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.

YV Directors Program goes to York

Last month the Young Vic and York Theatre Royal held a workshop for directors and theatre makers who live and work in Yorkshire and the North East, through the Young Vic Directors Program Reach Out scheme. 

Eight young directors who have been making socially responsive theatre met with York Theatre Royal Associate Artist John R. Wilkinson, Sue Emmas, Associate Artistic Director of the Young Vic, and Imogen Brodie, Director of Taking Part at the Young Vic. The session delved into the work of the Young Vic’s Taking Part department and how the theatre engages with schools, colleges, young people and local residents of Lambeth and Southwark. In particular it looked at the past production of Men in Blue, a community response to Blue/Orange which worked with men who had suffered more than one episode of psychosis.

The day started with some classic exercises to get to know the names of everyone in the room, including ball games used in the original Men in Blue workshopsThe morning session largely focused on the work the Taking Part does within it’s communities and what it achieves with it’s community productions. Imogen talked about the process behind developing several Taking Part projects such as Men in Blue and See Me Now.

Also discussed were the ethics of participatory theatre, what we hope to achieve through it, and who it ultimately helps. The directors then completed some of the exercises used within the development of the Men in Blue project. These included writing exercises starting with the sentences ‘A man is’, ‘Today is’ and ‘I am scared of’. The results of the exercises done during the Men in Blue process actually made it in to the script. The group shared both their responses and the responses of the Men in Blue, and interesting example of how much content you can create through a simple exercise.

The afternoon session focused particularly on Men in Blue and the processes, road bumps and troubleshooting that arose within that particular project. Afterwards the directors paired up and came up with their own ideas for participatory theatre that could have been made in response to Blue/Orange. These ideas, or individual ideas that the directors were currently working on, were pitched to Sue and Imogen. They gave advice on the holes and highs within the concepts before the pitches were discussed and dissected by the whole group. This was an invaluable exercise for the participants in developing an idea into a tangible option.

Imogen Brodie’s top tips to working in Participatory Theatre:

• Make friends with partner organisations
• Make a project as flexible as possible to work with the needs of the participants
• Individualise schedules for participants
• Feed people
• Contact people on mobiles
• Be prepared to do a lot of pastoral work
• Be prepared to give a lot of yourself
• Be open to whatever people bring, no matter how odd or off beam it seems
• Get a brilliant creative team who are interested in other people
• Only do this work if you really like people
• Go to them
• Have the same standards and creative ambitions for the work as you would for professional work
• Have a sense of humour
• Remember this is not their job
• Be mindful of language and people’s frame of reference
• Be super organised
• Know what you want people to get out of it and make sure that happens
• Don’t be a dick

Reach Out is a Young Vic Directors Program initiative that runs a range of activities for directors across England who live and work outside London. Some take place at the Young Vic and others are run in association with theatres we are either touring work to or have ongoing relationships with.

Keen to attend a future Reach Out event or interested in joining our Genesis Directors Network? Read all about the Directors Program and the opportunities it offer.

About the Genesis Foundation

The Genesis Foundation has supported the Young Vic for nearly 15 years, including the Young Vic’s director’s program since its inception. The Genesis Foundation is pleased to fund the Genesis Fellow and Genesis Fellow Production Fund, the Genesis Future Directors Awards and the Genesis Directors Network at the Young Vic.

Established by John Studzinski in 2001, the Genesis Foundation works in partnership with the leaders of prestigious UK arts organisations such as LAMDA, the National Theatre, Royal Court, The Sixteen and the Young Vic.  Its largest funding commitment is to programmes that support directors, playwrights, actors and musicians in the early stages of their professional lives.

The theme of art and faith increasingly characterises aspects of the Foundation’s work with choral commissions including James MacMillan’s Stabat mater.

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