MA Collaborative Theatre in Action!Exploring an evening of original theatre & performance
Inspired by their postgraduate training as theatre makers and performers, Fourth Monkey’s MA Collaborative Theatre students recently shared a night of original scratch performances at The Blue Elephant Theatre in London (April 2022).
Providing our postgraduate students with an additional opportunity to showcase dynamic new work in a supportive environment, and introducing audiences to these emerging theatre makers and the ideas they have been exploring during their training, we spoke to some of our MA Collaborative Theatre cohort about how they devised and developed their scratch pieces as well as what inspired their ideas, and what they learned about performing and theatre making in the process…
Chloe Hatherley (CH): Our creative brief for the scratch night was to make a ten-minute solo piece, on a subject of our choice, in any style that we wanted! It was a chance to practice writing monologue, and to continue to develop our own voices as artists.
Harriet Leaf (HL): There wasn’t really a brief for our performances. We all started to write material and from that Paloma Oakenfold, our Head of MA Collaborative Theatre (who was so supportive throughout this project, and indeed has been amazing throughout our training), came up with the evening’s title Under Pressure.
How did you decide to interpret the brief – tell us about the inspiration behind your initial idea and how you evolved this into a piece of scratch theatre?
Kajo Sartori (KS): I chose something familiar – the first day that a hairdresser works with paying clients after extensive training as an assistant. I know this character because, alongside my training on Fourth Monkey’s MA, I am a hairdresser.
I was also particularly inspired by Paloma, our Head of MA, and by Liv Ello, another practitioner and theatre maker we have worked with, and what I have learned from them about the importance of conflict and clear objectives within storytelling. Then, our exploration of Commedia dell’arte with Cheryl Stapleton influenced my performance methods and “MO” – I improvised live after creating a defined character, outlined structure with bullet points plus a clear scenario with obstacles to overcome. It was a humorous piece inspired by and touching on clowning, something Paloma had suggested I explore more and something I was keen to experiment with.
CH: My piece was inspired by an article I read about the International Space Station, and how in 2030, it’ll be retired in favour of commercial space interests by being crash-landed into the Pacific Ocean. I have watched the progression of space commercialisation in the past year, seeing billionaires and the mega rich using it as a personal playground, and I wanted to write a piece that challenged the orbital and lunar utopias that they seem to be selling and their “we’re colonising space for everyone” line, as I am of the opinion that we need to fix the wealth inequality and environmental problems here on Earth, before copy/pasting our deeply exploitative and wasteful society into space.
HL: I have always been inspired and influenced by spoken word and especially female-led monologues. I’m a huge fan of Phoebe Waller-Bridge (of course) and I love how honest she is when writing about women and the stigma towards sex and womanhood. I find it much easier to write and get my feelings down on paper when I rhyme the words, so I just put my pen to paper. Some of the themes were drawn from my own life experiences and some entirely made up!
Zahra Jassi (ZJ): It took me a long time to come up with an idea – I was trying to decide between comedy and drama for a while but ended up choosing the latter. I’ve been thinking privately for a long time about what role race and culture have in theatre, and I saw this solo show as a chance to explore that. In the end, my piece was about honour violence which is prevalent in South Asian communities (as well as others). It also touched on the anti-Blackness which is rife in many South Asian cultures too, and so I felt this was a good mix of race and culture.
In terms of the evolution of my piece, I would write down any ideas I had on my phone whenever they came to me, and then I would compile them into a script, which in turn changed a lot throughout the process. After this, it was simply a case of getting to a rehearsal room and trying different things out.
How did you approach devising and creating your scratch piece? Did you work independently, or did you choose to work collaboratively with any of your peers?
KS: I worked both independently and collaboratively. We would meet Paloma and each other before our classes to share our work-in-progress and to receive and give feedback, something I found invaluable as it gave me confidence in what I had created, and I also met with a classmate one-on-one a couple of times to write and share feedback with them for further input.
CH: I wanted there to be a “mythological” feel to my piece – a sense that the Earth we live on now is a very distant memory, and the history is not quite remembered accurately. To achieve this, I combined naturalistic sections of monologue with more abstract movement and voice-over to present the ‘fable’ of Earth.
I worked independently to write and block my piece, then took advantage of Paloma’s additional sessions to share our work and provide each other with feedback once I had the shape and structure of my piece.
HL: I wasn’t sure where to begin as I felt like the words already spoke for themselves. However, when speaking to my peers and Paloma, they suggested I learn my lines and “listen” for natural pauses or parts of text I could emphasise more whilst embodying the words. I worked with the speed and volume to emphasise different feelings and emotions, too
ZJ: For me, it wasn’t so much a devising process as a writing process. I considered giving the script to a friend who is also a performer but, in the end, I decided to perform it myself.
How did you find the experience of sharing a piece of your own original theatre in with a public audience?
KS: Amazing! It was so satisfying to go from zero to a performance-ready piece in just two weeks and to see the audience react to, be moved by, and appreciate your work – seeing the results of your creative efforts come to fruition felt so real.
CH: It was nerve-wracking! It wasn’t the first time I’d shared my own writing with a public audience, however there is something very exposing about an audience seeing original work which has been conceived and created entirely by you.
HL: I was terrified at first, but I loved it! I thought I would feel judged or embarrassed sharing something that was so vulnerable and important to me, but I’m so glad I shared it. I feel so strongly about women speaking openly about their sex lives, pleasure, and relationships, and I think when and where we can, it is crucial we normalise these topics.
ZJ: I was very nervous about this, as well as about performing my piece. I’m not a writer and it was tough knowing I couldn’t hide behind the “excuse” of feeling the script wasn’t good enough, because I wrote it. However, once I had performed my piece once for my peers and Paloma at The Monkey House, it became far less nerve-wracking.
KS: Being in the room, rehearsing and feeling this sense of anticipation, as well as sharing the experience with my peers, and gaining an insight into how everything came together for the performance was such a rush! I was so proud of what we had accomplished and so surprised by how straightforward it was compared to how anxious we were in the run-up.
CH: I love writing but usually I choose long-form, so I had great fun with the challenge of trying to write something short. I also enjoyed having the chance to choose my own lighting; working with the theatre’s technician and sharing my ideas wasn’t something I’ve had the opportunity to try before but working on the MA over the last term gave me the confidence to do.
Being able to see my friends’ work was so wonderful – seeing how they interpreted the brief and their progression through the rehearsals was a joy!
HL: Once I found a rhythm with my words, it was extremely satisfying! What was challenging was trying to make the audience empathise with my character – my biggest concern was that you never know how people will respond to such an exposing piece. What really surprised me was that I almost felt like I had had therapy whilst performing, I felt so much more attached to my character and her story more than I expected.
ZJ: I really enjoyed working and exploring a topic (the role of race and culture in theatre) that I previously haven’t had a chance to explore in the same way during training – it was a real breath of fresh air. I loved watching everyone else’s amazing shows, too!
Forcing myself into the rehearsal room to work on my piece and get out of my own head was the real challenge for me – it was important that I felt as comfortable as possible whilst performing and that I felt I had written something of a suitable standard to share with a paying audience. If I’m honest, I think I most surprised myself simply by being able to do it!
What did you learn about yourself as a theatre maker and as a performer and how will this experience help you evolve and explore your practice as you complete your training with Fourth Monkey?
KS: That it is important to prepare! On the night, something “clicked”, and I connected with the audience, getting a laugh out of them despite some minor hiccups. Improvising was exhilarating but, if I had spent more time preparing, it would have been even better…
I learned not to be afraid of showing people your work-in-progress, because their feedback helps you improve, and highlights tweaks you might not have picked up on. Most importantly, I learned how simple it is to make something like this happen – I came away with so much hope and confidence for what I can create in the future!
CH: I learned that I enjoy having creative control over my work, and that I would like to pursue more self-producing opportunities when I graduate this summer.
HL: I learned that you don’t have to be able to write a traditional “script” to create a strong performance. Through this, I discovered a way of writing which works for me and suits my personality as a theatre maker, and I can’t wait to evolve this.
Watching all my peers’ pieces made me feel so proud and grateful to be part of an ensemble with such talented people – I can’t wait to see what we will make together in the future!
ZJ: For me, getting out of your head is essential, as is starting the process as early as possible – with a solo show, you’re responsible for yourself, keeping yourself on track and being strict about rehearsing and standing the writing up and playing with the text to see what shape your show will take.
I feel like I now have a potential starting point for future work, too, working with a topic I’m really interested in, and I’ve gained confidence in my ability to perform my own material in front of an audience.
A unique, industry-bridging training course, the MA Collaborative Theatre is designed to create and launch industry- ready, interdisciplinary collaborators who are knowledgeable, trailblazing and entrepreneurial, and capable of building a sustainable career in the creative arts.
Want to learn more about professional postgraduate training with Fourth Monkey? Throughout May 2022, we are hosting a series of free Postgraduate Open Events at our London and Bristol training centres, plus a Live Virtual MA Open Evening, for a chance to explore Fourth Monkey’s MA Collaborative Theatre with those who know it best, as well as take a glimpse into our drama school centres and ask any questions you might have.
For anyone thinking about the next step in their creative journey, a number of places are available on our Auditions for 2022 intake across all training courses, including MA Collaborative Theatre, at both our London & Bristol bases – break a leg!
Image credits: Kajo Sartori