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RSC Workshop: Directing Masterclass (Updated)

Introduction:

This workshop was given at the RSC Big Amateur Weekend in The Other Place (the RSC rehearsal spaces)  on the 14th & 15th October. You can get an overview of the week-end’s activity at: RSC Big Amateur Weekend. Note that the picture above is not from our workshop, but from an RSC First Encounters production of The Tempest at the RSC’s Swan Theatre  which Aileen Gonsalves (the workshop leader) directed.

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This directing masterclass workshop, led by Aileen Gonsalves, Artistic Director and Founder of Butterfly Theatre (see http://www.butterflytheatre.com/ourteam/ ) has at its heart the desire to empower the actor to do what they do best – act – respond truthfully under a given set of circumstances.   She asked us to discuss what makes good directors and bad directors. Aileen believes the director’s job is initially to make a safe environment, and create a room where actors  have permission to be entirely themselves under a given set of circumstances.  Directors can inspire actors to bring their unique ideas by creating an environment that allows and indeed inspires actors to take risks.

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The main focus of Aileen’s work is to get people to truly connect with each other. She does various exercises on getting the actor’s attention off themselves and onto the other actor, and the environment. Training them to be responsive first, and then to try and achieve an objective using whatever is at their disposal, words, bodies, behaviour, tone, props, costumes etc…

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Warm-ups:

To encourage the actor to see clearly and respond honestly from their point of view, we did a series of exercises:

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Tuning into the 5 senses

Going around the room tuning in to what we can hear by standing still with eyes closed.

Touching lots of surfaces but not just with our fingers but with cheeks, backs of hands.

Smell and taste walking past each other and connecting with our own bodies…deodorant, moisturiser, fear!

Sight – looking for the colour blue in the room. Looking for the thing no-one else has seen.

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In each exercise we follow the key direction to “let in” whatever we are feeling touching, seeing etc…let it affect us.

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Does the riveted wall make us want to run our nails along it?

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The velvet seat – our cheek?

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What does the “stimulus” make us want to?  Feels potentially strange . What does an inanimate object make us want to do?  But it begins the journey of being “affectable” and connected to things outside of ourselves. Then responding from our point of view.

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It makes us more observant and forces us to see beyond our usual surface looking. We forget to look at the blue on the ceiling or floor, on each others clothes our own clothes. It is fair to say when we say we’ve seen everything blue, on discussing we discover there’s actually loads more. Aileen then would point out if there is more to see of blue in a room…how much more is there to see in another unique person’s behaviour? Loads. Another exercise that highlights and helps us see more clearly is to try “listing”.

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Listing:

The notion is we are attentive in layers we need to see more…

Stand opposite a partner,

Label yourselves A and B

A closes their eyes B just does whatever

A opens their eyes and immediately starts listing everything B does  (It’s worth having observers watch this and note what they thing A is missing seeing)

Not an emotional call like your angry, tired etc…. These things are guesses.

What in their behaviour is telling you they are that thing…?

They frowned, they yawned etc…

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What happens in this exercise, is the lister invariably looks for things that are “interesting” and notable and they often miss the correct number of blinks that are done.

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Why would we not call the blinks? “Boring, habitual, I said it once”

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Aileen makes the point each moment is new, everything needs to be called. If we are censoring and deciding what is appropriate to call, we limit our response to only being able to  have an appropriate response. After a while not only do we stop calling things, we actually stop seeing things.

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The more we can see…the more we can respond.

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Then we did walking.

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Walking:

We stand opposite a partner at some distance then we tune into them and allow ourselves to walk towards them, away from them, or do nothing. If we give ourself the instruction that we do not have to do anything unless something in their behaviour makes us want to move away or towards them. This operates moment to moment, and all we must do is keep  eye contact, not speak and not touch – though all other responses are allowed.

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This feels strange, as effectively we give up control to our partner and the moment. Our habitual politeness crashes in and we find ourselves in our head debating what is happening – should I do this or that, why are they doing this or that…? Anytime you go in your head, come back out onto them, just SEE what they are doing. If the body sways follow that direction back or forward. Each time you start thinking (which will be often) come back out. Be fascinated with them.

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The point of the game is to let them in, soften, let them affect you. You want to be AFFECTABLE This is an unusual suggestion as we usually think in acting that we are there to affect someone I’m asking you to consider letting them affect you. You can leave yourself alone by being busy with your attention on THEM. If it feels scary, know it will change in the next moment! Emotion will come up but it’s being triggered by their whole life experience coupled with yours, and the moment, so you can’t take it personally and anyway it changes in the next moment anyway!

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Do this a few times and swap partners. The reason you move is because we are seeing clearly and responding honestly from our point of view and what makes up our point of view at this moment is our whole life up to this moment and the other person’s! And the moment! So way too much to be analysed –  it’s impossible – so just accept it and let them move you.

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Essentially your “performance” is in their hands and this is the start of a journey to truly “acting is reacting”.

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The Workshop Exercise:

Live truthfully:

The work we’ve done already helps you “live truthfully” . This work is rooted in the Meisner Technique. Sanford Meisner said you cannot say “ouch until you’ve been pinched” (acting is reacting).  If you know his famous repetition exercise I would recommend then doing that at this point, to encourage and embed connection and responsiveness as a priority.

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The Gonsalves Method:

This method, developed by Aileen over a decade, is about “connectivity and discovery first”. It allows the actor to free themself from acting “appropriately” for a scene into seeing clearly and responding honestly from their point of view – essentially living truthfully under a given set of conditions, moment to moment. By connecting to their own uniqueness, using their senses, opening their mind, body heart, and spirit they train all their attention onto the other actor and let them in and become truly “affectable” . Aileen covers only one condition here – objectives – there are another four. In order to fully appreciate the work Aileen’s company are strictly off book on the first day of rehearsals. They learn the lines ” beyond learning” so they can be “unthinkingly responsive”. If you cannot learn lines in this way  she recommends doing this workshop with another pair feeding you the lines, a tiny bit at a time, as you rehearse. The other actor is the priority not the lines, after all the lines are never going to change, but the other actor is a human being and is always changing, as is the moment.

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Objectives:

To use this technique our objectives must be worded in a way that is dependent on the other. Having trained you to actually see the other it is essential to have an objective that you can see if it is working by regarding the other person’s behaviour. Is it working or not and then you can respond in the moment respectively.

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We all know how to get someone to do something – a teenager trying to get money of their parents knows to see if the parent is in a good or bad mood before asking, and tunes in moment to moment to check: ifthey smiling or frowning; if they see a slight glimpse of wavering in their favour they keep doing what they’re doing and build on it; if it’s failing they change tactic.

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We all know how to do this all the time – the technique is built around this premise. Think of each scene as a date where you want someone to go home with you.  It’s the same thing. We are fully attentive and responsive  to the other, moment by moment, building on anything that’s working, changing tactic if it’s failing, and the stakes are really high! The tactic changes come from their behaviour. Use what they do against them!

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In order to work effectively the objective must be worded :

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Get them to….

Get them to trust me

Get them to kiss me

Get them to forgive me

Etc…

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And then as a director your job is to remind them “is it working” which puts their attention back onto their scene partner and they know they must keep building or change tactic accordingly.

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As director it’s your job to choose juicy opposing objectives as this inherently creates conflict. We NEVER openly discuss each other’s objectives. I find it so boring and bleeds the fun out of rehearsing if everyone knows what everyone is trying to do. It is great fun to go into a scene not caring what the other person is trying to do to you as all you care about is what you’re trying to do to them and checking is it working or not.

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Try an exercise of standing far apart and getting one actor to get the other actor to come to them. “Get them to come to you” but they can only use their name and they can’t move their feet at all. Sarah…sarah…Sarah!! – the actor should change how they’re calling IN RELATION to how the other person actually is…just ask is it working occasionally and remind them to really see the other person. Get Sarah secretly to be a bit wary of him by saying she’s overheard him being mean about her. It makes it harder for the caller to achie their objective.

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We as an audience want to see characters struggling. We don’t really want to see them succeed as that’s the end of a scene. Character = their objective, I believe. Character is what they do and how they try to get what what they want.

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Top tip. Do not speak till you have seen the other actor and checked how well it’s going before you’ve even spoken. Your first line should always be triggered by how you think it’s going (think of teenager with parent).  Check then speak. This will get you into immediate connection and transform any scene immediately.

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Another great exercise is to do the scene back to back not touching – tune into the silence before and then get them to speak in actual response to what they can hear..like on a phone call we are uber sensitive to every pause, hesitation, silence, laugh, everything…in fact we sometimes do  a scene on the phone!! You are listening to hear if they say anything that’s good or bad for getting your objective and responding accordingly – building or changing tactic.

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I would practice this on one of the greatest two-hander scenes ever written:

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Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7 (see below for this scene’s text in standard text, parts and cues, and highlit text) when Lady Macbeth enters. “ they have almost supp’d why have you left the chamber” She’s come to find her husband only to find he’s resolute in not going through with their plan to kill the king:

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Once she sees his state…

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Her objectives could be…

Get him to trust her

Get him to physically come and take her hand

Get him to obey her

Get him to keep his promise

Get him to be on her side

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His objectives could be…

Get her to trust him

Get her to reassure him

Get her to respect his decision

Get her to stop talking

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There are countless things. I am forcing you to have one objective for the scene so think laterally. The way Lady Macbeth achieves this one thing is her adeptness at changing tactic. Consider… you can do this as an intellectual exercise and work out transitive verbs for every line or trust yourself to get on your feet and PLAY. Trust that you can see if it’s going well or badly and will try a tactic and if that fails, try another and if one winds him up, try another, and if one softens him build and build…character knowledge work tells you what kind of things work but it’s like the teenager knows who is an easier touch, mum or dad. Use your knowledge of your partner and everything at your disposal particularly their behaviour to help you change tactic…have fun changing objective and seeing how everything shifts. To do this work effectively you must have high stakes either negative or positive in place. Use your words to get your objective. I would practise having the objective and stakes in place and start with just having a name as your text and getting them to cross the room. Try one at a time and discover what happens with just a simple game of reading and responding without the actual text at first just like earlier with Sarah but you can test objectives quite fast in this way and you can alter them.

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Get him to kiss me and then he will marry me. If I fail he will leave me forever (an example of an objective with positive and negative stakes, not necessarily for the Macbeths!)

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The text to explore using Aileen’s method (Macbeth A1S7 from Lady Macbeth‘s entry):

The text of the scene Aileen suggests (Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7) s given below in standard format (black text on a white background). If you’re playing one of these parts, you may find it fun to play your part in Parts and Cues form, or Highlight Text. (If you don’t know about Parts and Cues or Highlight Text, you can explore them using Hamlet, with the following post Let’s Explore Hamlet with Parts and Cues and Highlight Text .  To use Parts and Cues, or Highlight Text  for this scene from Macbeth, click on the appropriate link below (the script will open on a new tab on your browser):

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Lady Macbeth:                                 Parts and Cues                                      Highlight Text
Macbeth:                                           Parts and Cues                                      Highlight Text

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Of course, you can use this exercise with any of our “Let’s Play” scenes. Choose a scene from our “Let’s Play” Menu  that has the right number of players for your group. Of coourse, you’ll also need to have someone playing Aileen’s role of workshop leader, or you could get Aileen to come along to run this workshop..

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Note that the Shakespeare text below, may not appear on certain browsers. If it doesn’t appear on your browser, then go to the bottom of this post, fill in the f form, and press submit at the bottom of the form, and you’ll be emailed a copy of the pdf.

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Now here’s the standard text (wee hope):

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Get a copy of this workshop with the Macbeth text:

If you want a pdf copy of this workshop to be emailed to you, together with the text of Macbeth A1S7, fill in the following form, and then press Submit.:

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Let’s Play!

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Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’
Players-Shakespeare.com

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