My thinking

Last week as part of the Separate Doors 3 project I shared my silent approach methodology with directors, theatre makers and playwrights.

me and johnny

Up to 30 theatre professionals with and without learning disabilities came together for a day of intensive no speech rehearsal process in each master class.

This is what I did and this is what I was thinking…

Activity: Opening. (Starting soundtrack, setting up the space, watching actors do their personal warm up, opening the rehearsal room door to guests).

I’m thinking: Do I know anything at all about anything? Do not run away. Breathe. Why am I doing this? What am I trying to do? What are my objectives? What happens next? 

Activity: Flocking. (Bringing people together without speech. Establishing an ensemble).

I’m thinking: Please please please come with me.  Will you trust me and go with it? Do you want to connect and be? Can you come along with me through key movement patterns. Can 25 people become 1? Can we all relish the common condition of being human and move together in space?

flocking

Activity: Greeting. (Handshakes and emotional connection).

I’m thinking: Is the pacing right? Is anyone dropping out, are there any lapses in focus? When shall I risk a shift in activity, guide the next stage of movement/breath.  Offer eyes, take what comes back, accept. 

Activity: Sounding. (Ensemble working through breath and onto voice with feeling).

I’m thinking:  Be bold. Do it. Keep it interesting, keep changing it up, improvise. Push energy out and bring it back to quiet, to silence, to being. Does everyone want this? Are we all in this together? Can we experience air, energy and be in the same moment together?

Activity: Making (On text, directing actors in character within given circumstances).

I’m thinking: Do the video and audio cues show where we are? Do we all feel and know where we are? Can the actors feed off each others emotional states and move?Can we endow objects, silently? Can I add some dialogue- without it ruining things? Can we keep the physical shape, the action and reaction within the activity and not care about the lines? Am I serving the play? Am I serving the actors? Are we serving the audience? Is everyone authentically being in this space. Right now. Am I holding the rest of the room to the work? Is this drama? Does it make people feel? Do we care? Does it work? Does it matter?

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Activity: Ending (Moving out of scene and character dynamics).

I’m thinking: We’re all back in the circle and breathing, have we all come back to neutral, do I need to extend? How long can I hold this silence for? How long do people want and need? Have I got it right? How do I quantify this method? How do I explain it? How do I share this philosophy, this technique and its application?

the back of me

Directors, leadership and integrated theatre

What does a theatre director do exactly?

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Theatre director (noun); A creative collaborator, guide and conduit between a writer*, production team and performers and an audience.

*or not if the work is devised.

Who the director is informs the outcome to an extent, just as any other creative and production team member influences a show.

How the director works, who they cast, how they communicate, how they brief, manage people, run rehearsals, steer marketing and shape the final production for people is perhaps more important than who.

The role is as important as the person.

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Joe Sproulle and Lisa Howard in Sing Something Simple (Dark Horse, national tour 2)

There’s a highly positive drive for change in UK theatre to recruit theatre directors from under-represented demographics.

Disability-led work is thriving but actors with moderate learning disabilities struggle to lead and manage projects- and many trained actors don’t want to, they want to focus on acting as the hard-learned theatre craft it is-  and this is where integrated theatre (= casts and companies of creatives with and without learning disabilities) offers genuine equality for these performers.

People with moderate learning disabilities without literacy or verbal skills are barred from leadership roles in theatre.

But…

Actors with moderate learning disabilities aren’t barred from playing leading roles in general audience facing work when working in integrated casts with the Silent Approach.

 

The Silent Approach is a non-verbal rehearsal room method which supports actors with and without learning disabilities, in integrated general audience facing productions. Its proven, tried and tested in national touring, TV and film and its being shared widely via the Separate Doors project.

Separate Doors 3 aims to encourage theatre directors to increase the representation of people with learning disabilities in general audience, text based and venue theatre.

The project offers key tools for directors to make working with actors with learning disabilities as desirable and creatively expanding as it can be including casting/working with creative enablers and supporters/financial considerations, rehearsal room processes/ ensemble development/communication tips, management during the run and language and targets for marketing and promotion.

Get in touch and be a part of Separate Doors 3 at www.separatedoors.org

(We’re working with theatre makers and playwrights too…More soon…)

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Vanessa Brooks and Dark Horse actors- Young Vic Silent Approach master class

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Its all about the work.

Theatre venues in the UK have made progress in widening the representation of diverse people on stages, in high quality work with impact which plays out to general audiences.

Black, gay, transgender, deaf and disabled and mental health focused work has been commissioned and supported by venues and by Arts Council England initiatives.

Intersectionality informs a thirst to break traditional silos and open doors to dramatic experiences of all of the human condition.

New stories, new voices and new experiences are being heard on main stages but one group continues to be unseen and unheard…

 

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Separate Doors 1 and 2 highlighted the experiences of leading actors with learning disabilities, the integrated companies they train with, casting, representation and the wider landscape.

Separate Doors 3 will explore the work itself.

How do you approach writing drama featuring learning disabled characters? How do you effectively direct actors with moderate learning disabilities? How do you manage an integrated rehearsal room? Is devising or writing best or a mixture of both forms? What are the creative pitfalls and bonuses? How can vocational actors with learning disabilities be included in standard programmes and processes?

I’ll be looking at my own and others’ artistic processes, directorial choices, rehearsal room practice and playwriting craft in the development of new high quality integrated work featuring actors with moderate learning disabilities.

Key participants will be leading actors with learning disabilities, established playwrights, Artistic and Associate Directors of producing venues, theatre makers and practitioners, devising companies and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Master classes in my Silent Approach, rehearsal room analysis, interviews with leading creatives and the outcome of a forum event in London in Summer 2019 will form the backbone of the third Separate Doors report.

There’ll be regular updates here and you can follow the progress of the project- and read reports 1 and 2-  by clicking this link to the Separate Doors website.

There’s never been a greater will to include exceptional actors with learning disabilities in general audience facing work.

Separate Doors 3 will go beyond the will, and find the creative way….

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Master class at the Young Vic

Participation is a bugle call, excellence is dynamite

 

director 5Gifted actors with learning learning disabilities have a right to access acting and rehearsal craft and audiences benefit from the characters and stories trained actors with learning disabilities bring to general audience work.

Sue Emmas, Associate Artistic Director at the Young Vic Theatre in London asked me to deliver a day long Silent Approach master class for up to 60 directors and theatre makers.

I accepted the challenge and approached the work with three objectives in mind:

  • To offer a hands on ‘doing it’ experience of Silent Approach ensemble, physical and vocal exercises.
  • To showcase Silent Approach non verbal directing technique
  • To inspire interest in and commitment to this kind of inclusive approach and integrated theatre and casting.

 

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Dark Horse actors Toby Meredith and Rebekah Hill (Me in the middle)

The Silent Approach is an equaliser.

It unlocks standard rehearsal process by removing the need for speech (Apart from the play text) and it allows vocational actors with and without learning disabilities to work together with equality.

The foundation of the approach is Stanislavsky’s system.

Actors with and without learning disabilities trained in this way can readily access the technique.

It gives directors a non verbal map to get scenes up and work them and run them to production readiness.

No actor is excluded from the rehearsal process on the grounds of verbal or cognitive ability.

It works for text based, standard ‘written’ plays as well as working for physical and devised work.

I chose to work on the day with Dark Horse actors Toby Meredith and Rebekah Hill, both trained and experienced actors with Downs Syndrome.  I also cast non-disabled actor Johnny Vivash who I worked with on two national tours of my play HYPOTHERMIA.

 

 

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The Silent Approach is dynamic.

Asking a large roomful of people who you’ve never met before to trust, follow and go with you on a silent journey is a big ask.

Thankfully, they came with me.

I score the days activity. Music and sound effects shape a narrative and emotional pathway we can all follow.

I started the warm up by communicating physically with Toby Meredith then gathered up and collected everyone in the studio, working through the kinesphere and at different paces, returning many times to breath, inhabiting the space, working with its energy.

We then moved on to a vocal warm up, working with breath, sound, laughter, tuts and shushes, vowels and lamentations.

An hour and a half later, no one had a said a word but a lot of information had been exchanged.

We had a shared vocabulary and shared knowledge.

We were an ensemble.

 

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Directors, Johnny Vivash and Toby Meredith

 

The Silent Approach is effective.

I moved into scene direction, establishing given circumstances and character with video files I’d edited together for the purpose, sound cues established place.

Actors understood where they were, a little of what they wanted from their scene partner and then played off each other.

Lines were fed in.

Three lengthy scenes were directed and on their feet within an hour and fifteen minutes.

Its possible to direct a two act, two hour fifteen minute production in two weeks using the Silent Approach.

I’ve done it. Several times.

 

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Joy

 

The Silent Approach is for everyone.

After lunch six directors stepped up and directed a further three scenes.

We used the same given circumstances and the same cues and the action took place in the same location as the morning scenes but the dialogue and the activity was new.

In each of the scenes an actor without learning disabilities and actors with learning disabilities delivered the kind of theatrically realistic performances you’d expect to see on a main stage.

All the directors did brilliantly.  They said they’d picked up some tools which will hopefully have influence moving forwards and perhaps create some change too. And change any perception about work featuring learning disability having to happen at participatory level…It can happen at all levels, and should.

Job done.

 

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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.