It was fun working with Theatretrain Directors and teachers this weekend. Later this week I’m off to Ireland to lead some adult workshops in acting. I love the challenge of not knowing anyone and seeing how far we can reach in a weekend, and I have to win them over.
I always start with a set of exercises that show me how they work. For instance, I’ll ask them to do some simple actions; some on their own and some as a group. A solo instruction could be as easy as “Drink a shot of whiskey” (you’d be surprised how many people forget to swallow!), “Remember a wedding” or “Remember last Christmas Day” – the last two are personal to them but I want them to recall events and often there is an emotional connection. When it comes to working as a group I split them into two and ask one group to watch another and then switch over. It all looks so easy when you are watching; less so when you are up there.
I start off with tasks like, “You’re reaching the pub at the end of a long walk but there’s a big puddle in the way,” or “On a hot day you are barefoot, go across the sand and buy an ice cream.” That sand is hot! I make the tasks gradually harder so eventually, I’ll instruct the group to get to the middle of the field and realise it’s a minefield (remember this is adults); it’s interesting how they deal with a problem like this. Some go silent, and others want to lead but generally, someone carefully inspects the ground and leads the way out by asking everyone to step into their footprints. I sometimes get people who test the ground in front by putting their foot down. Then I usually say, “BANG! End of scene.”
It’s lovely to see a group responding and being generous with each other. If they have to cross any icy pond where the ice is thinner in places they start talking and listening to each other. The trick is that you may have your own idea of what is happening (like remembering Christmas Day) but when you act with others you have to deal with them and what they think. So if someone says, “Look out there’s a crack,” it’s better for the group if you agree and build on that.
In my experience, the best actors take on what others say or do and connect with it in some way even if they disagree. Attention-seekers are usually less interesting because they try to control everything. It’s more interesting to feed in rather than take away.
The joy for the acting teacher is that you never know what you will get, it’s always a challenge and it engages your creativity to find solutions.