Writing and producing ‘The Definition of Charisma’

By Nay Murphy, 6.2

With the support of Bedales, through the New Views Playwriting and Student Directed enrichments, I’ve written my own script – The Definition of Charisma – and I am being given a space to put it on on Wednesday 16 June in the Drama Studio (performances at 3pm and 7.30pm – book tickets here). This is an incredible way to end my time at Bedales – being supported with producing my own work, and gaining the skills and confidence to continue writing and producing in future with my theatre company, which I founded in Summer 2019 in order to give myself more theatrical opportunities, both in acting and directing, and now writing.
 
The play explores what it means to have a big imagination; it is about self-love and confidence, discussing religion, sexuality, philosophy and gender. I would say that above all, The Definition of Charisma is about friendship and the intensity that that can bring.
 
After much procrastination, I wrote the first draft in just three days last August. The process of editing then began, aided by David Anson, Head of English, and Hayley Cole, Head of Drama, who also helped with casting and rehearsal space. David’s advice for Charisma has been invaluable to me; it’s always good to find someone whose opinion you trust to ask for feedback on personal work and David is a teacher who is there to encourage through honesty, speaking to you like a grown person. Hayley provided an invaluable theatrical lens on the script, making me think more about the audience and other stage aspects. Hayley also forwarded my script to other theatre experts working at Bedales. My teachers at Bedales have really made this happen for me and their encouragement and genuine interest in my passion has continued to drive me forward. As part of the Drama enrichment I entered my script into the New Views Competition at the National Theatre and recently heard that it was longlisted.

The Definition of Charisma is a two-hander performed by the hilarious Ella Peattie, a fellow 6.2 student, and myself. Due to COVID, the original performance time was delayed. This said, we continued our weekly rehearsals over Zoom, working on characterisation; my idea for the rehearsal process was to form deep connections and understandings of our characters in order to allow for a fluid and natural staging. This is a technique influenced by Meisner, who focuses on reacting in the present moment, believing that no two performances should be the same. I’ve recently learned about this method through the Wednesday Industry Workshops programme, a class led by Ben Press, who will continue advice for me practically in rehearsal before the performance, given we got along so well.

I run the ‘NYT Playwriting Group’ at the National Youth Theatre and brought Ella along with me to a Tuesday-night Zoom to do a short R&D of our play – we did a play reading and received feedback from the fellow Playwriting Group members. This was extremely helpful for both of us as actors, and for me as a writer. Specifically, it was extremely special to hear people debate over themes in the play and Charlie and Sophia’s characters – something I had created was raising discussion. I then proceeded to write the final draft.

I’ve learned in the rehearsal process that performing one’s own work can be quite challenging – I’m performing a kind of version of myself, who’s also not me. It becomes hard to think of the character objectively, given that they are my own creation. This is a challenge I’m completely willing and happy to face and intrigued to see the outcome. Only by accepting challenges and having a willingness to fail can we produce our best work; this is definitely something I learned at the National Youth Theatre and at Bedales.

I write and I act because I’m curious about how people’s minds work and what drives them to perform certain actions. I think this is what primarily drives me forward, as well as the idea of empathy – if I can make an audience have a little more empathy after watching a performance of mine, then I’ve achieved my goal with it. As seen very recently with increased xenophobia, people often forget the humanity of others.

Ella and I are rehearsing the performance intensely during the 6.2 bridging courses over the period of a week. Student Directed is a drama bridging course and I’ve been offered extra support with industry professionals coming in for support, such as Ben Press’ return to help after we got along in his Meisner workshop. We really hope you can come and enjoy the hard work we’ve put into this.

Here’s what Ella has to say: “Sophia is an enigma. Cultivating her thoughts and reactions has been confusing, yet thrilling. It’s been a delightful experience creating her life story, cultivating her manner of walking and so much more. Come and see this freaky, fun-packed show.”

Tickets are available here: https://www.bedales.org.uk/event/definition-charisma

There will also be a stream of the performance later on in the summer – you can visit my theatre company website and join the mailing list to keep up to date at nakedbear.org.

Celebrating the ‘head, hand and heart’ experience

By Laura Greene, Block 5 BPA Rep & BPA Gatherings

This week saw the third and final Bedales Parents’ Association (BPA) gathering of the school year with a talk entitled ‘Bedales Outside the Classroom: Delivering the Head, Hand and Heart Experience’ (watch a recording of the talk here).
 
Lead by Deputy Head (Operational and Co-Curricular) Phil Tattersall-King, we were also joined by Spencer Leach (Director of Sport), Doug McIlwraith (Director of Music) and Jess Warren (Head of Psychology and Enrichment), along with two current Bedales students, Kam Nelson-Clayton (Block 5) and Jess Asamoa (6.1).
 
We looked at what’s on offer across the unique and far-reaching Bedales landscape outside of the classroom curriculum, and why these activities form such a vital part of the holistic Bedales experience for students and their families. We also delved into the need to strike the right balance between the compulsory and optional provision of music, sport, theatre and the myriad other opportunities available during a student’s time at Bedales.
 
The BPA are grateful to the team for giving us their time and energy and we’re so looking forward to holding more events like this one in the coming school year. Some online gatherings for those who can’t make it into school will remain, but we’re thrilled to start planning to gather together in person once again too!
 
One of the best takeaways from this week’s talk for me was the prospect of so many exciting events already lined up on the imminent school calendar that showcase the richness of our school’s co-curricular programme, with orchestral concerts, plays and dance recitals, the Rock Show and of course Parents’ Day all coming up before the end of this Summer Term. We look forward to seeing you around the campus and enjoying all that makes Bedales such a special place to be, together.

New Drama production available to watch online

By Hayley Cole, Head of Drama

At the end of another busy half term for Drama, I wanted to take the opportunity to praise student achievements and share news of projects about to be shared.

Machinal by Sophie Treadwell will be released daily episode by episode from Friday. The Spring Production started at home, and we wanted to share it with you at home. Rehearsals took place online and students were filmed individually. The footage was then edited into the nine-episode play. To access the links, visit the Bedales Events page. The whole show will be available for one week after all of the episodes have been released, in case you need to catch up or would prefer to binge watch!

The Summer Production, Chariots of Fire, is now well underway, and rehearsals are filling the Theatre and the Quad with energetic Block 3 and 4 students. We look forward to sharing this spectacular show with you on Parents’ Day or in the evening performances preceding it. Book tickets here.

Our Wednesday workshops have continued, and we have had the pleasure of working with Kate Winslet, Ben Muir and Martha Dancy on characterisation, dialect, the Meisner Technique and preparing for a career in the Arts. Martha, alongside the department, supported the 6.2s who applied for drama school this year. I am thrilled to share that August Janklow has received a place at East 15 on the Acting and Contemporary Theatre course and Nay Murphy has a place at the School Jacques LeCoq in Paris, alongside being shortlisted and awaiting final lists from Royal Central and Bristol Old Vic. We are incredibly proud of their achievements and Martha and I look forward to supporting the 6.1s with similar aspirations in their applications next year.

Nay was also longlisted in the National Theatre’s New Views playwriting competition, which you read about in an earlier Bulletin this term. It is a phenomenal achievement, considering the 600 plus applications. This competition is the culmination of the Playwriting enrichment course we run in Drama, and it is an excellent opportunity for those who want to refine their technique or try playwriting with teacher-led sessions and visits from a professional playwright.

Our other enrichment course is Student Directing and I am pleased that, having been temporarily halted during lockdown, the two plays are due to be realised in performance next half term. Nay is directing his play, The Definition of Charisma, and August is directing Sam Shepherd’s True West

Packed term of engaging Drama workshops

By Eve Allin, Drama Tutor

This half term the Drama department have hosted at least one drama workshop every week for all students at Bedales. Even though these workshops have all taken place online, it has been a brilliant way for students to connect to professional artists working in theatre.

We had a special workshop from Emergency Chorus, an emerging experimental theatre company, with Bohunt Drama students to kick off the term: 

The workshop with Emergency Chorus, makers of Landscape (1989), was interesting and the creators were insightful and kind. They gave us a presentation about their process and artistic intentions for the play whilst remaining inclusive and allowing us to ask some questions or ask us what we remembered about their show. I said that I liked the musical choices throughout and the atmospheric effects they all had that enhanced my pleasurable viewing experience.” — Gus McQuillan 

“I was inspired by the way their play was so contextually and historically driven. Specifically, how they focused on Capitalism in such a powerful way whilst still balancing this quite informative aspect with strong visual and aesthetical moments.” — Arthur Richardson 

Old Bedalian Amy Blakelock gave us a fascinating workshop centered around her Offie nominated play ‘Easy’: 

“From learning about story-archs and other writing techniques to playing a guessing game of which extract appeared in her final one-woman show, Amy’s playwriting workshop was hugely thought out, informative and really fun.” — Nay Murphy 

And OBs Hebe Bartlett and Roly Botha gave us a masterclass on auditioning and getting an agent: 

“I was lucky enough to participate in a brilliant workshop led by Hebe and Roly. They talked about the acting industry, how they both individually got into it and gave us tips on auditions and agents! It was very helpful and I will carry the information they gave me with me in the future.” — Jessica Asamoa 

Actor and workshop leader Benjamin Press joined us for a workshop centered on the Meisner method – a well renowned and unique technique to approach acting, Ben was brilliant at working with students over Teams: 

“Even though we were online, the Meisner workshop was ace. Keeping the energy sharp had a whole new challenge when not being face-to-face, which I found really useful, and it was brilliant to have an expert like Ben come in to help us along the way, especially since we’ve been studying naturalism this term. I had a lot of fun.” — Jamie Thorogood 

We had a brilliant visit from three Central School of Speech and Drama students, who are running workshops around how to create open spaces for women and girls: 

“The CSSD Research workshop was such an amazing experience for me. It made me reflect on my female friendships and solidify my relationships with my girlfriends, not to mention that it was so much fun and such a compassionate, lovely environment. Sophia, Safura and Naomi were so kind and made the workshop so friendly; it was one of the best workshops I have done.” — Elena Belisario 

“As a Drama A Level student I have learnt so much from the CSSD Research workshop. I have learnt how to create a creative space when devising in a group and how to produce a meaningful and powerful piece of theatre. Sophia, Safura and Naomi were very approachable and enthusiastic when answering questions, especially when I asked how I could transfer the activities we did, into my drama lesson. Overall, I believe that this was a very important workshop as I learnt so much from the way I work and made me feel very connected to my inner feminist.” — Aryana Taheri-Murphy 

For our final workshop on Wednesday this week Anita Pollinger-Jones gave students an insight into subtext in performance in her bespoke acting workshop using Hamlet and Pygmalion. We are delighted that so many students took part in our workshops this term, and we will be continuing these sessions every Wednesday in the Summer Term. 

Rehearsing in a pandemic

Teams rehearsals for the Spring Production well underway and filming has begun. Actors have been sent green screens and have sourced costumes with the guidance of the production team (and a few parcels en route to those who don’t have 1920s attire around their houses!) The editing team are already at work and the researchers are checking for accuracy. This image says it all. Our period choice was quite apt it would appear. Here, 6.1 student Elena gives us an actor’s perspective on the experience and how it feels to be involved in a lockdown project.

By Elena Belisario, 6.1
I’ve been performing since about three. Whether I was doing ballet, or singing in the choir, or acting in the school play, I always seemed to be on the stage. There was always this special thrill I got from being backstage and seeing the stage lights go up as I prepared to go on. So when I signed up for the Spring Production and went to that first Teams meeting, I really hadn’t expected that we would actually be doing it virtually, and that the ‘being on stage’ bit was going to be taken out of it. However, this experience has really helped me grow and appreciate how much the crew really play a vital part.

You see, being an actress, or being involved in acting, pre-COVID meant that you would rehearse, learn your lines, get your hair and makeup done by someone else and your costume made by someone else, and you would go on stage and act. The lights seemed to magically always work; the set had somehow magically appeared and, if it was being filmed for the parents, a video would magically appear on the school website or in your parents emails a few weeks later. Being involved in acting during COVID has made the realisation dawn on me that well, maybe, these things don’t just happen magically after all.

I have had to set up a green screen which people found take a surprisingly long time to iron. I had to record myself, thinking about the camera angles and setups and lighting. I had to find my own costume (which involved a lot of digging around my mum’s wardrobe) and I had to do my own hair and makeup (the 1920s bob is really a lot harder than it looks). All of this meant a lot more effort is required than usual, when the crew can do all of that for you. So this experience has really made me so appreciative of the crew and what goes on backstage whilst we actors are so preoccupied with ourselves and our performance.

It’s also taught me about making the most of every circumstance. When COVID first hit and then when schools shut for the second time, my personal reaction was complete meltdown. “All of these opportunities flushed down the drain, all of those memories we are missing out on!” I complained to my friends numerous times over the phone. Hayley and Joanne were real superheroes in the fact that they saw this as not an opportunity flushed down the drain, but an opportunity to do something different. To challenge ourselves and be resilient – that no matter what COVID throws at us, we can adapt and do something different. I have found that very inspiring.

The Spring Production is coming along very well: every rehearsal is exciting and I am so enjoying figuring out my character and learning how to cooperate with everyone online. I honestly can’t wait to see the end result and how all of our work turns out, and when the time comes, I hope that you enjoy watching it too.

This video gives you an insight into our Autumn production, ‘Constellations’ by Nick Payne, which was also delivered during the pandemic. This project was rehearsed and performed on site but adhering to social distancing measures, using duplicate casts across two bubbles to allow for student isolation. I hope you agree that it did not hamper creativity in the slightest and again showcases not only our students talent but their versatility and resilience in these times, which inspires us all.

‘Inspiring and uplifting’ Wednesday Workshops in Drama

By Hayley Cole, Head of Drama

Last lockdown we introduced online, industry-style workshops with professionals in the field. These included online seminars with prolific playwrights and practitioners, alongside well-known and admired OBs, all sharing their insight and passion for following a career in the arts. When back at school last term, these continued in the form of ‘Wednesday Workshops’ (pictured above), which were well-received by students, who gained insight into the industry first-hand and met incredible actors and audition coaches who have helped fuel their ambition and refine their skills.

Now we are in lockdown again, we wanted the opportunity to continue online, and Eve Allin has been organising a vibrant and varied programme of workshops. Students can attend voluntarily in Wednesday’s Powell Time slot each week. Look out for what is on offer next term, and please join us if the topic or speaker sparks your interest. Here, students who have attended share their experiences.

Jessica Asamoa, 6.1 
On Wednesday I participated in a fantastic workshop led by OB Roly Botha. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to develop our skills in monologues, and we all learned a lot from the brilliant feedback which was given. Most importantly, everyone had a lovely time and enjoyed it so much that we all stayed behind at the end to ask questions. It was an extremely enjoyable and engaging workshop.

Eliza Hayward, Block 3
I really enjoyed the recent Drama workshop with Hebe Bartlett. It was really interesting to talk to someone with so much experience. She was engaging and helpful, and gave us such great tips for self-taping and how to get into the acting industry. It was a lot of fun and I learnt a lot. I’m looking forward to more of these workshops.

Nay Murphy, 6.2 and Drama Don
A wonderful and informative workshop led by charismatic Hebe, who is introducing us to the world of professional auditions.

Stella Miller, Block 5
Throughout lockdown, Eve has been putting on the most amazing drama workshops. I was profoundly inspired and uplifted by one of her workshops on theatre directing, where she talked us through the process of directing a play from start to finish; I was even galvanised into conjouring up a whole play of my own from scratch. I could not think of a better way to spend a Wednesday evening in lockdown than talking all things drama with Eve and other OBs.

Spring Production prepares to go digital

The Spring Production is now well underway. 6.1 students are acting in ‘Machinal’ by Sophie Treadwell, one of our A Level set texts. It is a digital production and Joanne Greenwood and her team are already busy with the production elements. Sam Coleman, a member of theatre crew, tells us what is going on behind the scenes.

By Sam Coleman, Block 4

As the closure of school extends and we settle back into the routine of remote learning, the hard working stage crew bring their talented skillset to a new environment. Over last few weeks we have been working on Machinal, a stage show set in the 1920s, preparations for which will continue over the coming weeks.

With more time on our hands we are able to conduct more thorough research and find historically accurate sounds, videos and images for a more immersive and realistic experience. With the production team meeting for an hour once a week, each meeting consists of a brief rundown of tasks to fulfil, followed by a usually silent and hardworking 30 minutes of researching, sourcing, snipping and downloading. After we reconvene and share our findings, we work towards creating a scene or making edits, adding in and layering sound effects, finding visuals to go with our ‘soundscape’ and ensuring the highest quality possible.

The stage management team have been researching historically accurate props and locations to assist the actors in imagining their environment, whilst the wardrobe department have assigned costume supervisors to work with each actor to help them style costumes and hair from what they can find at home. As our soundscapes and accompanying visuals begin to fit together nicely, it will be great to see how the project progresses in the weeks to come.

Industry professionals inspire at Drama department’s Wednesday Workshops

By Hayley Cole, Head of Drama

Throughout the Autumn term, the industry based drama Wednesday workshops have continued, a wonderful opportunity for students to meet and hear from experts in the field.

Actor and drama school audition coach Martha Dancy has continued to work with 6.2 students who are looking to further their study after Bedales to prepare for a career in drama. Her help and guidance has been wholly appreciated by myself and the students, especially this year when the audition process is more varied and virtual than before. 

Our ultimate Wednesday workshop was a real treat. The kindness of professionals in the field during these challenging COVID related times has astounded me. How gracious and giving they have been with their time and how willing they have been to share their expertise. Kate Winslet encompassed this and more. She approached me to ask what she could do to help the Drama department and subsequently gave her up her afternoon to inspire our students with her top tips.  These will stay with them, I am sure, for a lifetime, but what will also stay with them was her wonderfully open, honest and down to earth manner which I and they appreciated so much.

Read students’ accounts of the workshops below.

By Caitlin Layhe Nugent, 6.2

In our first week, Martha talked us through personal statements and how to tailor them to conservatoires. Her insight on the drama school application process is invaluable and we’ve been incredibly lucky that she was kind enough to set time aside to teach us about that process and how it differs from place to place and how best to meet those needs.

By August Janklow, 6.2

Our third session was focused on self tapes. Martha ran us through the proper techniques to use when filming such as: lighting, angle, and eye line. We were instructed to deliver our lines as if there was someone sat behind the camera, reason being that our faces had to be in full focus. This among other things helped us feel more comfortable approaching drama school applications this year.

By Gus McQuillin, 6.2

A Shakespearean monologue properly prepared, is a great way of impressing a drama school during their auditions. Following a few previous sessions with Martha, she had got to learn more about me and how I generally behave and act as a person. This then enabled her to suggest a piece from Romeo and Juliet that she thought would  be a good mix of familiarity but also challenging enough that it isn’t staid and obvious. We were happy with Romeo and Juliet as I know the play, the plot and the dynamics between the characters and their relationships. Martha gave me some fantastic tips to help me become more comfortable with the piece. One was to look up the definition of any words that I didn’t completely understand, allowing me to see how they make sense and then form a coherent speech. She also advised that I completely translate the piece into my vernacular thereby basically modernising the piece so that I could conceptualise how the words might have been said in their time.

By Kit Mayhook-Walker, 6.1

On 9 December, Bedales Drama students were treated to a Wednesday workshop with the Oscar-winning actor, Kate Winslet. During the two and an half hour workshop, Kate answered students’ questions in great detail about her early acting career, the steps she takes getting into character, her favourite performances and her thought-processes behind her performances. She also led a short, scripted scene from the play The White Bike, which was previously a BAC scripted piece. She asked the two actors on stage various questions ranging from when did the characters meet to what their driving ambitions are, as a way of getting behind a character and grounding them in realism. This was followed by an improvisation with a 6.2 drama student where the audience gave them all the information; their names, ages, jobs, the scenario the scene takes place in. Everyone in attendance found this workshop extremely helpful for their future dramatic projects and we hope to see more of Kate in the New Year.

A break from tradition for Autumn production

By Hayley Cole, Head of Drama

Our Autumn Production this year is Constellations by Nick Payne, which will be performed on four consecutive nights from 7-10 December, with two performances livestreamed for parents at home. A two hander about a couple, their relationship, quantum physics and most importantly love. It follows their journey and the multiple universe theory which means we see the various outcomes of each stage in their relationship. Not exactly your traditional Christmas production, but we never produce traditional productions here.

In previous years our Autumn Production has involved students from the whole school, across all year groups, with a cast and crew totalling more than 50. We have devised our own work, chosen cutting edge musical theatre, Greek tragedy, contemporary texts and adapted work to honour the First World War. But this year, obviously, things are different. The safety of our students and staff is paramount but at the same time we wanted to celebrate the fact we are open again as a school, a creative school, and able to perform again in the theatre. Whilst our numbers are restricted, both on stage and in the auditorium, and social distancing rules must be applied, I didn’t want it to restrict our innovative approach, nor the students’ theatrical experience.

Having watched Lungs at the Old Vic during lockdown, I was inspired by the chemistry Matt Smith and Clare Foy showed on stage and the fact that the chemistry existed despite the metre plus distance between them. This led me to look at similar plays and that’s where I landed at Constellations, a play I have loved for some time but not found the right platform for. However, I needed it to be more inclusive and to give more opportunities to more students. Focusing on the original intention of the play, our interpretation shows the possibilities that exist to anyone anywhere and scenes are explored with different genders and languages as well as sign language. We see the multiple outcomes of this relationship which could have affected any two people, anywhere in the world. Two duplicate casts of eight perform the scenes and transition with dancers who explore the themes of bee keeping, endless love, quantum physics, past, present and future. 

So, whilst the COVID Christmas term has been challenging, it has by no means hampered out creativity and we look forward to sharing our work; in person with the student and staff body and virtually (via live streaming) to parents, next week.   

‘Around the World in 80 Days’ review

By Maddie Jefferies, 6.1

Around the World in 80 Days was a high spirited and energetic performance. The set was beautifully crafted, linking in the theme of time through clocks and cogs printed on the stage and on the screens that hung over the traverse. This type of stage gave a more inclusive feel and allowed the actors to interact and engage with the audience at breakneck speed.

The music was vibrant and contemporary, drawing the audience into Phileas Fogg’s journey. Dev Mannion as Fogg led the piece with confidence and poise. The Passepartouts (Elio Mazas and Blu Schneider-Marsan), a French butler whose part had been split into two, bounced off each other as a comic duo, entertaining us at every turn. In addition, the unamused detectives Fox and Fix (Freddie Pape and Otto Hall) kept us all laughing as they tried in vain to capture Fogg.

These characters were complimented by a huge cast who changed role in virtually every scene, bringing great energy and commitment to each moment. The actors moved seamlessly on stage, taking the audience with them on a journey around the world – from the busy streets of Italy to entrancing scenes in Hong Kong, before encountering the crazy circus of San Francisco. In addition, the fast paced narrative was interspersed with moments of uplifting dances. The choreography was outstanding, beautiful and moving, especially the romantic dance on board the Mongolia.

This was a high quality, feel good show – just what we all needed at the end of a busy term!

See and buy photos from Around the World in 80 Days here.