From early January it was all steam ahead to start to make our shows for the Gala in March. Over the Christmas break, the team had come together with all of the ideas and material the young people generated and began to piece it all together. There was already some really impressive stuff, so it wasn’t difficult to put it all into a skeleton ‘script’ for us to follow once we got into rehearsals.
With so much great material, one of the biggest challenges was making sure that everyone gets their fair share of stage time and that their ideas are included as much as possible. In the past we spent the first two weeks doing an audition workshop and then auditions for the characters in the shows, however, this year, because everyone created their own characters that we used as a basis for our stories, there was no need… however, that also meant that sometimes the character had to change a bit to make sure it fit in with the story. One thing that is so brilliant about our members is their openness to doing things differently, and that they genuinely care whether everyone is happy. This means that they are really good at making compromises, including each other and being generous with each other. For some this meant playing a different character to the one they had developed, or having their character made into a pair of characters, or suddenly being really mean when once they were nice (or visa versa!).
Although, sometimes, good teamwork, just means that everyone gets involved – even the other tutors (they didn’t stay for the push-ups though!)
Enhancing Creative Skills
After our research and development (aka R&D) in the Autumn we had come up with a solid framework for our stories. This meant that our challenge then became about filling in the gaps: i.e. the scenes, what is said and what actually happens moment to moment. All of our members have had some experience of improvising scenarios, so this part came fairly naturally to many, however what is more of a challenge is to make the scenes have clear structure that feeds into the story. This is much harder!
Our Senior members, worked in a particular way to help solve this. Their show, Trails of the Paragons followed the lives of three young women, the characters having been developed through a group activity called ‘Role on the Wall’.
These three stories were divided roughly into three main scenes each: beginning, middle and end. Because we had co-created the characters and loosely plotted things going on in their lives in the Autumn, we were all able to share the job of devising the actual scenes for the show. Each week, three groups of actors and a director (members decided for themselves who would be the director each time), would take on one section of each character’s story. Using the skeleton script as a guide, they would make their scene roughly, come back with the whole group and share the ‘work-in-progress’. The group would then give their feedback and ideas for things to develop. The different scenes would then be rehearsed again to incorporate the new notes. These groups rotated each week to explore different character stories. This meant that in the end everyone knew all the stories and had contributed to the entire piece.
This made our rehearsals later in the process so much quicker! Once it was established who would play what, we were able to jump in and take up the scenes, finesse, give direction, polish… and add our more ‘theatrical’ unifying narrative in – the Paragons, who are half God, half Human and play a hand in the fates of the human characters on earth.
By the time we got to putting our songs and choreography into the scenes, we all knew really well what was going on and felt really confident in our characters and that their narratives all made sense.
This year’s gala, instead of being in a West End Venue, was at the Sarah Siddons Theatre at City of Westminster college – as lovely as it is to be in a West End theatre, what was brilliant about this year, was that we could have bits of set for our shows and had a tech day to spend plotting the lighting which was such a privildge. Usually in the past we had been working on another company’s set so we had just had to make the best of it withough moving or changing anything – having more production elements made such a difference!
Everyone was nervous, but they needn’t have been – they did a fantastic job! Our audience feedback says it all:
“Really impressive especially because they wrote the script themselves!”
“Fun and interesting for big and small. We wanted more because we loved it.”
“It was very creative and inspirational!”
“This was a very inventive production. The very young children charmed the audience with their creativity.”
“My 1st time enjoyed it very much. I’m coming back again. They all did a great job!!!”
“It was very good as it helps the kids to get confidence as well as keeps them from mischief.”
“What an amazing experience – such fantastic performances – speechless. This work must continue.”
And of course there must be photos! (Many thanks to the brilliant Greg Veit Photography)
The new year for DreamArts Weekend Company brought some BIG changes… We have new staff members; Saturday Acting Tutor, Maeve Ryan, and Youth Support Workers, Teisha Salmon, Zalika Henry, Jessica Martin and Grace Higgins. Kulraj took on a new role as Project Coordinator for weekends. Finally, Weekend Programme Manager, Maddy, while remaining in charge of the overall proramme, will also be taking on the role of Director of the new Seniors Performance Company.
We have also extended the lower age limit for Juniors to 7 yrs and decided to split the Juniors into two groups: 7-9 year olds and 10-12 year olds. This has meant that we are now able to cover new themes, and work at a level that is better suited for the members at any age – we know there’s a big difference between what you like when you are 8 to what you like when you are 12!
We had 3 aims for our work this term. They were:
- Devise a group theme
- Develop Creative Skills
- Greater teamworking skills
Devise a group theme
One of the biggest changes that has happened is that for the first time, we started to work on devising our own original musical shows for our annual Gala performance in March 2016.
This has meant that the members can explore their own ideas, work more closely together to create their own group work and get the most out of the opportunity for skills development. We have found that while the popular musical choices are always very successful, it is often quite limiting in the kind of stories and roles that the members get to play – we believe that giving our members the chance to create their own roles and stories is an ideal progression from the work that they already do.
The groups used lots of different methods to come up with stories. Some used wigs and hats to find interesting characters and then the group did lots of improvisations to come up with situtions the characters might be in. Other times, they discussed a theme – the groups had these as starting stimuli:
Saturday 7-9 yrs – LOVE
Saturday 10-12 yrs – ALIEN/ALIENATION
Sunday 7-9 yrs -URBAN vs JUNGLE
Sunday 10-12 yrs – TIME, THREAD and A MUSIC BOX.
They talked about their experiences and ideas about their themes; some sharing stories of things that had happened to them, or their reactions to the topic and how it made them feel. It was so interesting to hear what everyone thought and often we realised that we have a lot more in common with each other than we ever thought before! This was great, because it meant we were making new friends too – some of our members realised that although they were in the same school, they hadn’t ever met each other before DreamArts and so now they have someone new to hang out with at breaks!
No spoilers allowed here, but we can confirm that by the end of term, all the groups had come up with truly AMAZING stories!
Develop Creative Skills
The focus for the term was very much about everyone being able to come up with ideas, play to their strenghts a bit, but also explore situations and characters that might be a bit of a challenge too… so they needed lots of different skills to what they’ve explored in the past.
Devising is basically a posh work for saying ‘making up your own story’, so the group leartn lots of ways to do this. Improvisation is a very useful skill when devising a story. Many directors and teachers have different ways of approaching this, but for many of our classes it was about being given something to inspire them, like a hat or a wig. For some it was an emotion, like Love or like this one, Friendship…
or sometimes it was just all about playing PARK BENCH!
The Sunday 7-9 yr olds explored environments – particularly the jungle vs the urban… here they are doing some movment improvisation exploring transport!
Greater teamworking skills
A big part of the work for all the groups was working together to create something completely new – this term more than ever, everyone has really had to find a way to share their ideas and learn to listen carefully to others.
In particular, the Senior Performance Company (that’s members aged 13-19yrs) really had some challenges to face, as their piece, much more than the others was based on their lives, their experiences, and their views and opinions about the world at large. The group found it quite difficult at first to say what they really thought about things, because they were a bit worried about sounding silly or maybe saying something ‘too weird’! This became really clear when they started to do impro exercises – something everyone found hard, mainly because it relies so much on not censoring yourself! It can be really scary to get up on stage and just ‘come up with something’… we had to find a way around this and stop it feeling so risky.
We broke it all down and talked about our hopes and fears around improvisation and it became really clear that we were all worried about, but hoped for the same things – even the staff!
For fears, we said things like:
‘I don’t want to run out of things to say or do.’
‘Freezing and not knowing what to say.’
‘Making it boring.’
If I have to get up and then what I do fails completely.
‘Making myself look stupid.’
‘Saying something really weird and everyone thinking I’m nuts.’
‘Being embarrassed – not knowing what to do next.’
‘Not make the right choices.’
‘Not having enough confidence to go along with the storyline.’
‘I don’t want to block someone coming up with an idea at the start.’
For our hopes we said things like:
‘That I can use this technique in my everyday life or when I am in trouble.’
‘Discover parts of my personality that I don’t usually let out.’
‘Discover! Have fun!’
‘Improve my ability to think on the spot.’
‘Have fun with someone else.’
‘Knowing how to use it in real life situations, like at a job interview or when something bad comes up (a problem).’
‘Becoming comfortable around other people.’
‘I want to build on my range of characters and confidence.’
‘Keep my brain fresh.’
‘Becoming more confident with sharing ideas with people.’
‘It would be funny.’
This sharing of our deepest darkest fears about stepping out on stage really helped us to understand not only the things that hold us back personally, but also made us realise that we all have a lot more in common than we thought. It meant that the actors felt a lot more trusting that they could try stuff out and people would support them, even if their idea took a complete nose-dive!
Later on when they started to improvise with the characters from our play and put them in situations from the story to see how they behaved, they found it so much easier to take a risk and give or recieve feedback in a construcitve way. We all shared the process, swaping roles and sections of the story, building on what another person or group had come up with before, even taking on the role of Director – it felt really good to be able to take ownership over all parts of the story, not just the bit that they were directly involved in. This was very different from how we’d worked in the past, where one person would be given a particular part and had to just learn their lines ane remember their blocking!
We definitely learned how to be an ensemble this year!
Argh! Everyone is sick!
It’s half term, and lots of people are suffering from the dreaded Lurgy! Lynieve is unwell, Maddy is unwell, half the members are unwell… what are we to do?!
On Saturday we soldiered on with who we had, but on Sunday – oooof! We were half the amount we should have been so it made it REALLY hard to get work done.
The members however, really came to our rescue by being amazing, responsible and helpful – the Juniors helped Maddy cover the singing class and learned the finale song for the Gala – they even put some moves together – look!
While the singing and acting tutors keep chipping away at those scenes and lyrics, some of the mostly challenging work we do at the weekend happens in dance. Paradigmz, our dance tutor has been with Dreamarts for a long time, so he really knows how to get results – but boy is he tough! He will make you practice again and again until you get it right – there is something to be said for this approach as our bodies have something called ‘muscle memory‘…. they say it takes 10 000 hours of practice to make someone and expert. But we don’t have 10 000 hours, only 2.5 hours spread over 10 or so weeks so that’s why it’s such a challenge!
And the Juniors starting to bring Fat Sam’s Grand Slam to life…
We’ve got really stuck into rehearsals now… everyone has their role, and they are furiously ‘blocking’ the show – blocking is when the director tells the actors where to enter, exit and stand in the scenes. Most directors work in this way – they spend some time at the start of the rehearsal period to block the show from beginning to end, and then once they’ve done that they go back and work on the details of the acting.
Here are the Saturday and Sunday Seniors in the stages of blocking….
For the Sunday Juniors however, this is working a bit differently as they are devising the scenes around songs from Into The Woods, so they get to make up what happens in the scene in terms of the action – they just fit it around a skeleton story frame that makes up the show…
They read the description of the scene and discuss…
Casting is never easy… everyone puts their all in and there are always only so many lead roles to be filled, so it figures that someone is going to be disappointed. It’s easy to understand why too! For some of our members it is the first time that they have been put under the microscope in this way and it is REALLY nerve-wracking! Ask any actor – it is a lifetime of anxiety!
What makes it worth it however, is knowing that you have challenged yourself to do something that is scary – even if it doesn’t come off the way you hoped. We try to cast members in the role, not only that they deserve, but also one that will challenge them in some way. Our idea of what they deserve and what they think they deserve is sometimes not the same, but we do try! We spend a lot of time thinking about what our members have put into, not only the audition, but also the sessions – if you’ve turned up late a lot, or messed about in the sessions and not focused but done an amazing audition, we are not likely to take the risk on you, not because we don’t think you are any good, but because we need members who are totally committed to the show. While we have a lot of fun and learn new skills, what we also do at Dreamarts is provide life lessons for members – and this is a BIG one!
You get out, what you put in.
Any this is another –
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
What?!!!! What does she mean?
Well, I guess what I’m saying is, even if you have one line, if you make the most of it and put the work in, people will remember you! These guys were already on that, as soon as they had been cast…
“ I’d like to do more work on a US accent”
“I’d like to work on my characters physicality”
“I need more physical character stuff”
“I’d like some help with projection
“I need help with how my character moves”
“I need help with basic stage craft”
This is how you get a better role!
We had a great day sharing bits of the work we’ve been doing over the term.
All the member had a chance to warm-up as a whole group and have some fun and then they had some time to practice the things they were showing back.
The Juniors and Seniors hardly ever get a chance to talk to each other, let alone see each other’s work, so it was great to see them giving each other such insightful feedback and supporting each other as they shared work-in-progress.
Here is a taste of what is to come!
Sunday Juniors performing a section of ‘Hello Little Girl’ from Into The Woods (man, I look scared too!)
The Saturday Seniors wowed us with this VERY energetic routine for ‘Make ’em Laugh’ from Singin’ in the Rain!
Meanwhile, the Seniors got up to some rapping for Bring It On…
Looking in great shape for the Gala next term already! Eeep!
Just one more week until the end of term! So that means everyone was working really hard to making their pieces for the sharing next week.
The Saturday Juniors were having a great time rehearsing their scenes from Bugsy Malone…
Claire helps Danait to direct her fellow actors, to perfect their scene
Zack and Adam try not to giggle while playing a meeting of two gang heads, while Rezart looks on…
To be honest, I’m not sure what was going on here, but Tuuji is certainly committee to it what ever it is!! :o)
Ardita, Elena and Maya playing some of Fat Sam’s Speakeasy girls looking on adoringly at Bugsy
Meanwhile, the Sunday Juniors were exploring environments and stage pictures for Into The Woods…
Here they are exploring the woods in an exercise where the animals are hunting the human and yet the animals and the trees can transform from one into the other when touched.
In singing they are still wrestling with dear old Stephen Sondheim…. narration now being added but everyone is so engaged with listening they forgot to sing!!
This week all the groups got down to working sections of choreography, songs and scenes to prepare for our in-house sharing at the end of this term – only 2 weeks away! Where has the time gone? It is really amazing how quickly everyone is picking things up – makes for very exciting weekends for those of us seeing people improve in front of our eyes!
The Acting sessions are going particularly well as our Tutors work with the groups to explore the stories and characters.
Here’s Claire reading through a Bugsy scene with some of the Saturday Juniors…
Then they got up and tried some things out… here’s Jewell and Iman working on a scene between Bugsy and Blousey.
While some of the others worked on scenes with Fat Sam and his Gang members. Here’s Ella, Anissa, Tuuji, Jada and Gana working on theirs…
The Seniors were doing equally well on Saturday, working on scenes from Singin’ In The Rain which require some bold, diva-like characterisations! Here’s Amelia and Ben working with our volunteer Sophie to create a scene…
Our Sunday Groups are also doing brilliantly, with the Juniors working hard to get to grips with the very wordy Steven Sondheim, but they are determined…
Miranda, who is in charge of doing our costumes this year has even already bought a couple of things for Into The Woods!
Meanwhile the Seniors got into some scene work with Alejandro and Anna for Bring It On…
Finally, they got learning some cheerleading style choreography for on of the big songs in the show, It’s All Happening… it’s early days and they’re doing great (they just need to get fitter!!)
Here’s Bacson, Jamaira, Evie, Eduardo and Venesa showing their section back…