Six of us gathered in the Top Room of the Playhouse. Five directors and one actress. In a way, it felt cyclical – in ten years’ time we could be the new stars of professional theatre. After all, Blanche MacIntyre, who graduated from Corpus Christi in 2003, was generally unknown until 2011. In that year two plays made her a star (or ‘Most Promising Newcomer’, in the Outer Critics’ Circle Awards). Accolade, a 1950 play by Emelyn Williams; and ‘Foxfinder’, by Dawn King. Blanche is now in huge demand: ‘Ciphers’, another collaboration with King, was at the Playhouse last week; and her acclaimed production of ‘The Seagull’ visited in May. So there was great excitement in the Top Room when Blanche appeared, sat down with us and asked each person what we wanted to do.
As Blanche pointed out, student directors often suffer from an ‘Oxbridge gap’: we know all the theory, significance and symbolism of the play, but struggle to give concrete direction to the actor. Therefore, the workshop was mainly practical: using a wordless scene from ‘Ciphers’, each of us took a paragraph and directed our actress (the game and talented Carolin Kreuzer) through our portion of the scene. It was fascinating to see our different approaches: some interrogated Carolin about her thoughts, actions, and exactly why her character wanted a cigarette; others took a more practical approach, reading out the stage directions and plotting her course around the room. Blanche observed us at work and offered praise or constructive criticism. Her own directing style balanced the two; focusing on responding to the actor moment-by-moment and guiding her through the scene. Afterwards, we compared the scene with its first draft, which has a few lines of dialogue, and discussed the positives and negatives of each. Fortunately, the new version won.
In the last twenty minutes we formed our chair-circle again for a brief Q-and-A session. Useful advice and anecdotes abounded: although Blanche has a postgraduate in directing from the Drama Centre London, she recommended that we look at highly-accredited schools (LAMDA, RADA, etc), but also maintained that a directing qualification is not essential. The time (and money) can be better spent getting experience of the world and life outside theatre – RADA prefers students who spend a year out ‘doing something good’. On the complex subject of the director-designer relationship, Blanche’s experiences demonstrate that it varies by show; on one the director’s vision may take precedence, on another the two will work towards a shared vision. The priority, always, is to bring out what interests the director about the play, and to reflect this in the direction and design.
It was a fascinating, informative and engaging two hours, and I left the Playhouse feeling encouraged and invigorated. Maybe we won’t become the Next Big Thing as soon as we leave Oxford, despite the media’s focus on success and youth. But Blanche’s experience shows that talent will out, and she’s left Oxbridge graduates a bright trail to follow.
PHOTO / OffWestEnd.com