RQ1: How do we create workshops that will both invigorate and harness the skills of older actors?

Practice as research

/praktɪs az rɪˈsəːtʃ/

PaR / acronym

verb

• A dynamic form of research to find, create, uncover, acquire and disseminate knowledge.

• A methodology for meshing creativity and experimentation in live performance practice. The practice becomes the crucible for creating and challenging knowledge.

Source

Sally Mackey (2016) “Applied theatre and practice as research: polyphonic conversations”, Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 21:4, 478-491.

Origin

Applied drama practice, theatre in education 

PaR enquiry

Older actors (60+) have enormously reduced opportunities for work, in particular meaningful work, with the result that skills can become dormant, and actors can become despondent. Training tailored to their specific needs can provide an opportunity to re-boost their skill-set in an environment that respects their considerable experience, while recognising their particular challenges as regard e.g. energy levels, memorisation skills and confidence.  No less important, it can provide a creative environment  that both nourishes and stimulates,  increasing the breadth and diversity of skill-sets to widen opportunities in the workplace and beyond.  At the time of this research (2015), there were no training outlets fulfilling this need.

Research questions

  • How do we design workshops specifically tailored to older actors that will both strengthen current skills and develop new skills that might not have been taught at the time of professional training?
  • How do we access the actors who are interested in opportunities for continuous training and development?
  • How do we make these at a rate that will be accessible to all older actors?

Background

The past years have seen us work closely with an ensemble of older actors whose skills and confidence have been enormously boosted due to the continuous opportunity for development offered by regular collaborative workshops. Examples of this are development of improvisational, physical and vocal skills but above all, we have seen their hunger for serious work, some of them having been offered increasingly minor or age-stereotyped roles at this stage of their career. We have witnessed their increased versatility and overall regeneration as a result. 

Their experience has shown that the already prevalent negativity about being older in our society is heightened for actors and there are many reasons for this, including that they are continuously in the public eye.

What is missing is the recognition of what is one of their most powerful resources – life experience – and specific professional training opportunities that encourage awareness and skills to exploit this unique resource.

Project overview

Grow Richer with Age: Visible Intensive Training for Actors Series (GRAVITAS) was designed as an affirmation of an actor’s need to be vigilant in terms of their practice.

We aimed to create a time and space where the actor can tap into and enhance their rich reservoir of skills and experiences, a unique shared environment for older actors to work on their craft.

Dates

GRAVITAS extended from August to September 2015 and featured workshops led by Mike Alfreds, Max Stafford-Clark, Philip Hedley and Vladimir Mirodan.

Venue

GRAVITAS was based at Graeae’s award-winning Bradbury Studios, 138 Kingsland Road, Hoxton, chosen for their design, accessibility and support for diversity in the arts.

Overviews of the workshops and photos are in the two right columns >>

Evaluation

  • all participants spoke of how essential these training opportunities are, and that GRAVITAS was indeed filling an important gap
  • 90% of participants who attended one workshop, booked at least another thereafter
  • written feedback was extremely positive (see below for extracts) with all participants hoping that GRAVITAS would work towards a community of older actors with similar interests

Participant feedback

“A masterclass with no whiff of master about it…In terms of the teaching itself, it was without question, one of the most inspiring and influential classes in theatre that I have ever had.”
Workshop Participant, August 2015

“The energy given out by a group of experienced, committed, focussed individuals was amazing. Age did not appear to be a negative issue for anyone – on the contrary, our combined ancientness was cause for a certain amount of mirth. I was struck by individuals’ kindness and generosity towards each other – this could be a function of age or maybe they were just very nice people.”

“Surpassed expectations. Far more dynamic, exhilarating and absorbing.“

“Thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and the opportunity of gaining first hand experience of the working methods of a director whom I have always admired but never had the chance to work with.”

“It was hugely liberating and gave me a lot of insight into my own development as well. I really gained a great deal which I will be able to put to good use in future work. The day flew by, it was wonderfully intense. Thank you, Mike.”

“The spirit of the way the workshop was managed and organised was perfect from the beginning – warm, welcoming and easy going. A masterclass with no whiff of master about it…In terms of the teaching itself, it was without question, one of the most inspiring and influential classes in theatre that I have ever had.”

“Needless to say, a couple of hours with Max was a privilege and a joy. Such is the gift he has, that a small group of actors “of a certain age” threw themselves into the game of creativity with abandon. I felt lucky to be there.“

“I’m trying to figure out what the advantages were, and I think it’s something to do with a shared experience and accumulated knowledge. It’s nice not to be the only ‘oldie,’ although I certainly don’t feel old.”

“Although I knew quite a lot about Philip’s work, I hadn’t expected to have quite so much sheer fun. Philip has the knack of putting people at ease very quickly. The day was absorbing, I learned a good deal and laughed an enormous amount.”

“I loved it because age wasn’t an issue which Im sure with a younger group it might be. Also we had a wealth of experience to draw on and share.“

“Vladimir’s workshop was a revelation – any misgivings I might have had about getting to grips with epic theatre and melodrama dissolved. His irrepressible energy and hugely warm approach, encouraged everyone to throw themselves fully into the exercises. The live piano accompaniment was a wonderful addition to the rich mix of material.”

“It was great to have melodrama brought to life in all its histrionic, passionate and terrifying way. Good fun, with lots of references, tips and idiosyncrasies thrown in along the way. Came away though with a general feeling of hilarity, energy, focus and attack – pretty great to create in the twinkling of an eye!! A great stamping ground or rather trampoline, I imagine, for the rest of the day- including mine!!”

“There is a degree of ‘shorthand’ because of participants’ level of experience. And the experience and depth of knowledge of the leader means there’s a lot of learning available.”

“As ever, age falls away, but interestingly people bring such a wealth of often shared experience to these workshops……. an enriched sense of history and perhaps, confidence.”

“Age seemed irrelevant, I didn’t think about it, except to recognise that there were others with same rep background etc as myself – thank God!”

Workshop overview

Max Stafford-Clark

Towards an Ensemble: A workshop with Max Stafford-Clark

“Most of the work I do depends upon creating an ensemble. It will be fascinating to see how these exercises will work with a range of older actors.” – Max Stafford-Clark

Max Stafford-Clark leads an afternoon of focused ensemble work, carefully unravelling his famed approach and methodology with experienced actors. Influential as a director of contemporary and cut-throat new British writing for the stage, Stafford-Clark has continuously sought-out new artistic challenges. This special workshop focusing on the workshop process is geared towards actors also aiming to challenge their limits, ready to improvise and conversant with detailed text work.

Mike Alfreds

Building a Character

‘‘What first drew me to theatre and has ever since engrossed and thrilled me most is the extraordinary phenomenon of the actor, not virtual but actual, present and immediate, endowed with our infinite human potential to express what it means to be alive” – Mike Alfreds

Mike Alfreds will lead a one day workshop on characterisation, using characters from Chekhov’s The Seagull. The participants will be expected to do some preparatory work for the session.

Philip Hedley

Littlewood in Rehearsal: The life and working practices of Joan Littlewood for the older actor

“One of the most touching letters I’ve received was from an older actor at Denville Hall who joined my repertory company in Lincoln after twenty years out of the business while caring for a family. She thanked me for involving her so completely into new ways of working… being taken on wholeheartedly in a caring company of actors for two years equipped her for working across the board…, which she went on to do for forty years.” – Philip Hedley

Philip Hedley leads a day-length workshop and lecture on the life and work of British theatre revolutionary Joan Littlewood. As assistant to Littlewood at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and her own choice of successor as Artistic Director, Hedley had a wealth of knowledge on her working techniques. However his theatre reputation does not reside only in her shadow. In 25 years of running the theatre she made world-famous he created a revolution of his own by positively encouraging diversity in programming and creating a rich and popular mix of British black and Asian productions, along with commissioning new work from young working-class writers. This workshop will invite an open contribution of older actor’s skills and experiences to challenge and enliven Littlewood’s varied processes in rehearsal.

Vladimir Mirodan

Epic Acting: From melodrama to Brecht

“Epic acting has its roots in expressionist forms of performance and, although historically it draws on aspects of melodrama and beyond, is associated in most of our minds with Brecht. However, Brecht had in fact little to say about epic acting (as opposed to dramaturgy) and this workshop explores how to make epic choices for the contemporary actor.” – Vladimir Mirodan

Vladimir Mirodan leads a day-length workshop in Epic Acting. Laban-Malmgren trained and Director of international repute, Mirodan specialises in expressionist forms of performance with a particular interest in Brecht. This workshop will look to help actors expand their expressive range beyond the confines of naturalism and British ‘restraint’ as well as introducing ‘materialistic’ approaches to motivation. Experimental and fun, this day explores set gestures used in 19th century acting and explores the older actor’s expressive range; looking at scenes by Brecht and even dancing the tango.

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