Written by Dewi Hughes
Head of Voice at Drama Studio London
What a year! What a marvellous, bustling, insane year it's been (already!). Not only as the Head of Voice here at Drama Studio London, but also for my own company, the salon:collective. I finished last year playing Speed in a cue script production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, and this year promises many more fools and villains (if I’m lucky) as well as my regular slate of Head of Voice responsibilities and joys.
The salon:collective (or "The Salon" as we tend to call it) is an arts production and training company. We started out as a group learning the acting theories and methods of Sanford Meisner from my friend and colleague, Dominic Kelly. From there we started to share our individual specialisms with each other, and then with others. We all feel that drama training must cover all aspects of an actors’ skills, something that I also revel in at DSL in their complete actor training practices.
On top of this, my work at Drama Studio inspired me to go further. At DSL, I have had the very great fortune to work with Chris Pickles and Crispin Harris on Shakespeare, and in particular with cue-script performance. Any graduate of DSL will be familiar with this, the "Shakespeare Un-scenes": The actors are cast in scenes, but are only provided with their lines, and brief cues from their scene partners. They have no idea whom they will be playing opposite, or even how many other actors are in their scenes until they arrive on the day of performance.
Being a spectator at these performances over the past five years has been a breath of fresh air. Scenes that I had seen many times before were given a new energy and vigour. Characters were intently listening to each other, and discovering the scene just as the audience were.
So, I borrowed/adapted/nicked the idea.
Actually, that's a fib. I talked to Chris and Crispin about the process, who gave (and continue to give) great encouragement and occasional practical support to our work, and let me observe a number of the "verse-nursing" tutorials. Then I discussed the concept with my wife, Lizzie, who is my partner in the Salon. As a self-confessed Shakespeare geek and acting teacher, she was instantly fascinated by the idea, read a lot more about the topic, and together we took the idea to the other members of our company. Luckily, we have friends crazy enough to give it a go! And two years ago, we started performing our own “Unscenes” to small, invited audiences, under the title "Shakespeare Direct". These performances have been taking place roughly every three months ever since, growing in size, in audience, in ambition, and in numbers of our burgeoning company.
Last year, Lizzie took the plunge to organise and stage a full play in the cue-script style. This became the Salon's production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, which took place in The Cockpit Theatre (Marylebone) in December, and received a very favourable review in The Independent newspaper as well as from the full house audience on the day. Off the back of this, our company has been invited to perform cue-script scenes at the Rose Playhouse (South Bank) as part of its celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, and at the Bath Literature Festival, on 27th February, which at the time of writing is this coming Saturday. We’re also invited to perform in the new theatre tent at the Wilderness festival in August, and at a literature festival in Canterbury later in 2016. And it doesn’t end there. We have also been invited to take a full production to St Albans later this year, and we intend to rehearse the play, using the cue-script approach as a starting point.
So yes, a busy year. And none of it possible without the inspiring work of my colleagues here at Drama Studio London. Now, I must be off to make sure I have my lines learned for this Saturday. Who am I playing? I'm sorry, I really can't say, but I must brush off my suit, and where’s that crown gone...?