danieldwilliam: (machievelli)
Day #4: Your favourite heroine

We are but warriors for the working day - and so have missed the weekend and a few days whilst I've been working.

My favourite heroine are a double act - Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. They determine that they are not to be triffled with and set about Falstaff with vigour and humour creating almost all the action of the play. The play is about their decision to remain faithful to their husbands, their action to ward off a pernicous suitor and their responsibilty for the relationships with their husbands that they chose to have.
danieldwilliam: (machievelli)
Brutus. He's one of my favourite historical heroes - the noblest Roman of them all - trying to do the right thing uncynically in a cynical time and place - and failling because of the manner of this nobility. Unlike the snakeoil salesman that is Mark Antony or the scheming propagandist Octavian, Brutus fails to recover the Roman Republic because the tries to explain honestly, but not smoothly, his motives and because he treats Mark Antony with honour and as a citizen of the new Republic he hopes to secure.
danieldwilliam: (machievelli)
My favourite Shakespeare character depends a bit on what we mean by favourite. I enjoy Falstaff. I think Beatrice from Much Ado is the character I'd most like to know. Mark Antony is the historical character I think Shakespeare gets most right. Richard the Third is the character I think he most skillfully misrepresents.

I'll go for Beatrice. She's funny and charming and wise and loves her friends and her family and is so, so angry at the way her life is ordered. By my troth, a pleasant-sprited lady.

I promise I have seen, read and been in more than one Shakespeare play.
danieldwilliam: (machievelli)
In order to properly celebrate the greatest ever playwright I'll be solemly taking part in a 30 Day Meme - a post a day as follows.

The 30 days:
Day #1: Your favourite play
Day #2: Your favourite character
Day #3: Your favourite hero
Day #4: Your favourite heroine
Day #5: Your favourite villain
Day #6: Your favourite villainess
Day #7: Your favourite clown
Day #8: Your favourite comedy
Day #9: Your favourite tragedy
Day #10: Your favourite history
Day #11: Your least favourite play
Day #12: Your favourite scene
Day #13: Your favourite romantic scene
Day #14: Your favourite fight scene
Day #15: The first play you read
Day #16: Your first play you saw
Day #17: Your favourite speech
Day #18: Your favourite dialogue
Day #19: Your favourite movie version of a play
Day #20: Your favourite movie adaptation of a play
Day #21: An overrated play
Day #22: An underrated play
Day #23: A role you've never played but would love to play
Day #24: An actor or actress you would love to see in a particular role
Day #25: Sooner or later, everyone has to choose: Hal or Falstaff?
Day #26: Your favourite couple
Day #27: Your favourite couplet
Day #28: Your favourite joke
Day #29: Your favourite sonnet
Day #30: Your favourite single line
danieldwilliam: (machievelli)
My favourite Shakespeare play is Much Ado About Nothing (or Noting or Love's Labour Won).

It was the first Shakespeare play I was in. I played Leonato, governor of Messina and father of Hero, the wronged herione of the play. The production was staged in a courtyard garden at Aberdeen University. In early summer. I was 20. Given a run up I can probably still perform the opening scene.

A memorable event in the production was the actor playing the Friar forgetting a line. These things happen - but as the line he forgot was his speech at the aborted wedding of Claudio and Hero halfway through the play where he recaps the plot of the first half and lays out the plot of the second half it was quite some line to forget. I launched in to perhaps the greatest piece of improvised dialogue I have produced starting with "What I think the Father is saying to us is..." and summarised the Friar's speech and my own interuptions to is.

Straightaway after to the University library to borrow the largest bible we could lay our hands on and stick a copy of the text to the middle page.

A few years before Kenneth Branagh had released his film version. I love the sunshine of it. And Emma Thomson.

I like the play because I was in it and I have a fondness for things that I've done. It's funny. I also like it because it is a funny but quite serious critique of double standards of sexual morality set on a sunny day in Italy.
danieldwilliam: (machievelli)
I have auditioned for a role in a one-act play.

The play is the Rose and Crown, a JB Priestley short set in post-war 1940's London (although any large British city would do). It's set in a pub, where a bunch of depressed post-war Britons gather for a drink and to complain about their lot in life. Like other JB Priestley plays there is a touch of magical realism and metaphysics.

The play is probably the first bespoke piece of drama writen for British television. This rather shows in the structure of the play. Each of the seven or eight characters enters one after another, the play is set around a bar and you can just see the single, static, heavy camera being used as Point of View of the barman as he slilently serves the speaking characters their beer.

I think the play is going to be difficult to pull off. It's a play about depressing people being depressed in each other's company and then suffering a reverse. It's also naturally quite static. Largely people sitting round a bar. So to work the banter between the characters needs to be funny, both to amuse and to build sympathy for and empathy with the characters.Otherwise it's a brown play about brown people.

The play will appear in the Scottish Community Drama Association One Act Play Festival and Competition in February. If I'm appearing in it I shall let people know.
danieldwilliam: (machievelli)
Read more... )
danieldwilliam: (machievelli)
This weekend I am away. That will make my second weekend away in a row. I’ll be away the weekend after too.

I am up to Dundee to take part in a weekend acting workshop co-run by the RSC and the Dundee Rep. This is part of the multi-year RSC outreach programme to amatuer theatre. They have been providing various skills programmes to amatuer groups over the last three years in a programme triggered by the Olympics (does anyone remember when it was a poetry competition) and the 500 anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

I’ve been at both the previous events and found them hugely worthwhile but I’ve been working on the production and design streams. These have helped my thinking about direction but not done anything for my acting. This weekend is all about acting.

The scheme of arrangement is thus. Each group has to nominate one production of a Shakespeare play they are going to do. They director of that goes on the Acting Programme (held last September). Then 10 members of that group (ideally the cast of the play) go on the same Acting Programme (this weekend) whilst the Director goes on an advanced directing programme. The idea is that actors and the director should end up with a common process and language for talking about and rehearsing an piece.

So, I’m spending the weekend in Dundee hanging out with actors.
danieldwilliam: (acting)
I am producing a play. 

Each year my theatre group, the Edinburgh Grads Theatre Group, decide what productions we are putting up.  Directors pitch their ideas for one of four slots. Spring, Autumn and two in the Fringe.  In 2014 I’ve blagged an extra slot for something a little different.  I’m doing a play.

More accurately, I am a producing a  devised, semi-improvised “soap opera” performance on Twitter following several dozen characters over the build up to the outbreak of the First World War from the 1st June 1914 until the first week in August.

Actors will take on the characters of 1914 Twitter users, engaging with each other and with members of the public. Interactions will be improvised, in character, based on characters developed in rehearsal workshops and timelines of key historic, local and character events.

The piece aims to explore the popular experience of the outbreak of the First World War and the other important national and personal events that people were interested in over the summer of 1914, whether social media technology like Twitter would prevent or facilitate another mass war and to contrast the perception of current events with the eventual outcomes.

The piece also aims to explore whether social media forms are suitable venues for drama.

I’m not sure anyone has done anything like this before. Certainly, I’ve never done anything like this before. The RSC did a twitter version of Romeo and Juliet. I’ve seen various attempts to take on to twitter historical or fictional characters but nothing where the entire performance was on Twitter and designed to be mainly experienced through Twitter.  Frankly, I’ll be making this up as I go along. Hopefully, making it up about one week ahead of the performers. The first workshop / taster session is scheduled for Wednesday 6th November.

The general plan is to develop some characters in a series of workshops. The characters should be interesting people and have interests that make them willing and able to comment on contemporary i.e. 1914 events. Characters would then be cross-referenced with a time line of historic events. Not just big, war related events. Specifically not in fact.  What I want to tease out is that for most people in the early summer of 1914 war was an unlikely occurrence and distraction from domestic politics and their own lives. There was a lot going on in the UK in 1914. Irish Home Rule, women’s suffrage and industrial unrest. As a fabulous example in Edinburgh in June the portrait of George V was attacked by a leading suffragist and in June and July she was tried and convicted and then released under the Cat and Mouse Act.    It’s almost as if we needed a war to keep people busy and distracted.  I intend to layer on some continuing drama – the soap opera part. This should give the characters some life of their own, a reason to get out of bed and tweet about something and something for the audience to watch and respond to beyond being a mouthpiece for some history. The combination of the historical and political events and the character events should lead to the creation of a character grid – with topics to tweet about organised by day.

I am excited and terrified in equal measure.

If you are interested in taking part I’d be delighted to have you involved.

Hashtag #tw14t
danieldwilliam: (acting)
I am in a play. Specifically, I have a small role in the Edinburgh Grads production of Julius Caesar. I am to play Varro, an amalgamation of several small subsidiary roles, a citizen, a soldier and cobbler. Varro is one of several amalgamated roles used to show the reaction and actions of the Roman public to the personal and political drama happening before them. He’s a bit of a wide boy – a poor man’s Eric Morecambe playing Jimmy Dean in his own head.

I have some twenty lines, not many at all. However, I am first on the stage and last off it and, as you would expect from a character whose main purpose is to react to things I’m on stage a lot. Lots of my lines are general harrumphing at speeches. I’m actually finding it harder work learning the lines than if I had large blocks of speech or conversations. There’s nothing to hang them on

Rehearsals are going well. There are nice bits in the play and the quality of the acting is pretty good for an amateur production.  The cast are a lovely mix of good humour without being silly. Scenes gets rehearsed, people pay attention, remember the blocking, throw in some constructive suggestions, have a bit of laugh.

I’ve not seen any costumes but preliminary sketches indicate a sort of Victoriana / steampunk vibe and I get to grow my hair a bit. This is quite cool. I don’t love steampunk as a genre but the clothes are quite cool. I wonder if I can get some googles to go with my switchblade.

I’m also getting a chance to do a little bit of improvisation in rehearsals, which is nice. On a few occasions my improv experience has really helped me to work out what happens next. I think the improvisation in my favourite scene will turn out to be very effective.

I’m enjoying watching the directing process and I’m learning stuff about directing as we go. I would quite like to have a go at directing something in the next few years. I’ve been on a few RSC / NTS workshops on production design and these are helping me think about directing.

It’s been nearly 20 years since I was last on stage with a script. It’s nice to

The show runs in the last week of November in Adam House opposite the Royal Museum in Edinburgh.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

Ever since I first met Fiona Watt I’ve been thinking about Directing. This was going to be a post outlining my theory of directing (1). My initial theory of directing which I would use as a provisional template to accept, reject or modify as I gained some practical experience.  Then the improviser in me kicked in.   I remembered how the five folk I was working with during Fiona’s session at the Residency weekend created Birnam Wood and understood the symbolism of the words and our interpretation of the words.  I’m an improviser.  We don’t Direct. We co-create. (2)

So, this is not a post about how I might Direct my first play. It’s a post about how I might help actors and technical crew access our play, hold a common vision of the play between them and share that common vision with an audience.

Read more... )
danieldwilliam: (Default)

One of the unexpected things that happened to me whilst I was at the National Theatre of Scotland’s Open Stages Residency was that I had an insight into the mind of an Classical Age infantry soldier and into the leadership of Hannibal Barca of Elephant fame.

As part of a group improvision leading to a a performance of the Prologue from Romeo and Juliet we were doing some movement exercises.  At one point we were placed in groups of three, in a triangle formation, and asked to move around the space avoiding other groups, staying in formation and changing direction. Each time we changed direction the person at the point of the triangle facing forward became the leader. We were encouraged to try and create a link with the leader pro tem so that we could anticipate their movement and try to move as one group. Then we tried the same exercise with a group of six. 

Six is an obvious triangle. As we were forming up I had my first insight into how it would be to be a Classical infantry soldier.  I was standing in the second row on the right and I felt anxious. It is almost Understanding Classical Military Tactics 101 that you would expect a formation to creep to the left and that the mentally strongest infantry are placed on the right of the formation.  Why? On the extreme right you are exposed. You hold your spear in your right hand and your shield in your left. Your shield covers the left half of your body and the right half of the man to your left. If you are on the extreme right of the formation your right hand side is exposed. You try and creep to the left to get more of yourself behind your own shield. This nudges the man to your left to the left and so on down the line until your whole formation is moving crabwise.

So, standing in the formation I could see this clearly but there was something else going on too.

I didn’t feel we were standing close enough to each other. Not for physical protection but for the co-ordination of movement.  I wanted to be sholder to sholder with the other person in the second rank and have the rank behind me right up against my back so that I could feel them move and they could feel me move so we all moved together. That was the aim of the exercise, for us all to move together. I was worried that I would look at the right ear of the leader, see it move, step forward and the people behind me would not see or feel me go and we’d create a gap.  Stepping closer to the rest of the group I think would have just caused them to shuffle along a bit and maintain the gap.

There is a link here to the group exercise where a team of people holding a cane on their outstretched index fingers have to put the cane on the floor.

You can stop or slow this formation creep with rigid discipline. Everyone concentrates on not moving left. Everyone concentrates on staying still relative to a fixed, clearly indentifable leader.

So I learned a bit about what it is like to be in a group of people trying to move in formation with each other and the psychological need to be close to the others to feel safe and to feel that you are in contact with them so you can co-ordinate your movements.

When we started moving in sixes I noticed that it’s harder to spot the new leader as you angle the formations. A quarter turn will open up some ambiguity. Am I at the front? Should I be or am I just here because the formation was a bit loose?  Who’s leading us now?

To solve this people need to be both happy to lead and happy to be lead and happy to sit in a dynamic place switching between the two. The same for being an individual and part of a mass. This takes practise, it takes focus. You need to know how to do it so you can look up and see what’s going on around you and then respond.

There are parallels with improv here. Being and not being the leader. Switching from one to the other. Focus and internalising the skills so you can concentrate on what is going on beyond your own small group.

I know what Hannibal did that made him such an effective general. He  created armies with very flexible formations. This allowed him huge tactical flexibility. He could perform manoeuvres that Classical doctrine said would be impossible because the mass formations of the phalanx or the legion would break up. He also had good use of combined arms, different types of soldiers working with each other. From these two factors, flexibility and combination he was able to win a series of  very heavy victories over the Romans.

I now see how he created that army.  From very small groups of self-leading troops he built larger formations that could break apart and reform very quickly.  Each small group had confidence in its leaders and knew that it could find its own way to where it was needed because it knew how to stay in touch with itself and could concentrate on problem solving.

For think I think he would have needed to drill his soldiers in small groups. Smaller than he would ever deploy on the battlefield. Again, and again, get from here to there in a small group, through obstacles, mainly made up of other soldiers going somewhere else. Practise it again and again, this time not leaving anyone behind.  Stay within arms-reach of each other – or break up and form another group and follow the rest. He would have had to drill them in the practise of handing leadership from one equal to the next. He would have had to give them the confidence that he would always explain to them what he wanted, the effect not the position, so they could trust that they all would know what the sought after outcome was without having to be told.

His leadership was distributed around his army, and then lent and borrowed amongst his soldiers according to their need in the moment.

So, trust, handing over leadership amongst equals, everyone knowing the desired outcome, knowing the basics really well so you don’t have to think about them, fluidity about method.

Hannibal was an improviser.  You can tell. He rehearsed a lot.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

The exhortation at the end of the Open Stages Open Space event on Sunday afternoon was to go and make better theatre, go and make the best theatre you can.

I liked it. It was trusting us to do good things; to do more good things.  It placed on us a responsibility; to do better. It gave us an aspiration; to do the best we can. Yet it recognised the limitations that non-professional companies have and the difference between professional and amateur theatre. An encouragement, gentle but motivating.

And it set me thinking about what is meant by Better Theatre.

A long post - on what we mean by Better Theatre. )

There are many ways of making Better Theatre. I think the important thing about the question what do we mean when we say Better Theatre is not that there is a right answer or a wrong answer.  It's that we are sure about what we mean when we say better and that we explore what we mean and why we think it is better. We also need to leave room for everyone else to be right too.
danieldwilliam: (Default)

I have been taking part in the Open Stages workshops. Open Stages is a Royal Shakespeare Company initiative to connect professional theatre to amateur theatre. 

There is some detailed chat about what I did. Implications will be separate posts and at some point you'll see some of this on stage. )

Then it was time to go home to Edinburgh, to MLW and the Captain who kindly allowed me to play  with him until bath time.

 All through the weekend the folk leading the workshops and the folk running the structure were superbly generous of their time.

 This weekend has been a fabulous opportunity to learn more about theatre, about making theatre and about my experience of theatre.

 It’s also been a great opportunity to be part of the National Theatre of Scotland. I feel proud and joyous about my participation.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

Cut for length - it's the socially responsible thing to do. )


danieldwilliam: (Default)

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