My second share today is a series of videos made for the UK’s National Theatre by Gyre & Gimble, a celebrated puppet company founded in 2014 by Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié, who were associate puppetry directors on the global theatrical hit, War Horse.
In the first video, Olié and Caldwell demonstrate a step-by-step guide for making a brown paper man puppet, which would be an excellent alternative for anyone want to work with Bunraku puppets.
The second video is a master class in bringing oversized puppets to life.
The third and final video focuses on storytelling through puppetry.
If you haven’t seen them, there is a whole series of excellent puppetry videos from The National here, including more from Olié and Caldwell about their show The Elephantom, created for temporary stage at The National.
As the world marks the death of William Shakespeare, 400 years on, there have been many celebrations of his work across the globe. Today I want to share some of them – the ones that have particularly resonated with me. Here in Hong Kong, we have just had the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) performing some of the Histories, all the Henries, in repertoire, to great acclaim. The company then moved to Beijing, where those plays have never been been seen before. My first offering, therefore, is a lecture by Gregory Doran, artistic director of the RSC, given upon his return from this tour. Entitled Is Shakespeare Chinese? , Doran speaks beautifully about the universality of Shakespeare, and for those of you that follow Theatre Room, you will know that this is something that often raises questions for me….but more of this later.
As a theatre practitioner, generally people expect you, firstly, to love Shakespeare with a passion, and secondly, to have seen every single play he ever wrote. My answers to both of those inevitably provoke a surprised response, which I secretly quite like. Recently, one of my students, Nadia, chose a speech from King John to use in a solo performance employing some of the techniques of Jerzy Grotowski. The outcome was stunning, the words brought alive in an incredible way. I have never seen or read King John but that performance has now compelled me to do so. This brings to me to my next share, a series of Shakespeare’s monologues and soliloquies performed by some of the UK’s most respected actors. Filmed for the The Guardian and presented in two parts, they are very compelling viewing.
Another two-part documentary really caught my imagination. Made for the BBC and written and presented by historian Simon Schama, eponymously titled Simon Schama’s Shakespeares, they explore the world of Shakespeare and how it shaped his writing. They are both worth a watch as Schama manages to vividly connect the plays and their characters to the contemporary world in which they were written to exist.
And finally, in the interests of balance, another BBC production from their programme strand Arts Night, in which writer and broadcaster Andrew Marr champions some great Renaissance dramatists who, he posits, have been neglected because they worked at the same time as William Shakespeare.
The National Theatre in the UK has come up with another little gem of a series, Careers at The National, which they have just begun posting on YouTube. It looks like they are exploring the less obvious roles that make up the team behind the scenes. Theatre doesn’t begin and end with the rise and fall of the curtain but I often think people fail to realise the multiplicity of roles that really do exist backstage. So far they have published three, with no doubt many more to come, and I have shared the Scenic Artist one here:
The American Theatre Wing also have two occasional series, How it Works and The Work which cover a myriad of other behind the scenes roles. They are somewhat more in depth than the ones from the National and I have shared two of them here – the first is about the job of Prop Master and the second, Projection Design.
Have a look through the rest of their videos, they are wide-ranging and some are really fascinating.
One of things that I enjoy about keeping Theatre Room is the fact that I am constantly surprised by what I stumble upon in my research. There are always things out there that I haven’t seen before and today I want to share a recent find. The Oslo International Acting Festival took place in 2012 and 2013, organised by The Academy of Theatre, Oslo National Academy of The Arts and The Norwegian Actors’ Center, with a view to exploring the nature and future of the art of acting globally. As I write I can’t find any information about whether the festival will continue in the future but the videos (posted on a YouTube channel) from the two festivals so far are a goldmine for theatre students. At the 2012 festival the theme was techniques and methods and explored the work of Constantin Stanislavski, Stanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Michael Chekov and Bertolt Brecht amongst others. I’ve posted the discussion about Brechtian technique below:
The 2013 festival had audience as it’s focus, with talks and discussions including one led by The Wooster Group’s Richard Schechner and another by Gisella Mendoza, a South American practitioner of Theatre of The Oppressed, posted below:
Incidentally, DV8 Physical Theatre have launched a media portalas part of their online offering. It includes excerpts of their productions as well as what are called instructional videos about the making and rehearsal of their work. There is a charge (by way of becoming a paying DV8 Member) for viewing the majority of the material, which seems a bit of shame given the generosity of other companies when sharing their working process and methodology.
A quick but superb share today, especially if you have an interest in world theatre forms. Discovered by a student of mine, Tsz Yu, while she was doing some research into movement and gesture of Japanese Noh actors. A new site, The Noh.com is a superb english language resource. There are a few other online sources out there, but they tend to be quite brief in their content aimed at a tourist market, rather than a resource for students. Noh.com is an evolving site with new material being added all the time. In the Trivia section you can ask, and expect an answer to any Noh related queries. The Play section is a real gift, as it contains a database of over 200 Noh plays, translated into english (shown alongside the Japanese text) which can de downloaded as PDF files.
One of the better other online sources is from the Japanese Arts Council which has revamped its website and it is now much more accessible to non-Japanese speakers, including the process of booking tickets, should you find yourself in the country. They have three introductory guides available on the site:
These are great beginners guides if you are a novice in the main three traditional theatre forms. There is also a fantastic playlist on Youtube that has over 50 videos about these theatre forms, from documentaries to traditional music to recordings of performances. A veritable feast of all things Japanese Theatre.
A week or so ago I had the pleasure of taking part in an acting workshop based on the teachings of Ute Hagen. Having had my own theatre education in Europe, Hagen’s work was largely unknown to me, despite the fact that her approach to naturalistic acting, along side that of Stanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg, is widely taught and respected in North America. It has been something of a revelation and my ignorance of her work rather embarrassing. She died in 2004, but her influence continues to grow. Of her work she said, I teach acting as I approach it – from the human and technical problems I have experienced through living and practice.
I was particularly struck by exploring her ways into creating character. One of her obituaries commented that there was a balance in her approach, which was method acting, but not taken to the self-immolating extremes of some of its practitioners. Though she demanded respect, she eschewed pretension. These nine questions, in order, form the core of that character work:
1. Who am I? (All the details about your character including name, age, address, relatives, likes, dislikes, hobbies, career, description of physical traits, opinions, beliefs, religion, education, origins, enemies, loved ones, sociological influences, etc.) 2. What time is it? (Century, season, year, day, minute, significance of time) 3. Where am I? (Country, city, neighborhood, home, room, area of room) 4. What surrounds me? (Animate and inanimate objects-complete details of environment) 5. What are the given circumstances? (Past, present, future and all of the events) 6. What is my relationship? (Relation to total events, other characters, and to things) 7. What do I want? (Character’s needs. The immediate and main objective) 8. What is in my way? (The obstacles which prevent character from getting his/her need) 9. What do I do to get what I want? (The action: physical and verbal, also-action verbs)
With her second husband, Herbert Berghof, who was a protégé of the German realist director Max Reinhardt, she co-founded the HB Studios in New York whose doors are still open today. I would suggest that if you don’t know the work of Ute Hagen or have struggled with Stanislavski or Strasberg, give her a go.
If anyone tells you there are objective standards, they’re full of crap. This is a matter of personal taste. There are trends. There are many people who loved Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting. But if you don’t, you’re not wrong. At worst, you’re eccentric.
I’m a director who has been working with actors for almost 30 years, and I’m the son of a film historian. I’ll give you my definition of good acting. But I really want to stress that if I say, “Pacino is great,” and you disagree, my experience does not make me right and you wrong. It just means we have different tastes.
First, for me, an actor is good if he makes me believe he’s actually going through whatever his character is going through. I’m talking somewhat about physical stuff (“He really is getting shot!” “He really is jumping off a moving train!”) but mostly about psychological stuff (“He really is scared!” “He really is in love!”). If an actor seems to be faking it, he’s not doing his job.
You can read the rest of the article here, and I would recommend it.
I have a few posts to make today, so I am going to start with cheekiest one first. My colleague Sean and me are currently delivering a course on Greek theatre with Oedipus Rexas the key text. Murder, incest and mutilation generally secures the rapt attention of 14 year olds! However, it is hard to find a filmed version of the play that isn’t very old, dated, badly filmed or just bad. For a number of years we have used a copy of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1967 filmed adaptation, Edipo Re to show excerpts from, and despite being in Italian, it served its purpose well. However, our copy has gone astray, and while searching for alternatives, (Pasolini’s version is seemingly impossible to get hold of anymore) Sean introduced me to the Thug Notes Oedipus:
I have to say, despite it’s outrageousness, I thought what a superb idea! Greg Edwards’ Sparky Sweets, Ph.D is a great vehicle for delivering snap-shot summaries and analysis. To quote the New York Times
Thug Notes is a deliciously executed example of a trend that has been around for years: the application of street sensibility to high-culture, high-concept areas and, more generally, any place where it’s not expected.
To date there are over 50 Thug Notes, but another of my favourites is most definitely his take on Hamlet
A quick share today of something that recently caught my eye. British Pathé, to quote it’s own website…….was once a dominant feature of the British cinema experience, renowned for first-class reporting……Now considered to be the finest newsreel archive in the world, British Pathé is a treasure trove of 85,000 films unrivalled in historical and cultural significance. Spanning the years from 1896 to 1979, the collection includes footage from around the globe of major events, famous faces, fashion trends, travel, science and culture.
This archive has now been digitised and made available on Youtube. A real gift for theatre makers who want to include historical footage from around the globe in their work. The archive, which covers the most important and significant political, human, and cultural events of the 20th Century, even charts the development of mechanics in theatre. From 1945 and 1932 respectively:
Scenographers everywhere will be thrilled. The archive even has it’s own Facebook presence. Having done a bit of exploring, it seems its easier to search for the content of the footage you might need on the Pathé website itself, locate the title of the video/s that contain it, then search for those titles on the Pathé Youtube channel.
Having written last week about immersive theatre, I am going to continue today with a connected theme. Immersive theatre, as well as the experience, is largely what it is because the visual elements it contains, be they the building or place itself or what is placed there. In other words, it’s design. Now it strikes me that the term theatre design is a little redundant when describing the immersive space and indeed this seems to be bringing about a change in how we perceive either the role of a theatre designer or theatre design itself.
Increasingly, theatre design is becoming scenography; the theatre designer, the scenographer. I had been aware of term, although never entirely sure of its exact meaning, but as is often the case, it seems to have been popping up with more frequency in things I have been reading and conversations I have had. A colleague used it this week to describe one of his areas of specialism. So with my interest piqued, I got digging and have been quite fascinated by what I have found.
To begin with, scenography is defined thus:
Scenography is the art of creating performance environments; it can be composed of sound, light, clothing, performance, structure and space
Nothing particularly new there, one might think on first reading. However, it is the bringing together of all of these elements together that is different. Traditionally in theatre we separate out the design roles – stage, costume, light, sound and so on. Throw into this mix the varying role a director can play in the design process and maybe even the dramaturg, and we get quite a complicated web of people and roles making contributions to what we eventually end up looking at and experiencing on stage.
Scenography is becoming quite common in Europe and indeed, theatre designers are designating themselves as scenographers. However, it would seem that in the US the term has not been adopted with the same passion. On her website Stephanie A. Schoelzel, herself a scenographer, describes heated debates over the use of the term and the unique differences between US and European theatre in this regard. It is an interesting read on a number of fronts. Another description of Sceneography and its origins is from Imagined Spaces, the Canadian National Arts Centre in Ottawa is also informative.
Imagined Spaces is a superb resource site for anyone interested in scenic design, with hundreds of beautifully rendered stage designs. In his article on Imagined Spaces, What Is Scenography, Michael Eagan states that scenography emerged from the Prague Quadrennial and talks about Josef Svoboda, himself Czech, as the godfather of modern scenography.…
It was at this point in my research that I began to feel a little ignorant. Svoboda is clearly a giant amongst designers and scenographers, but I had never heard of him. When he died 2002, it was estimated that he had designed and/or directed over 700 theatrical and operatic performances.
When I sit alone in a theatre and gaze into the dark space of its empty stage, I’m frequently seized by fear that this time I won’t manage to penetrate it, and I always hope that this fear will never desert me. Without an unending search for the key to the secret of creativity, there is no creation. It’s necessary always to begin again. And that is beautiful.
You can get an idea of the scale of Svoboda’s work in the following two videos. If you speak Czech or French there are more in-depth videos on Youtube about the man and his work.
It then struck me to whom I had heard the term scenographer ascribed before. Robert Lepage is one of the greatest living magicians of the performance space and I have had the delight, pleasure and awe of seeing a number of his works. An utter genius and worthy of a post all of his own, so I shall save further discussion of him until then. However equating Lepage and his work with the role of scenographer, I understood the difference between design and scenography. It also allayed my feelings of ignorance somewhat. For many years scenography has been the preserve of the academics – a theory of, roughly speaking, the meeting of art, design, architecture and space, and how they interact with the spectator and the spectator with them. Starting to feeI immersive here? I can now also see how two of the most influential theatre designers of the 20th Century, Adolphe Appia and Edward Gordon Craig, influenced the development of scenography.
There are lots of resources out there for understanding scenography and putting it into practice, but one of the best I have come across is TAJ, Theatre Arts Journal.TAJ is an online journal devoted to the study of scenography in performing arts. Also, the Prague Quadrennial site is a veritable treasure trove of scenographic wonders. There is even a board on Pinterest devoted to scenography, curated by architect Marios Angelopoulos.
To close, I should point out that scenography is not simply an act of theatre making. It is much wider than that, stretching to cover exhibition design, museum planning and interactive public spaces amongst other things – all things that need to engage an audience.