In 2017, Julie Fraser and Artemios Vogiatzis were awarded the Richard Chappell award by NWTC. Julie talks about hte courses she chose and what she got out of attending.
It is always with some trepidation that I return to LEATSS summer school because I cannot imagine how it will match previous visits and yet, somehow, it always does. Remarkable really.
Having tasters of the courses on offer at the opening session is always as enticing as it is painful – you know that it really does not matter which course you follow, you are going to learn and have an amazing few days but you also know you will miss out on something else wonderful but you can only do so much. We all needed to select one theme and one skills course, each from a choice of four. On the whole, participants were able to pursue courses they were particularly keen on but it was also wonderful to find some (yes, you, Victor!) open to being assigned any combination of courses, such is the belief in what follows. I found it trickier to select than previous years as there were three courses I very much wanted to pursue but finally chose:
(1) Theme: Graeme du Fresne’s singing/acting theme “Challenging for Change”. This gave us the opportunity to visit politically/socially and/or culturally-charged songs such as those found in Hair(Three-Five-Zero-Zero and Aquarius), Cabaret(Two Ladies) and Rent(Seasons of Love) as well as California Dreamin’. We found our way to bring the words on the page to life through discussion and a considerable amount of background material (news, poems and additional songs) provided by Graeme. Reminding us all of various singing techniques, Graeme gave us daily exercises to help us to progress.
Over the week we began to understand the ”who, what, why and when” behind the songs. This, in turn, enabled us to make our decisions as to “how” we would sing. Exercises to help us find the character included:
Once laughter subsided a marked change was felt as we incorporated the above and sang the songs once more. Of all the years I have done the singing option I think this one achieved the greatest feel of an ensemble. The group was incredibly supportive of each other and we delighted as we took on, and overcame, our own challenge(s). Graeme has an incredibly gentle yet persistent way of helping each person to let go of any fears they may have and progress. I do not think there was a single person in the room who did not manage to move out of their comfort zone and ‘have a go’. The changes in voices from start to finish were quite significant, the ensemble feel joyous and happiness palpable. I really hope to share this feeling in any of the work that I might do in theatre.
(2) Skills: Phil Clark’s acting skills course The Actor as Animator & Storyteller. Although the original intention was to work with sticks, masks and puppets as the week progressed the group got stuck on sticks – in a good way!
If anyone had told me I could spend half a week (or around 16 hours) working with sticks I’d have thought “well that sounds a tad boring” – but not so. Stripping everything back to basics brought the focus right back to the actor, audience and telling a story. Having the time to explore their use was hugely beneficial as the story became transformed by the use of simple sticks.
Added to this was a precision in movement by adopting Laban’s efforts. Graeme had introduced me to the work of Rudolph Laban three or four years ago. I had been so taken with it I then found out more so that I could introduce a taste of it to the youth group to it during The Hobbit. What Phil’s course did was help me to take it much further. Starting with the eight energies (press, slash, thrust, flick, float, glide, dab and wring) we moved into duologues (without words) and quickly found that the clearer the movement decisions were, the more alive and vivid the story became.
After building up stories in small groups, we eventually worked as a group of ten. Starting with four random elements (a house, church, mountain range and avalanche) we slowly devised a story to incorporate each then added on an introduction which began with a town clock, playground, house and fountain. The whole piece was achieved solely through clearly defined energies and careful use of sticks. Liberating, unconventional and challenging – wonderful, wonderful stuff. Not to mention the laughter – there seemed to be a 3pm watershed each day when, despite the group’s best efforts to contain it, laughter erupted in the room. The group was extremely open. We were able to work at a level of detail the rehearsal room and show constraints sometimes deprive us of and this was pure luxury! I left the course utterly inspired and immediately incorporated the lessons into my work plans.
In addition to the theme and skills courses, I found myself introduced to a very exciting playwright, Caryl Churchill. I am truly indebted to Richard for selecting Top Girlsas his project 3 script. Valerie (Doyle) and I enjoyed exploring this demanding piece immensely.
Throughout the week we got a glimpse of the other theme/skill groups’ work during the share sessions. It was evident all groups had enjoyed the week just as much. Different ways of directing (with Sue) and a brief look at the power of mask work (with Peta) gave rise to more ideas I could take away with me. I was totally captivated by a share of another Caryl Churchill play and hope it is not too long before I can work on one.
The “special session” (where all participants work on the same piece) was given up to the The Time Warp– just joyous - enough said. There was an additional opportunity to come together as we prepared to honour the “Republic of Clairefontaine” by singing The Free Republic Anthem(music by Graeme du Fresne and translation courtesy of John Brigg). The President’s non-attendance did not thwart John’s determination to mark the event and we all went through the looking glass together as John made his address to the air, with Maltese and Romanian translations. If you had not had a glass wine by then you definitely found yourself welcoming one.
It is quite an achievement to offer and execute such a varied and engaging programme such as LEATSS year in, year out and 2017 was no exception. Thank you to NWTC for supporting my participation through the Richard Chappell award – I enjoyed using all these new-found skills with the youth group, further enhancing them by working with another summer school tutor, Mitch Mitchelson. Thank you too to all those involved in LEATSS 2017: tutors, administrators and participants for helping fire my imagination once again. Unbelievable!
The LEATSS doors will open in 2018 from 21 July – 29 July and this year two new tutors, Simon Nayler and Freddie Machin, will join Graeme du Fresne, Peter Lily and Janice Dunn. See www.leatss.lufor further information or write to John Brigg (firstname.lastname@example.org). See the NWTC website(skills/Richard Chappell) if you would like to apply for support from NWTC to attend.
And just in case you wondered - after LEATSS 2017 what on earth did the tutors get up to?!... up until Christmas 2017…
Phil Clark: Finished directing THE MAN UPSTAIRS by Patrick Hamilton (Gaslight) for Suffolk Summer Theatres. Opened a new exhibition of Solar Etchings in Hereford. Rehearsed GEORGES MARVELLOUS MEDICINE by Roal Dahl which tours to the Middle East and India and directed his own version of DICK WHITTINGTON, Panto for the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham and then SLEEPING BEAUTY for the Pavillion Theatre in Rhyl … and that was only up until Christmas!
Janice Dunn: Finished the second draft of the panto Sleeping Beauty, for Imagine Productions, to be performed in Leamington Spa, with Graeme du Fresne as musical director. Began production meetings for both the Leamington Spa and Leicester performances of Sleeping Beauty. Started a new project a drama school called Skuespilakadamiet (The acting academy) in Copenhagen who train younger actors in the day, and older (over 35) actors in the evenings. Janice hopes that some of the students may be persuaded to come to summer school next year. Janice also started back with her young peoples group at Ungdomsskole (youth school), which is a free offer to any young person between 13 and 18 in the Copenhagen area. They were planning to make a flash mob/ site specific piece for Copenhagen Kulturnat. Lastly, Janice planned to work on a short devised play to be performed this year (2018).
Peter Lily: devised and directed a show for the Fringe Mime & Movement Laboratory in Hong Kong, based on the rise of Coulraphobia (fear of clowns). The Death of Fun and opened on 12th October 2017. Peta continued her popular Clown & Dark Clown workshops in London and had a documentary made about the unique Dark Clown work (you can see the trailer for the film here https://vimeo.com/203841417/28967e6c8c
Graeme du Fresne: was Musical Director for 'The History Boys' for final year students at Italia Conti, directed by Chris White. Musical Director for two Pantomimes, both directed by Janice. He continued as Head Of Singing, Italia Conti B.A Acting course and also at Drama Centre as singing teacher and was thinking about going to Basel to\
… Then there was this year … but you can ask them that yourselves when you return!