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Tag Archive | "imagination"

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Dreams and desperation: The Conquest of the South Pole

Posted on 26 April 2012 by Olivia Luder

When it comes to theatre, dreams really do come true. Whether that’s landing the perfect role or sitting in the stalls and being swept away into a magical world, fantasy becomes reality on a regular basis. However, the Arcola Theatre’s upcoming production of The Conquest of the South Pole, written by Manfred Karge, and translated into English by Tinch Minter and Anthony Vivis, concerns a group of disillusioned friends with little hope of realising their ambitions.

Written in 1986, the play gained prominence in 1988 in a production directed by Stephen Unwin at the Traverse Theatre and cemented its reputation by transferring to the Royal Court in London. Its tale of unemployed youths helped launch the careers of Alan Cumming and Ewen Bremner, with Cumming nominated for the Olivier Award for Most Promising Newcomer. Unwin returns to direct the Arcola’s current production and, as Artistic Director of The Rose Theatre in Kingston, will oversee the production both at the Arcola and the Rose.

Centred on a group of four unemployed and desperate friends, Conquest charts their descent into an imaginary world as they recreate Roald Amundsen’s 1911 exploration of the South Pole as a way to escape the misery of their lives. Despite the success of their make-believe expedition, they are torn between hope and despair. As the complexities of their friendships are explored, so is the bleak reality of their situation.

Ashby reveals that in acting out a tale of escapism, the actors create their own fantasy. “As actors, escapism is… why we [act].” Within the play’s texture of roleplay and the imagination, this is a story that still resonates with its audience today. “It’s about unemployment, you know, there’s not a lot of money around, people are struggling with it and trying to find ways to manage so I think that’s why it’s been brought back at this time. So you can reciprocate and sort of sympathise with what’s going on.” Fagbenle shares the catharsis that the characters find from their imagination: “the core of acting is expressing something about your own psyche, about yourself and filtering it through your character.” Just as the journey to the South Pole provides the characters with solace, Ashby relates this to the reality of his life as a recently graduated drama student. “I was out of work for 8 months and I’ve been graduated for 10, so [dreaming] is what you have to do to kind of keep yourself sane and keep yourself going.”

Karge himself was a member of Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble and, as a result, valued words as a poetic and political tool. Ashby has grappled with his lyrical writing, particularly during the audition process. “My initial instinct was – what is this? I really didn’t understand it – the language is translated from German. It’s quite stylised, quite poetic.” However, getting to grips with the script has paid off. “Now that I do understand it, I feel like I’ve actually achieved something and I’m better for it.” Fagbenle agrees: “I think what it requires is a nimbleness of thought. The funny thing is reading it, it is quite dense but watching it is really easy and exciting.” Ashby’s character, Frankieboy, has quite limited dialogue, but this has actually given him “complete freedom to explore the part, explore the character”. Both enjoy the thought and consideration that the script requires, Fagbenle even declaring, “it’s the closest thing to Shakespeare that I’ve done.”

Though Ashby and Fagbenle auditioned for their roles (Frankieboy and Slupianek), the more-experienced Fagbenle had previously worked with Unwin on Romeo and Juliet and explains that “since we’d known each other he had a good idea of what I’m like as an actor”. Ashby in turn reveals that given his very recent graduation from drama school, he procured his audition through his agent. The difference in their career stages was helpful to Ashby during rehearsals: “It’s been good for me, for my first year since graduation, to watch guys like O-T just play around with it… I’ve learnt so much.” “We’ve got a really nice cast, we’ve all come together,” adds Fagbenle. “That cohesion does help because we have to take risks.”

Conquest kickstarted Cumming’s journey to stardom and is now helping another generation of young actors continue their work within the industry. “I just didn’t get enough attention as a child,” Fagbenle jokes, before continuing, “I was better at acting than I was at anything else… so I thought I’d try it out and it worked out.” Ashby agrees: “I just thought you know, you’ve only got one shot at it so I thought I’ll just do what I want to do and here I am.” For Fagbenle, who has won an African Film Award for Outstanding Achievement, inspiration came from working with his uncle Rufus Orisayomi, a pioneer of African Theatre in the UK – “he was definitely an inspiration to me as I became an actor” – as well as attending the Weekend Arts College, formerly in Kentish Town. Both Ashby and Fagbenle attended drama school (ALRA and RADA respectively) and know what it takes to get those sought-after places. “Prepare yourself with as much knowledge as you can,” Ashby advises. “You’ve got to find a school that sits with you.” Fagbenle adds: “Find someone who can help you prepare for it because oftentimes someone who’s got experience will see things that you don’t see.” And most importantly? “Find speeches that you are excited by, and find speeches that you could play.”

The hopes of their characters in Conquest may remain unrealised, but Ashby and Fagbenle are determinedly pursuing their ambitions. Fagbenle has recently written and directed his first short film, Kandi and the Jinn, has directed his first music video and is currently writing a one-man show. Though Ashby doesn’t have any immediate plans, he is optimistic. “It is a case for me, and a lot of actors, when the show is done, I’m back out there auditioning for things. But that’s exciting!” When asked to describe the best aspect of acting, Ashby explains, “I think, as anyone feels, you do a job that you love: that in itself is its own reward.” This joy in performance is echoed by Fagbenle. “There is a magic when two people say ‘okay I’m in a room with seats and things but I’m going to imagine’.” This sentiment seems to extract the magic at the heart of The Conquest of the South Pole: the power of the imagination and, crucially, its ability to provide an escape, no matter what the circumstances.

The Conquest of the South Pole runs at the Arcola Theatre until 26 May and then transfers to the Rose Theatre Kingston. For tickets and more information, click here.

Image credit: Simon Annand

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Mind over matter: Crossing boundaries – blurring the line between truth and imagination

Posted on 24 January 2012 by Katey Warran

It is a historical debate whether an actor should draw on his or her own experiences and feelings when trying to create a believable character. It is most notably associated with Stanislavski and the early developments of his system. If one taps into one’s own thoughts and memories to construct a fictional personality, the result can be extremely believable.

It does, furthermore, seem natural to bring into play our true experiences when being creative – it makes a piece more believable, more watchable. However, most people would, I think, accept that distancing oneself from a creative process is perhaps a healthy thing to do. I know that I would find it extremely difficult to use my deepest secrets in their entirety to write, perform, or be creative in some way; there is always an element of having to decorate our truths with imagination and focus on achieving something that is interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking. Nonetheless, there is something about bringing reality into the world of theatre that is extremely captivating.

When sat in the Finborough Theatre last week watching Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister – a play about Rebecca Peyton’s sister, BBC journalist Kate Peyton, who was murdered in Somalia – I discovered a new kind of theatre constructed from real life events. It was a theatrical experience like no other, darkly comedic and glaringly real, and certainly a piece that uses Rebecca Peyton’s own emotional memories to create something absolutely mesmerising.

Before going to see the production, I knew absolutely nothing about it – sometimes it is nice to go into a show blind, unaware of what you might be getting. I didn’t realise at first that Rebecca Peyton was actually being played by Rebecca Peyton herself – surely someone could not dramatise their own grief? How could someone bear to do such a thing?

The one thing about traumatic experience that I am thankful for is that when I look back on it, I can barely remember what happened. No matter how hard I try, it is mostly a blur. To pour colour, life and energy into a past tragedy would be the most painful of all; the ability to give structure to something that, by its very nature, will always seem unjust and then re-live it over and over is inconceivable to me. Peyton had, however, done just that to her own tragedy, weaving her every thought and reaction into a coherent dialogue and colouring it with dark humour, perfect clarity of expression and deeply considered bodily movements.

In Michael Billington’s article ‘E is for Experiment’ he muses on the paradoxical nature of controversial theatre in our society today – he suggests that it isn’t experimental anymore because “it is often critically praised, subsidised and welcomed into temples of high art like the National”. I know what he means – nothing is really shocking anymore: politics, religion, violence… we’ve heard it all before. Billington then goes on to talk about theatre companies that he believes do have more of a “radical purpose”, such as Cardboard Citizens which creates plays with homeless people – theatre companies that bring theatre into society and tell a true story. I also think we could talk about verbatim theatre here. Docu-plays, such as those from iceandfire, are amazing because they are a platform that can be used to give a voice to people’s real-life experiences – people who ordinarily would never be able to speak out.

So, why is this kind of theatre appealing? Why is it radical? It is because it invites the audience into the performance on a different, and more personal, level whereby we enter into the real lives of the performers in front of us. Something that, if done well, pushes the audience into a new level of experience.  Rebecca Peyton has achieved this, and I hope to see more of it in the future.

Katey Warran

Katey Warran

Katey is Marketing and Communications Officer of A Younger Theatre and is Marketing Officer at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. She does freelance marketing including working for the New Actors Company, loves all things digital and has a passion for Applied and Community Theatre. Katey also has an interest in philosophy, enjoys singing and country music, and is a tea addict.

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Want to write? How to motivate yourself

Posted on 25 November 2011 by Catherine Noonan

Every writer has experienced days when their great intentions to produce a literary masterpiece have quickly succumbed to the multiple distractions of modern life. For me, the main contributor to my lack of motivation stems from the Internet – as soon as I turn on my laptop, I do a quick round up of various social networking sites. After checking Facebook notifications, looking at emails, and scrolling through my Twitter feed, I’ve wasted half an hour and have nothing to show for it (except perhaps the knowledge that so-and-so is no longer ‘in a relationship’ and someone else had a great breakfast, with accompanying photos to prove it). For those of you who are also easily distracted from your writing endeavours, here are some motivational tips to make you sit down, plug in, and focus. Remember, if you want to be the author of the next big seller, you’re going to have to actually sit down and write it.

Take a trip down nostalgia lane: Remember the days before every household had a computer, when pen and paper was used to record thoughts? For me, this is a vague memory tangled up with the general blur of childhood, but nevertheless, ditching the laptop in favour of a notepad can do wonders for concentration levels. Go outside, breathe in some fresh air, sit under a tree, embrace nature like the Romantic poets – anything that will get you away from the endless beeping of computerised notifications. Even if your hand cramps up, exam-style, after years of tapping away on a computer keyboard, maybe those few focused moments will enable you to hit on a great idea.

Schedule in writing time when you’re really busy: It sounds crazy, but hear me out. Having all day to complete a task allows endless opportunities for procrastination. With all those hours stretching out in front of you, it’s easy to allow yourself the luxury of making a cup of tea, staring out the window, watching TV… and then suddenly its 5pm and all your have to show for your day is a lonely title on an otherwise blank Word document. Contrastingly, with only a couple of hours to spare between other engagements, productivity is the only option. There’s a reason everyone leaves essays to the last minute – ‘the fear’ of running out of time does wonders for motivation. So squeeze in your writing time in between appointments, and you may be surprised at what you produce.

Publicise your efforts: Let everyone know what you’re doing. There’s nothing more demoralising than failing on a public scale, so broadcast your writing ambitions all over Twitter or start up a blog so everyone knows about your literary plans. This is the beauty of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – aspiring writers come together to share the experience of producing 50,000 words in a month, providing support for each other along the way. Being part of a community means that you’re motivated to keep up with your peers whilst feeling the pressure of a looming deadline. As A Younger Theatre writer Marése O’Sullivan blogged about recently, NaNoWriMo can be a way to encourage you to persist with your writing. As O’Sullivan states: “even if I don’t get 50,000 words written, beautiful expression is an achievement”.

Grab ideas when they come, and just WRITE: As soon as you think of something relevant – be it a character for a novel, a topic for a blog, an idea for an essay – write it down. There’s nothing worse than having a flash of inspiration and forgetting to record your brilliance. Even if you later look at this idea and wonder why you ever thought it was worthwhile, creativity is notoriously hard to capture, so documenting ideas when they surface is a must. Don’t worry if you’re producing half-formed ideas and confusing waffle, you can tidy it up later – the important thing is not to let potentially inspired ideas slip by.

Ultimately, you just have to sit down and write. There’s a reason you love writing and want to be an author, a journalist, a poet, a critic and so on… So click off this screen, open your Word document or grab your pen, and just write.

Image by Jonathan Reyes.

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Exit Stage Left: The importance of emotional hardships

Posted on 24 November 2011 by Tristan Pate

You have killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you because you were marvellous, because you had genius and intellect, because you realised the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You are shallow and stupid.”

So says Dorian Gray to the actress Sibyl Vane. His concern is that since their love has blossomed, her Ophelia has lost its emotional core, its danger, its truth – the very source of contentment in her life has stunted the inner life of her character, the catalyst for their courtship.

Now, Wilde had a lot of different points to make on the nature of beauty and intellect, of temptation and morality, but the portrait of the troubled creative is as old as time itself. Must our writing, our directing, our acting be fuelled by the desire for a change in our lives? Can we only interpret the darkest secrets of the soul if we are staring into the abyss ourselves?

I am a person who has always tried to protect himself from such emotional hardships. As human beings we are led by instinct, by the animalistic fight for preservation, and, without even realising it, we constantly block negative forces from entering our lives. Sometimes it can be more convenient to ignore something than to allow it past our subconscious. It is in our genes: we are hardwired for survival.

For a regrettably large stretch of my training, I resisted the extreme states of emotion demanded by the material I explored at drama school. It’s hard as a young person unsure of your own identity to share yourself completely in a performance, and though Oscar Wilde may insist that an artist’s role is to create beauty, while lending nothing of their own life to it, acting is an incredibly personal endeavor and it can take the span of an entire career to demolish these self policing barriers and face the truth.

The sad thing was, that to explore and to share the beautiful and the ugly qualities of the human experience is the whole reason I ever wanted to act. Watching my peers make seemingly effortless discoveries in the rehearsal room, like Dorian pursuing his sweetheart, I felt the capacity to be profoundly moved, but somehow couldn’t translate it into my own travails. I started to think that I was too mollycoddled to understand these complex and alien emotions. I was twenty years old and the worst thing that had happened to me was having my heart broken at the age of sixteen, and even then that only led to some bloody awful poetry and a handful of three chord ballads – what did I know about the lowest depths of the soul?

Though we share their instincts, empathy is the divine gift that separates us from the animals. Since the genesis of the Greek tragedy we have always needed that cathartic, collective experience of feeling another’s pain – it puts our own experiences in perspective and in our physical, guttural reactions, it makes us feel alive. Do we need to have killed our fathers and slept with our mothers, though, to comprehend the plight of Oedipus?

When I came to understand that this sense of empathy was the most vital tool an actor can possess, everything changed for me. Our generation is living in a smaller world, with every resource at our fingertips. They may mean the world to us, but the worries we have about our relationships, our finances and our own sense of self worth are first world problems; they are insignificant in the scheme of things. What we do have, however, is the capacity to embody any state in the canon of human experience, but that takes courage, humility and imagination.

There’s no point in denying that I am extremely blessed with good friends, a fiancée and a beautiful daughter, as well as having a shot at the career that I love, but far from dampening my emotional drive, I feel this contentment in my personal life only spurs me on to tackle work further from my comfort zone. The next challenge, the next opportunity to grow and to learn, to stretch myself. The next leap of faith.

Perhaps Sibyl Vane was distracted by her new-found love and her work suffered, or perhaps she never had any real talent beyond the superficial in the first place. More likely, perhaps Gray’s reaction says a lot more about his own obsession with aesthetics and his warped version of truth than anything else.

Image by Phil Shirley.

Tristan Pate

Tristan Pate

Tristan is an actor and musician and graduated from the Birmingham School of Acting in 2010. Since then he has appeared in plays, musicals and physical theatre pieces both touring nationally, and in London. He lives in Oxfordshire with his fiancée and young daughter.

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