• Helen T

Theatre is a collaborative art. It's crucial to be open to other people's opinions while balancing this with faith in our own. However, in a profession where someone else's opinion regularly holds the key to your employment - or lack of, it's easy to lose self-belief. Even once we're in work, we await the verdict of almighty reviewers.

So, how do we stay mentally healthy amongst all the rejection emails, challenging rehearsal processes and not-so-constructive criticism? The answer is to keep nurturing that inner barometer. When you are confident in yourself, it's easier to manage criticism and rejection.

Nurture your inner barometer by continual checking in with what you like and don't like in theatre. See as wide a range of performance styles as you can. Analyse them, never allow yourself to judge a performance, genre or process without understanding why you did or didn't like it. Look beneath your assumptions. Never be afraid to have a different opinion to others - you don't have to share your it - but you do have to value it.

Sometimes you will get negative feedback and your guts will tell you it's true, notice your feelings. It's ok. Accept that good actors still make mistakes. Yes! It's essential. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you've ruined your whole career just because you fluffed a couple of lines.

And if your inner voice is still somewhat perplexed, call a friend. But make it one who shares your values. It's essential to have people you can rely on to tell you the truth.

Of course, trusting your own opinion doesn't mean ignoring feedback, or doing your own thing in an ensemble piece. But it does make you less dependent on external validation, and it does help you to identify the type of theatre that means something to you. Theatre is subjective, and there are so many different ways to make great theatre. It is simply impossible to fit everyone's concept of a great actor. So instead, you have to tune in to that knowledge in your gut and trust in your own opinion. The more you nurture your values, the clearer that internal voice will get.

Helen :-)

At Theatre Foundry, our teaching approach is focused on helping you develop your inner voice. Next Courses: Viewpoints Oct 6th and Shakespeare Sundays from October 27th 2019 More info on our workshops page

Nadja Mathern, Dewi Hughes and Mark Rush at Theatre Foundry's 'Ways In' Course 2018

  • Helen T

Anyone who has worked with me recently knows that I'm a little obsessed with Viewpoints! This summer I indulged in an intensive week of Viewpoints and Suzuki, mixed with a bit of modernist architecture spotting and café culture appreciation in the beautiful city of Utrecht.

Viewpoints and Suzuki training with JUDKA Theatremakers and the Extended Ensemble in collaboration with HKU Utrecht.

Review August 20th-24th 2018

Looking around the room, I see people with bright, focused eyes, open glowing faces and responsive, centred bodies. I feel no nerves going into our improvised sharing, secure in the knowledge that we trust each other as an ensemble. I feel excitement at the creative possibilities. Only five days ago this was a group of strangers, various ages, nationalities and different theatrical backgrounds. With 16 in the group it felt as if there could be too many of us for an intimate company spirit to evolve. Yet is has. And that is down to the extraordinary effects of this training.

The weeks training was facilitated by Judith Bruynzeels of Judka Theatremakers who created a positive, clear and disciplined space in which we could challenge ourselves. With her were Judith Sleddens (Viewpoints), Carl Anders Hollender (Viewpoints and Suzuki) and Gábor Viktor Kozma (Suzuki). Four inspiring practitioners, all of whom made it clear that their job was to share and facilitate the work, whilst we, the participants embarked on our individual research. This ethos was itself a part of the training, when not leading a session, each would join the group as participant. By experiencing our ‘teachers’ as members of the company we form a stronger ensemble. By engaging in the work as personal research, we take responsibility for our own learning.

Born of the 1960/70’s cultural explosion in New York city, the concept of Viewpoints was first created by Mary Overlie. Her student, Anne Bogart took this system and developed it into nine Viewpoints for use in theatre. In Anne’s book on Viewpoints, one definition she gives for them is this:

Viewpoints is a set of names given to certain principles of movement through time and space; these names constitute a language for talking about what happens on stage’.

But I find it hard to define Viewpoints, they work though the actors body, reflexes, self and, as with many great training techniques, are better when experienced than discussed. When applying them in my work as a director they allow me to provide a clear framework, consistent with my vision, within which the actors can play in an aesthetically and thematically useful fashion. Viewpoints are particularly useful in my site-specific work, giving the actors tools to find the full creative potential of this increasingly popular theatrical form. When teaching I see that it gives actors the skills needed to make meaningful and inventive choices within an ensemble awareness.

Viewpoints breaks down the ingredients of performance into clear tools for an actor. Spatial Relationship, to each other and the Architecture. Topography: the journey across the floor. The Shape of your body, the Gestures you make. The option of Repetition. It looks at how fast or slowly something happens and the Duration of time you spend on a particular activity. By breaking down these aspects of performance, a performer is able to explore and apply the full value of each. The most revelationary aspect for me is that story and emotion are no more important than other elements, for instance Tempo (the speed of something) or Kinesthetic response. Steeped as we are in the classical theatre tradition, it is extraordinary to experience the clarity and creative possibilities that come from allowing these to be part of the mixture, rather than the dominant ideology. This deconstructive, non-hierarchical approach from the US is still unfamiliar to me. But seems to be an apt reflection of the modern world, and therefore a necessary tool for contemporary theatre makers.

In her work with SITI company in New York, Anne Bogart brings together the trainings of Viewpoints and Suzuki, within a philosophy of lifelong training for performers. The two techniques are complimentary in their differences and we followed this model during our week at HKU.

From Japan, created by Tadashi Suzuki, Suzuki training is ferocious. I began most exercises in the resigned certainty that my body was simply too old to endure them; only to come out the other end sweaty, exhilarated and definitively disproved. Suzuki thrives in that creatively vital area where the performer feels themselves to be on the edge of their ability. With a basis in martial arts; the rigor, discipline and approach to voice work are all very different to the techniques used in European theatre training, and therefore ones we stand to gain from. The sheer physical challenge pushes your voice, self-knowledge, and emotional connection to new creative possibilities. This training can achieve the goals of grounding and centring, that in my experience as both a performer and educator, take years with other movement techniques. In essence Suzuki training seems to intensify and expand the performers presence with the potential to lift it from the domestic to the poetic.

Suzuki sessions with Gábor Viktor Kozma utilised the actors imagination. During physical and vocal exercises we focused on a vision of something we wanted, these objectives were epic and archetypal. The effect was a powerful, linking of mind, body, breath and emotion. As I watched the rest of the group grapple with this challenge, I was moved by the vulnerability and strength in their performance, impressed and inspired by how far we had all come in a short time. The stakes are high in Suzuki. It teaches an extraordinary focus. Each day in those exercises I met my own excuses and demons, worked through physical and psychological barriers on my way to a sense of authentic presence, where the work and the ensemble were of primary importance. Where I, and it seems many others, achieved far more than we had imagined ourselves capable of.

After five days of this combined training I was aware of deep shifts within my body, I felt reconstructed as a performer. The training had reframed and re-invigorated my practice. We finished the course with an ‘Open Viewpoints Session’, an improvisation using the nine Viewpoints, in front of a small audience. Waiting to begin, I look around at this, now familiar, ensemble. We are open and focused, we are ready.

Helen Tennison

Workshop photos, Gábor Viktor Kozma


Chats about theatre...

We hang out together, a lot, and regularly talk way into the wee small hours, (apparently being sensible is not a natural attribute of age). As a professional actor (Lou) and director (Helen), our late-night talk inevitably turns to theatre.

The UK theatre scene is in a really exciting place right now, groups such as Act for Change have brought conversations about equality and diversity to the forefront of theatrical discourse. There is still such a long way to go, of course, but these conversations are happening now and the potential for real change exists. As Lyn Gardner pointed out in her recent article if we’re really looking to revolutionise theatre (and we certainly are), we also need to look at how we evaluate theatre and what classifies as ‘good’ theatre. We need to stretch theatrical form, question and test it; form and content go hand in hand, new stories demand new forms to convey them. Therefore, actors and theatre makers need the confidence, the space, the support and the skills to create those new forms and tell those new stories.

Empowering actors!

We met while teaching at Drama Studio London, where Helen ran the Two Year Acting course and Lou runs the BA Professional Acting course, so we’ve watched many of our talented students embark on the adventure of their career and followed them as they progress on their creative journey. Those journeys are both exhilarating and tough; we know, we’ve taken the same path. One of those late-night chats turned to how actors are so often in the position of delivering other people’s criteria, trying to execute what the director wants, or anticipating the casting director’s vision, particularly in the early years of their careers. This leaves little space to develop a sense of their own creative taste and identity as an artist. Yet, if we’re going to challenge the current structures of theatre, then the theatre needs empowered actors, confident in their creative identity and up for some theatrical authenticity and experiment and that’s when we decided we could set up that space. A place for creative, ongoing actor training, modelled on the US practice of life long actor learning we both adhere to, with an ethos of collaborative theatre making and an eye to producing new work. So, we start with our devising course.

Devising empowers actors, it has the capacity to give birth to new stories and forms, it is a space where you can’t help but discover more about your creative identity. These are the values which form the core of Theatre Foundry.

Lou & Helen

#actorworkshops #devising #TheatreFoundry


Want to try Viewpoints for yourself?


Then come along to our weekend workshop!


July 6th & 7th 2019 10-5pm

Theatre Delicatessen


Email us to book your place

Helen & Lou

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