Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Swagger Sticks: Adam Blampied on rehearsing, military style!

Hi folks. It's my turn to tangibly improve your lives with masculine yet tender words, so sit down, put your genitals in the crash position and stop talking for just a second, jeez, while I tell you about what we did yesterday.

Adam Blampied as Roderigo (copyright GSL)

Those of you who aren't going to hell when you die, i.e. people who read the Grassroots Blog, will already know that in order to streamline things (and trim down the amount of actor blood the cleaners are required to mop up at the end of a long day) we nominate a member of the cast to act as play-master. This entails leading warm-ups (difficult), introducing acting exercises (more difficult) and keeping everyone to schedule (hahahahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHA) and yesterday the task was taken on by John Stanley.

And it was wonderful.

John, having spent a large part of his life in the military, ran a tight ship. “The time is 11.32,” he barked, a swagger stick appearing in his arm from literally nowhere, “we shall commence rehearsing act 5 scene 2 at 11.35!” 

And we actually did. 

He fielded note-giving sessions, barking the name of whoever had their hands up. “I'm going to have to hurry you,” he'd say if the note had started to ramble, “Right, you've got your point across. Now James! Go!”

One of the main upsides to working a play the Grassroots way is that everybody has a chance to have their opinions heard. This of the main downsides on the other hand is that everybody has a chance to have their opinions heard and, if not properly kept in check, note-giving can spiral out of control somewhat, four or five people debating the merits of their own personal taste for many, many minutes. This is all valuable work, no doubt, but can leave less time for getting stuff on its feet that might be allowed under a more dictatorial regime. 

The perfect compromise? 

John Stanley.

Extending the military theme of the day, John also led us in a tiny version of an Air Force boot camp, teaching us the correct posture, standing at ease and attention, marching etc, all the while delivered in the aggressive bellow of a drill sergeant. 

John: What the f*** was that?! Where the f*** did you go to school?

Me: A posh school, sir!

John: I CAN F***ING TELL. Squad, drop and give me 5!

Finally, he played us a verbatim performance of an inspirational eve-of-battle speech, delivered by Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Collins to British troops about to be deployed in Iraq. After fighting to suppress giggles during the boot camp, this left respectful silence in its wake, driving home just what is expected of a soldier; to be ever-aware of honour, of family and, of course, of death.

“Right, now the time is 3.48. 2 minutes and then we return to the floor! Understood?”

“Sir, yes sir!”

I don't really have an overarching point about today's rehearsals, other than perhaps:

(1) what a company of actors sorely needs is a bit of military discipline and a large man ready to impose a timetable upon you with the blunt end of a swagger stick.

And (2) we're having a lot of fun rehearsing this play, and I think that will be in evidence when we perform it. I think this is going to be good, you guys. 

You should come.

The show runs from 2nd - 26th April at Leicester Square Theatre. Tickets available from

Monday, 24 March 2014

Cadbury's buttons and the Venetian palazzo: James Law on GSL rehearsals

James Law as the Duke of Venice (copyright: GSL)

Ah, blogs.

Always a nice idea I think - I quite enjoy reading other people’s – until, that is, you’re asked to write one yourself and literally can’t think of anything to say. Why don’t I write one in character I thought? So here I am, cup of tea to the left, bag of Cadbury's Giant Buttons to the right, The Great Escape on the telly. Maybe not the right surroundings for the Duke of Venice but the budget doesn’t stretch to a palazzo yet…alright, let’s scrap that idea.

It’s hard to believe that we only officially started rehearsing a little over a week ago. The first official day of rehearsal is intriguing for all sorts of reasons. From a human and acting perspective it’s always fascinating.

Most actors I know have a easy familiarity about them – they’re often being put in challenging situations so it helps to have that. When you actually land a part then that familiarity, by necessity, has to evolve into a slightly deeper relationship with your fellow cast members.

I don’t mean to wax lyrical about the acting process (or in the words of a fellow cast member, ”I don’t wanna get all South Bank Show about it…”) but it’s hard to think of many other professions where your fellow workers are expected to make themselves emotionally available and vulnerable within minutes, hours or days of meeting each other.

Everyone works at his or her own pace. It’s clear on the first day that some  people are quite far advanced.  Unfortunately, I’m not in that group and go home and have a mini crisis. An inevitable part of the process.

Having just ended the week with a rough stagger through of the whole play it might be useful to say something about the rehearsal process so far.

I’m new to the Grassroots way of working. In case you haven’t been reading these blogs (why not?!?) then the company prides itself on a collaborative process that doesn’t involve a director. A recipe for chaos in the rehearsal room one might think but funnily enough, not so far.

People have been respectful, generous and willing to listen to comments and take them on board. Well, it’s only week one, I’m sure that’ll change…

Part of the process involves electing a daily ‘Master of the Play’ to give a rough agenda to the day’s proceedings. I had this dubious pleasure on Thursday afternoon when we looked at Act Five. The experience is as challenging as it is rewarding. And quite a smart move too. It’s nice to feel that you may have a small say in the overall shape of the play as well as contributing with your own part.

It also makes for quite an intense experience as you can and indeed are expected to contribute frequently. Personally, I’ve found it a good lesson in realizing that the less you worry about your own personal contribution and the more you concentrate on the whole, the more rewarding the experience can be. Easy for me to say as I have a relatively small part but I’ve noticed that the actors with the larger roles are equally generous with their time.

And how to deal with the inevitable rising of tensions as opening night approaches? Well, next week we eagerly await the introduction of ‘Manuka moments’.

Manuka moments? You, alone with a jar of honey? Well, if that’s your thing… 

They actually involve giving every member of the company in turn a chance to air their thoughts honestly, whether it be a gripe with somebody or something. A good way to deal with potential flashpoints as they arise. The next blog I’m sure is bound to contain something  about one of these moments…

All in all, so far I think we’ve got to an incredible place. The quality of some of the work so far has been great and it’s wonderful to watch words and scenes you’ve heard and seen multiple times suddenly spring into life due to one person’s suggestion. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but the direction of travel is definitely forward and I’m very excited about next week.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Too many cooks spoil the broth? Helena Doughty on rehearsing, Grassroots style

Helena Doughty as Bianca in Othello (copyright: GSL)

Grassroots’s process requires input from all, a fair democracy in which everybody involved shapes the play, on set, period, costumes…well everything!  There is no director; no one to say whether it is “right” or “wrong”, to keep us in check, to time keep. We are completely alone. This is incredibly daunting especially for an actor, like myself who craves the attention and assurance from a person of authority. They also say too many cooks spoil the broth, which I usually find to be true. So I was rightly nervous to start rehearsals with Grassroots but if you don’t challenge yourself when will you grow?!
Before my first day to be honest I was trying not to worry about the chaos that was bound to ensue once we started working….Surely it will be manic….I won’t be able to get a word in…What if we offend each other with suggestions?....My mind raced as having been in similar “let’s all be equal and work together” situations before they all turned a little Lord of the Flies; dominant characters prevailing and the more reserved getting side-lined. I was intrigued to see how quickly we would revert to have one all presiding leader, because I was near sure of it.

Rehearsal fun! Helena (Bianca), Emily (Emilia), Nari (Othello) &
John (Lodovico)

What I wasn’t aware of when I was preconceiving ideas about how this strange process would work is that we would have what Grassroots call a “Playmaker”. This is a nominated person on the day, they have no control over what is decided but their main objective is to hear everybody and keep order. Kind of like a Speaker of the House in Parliament refereeing between parties/ideas just the difference is we probably achieve a lot more in a day. This allows us freedom to play and ponder because one person is dedicated to keeping to the schedule and the peace (not that we are particularly violent).

With this we can really have fun, it allows for a wide range of diverse and brilliant ideas as nothing is rejected. It is a warm, nurturing environment which lends itself to new & exciting takes on old, familiar text, I also love that we are developing the play just as they would have in Shakespeare time. I like that this is ours, we have full ownership and we are a Company in the truest sense of the word. I have thrown off my need for acceptance and praise, which is liberating and it definitely makes me think…What on earth was I worrying about in the first place?!
Helena and Adam (Roderigo) 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Pink Highlighters and Coffee: Emily Jane Kerr on starting Othello rehearsals

As we approach the start of rehearsals for Othello, we thought we would catch up with the lovely Emily Jane Kerr who will be playing Emilia at the Leicester Square Theatre (2nd - 26th April 2014), on coffee, pink highlighters and working with 'Des'.

Emily Jane Kerr as Emilia (copyright: GSL)

As I write this I am sat in the foyer of the National Theatre with my Othello script, note book, a pink highlighter and, most importantly, a cup of coffee. I don't think I could be any more of a cliché of an actor than I am currently, so this feels like the perfect time for the first Grassroots Othello blog.

Today has been very exciting: I had a catch up with Annabel (Desdemona - or Des as I think I shall be calling her). We spent a couple of hours chatting ideas, whether for the production as a whole or just character bits. There's nothing better than collaboration in my opinion and I can't wait to get together with the rest of the cast and start throwing brilliant and bizarre ideas into the ether. Both Annabel and I came with similar ideas, especially when it came to character relationships, so I think that's a great place to start.

We did, however, both reveal that we feel like we just don't know Othello (the play) that well. We'd both read, and re-read, the play numerous times; both done research; both read essays: we still felt like we didn't know the play. I haven't been in that position for a very long time and it did scare me for a little bit. However after chatting about it this morning, I now think it's a brilliant position to be in. I have no preconceived idea about what the show will be like. I can enter into rehearsals with a clear mind and fresh ideas, and still have loads of exciting things to discover in rehearsals. I can't wait to learn from the other actors and create a raw and honest performance as a group. Bring on the rehearsal process!

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll just grab my beret and go back to being a cliché.