The NODA summer school is a week-long opportunity to stay at the Loughborough University campus, studying one of the many courses which are scheduled for the week, along with around 200 other like-minded actors, singers, dancers, choreographers, directors and musical directors. All amateur, save the tutors who are all professionals in their relevant fields.
I was very lucky in that on the Contemporary Drama course this year -- my chosen field of study -- there were 3 people (Karen, Kevin and Vanessa) who I knew from previous years and I had been on the same course with Kev and Karen 3 years ago, so I knew that we worked well together.
The course content was excellent. Our tutor, the wonderful Paul Milton, asked us to bring 2 plays with us; Amy's View by David Hare and How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Fin Kennedy. We spent 2 days studying scenes from Amy's View, 2 days on How To Disappear... and 2 days devising an 'original' piece based on themes from the plays. This last piece was performed in the Friday evening presentation, which is a chance for each group to show a work-in-progress, if they want to.
For me, there were several revelations during the week. The first, from an acting and directing perspective, was that I finally grasped how to use one of the main tools of the modern actor. This is a technique called "actioning", by which one asks oneself what reaction the character is trying to get whenever he says something, and thus to decide upon an "action" associated with their line. Let me give you a simplistic example. Say that I'm playing a character called Bert. Bert has a line in the play as follows:
Bert. Will you please give me the book, Sandra?We ask ourselves, what reaction does Bert want from Sandra (possible answer: he wants her to give him the book) and so what action does he perform (possible answer: he demands the book from Sandra).
The reason that I've put "possible answer"s in brackets is that the action and reaction depend on the subtext, not necessarily on what is actually being said. When Bert asks for the book, maybe what he really wants is for Sandra to kiss him as he has been in love with her for years. Maybe instead of demanding the book from her, he should be coaxing it from her?
Actions are always transitive verbs. Though I never took English Language 'A' level, nor took Latin, so what 'transitive' actually means has passed me by somewhat! I'll be happy enough to think of a verb when I study a play-text in future.
I've never quite understood the concept completely before, despite having read about it several times and it really was a huge eye-opener to finally grasp this key piece of acting theory. And, of course, as an amateur director (a role I prefer and which, I hope, I am more suited to) a grasp of this is even more crucial in amateur theatre, where the majority of your actors whill have had even less training that the odd NODA summer school and will need spoon-feeding with their actions somewhat.
Throughout the week we were introduced to several interesting (and sometimes very hard) exercises on Complicité. This is a theatrical technique which explores the way a team or company of actors can become 'tuned' to each other in order to better explore a piece. There was a lot of work involved which may sound a bit pretentious to some who have not come across things like this before - it's all about letting go of your ego and becoming a part of the group.
Emotionally, it was a really hard week for me personally. I found How To Disappear... a fantastic play and was delighted to read the main part (Charlie) in an informal read-through that some of us organised one evening. The next day, Paul picked me to act a very long speech which Charlie makes at the heart of the play. The rest of the group directed me. The whole session lasted an hour and left me totally drained and maybe identifying with the character more than maybe I should have done.
That was my second revelation, that I could access (or at least, start to approach) the emotional core of a character, given some very skilled encouragement and direction. Before this week, every part I have played has been very much a cipher, or a sketch. From now on I think I have a responsibility to play the truth of the part as far as possible.
Along with that, I found myself playing a rather crucial central role in our devised piece of work, which basically took up the last 2 days of the week. I'm happy to assume that I was picked to play the role as it was a good fit initially and that the fact that the piece ended up growing around this character was a sheer accident. Certainly, in the end, I ended up playing a role which was responsible for holding the entire piece together, which was both terrifying in its responsibility and gratifying that people kept on encouraging me, saying that I was doing a good job. It would be nice if this was really true and that I did put in a good performance, supporting (and very much supported by) everyone else in the group, but my inate lack of self-confidence means that I'm a bit suspicous that these remarks were just a bit of flannel and ego-massage for me. Oh god - now it sounds like I'm fishing for compliments. I should be happy with the work I did and learn to take a compliment, I know!
I think I identified a bit too closely with both of the roles and it somewhat affected the way I related to some of my colleagues in the group. I have to stress that my self-deceptions were all in my own head and hopefully did not change the way that my NODA friends thought of me, but at times it was unsettling and scary, until I finally sat-down and talked it through with a trusted and very supportive colleague. It's odd that one's own mind can conjure up unwanted ideas on its own. It's something that makes me wonder how some actors, with a lot more talent than me, who work constantly, ever manage to have long-term and stable relationships. Then again, many don't, so maybe it's good that I haven't managed to have a career in acting!
Another positive note though is that I now have a much stronger love and appreciation for MLYW and I am ever more grateful that she loves me back. She is an incredibly kind, beautiful and endlessly patient woman.
So - today was back to earth with a bump. Actually, it was less of a bump. In fact, I don't feel like I've even landed yet. I think I'm slowly drifting back down like an autumn leaf, but some day this week I shall arrive back in the real world. One of my friends from the course described her feelings on arriving home as ones of "sadness and dislocation" which really sounds right to me. I'd add that I have a real feeling of loss. That small group of like-minded people, working together for a common aim, all doing something that we LOVE to do, and striving to do it well. At the moment I really miss being there and that sense of loss is both compunded and also alleviated by the fact that I know there are another 51 weeks until I can go back and do it all again...