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

We begin our work on a play by doing improvisations and workshop games. Here we give an example of why this is important, and how it helps us to create our plays.

A crowd of actors dancing
Rehearsing the devil dance

a group of actors dancing rapidly in front of the seated Faustus
Rehearsing the devil dance

a sketch of devils about to begin dancing
Dancing devils by Carol Chilcott

Work began on Faustus in January 2003. We started with workshop games and improvisations, to try to feel our way into the story and the themes. In this section we want to tell you about some of the workshop games we tried, and how the outcomes of these games became part of the performance. And we’ll provide you with instructions for some of the games, so you can try them out for yourselves.

focus and tableaux

Extract from rehearsal diary: 21 January 2003

We started by looking at focus and getting over a sense of fear and horror. We took John Nicholson’s game of Grandmother’s Steps and used it to start us off focussing on the audience. Joan, Jenny, Claude, and George approached the audience with no expression, no sound, just staring at one point in the audience.

Steve, Kev and Roy did the same, but they had aggressive expressions and made a hissing noise.

Focus is vital in theatre. It is through the concentration of the actors that the audience understands the story, and is interested in it. Stanislavski said:

‘Whatever happens on the stage must be for a purpose. Even keeping your seat must be for a purpose, a specific purpose, not merely the general purpose of being in sight of the audience. One must earn one’s right to be sitting there. And it is not easy.’ (An Actor Prepares, p.35.)

We used workshop games to improve our focus on the stage. We also wanted to experiment with the idea of facing the audience - what happens when we just stare out at the audience? What do they feel?

This became very important to the opening scene of our play. All the actors come onstage and face the audience, speaking directly to them. Although we are welcoming the audience, we are also confronting them, as audiences are mostly used to actors pretending that the audience is not there.

The second part of our experiment, standing or lying and making aggressive faces and hissing noises, became part of the devil dance scene. It also developed into tableaux work - trying to present ideas and emotions with just a physical image. While there aren’t any tableaux in our performance as such, working on tableaux helped us to understand the power of our bodies as a way of showing emotion to the audience.

a man with a long paper tongue
Devil with long red Butoh-inspired tongue


a sketch of Faustus with Mephistophilis behind him
Faustus and Mephistophilis

Extract from rehearsal diary: 15 March 2003 Master/Servant. We tried a line, passing on orders.

A sketch showing Faustus with Mephistophilis behind him

Brian gives order, servants turn and copy voice and movement, their servants turn and the pair freezes.

Get variety in Brian’s orders: voice and actions, eg. whisper, snarl, loud, stamp, etc.

Early in rehearsals we started to look at the idea of status, and the difference between a master and servant. In playing games like the one from the rehearsal diary, we realised that a master can have a lower status than his servant - it all depends on how the master behaves. Eye contact, movements of head or hands, tone and level of voice all change a person’s status.

The idea of status became very important to our understanding of the relationship between Faustus and Mephistophilis. Faustus is supposed to be the master giving orders, but Mephistophilis never really gives Faustus what he wants. For example, the very first thing that Faustus asks for is a wife, but Mephistophilis first presents him with "Frankenstein’s Bride’, and then says Faustus could have a new woman every night. We wanted to find a way of showing this shift of status as a physical image, and came up with a motif: ‘with Mephistophilis as his companion, his servant, his master.’

link to video clip from the play
A wife for Faustus, video clip

The physical patterns of line of servants in the game above became important in creating the scene where Mephistophilis prepares to meet Faustus for the first time. He calls to his servants to comb his hair, polish his boots, and so on.

Mephistophilis and his servants
Mephistophilis and his servants

link to video clip from the play
Mephistophilis - preparing to catch a soul, video clip


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