Or is it?
Today marked the start of a brand new journey for 13 would be actors.
No expectations, just them and a space that has been “different things” for them all.
The Empty Space by Peter Brook is an acting bible for our theatre profession – a drama school diet book – used in first year to enable ” younger and wannabe actors ” to strip back their outward layers to find the raw talent that always lies deep within.
My first question today was the same – …what is our “empty” space?
They looked agog! What on earth does she mean ? What does she want us to say ? Why do I need to know this ?
And yet, when we talked it through a bit – the light maybe dawned and some began to realise that acting doesn’t need fancy tricks and show biz tarrah! It just need “you” and your “offering” given freely to any rehearsal space, waiting to be filled with “emotional” action.
So what did these 13 have to offer ?
Well there were some who liked to bring their bodies, some who brought their mind, some their spirit and others who just brought a willingness to learn , to get better at ” it”
” It ” was something inexplicable , something they couldn’t quite voice yet , felt a bit embarrassed about, but just felt they wanted something ” more”.
Not a bad thing…
Here were 13 individuals , yet “13” who shared obvious similarities.
You could put pairs together more easily now –
– The ones who let others do what they are too scared to do themselves
– The ones who like to ” control” and keep ” controlled” in their actions
– The over the top ones and the underplayed ones
– The doubters and the low self esteemed
– The ones who prefer to work alone , the perfectionists and the unwittingly “superior”
They were all there – every “dramatic” ego imaginable
But “not a bad thing”, as they kept wanting to say…
But is it? A bad thing?
Yes, it is bad…when it stops your potential.
Yes it is bad …when it makes you afraid
Yes …when it could jeopardise this collection of young peoples ability to succeed in this venture…to not be able to “connect” with each other on this “National Theatre” Platform
Despite what people may think – acting is hard.
Hard because it is about losing your “ego” – the “I” in ” you” and to find yourself again in “someone else” – someone not you – who may have an ‘ego ‘ the complete other way.
Would this group of young, largely “inexperienced” theatre performers pull ‘this feat’ off – the question hung heavy in the empty space like a giant white elephant in the middle of our black room.
Pandora’s box was now open and darker stuff was all pouring out.
The stuff that some had thought they were “over” …after all ….with a few more shows under your PACE belt – shouldn’t it all just get easier ?
Why did it all feel like they were right back to square 1
The defences began to go up quickly in the space – eyes avoiding eyes, hands nervously twitching , sweat gathering on some brows, tears pricking a few eyes.
“The more she probed, the worse it got.”
And yet…there was “method” in this director’s interrogation process.
In any group approaching a ” serious ” play – you have to level the playing field , clear the desks and get rid of the rubbish that can gather under your drama bed. Beds you make for yourself from day 1 of PACE.
A directors job is NOT to be liked, but to find “a way in ” with every single one of your cast , the right button to push to get the performance ” out”. Delivering honesty that can sound cruelly intended, when you are not used to hearing the truth.
Why beat around the bush – when you can put a match to things and start a fire?
Young people are no different really from adult actors, ironically they have less layers to peel away because they are younger and are fortunately less “set in their ways” but even in PACE – the hierarchy exists in each grouping that comes together for any project.
Already in this cast there exists the murky spectre of a “pecking order”
The ones who are considered ” up there” …as someone in the room …put it.
” up there” ?
What does that even mean ?
Perhaps in PACE it is more accurate to say that the ones who are seen to be ” up there ” are ” the ones” our young people automatically consider part of ” established groupings ” ” the social theatre bunnies” or the ” Spires Scene A list”
In reality – no one in PACE is ever really ” up there ” as far as “I” and my fellow directors are concerned – unless they pull off a role, that is demanding, challenging and a million miles from their PACE comfort zone.
That is the ” up there ” you want to “aspire” to …not just to be “party” to the PACE social equivalent.
“Adversity makes for strange bedfellows” – so says HAMLET.
Who is HAMLET?
A prince of theatre parts …the “to be or not to be” for better actors and regarded as the finest role for any young actor.
What does this line mean for Heritage ?
Just this…that harder things sometimes bring strange mixes together…
To be or not to be is now their question…
“Friendship in drama” did rear it’s ugly head again today and how would this project work when so many were and weren’t friends?
The group pondered this one for a while and suggestions were forwarded as to how they could avoid their “play process” going the way of most other PACE show experiences.
Was this just expected. Inevitable even ?
Surely not a “bad” thing?
No, not a bad thing “if” you can keep your friendships well out of the Spires Studio Space – beyond the front doors – and make new and previously “unheard” of working friendships with people out with your usual ” friendship ” likes ”
A good thing! Absolutely.
One lone figure, here today , seemed to be the most untainted by this conundrum. One who was identified by almost all as someone they wouldn’t have considered befriending.
” not in a bad way” they were all quick to say…but is it a bad way, that there was ” a way ” at all ?
This loner was…I was quick to point out …at a heads up advantage in this new group drama process already…as they carried no PACE baggage into the space to weigh them down – no history …no parties attended , no private jokes albeit innocent , no chat – snap or instant.
They were an unknown commodity and therefore very able ” to be” anything they wanted ” to be ” without being judged.
Hamlet was right – today “adversity” did make for strange bedfellows.
Just as too much “social” has been the death knell of PACE groups and even Theatre School ” work in the past, so can “simple friendship” stop “basic drama” happening
How can you be truly honest with your friend when it may risk hurting their feeling ?
How can you be what the part demands – nasty, domineering, bossy, obtuse, weird, touchy, angry, aggressive or any characterful emotion- if you are scared the ” friend” may not understand you are ” just acting ” or more importantly – needing them “to act” more.
It is a tricky one to handle.
Friendship is the reason most start off coming to PACE and there is no doubt lasting friendships are made here- for your foreseeable younger life.
But in my experience – the “acting” will only happen with those cast members that put the need for acting “first” and the need for friendship ” second”.
The rest is PACE performance of a more superficial kind. Good to watch, easy on the eye and like a nice wall paper, a lovely background to a really comfy room.
But before anyone goes off “severing all friendship and social media ties ” – Consider this…
It is not the “friendship” that is the problem, but knowing when to leave the friendship at home and when to bring the actor to PACE – if and when one commits to a “project” of this kind.
Of course it is essential to know that the people you are working with are “friendly” and “open” and that you can trust them with “any part of yourself” for “the good of the play” you are involved in together.
It is also comforting to know that you both share “the same passion” for this drama and are “equally excited” about being part of these special projects.
But it should never be “the only real reason” to come.
We don’t run a youth club – we do drama and we do it well more effectively in some groups than others.
Friendship is a lovely by-product of the artistic process.
But DRAMATIC ART is the thing that will change you – the friendship grows in time from “the change that happens to you” not the change growing from “being friends”.
Don’t kid yourself that you can have both – something has to give and for the ” big acting ” I talked about today – the reliance on friendship over “all” has to shift and take a back seat to the “play”.
Baby acting , toddler acting, school acting, youth group acting
lets you away with it longer. Friends first all the way here.
“Theatre for Youth” moves you up to the “major leagues” and like in any other professional organisation the “pressure” is to be the best you can “be” – every minute of the game , match or rehearsal.
No time for trivia, you are too concerned with getting it “just right” as one young actor found out to their “repeated” direction at the end of today’s long session.
The myth that acting is easy was quickly busted for them.
How many ways can you play the opening 12 lines of dialogue of a play to get it just right ?
You can let the actors try it themselves
Role reverse the actors
Give the actor ” a prop” to use to become the feeling of their character
Blindfold the actor to make them more vulnerable to the others on stage.
Laugh at the actor ” in role”
Push the actor ” in role”
Use the breath..( vocally)
Order around the actor
Chase the actor physically round the space
Play the subtext of the lines
Play the punctuation as pauses
Think the lines but don’t say them
Separate the actors physically
Contain the actors physically
And so on …and so on ad infinitum
Then hopefully whatever they “remember” of the exercises is “the method” they will use when they settle together – to play the scene – well.
Alright in theory, but doing it and succeeding at it, is another matter all together; and if it is not quite “coming off” it is tempting to go away thinking that “one is not right for the role”
The opposite is true – as was the situation we found ourselves in at the end of today – for even though it seemed it was one step forward , one step back “from all this cast ” at various points today ; what was visible was the “incredible progress” made in 4 hours of concentrated, “very personal” discussion, acting exercises and practical line rehearsals of a difficult and very “very” challenging play.
I left today…not depressed at the prospect of the huge amount of work that will have to be done ” by all” but excited at the prospect of this new “body” of youth who must create something unique , distinctive and visceral in just 6/7 weeks time.
It reminded me of being hungry – it is painful, annoying, nagging even but you know that when you do finally get something “to eat” you will feel truly fulfilled.
There is not enough hunger in PACE – ” big munchie ” cravings from lots of people, but not a real drama “hunger “. The kind of hunger that makes you raw and ready for anything.
Didn’t I always say this project was going to be like the “Hunger Games”
Jennifer Lawrence has it …Josh Hutcherson too – raw and ready.
The vulnerability , the danger, the sensuality , the intelligence – to act their parts and make us fall in love , believe, hate, fear, cry, laugh, dream.
Any team is only as good as its “strongest” player. Team Catniss or Team Peeta – fitting theatre tributes to respect in any characterful form.
I think this young cast realised something today – I think they realised that this would not be easy, not be automatic , not be…like before.
But I know without the shadow of a doubt that this young cast left their “empty space” today knowing it would all be…worthwhile; that after this …they ‘could’ be changed…forever.
Now that my ” friends” is NOT a bad thing!
(To any other PACE reading this…the message is the same for you ,regardless of your, group, workshop, programme or project. The choices you make on first entering your ” empty space” is the height of the artistic bar you set for your personal play. Make sure you aim high in everything you do this term.
“PACE Connects” is not only our heritage but our creed
May the odds ever be …in your…favour.