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NAYD Watching Workshop _ Alan King

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  • 1. YOUTH DRAMA IRELAND PAGE 35 The workshop was the last in a series of four workshops held that day and took place immediately before the group went to see Druid’s production of Big Maggie by John B. Keane in the Roscommon Arts Centre. These exercises can be applied to any production of any play. Duration: Ideally it would take 1 ½ – 2 hours. The times beside each exercise are only an approximate. As always, use your own judgement. It’s important that you spend a reasonable amount of time discussing the actual production, but all the other exercises are important too, so don’t feel you have to rush them. Aims: • To introduce and familiarise the participants with the elements of theatre. • To allow the participants to have a greater understanding of the context in which work is created and produced. • To hone their observational skills. • To prepare them for viewing a particular production, Druid Theatre Company’s Big Maggie by John B. Keane. Watching Theatre Workshop by Alan King The title of this workshop may seem obvious and unnecessary but it is an interesting and valuable approach when bringing a group of young people to see a production. It really helps to prepare a group before bringing them to a show. If they are unfamiliar with a style of theatre or performance they may either feel they are unqualified to view it, or they may not have the context to view the work and understand and enjoy it fully. Subsequently, this may hamper their engagement with and enjoyment of the piece. This workshop contains a lot of exercises that I would use while facilitating the Young Critics Programme, and have all proved valuable and worthwhile. This version of the workshop was delivered to a mixed group of members from Co. Roscommon Youth Theatre and Co. Leitrim Youth Theatre Company on 17th December 2011. It was assisted through NAYD’s Youth Theatre Support Scheme. Above: Druid’s Big Maggie (Paul Connaughton, Sarah Greene, Aisling O’Sullivan, Charlie Murphy), Photo: Robert Day. Practising DramaJ
  • 2. PAGE 36 YOUTH DRAMA IRELAND Preparation and materials There is some advance preparation of materials required. • Enough production stills (20+) from recent high quality Irish theatre productions. Include two or three production stills from the production under discussion. Have an idea what these productions are or use shows that you have seen and enjoyed yourself. Use professionally shot, well-lit images from shows. These can be found on theatres’ websites. Avoid using famous people. Do not use cast snaps or shots from amateur or youth theatre productions. • Copies of the production programme. Well in advance, break the programme down into different sections and make enough photocopies. (Maybe 5 sets of each): • The biographies of cast and crew – The Creatives. (A) • Production Notes – Theatrical Context. (B) • Biography of producing company – Company History. (C) In addition to the programme: • Find any biographical material on the author of the play. This can include personal details, but also titles of other plays, their themes and production histories. (A) • Information on the production history of the play being seen – Historical Context. (B) • Information on the historical context in which the play was written/set/originally performed. (B) • Additional biographical material on the producing company. The company website is a good place to start. (C) • Full colour production shots from the production under discussion, printed (and laminated if possible) on A4 sheets. – Visual Clues. (D) • Any promotional material for this current production, including posters, flyers, features and cast interviews (these are additional and not essential but should not include any reviews. (D) • If it is a known play such as Big Maggie include a full and accurate synopsis of the play, including major character breakdowns. (E) Bundle the above materials into the relevant packs, as indicated below.: A The Creatives B Theatrical & Historical Context C Company History D Visual Clues E The Play and its Characters • You will also need enough A4 sheets, pens, markers and flip chart paper for your group. The Workshop First, get the group standing in a circle facing inwards. The facilitator also takes their place in the circle. • Breathing re-energiser (2 mins) Ask the group to stand with their eyes closed and, mentally, take stock of where they are. Ask the participants to become aware of their breathing. After a few moments ask them to gently breathe IN over a count of four then breathe OUT over four. Ask them to repeat 3 or 4 times. Now ask them all to open their eyes. • Anyone who? (10–15 mins) This is a very familiar workshop exercise. The facilitator stands in the middle of the circle and makes a series of statements. If that statement is true for any person in the circle, that person crosses the circle and finds a new place in the circle. Use 3 or 4 obvious one, such as: ‘Anyone who…is a girl,’ ‘Anyone who…has brown eyes,’ to warm them up and get the group mixed up a little. Then.... Anyone Who… Has ever acted in a show before? Has ever worked backstage before? Has been to the theatre in the last year? Has been to the theatre in the last 6 months? Has been to see a local or amateur production? What? Has been to a show in your local arts centre? Has been to see professional theatre? Has been to see a show at the Abbey or Peacock Theatre in Dublin? Has heard of Druid Theatre Company before? Has ever had an ‘Oh WOW moment’ watching a play? Has ever been to a show by Druid before? You can further investigate some people that moved with more insightful questions such as, ‘What did you enjoy about it?’ ‘What elements of the production really worked for you?’ ‘What didn’t work for you?’ ‘What are the expectations of going to see a show in the Abbey?’ ‘Tell us about your ‘Oh WOW moment’.’ ‘What’s the difference between amateur and professional work?’ etc. Facilitator’s Note: This exercise should move quickly. It’s getting the ball rolling, so don’t get too bogged down in long conversations. If you know the group really well then maybe you can think of some more creative questions to get started. Try and speak to each participant at least once. This is a really good way of spotting those who may be very articulate or those who may be not too comfortable talking in front of the group. You can gauge the level you can converse with an individual beyond yes and no answers. You can quickly move on to the next person without causing embarrassment to anyone. It is also a useful way of introducing key phrases, words and noting the differences between amateur, youth theatre and professional work. • Image work – Change Three Things. (5–10 mins) Divide the group into pairs. Quickly let them decide who is A and B. A silently strikes a dynamic full body pose with an emotion. B observes for 30 seconds. Now B closes their eyes. Ask A to physically change three obvious things, unseen by B. B opens their eyes and now tries to spot the three things. B then asks A, for example, ‘Did you have your hands in your
  • 3. YOUTH DRAMA IRELAND PAGE 37 pockets, but now they are down by your sides?’ If they are correct A says, ‘Yes,’ and moves that one thing back to its original position. The exercise is continued until all three changes are found. If they are not correct in their observation A says, ‘That is not one of the three things.’ Continue until all pairs have finished the exercise. Facilitator’s Feedback – ‘What was that like?’ ‘Did you find it difficult?’ ‘Were the changes clear?’ Swap Over B makes the changes and A observes. New instruction. This time B makes the changes much subtler. Feedback – ‘What was different from the first time?’ ‘Who found it difficult spot the changes?’ Facilitator’s Note: This is an exercise in observation. The participants’ eyes are being trained to look out for and pay attention to detail, and recognise the importance of those details in a production. If some groups are working more quickly than others get them to silently observe those still working. If one group is working very slowly get the whole group to watch and get that group to repeat it for everyone. It is also an exercise in ‘Objective’ and ‘Subjective’ viewing. A may have the intention of their pose meaning one thing and B may see something different. This will help in the discussions later about what the author or director intended for a production and what we actually took away from it. • Image work – Working with Production Stills. (20–25 mins) Keep the same pairs. Find a space in the room and sit facing each other, about two feet apart. Each pair is given two production stills face down, one for each person. On a given signal from the facilitator, all the A’s are asked to close their eyes. All the B’s keep their eyes open and pick up their production still and look at it. B now starts to describe their photograph aloud to their partner. They must only describe the Objective Facts of the photograph; what they can see in the photograph. (E.g., ‘The woman is wearing a blue jumper. There are four men sitting. It is dark.’ They must give as much detail as possible. Focus on composition, perspective, colour. (2 minutes) Facilitator’s Note: This is an important instruction. They must not speculate or offer Subjective Opinion, (e.g., ‘The woman looks about 25 and she looks sad because her cat has died.’) Once time is called, the B’s are asked to hold the production still a comfortable distance in front of A’s face. On a given signal, A’s open their eyes and see the image for the first time. Feedback and discussion – Let the partners discuss this amongst themselves. General chat. (1 min) The facilitator then leads a large group discussion, taking all offers as they come – ‘Was it how they expected? Did their partner describe it well? What was different? Did they miss anything? How difficult was it for B to describe what it was?’ (2 mins) • Still in those pairs, ask B to turn over their picture and place it on the ground in front of both partners. Both have their eyes open. B describes what they think is going on in the picture while A just looks and listens. B should read from expressions, body language, staging, costume and lighting. What is your opinion of what is happening here? What do you think is going on? What do you think the mood of this image/scene is? A is not allowed to ask questions and must only listen. They cannot speak to disagree with what B is telling them. (2 mins) Feedback – Let the partners discuss together. Did A see the same things as you? What was different? (2 mins) The facilitator takes a Production Still from one group and asks the B of that group to describe what they think is going on. What is the story of this picture? What supports their opinion? The facilitator passes the photo around the whole group so everyone gets to see the picture. The facilitator then asks of the A in that group: Do you agree with B? What is the same? What is different? If the facilitator picks up on a significant clue that the viewer didn’t see they could ask the viewer/group to answer/ speculate. (E.g., ‘The man is holding a walking stick- what is this telling us?’ ‘The woman is wearing a crucifix- what is this suggesting?’ ‘Why do you think that character is wearing red?’ From this picture: What type of play is this? Is it contemporary, modern, classical? Why? What’s the genre of this play? How is this suggested? Add in any other relevant questions you can think of. If you could give this play a title what would it be? Take suggestions for the title and then tell the group its actual title, who the play is by, what genre it is, when it was written and what the relationships between the characters are. Repeat this for two or three more groups. Facilitator’s Note: It really helps if you know these plays, so use images from productions that you know, or plays you are familiar with. Now select one of the still images from the production you will be seeing. Some of the pairs should have been working with these already. With this image you can really ask some more specific questions. As before, ask the A to describe what is going on in this picture. Facilitator’s Note: If someone has already seen this particular production, knows what the play is, ask them to be patient and not answer just yet. At the end of the exercise these people can be first to say what they think it is. Then ask the group and investigate and discuss: What are the relationships between the people in this picture? Why do we think that? What is telling us this? What do we think is going on in this scene? Why?
  • 4. PAGE 38 YOUTH DRAMA IRELAND When and where do we think this play is set? Why? Do we think this play is a modern, contemporary play? Why? What do we think the genre is? Why? If we were to give it a title what would it be? You can then ask anyone who thinks they know what it actually is to let the group know. If no one knows, you can reveal it to be Big Maggie, for example. You should already have some knowledge of the play/production from the research material, so you can prompt some questions like: Do you recognise any of the actors in this photograph? Have you seen them in anything else? What? What do the set, costumes and lighting suggest about the budget of this production? If it is a high, medium or low budget, how does that affect our expectations of the production? You can ask any other questions that the discussion may prompt. • Investigating the Elements Of Production (10–15 mins) Divide everyone into 5 small groups and give each group enough markers and 1 sheet of flip chart paper. Now ask the group to brainstorm the elements of a theatre production. (5 mins) Call time and randomly ask a group to call out their ‘Elements of Production’ As they do, ask the other groups to mark off matching answers with circles on their page. Typically answers will include acting, writing, costumes, audience, etc. You can ask people to clarify if they mention something unusual. Then continue with each group and ask them to call out anything that hasn’t been mentioned already. (Drawing circles will stop repetition.) The facilitator can ask why they think certain things are important, (e.g., ‘the text’or ‘good acting’ or ‘ story’). The facilitator can now point out that these are all the things that go into a production. Each of these has relevance and importance and as such, we should be aware of every element of a production and not just the ones we are most interested in ourselves, (e.g., acting). • Investigating the Elements Of A Night At The Theatre (10 mins) On another sheet of flip chart ask the groups to brainstorm the ‘elements of a night at the theatre.’ (2 mins) Some of these may have been mentioned and discussed in the previous exercise, but it’s useful to investigate these fully. To clarify you can ask them to also think about ‘the things you may need to do if you are going to see a play.’ These are the other factors that will have an influence on an individual’s viewing of a performance. As before randomly ask one group to begin, and discuss the answers at the end. Typical answers may include, ‘buying the tickets,’ ‘comfortable seats,’ ‘the price of the tickets,’ etc. Discuss how these other influences will have a bearing on your own appreciation and enjoyment of a production. • Detective work on The Play (30–40 mins) Remaining in the same groups, give each group one of the following bundles: A The Creatives B Theatrical & Historical Context C Company History D Visual Clues E The Play and its Characters Give each group enough time (15-20 mins) to sift through the material and find out as much information as they can about the production they are about to see. Ask them to nominate one spokesperson that will feed back to the whole group at the end of the exercise. Give them pens and A4 sheets to take notes. Facilitator’s Note: The idea is that each group will be exploring a different aspect of the production. Allow the participants to discover things for themselves rather than spoon-feeding them with answers, but if people are quiet you can float between groups to prompt discussion. Call time and call the groups back into a circle, sitting on the ground. Ask each group in turn to present their findings on the play. After each spokesperson, the facilitator can sum up what they said and maybe add other facts that they may have missed. After everyone has presented you can lead a short open discussion on what the keys things are that we should be on the look out for. (E.g., ‘What does a play like Big Maggie have to say about Ireland in 2011?’) At the end of the exercise, the group should have a good understanding of the play they are about to go and see. • End Call the group into a standing circle and end the workshop with a small finishing exercise of your own choosing. Alan King is Youth Theatre Officer at NAYD. He was a freelance actor and director for many years, directing many professional and youth theatre productions.