Freedom To … Bring Your Own Script

Actors in attendance: Sohm Kapila, Nicola Marsh, Jacob Shepherd, Dave Peel, Lynsey Jones.

Every month, I hold a Freedom To… session with a different theme, to promote diversity in practice as much as I am promoting diversity within our core of actors.

So this time, I went with what I thought would be a less heavy one for me – ‘Bring Your Own Script’. ‘Piece of cake’ I naively thought. Everyone will bring scripts and I just have to do a bit of photocopying and make sure everyone has a chance to have a go.

Not so.

After cancellations, script-changes, inaccessible photocopiers and unexpected arrivals; the evening had well and truly flown out of my grasp.

And that is when I realised that everything I harp on about in the Freedom To… sessions – ‘respond in the moment’, ‘go with whatever happens’, ‘you can’t control anything other than yourself and your own responses’ – is exactly what I wasn’t doing!

So, taking my own advice, I abandoned the ‘plan’ and decided whole-heartedly to ‘go with the flow’. And this is what happened…

Three new actors came along this month, which was lovely as two of them had phoned Freedom Studios enquiring about casting opportunities, and it was a treat to be able to invite them to something – admittedly not a casting, but certainly an opportunity likely to increase their chances of working with us in future.

With three new and two existing members of the Freedom To… network, it was a slower start than usual, with us all taking the time to hear about each other’s professional, personal journeys and stories. And it was a pleasant surprise to hear the range of experiences in the room. I’m not sure why, but there’s something that excites me about discovering an actor who’s had a career change from something completely different. Perhaps it is that bravery, or simply the friendliness that has brought them to us that I find impressive and inspiring.

We started with the usual coffee and catch up. This month we were joined by the lovely Maria Spadafora … who came along to take some photos, which was a real treat.

Moving next door, we had a little open space moment of sharing about what we’d like to get out of Freedom To… both in the long term and in the evening’s session. Before moving onto a warm-up game of ‘Anyone Who’ – Nicola shared the fact that she normally doesn’t like warm-ups very much but really enjoyed this. I must agree, in a workshop, it’s nice to start with something fun and not too heavy – we are here to play after all.

A round of balley and a group stretch/vocal warm-up later and we were ready to roll.

Unfortunately, this is where my session plan fell apart a bit – a shortage of scripts and inaccessible photocopying facilities meant we didn’t have any new scripts and so had to fall back on a couple of my workshop favourites. I certainly learned my lessons today – more planning in advance, always have full scripts and multiples to hand!

But we muddled through very well and played a lot with Biyi Bandele Thomas’ Two Horsemen. Before moving onto a workshop text in which there were no characters but lots of room to improvise – which the company did inventively and with much fun. In fact it was so much fun that – since my rules were out the window anyway – I even joined in for a bit!

Watching the group play with the scripts, I was very aware of the cognitive processes we go through when consciously interpreting and communicating. Something I saw happen in the room – actors drawing on that bank of accents, ideas already floating on the surface of your subconscious, impressive little moves and techniques that you pull out without hesitation. But what happens when you exhaust that bank? You are left with vulnerability and a seeming lack of imagination. And that’s when you realise that you are not scraping the barrel for water, because there is no barrel and you are in a sea of possibilities – none of which are fixed or correct, but all of which are possible; which is certainly what we approached during the ‘play’ part of the session.

But we did of course need to get down to work. Two new actors had a rehearsed extract they wanted to try out. So dividing up a few scripts (multiples to hand – thumbs up to Shakera, not enough variety – thumbs back down) I watched Nicola and Jacob work on Lungs by Duncan Macmillan and made a couple of suggestions. However, this was a tricky one, how do you prepare actors for an audition without over-rehearsing a piece?  How do you predict what another director looks for in audition? Well, you can’t. So I only gave very specific audition pointers, or very general suggestions on possible exercises/processes to try in rehearsal. From my experience an over-rehearsed script can hamper as much as help an audition. What I’m looking for in an audition is for an actor to surprise me – how can they do that with a performance that’s already moulded?

Leaving my ponderings aside, we did discuss me attending a rehearsal to assist them a bit more in context – so perhaps I can help more in a focussed environment.

Then Sohm, Lynsey and Dave worked on a Denis Kelly script Taking Care of Baby, which is another favourite of mine. They had a lot of fun and created an animated piece which was vibrant and alive – I’ve no doubt this was a result of the playfulness with which we approached the first two scripts. Though I had the unhappy task of slowing them up with some calm subtext work. The result was a surprisingly well-rounded short piece after only 20 minutes of rehearsal. And I was reminded that responding in the moment as a director is every bit as taxing, challenging and rewarding as it is to an actor. So much for an easy session!

That said – we had a bit too much fun and ran over time; and perhaps herein lay the need for a director to maintain some awareness of what’s outside the moment. However, it was very freeing to forget about protocol, best practice, what’s ‘correct’ and just PLAY. Certainly I went through that same cognitive process of trying to hold a bank of suggestions, trying to (ridiculously) look like I’m listening and thinking. When you get over that fear, you see so much the challenge is to shape what you want to say into what’s useful for the actors.

After a feedback chat with Lynsey, one of the attending actors, I took some great advice in the form of simple evaluation prompts:

What was good?

How much the actors seemed to progress throughout the course of the evening; I saw them opening up creatively right in front of me which was quite magical. I particularly enjoyed a moment when an actor genuinely surprised himself and was a little lost in giggles for a while. Also all the laughing – rehearsals can get a bit intense for me sometimes and it’s nice to consistently have fun throughout a session.

What was not good?

We ran over quite a lot as I spent too much time getting to hear everyone’s stories in the beginning – in future, new attendees will be kept to 30% maximum (60% this time!) so I have time to welcome them properly before the start of the session, and we can get on with the workshop straight away…after the all important tea and biscuits of course.

What will I take away?

The lovely contributions of the actors; particularly their responses to the freedom of playing with a script – even if that’s not the endgame. And on a personal level, certainly the relinquishing of control in the moment was scary, challenging and freeing in equal measure.

And on that note, the next Freedom To… session will be on the 9th May and it will be a reading of a full new play, with the writer in the room. The session after that will be on 20th May, which will be a bilingual session open to anyone speaking more than one language. How’s that for in advance!

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