The experimental theatre club was once the stuff of legends. Rowan Atkinson, Richard Curtis, Michael Palin and Ken Loach to name but a few of its historic participants. It is therefore surprising that its resurrection has not received much buzz. Indeed at a recent workshop there were just eight people. It was great for us lucky eight, but it soon became apparent that it would be a real loss to Oxford drama if this fantastic group were not receive a greater place in the drama world.
At this particular event ‘Words, Words, Words’, Katherine Bussert, co president of the society, led an interactive workshop in Shakesperean rehearsal technique. As we soon found out, not knowing your lines before rehearsal was a far more serious issue back then than it is now. Rather than receiving a complete script actors would receive only their lines along with the lines that immediately preceded their own. This was the only cue they had. If as was often the case, the actors did not know the full story, they would come on stage during rehearsals without really knowing what was going to happen.
This ‘method’, or probably just a practical reality in Shakespeare’s day, creates an extremely interesting rehearsal dynamic as we soon found out. After being separated into groups we were thrust on stage and made to perform a scene in which we each received only our lines. For one thing, it forces you to be much more aware of what you’re saying and how it relates to what everybody else is saying. You genuinely have to listen, not only to work out what’s going on but simply to know when you’re supposed to come in. Perhaps once actors become proficient in this type of method, they learn to be much more sensitive to their fellow actors. It is a method which indeed does not allow much scope for focusing only on your own performance. Directors take note.
Hopefully directors, producers and actors will indeed take note of these events in future, for having chatted to Bussert post workshop, it seems the ETC will have much to offer to future productions. She envisages the ETC as a resource people can tap into in order order to pick up new ideas, discuss and develop their projects or just even get a fresh pair of eyes on their work. In this regard, the production of Zennor at the Northwall Arts center was an encouraging showcase for what the ETC can do in collaboration.
The nice thing about ‘words, words, words’ however was that it wasn’t just for theatre pros. Its been a very long time since I had personally done any proper acting and yet in spite of my dire butchery of Polonius, I felt welcomed to mangle away my lines. This accessibility, in addition to the great potential it has to stimulate Oxford drama, is why the ETC deserves greater attention. I very much look forward to seeing what they come up with next.