Reflections in Latin - Ludus Danielis @ King's College London

I spoke briefly about this project in the fall, but in the swarm of work that has occurred since December, haven't spoken much since. This project, based in a long-term relationship RADA has had with King's College London, is an opportunity for MA Text & Performance students to direct a production populated by MA Latin students at King's. Outside of the play selection, the date, the location, and the necessity not to cut any of the latin text, the directors are given free reign on how to proceed.

Our play was Ludus Danielis - the story of Daniel - the c.1140 Beauvais play, in Medieval Latin and French. The location: the beautiful King's College Chapel inside the Strand Campus. So far, so good. Three of us from the MA T&P volunteered, and agreed to work together to co-direct the piece. This worked remarkably well, as each of us had the chance to jump in on areas where we were most interested or expert, allowing the overall production to have a very lively feel; a major accomplishment with an 800 year old play in a language very few speak or understand.

Our decision was to approach the story as a fairy tale of sorts; The student actors began as their "normal" selves, coming in as if they, too, were going to see the production. From here, we had 2 magical stagehand/ushers and a musician who weaved them into a magical land, wherein they took on the characters of the Beauvais play, and the play began. With limited cast, we opted to use puppets to populate chorus parts such as nobles or satraps, which traditionally would have been performed by larger choruses. This worked extremely well, adding a slight comic element to the piece. Now, adding comedy to a 12th century liturgical drama might seem odd, however our dramaturgical research uncovered evidence that these plays would have been fun and not purely serious; the role of early liturgical dramatic pieces was to engage the parish in the bible stories in a way that would be fun and exciting, particularly given that few would have understood Latin - much like our present-day audience. Another feature we added was music; a leitmotif was created for each character, which played as they began or ended an important speech or moment. This was in reference to the musical nature of these plays (many would have been fully or partially sung) and also to help the audience follow along with the story.

Overall, the production was a success. Our performers had a fabulous time, and reports from audience members was that the production was highly enjoyable. I look forward to this sort of unusual challenge again.

Photos: Ludus Danielis, directed by Kendra Jones, Cristina Cugliandro and Maria Kivinen
Design by Liv Wright


So I have written a bit about this scary playwriting adventure. Under the tutelage of the fabulous Lin Coglin we are learning a character-based approach to writing, and various exercises to help ellicit good (read: Interesting) writing. I have found this process to be rather challenging, but quite rewarding in its evolution. Challenging, because it turns out that I am writing a play that I never would have guessed would come out of me; I'm not much of a one for realism, contemporary family drama, etc. I tend to attach to plays of ideas, of movement. . . not those in which the central character is an 80 year old man. But, then there was Frank. Our starting point for the process was to select an image that interested us, and get to know the character in this image. I selected a rather silly photo of a man and woman, in bed with sunglasses on, and met Frank. And I became rather attached.

I'm really wrestling with my inner-critic monkey, which keeps jumping up and down reminding me I am not a playwright. That little monkey did a number this week when I tried to write a scene outside those Lin had assigned us. But this week I'll be having a word with the monkey, and making some progress. Because although I might not be a playwright, Frank is there, and wants his story to be discovered. I guess I'll have to help!

Dared to Try

I've mentioned in an earlier blog that despite my misgivings, I am doing one of my sections of this term in Playwriting. This is at once exhilirating and terrifying. Today was our first class, and I will admit feeling sheepish, as the only one in the course who doesn't even slightly see herself as a writer. I can devise (sort of), and I can offer insight, but outside the sphere of choreography, I don't think I can write. The class progressed nicely, easing me into the idea. Our tutor, playwright Lin Coglan, let us know that her goal is to give us the tools of creation; the backbone of technique to help when the creative forces are slow to come, fizzle out, or seem to disappear.

We began with an exercise to look at starting with a character; simple ways in that could help us with a starting point, from which we can get into large picture narratives. Overall I found the process really interesting. It is funny the odd and seemingly incoherent thoughts that come to mind, and then suddenly they pull together as you might never have expected. I am looking very forward to the next class!

I also failed to chat about Scene Study last night, which spent time looking at Artaud, then re-visiting ideas of violence and suffering on stage. I need to do a re-read of Artaud's Theatre and its Double, as our task for the term will be to create a manifesto for the theatre (you big deal, right??). Oh goodness.

New Perspectives

Voice and Movement Fridays. Voice was lovely...we did quite a lot of resonance work. I found Adrienne's take on some of the resonance exercises to be extremely helpful; moving on from the ha-humm-ah I had done with Gail, Adrienne uses the relaxed buzzing lips, turned into a hum, turned into the ah. This really pulls the voice forward. I also took a lot from her exercises showing us the capacity for resonance in your mouth, moving a humm from being far back (tight back teeth) to far forward (much space - ideal). We also used a bit of text toward the end of the lesson..I used Imogen from Cymbeline, which I have done for some time. I found that doing this resonance work leading into it really slowed me down and forced me to taste the words, really relishing in each. On a speech where I have been known to rush (excited, energetic....thoughts come too quickly!) I was able to maintain the level of excite, but really slow down and enjoy the words.

Movement was fun. We learned the diagonal LABAN scale and its associated movement qualities: float/thrust, dab/wring, etc. We also continued to work on the Saltieri, adding in the containment of renaissance dance and reverence to begin and end with a partner. Darren informed us of a lecture he is leading in January at the National Gallery as accompaniment to the DaVinci exhibit. I can't wait to attend!

Yes. No.

Thursday was our final Acting Space with the brilliant Brian Stirner. We continued to work on the Chekov scenes, slowly moving into the text as written, although as Brian said, a lot faster than he usually likes to work. Slowly, putting the "real" words in, but trying to keep the spark and energy of the improvised versions of the scenes. What I found really interesting was that Brian's first direction to me was to keep myself separated from Ferapont, which in rehearsal resulted in a sad, depressing Andrij. Upon seeing the scene Thursday he recommended that we try the scene as a "release" - both Andrij and Ferapont need to talk to someone, and are grateful for the chance to talk, knowing they are not equals. Of course, this was opposite to what he had directed previously, so at first we were confused. After trying it we quickly realized that the effect of this was to have the deep sadness droning underneath while the happy, facade was smoothing over top...just like the Matisse sketch.

Watching each group do their scene really reminded me of how much more watchable this was. It was a way to have "something going on" just based on the words, the emotion in the text...and then smooth it out with the intention in the scene.

We did some great exercises too...shaking out limbs and eventually our whole body in a loose dance...just letting whatever comes up happen. I really want to keep using the focus exercise, working your way up from feet to face, really looking at each thing with curiosity. It reminds you that at its heart, acting is PLAYING like a child, with insatiable curiosity. Without curiosity actors are boring. As well, we did some Meisner style exercises in pairs with simple text such as Yes/No, Yes You Will/No I won't, and then back to back Listen To Me/Get Off My Back.

MAN will I miss this class. We are hoping to organize a couple workshops once Brian is back from Brazil. I hope we can make this happen.

Let Stuff Happen

I look very forward to our acting space class each week; the space Brian and our class have created is one that is comfortable, relaxed, a place to try new things..where it is ok to fail. This week we began to look at Chekov, specifically being assigned scenes from The Three Sisters to work on with a partner or trio. Because I feel so comfortable in this class, I opted to look at Andrij. On my most recent read of this play he really stood out to me as the most interesting character, and I look forward to the chance to explore him, a character I wouldn't regularly get to play.

We spent most of the time working on an improvisation of the ideas of the scene, putting it into our own words. Unlike when we did this with the Shakespeare scene, which was very much outward, the Chekov text is very inward, and as much about what isn't being shown as what is being shown. Our scene is with Andrij and Ferapont, where Andrij is confessing his misgivings to himself, with Ferapont there as an unhearing sounding board. What we really found with our first couple improvisations is just how much the two of them aren't talking at all - it is two monologues on stage at the same time. For Andrij, jumping through the thoughts inwardly is the key. We then watched each group's improvisation - Brian's main focus was to ensure we weren't "Acting", not letting business get in the way of understanding the thoughts and emotional centre of these characters. It was remarkable what occurs when we do this; when we really think as the character and as he said..stuff begins to happen between these two people.

We are going to continue work on these off-book at the next class.