Assessment 1 – Self-Study – Key Learnings and Practical work Video – M18PA

“My first goal is to research into theatre companies that champion equality and who make work to promote diversity and break the mould of under-representation in the arts””

I have begun my exploration of this goal through self-study and research into the work of the following theatre companies: Smooth Faced Gentlemen, Tonic Theatre and Tamasha.

From this research I have become even more aware of the absolute immediacy and urgency that there is to address the balance of gender-equality within the industry at present. There are some incredible companies, that exist, whom are leading the way in tackling this problem, but there is still a great deal of work to be done! I’ve learnt that irrespective of gender that we all have a stake in abolishing the gender-gap. I’ve been particularly inspired by the industriousness of the Artistic Directors of Smooth Faced Gentlemen. It can be so easy to be apathetic, but I admire that they have taken things into their own hands and decided to create ambitious work that firmly puts women’s stories centre stage.

I’ve learnt that small actions can make big changes. Lucy Kerbel and Tonic Theatre have taught me that trying to take on the issue of gender equality single-handedly spells inevitable failure. Collectively we are stronger, more creative and more formidable.  I’ve realised that there are others that share my distain at this lack of parity in the industry. I’d like to work with these individuals and I endeavour to have a definite focus within all of the work that I produce towards bridging the gap. I can’t wait for the advanced collaborations and am conscious of how I can be part of small actions that will eventually have a bigger impact.

As practitioner I always want to be in a position where a significant proportion of my work is in actor training. At present I am enjoying the rewards of working with FE and HE students. As such, I can see how more pioneering programs such as Platform can be more widely implemented utilised within actor training. As an educational practitioner I personally will commit to utilising this excellent resource of new-writing and commit to producing work created by writers commissioned through this innovative program. I will also be purchasing myself a copy of 100 Great Plays for Women by Lucy Kerbel

I’ve also found Tamasha’s work incredibly and equally as pioneering as Tonic Theatre’s. From researching into this company, I have seen first hand the obvious benefits to representing ALL cultures on stage. Tamasha has played a key role in this and really revolutionised theatre for any group under-represented on stage through their Developing Artists program. The company’s history has left me well over awed and their impact on creating positive change in society well documented. Since its flagship show East is East was first performed the company has constantly responded to the industries’ inequalities and placed itself at the forefront of change. The companies verbatim work in education also looks really inspiring and I really want to find out more about this next.

.”..my second goal will be to commit to a daily strength and stamina training program. I will be undertaking TABATA style interval training workouts that are geared towards strengthening. I’ll record my progress to measure my development over the self-study period and beyond”

I commited to 1 round of TABATA training once per day.

A Tabata workout consists of 8 fully committed rounds of strengthening exercises. It works simply by identifying 4 focused exercises that engage a specific aspect of physical fitness i.e. core-strength, dynamics or conditioning. These are then simply repeated. Each round should consist of a 20-second committed burst to the selected exercise followed by a 10-seconds of recovery time. So 8 rounds in total.

Sometimes I have completed this program independently  and at points incorporated the workout into a warm-up in rehearsals as part of an undergraduate project I am currently directing (See Darknet post). I’ve focused on developing overall aerobic fitness, by undertaking exercises that hone in on the key areas my body that I felt needed conditioning and strengthening the most. TABATA style interval training has definitely improved my overall core-strength and I also feel that as a result of committing to the program my ability to shift and lift, which I noticed through my demonstration and facilitation of lifts learnt as part exercises I having been sharing during Darknet rehearsals. I’ve also improved my arm and leg strength and measure this from the amount of reps I was able to complete within the later cycles of the training program.

Completing TABATA became easier and I’m now in a position where I feel I could undertake twice the amount of rounds to further enhance my overall strength.

I also looked a little into the science of TABATA and learned that the theory of TABATA was developed by scientist Dr Izumi Tabata. His research concentrated on the National Japanese speed skating team in the early 1990s when he – along with the team’s coach Irisawa Koichi – observed that short bursts of intensively hard exercise seemed to at least on a parallel with moderate exercise, if not greater.

Tabata explored this with a clear and concise experiment. He asked one group of moderately trained students to undertake an hour of steady cardiovascular exercise on a stationary bike five times a week. Another group were instructed to complete a 10-minute warmup on the same stationary bike, followed by four minutes of Tabata intervals, four times a week – plus an extra 30-minute session of steady exercise with two minutes of intervals.

The group that undertook the program designed by Dr Izumi Tabata’s formula found that they made significant gains to their overall anaerobic capacity and to their VO2 max, which is a key indiction to cardiovascular health and aerobic power. The other group following a moderate plan did find that their VO2 max, but nowhere near to the extent that the group with Tabata’s plan did. Another interesting finding was that the moderate groups efforts caused no impact to individual aerobic capacity.

To support me through this program, I created a playlist of tracks I found on Spotify (Below) Having the timings embedded within the track enabled me to measure each round. I’ve also been really inspired by Joe Wicks’ (The Body Coach) online content. He posts daily suggestions to exercises that can be undertaken. I’ve found this really useful in my facilitation as I’ve been able to offer alternatives and ensure that I am undertaking more challenging adaptations of exercises to ensure that I push myself when undertaking Tabata style training.

“My final area of focus will be to see how I can apply ‘Building Blocks’ and the ‘Crooked Path’ approach to my own practice as an educational practitioner. Part of my role as a lecturer in a Higher Educational college involves me directing undergraduate work. I am just about to commence rehearsals for a production of Rose Lowenstein’s play ‘Darknet’ In it I imagine there to be some particularly physical sequences and I’d like to see if I can apply some of the learnings I have made from the Introductory Module within the rehearsal process.”

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed designing project specific exercises such as creating movement from code, exploring interfaces and ctrl-alt-shift. All of these exercises have been developed employing the method of creating through ‘Building Blocks‘ making movement material step-by-step. The presumptions of this material has been challenged, interrogated and explored. The results have been very fruitful, rewarding and the outcome has meant that as a company we now have a cabal of movement vocabulary to draw upon in rehearsals and in performance.

I have attempted to tread the ‘Crooked Path’ by not always being implicit in outlining what the movement being created will used for. It wasn’t until after we had created movement using coding and programming language that it was revealed that this would utilised for the Hackdolz characters in the piece. I have also slowly introduced tracks with increasing BPM to provide a scaffold for performers to climb to enable them to reach the peak of the sequences potential. Movement created with the idea of futuristic interfaces and a lifting workshop has served us well for creating a rich movement vocabulary and furthermore for the last exercise that we explored ctrl-alt-shift. I will continue to employ this approach within my work as practitioner and look forward to navigating further down the so-called ‘Crooked Path’

Below is a video that outlines the practical work explored as part of my self-study assessment 1.

Tamasha Theatre Company – Self Study – M18PA

Having researched into theatre companies that have made huge steps forward in championing gender-equality in theatre here and here I wanted to shift my focus towards studying companies that actively promote and celebrate cultural diversity on stage.

Like women, many performers from Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are still regualrly overlooked and vastly under-represented on-stage in this country. This is an ongoing issue and another problem that needs challenging within the industry. Theatre Companies, Casting Directors and other industry stakeholders must act now, to be more progressive and inclusive, if they really value and want to reflect the cultural diversity that we are blessed with in this country.

It may be a blatantly mainstream example, but Chichester Festival Theatre’s current production of ‘Half a Six Pence‘ has come in for huge criticisms for its lack of diversity amongst its cast. Matthew Hemley, news editor of The Stage Newspaper, recently highlighted the production’s failings and the underlying problem of under-representation of BAME actors in West End productions.

“…in a cast of 26, there is not one non-white face. That, for a new production, is unforgivable.

I tried to raise it with others after the show and, while in agreement, they pointed to productions such as Motown, Memphis and Dreamgirls for proof of diversity.

The problem is, these are shows either about black performers or with black performers written into them. My problem is where race isn’t specified in the roles and an entire cast ends up being white. It smacks to me of casting directors putting performers into roles that match their own image. It’s an unconscious bias that needs to be addressed.”

Matthew Hemley – The Stage –  https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/2016/matthew-hemley-camp-cliches-and-all-white-casts-welcome-to-musical-theatre-in-2016/

Further on into this article, Matthew Hemley goes onto echo my above sentiments. That the industry is in real danger of isolating and exiling a diverse audience unless everyone acts collectively to address this imbalance.

One company, who have been a beacon of light in leading the way for championing and celebrating this counties rich cultural and diverse heritage is Tamasha Theatre Company. Formed in 1989 by Director Kristine London-Smith and Actor/Playwright Sudhar Bhuchar the company was created with an objective to develop contemporary work of Asian influence for the British stage.

Since then, it has been responsible for several groundbreaking productions including: a flagship production of East is East in 1996, A Tainted Dawn, which premiered at The Edinburgh International Festival and featured an original score by Nitin Sawhney and the cult verbatim show The Trouble with Asian Men (See image below) The company actively strives to produce new work that celebrates the diversity of our globalised world and work that places emerging and established artists from culturally diverse backgrounds centre-stage.

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Tamasha is a mirror reflecting a nation of continuing change and creativity, of mixings and mergings. British culture needs reminding it has always been global. Tamasha’s stirring, audacious work makes sure the nation never forgets what it is.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, cultural commentator –  http://www.tamasha.org.uk/about/

The company has been able to further champion diverse talent through its acclaimed –  Tamasha Developing Artists programme (TDA) The programme affords emerging artists the opportunity to undertake workshops, professional mentoring and to receive on-going professional support. TDA offers bursaries and a platform for artists into professional employment. One of the programs most celebrated alumni is Ishy Din – writer of the play Snookered Coincidently I remember watching this remarkable play at the Oldham Colosseum in 2012, but at the time had no idea who Tamasha were and what the company promoted. I just thought at the time that is was refreshing to see a play which celebrated the countries strong Pakistani community. The writer has been magnanimous in his praise for the company and attributes his early success to the work TDA does in giving emerging artists a voice.

I am a writer and without Tamasha I’d still be a taxi driver. My voice as a northern Asian would be muted and my attempts to open a window on a largely unexplored world would be firmly shut.”

Ishy Din, writer of Snookered.

This, in my opinion, further augments the importance of programs such as TDA. More really needs to be done to activate and engage BAME artists.

Another exciting facet of the company is its outreach work. The company nurtures new talent through its playwrighting courses taught in schools and through empowering educators to work with all students by giving language and cultural context in the classroom the same currency. The companies model aims to build confidence, promote dialogue and cultural understanding, and produce mature, multi-lingual devised performance.

I’ve been really inspired by the work that Tamasha has achieved and for the ideas that the company fights to promote. I value and am proud the cultural diversity that makes up this country and only wish more would be done to offer a wider and more equal representation on stage. Theatre has the capacity to challenge and incite change. But this can only be achieved if the industry looks at itself and makes more progressive and radical change within itself!!!

All Change Please and Tonic Theatre – Blog Provocation 2 – Self Study – M18PA

So, of fthe back of Nicola’s excellent resource recommendation: ‘All Change Please’ I decided to check out Lucy Kerbel, the work of Tonic Theatre and delve deeper into the world of gender-equality (or lack of it) in theatre.

Interestingly, before dedicating some self-study time to this, I was side-tracked by THE INTERNET (It’s a blessing and a curse) and I ended up procrastinating on Facebook. As I scrolled through, I saw an article titled ‘7 Monologue N0-Nos’ Always interested to learn what others have to say about auditions and monologues etc, I clicked on the link and read the article (See link below)

https://www.backstage.com/interview/7-monologue-no-nos/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=editorial

Never in my life have I read such utter drivel! Apart from the fact that virtually all of the advice was completely out of touch and inaccurate. I was horrified by the writer’s fifth tip:

Don’t get clever.
“It isn’t always smart to be ‘clever,’ ” Howard says. “A woman who comes in and says, ‘I’m going to go do “Hamlet” ’—well, when are you ever going to do ‘Hamlet’?

This made me so angry! This Howard chap should be ashamed of himself! And in addition to going to see ANY of the Smooth Faced Gentlemen shows that I discussed in my last post, he should also purchase a copy of ‘All change Please’ by Lucy Kerbel. Immediately!

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I am only a few chapters into this book, but I am already inspired by work that Tonic Theatre and Lucy Kerbel has instigated. This book is not an instruction manual on how to generate change, instead it challenges the reader to consider their own individual role within it. It prompts individuals to rally together, to drive in the same direction and to work with each other collaboratively to achieve real visible and meaningful progress.

“…if we are going to achieve proper – and do it in the most joyful, imaginative, thorough and effective way possible – that will require a whole range of brains on this and a whole range of approaches to it”

“Working together on the shared goal of achieving greater gender equality is like collaborating to put the most brilliant production on stage”

Lucy Kerbel – All Change Please

It really is about collaborating! Sharing ideas and engaging with other minds to tackle the problem. In the book Kerbel talks about initiating small actions that can generate big changes. She cites the 2015 introduction of the 5p plastic bag tax as a fascinating example of how a huge cultural shift can take effect. Although, far removed from the issue of gender equality in many ways. The conscious shift that charge had on an everyday and  an unquestioned ritual, is exactly the kind of shift that needs to be put in the head of those involved in the collaborative process of theatre-making. What long-term impacts will there be if I continue to disengage with something that is unethical? What are the benefits of engaging with this change? How does this make me feel? etc

Some of the interesting small actions that Lucy Kerbel and Tonic Theatre have taken, have included: publishing a book that celebrates work by accomplished female artists that extends beyond the obvious ‘100 Great Plays for Women’ is an index of work that provides a cabal of exciting work to theatres and theatre-makers that have traditionally used the excuse of having a lack of available material as a reason for not depicting the lives and experiences of women on stage. The company has also championed new writing through a program called ‘Platform’ this exciting initiative commissions new work that places women centre stage. Once published the work is disseminated amongst schools, colleges and youth theatres. This small action and shift in practice, gives young women a platform to shine, grow and develop. It also tackles some of the more deep-rooted problems in society and educational that leads young women to believe that there aren’t opportunities for them to be placed at the centre of drama.

Rather than simply staging productions that champion equality, the company focuses more on working with big players in the industry such as: The National, Southwark Playhouse and The Tricycle (To name a few) to coach them towards implementing better practices and strategies with the issue. In the six years since the company has formed, these small actions have ALL contributed towards big changes in the industry and whilst, by their own omission, that there is still much work to be done, Tonic Theatre can claim to have made a colossal impact thus far.

As a stakeholder in change, I’m interested in reflecting upon the small changes I can make as a theatre-maker, as an educational practitioner and as a member of society. Again, I am looking forward to collaborating with my peers on the advanced module and reviewing how we can all work together in addressing some of the woeful inadequacies that societies everyday rituals have normalised. I’m also excited to investigate the possibilities of staging a Platform commissioned piece of work at the college I work at in the next academic year!

Smooth Faced Gentlemen – M18PA – Self Study

In my endeavours to hunt out theatre companies who champion equality and promote diversity. I came across the all-female Shakespeare company:  Smooth Faced {Gentlemen} The company were founded in 2012 with the ambition to create ‘…fresh, fast, and faithful productions of Shakespeare with entirely female casts.’

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I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this all-female performance company was in-fact co-founded by 2 males: Michael Grady-Hall and Yaz Al-Shaater in addition to its 2 female co-founders: Mariam Bell and Ashlea Kaye. Whilst I don’t think that there aren’t men who champion gender equality in the arts,  its rare to see men support a movement that places women centre stage in such a radical way.

The company was founded as a direct response to the numerous all-male Shakespeare companies who have dominated the scene for so long.

“It started when Michael [Grady-Hall, one of the co-founders] had told us about an actress he was talking to, who was saying it was unfair of companies like Propeller or The Lord Chamberlain’s Men to be all-male, and take the precious few female Shakespeare roles away from women. This view frustrated us – these companies are great, and there’s nothing to stop anyone setting up a company of their own.”

http://www.femalearts.com/node/533 

In this interview with Female Arts – Ashlea Kaye (Co-founder and Artistic Director) goes on to discuss the moment of realisation that she and her fellow co-founders had after watching an RSC production of King John in which, Pippa Nixon played the role of ‘The Bastard’ it was in this moment that they realised that actually they should and could be the ones to pioneer an all-female Shakespeare company.

It’s positive to see the impact that this company has gone on to have. Since forming the company has staged 3 successful productions including: Romeo & Juliet, Titus Andronicus and a recent adaptation of Othello. They have won awards, developed a following, inspired others with their outreach and incited much needed discussion on gender-equality within the theatre.

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Smooth Faced Gentlemen – Titus Andronicus – Edinburgh Fringe – Photo Daniel Harris

It is of course sad that such radical action has been necessary to highlight the gender gap in theatre, particularly in classical productions. It is however very inspiring to see individuals take action in this plight and in tandem make excellent theatre that promotes awareness.

I personally would like to see more companies make a more concerted effort to put female stories on-stage and to see more women provided with opportunities to be placed centre stage. I recently directed an all-female version of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The raw energy of the young actors I worked with was immense and many involved felt empowered at being given the opportunity to tackle roles that have been traditionally only depicted only for young males. This frustration was transmitted in performance and fully supported the visceral nature of the story. It highlighted to me at the time the huge void in equality and the lack of parity in the industry.

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All-female – Lord of the Flies

I’m looking forward to collaborating with the females in my current MA cohort. I am the only male in the group and fully intend on championing gender equality and learning from my peers experiences.

Resources:

http://www.femalearts.com/node/533

http://smoothfacedgentlemen.com