Letters from LAMDA

WP_20150323_001January 4, 2015

I flew into London early yesterday morning.  LAMDA will be starting tomorrow for which I’m equal parts excited and nervous. The weather is as promised: cold and gray. 

January 16, 2015

LAMDA Spring 2015 class at the Tower of London

Wow have we been busy! We started our regular class schedule this week so we have had at least one class of each with every teacher so far. It is a lot. I’m taking stage combat, historical dance (the dance instructor is the choreographer and expert employed for Downton Abbey, we call her The Duchess), applied voice, spoken word voice (where we’ll be learning R.P. or Received Pronunciation), Alexander Technique, singing, acting with the text, movement for the actor, along with weekly workshops specifically working on a Shakespeare history, tragedy, or Restoration comedy and some masterclasses. This is a seriously intense semester course, but I am really starting to see how worth while it will be. We have already started working on the key part of our body for acting: our core. As well as recognizing the incredible importance of the breath and relaxation.

This week we went to see Shakespeare in Love directed by Declan Donnellan. We saw the second cast not the first, so it might be that Donnellan was not as involved in this cast’s rehearsal period as with the first. But the set was really great and the pure theatricality of the script really shown through, especially with some great bits of historical song and dance. It was entertaining to say the least.

So far, I have gone to the British Museum for a little bit (which will require quite a few more trips before my time here is out), the National Gallery, Hampton Court, and the Tower of London. Tomorrow, Emory’s study abroad group will be taking us to Greenwich. So lots of traveling and learning and work for me!

Greatly enjoying the pub culture here as well.  

January 27, 2015

Nysa in Cambridge

We’re starting our fourth week in the program. It has really given me a lot to think about in terms of my acting and personal care of myself through this profession. Last week I went to see three shows, three days in a row! I’ve never done that before. We saw RSC’s Henry IV, Part 1, a very underground production of Midsummer Night’s Dream and I went to see Dara at the National Theatre. Dara  was great! It is a new play that follows a Pakistani/Indian story of the sons of the man who built the Taj Mahal, as they fight for leadership rights to the kingdom. There is an incredible amount of heavy philosophical text in the play that I think the actors carried beautifully. I learned more about Islam in that play than I have learned on the television or in classes. It was amazing to see how diverse the faith can be even from brother to brother. It was also incredibly visually stunning and the costumes were wonderfully historical and beautiful. I am hoping to attend a couple performances of the London Mime Festival at the Barbican Center in the next couple of weeks because it is supposed to be some of the best in visual theater from around the world. I will also be going to see The Woman in Black and The Ruling Class with James McAvoy as the lead. A whole lot of theater is happening here and it’s amazing to have it at my fingertips.

In classes we’ve been really focusing on listening and making the script active. At LAMDA the training focuses completely on the relationship between you and the other person. Stage combat is controlled completely by the use of eye contact and all the teachers here underline the importance of intention and living and responding in the moment. Alexander Technique and my movement class are encouraging us to be aware of our bodies: where our tension is, how do we relax the non-essential muscles in the moment, where our vocal and bodily strength comes from, etc. There is a lot that I am learning about myself and the way that I act, the questions I forget to ask, or how to approach an acting impediment a different way. What I like about LAMDA is that what they teach us are tools for later in life. They build on a toolkit so that you can be thrown into a situation and think on your feet or carry through a challenging path because you have the tools in your back pocket. I am starting to recognize the difference between when I am playing an active scene or not and to question myself as to why I’m not connected with the words or letting them run me instead of the other way around.

March 1, 2015

Semester 2 c-ds restoration comedy
Nysa’s Restoration Comedy class

Great news! Rodney Cottier, the director of LAMDA who visited in the Fall, has stepped in to be my workshop group’s director for our Shakespeare tragedies. Which is incredible and exciting because he is quite knowledgeable and well-known in the Shakespeare community. We will be doing Julius Caesar, which I’m very excited about because I have never studied it.  On Friday, we did our performances of our Restoration comedy scenes. It was a lot of fun, if not quite a bit bawdy. We had a wonderful director named Nick Hutchison who used to be an actor and has been making a name for himself as a director of restoration comedy. The scene I was in was from The Country Wife which was hilarious to read and work on. Tomorrow we will be doing our tutorials with our directors to close the Restoration section of the course off as well as our pastoral tutorials on Tuesday to check in and see how each student is doing in the course. Also, Dance Night is tomorrow! We will be doing a medieval line dance called the linear carole  with more than 40 people in our program and then watching some of the other courses do their own historical dances that they have been rehearsing. Should be fun!  

April 17, 2015

My semester course with LAMDA ended last Friday, so right now I’m in Norway visiting family friends. I will be headed back from Norway to the States on the 25th of April. Our ending week was pretty long and crazy. Tuesday was the first time that we fully blocked our final showing; we also did tech and a dress rehearsal. Each group (there were three) had a different director for a Shakespeare tragedy that was abridged to fit into a 90-minute time slot. The only group that went very far over was Hamlet – haha, go figure. My group did a cut version of Julius Caesar and another did Antony and Cleopatra, so we had a nice sequel thing going. I played Casca, who, because of cuts, had the only funny scene in the play. It was terrifying to be the only funny character in a long run of tragedy – until we had an actual audience there to laugh. The Brutus and Antony roles were divided between five people (3 for Brutus, 2 for Antony) to make sure that everyone had about the same number of lines as everyone else.

Rehearsing with Rodney Cottier was hard work. It was fun and terrifying, but it was definitely hard work. He is very focused on the text and believes that Shakespeare is directing an actor how to speak the lines with the words that he has written. I worked very hard to open up my resonance and support my voice from a lower place, so that I might play a character that was completely opposite to me, both physically and mentally. I worked to try everything that Rodney threw at me and to take risks with the character, and we had quite a few grueling sessions of trying this or trying that, if the other wasn’t working. I think that in the end it really paid off. It showed me the lengths to which I can go in finding a character – and the hard work within the fun of acting. By the end I was really having fun in my scene, being a ridiculous, horrible prick to Caesar, and I loved working with my cast mates, who were encouraging with a good dose of silly in the mix. I found a certain amount of freedom on stage. I was very pleased with the whole performance and grateful to have worked with a director who kept pushing me to stretch my mental and physical abilities – and who also believed that I would get there.

I learned a lot about acting and myself in those last two weeks: how frustrated I can get when a role isn’t going the way I want it to – and how to confront that, to trust in the work and not overthink my choices to a point where I don’t make them, and to learn to have fun in a character that, I have to admit, I was a little bit frightened of in the beginning.

Our final project was a theater movement project. We were split into six groups, told to choose and watch a movie that we would recreate in 5 minutes with 7 people and a box about a meter and half long and half a meter wide. It definitely tested our ability to use our time wisely, be specific, and how to work with other actors. The final showing of it was awesome and hilarious: people did movies like The Lion King, Harry Potter, Home Alone, and Indiana Jones (my group).

I also had tutorials that day with all the teachers that I had been working with the whole semester, which was a bit daunting, but they all went well. When it comes down to it, these teachers saw me in a time of great growth, as I was figuring myself out in this theater world; I think they guided me well, and they did it in such a nurturing but honest way. We got our diplomas on Friday and it was a bit of a cry fest, but then we all danced and went out to a pub to say goodbye to each other. Some of the group has already met up again in Glasgow.

It was kind of a whirlwind semester for me. There were a lot of hard questions I had to ask myself and work through, and I have definitely grown a lot as a person and actor these past few months.  But I’m ready to come home and start the summer and my senior year. I plan to apply what I’ve learned in London to my life in Atlanta and continue to build on what I started working on there in terms of acting technique and emotional growth. I’ve decided from this program that I want, maybe in a couple years, to apply for a program similar to LAMDA in the States (unless LAMDA starts offering overseas scholarships) and get a master’s degree in theater. I’ve realized how important training is to an actor, and I want to take all the time that is given to me in training to push and stretch myself to become a better actor and really dedicate myself to the theater.

Those who will be headed to LAMDA next year won’t know what hit them when they get there and experience that place. I hope that other sophomores and juniors in our department  are thinking about applying there for a semester, because I really think they would like it. A summer program is good, too! This is a great program for anyone thinking about being an actor in our Theater Studies program, and I hope this year is the start of a long line of Emory students who attend LAMDA. (We have to catch up with Boston University, which sends about 8 or 9 students each semester!)

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