Alan Marshall Bella Edwards Bob Howourth Brian Davis Brenda Cook Carol Chilcott Claude Rimmer David Conn David Glover-Kirk David Parry-Jones David Scott David Talbot faustus group Jack Mundy Jacky Long Joan Clews Joan Goodyear John Vowles Kathy Stewart Kevin Hogan Lizzie Lane Lyn Martin Mary Lansdown Nicholas Selway Peter Sutton Richard Edwards Robert Chapman Robert Tooze Royston Tanner Sarah McGreevy Stephen Canaby This River Winding Tina Kelly Tom Hodson georgeT

Improvisation Actors’ strengths Accessibility

Utilising the actors’ strengths

Rather than trying to disguise or work around things our actors may find difficult to do, we always try to use their strengths. This section shows you how we do this, and how it makes our work stronger.

Building upon things that your actors are good at is a hallmark of all good directing in the theatre. It is certainly true that a good director does not ask their cast to do things that they find difficult, or just don’t want to do. But when working with a company of disabled actors, using the actors’ strengths is not just good directing - it is empowerment.

creating the pope

a link to video of the popes feast
The Pope, video clip

Actor Brian Davis plays the Pope in Faustus, in one of the scenes which shows how Faustus uses, or fails to use, his power. In Marlowe’s script it is a small role, but does have a number of lines of dialogue.

In the scene, Faustus and Mephistophilis are invisible, and tease the Pope and his friars by stealing or upsetting their food as they sit down to eat. The Pope’s dialogue in the scene functions as a sort of "straight man’ routine to Faustus’ visual comedy as he upsets the food.

Faustus causes havoc at the Pope's feast

Pope:         My Lord, here is a dainty dish was sent me from the Bishop of Milan.

Faustus:         I thank you sir. (Snatches it.)

Pope:         How now! Who's that which snatched the meat from me? Will no man look? My Lord, this dish was sent me from the Cardinal of Florence.

Faustus:         You say true; I'll have it. (Snatches it.)

Pope:         What again? My Lord, I'll drink to your grace.

Faustus:         I'll pledge your grace. (Snatch the cup)

Brian has a wonderful stage presence, but can have difficulty in speaking lines of dialogue, especially when nervous. The players decided to make the scene entirely visual comedy, getting rid of the dialogue altogether. This, if anything, actually made the scene funnier, but left Brian with the challenge of how to give the Pope a personality, and to show his importance to the audience.

Brian came up with a very clever idea which solved both problems. After the Pope and Friars walked on, they began to pray. Instead of using real words of a real prayer, Brian mumbled in nonsense syllables. Occasionally he would look heavenwards, cross himself, smile and nod, as if having a private little joke with the Almighty. The audience found this particularly funny.

This is the essence of using the actor’s strengths. Brian not only solved his practical difficulty with the dialogue, but also acting problem of how to create the character quickly and simply. In doing so, he and the other actors onstage arguably created a scene funnier than Marlowe’s original.

link to video clip
The Pope's feast by Carol Chilcott


acting versus demonstrating

The acting style that the Portway Players use is a little different from most acting that is seen on television. Much acting today involves the actor trying to "get inside’ the character, knowing the emotions the character feels as intimately as possible, and then trying to present that onstage as realistically as possible. This form of acting was created by the Russian Stanislavski, and then made famous by the American Lee Strasberg as Method acting.

The Portway Players do not "act’ so much as "demonstrate’, using a style that is more Brechtian. Player’s director Jane Sallis wrote the following for the 1990 players production, "Yellow Moon, Red Moon’.

‘'The convention of using a story teller or narrator allowed the group to demonstrate the events. For example, when the body of a dead Indian had to be mourned no individual needed to act 'grief' instead the whole group selected classic grieving symbolic behaviour. In fact I believe, that relieving them of the need to 'feel and show' grief provided the whole group with the opportunity to consider, in discussion as well as in the enactment of the scene, the nature of grieving and thus find ways of representing their own understandings of grief within the play.’

‘Obviously the group have developed tremendously, but I believe this is a form we still use. In rehearsals we tend to explore themes in exactly this way. Take ideas, actions and words and demonstrate them; each person interpreting their own actions and those of others in whole group discussion. The whole basis of these discussions is: what do we understand from what we are seeing/showing. This is the process through which we developed the poetry, a more reflective tool because it focussed on the story, how we were interpreting it and people's own understandings.’

‘Returning to 'demonstration', I think the prologue is a great example of this. People demonstrated being professors, scholars, learned people. Holding books in their hands, opening them, reading them, wearing academic gowns, demonstrated all that we needed for this scene, as did the idea of the library. No one 'acted' professors, scholars, learned people, and if we had tried to do this we would have lost the power of the whole play, it would have been a caricature.’

link to video clip of the scholars


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