Dramatic Events: How to Run a Workshop for Theater, Education or Business

Dramatic Events: How to Run a Workshop for Theater, Education or Business

by Richard Hahlo, Peter Reynolds

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312232528
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 05/01/2000
Edition description: REV
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.44(d)

About the Author

Richard Hahlo is an Education Associate of the Royal National Theater and a professional actor in the UK.

Peter Reynolds is head of the Department of Drama and Theater Studies at Roehampton Institute London.

Read an Excerpt

Dramatic Events

How to run a Successful Workshop


By Richard Hahlo, Peter Reynolds

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2000 Richard Hahlo and Peter Reynolds
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8746-6



CHAPTER 1

Getting Started


When a group of young children enters an empty space, irrespective of whether that space is familiar or unfamiliar to them, they immediately see it as an opportunity waiting to be exploited. They spontaneously rush about to all corners of the room, shrieking and laughing at the joy of having room to move freely – to release their energy – all this within a space that appears to them to be an open invitation to decide for themselves how to behave. Adults coming into a large space tend to behave in an entirely different way: instead of claiming the space by immediately moving freely within it, they gravitate to its furthest extremes, standing still, backs to the walls, eyes and bodies betraying anxiety and hesitation. To them the open space represents a problem; individuals feel exposed, and if there are any chairs available adults will grab them, eager to take the opportunity of inhabiting a confined space where they can cautiously wait to see what will happen to them.

Why is there such a marked difference of behaviour in this situation between adults and children? Obviously the self-consciousness of the former has a lot to do with it, but there is something more. Most adults are unfamiliar travellers in the landscapes of public spaces. When, occasionally, we find ourselves in a cathedral, a sports stadium or a theatre our behaviour is highly regulated by convention and protocol. We are not normally encouraged to wander freely in that space, but instead to occupy a limited part of it (we don't go on to the pitch, or the stage, and we aren't encouraged to sit on the altar). 'Our' space, and our role within it, is different and separate from that of the players, priests or actors. All of us know (roughly) how we are expected to behave and what our role is. However, when we first enter the unmapped space of a theatre workshop we do not normally know what is expected of us. Unlike a church, a theatre or a stadium, the space is not clearly demarcated by lighting or architecture that might help us. The function commonly associated with the workshop space (it could be a school hall, a scout hut or a rehearsal room at a theatre) gives us conflicting clues as to how we should behave within it. It is almost certainly going to be unfamiliar; or at least, if it is familiar to some people (it may be their school hall), the familiarity arises from a very different context in which they play a very different role.

In order to cope with the new space and the as-yet-unknown demands of the workshop, we immediately begin by establishing the symbolic limits of our territory, our personal space. If we insist over the next few hours on policing that territory rigorously, keeping others literally and metaphorically at arm's length, then opportunities for sharing the possibilities of what the group can achieve in that space are going to be severely curtailed. Far from making use of the time and space the workshop presents to relax and open up to other people, if we are not careful, our instinctive fears will close it down. The workshop leader has to devise a strategy for meeting the challenge to personal space represented by the workshop. If he or she fails, far from liberating the participants as it does their children, the space will disempower them by heightening self-consciousness and feelings of inadequacy about how to behave socially.


Preparation

We shall look here at the basic setting-up of a workshop and the vital business of getting started. Subsequent chapters look in more detail at particular areas of workshop material and practice.


Personal Space: 'Don't Crowd Me!'

Adults have few opportunities of acting out any part of their lives in large spaces, whether indoors or outdoors, public or private. Our homes, offices and places of work are relatively modest in size, filled with objects such as tables, desks and chairs that make the space feel even smaller. We are very sensitive to what we regard as our personal space, our own room, office, desk, even 'our' seat on the bus or train to work each day. If that space is invaded – say our home is burgled or something as trivial as our seat being taken happens – we may feel personally violated and angry. That feeling is multiplied many times over in prison. In Brixton prison, where even the lavatory doors have two-foot gaps at top and bottom, the men attach enormous significance to their few jealously guarded moments of privacy. Helping them to share the limited space provided in the prison for rehearsals of Hamlet (rehearsals usually took place in the prison chapel) was always challenging.

All of us, in whatever situation we live and work, have an even more personal and intimate symbolic space that we jealously guard. If you imagine a spotlight shining down from somewhere immediately above your head, the pool of light it spreads on the floor around you is analogous to that intimate space. This is the area you reserve as your territory, into which intrusion is normally unwelcome. The size of the area is fluid, but the bigger you make the pool, the more personal space you feel you need. In situations where individuals feel comfortable and at ease in the company of other people, they will have a smaller pool and allow others to come physically close to them. In other more formal situations, and at work when individuals are on their guard, the pool extends sometimes by a considerable distance. Perhaps its existence is tacitly recognized by one of the more familiar gestures of greeting exercised in a formal setting: the handshake. When you move to shake the hand of another person, what you are doing is extending your hand outwards from your body to signify the edge of your personal space. There, in the boundary between your space and that of others, you meet and greet strangers. Where greater intimacy and corresponding trust exists – for example, when people genuinely hug one another – the pool may dissolve entirely.


Checking out the Room

Given that the nature and size of the space chosen is always going to be significant, if you are planning a workshop, start by checking out the space you will be using. Then at least you will know what to expect, and have immediate answers to those small but significant first questions, such as: 'Where are the lavatories?' 'Can we get a coffee?' You may also avoid some of the initial problems of having to get people up on to their feet by ensuring in advance that, if there are chairs in the space, you move them, to prevent them from becoming the day's first obstacle. If the space is overlooked, try to find something – a curtain, blind, anything in fact – that will help make it more private.


Space and Numbers

You should try to find out the approximate number of people expected so that you can anticipate the warm-up exercises, and plan accordingly. To make a generalization, twenty is a good number for a workshop. It enables everyone to feel they are an integral part of the event, and there are sufficient numbers to feel safety as part of a group. As the numbers go down, people sometimes feel too exposed, as there is nowhere to hide; below ten the energy starts to drop off, and it can be hard to get people motivated. Above twenty, people can start to drift to the edges and opt out. In schools you will often have to work with a class size of around thirty, but as a workshop leader, whatever the size of the group, you have an obligation to work constantly to include all the participants. That is the difference between a rehearsal and a workshop. A director can get interested in a scene that involves two actors and may keep everyone else waiting around all day in case they are needed, whereas a workshop leader should strive to keep everyone on board all of the time. It is obviously preferable to have an even number, for pair and group work.

If you have any choice in the space to be used, remember that you will need sufficient room for people to move around freely, preferably without any feeling of being cramped. In the early stages of the workshop people will need to feel that they do have their own personal space; and later on, even when the boundaries of that space are removed, you will often have the group working in smaller units, where each will need some space in which to work. Obviously the size of the space should also reflect the number of likely participants. It is equally problematic if a group of, say, eight has a hall the size of a football field, as it is if a group of twenty-eight is crammed into an average-size school classroom.


Clothing

Make sure those who are coming are told in advance what kind of clothing is appropriate. It is a near-hopeless task to get people moving freely if they are wearing clothes that restrict their movement, or if they are nervous about getting them dirty. Some clothes would simply be inappropriate: you don't need or want individuals to stand out from the rest; you want them as far as possible to blend in with one another.


Timing

It always takes time with a new group to break the ice, lower their initial resistance, and reach the point where they are receptive enough to do good work. Even when you are working with a familiar group, it still requires a focused warm-up to bring them together and make them ready to work. Don't make the mistake of dispensing with the warm-up altogether, even if you have less time for the session than you would like. Occasionally there will be pressure from the group to do this, to get on to the 'real' work as soon as possible, but it should be resisted. The warm-up is always necessary, because the beginning of any workshop is like going through an 'air lock', moving slowly from a highly pressurized environment to one in which the pressure is radically reduced. It helps people clear away some of the daily clutter that they bring with them into the workshop and which needs to be ditched if they are to establish the necessary focus on the work in hand. People also need the rite of passage it represents. A workshop might last a day, two days, a week or even two; but to achieve anything – that is, work which has some tangible development – a minimum of two hours is probably required. In schools the time available may be shorter, and if you are new to the group it will be hard to make much progress in less than a double lesson (about ninety minutes). As a regular teacher it is (usually) possible to structure a series of connected workshops over single lessons.

The timing of individual exercises is very difficult to predict in advance. Sometimes work that you expect to last for hours is over in minutes and you are left floundering because you don't have enough material. There is also a temptation, especially if you are nervous or encountering a group for the first time, to keep them constantly busy, so that you rush through the programme, and although it may seem lively and full of variety, it lacks depth. There is a fine balance involved in knowing when to leave one exercise and start another. Just because something appears not to work as you expected, it is not necessarily a reason to abandon the exercise. You may be better off keeping your nerve and staying with it, encouraging the group to explore and overcome the difficulty. There will almost certainly come a point in any sustained workshop when the group as a whole feels as if they have hit a wall; they cannot progress with their former heady energy and ease. All you can do in such circumstances is use your own energy to reinvigorate them; remind them that almost anything worth making will, at times, become difficult, the progress slow and the end not always in sight. This is a time when the emphasis in the workshop is on work.


Focus and Planning

The workshop should have a clear, pre-arranged focus. What are you going to work on? The initial request for a workshop may be generalized, but if you are the facilitator, you must be specific about what the work will cover, then thoroughly prepare a structure to accomplish it. Whatever the time allocated, think carefully about the objective of the work and the steps you will take to achieve it. Every workshop, irrespective of whether it is a one-off or part of a series, will need an introductory warm-up, which should feed into the subject matter you are going to explore. The exercises that follow should build up to some form of outcome. Whatever the time frame, it is good practice to conclude with some element of 'performance' or presentation, which evolves out of the content of the workshop. At the end of the day the feeling of achievement comes from having made something together.

As the facilitator you will be most active at the start of the workshop to reassure and focus the group during the warm-up. They need to feel that you know exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it; if you are hesitant, especially at the start of a session, that hesitancy will communicate itself to the rest of the group. You cannot always expect them to begin the work with obvious energy and enthusiasm; some people will be nervous and you will need to energize them by a mixture of encouragement and cajoling. Once the warm-up is completed you can move on to the body of the material that you are working on, and gradually hand over responsibility to the participants as they prepare some small show of work on which to finish the session.

While it is essential to have clarity and structure in running a workshop, it is equally important to be flexible, to listen to the group and to adapt the work to what happens in the room. Leading a workshop should be creative and developmental; however, that can only happen if you are working to a clear plan that includes the possibility of expansion and contraction. It is not possible to predict accurately how long exercises will take, so it is useful to have standby activities that can be slotted in if needed, and (more likely) a range of possible end points that will provide the necessary punctuation marks.

Getting started is invariably the worst part of any workshop. At the start of any new social experience, let alone one in a situation that initially feels intimidating, people revert to their animal selves. They stand close to a wall or take refuge in a chair so that they can't be attacked, and appear guarded towards strangers. They clutch their bags and cups of coffee as first lines of defence. However experienced the workshop leader is, she or he will be nervous. The workshop will be a process of allowing everyone gradually to let go and make contact.

At the beginning of a workshop people new to the experience will take in very little verbal information, as they are too distracted by the strangeness of the space and the other participants. You should therefore resist the temptation, if you are leading the work, to keep talking at the beginning, however much it may seem preferable to having to persuade people to get on to their feet and start moving. It is important to get on with it! The facilitator's hardest work usually takes place in the first half-hour, and if you get that right, life becomes much easier for everyone. As the facilitator, you have to take initial responsibility for running the room, and for making people feel comfortable with the space, with themselves and with each other.


The Warm-up (approximately 45–60 minutes)

Once everyone has arrived (it is worth waiting for a few minutes for any latecomers, because it is difficult to introduce new people to the work once the group as a whole is under way), take a deep breath and start. The opening exercises should be such as can be done by individuals working alone: for example, walking around the room, looking at the objects within it, or walking in different ways – e.g. on the heels, toes, with knees bent, etc. You might then introduce games that can be played with the group as a whole alternated with work in pairs. When you ask the group to 'find a partner', always ask them to try to select someone they don't know, and briefly introduce themselves. Use one or two pair exercises taken from the list below, before asking them to 'find a different partner'. Try to make sure people are continually mixing up and introducing themselves. What you will note about all of these exercises is that none of them requires any of the participants to speak – apart, that is, from exchanging names. People are sensitive about their bodies, but (in England at least) they can be even more so about their voices, those automatic signals of class and status. Never begin a new session by asking everyone to say their names and a few words about themselves – it is the kiss of death to future progress. You will spend much of the remainder of the session trying to recover the lost confidence of those who agonized before mumbling a few indistinct words, and dispelling the hostility now targeted at others who immediately spoke out clearly and confidently.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Dramatic Events by Richard Hahlo, Peter Reynolds. Copyright © 2000 Richard Hahlo and Peter Reynolds. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction

• Getting Started

• Improvisation—Making Theater

• Making Shakespeare

• Mask Chorus and Text

• Playing Character

• Working on Text

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