'If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear..."
What a magical summer! We couldn't have chosen a better year to put on Shakespeare's best loved comedy. We rehearsed for a week in the stunning vicar's garden at St Mary Abbots and then were invited to perform in St John's Church in Notting Hill, twice in the garden at St Mary Abbots Centre, and then again in Gloucestershire- every one with a standing ovation! (Maybe something to do with the fact that it was a promenade show so most of the audience were on their feet for the whole show but we'll take it as high praise!)
I adore working with and directing teenagers and young adults, I feel constantly inspired by Shakespeare, I'm a sucker for the sunshine, and promenade theatre has become my favourite form over the years...so creating A Midsummer Night's Dream this August was honestly a recipe for heaven in my eyes! I was choked up with pride on the final performance. The energy that the team threw at every moment was electric!
Thank you to a beautiful cast and to everyone in the audiences. One of the ladies in the audience said it was even more engaging than the last RSC production she'd seen. Not that we're ones to blow our own trumpets! (Although Kitty did a very good job in the show ;)
My brother and I have always shared a sense of humour but pretty much nothing else; I've always been the creative arty one and he's the sporty businessman. However, as James has progressed in his career he's started presenting to groups of people- these days to sometimes as many as 300 at a time. He's developed a real passion for presenting, and has studied various theories on the skills that are needed. The main one being... storytelling. If you can engage the audience on an emotional level then you've got their attention. And here lies another major crossover in our lives.
James was thrilled to be asked to come and lead a workshop for our seniors! We found the parallels between presenting and storytelling, and then used those skills in a mock audition - James being the big bad producer, me being the director (with a variety of personas - just to keep everyone on their toes!) and the rest of the group being the writers and runners with some brilliant improv. It was funny, touching, challenging...and a proud moment for me. James was so impressed by our actors and by how quickly everyone could adapt and take advice and direction. I was also thrilled to be working alongside my big bro.
Eight glorious years ago we devised our own version of Alice in Wonderland to perform in gardens around Gloucestershire and Buckinghamshire, as well as schools in Colchester. It was quirky and colourful and made the audiences chuckle...and I like to think was a little philosophical. (We still quote the Tweedles line: "Everything's connected!") Looking back at these photos, I can't help but grin- with the memories they evoke- but also the pride I feel for these actors who were teenagers then and are now pursuing their careers in the big wide world. We meet up regularly to catch up and reminisce...putting your passion into a shared project for an intense week is one of the most bonding experiences you can come across I think, and a brilliant training for the profession!
I am super excited about the summer ahead- being immersed in one of the best shows to put on in the summer: Shakey's very own 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'! We have a mixture of actors in the cast so far: some who've done the summer show before, and those who don't quite know what they are in for! Do get in touch if you are interested in joining us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Amidst Sam's busy schedule of making award-winning films, starring in soaps, UK tours, and hollywood movies, he made time to share his talent and wisdom with our actors! After a big discussion about 'identity', the actors went off in pairs to devise a short scene to film. The key being 'less is more' for film. Why add a line of dialogue when the camera can pick up that thought in the movement of your eyes?
Sam told us about the 'indulgence' of acting for the camera. Take your time...as the editor can always speed it up if they choose to.
A few little gems that we took away from the 2 sessions:
" It's so much more interesting to watch when you've got something conflicted in you"
"Make that line harder to say"
"You have to be fully invested in it. The camera picks up every thought"
"Use your takes- give the editor different options. You are one piece of a much bigger jigsaw"
"In a workshop environment, the best thing you can do is fail! Don't play safe and be vanilla"
"The movement you're doing- what does it mean, where does it come from? Take all that emotion and put it into stillness. That is incredibly powerful"
"Have the confidence to hold the look, especially at the end of a scene. That is cinema gold"
Here are a few snapshots of the workshops. Links to the filmed scenes to follow!
I am a huge fan of collaboration. Creating a piece of theatre from scratch goes through many phases: 1. Where do we start?? 2. An idea organically emerges and everyone is buzzing! 3. Ideas come flooding in from every member of the ensemble...we have enough material for a 12-part series! 4. Cutting back to the core of the piece- what are the main themes we are exploring? Structure it scene by scene. 5. Scripting the piece to include layers of sub-text and a satisfying journey for every single character/actor. 6. Do you think we'll be allowed to cover the whole stage in dirt...?? (I admit this stage was specific to 'The Void') 7. Intense rehearsals! 8. Group warm-up...and you're on! 9. Feeling chuffed that you've created something from nothing, and let a few ideas simmer in the audience's minds... 10. Celebrate at Wagamamas!
Here are a handful of stills from 'The Void' (A claustrophobic dystopian world inside the head of a man in a coma); 'Hamdram' (A comedy about an unlikely group of people putting on a very serious play...); and 'Kenopsia' (A thriller about an underground network of criminals, trying to escape from the web they have weaved).
If you are interested in joining us to create more weird/fun/thought-provoking theatre then get in touch, come meet the group and try out a session!
The seniors have been working hard towards their performance of THE VOID on the 18th March. We are so excited to share what we've done with our audiences. Only three weeks to go and still so much to do. Of course there's always time for games though.
This is what RADA undergraduate Bea Svistunenko has to say about her training with Sherina and Russell Actors:
''I joined a group called the Young Actors' Company in 2007 when I was 12, after a school friend invited me along to audition with her. We were both lucky enough to have been offered places, and since then, I attended weekly classes every Saturday until I left for university in 2013. Over these six formative years, I was taught by the wonderful Sherina Russell, who now leads her very own acting group, Russell Actors. Everything I learnt and all the skills I developed whilst studying with Sherina, from confidence to connectedness, creativity to clarity, have absolutely informed my progress through life, and continue to help me out to this day... They're a gift that keeps on giving. Some of my happiest memories are from her classes, improvisation festivals and productions, where my most solid friendships formed with talented and generous people with whom I'm still close to. Sherina herself has gone from teacher to mentor to a dear and valued friend. Without her guidance over that time I doubt I would have been offered a place on the three year acting BA at RADA after uni in 2016, which is where I am now studying, and am due to graduate from in 2019. I cannot recommend joining Russell Actors enough, as it is a company that will undoubtedly change your life.''
Robbie started training with Sherina when she was in charge of the Colchester branch of Young Actors Company (head of Russell Actors) back in 2008, and stayed for five years. He now works as a Theatre Director and Writer in the UK. Sarah grabbed 5 minutes with him to interview him on his experience with Sherina and Russell Actors.
Sarah: Can you tell us what’s been happening for you since graduating from Russell Actors (then The Young Actor's Company)?
Robbie: I went to Cambridge University to study Sociology but ended up doing more Theatre than my degree. I acted in various plays, including a tour of the USA. I then turned to directing, directing a number of student shows. Since graduating from University I have worked professionally in theatre. This has largely been with the Mercury Theatre running workshops, but also assisting directors in West End and off West End venues. I've also created a one-woman play, Wife, that has toured to various venues and went to Edinburgh Fringe.
S: Have you got anything coming up that you can tell us about?
R: Wife is going to the Manchester Royal Exchange in April which is exciting. I'm also directing Rabbit by Nina Raine for Protocol That at the Mercury Theatre, which will then tour to Ipswich and London. I'm planning on taking a play to Melbourne Fringe Festival in September 2018. I'm currently editing a short film that I wrote and directed, which should be finished and out in early 2018.
S: Wow, Amazing stuff. I can't wait to see all of these things in action! How long were you with Russell Actors?
R: For about 5 years! Then I helped out with running classes and still go back to run workshops sometimes.
S: Has Russell Actors helped you in your development as an artist?
R: It's definitely helped me a lot for my professional life in theatre.
S: In what way?
R: It introduced me to concepts, styles and attitudes in theatre-making from an early age that set me up well. I also had a confidence and security in knowing some ways to go about making theatre because of the opportunities RA gave us to grow our own projects. It also taught me to make theatre in a way that avoids pretentiousness and is collaborative and open.
Rabbit will open at The Mercury Theatre on the 23rd March. Tickets available here:
Follow Robbie on Twitter @RTaylorHunt
On Saturday we had our Improvisation Festival at The Lakeside Theatre, Colchester! This is a chance for the two branches to get together and put their improv skills to the test. We've just done a whole term on improv in preparation for this, and the young actors really impressed judge Neil D'arcy Jones (Packing Shed Theatre) by throwing themselves into group and solo improvisations. Prizes were given out at the end and and lots of fun was had. There was time to play games and lift each other up in the air too of course!
Last Friday we had a ridiculously exciting excursion- we not only saw the hilarious west-end show 'The Play That Goes Wrong' but we also got to meet the cast afterwards and ask them all about the secrets behind the scenes! The play was the perfect inspiration for our Impro Festival, and the cast were so warm and welcoming as they shared their stories and asked about our group. Such a treat! Huge thanks to Mark Bell the director who helped to arrange this for us :)
In July the Colchester troupe performed our own quirky adaptation of Alice in Wonderland around a beautiful garden in Kelvedon! We used the outdoor swimming pool for the pool of tears- with some characters diving in! And the Mad Hatter's tea party took place in a boat on the lake- naturally. It was a magical day and the sun shone brightly! Happy happy memories.
We can't believe it but it's not long before we start devising again for our yearly performance at The Chelsea Theatre. The RA group have been reflecting on our last piece, Outside The Box, which explored LABELS as a concept. Some reflections from Russell Actors students:
''Creating Outside the Box was a really enjoyable process. There’s something satisfying about working in an effective and efficient ensemble. The process started by exploring what ‘Identity ‘ meant to the group. Many ideas were brought up from this discussion! Members of the cast felt such things as their race, sexuality and class would identify them; stereotype them. By this stage in the process we had something tangible to make theatre from. Experiencing what it’s like to make theatre from the ground up in this way was a learning curve; it’s nice to be able to work in an environment where this is possible. Challenging stereotypes, explored earlier in the process, became a large part of rehearsal. We devised scenes each week that would fit into the play named ‘Outside the Box’. Being a part of a theatre company, exploring ideas and staging them, discussing them was an enlightening experience and I was really proud of what we made together. I observed how an ensemble works together to devise theatre by discussing themes, sharing ideas ect. I found it really rewarding,''
-Jack, RA Seniors
''Outside the Box has to be one of the most fun pieces we've devised since I started at Russell Actors. The creative process behind outside the box was amazing. Very early on we decided we didn't want it to be a linear story; that gave a lot of freedom to us as actors to create the stories which we felt needed to be heard - the stories we felt closest too. There was definitely some struggle at points during devising where we wanted to create very light-hearted pieces but the topics were quite tragic; I do think that we successfully created quite a funny performance which left people questioning their environment and their own attitudes at the end.''
-Louise, RA Seniors
Yesterday Sarah lead a session inspired by the physical comedian Trygve (pronounced Trig-vee) Wakenshaw. It was all about silliness, clowning, the grotesque and mime. As the improvisation festival gets nearer, Sarah wanted to encourage the juniors and the seniors to sometimes try work that has little or few words. We had such a giggle. Watch an improvised scene titled 'The Unusual Surgeon' here:
Last Thursday was a great one for the Juniors who got stuck into some great improvisations which had Sarah and Sherina in stitches laughing. They also got a visit from Sherina's son Otis who was on great form! He was a bit shy at first but by the end of RA he had all the seniors playing hide and seek and was running around having a great time! We also got a visit from Denise and Rumbo the dog!
RA London threw ourselves back into term this Thursday evening with our first session back. Sherina and Sarah got the team up on their feet with classic improvisation exercises 'Yes Let's' and 'Yes and' - getting to grips with the basic principals of improv before the festival at The Lakeside Theatre at the end of term! We had a LOT of fun and the group had so much energy.
We then played a game of Freeze Tag in which Valerie and Kitty had everyone crying with laughter with a little improvised scene. Well done Kitty who was made a big first impression on her first day with the seniors after being with the juniors nearly 5 years!
We ended with hugs and celebratory cake. It's so good to be back together again.
It's three years since Russell Actors teamed up with our wonderful friends in The Gambia to create a performance of Twelfth Night, 2014. So many fond memories. Missing that Sun now! What has happened to our English summer? We'll be back one day!
Robbie Taylor Hunt led some awesome fight workshops for both our juniors and seniors today. We learned to nap, slap, punch and throttle each other in a totally safe and believable way on stage! So much fun!
Director Robbie Taylor Hunt (Russell Actors Alumni and Associate Coach) is taking a new play up to Edinburgh based on the works of Carol Ann Duffy. This is a whirlwind of a one-woman show, performed by Ella Duffy; Carol Ann's daughter!
'This is a journey through history and mythology from the obscured, female perspective. Including poetry, physical theatre, puppetry and verbatim, this is an exploration of womanhood through the ages. After all, behind every great man…'
Russell Actors London had a group trip to see the show at Theatre 503 and loved it! The show will be at The Stand in Edinburgh from 23rd-27th August 2017. Good luck Robbie!
And as if that wasn't enough for RA London, we also got a visit from Roanna Cochrane, star of Vikings today! Roanna gave a talk and ran a workshop on making a good self-tape. What a lucky lot of Londoners! Thank you Roanna.
Russell Actors London's very own Dajay Brown popped back to see us this Thursday to talk about his new role in Casualty and to give our young actors some pro tips on negotiating a TV set. Inspiring and exciting stuff! We're proud of you Dajay.
Another year, another Russell Actors Plays Festival at The Chelsea Theatre! The Colchester and London Branches came together once again to share three very different plays with each other. Colchester brought a chilling murder mystery to the table, the London juniors performed Displaced which explored the concept of 'Home', and the London Seniors performed Outside The Box - a funny and moving piece design to leave you questioning what labels we put on ourselves on others in every day life, and what these mean. We had such a great time and it is always so great to get together as a big family and share the last term's work. Great job everyone.
Ps. The London Seniors loved doing Outside The Box so much that we can't quite put it to bed yet. Watch this space...
We had such an awesome time at this year's Impro Festival- the train journey up to Colchester with the London actors was full of excitement (and chocolate!) and the content of the improvisations was quirky, laugh-out-loud, and sometimes intensely moving. I loved the way the groups mixed without hesitation and everyone rose to the challenge of being on a huge stage under bright lights, immediately adapting their voices and physicality to the new environment. We were super lucky to have the wonderful Paul Foxcroft as our judge- of 'Monkey Toast' fame. Paul led a hilarious warm up and gave the actors some incredibly valuable feedback as he gave out awards at the end. Of course the day wouldn't be complete without an apearance from Otis, our 'mascot'! (We like to create a feeling of family at RA!) A very satisfying day indeed :)
Using playing cards to explore 'status' with the Colchester group. It's a great tool for improvisation...
Had a great evening out with the London Seniors seeing how the pros handle improvisation! Hilarious and inspiring stuff :)