I am very pleased that Aileen Gonsalves, Artistic Director and founder of Butterfly Theatre (www.butterflytheatre.com), director at the RSC, and originator of the Gonsalves Method, has agreed to write for Players-Shakespeare.com.
I first met Aileen at the RSC Big Week-end, where she gave a very impressive masterclass on directing, which introduced me (and the other attendees) to the Gonsalves Method. You can read my review of that workshop at: RSC Workshop: Directing Masterclass.
Since that first meeting I’ve learned more about Aileen’s method. As I understand it, it is a development of the Meisner technique, invented by Sanford Meisner, around the same time Lee Strasburg started to teach ‘Method Acting’. Both methods are derived from Stanislavski. On the other side of the Pond, at about this time, Peter Hall, Ciciely Berry, and John Barton, were developing their ways of exploring Shakespeare’s texts.
There is a risk of conflict between proponents of different acting methodologies. Players-Shakespeare.com takes a view which says that different actors may find different methodologies helpful in different situations. We’ve been personally affected by the Peter Hall / John Barton approach to the verse, coupled with close-reading of the text, but have learned a lot from Aileen’s masterclass and, also at the RSC Big Week-end, Michael Corbidge’s aproach (see RSC Workshop: Voice and Text).
We’re delighted that Aileen has agreed to share with us some aspects of her own methodology, and are sure that some of our readers will find her approach more than useful. We plan to publish a series of articles by Aileen on different aspects of her method over the coming months.
But we start with two more general articles, both of which we publish today. The first, an introduction to Aileen’s discovery of drama, Shakespeare, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, follows below:
An Introduction to Aileen Gonsalves and ‘The Dream’
by Aileen Gonsalves
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first Shakespeare play I performed in. I was thirteen and it was at school. It was the cause of one of the first big realizations of my life. As I hid in tears, under a pile of costumes, on the balcony of my schools drama studio hoping I might never have to reemerge. The cause of such sorrow was I had been cast as Puck. PUCK! Outrageous! My arch rival and school beauty Sophie was Hermia. And I was weird fairy Puck! Why? It was when I realized I was brown. In my very white middle class school in Newbury, in the Royal County of Berkshire, I was different, I was born in Kenya, originate from Goa came to London as a refugee in the 1970s and was now in Newbury under a pile of costumes, because someone had remarked on seeing the list of casting go up what perfect casting I was as Puck, because I looked “so different” you look so “right for Puck” . I look so right for a weird stupid fairy?
My drama teacher found me and we talked it through. I discovered, that beautiful warm summer, a love for who I was, my love for Sophie (now my best friend), my love of Shakespeare, and of course I found… I adored Puck. I recall running lines with my beloved grandmother who died last year at ninety four. She spent many of those years running lines with me and hearing about this or that crazy idea for a Shakespeare production. She was always saying in later years “Midsummer again”? There have been many, many productions that I have directed of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I realise, writing this, how many have been influenced by that original version. Demetrius was dark haired, Lysander blonde (my actors will tell you I can barely direct the piece, if I dare to swap colours, for mixing up the names!)
Athens was outside in the school playground, all concrete and straight lines. Then the audience followed me into the drama studio, now transformed by us, with REAL leaves and strewn with flowers. Never was there a more magical wood (well not until I entered the real, ancient, magical woodland of Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean a few years ago) At the end as the lovers woke up and returned to Athens the audience found a transformed space with bunting everywhere! Ahh the magic of theatre!
This was to be the first of many, many site specific productions that I have been involved with and that what I want to share with you here. My company Butterfly creates unique productions in unusual venues across the UK and Germany. Mainly Shakespeare as it’s my first love and it’s so beautifully enhanced by the weird and wonderful places we find to perform in, but also Oscar Wilde, and other great classics like Frankenstein and Alice in Wonderland.
[Editor: Click on the following link to see a video of Butterfly Theatre’s use of caves for site-specific Shakespeare productions:Now, back to Aileen’s article.]
I had brilliant teachers at school, both Drama and English, who hugely inspired me with their passion for Shakespeare. I was able to thank my English Teacher from the RSC Courtyard Theatre stage, to my delight and her shock, as I spied her in the audience of yet another Dream I had directed there with the RSC Youth Ensemble over a decade ago. She’d seen my name on the programme and thought she’d surprise me. She was surprised more when I called her up in the post show talk. She’s a great fan of what we do at Butterfly and it is a real delight to have her and her grandson come and see our shows. Without her passion,, I would not be doing anything that I do now. And everything I do now leans towards education and theatre as a way of giving back something, passing something on. A lifetime’s love of Shakespeare is a big debt to pay.
It is no coincidence that I was awoken by Shakespeare to the truth of who I was that summer, and his ability to awaken us to the truth of ourselves, and the world around us is undiminished. He wakes up our true humanity, our true self. I can be working on a play and something is revealed that cannot be ignored it pulls me from the mundane, everyday world and his words shake me up, and say, open up, look and see something. I am realizing only recently that for me Shakespeare connects up with our minds, bodies hearts and spirits at the same time and this is why I think it uniquely resonates with us individually and as a society.
My perspective of being brown in a very white society has given me a hugely wonderful view of this amazing country I live in. I see things from a different angle, and it has led me to question deeply what I see. My reflections have pushed me to develop a new revolutionary way of training actors – The Gonsalves Method – and looking at how actors and acting can be changed so that there is more truthful connection at its heart.
[Editor: If you want to learn more about Aileen, Butterfly Theatre, her methodology, and its site-specific productions of Shakespeare, click on the following link: A Dream of Many Colours ].
Artistic Director, Butterfly Theatre, www.butterflytheatre.com
Directing Editor, Players-Shakespeare.com
Featured Photo: Letchworth Farm, (c) Elle de Burgh, 2016