The Silent Approach and ambition

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Silent Approach workshop at Salisbury Playhouse from a series of photos by Jo Newman

As a director, my ambition for the Silent Approach continues…

I’ve recently led Silent Approach workshops at the National Theatre Studio and at Salisbury Playhouse in collaboration with the Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme (RTYDS), working with vocational actors with learning disabilities, actors without learning disabilities, directors and practitioners.

Each workshop offered an opportunity to experience the approach, work non verbally on forming ensemble, to use key exercises and to explore the direction of text based scenes without using speech.

There’s also been a chance to look at an idea for a new piece of work.

Silent Approach workshops aren’t for the faint-hearted.

Briefing actors and directors to come along open and ready for anything but robbing them of the power of speech establishes either trust or resistance.

As a director I’ve been struck by the enormity of the ask and a terror that I’ll receive no answer.

I’ve been fortunate to date; everyone’s gone with me on the daylong silent journey.

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Me and Nathan Bessell

I’ve particularly enjoyed working with leading actors with learning disabilities who are new to me, Nathan Bessell (of Myrtle theatre) at Salisbury Playhouse and Imogen Roberts (of Access All Areas) at the National Theatre Studio as well as working with established collaborator Joe Sproulle (of Dark Horse).

Directors engaged to the processes have said they’ve learned from the non-verbal format, felt liberated from chatter and white noise and that the clarity of the technique offers razor sharp application to audience facing objectives. Actors have said full immersion in the moment is freeing and that the connection with other actors and director is extraordinary.

A lot of work gets made in a very short space of time and everyone likes this.

My aim for the workshops and for this teaching is for it to not just be experiential but to offer solid tools to advance the creation of more general audience facing integrated theatre.

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I want to ignite new casting choices and offer actors with learning disabilities routes into text based and interpretative theatre form, the theatrical realism that underpins general audience facing theatre, TV and film performance.

The concept of a different and other ‘learning disabled’ type of theatre can act as a barrier to integration in high profile work.

Arts Council England initiatives Ramps on the Moon and Unlimited have offered opportunities to deaf actors and actors with physical disabilities and this has had a positive effect and influence on theatre making as a whole.

With some exceptions, via my own and others’ plays and general audience facing work, actors with learning disabilities haven’t reached the same platforms or audiences.

Tools and confidence are needed for directors to make these casting choices alongside access to quality vocational training for non-verbal actors with moderate learning disabilities.

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Training a new generation of directors in the Silent Approach ready to take this challenge on fuels the potential for positive change on UK stages and beyond.

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