In our blog you’ll find the latest musings from our team, conversation-starters, interviews and more.

Meet the Artist: William Cole

We are very lucky to be joined by William Cole as repetiteur for two of our upcoming workshops: ‘Script vs Score’ (20th August) and ‘Preparation and Presentation’ (26th August). As a pianist, composer and conductor, he has a great deal to offer our participants. We chatted to him to find out more… 

So, Will, can you introduce yourself, and your many avenues of creative output, for our readers? 

My work encompasses performing, composing and collaborative work. I studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music, and my work has been performed by groups like the Britten Sinfonia, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers. Alongside that I am a conductor and pianist, primarily in opera and collaborative theatre work. I’m particularly interested in new music, and am Music Director of Filthy Lucre, an immersive mixed-genre music night with whom I’ve conducted music from Xenakis to Radiohead. I’ve also worked on community programmes for Opera Holland Park, English Touring Opera and Wigmore Hall. I’m looking forward to returning to the Academy in September as a Repetiteur Fellow, working with students of the Opera School. 

I view these different strands less as part of a ‘portfolio’ career, and more as different sides of my creative practice. They’re all ways in which I express myself as an artist, and they’re all important.

How does your own experience and training inform the way you work with performers now?

My work in opera and theatre has repeatedly shown me the importance of communication. I encourage the performers I work with to have a clear idea of their artistic intention at every moment, and then we work together to make sure that intention is as focused as possible and really transmits to everyone who’s listening.

My composition background means I perhaps have a different relationship with the printed page. If you’ve agonised about exactly where to start a crescendo, or whether a passage should be marked piano or mezzo-piano, you tend to treat those markings in other music with plenty of respect! 

William conducts at Filthy Lucre. Photo copyright Nick Rutter.

What are your favourite things about your work? 

Working with great music, working with great performers, bringing new work to life, bringing live art to underserved audiences. The miracle that it happens at all! With all the difficulties of life and the challenges of our profession, there is still a community of people who are so dedicated to bringing creative artists, performers and audiences together.

What are the most common issues you come across when working with performers?

Lack of preparation, particularly relying on sight-reading skills rather than real engagement with the score. Not bringing their best into a rehearsal studio, for example by not warming up or not being well rested. Focusing on some aspects of music (usually quality of sound) at the expense of others (usually rhythm).

More generally, and usually as a result of above, you can find that performers ‘just sing’ in way that is comfortable, familiar and without clear thought behind each note or phrase. What I’m really looking for from a performer is intensity – something beyond the familiar or comfortable. Performers that offer that intensity, in a rehearsal or audition, are the ones that really stand out.

Do you have any advice for performers about working with a repetiteur? 

For an audition, a little score preparation goes a long way. While repetiteurs are trained to listen and respond, small indications of where you want to breathe or take time will help your audition go all the more smoothly. In my experience the best singers feel like they’re pulling me through the music rather than the other way round. Think about leading the pianist through the music at every turn, and it’s likely that the audience (or panel) will feel in safe hands too.

What will you be offering to participants in our workshops? 

I hope we’ll all have a renewed feel for the challenges of working with great art, and have developed the tools to meet those challenges.

To read more about Will and his work, you can visit his website here. For more about our series of workshops for performers, click here

Meet the Artist: Mark Austin

We’re delighted that accomplished conductor Mark Austin will be joining our Artistic Director, Laura, to lead our Auditions Masterclass on the 26th August. We caught up with him to ask about his work and what he has to offer our workshop participants…

So, Mark, can you introduce yourself for our readers? 

I’m a conductor, specialising in opera and orchestral repertoire. I work in the UK and abroad, currently involving a lot of assistant conducting as well as performances with my own Faust Chamber Orchestra, which I founded with colleagues while I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music.

How does your own experience and training inform the way you work with performers now? 

I studied French and German at Cambridge, followed by a postgrad at the Royal Academy of Music. This blend of literature, languages and music inspires my approach a lot. To communicate every nuance of a score requires total immersion: one responsibility of a conductor is to try and help fill in the gaps for performers if they struggle to find their own way with the music. I never feel completely satisfied with my level of preparation – I think this is a healthy feeling when we are striving for the very best result.

What are your favourite things about your work? 

Live performance is the most wonderful experience. Otherwise working with interesting colleagues, seeing new places, learning about incredible people of the past and discovering their music…the list is endless, really. I love coaching and teaching, as I usually learn a huge amount at the same time as passing on some helpful advice.

What are the most common issues you come across when auditioning singers? 

Things that get in the way of success: lack of preparation, unhelpful choice of repertoire, awkward behaviour and presentation, failure to get the pianist on side. The more I work in opera the more I realise that a pragmatic approach to auditions is essential from singers: the number of factors that go into casting decisions is immense.

What should people expect from your workshop?

Honesty, positivity, a collaborative approach. It can be challenging to perform in an audition context in front of others but ultimately this can be a very constructive experience.

What do you hope participants will go away with after your workshop?

A renewed sense of confidence and enthusiasm for their own work, whatever stage they may be at, and a list of things to work hard on to take things to the next level. I hope the group experience will provide a lot of valuable insights and we can all learn from each other.

You can read more about Mark and his work by visiting his website. Details of all our workshops can be found here.


Meet The Artist: Laura Attridge

After a fantastic set of workshops earlier this year, our Artistic Director, Laura, returns to offer two exciting, intensive day sessions in August: ‘Script vs Score: Acting for Opera Singers’ (20th August) and ‘Preparation and Presentation: Opera Auditions Masterclass’ (26th August). 

We interviewed Laura earlier this year** about her work and what she offers to singers in her workshops…

Laura, can you introduce yourself for our readers? 

I’m Laura Attridge, and I make theatre and opera: I’m primarily a director and writer, and am also proud to be the founder and Artistic Director of And So Forth. My particular passion is for creative collaboration, so I try to do as much of this as possible!

You initially trained as an opera singer; how does this experience inform and enhance the work you do now with performers as a director and writer?

I couldn’t be the artist I am without the skills and knowledge I acquired during my time at the Royal College of Music: I draw upon this experience constantly, and am lucky to be able to combine it with everything I learned in my undergraduate studies in English Literature. My training gave me a deep understanding of the opera singer’s craft, and the unique demands they face as performers, and thereby a real passion for working with these extraordinary artists: I see my job, both as director and writer, as facilitating their best performances. In addition, I work regularly with young and emerging singers; my time at conservatoire gave me a practical insight into their training, which helps me to support them both on and off stage.

What are your favourite things about your work?

Collaboration, as mentioned above. Every contract I do offers me the chance to make work that is unique to the combination of people involved in the project, and every job offers me the chance to support and learn from the work of my colleagues. Working as a director, I get to help artists flourish in my rehearsal room: supporting them to play, invent, discover and challenge themselves, to get their very best performances on the night. I love the moment of sitting in the audience, thinking ‘I helped make this happen!’. More often than not, I’ll be sitting on the edge of my seat literally taking every breath along with my cast.

What are the most common issues you come across when working with opera singers?

Insecurity, defensiveness, fear, inflexibility. But it doesn’t surprise me. Practically speaking, it is rare to see a singer fully equipped with a working knowledge and command of the myriad of skills required of them in terms of approaches to acting, movement and stage craft; their training in these areas is in its infancy compared to the very best training available to actors. When a singer has been lucky enough to encounter a particularly skilled tutor (although there are a few, who are worth their weight in gold) in any of these areas, it’s obvious. But I’d be insecure – I’d be afraid too. And this is why we’re putting on these workshops.

What should people expect from your workshops? 

Both of my workshops are in place to offer singers a toolbox of methods with which to approach role preparation, rehearsal rooms and stages. The sessions will consolidate knowledge drawn from participants’ existing experience, allowing for the sharing of practice in a safe and supportive environment, and then challenge participants to go into much greater depths both with fundamental techniques and with new ideas. ‘Inside Out/Outside In: Building a Character’ will explore how you can prepare and develop a role both physically and psychologically, whilst ‘Script vs Score: Theatre for Opera Singers’ will be an intense session in which singers will get practical experience of the way actors work.

Participants should expect to be challenged and to be empowered, and to have to let their defences down.

What do you hope participants will go away with after your workshop? 

I hope participants go away with a whole arsenal of ideas and techniques with which to approach their next roles, to surprise and delight their next director or audition panel! I also hope they go away inspired by a clearer knowledge of their own potential as performers, and with more of an idea of how to develop their craft. 

To find out more about Laura’s work and ethos, visit her website hereFor more information on all of our workshops for performers, click here. 

**NB: This article was originally published ahead of our Spring 2017 workshops. Laura led ‘Inside Out/Outside In: Building A Character’ (19th February) and ‘Script vs Score: Theatre for Opera Singers’ (26th February). Click the links for more information about these sessions.

Meet the Artist: Niamh McKernan

Her clients describe her work as ‘life-changing’, ‘exhilarating’, ‘rigorous’ and ‘liberating’. We’re thrilled that movement specialist Niamh McKernan will be working with participants in the last of our autumn workshops: ‘Moving Characterisation: The Performer & The Body’ (10th September). We spoke to her recently about her work. 

Niamh, can you introduce yourself for our readers? 

My name is Niamh McKernan, I am a movement director and teacher for performers. I teach movement to performers at all levels of their career. I work at conservatoires as well as on professional productions. 

You initially trained as an actor; how does this experience inform and enhance the work you do now with performers in movement? 

My experience in actor training has a huge impact on my work now. Firstly, I don’t think I would ever have known that a career in movement was possible without going to drama school. I fell in love with physical theatre and all things movement there and decided to change course. For my work now it’s so important that I really understand the performer’s process, both in training as well as during rehearsal and onstage. I always think the more jobs you understand within your industry the better. I have so much respect, admiration and compassion for performers and I hope that they feel that during my classes. 

What are your favourite things about your job?

My favourite thing by far about my work is the inspiring people I get to meet and work with. I feel very blessed to be surrounded by such talent so often. I also love to watch students grow and change as they incorporate the movement work. Working with the body gives people a certain kind of freedom and sparkle in the eye, which is great to observe. I feel very privileged to be part of that process everyday.  

What are the most common issues you come across when working with performers?

“What do I do with my hands in this scene?!” I’m only joking, although it does come up sometime! Most often, I help performers find alignment in their body and greater ease moving on stage. In character work, I am often asked about moving like the opposite sex or old age. I think the greatest block to movement is that some people decide early on that it’s not their forte, so don’t investigate it much. In fact everyone can learn to move well quite quickly.

What should people expect from your workshop? 

The workshops will give participants an understanding of how they can work with their body as performers. The body is a great ally for the performer. Fundamentally performing is an embodied activity. It’s important to understand it so that it can become the best partner it can be in your performing career. Practically we will be looking at specific exercises devised by Jaques lecoq, Feldenkrais and Trish Arnold which are used in actor training. 

What do you hope participants will go away with after your workshop? 

I hope that participants will leave the workshops with a renewed understanding of how their body can support them as performers and, rather than seeing it as something to be worked out or changed, having learned that it is a fantastic tool for creating character, becoming present and relaxing!

To find out more about Niamh and the empowering work she does with performers, take a look at her website here. For more information on all of our workshops for performers, click here. 

NB: This article was originally published ahead of our Spring 2017 workshops. Niamh led‘The Performer’s Body: On and Off Stage’ (29th January) and ‘Inside Out/Outside In: Building a Character‘ (19th February). Click the links for more information about these sessions.

Meet the Artist: Nicholas Pallesen

And So Forth are delighted to be welcoming Nicholas Pallesen to lead our first workshop of 2017, ‘The Performer’s Mind: On and Off Stage’. He recently took some time out of his busy schedule to speak to us about his work as a hypnotherapist and what participants can expect from his session on the 22nd January.  

So, Nicholas, can you introduce yourself, and what you do, to our readers? 

I’m Nicholas Pallesen, and I wear two hats: I perform full time as an opera singer (I’m actually in London at the moment to sing the title role in Rigoletto at the English National Opera). Concurrent to my performing career. I’ve also worked full time for the past 15 years as a Board Certified Hypnotherapist for performing artists, where I help artists get out of their own way, both on stage and off.

Nicholas, you are also a successful international baritone; how does this experience inform your practice when working with performers as a hypnotherapist? 

It informs everything I do in my work as a hypnotherapist. I bring a unique angle to my work that performance psychologists and traditional psychotherapists don’t, which is that I’m also an active, international performer myself.  As such, I “get” firsthand all the unique challenges, demands, and pressures we face as artists, not just in our careers, but in our everyday lives as well. I’ve been fortunate enough to perform on some of the top opera stages in the world, and yet I’ve also had terrible auditions, struggled with self-doubt and performance anxiety, dealt with the politics, and had challenges navigating the everyday lifestyle of an artist just like everyone else. I’ve overcome those challenges, and in every session with an artist, I draw from both my performance and life experiences to help people in the best way I can to be their best, most authentic and empowered selves.

What are your favourite things about your job?

The best part of my job is that I get to work with the most wonderful human beings on the planet every day! I love each of my clients and am so grateful to be a small part of their journey to “I am enough”. It’s thrilling to watch people discover just how much power they have within themselves and then watch them exercise that power in their everyday lives. It’s also really cool to show people that change IS possible, and it’s much easier than they think. Watching people own their stories with confidence, both on and off stage, is more fulfilling to me than any standing ovation I’ve ever received as a performer.

What are the three most common issues you find yourself helping performers with? 

The most common “on stage” issue I help people with is overcoming performance/audition anxiety. Most of my sessions these days have more to do with off stage, “life” goals. Among those goals, the most common would probably be helping people with relationship issues of all varieties, everyday stress/anxiety management, helping people sleep better, and helping people who feel they’re at a “crossroads” in their life/career to figure out the next step. After 15 years or working with clients, I would say that any issue is common in my office; I see just about every issue you can think of, so people can bring anything they want to change and I’ve probably helped dozens of other artists on the same thing.

What should people expect from your workshop? 

I love for my workshops to be a more informal, interactive setting where we can talk about things in a way that people feel safe and comfortable. I’m also a big believer in having fun, so we’ll probably laugh a bit in the class! I’m also a big believer in giving people practical tools they can use themselves, so every person will walk away from the class with a few techniques they can use anytime, anywhere to neutralize stress and anxiety and get to a more calm, grounded place in less than a minute. Everyone will also have the opportunity to experience hypnosis in a group setting and learn a powerful way to supercharge their mental rehearsal and more effectively visualize success in any context. 

What do you hope participants will go away with after your workshop? 

I hope people walk away feeling empowered and much more confident in themselves and their ability to manage their everyday experiences. I hope people get a sense of just how easy it can be to change and control how they feel. I hope they go away with a better understanding of hypnosis and all the benefits it can have in all aspects of life, and I hope they go away excited to put all the new tools they’ve learned into action!

 You can find out even more about Nicholas and his amazing work with performers over at his website. Find out more about our series of workshops for performers here.  

The Ways in Which We Work

The Ways in Which We Work Aren’t Working for Disabled Artists

I’m currently in rehearsals for my new play, Instrumental, a short comedy about two musicians who come to blows on Christmas Eve. I’ve written the play in collaboration with the actor Rishard Beckett (both Rishard and I shall be performing in the play), following on from our first collaboration earlier this year on Rishard’s one-man show, The Yellow Post-It Notes, which was performed at the Coventry Godiva Festival as part of the launch event for the city’s bid to be named UK City of Culture 2021.

Indeed, it was the Coventry 2021 team who first brought Rishard and me together. Rishard has Down’s syndrome and wanted to use the platform given to him by the City of Culture bid to explore the importance of community through a show, looking at the various people in his own life who had contributed so significantly to his quality of life and his ability to actively pursue his dreams and ambitions. Coventry 2021 asked if I could help Rishard realise the project, having myself only recently performed my own one-man show Clubmartyr at the Coventry Shoot Festival. They were also keen to use the launch event as an opportunity to bring about collaborations between artists in the city that otherwise may never have happened. As it was, the matching of Rishard and me was to reap artistic rewards that went beyond those of merely creating a show of which we could both be proud.

Rishard’s keen sense of play and mischievous nature were traits that I first saw as challenges to be overcome, being that we had only a small number of evenings to write, rehearse and polish what was going to be Rishard’s first solo performance – and one that was going to be performed in front of a scarily large audience. My fear was that without a disciplined and structured approach we wouldn’t reach the ‘professional’ standard and that the audience’s response to seeing Rishard on stage would be: “Aww, bless. It’s good to see people like that being given a chance.” I wanted Rishard to be validated as an artist in his own right, and for the work to transcend the prejudices that many of us harbour, albeit secretly, perhaps, about people with disabilities and what constitutes a successful performance.

But it was soon apparent that it wasn’t about transcending these prejudices, but actively challenging them. If Rishard was going to succeed in voicing what it was he had to say, then he was to do so on his own terms and not the audience’s – or, indeed, mine. He rejected a text-based approach; he rejected rote learning lines and repetition; he embraced going off on tangents and improvisation; he sailed close to the wind. As a playwright well-drilled in the School of the Conventional Rehearsal Process I saw Rishard’s unorthodoxy so late in the day as an alarming lack of discipline which threatened to undermine his ability to communicate effectively with an audience. But, of course, Rishard wasn’t the one standing in the way. I was.

So much of what we do in the theatre is done to mitigate risk. Actors are schooled, plays are developed and processes honed to meet an ideal. This is an assumed ideal, and one which is rarely questioned or even identified as an assumption. Despite the comforting idea that we in the theatre world are the vanguard of the Alternative, the industry in which we work and the ways in which we work and the choices we make about who to work with belie a dogmatic and perverse conservatism. In this context, a solo piece in which the actor has Down’s syndrome is nothing short of a revolutionary act. Disagree? Please, feel free to name your top five shows of a similar ilk. How about your top three? Two? One?

My frustration at our complacency on this point doesn’t just arise from the injustice of denying certain voices a place in the theatre, but also from a belief that our adherence to ways of working is hampering our efforts to truly express ourselves. Forever mitigating risk and adhering to what is tried and tested puts the process before the people and if we are to have a theatre which truly embraces the diversity and richness of human experience then we need to stop putting the cart before the horse.

To do so with Rishard meant replacing my faith in processes with a faith in him. I stopped bringing hastily written scripts, I stopped trying to remind him what we did yesterday, I stopped trying to reign him in. What Rishard gave me in return was a faith in the moment, that most unyielding of things, that may or may not happen at any given time whether you intend it to or not. During the performance at the launch event there was an inspired moment when Rishard stopped the show to scold his mother for filming the performance. It had the audience in raptures and struck me as astonishingly brave. But then for it to have been brave there would have had to have been fear, and of that Rishard had none.

I have tried to approach our second show, Instrumental, in the same spirit of “Why the hell not!?” that so characterised the latter stages of our collaboration on The Yellow Post-It Notes. Hence why I’m having to sing and play guitar in the show despite neither being able to – in the conventional sense – sing or play guitar. Minor details.

Collaboration, at its best, is change. If you’re singing from the same hymn sheet from the off, the alarm bells should start to ring. Fluency and ease are complacency in finer clothes. This is why I so enjoy working with Rishard. He challenges the fundamental assumptions I’ve been laboured with since An Actor Prepares was dropped on my desk back in school. Whilst we in the Arts routinely claim there are a multitude of equally valid ways in which to make work, we should confront the fact that some ways are more equal than others and that this is prohibiting certain voices from being heard. If we fail to do so then our work and culture will continue to be the poorer for it.

Rishard Beckett and Richard Walls.

You can see Instrumental by Richard Walls and Rishard Beckett at the Shop Front Theatre on Wednesday 7th December. More info here:

Richard Walls By Richard Walls, ASF Associate Director

An Ode To The Pub

An Ode to the Pub: The True Home of Inspiration.

When I say that the pub is ‘the true home of inspiration’, I don’t mean at the bottom of a pint glass. However, nor am I saying that a little tipple/cuppa can’t do wonders to lubricate our creative engines and the bonhomie essential in forging fantastic ideas and partnerships.

The Inklings, The Bloomsbury Group, The Resistance, Dumbledore’s Army… all met in pubs to discuss their plans, to overcome obstacles together, and to put their beliefs into action with like-minded individuals.

From reality to fiction, from politics to philosophy to art, many of the world’s most important revolutions and ideas started with a group of friends, pint in hand, in a pub. Or perhaps a coffee in a café – Les Deux Magots if you’re in Paris. The point is, these social hubs are the perfect place for creatives, revolutionaries even, to meet and make decisions that could lead to something extraordinary… depending on the quantity of pints consumed of course!

Bearing this in mind, and with our monthly ASF Artist socials now underway, I’m very excited about our new team. I learnt so much from our inaugural show, Damsel/Wife/Witch – collaborating with writers, a singer, composer and pianist – and I’m very excited by the prospect of learning even more about different artistic genres including opera, music, movement, scenic arts, and what we might create together. No doubt something much more powerful, meaningful and affecting than if we all just work and existed separately. Sort of like the EU… and it is even more important in post-June-2016 Britain that we are collaborating and pushing the boundaries of our artistic comfort-zones to make work that unites companies and audiences around the world.

Whether you were remain or leave, no one can argue that the pub is a very British institution that symbolises traditional British values. Community and camaraderie for example. Sometimes, however, pubs can be a little too ‘traditional’ – a certain scene from Withnail and I springs to mind: a middle-of-nowhere pub with of lots of old white men in flat caps drinking pints and eyeing up newcomers with deep suspicion.

Whilst in the capital, although more ethnically diverse, everything, including the locals, seems to undergo some sort of ‘gentrification’ at some point. Pubs are being revamped into hip, trendy bars with expensive craft beers and wine lists. It may be more multi-cultural than your local pub in Yorkshire or Shropshire, but instead of flat caps, it’s Tom Ford suits and Mulberry bags. Your average ‘struggling artists’ are priced out of many central London’s gastro-bistro-pub-eateries, or even cafes, and forced to meet up at a friend’s living room in zone 52 or suck it up and pay through the nose for a Caffé Nero Chai Latte or £4.50 a pint for the privilege of a noisy, not-very-spacious table, with not enough chairs, and free wifi.

I can’t help but draw a parallel here between the state of British Pubs and British Arts.

Not only talented young emerging companies, but also long-standing pillars of the artistic community (Northumberland Theatre Company and Théâtre Sans Frontières for some Northerly examples), are struggling to keep their funding or attract new funding opportunities due to ever greater cuts, pressures and changes in the Arts Council’s budget. They are forced to strip back, and even though these long-running companies will have strong support from their local communities, this is unfortunately not always enough, and that community loses out on original and innovative theatre as a consequence.

This is happening all over the arts industry, particularly when it comes to training: for example, the extortionate fees drama schools charge, making it impossible for many talented young actors from working class backgrounds access to training.

With this in mind, and our latest ASF Artist social approaching, it is more important than ever that we come together, collaborate and find a way to keep making the art that we want, and need, to make. As James Greive, Artistic Director of Paines Plough says, if you have a story you need to tell, you must ‘force it into existence’. And the best way to achieve this and find solutions to the often-drastic financial difficulties is together.

Pub, anyone…?

Danielle Winter By Danielle Winter, ASF Associate Director

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