Action as well as words

14th June 1996 at 01:00
Theatre workshops come in many guises. They may be called Theatredays, or From Page to Stage - sessions that open up the process of putting a play into performance. But workshops can go further, illuminating scripts from unusual perspectives, the working methods of individual directors or complex ideas.

"Viewing the Play" is the angle for Fiona Lesley and Geoffrey Church, working mainly with A-level students on English Touring Theatre's The School for Scandal. Portrait postcards are incorporated into a three-hour session on the appearance-obsessed world of the play. Students are encouraged to act out their own self-images, then the idea of characteristic speech is added, with practice at the frankness of asides. Scandal characters are considered through their asides, Joseph Surface's revealing his interest in women, plotting and his self-advancement, Lady Teazle trying to fit into the fashionable world.

The workshop looks too at sentiments (easily understood when thought of as proverbs) and how these reveal character.

In the second part students use period portrait cards, building a set of circumstances for the character their card portrays. They are encouraged to write both a private fear and a generalised sentiment based on this fear.

In a different approach, Max Stafford-Clark takes sixth-formers through the rehearsal processes most recently seen in his Three Sisters for Out of Joint Theatre. From status work involving ten power levels selected at random from a pack of cards, Stafford-Clark moved to using the ten levels to express degrees of importance in an argument. Two characters have different wishes, which each argues for with the level of intensity suggested by the card they have selected.

The aim is to be specific, and it is continued in Stafford-Clark's close work on the Chekhov text; just two pages in the best part of an hour. His method of "actioning" a text involves breaking every speech into small units and deciding the character's intentions for each.

Nic Brownlie of Workshops for Schools uses arguing neighbours as the starting point for exploring the actor-demonstrator as expressed in Brecht's Street Scene. Using improvisations, he examines the differences between the involved, sequential Stanislavsky approach to character, and montage, the separate images by which Brecht encouraged actors to suggest to the audience the various possible responses their characters might have made to situations. Best of all is Brownlie's big breakfast scene. The meal is mimed (this is no good - it focuses on the actor's skill), played in Stanislavsky's realism (this is too uncritical) then props and set are stripped to essentials for storytelling in a way that criticises the character, exaggerating behaviour to reveal his social role.

English Touring Theatre Education 01270 501800; Out of Joint 0l71 . Nic Brownlie, Workshops for schools: 01582 842887

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