Improvising with Chris Heimann and the Young Vic Directors Program

Grace Cordell, a director on the Young Vic Directors Program visited the Young Vic in October to take part in an improvisation workshop facilitated by Chris Heimann. Grace’s travel was paid for by our Go See Fund, part of Reach Out, which aims to support directors based outside of London so they can take part in Young Vic activities and projects.
Grace describes her experience of the (pre-planned) improv workshop…

I was excited by the idea of a workshop purely on improvisation. It’s a lesson that I looked forward to every week whilst training, and now from a directors point of view, I was excited to see how Chris would guide us on how to facilitate this within rehearsal.

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On the tube, I read the initial email through properly- ‘wear movement clothes and be prepared to work barefoot’. The workshop was largely movement based and Chris kept coming back to the balance that needs to be present in order to allow organic response. You must be bold enough to lead, whilst also having the humility to follow. Throughout the session he playfully referred to the magic IF; Michael Chekhov; how Russians think that the English misunderstand Stanislavski.

There wasn’t really the generic meet and greet name game that usually accompanies skill workshops. Chris briefly introduced himself and his work, and then asked two others in the room to do the same, and then we began. Chris’ open nature allowed the room the breathe a sigh of comfortability and jump right in. We started with a warm up that involved individually, listening and responding to our bodies through movement, warming up where and how we wanted to. Following this we got into pairs and were thrown into more specific movement, starting simply with creating and responding to shapes made with our bodies and eventually moving on to fluid movement and then finally into spoken word. The main point that we were reminded of was to respond truthfully, that was our aim and all we needed to focus on. We weaved between partner work and the entire group watching one pair and before each exercise- Chris made sure to remind the group that this wasn’t a performance, there was no judgement, no expectation, the point was simply to respond. I found this extremely freeing, but did feel like the group needed the reminder before every example. Perhaps this was because of the unfamiliarity of the group, or the pressure that often accompanies one off workshops, or simply that the thought that often accompanies improvisation is fear or expectation to be funny, or entertaining, or just something interesting when in fact the only expectation here was much more interestingly, simply to respond to a feeling or sensation rather than a thought.

One thing that struck me about the session was how present I felt throughout. One of the directors expressed the thrill she felt at feeling present today and I think this was shared with most of us in the workshop. There was a lot to take in but only one main focus, to respond, which I think aided the groups ability to really be in the moment. The concept was simple, the exercises were simple and it revolved around truthfully responding. It’s about how you facilitate the actor to achieve this. It’s easy to tell the actor what you want to achieve but it has to come from a place of truthful response for the actor so that it doesn’t inhibit them. You have to find a way to let them find it them-self in order for it to really be truthful.

The 2 1/2 hours felt much shorter and I left the session feeling as though we were just on the cusp- I wanted to see what happened next. The start of the day was a bit nervous and excited, and by the end I felt as though the main thing I’d take away from the day was how beneficial to the process it was to be present and free and non judged, and how easily Chris guided us toward this. I think the most important thing to do in an improvisation session, be it separately, or within rehearsal for a show is to make sure that the actors feel comfortable enough to just respond truthfully and ultimately do nothing else at all. The less thought that goes into it leaves way for more honest reaction through feeling.

Reflecting on Zimbabwe | Unified Women

Unified Women artwork. Orange background with silhouettes of two young women standing outside holding hands.

Written 2,500 years ago by Aeschylus The Suppliant Women is one of the world’s oldest plays and yet speaks to us through the ages with startling resonance. Seven young women aged between 18-25 from Lambeth and Southwark travelled to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe this September working in response to Ramin Gray’s production, with the YV Taking Part team and director, Sasha Milavic Davies. Zimbabwean writer, Noma Damasane, aka. Lady Tshawe worked with the group to produce a piece of work which reflected the shared experiences across the two groups of women, regardless of their geography or local cultures.

We asked some of our group of women to document their “once-in-a-lifetime experience”, sharing their observations and best moments from their cultural exchange which started with one forgotten passport 😉

Monique takes it from here…

The hardest thing about travelling for me is packing, I can do it quickly but I’m never sure I’ve packed the right things. However, whether your top to bottoms ratio is right means nothing if one forgets to pack the most important item: the passport. Yes ladies and gentlemen I forgot my passport! My mother would be so ashamed.

We arrived in Bulawayo to be greeted by the warm sun of Zimbabwe, Josh of the Nhimbe Trust and two of our cast mates, Sta and Musa, with big smiles. 

After being welcomed by the lovely Noma (our writer) we were treated to an amazing performance Khaya Arts plus the coolest band I’ve ever seen, The Afro Queens. Don’t think that just because we were guests and had been travelling for a whole day we could just sit back and enjoy the show. No! We formed a circle and it was dance time. I’m proud to say I have a really good sense of rhythm and I can throw it down on any given night but the Zim Girls brought something completely different to the table. The way they and the performers of Khaya Arts move is incredible! I have to learn.


Anasthasia from our London group also talked about the huge welcome they received and the early experiences in Bulawayo and further afield… 

My official introduction to the Zimbabwean girls felt like a huge party where the UK girls and I were the guests of honour. We were greeted with such amazing performances, with the most energetic being an amazing stomp dance act by Khaya arts showing us the natural rhythm that the Zimbabweans had to offer. With the food being similar to the African food I had back in the UK, Zimbabwe started to feel a little more like home.

Cultural learning was a key part of this experience where I learnt about both new and old cultural traditions from the Zimbabwean girls, museums, art galleries and heritage sites. There was even a talk by Pathisa Nyathi, one of the most respected historians in Zimbabwe, about the spirituality of the Shona and Ndebele people as well as traditions surrounding marriage; a talk which almost felt like an exact mimic of Danaus speech to his daughters on the same topic. One line that really stood out for me from Pathisa’s speech was “As it is above, so is below”.  It summarises African spirituality and what made an African African; the conservation of the human race and life on earth. This powerful ancient mission of African people makes me want to understand more about my own culture and heritage before colonisation; to understand the rich history of my nation.

Looking back on how Sasha and Noma developed their work, Monique reflected on how it helped her find her own voice…

Last week we shared with each other our own personal stories, whether they were about us or women we knew; we bared parts of ourselves that we probably didn’t expect. To say it was emotional is an understatement. I feel privileged to have heard those stories and I trust these women with the sharing of mine.

Probably because of the gravity of such a moment, I didn’t think about how it relates to our project. Turns out Sasha and Noma intended to use some of our experiences in our performance, in other words, mine. I was shocked. I never felt my story was worth telling in the first place compared to the other girls, so for Sasha to use it and ask me to direct a devised piece about it was pretty mind blowing. It was difficult to do. Not only to direct my peers but to dissect my story and give it over to others is a challenge but it was made easier because the story was not personal to the others, so they could offer suggestions and build the piece with me with no holding back. It also helped that I had Tamoy play me and having Anasthasia play my mum was inspired casting, she made me both laugh and cry.

I’m grateful to have worked on my story in that way. It taught that me that even little old me has something worth saying.

Anastasia later described how strong the bonds were between the group was after less than two weeks spent working together…

Departing from the Zimbabwean team was hard and upsetting but it made me realise just how strong the unity between the UK and Zimbabwean group was. Although we physically left the country, we weren’t truly saying goodbye. I like to think that no amount of land, sea or time can break apart the sisterhood made from two very different cultures of unified women formed this summer in 2017.

We shared some of the Unified Women performance in Bulwayo on the Young Vic’s instagram account. Here’s a short snippet of the sharing from our Insta story…

Keep an eye out for YV Taking Part sharing a video of the Unified Women project, and for their future workshops and productions on the YV’s Instagram and Snapchat as well as the YV Taking Part twitter.

The Unified Women project is supported by the British Council, Zimbabwe.
Many thanks to Josh, the Nhimbe Trust and our project partners, Africalia, Youth Contact Centre and Bluez Café
 for hosting us and making the trip so memorable.

Fable | A story spanning three continents

Three countries 🌍
Three schools 🏫
Three weeks 📆

Three incredible groups of young people in London, Brooklyn & Cape Town worked with our incredible creative team to make Fable, a response to Isango Ensemble’s A Man of Good Hope.

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Fable was Written by Luke Barnes, directed by Maddi Kludje and the film was directed and edited by Tristan Shepherd. The story was told in three parts and it explores young people’s perceptions of what it is to be a migrant. Fable was performed by three exceptional groups of children and teenagers in London, Brooklyn and Cape Town.

50 young people, 3 countries exploring their understanding of what it means to be a migrant today. An incredible achievement, a moving experience in such a short space of time. A lot of the young people had never even acted before and they created a whole film in just a few days! I am very proud of them!” – Maddi Kludje

The performers were from six schools, Sacred Heard School and Harris Girls Academy in London, McKinney High Schools and Juan Morel Campos in Brooklyn and Injongo Primary School and Liwa Primary School in Cape Town. You can find out more about the Cape Town schools on Isango Ensemble’s website. 

50 pages of script, over 50 kids and about 18 hours of filming. In many ways, Fable was a mission impossible for a filmmaker but Taking Part’s desire to create something special, their enthusiasm and believe allowed us to make a small miracle.” – Tristan Shepherd

A busy audience of friends and family sit in rows in front of a projector screen ahead of the London Fable sharing in the YV's Maria theatre

Fable sharing in the YV’s Maria theatre

Last week we shared the very first screening with our London casts’ friends and family at the Young Vic which featured this poignant final scene from Part three, filmed in Cape Town with local young people and Isango Ensemble.

Kwame Kwei-Armah announced as Young Vic’s new Artistic Director

The Young Vic is thrilled to announce that Kwame Kwei-Armah will become the new Artistic Director in February 2018.

A photo of Kwame Kwei-Armah taken outside the entrance to Baltimore Centre Stage

Kwame Kwei-Armah will become the new Artistic Director in February 2018

Kwame Kwei-Armah is an award-winning director and playwright and the outgoing Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage where he directed extensively. Directing credits also include New York’s Public Theater, Signature Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham Repertory Theatre. His production of One Night in Miami at the Donmar Warehouse was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best New Play.

His works as playwright include One Love (Birmingham Rep), Marley, Beneatha’s Place (Baltimore Center Stage), Elmina’s Kitchen, Fix Up, Statement of Regret (National Theatre) and Let There Be Love and Seize the Day (Tricycle Theatre). Kwame was the Chancellor of the University of the Arts London from 2010-15, and in 2012 was awarded an OBE for Services to Drama.

Kwame will succeed David Lan further to the announcement that he would be stepping down in 2018 after 18 years in the role. Kwame will announce his first season of work as Artistic Director in the new year.

Kwame Kwei-Armah says: “To walk into the Young Vic is to come face to face with everything I love about theatre, so I am beyond humbled, if not a little scared. But to lead this magnificent theatre at this time in our nation’s history, after such a visionary as David, excites me beyond words. I can’t wait to get started.”

Patrick McKenna, Chair of the Board, says: “After meeting Kwame the panel was unanimous in its decision to appoint him as the next leader for this remarkable institution. Kwame’s wealth of experience directing, writing and working with the local community in Baltimore and beyond will translate beautifully to his new role leading the work on the Young Vic’s three stages as well as its pioneering outreach and education work in London.”

David Lan, outgoing Artistic Director, says: “The choice the panel has made is inspired. I welcome it wholeheartedly and will do whatever I can to support Kwame in the early days as he finds his own distinctive way to keep the Young Vic one of the great producing theatres of this country and the world.

Directors Program talks Dramaturgy

The Young Vic Directors Program has recently been deep diving into the world of dramaturgy in British theatre. David Lougmair, who’s facilitating the project, has been joined by David Lan and Bryony Kimmings so far and has upcoming talks with Stewart Pringle and Lyndsey Turner.

David Lan in a workshop at the Young Vic

David Lan in a workshop at the Young Vic. © Leon Puplett

Whilst examining the many ways dramaturgy is practiced and used by established artists working in our theatrical ecology, each workshop has explored different elements of the craft including dramaturgy on productions, dramaturgy in venues, dramaturgy in international work, alongside wider conversations surrounding how the craft is evolving and why the visibility of the role is increasing.

We chatted to theatre maker and dramaturg Zoë Svendsen earlier this year for our Off Book podcast to discuss the important role dramaturgy plays in theatre and how she discovered dramaturgy was part of what she wanted to do. Have a listen below and subscribe on iTunes and Soundcloud.

The Young Vic has been running it’s Directors Program for over a decade, offering young directors a unique opportunity to exchange experiences with peers and be part of a network of talented younger directors, producers and designers.

Find out more about the Directors Program and the opportunities offered across the country.

7 young people head to Zimbabwe with Taking Part | Unified Women

Seven young women from Lambeth and Southwark are headed to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
with YV Taking Part as part of a cultural exchange to create a new show, Unified Women.

The group will be joining 10 women, also aged between 18 – 25, in Bulawayo to create a response to The Suppliant Women. The response will be directed by Sasha Milavic Davies and written by Zimbabwean writer, Noma Damasane.

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Unified Women will explore the issues that arise in The Suppliant Women, with both groups sharing ideas that affect young women, regardless of their background or geographical location over a first week of workshops. In the second week the company will rehearse working with the creative team, including a local designer, before sharing the work with audiences in Bulawayo. The group will also get to explore parts of Zimbabwe and the area around Bulawayo.

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You can follow the group’s trip and get behind the scenes in rehearsals on the YV snapchat 👻 youngvictheatre, the Taking Part twitter account and the YV’s instagram.

The project is supported by the British Council, Zimbabwe and in collaboration with Nhimbe Trust.

Taking Part in 2017

It’s been a busy first half of the year for Young Vic Taking Part –  they’ve produced 7 shows, held workshops and courses for Young People and communities for people who live, work or study in Lambeth and Southwark and celebrated the 1st anniversary of Neighbourhood Theatre. Find out more below…  

See Me Now

A two year long project, the first version of See Me Now was originally performed as part of The Brolly Project in August 2015, a Young Vic Taking Part project. The team worked closely with outreach projects across London to find a company of participants who have, or do work in the sex industry. The performance, created in collaboration with the company, saw them sharing their painful, touching and often hilarious stories from their work and personal lives. The culmination of this was See Me Now which was performed for a three week run in February in the YV’s Maria. See what audiences had to say about TP’s production on our Storify.

(10) See Me Now at the Young Vic. Photo © Matt Humphrey

See Me Now at the Young Vic. Photo by Matt Humphrey

Go Between

Go Between was a Taking Part community show inspired by Isango Ensemble’s A Man of Good Hope. A beautiful collaboration between director Anna Girvan, writer Archie Maddocks and participants who were homeless or had experienced homelessness in the past, it explored what home means to all of us. Go Between ran in the Maria in January. You can find out more about the rehearsal process and see portraits of our participants in our blog post.

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Go Between at the Young Vic. Photo by Jordan Lee

Fable

Fable is our schools and colleges’ response to Isango Ensemble’s A Man of Good Hope. Directed by Maddeleine Kludje and written by Luke Barnes, Fable is a three-part film performed by three groups of children and teenagers in London, Brooklyn and Cape Town.

Fable Part One - filming. Photos by Leon Puplett-1

The filming of Fable Part 1. Photo by Leon Puplett

Start Swimming

The most recent Taking Part Parallel Productions, Start Swimming was written by Jamez Fritz in response to the Young Vic’s Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere, a show about occupation, revolution and the future of our youth. Directed by Ola Ince and performed by a cast of 11 young Londoners, Start Swimming was performed in the Clare at the Young Vic in April and continues at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer.

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Start Swimming at the Young Vic. Photo by Helen Murray

And Yet It Moves

Written by Molly Taylor and the company in response to the themes of Life of Galileo, And Yet It Moves was directed by Joseph HancockFocusing on Brexit they interviewed people who voted both leave and remain, as well as prominent MPs from across the campaign, and ran workshops with members of Two Boroughs’ Neighbourhood Theatre. The end result was a piece that addressed the questions of what country you want to live in and how hopeful you are of the future.

And Yet It Moves Production Photos - Leon Puplett-19

And Yet It Moves at the Young Vic. Photo by Leon Puplett

PRU Project

Laura Keefe directed a week-long project with school children at Kennington Park Academy’s pupil referral unit in the Clare in May. A response to Life of Galileo, the workshops featured some dazzling personalised projections by SDNA featuring all of the children involved. Teachers and parents were invited to a small sharing at the end of the week bringing all of their work together.

The Space Between

The Space Between was Taking Part’s annual production for audiences with special educational needs and disabilities. Aimed at children under 12, The Space Between was particularly tailored for those on the Autistic Spectrum. It told the tale of a young girl determined to run away, but who forms a caring relationship with The Creature. The show was written, directed and with a beautiful puppet created by Brunskill & Grimes.

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The Space Between at the Young Vic. Photo by Leon Puplett


Intro to Directing & Intro to Design

Run yearly, these are week long courses that give 18 – 25 year-olds the opportunity to find out more about theatre directing and design. The introductory courses included practical workshops led by professional theatre directors and designers included practical sessions, backstage theatre tours and trips to see various productions at theatres across London.

Intro to Design Feb17-Jemima Robinson-9

Other workshops and talks run by Taking Part this year have included Preparing for Drama School AuditionsVocal Coaching, Off Stage and Schools Workshops. 

Only Young Events

Taking Part have run several Only Young networking events this year. These are evenings held at the Young Vic specifically for young actors, directors, writers, designers, producers and technicians to meet with other creatives. Only Young has been held predominantly for young people aged 18 -25, Taking Part had a great time bringing 14 – 18 year olds together for the first time at this event earlier this summer.

 

Backstage Pass

Nine young Londoners spent two weeks at the Young Vic learning the skills and secrets of stagecraft, as part of Taking Part’s Backstage Pass programme, culminating in a performance of an extract of a play, professionally directed and acted, which the participants plotted, built, designed and called.

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Backstage pass participants learning rigging from the production department. Photo by Leon Puplett

 

Neighbourhood Theatre

Neighbourhood Theatre started in June 2016 and celebrated it’s 1st Birthday this year. Eighty neighbours officially became members of the new Young Vic company of local people. This company is at the heart of our work. They are ambassadors, creators, friends and supporters. Neighbourhood Theatre comes together to attend our shows enjoy Kitchen Conversations and Theatre Clubs.

Find out more about Young Vic Taking Part and how you can get involved.