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The Performance of Directing: A Linked Series of Directing Workshops

Contemporary Directions workshops in the ongoing Rose Bruford and Stanislavski Centre Exploration of Directing and Director Training.

In association with Presence Theatre

Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, Lamorbey Park, Sidcup

[25 mins. From London Charing Cross]

Fortnightly on Saturdays

April 29th, May 13th & 27th, June 10th & 24th 2017

10am – 4pm

Theatre Directing is an intense physical, verbal, cognitive, empathic, intuitive and strategic performance activity, largely improvised, and pursued in close reciprocal engagement often with the most receptive and sensitive of collaborators: performers and other fellow theatre-makers. Every interaction counts, every physical and mental resource is an instrument that can be productively used. This sometimes involves a concerted attempt to influence and directly shape the raw matter of others’ creative imagination and, paradoxically, sometimes it involves the very opposite. All in the constant director-led search for the most effective, insightful, distilled and lucid stage action

These day-long practical director-training-and-research workshops involve a ‘directing-in-dialogue’ approach and include working with professional actors from Presence Theatre. The workshops are led by two practitioners, Simon Usher (RSC; National Theatre; Royal Court) and Colin Ellwood [Rose Bruford, Central, Guildhall], with extensive combined experience in both directing and director training. The final summative workshop has been designed in consultation with and will feature the participation of playwright Simon Stephens

Taken together these workshops aim to offer comprehensive grammar of contemporary directing useful for both working and emerging directors and also for anyone with a serious interest in its constantly-developing practice

We begin in Workshop 1 (‘exposition’) by setting out the geographies of directing in relation to the terrains of performance, identifying for example what causes  audiences to ‘lean forward’ into the performance experience; then in Workshop 2 (‘inciting incident’) we focus on the director, her/his ‘performance’ in the room – physically and verbally –  and its direct effect on the developing production not just in terms of general atmosphere but also in relation to the detail and achieved-ness of individual moments of performance. Workshops 3 and Workshop 4 (‘development, complication, crises’) pull back from what might be termed ‘leading edge’ directing techniques to explore the facilitation of the performers’ imaginations in a broader ‘parameter’ directing mode – where  the ‘creative space’ made available to the performer is framed and grounded more broadly through Exercises and Improvisations. Finally, in Workshop 5 (‘resolution’) with the participation of  Simon Stephens we return again to the core ‘instrumentality’ of directing to the synthesise the earlier work in the quest for concerted, meaningful, spatially and temporally-shaped and compelling staged action. For this final day we will drawing principally on Simon’s Three Kingdoms, given a highly charged and radical production in 2012 at the Lyric Hammersmith directed by Sebastian Nübling

Participants will have a range of opportunities to participate in the directing of featured scenes and also to observe, discuss and evaluate demonstrated work in relation to a range of dramatic forms and texts. The central focus will be on contemporary theatre writing – both originally in English and in translation – and will also including engagement with the works of Shakespeare and Brecht.

Participant feedback from recent Contemporary Direction workshops (2016/17):

  • ‘Thanks so much, as in all good things, I was left wanting more. So engaging and informative and fun’: (Directing Through Exercises)
  • ‘Just a note to say how much I enjoyed and got from the directing workshop I attended. I’ve been returning to my own notes from the day again and again. It was so fab to be working on the subtlety of questions around form and the matter of the pieces, as well having a shared psychophysical vocab underpinning’. (Directing Through Form)  
  • ‘I do think these sessions are very valuable and interesting, and I very much enjoy attending them’(Directing Through Form  & Directing Through Exercises)
  • ‘I look forward to more workshops in 2017’ (Directing, Induction and the Unconscious)

Workshop 1: Gateways and Geographies

Saturday 29th April 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Intended as a useful introduction to the workshop sequence and lay down a common foundation for what follows, this session aims to establish the elements, resource, objectives and terrains of directing; to introduce a model of effective engagement with these; to identify and make sense of recent trends and debates; to consolidate awareness of the active ‘affective core’ of performance that directing aims to incubate and shape; and to fashion an agenda of questions and issues to be addressed in the forthcoming sequence.

Workshop 2: The Director in the Room

Saturday 13th May 10 a.m. – 4 p.m

Identifying and tuning the physical and verbal instruments and techniques of directing to optimize the positive effect of the director’s impulse and insight

How might a director most effectively ‘be’ in the room? What should be the relationship with actors and stage managers? How and in what forms might actors be
encouraged to receive direction most productively? What for that matter is ‘direction’? Where does it come from? What are the best and also the accepted boundaries between actor- and director- ‘jurisdiction’? How much are different actor ‘individual processes’ a factor? Exploring the most effective protocols for guiding rehearsals and shaping performances

Workshop 3: Directing through Exercises

Saturday 27th May 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Exploring in a practical setting a range of exercises and their use 

Joe Chaikin and the Living Theatre

Exercises, or what might technically be termed ‘non-situational protocol-based interventions’, are a vital performer-training tool and increasingly a primary element of any directing process. Their use can contribute to the development of skills, sensitivities and affordances within ensembles, while instigating and framing individual performer ‘primary-process ‘ creative material. Often used to keep work fresh and to encourage new perspectives, they offer a way for the director to guide and shape performances without dictating or (in any sense of the term) blocking. Their selection, adapting and sensitive deployment represents a key area of directing craft and many practitioners have their own repertoire, often endlessly adapted and sometimes closely-guarded.

Workshop 4: Directing through Improvisation

Saturday 10th June 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

The setting up and varied use of parallel-situation, situation-sequential and situation-enacting improvisations as both a foundational and a complementary rehearsal practice.

Enactment creates more and richer experiences that conceptualisation. Improvisations can be thought of as ‘situational exercises’, enacting ‘located’ encounters in order to intensify, release, enrich and contextualize the drama’s core scripted interactions. These can for example be linked to the play’s world/situation as enactments of character pasts/futures or, contextually, be of analogous situations closer perhaps to the performers’ own experience but drawing them towards the fully apprehending and imagining of the scripted encounters. Indeed in increasingly popular approaches based on Stanislavski’s late process ‘active analysis’ and encouraged by the contemporary drive towards a brutal surface reality of behavior, the drama’s key scripted encounters themselves can be realized as improvisations. This workshop explores the appropriate protocols, uses, possible outcomes, advantages and drawbacks of all these possible uses

Workshop 5: Story into Space – A Sense of Connection:  Three Kingdoms

Saturday 24th June 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Shaping the physical and dramaturgical score in the designed space.

The delineating and intensifying of the dramatic or performative action, and the shaping of performer impulse into distilled and lucid temporally-dynamic spatial existence within the designed physical environment, are arguably the two central tasks of directing. Might they be linked? If so then the copula is ‘story’. But what is story? Or rather what are the cognitively salient and effective elements of story in a contemporary context ? What ‘magnifies’ (in both senses of ‘enlarge’ and ‘make magnetic’) real-world fragmentary and diffuse action as a necessary part of its forging (again in two senses) for the stage? Might an answer here involve, paradoxically, not actions but the break between actions…..the action-galvanising, quantum-releasing, focus-centring ‘shift’ that occurs as a result of the serially-embedded ‘incoming unexpected’, Aristotle’s perennial  ‘revelation and reversal’, ‘broken action’. There is a tension here between long-evolved human cognition on the one hand and contemporary saturated social and cultural experience and theory on the other, at the centre of which sits the director and the theatre event. And behind the artifice of story lies the even more pervasive one of fiction – the etymology of which is simply ‘made thing’. In light of this and the experience of the earlier workshops we will explore awarenesses, principles and techniques involved in achieving the fluency, clarity and shape of the material performance within and across the frame. Our key text will be Simon Stephens’s Three Kingdoms, premiered in 2012 in a provocative and highly influential trans-national production at the Lyric Hammersmith directed by Sebastian Nübling. The play’s title also offers a powerful metaphor for some of our territories today. Serial Three kingdoms:

1: Action/Story/Space; 2: Actor/Director/Writer; 3: Performance/Drama/World; 4: Expressivity/Instrumentality/Storytelling; 5: Cause/Effect/Observer

Links to Three Kingdoms Video Material

Lyric Trailer:

Interviews with Sean Holmes and Simon Stephens:

International material:

An Excellent Discussion of the Production:

Workshop Cost

  • Full price £75 per workshop / £300 for the full series of five
  • SCUDD Members £65 per workshop / £275 for the full series of five
  • Concessions £50 per workshop / £225 for the full series of five

To book

For more information please contact

Contemporary Directions is a Rose Bruford Stanislavski Centre research project and website drawing on the college’s extraordinary history of successful director training to explore, contextualize and celebrate the practice of contemporary theatre directing and directing training.

Presence Theatre was formed in 2007, and has since presented a number of performances and rehearsed readings and continues to hold workshops approaching different genres of drama from the actor’s and director’s perspective. As a registered charity that exists for the public benefit, Presence Theatre aims to involve the largest and most diverse audience that our resources will allow to help to advance the medium in every sphere: art, production, education and community.

Tutor Biographies

Simon Usher

Currently Joint Artistic Director of Presence Theatre, Simon has staged major productions for

the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Court Theatre, the National Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre and in London’s West End. He has been Artistic Director at the Bel
grade Theatre, Coventry and Associate Director of the Leicester Haymarket.  Further credits include The World’s Biggest DiamondHeronsMother Teresa is Dead and Black Milk (Royal Court), King Baby and Tamar’s Revenge (Royal Shakespeare Company), Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads (National Theatre), Timon of AthensThe Broken HeartPericles and The Winter’s Tale (Leicester Haymarket), Pond LifeNot Fade AwayThe Mortal Ash and Card Boys (The Bush), Burning Everest and Exquisite Sister (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Mr Puntilla and His Man Matti and Holes in the Skin (Chichester Festival Theatre), Les Liaisons DangereusesWaiting for GodotHamlet and Whole Lotta Shakin’ (Coventry Belgrade), Great Balls of Fire (Cambridge Theatre, West End), No Man’s Land (English Touring Theatre) and The Wolves (Paines Plough).

 Colin Ellwood

Has taught and directed at most of the UK’s leading drama schools and was Programme Director for the Rose Bruford Directing BA, of which recent graduates include the three current youngest building–based Artistic Directors in the UK as well as multiplewinners of the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme and of many other awards including recent/current winners of the Young Vic Genesis Futures Award [2016], the James Menzies Kitchen Young Director Award [2016]; Royal Court and Orange Tree Trainee Directorships and Associate Director appointments at the RSC, Lyric Hammersmith, Donmar, Edinburgh Lyceum and elsewhere, as well as of the Off-West-End Best Director and WhatsOnStage Best Production awards, and of several London Evening Standard Theatre Award nominations, an Edinburgh Fringe First and both a BAFTA and a Royal Television Society Award.







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