probably just enjoying the peace and quiet. And filling it with even louder renditions of Les Mis.

The first day of the ‘workshop’ was occupied with mainly getting to know each other, the staff, and how things work here. After a brief orientation meeting where we received our timetables and a list of the smaller groups we’d be split into (there have to be at least 40 of us on the course – a rather intimidating number to pile into one class!), we went off into our groups and started work on some scene study. The director working with my group is, of course, a wonderfully interesting character, with a colourful theatrical past and, I’m sure, more than a few fascinating stories to tell about the Industry. He seems to possess that other-worldly quality that many creative folk do, his mind floating in and out of the room as he recalls past adventures, or lingers on some element of Shakespeare on which he has a certain wisdom to impart. He also seems wonderfully blunt and with no qualms about telling you if you’re doing a crap job, which I think is absolutely crucial for an actor.

After scene study we had an hour’s lunch, which I spent with a delightful Icelandic girl, and narrowly avoided getting a stitch. We ordered food at a nearby pub but by the time it arrived had no time to eat it and five minutes to get back to the school, so they very kindly popped our meals in little Tupperware and we legged it back to class trying to wolf down our lunch as we went. I can tell you: eating cannelloni with your fingers whilst power walking through Hammersmith is no easy feat!

The afternoon was spent playing games, which although silly at first, you soon realise are actually playing some greater part in your training, mainly helping to sharpen your focus, improve your spatial awareness, and develop quick thinking. We had a fantastic time rediscovering our inner child in a game of tag, and despaired at our lack of coordination in a game I normally call ‘Zip, Zap, Boing’. After classes the school put on a few drinks and nibbles, a lovely little gesture that helped break any remaining ice within the group, and stuffed with flapjack, strawberries and red wine, I made my way home and fell into bed, happy and knackered.

Today’s classes have been more focused, with more scene study work and the first of our historic dance and singing lessons, and tomorrow we set off to Stratford-upon-Avon for an RSC workshop, three plays and a trip to the usual sites, returning on Friday after a meander round Warwick Castle. I shall report back on Friday, this time with pictures!