The Devising Process

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Structured Record – Section 1: ‘How did your role emerge and how was it communicated?’

Upon casting for our piece, I made the decision that I should play a character set in the Tudor period as apposed to a modern day character. This decision was made as I felt it would be a challenge. I also made the conscious decision that I would focus on the research behind a character, aiming to create sensitivity and realism to the role.

I was cast as ‘Isobelle’ – a 14 year old Elizabethan child, living with her widowed Father who abused her and in receipt of this, sleeps and begs on the streets. The group felt that ‘Isobelle’ should be played with innocence, desperateness, sentiment and grit, and therefore I, as the youngest looking actor, with ability to present sorrow and fear, would play ‘Isobelle’. 

As a play with many characters, it was necessary for the group to multi-role. Although this resulted in an inability to dedicate solely to one character, multi-role allowed us to take on and develop several different characters. Other characters I was cast as were ‘script reader’ in the Elizabethan Theatre, a maid to ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and a young child in the modern classroom.

The role as ‘script reader’ emerged as the group felt another character should accompany ‘Burbage’s’ rehearsal as he disrupts ‘Shakespeare’. The character; in her 30’s, a budding writer, stubborn and determined, allowed Dan and myself to create a relationship where both fought for power, bickering over the script and creating humour as ‘Burbage’ got his lines wrong. I was cast as ‘script reader’ as, being the smallest actor and ‘Burbage’ being the tallest, comedy was created in the idea of a character so small controlling and overpowering a towering character. Staging the ‘script reader’ downstage aided this as it would allow having to talk over my shoulder to ‘Burbage’ to appear as if I had control. As ‘Burbage’ continuously ignored ‘Shakespeare’s’ script I would enter his space, stubborn and powerfully, to correct him. The role was also in stark contrast to the role of ‘Isobelle’ and it was therefore suggested that I play two characters of complete difference.

As for the other character of a classroom child and ‘Queen Elizabeth’s’ waiting lady, they were created to present a sense of busyness and fullness to the scene.  

The role of ‘Isobelle’ called for elements of fear, desperateness and anger and this was communicated in my soliloquy in the ‘Prison Conditions’ scene. Sat huddled on the floor; suggesting helplessness, peering timidly behind a scarf and gesturing wide feeble eyes, trembling lips and desperate facial expressions, emphasized the characters’ fear and pain. The opening of the soliloquy was written in short, soft sentences: ‘He said I deserved it. I’d learn my lesson…’ to capture the audience and make them want to listen. With the line: ‘It’s just you and me now’, I lifted my head from its hunched, fearful position and focused out, emphasizing its vulgarity and showing the fear on my face.

As the characters’ anger and fear built, I climaxed the dynamics of her speech to a shout and created tension and climax with the assonance of strict, harsh sounding words: ‘tiny, groggy house, water running through the ceiling and the stench of waste seeping through the window’. I also used the rhythm of the line: ‘…hit and scream and shout and spit…’ to build the tension in her voice, listing with fury and apprehension.

The role of ‘Isobelle’ also called for elements of desperation and boldness, which I would communicate in the ‘Beggars’ scene. Using hyperbolic, forceful, begging dialogue in pestering the ‘crowds people’ for money and food, allowed the idea of striving to be portrayed. I would attempt to persuade the ‘apple sellers’, whilst invading their space, that they: ‘wouldn’t miss a single apple’ and despite being rejected, dismissed and forced away, I would be determined to continue begging.

To also portray an idea of lack of power and status, I would use my body to lower my height and beg from beneath, jumping up in desperation. This use of level was effective in showing the other characters to have power and ‘Isobelle’ to have none.

Structured Record – Section 2: ‘In what ways were the stimulus material developed through the drama process?’

Our stimulus material for creating this piece was to devise drama suitable for Key Stage Two children based on the life of the Tudor period. Meeting our audience, we brainstormed their current knowledge of the Tudor period, any topics they were particularly intrigued or bored with and issues they were interested in learning about.

The group discussed the outcome and it seemed that our young audience were keen for us to present gory and humorous drama, as well as requesting to see a different side of Tudor England; points they hadn’t learnt about in class. The children talked openly about the comparisons of our modern day to that of Tudor period and this proved useful in helping us compare the periods as children would. Researching the comparative sides of the two lifestyles, we used the book ‘Tudor England’ by John Guy for authentic ideas of clothes, food, education and entertainment, which helped develop the idea of modern children, time travelling to Tudor period.

With this idea in mind, we began improvising around the characters of ‘Sam’ and ‘Debbie’ going back in time. Using Keith Johnstone’s idea that: ‘We go to the theatre, and at all points where we would say ‘no’ in life, we want the actors to yield and say ‘yes’ (Impro) and the idea of making, accepting and blocking ‘offers’. This idea would prevent the two actors from clinging to their own planned direction of the scene and in helping create originality, generating ideas, creating scenes and characters and exploring new situations.

Following this, we improvised around creating new situations in a group to help with control of scenes. With each actor in turn starting a public situation scene with a clear ‘offer’, the rest of the group, as soon as having realised the situation of the scene, would join, adapting themselves to the new ideas.

With the characters of ‘Sam’ and ‘Debbie’ developing a relationship and establishing qualities of conflict and humour, the group hot-seated the actors, who would respond as if the character, to help in trusting the actors instincts and subconscious and in developing background for the character.

Now with starting points, ideas and characters developing, the group worked together in creating a rough outline of ideas and scenes. Then, in smaller groups, we discussed the following questions:

· Where would it go as a plot? What is the super-objective?

· What are the characters purpose at each point?

· What are we trying to put across to the audience?  

This helped us to use a motive to work towards building the plot. Being in smaller groups allowed focused points to be made and feeding back to one another in a whole group allowed everyone’s comments and ideas to be acknowledged.

In developing the idea of humour from our stimulus, the group commented and feedback ideas on the fight scene between ‘Burbage’ and ‘Sam’. The idea of the fight emerged to allow the audience to connect and communicate with the modern character ‘Sam’, as if being the mediator between periods and audience connection. With direction and suggestions of dialogue and a climax from their fellow actors, the humour and fight stimulus was developed into containing a huge deal of modern references. These modern references allowed the audience to further connect with the ideas and characters of the piece, with references of ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, and ‘James Bond’.

Structured Record – Section 3: ‘How did group skills contribute to the development of the piece’?

The ten of us, as a group, were close, comfortable and mature around each other, so much so that it was very smooth and easy to work together. This comfortability presented energy, inhibition and an ability to be discussive and responsive to the development of the piece.

It became apparent early on, that despite having the same aims and objectives, each actor would deliver their own skills to the group. This proved helpful as it allowed a concoction of ideas and strengths.

Victor; owning a quirky, charming and upbeat persona, proved a natural source for ideas of humour, suggesting comic lines, eccentric characters and witty physical comedy. As a group, we supported this and appreciated Victor’s contribution as one of our key ideas was to include humour. Group comments in the early improvisation stages and discussions regarding which humorous ideas to reject and which to use helped enormously in the pieces’ early stages as it allowed the group to contribute to Victors ideas, picking suitable material the entire group were happy with.

The group also found it imperative to issue feedback to one another, presenting different views and opinions with improvements, suggestions and good points. In ‘The Fight’ between ‘Sam’ and ‘Burbage’, the group watched and suggested that dialogue be added to the action and that a climax should take place. Feeling that this seemed a good idea, the actors tried this and it proved helpful in building pace, character growth and humour to the development of the scene. In the ‘Prison Condition’ soliloquy, the group offered me comments regarding the suitability and content of my speech. Despite its elements of pity and sensitivity, many felt that ideas of incest and sexual nature would not be suitable for young children and I therefore edited my speech. These comments proved helpful in keeping the piece ethical and inoffensive.

Being honest and responsive to the group helped not only in issuing feedback to one another but also in ensemble work where trust, focus and teamwork were required. In scenes such as crowd scenes, the group had to listen to each other in building a sound collage and a busy atmosphere. Peripheral vision and eye contact was also required for the smooth running of such a scene.

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Furthering this, the group worked in shifting the focus to the ‘pickpocket’ in a crowd scene by contrasting our pace and energy to the ‘pickpockets’ and responding to her staging by balancing our action upstage.

Time management appeared to be a skill the group lacked but Daisy, with authority, conviction and sensibility prompted the group into meeting deadlines, using time effectively and in being focused. This skill was effective in keeping the group managed and in ensuring the development of the piece was on track.

Encouragement from certain group members such as Sam and Naomi also proved beneficial ...

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