Saturday, 4 January 2014

Unit 1 Part D - form and communicate a view on issues of concern that effect your art form

Do actors need to be clever?

The assumption that professional actors are not clever is a very common one. Perhaps this has come about because the profession requires grown adults to play all day. While other adults are earning their livings in smart clothes, sitting at desks, making executive decisions, or generally behaving like responsible grown ups, professional actors are pretending to be someone else, not to mention getting stuck in to the dressing up box. I have never understood how what someone chooses as a career marks a measure of their intellect and I certainly do not think that any professional in the performing arts business is stupid. Actors and performers may not need to be academically smart but I think that we have to be smart in many other ways.

People may consider actors to be stupid because performing is not an academic subject. Despite this actors need to be able to interpret roles, research their character and need to create emotions that they have not necessarily experienced. It may be true that the more experience an actor has in life the better their performance but just because a young actor has not experienced a particular emotion yet does not mean that they cannot project themselves and try to imagine what it would be like to be in that situation.

Maxine Peake was interviewed about her part as a mother who's older son goes to fight in the First World War and is eventually court marshalled and killed as a deserter in BBC's 2013 production of The Village. The interviewer asked her if she was confident of being able to play the part of a mother suffering this kind of loss to which she simply replied “It's acting!” Miss Peake is completely right. A good actor should be able to understand and empathise with her character.

Many acting parts require the actor to do a great deal of research. Historical parts may require an understanding of life in a different time, geographically or ethnically different settings may require a feel for a different culture and an understanding of its rituals, customs, habits and beliefs and a completely objective understanding by the actor without any criticism or rejection. A lot of actors spend months reading and researching their character's occupation, for example, or their domestic situation.

Actors need to observe people. I like to watch people as I travel on the train to college especially as they are unaware that they are being observed. I can learn a lot about emotions by watching them talking on the phone or chatting to friends sitting next to them. People watching is a great way to learn how to perform, how to be in a certain situation. I watch the different ways people laugh, how they shrug their shoulders.

As well as watching people I enjoy studying human psychology which I believe is useful for an acting career. It gives me some insight into people's behaviour, reactions, differences and attitudes towards themselves and other people.

Having an understanding of human nature is very important but that is not to say that many well known and successful actors are not academic. On the contrary, many studied and met at university. Cambridge Footlights dramatics society at Cambridge University has been a wonderful breeding ground for many household names. The society was founded and is run by the students and includes people such as Stephen Fry who studied English Literature and Hugh Laurie who studied Archaeology and Anthropology. The list of alumni is filled with well known names. Most of the Monty Python team and all of The Goodies met through the Footlights. Emma Thompson, Trevor Nunn (director of the National Theatre), Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis who are still a double act. These people started their drama careers at one of the best universities in the world, forming lasting friendships with people who often became life-long work mates. These people were academically gifted and became successful people in the performing arts world.

Do actors need to be clever? I believe they do. Acting is not simply a matter of learning lines and dressing up. Actors need to be observant, understanding, empathetic, critical, have analytical brains and the ability to put themselves in the situation of their character and make it their own for a while by using all these processes. They need to project themselves into a character who more often than not is completely different from their own personality and may even be a despicable person altogether. Acting is not an easy job. It can be heart wrenching and emotionally draining, take hours of research, a life time of observing, and a lot of hard work but it could quite possibly be one of the most rewarding careers in the world.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Unit 1 part A - arts practice

Bertolt Brecht's use of masks in theatre

Brecht (1898-1956) was one of the most influential twentieth century playwrights. Brecht's approach to theatre was unusual for its time. He believed that theatre should not attempt to portray real life but instead to represent life. Over a period of a few years Brecht developed Epic Theatre which was a theatre style which produced distance between performers and the audience viewed a performance in an objective way. Brecht's aim was to prevent the audience from becoming attached to characters so that they would focus better on the storyline. The audience were constantly reminded that the actors were not the characters by getting the actors to use techniques such as breaking the fourth wall where the actor would speak directly to the audience. Actors would also come out of character to update the audience on what was about to happen, and would often deliver their lines in the third person.

The use of half masks were common in Brecht's performances as a method of preventing the audience from feeling empathy for the characters. Their presence reflected his acting style themes which focused on separation, alienation and social change.

History of masks in theatre

The Ancient Greeks used masks in theatre as a way to worship and depict mythological gods. They used exaggerated and over large masks which were fitted around the actor's mouth and aided him to project his voice. It was the Ancient Greeks who set a route for the making and use of theatrical masks. The easily recognisable comedy tragedy masks that still represent theatre today originated with the Ancient Greeks.

During the middle ages of 12th and 13th centuries in the time of the mystery plays masks were used in performances to exaggerate a character. As mystery plays were frequently written by church priests and focused on getting a message across to the public about the wickedness of sin and the ways to redemption the masks were usually grotesque depictions of Satan and his workers. They were usually made out of papier mache and were highly detailed.

In 15th century Venice during the height of the renaissance period Commedia dell Arte was created as an art form and consisted of improvised comedy which included characters wearing extremely ridiculous and grotesque masks. Half masks were used by actors performing Commedia dell Arte whose main themes revolved around fear of life, death and everything.

Unit 1 part A - arts practice

My main art form -

These are some examples of my current art form.  I like to use a variety of  different styles in my illustrations.

My new art form - 

These are some mask designs I created for when I attended the felt masks workshop

My new arts style - 

These are the finished masks.  They were created with felt and I used two of the sketches above as inspiration.

Unit 1 part B - the wider arts sector

When I started the Gold Arts Award I was unsure if I wanted to pursue art or drama as a career.  I hoped that doing this award would help me to decide and also give me an in depth look at both the career paths.  I visited two colleges - Manchester College and Stockport College.  I was shown what students do in the art and design courses and also examples of work from the students.  I was also shown around the drama departments and saw samples of the students work.  I saw one video of a performance that some students had put on in one college and then saw a live performance from students at the other.  I found that I was impressed by the drama department at one college but not as impressed by its art department.  I also found that at  the other college I was impressed by their art department but not their drama department.  This made my choice of college a lot easier.  I found that the artwork I saw did not seem to give the students  much room to expand or experiment.  I also found that the art styles used were all so similar it was hard to tell one student's work from another.   I decided to pursue drama as I did not like the idea of my art being restricted and controlled.  I decided to continue spending my free time drawing what I want, enjoying it and improving my styles in my own way.  I applied to Manchester College to study drama on the Acting BTEC level 2 course. I had an interview and an unexpected audition but  luckily I already had a monologue prepared from my drama GCSE course.  I found that the interview was very strict and it made me realise that there would be no room for slacking on the course.  I started the one year course in September at the age of 15 because they accepted me onto the course a year early. I plan to go on and do the Drama BTEC level 3 next September and then my aim is to attend RADA or another drama school.

As well as studying the BTEC level 2 I am attending other classes which are relevant to a drama career. Once a week I attend Urban Stage drama classes for children aged 12-16. We are in the process of rehearsing for a production of Animal Farm by George Orwell which we will be performing next Easter.

I have also started attending latin and ballroom classes for adults once a week with Heather Durose Dance. I am enjoying learning jive, tango and waltz but I find the samba and cha cha cha very hard. I definitely prefer ballroom dances. The dance classes are hopefully going to give me a better chance of getting parts in productions in later years as it is definitely a useful skill to add to my CV.

I also attended a second willow weaving course where I made a vulture. I found this a lot easier the second time and think I improved my skills greatly because I was able to use the skills that I had learnt in the previous workshop.  I had already researched plague masks and found them useful in designing my willow weave vulture.

I am constantly improving my art and design skills with online tutorials.  Here are a few tutorials I have found very useful.

The information on the course that I am currently doing can be found here

The information on the course I am starting in September 2014  can be found here

The information for the degree course I am working towards can be found here

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Unit 2 - arts project leadership

Project report

In total 40 children created some wonderfully imaginative masks. Each child was working on their mask for 30-60 minutes. As each child completed his or her mask another child would take the available space. All of the children were extremely well behaved and thoroughly engrossed in what they were doing. All of the masks were unique with the exception of two yellow chick masks produced by two children sitting next to each other. I was surprised that this did not happen more often but the children on the whole showed that they had great imaginations.

Feedback from participants
As the children were mostly 5-6 years old I had to keep the questions that I asked them brief, simple and easy to understand. Most of the children would not stand still long enough to answer the questions and ran off to play with their new masks. I asked a few of the children several questions:

1) What did you like most about this workshop?
I liked that there was a theme so that I didn't have to think of something to make.
I like the feathers.
I liked being able to make an animal in any colour I wanted.

2) What did you like least?
The fact that I had to use human shaped masks.
I had too much choice. I would prefer to be told to make a particular animal – perhaps a choice of two different animals.
I wanted to use scissors to cut my mask into a different shape.

3) What could have been done differently?
To be given a choice of animals rather than any animal would have made it easier for me to choose.
I wanted to make a horse mask but didn't have the right equipment to change the shape on the mask.
I needed more space to work. I think there were too many kids working at one time.

4) What other equipment would you have liked to have available?
Sequins, glitter, drinking straws, scissors.

How could I improve this workshop
I could have used a larger work space or have fewer children working at one time. Six children at a time would mean I could pay more attention to each child's needs. I found that I was running around from child to child rather than spending more time with each child in order to give encouragement and advice.
I had a helper to supervise the children but I needed at least one more helper, although there were not any around at the time. With only six children participating this would not have been a problem.
I think I coped well with the children. They were quite demanding but happy and the fact that they were engrossed meant that they behaved well.
I was intending that the masks would be worn for the end of play scheme party but the children took the masks home and did not bring them back today. I should have kept the masks at the work space and handed them out at the party.