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Guest blog: Training as a stage manager and theatre technician

Posted on 21 March 2014 by A Younger Theatre

LAMDA at the Lyric Hammersmith. (c) Richard Hubert Smith/LAMDA

LAMDA at the Lyric Hammersmith. (c) Richard Hubert Smith/LAMDA

Caroline Lowe, a first year on LAMDA’s Foundation Degree in Stage Management & Technical Theatre tells us about her training to date and how’s she’s slowly learning to always expect the unexpected…

When did you first start to develop an interest in working backstage?
When I was at school, really. The school built a new assembly and performance space just before I started sixth form. They ordered a load of equipment to go into it but the person they had hired to install it all was looking to offload some of the work onto the students, so I got stuck in from there. From that moment on working backstage took over my life!

What experience did you have before starting at LAMDA?
All my experience was gained at school and touring with school companies. I did a bit of sound and lighting for our school productions from about the age of 14 ,and in Sixth Form took part in a musical which was completely run by the lower sixth. With the Head of Sixth Form as Company Manager, the teachers gave us scripts and a budget and left the year [of 97] to get the show on stage. It was totally manic and really threw us all in at the deep end, but was a great way of getting experience of teamwork as well as putting on a show with a limited budget.

The following year the school decided to do a whole school musical with a cast of 120 and an orchestra – that came with plenty of challenges for the crew too! As Deputy Stage Manager, I was springing up from the desk at the back of the theatre to run round and do the scene changes and then quickly back to the desk!

After I finished my A levels I went and worked for the Pleasance in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival. It was a great month, with great staff parties for both the crew and company.

Why did you choose LAMDA?
I was accepted by all three of the schools I applied for (RADA, Central and LAMDA), but as soon as I was accepted by LAMDA I knew that’s where I wanted to go. When I came to the open day in the February after I applied, I just loved the friendly atmosphere; I just felt automatically that I would be able to work well here with Rob and the team.

I was also drawn to LAMDA’s purely vocational course, where nothing was taught which wasn’t industry related and practical. The technical course at LAMDA didn’t feel like an add on, it’s a complete training in its own right.

What did you expect the course to be like and how has it been different from your expectations?
The course is as practical and hands on as I expected. However, I’ve learnt that the tutors here always go the extra mile with unexpected and often quite surprising extras. I really didn’t expect evening classes on AutoCAD software, first aid lessons or stage combat lessons with the Head of Drama School in my first year!

What’s been a highlight from the training so far?
In the last week at the end of the first term, the stage management and technical theatre students swap places with the actors for a week. We start by seeing what we each pick out of script; whilst the actors were picking out character traits and snippets of backstory, I’d be thinking about the light levels needed.

Over the course of the week, we then completed a whistle stop tour of all the work needed to get the show running.  It gave us all such a good insight into the cast’s process and it also gave them an insight into just how complicated the backstage stuff can be – a lot of mutual respect was established during that week, I can tell you that!

What are the hardest aspects of the training?
Fitting it all in! I’ve just been working as an assistant stage manager for [LAMDA’s 2014 musical] Sweeney Todd and the long days were hard, sometimes working from 11am to 11pm. Having come out the other end, I think everyone was better for it.

At times there was a lot of pressure on your social and professional relationships; being with the same group of people through a very stressful and intense period is something you have to learn to get used to. We also got to know the actors (and them us) so well. The fact that the musical was double cast also came with its own challenges not only for costumes but also for props – the placing of a razor on a table is individual to each actor, so we had to adapt to that.

What do you think are the common misconceptions about being a stage manager or theatre technician?
It’s not so much a misconception, but just in general, people don’t know what it is we actually do. Especially the role of stage manager, people just don’t know what there is to do. They just think we fill out a few bits of health and safety paper work. Because people never see us, they have no idea what we do and until they come to an exhibition or an open day. I’d love to see people know more about what we’re being trained to do and just how many different jobs and pieces of equipment there are to get to know.

What do you hope to do once you graduate in July 2015?
I’d love to work as a deputy stage manager on a musical. They sit on the prompt desk and call the show – that’s the job I’d love to do. You get to sit in rehearsals and know the cast really well. The Deputy Stage Manager for Sweeney Todd had to miss one day, and I got to cover her which was fantastic. I went to sit in on rehearsals with the cast.

 

Interested in a career backstage? Visit www.lamda.org.uk for more information about its Foundation Degree in Stage Management & Technical Theatre. The application deadline is 1 April to join LAMDA in autumn 2014. 

 

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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RSC Diaries: Rosie and Dan answer your Twitter questions

Posted on 20 April 2013 by Daniel Easton and Rosie Hilal

RSC diaries

We asked AYT readers what they’d like to ask our RSC diarists…

Q: “I’d love to know how rigorous the rehearsal period is; time-wise and the level of depth with textual analysis.”

Rosie: Well, it varies according to the director’s process and the parts you play. In Hamlet, we spent the first few weeks going through each scene in detail and discussing it, then slowly putting it on its feet before we moved on to the next scene, and after an initial read through we were only called for the scenes we were in which we explored bit by bit. But in As You Like It we were all called for a two week movement workshop which had no text at all, before we even read the script around a table together. The workshop had us dripping in sweat for eight hours a day pretty much, whilst the read through was a week long and at times it could lead to hours of discussion on one scene.

As for parts, I thought that as a newbie cast in small parts I wouldn’t be called that much, but both David Farr and Maria Aberg had us in for group scenes again and again (they can be very choreographed and technical), as well as song, dance, movement and voice calls.

So I’ve done 12 hour days, five to six days a week for the last two and a half months, and what with the understudy runs and All’s Well That Ends Well coming up, that doesn’t look set to change until the 7th August. It’s amazing, but exhausting.

Dan: Rehearsals at the RSC are very in depth. We’re lucky enough to get ten weeks to explore each play. Both processes included a great deal of textual analysis and table work as a company, to discuss the meanings of all the lines and words within the play so we would be able to communicate them to an audience properly. With As You, we also had a two week workshop period where we improvised and tried out various movement ideas for establishing the two worlds of the court and Arden.

Q: “Is there any chance for those of us who don’t go to drama school after university due to cost?”

Rosie: I tried to get acting jobs without an agent and without drama school, and it varied from hard to impossible. Unless you know someone like a radio producer, or director, or want to put on your own stuff, go to drama school. It’s hard to get an agent and without them you don’t get seen for paid jobs. I know RADA can take on tuition fees if you can’t afford them, at least they could when I applied. Otherwise, the Actor’s Centre do courses which at least means you meet professionals and peers, and Paines Plough do fantastic open auditions.

Dan: I think it’s getting a lot harder for people going to drama schools, especially with the recent increase in fees. But don’t be put off, there are various bursaries and scholarships you can apply for which help towards funding. If this is your first higher education course, you can take out a student loan to help with the costs too. Also there’s nothing stopping you working for a year or so to stockpile some cash to help get you through your training as well.

Q: “Do you have any tips on how to make yourself more open and vulnerable in acting?”

Rosie: Being centred and remembering to breathe helps to focus your concentration on listening like you’ve never heard stuff before, which means if the situation is sad or funny it should make you laugh, cry, sigh automatically. I need to know who my character is through movement, rehearsal, and what they are thinking, then I can relax and stop worrying about back story because it’s in my body and I can just listen. It’s hard though; I’m easily distracted and it takes concentration.

Dan: There are so many ways for this to be achieved and I think I’m still figuring it out myself to be honest. There’s not one correct way; I suppose it’s finding what works best for you. A good warm up and some physical exercise (run, gym or yoga) before a performance helps to clear my mind before a show, so I can be as much in the moment as possible and not over think stuff too much, and just let it happen to me.

Q: “How does an actor transition from being his cheery self backstage into a sad character on stage in limited time?”

Rosie: For me, having explored a character’s physicality really helps, and costume helps too. If I change how I move, that makes me a different person, or at least body memory reminds me to be a different person in a different situation. Lighter or more tense, slower or more jagged. I’m not a very intellectual actor. I’d rather my body did the work, and I can just try and be available to the other actors and immediate situation. That’s where repetition and rehearsal come in.

Dan: For this I think it’s just a case of giving yourself enough time to focus and relax, and doing whatever is necessary to allow you to do this whether that’s a warm up, or a cup of tea and a sit down. Different things work for different actors so I suppose it’s just a case of trial and error until you land on something that fits. It also depends on what you’re doing in the show and what the role requires of you, so adapt and change what works for you accordingly.

The RSC runs a £5 ticket scheme for 16 – 25 year olds. Find out more here.

Images: Daniel and Rosie in rehearsals for Hamlet. By Keith Pattison.

Daniel Easton and Rosie Hilal

Daniel Easton and Rosie Hilal

Daniel: In his RSC debut season, Daniel Easton plays Reynaldo in Hamlet, Dennis/Duke Ferdinand’s Lord in As You Like It and Soldier/Ward in All’s Well that Ends Well. Daniel trained at RADA, and other theatre includes The Illusion (Southwark Playhouse); A Marvellous Year for Plums (Chichester Festival); 66 Books - Lazarus (Bush) and Richard II (Donmar). Rosie: In her RSC debut season, Rosie Hilal plays Audrey in As You Like It, Mariana in All's Well that Ends Well and second Gravedigger/ Player/Gentlewoman in Hamlet. Rosie graduated from RADA in 2012 and other theatre includes Carmen (Moving Theatre Co.); Occupied (Theatre503); L’Ecume Des Jours (Maison Francais, Oxford) and Salome (Canal Cafe). Image: Rosie in rehearsals for As You Like It (credit: Keith Pattison) Image: Daniel and Rosie in rehearsals for Hamlet (credit: Keith Pattison)

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Review: One Night With Joan

Posted on 17 April 2013 by Hannah Elsy

Joan CollinsIt is hard to believe that Joan Collins is nearly 80. Whereas most ladies of a certain age are settling down for the quiet life, Collins continues to maintain her uncompromising standards of glamour, appear in television and films, and has created her own touring one- woman show One Night With Joan, currently playing at the Leicester Square Theatre. The stage is set up to have the appearance of a dressing room, from which Collins regales the audience with show business tales from her plush winged arm chair. She charts her entire life, from her first performance as a three- year old, to her time at RADA, her rise through 20th Century Fox, her transfer to television, her career as a model and philanthropist, and (of course) her scandalous private life.

She gives a fascinating insight into post-war Hollywood. The most shocking of her tales include Richard Burton’s strange sexual penchants, and the studio bosses placing her on speed (like Judy Garland before her) to make her lose weight. Reflecting upon her young self, the hopeful starlet, Collins treats her early career with a wonderful dollop of self- deprecating irony. She is highly aware of how shallow her image can make her seem and is ready to mock this. Admittedly, her anecdotal material is somewhat contrived and her delivery has a well-rehearsed air to it. Occasionally, she falters slightly with her wording or pronunciation, but makes up for it with plenty of showbiz aplomb. Entirely impressive!

The projection montage of images and video clips charting Collins’s career have been pasted together with little thought. Too many images of Collins are constantly flashing up in front of the audience’s faces, making it easy to lose sight of Collins herself on stage. Although her involvement in the film industry is fascinating, it would’ve been great if this were balanced with an insight into her stage career, particularly her involvement in Coward’s Private Lives in the early 90s.

Behind the showbiz façade, Collins’s humility is evident, making her a likeable figure to spend the evening with. Although she makes the audience feel welcome, her slightly impersonal delivery is incongruous against the proposed intimacy of her set, which suggests a private dialogue with the audience. Collins is to be commended for her prodigious output of work, as she continues to build her career today. Her motto “the harder the work the luckier I get” is an apt one for us all.

 

After One Night With Joan has finished its London tenure at the Leicester Square Theatre, it will be followed by a regional tour of the UK. More details of this can be found on Joan Collins’s official website. One Night With Joan is running at the Leicester Square Theatre until 28th April 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Leicester Square Theatre website.

Hannah Elsy

Hannah Elsy

Alongside reading English at King's College London, Hannah runs around the capital watching and performing in as much theatre as physically possible. She enjoys creating new work, and is currently workshopping new ideas with the National Theatre's Young Studio. Hannah has worked as an arts journalist for the Fierce Festival of live art and Bristol's In Between Time Festival.

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Inside Out: Where to train before you train

Posted on 08 March 2013 by Camilla Gurtler

train before you train

It is unbelievably hard to get into drama school in the UK. About 4,500 young people apply every year, pay a fortune to be seen for about 90 seconds (which is outrageous, but that’s a different debate!) and will most likely be rejected by all of them. Either they tell you you need life experience (which at the age of 25 starts to feel slightly offensive) or they won’t tell you anything (even more outrageous), and you are left out of pocket and with no clue as to how to improve for next year’s rounds. So how is it done? How do you get better so that RADA won’t toss you out in the first round and LAMDA will agree to see you for longer?

As an experienced drama school applicant and reject I found it necessary to get a little training under my belt before entering the audition room – it won’t guarantee you a place or a recall but it will certainly make you more confident and experienced entering that daunting room and being eyed by the dreaded panel. Here are two places I can recommend:

1. The Actors Centre

I have been a member ever since I moved to London and was advised by an agent to go and train there. I can’t recommend this place enough; it’s got fantastic workshops for reasonable prices and the tutors are fantastic. They all work in the business and are eager for you to do your best and achieve your goals. It’s in Covent Garden, the heart of London’s theatre-land, and they’ve got the Tristan Bates Theatre on site (which produces great shows). There’s even a café. Courses I can recommend for drama school auditions are:
Audition Bootcamp. This is five intensive days where you work on everything you need for auditions. And you get to audition in front of an experienced director who gives you feedback!
Shakespeare workshops. They’ve got a lot of them and they are so helpful when you are looking at that Shakespearean tragedy for your first audition in absolute panic not knowing what the man is saying.
Acting drop-in. They run a drop-in acting class every Monday evening from 6-9pm where you work on different texts, improvisation etc. It is a great way of preparing for a recall and of working with other actors.
Improvisation classes. There’s probably nothing more daunting than being asked to improvise in an audition. So these are a godsend.

2. The Mono Box

The Mono Box runs events and workshops to help actors to find cast-specific monologues for drama school auditions and speeches for showcases. It is located in London and has a fantastic collection of plays all donated by great actors and directors. They are eager to help you find that perfect speech that will make you succeed, and if that’s not enough they’ve got a monologue workshop where you work on a speech with a director and have a Q&A session with established industry professionals. It’s on once a month on a Sunday for a few hours so if you don’t know what to do… well, now you’ve got something.

I hope this has given you a bit of inspiration. There’s never just one way of doing something creative like this, and some people do get into drama school without any previous training. Personally I find going to workshops like these, meeting other actors and working with industry professionals an inspiring experience. Enjoy.

Image: Where to?

Camilla Gurtler

Camilla Gurtler

Camilla is currently training as a director on the Young Directors’ Programme with StoneCrabs Theatre Company. Camilla has worked as a director, actress and writer in Denmark and London, and loves Shakespeare, greek tragedies and children’s theatre. She’s obsessed with coffee, dislikes ranting on stage and hates the colour yellow. Especially mustard-yellow.

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