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We talk to Darlo Drama alumni Emma Dalton and Mel Day who started 'Crying Chair Theatre' with their first production of 'The Savages of Warrimi' showing recently at The Actors Pulse. Emma and Mel tell us of their experience as first time producers and how Darlo Drama prepared them to go out on their own!

Where does the name Crying Chair theatre come from?
We were working on a lovely little play together, "Bloom", that had some emotional scenes for our characters. During an emotional scene for Emma's character there was a table she had to lean on which affectionately became known as "The Sad Spot". One night Mel accidentally stood in the "Sad Spot" & Emma gave her a look on stage to say "move out of my spot!". We had a laugh about this afterwards & it became on ongoing joke. One night the Stage Manager forgot to set Mel's garden chair, which she had to throw herself into and cry. At the end of the play a joke was made about "how can I cry without my crying chair!", and so it was known from that night on as the Crying Chair". When discussing potential names for our theatre company, we wanted it to be something meaningful to both of us at the time we decided to form it, which was whilst we were working on "Bloom". 7 or 8 schooners later the serious conversation turned into reminiscing about "Bloom"and the funny things that had happened during the performances. While laughing about the sad spot and crying chair, we both had an epiphany and thought either of those could be a great name. So it was down to "The Sad Spot Theatre" or "Crying Chair Theatre"and thankfully we went with the latter. Sad spot just doesn't have the same ring to it!

How did Darlo Drama prepare you to go out and produce your own work?
There is such an incredible network of people at Darlo that are more than happy to help in any way they can to help get your play up and running. From recommending people for cast and crew to sharing stories of experience. We were never short of a person to call on for advice or to help spread the word and get bums on seats. Also the work during the courses, in particular the ensemble, gives you an insight into how a play is produced, from start to end and provides an amazing foundation to take something from page to stage. You not only get to work on your acting craft, but you also get to see how the lighting, set, costumes and staging all comes together because of the close working relationship you form with your Director. The tutors/Directors treat you like a professional and make the experience extremely rewarding.

What was the best thing about starting your own theatre company? What was the hardest thing you experienced?
The whole process has been such an incredible journey. We are in agreement that the best thing is being able to produce work that we find challenging, exciting and that connects with us in some way right from the first read. Working with one of your best mates is also a huge bonus!! The hardest thing? I don't think there was anything that felt too hard because of how dedicated we were to what we wanted to achieve. We both had each other's back and learnt really fast what one of us was lacking in the production side the other was all over! If we had to pick a hardest thing - it would probably be knowing when to draw the line between producer and actor and not to take too much on so that it becomes overwhelming. Another thing that was a little hard for the first production was knowing how big to aim for the first shot at a show. Whether you ever know the answer - who knows? But you need to know you are making the right decisions at the time and stick by them.

Why did you choose the Savages and how did you find the play?
Crying Chair wants to tell Australian stories written by Australians, particularly women. We read many plays between us but kept coming back to the Savages Of Wirramai. Written by a woman, an amazingly touching Australian story and with 4 incredible female roles - it fit all of our criteria. Coincidentally there was a student production of the play around the time we were looking, so we went along and saw it and that was our minds made up.

Whats next for Crying Chair?
The lovely writer of the Savages Of Wirrami, Sandra Fairthone, has asked us to workshop her next play. Hopefully this will be ready for the 2019 season. We also have a table read of another great Aussie play this week which may see the stage later this year. We even had another Victorian based writer contact us to see if we would be interested in producing her new play - maybe a world premiere for Crying Chair Theatre! But first - we're both off on European holidays!

What advice would you give anyone interested in joining Darlo Drama for any of our courses?
Do it, do it, do it! There are so many reasons get into acting and one of the beautiful things about it is you get to meet people from all walks of life that you perhaps wouldn't cross paths with in your day to day life. For what ever reason you want to do it, you should! You never know where it will take you. The courses are a great grounding into acting, the tutors are amazing and supporting, and the Darlo Drama community always seem to be there for each other with support, no matter how big or small the performance may be. Some incredible friendships and professional relationships have been formed through Darlo - and that isn't something you can put a price on.

left brain right brain

The development of the individual should be a staple of any progressive and forward thinking business. This can be approached by providing opportunities for knowledge based training, where content is delivered in a left-brain manner, soliciting the acquisition of facts and figures, intellectual strategies or techniques. As we can see through our education system, this type of learning provides outcomes for some, but for many, learning has to be tailored to meet those specific needs of the learner. Many of us, don’t retain information in this manner, nor do we develop the impetus to affect change in our behaviours or approaches to our work.

Embodied training is focussed on the experiential - training mechanisms that create learning by doing. This method of learning works on the premise that by experiencing we can grow and develop. The current economy spruiks the value of innovation and creativity – two elements of human function that are for the most part, right brain functions. Akin to artistic endeavours, these ways of thinking need to be developed through less linear learning systems.

To train the creative mind, we must disenthrall ourselves from standardised knowledge based training and open up our class rooms to learning that values embodiment. Once we come to terms with this in our businesses is when we will be able to address professional development that serves the varied needs of the learner.

Darlo Drama has been a training provider of experiential acting and corporate training programs since 1992.

What made you first want to do a beginners acting course at Darlo, when did you do your first course and what other courses have you done?

Funny story. I was at a charity ball where, after some charitable drinking and dancing, I got pretty enthused about the silent auction. Next morning, I woke up with a gastronomy package, a theatre package which included the Darlo level 1 course and a less-than-charitable hangover.

I started level 1 in November 2015 and never looked back. I initially thought it would just be a bit of fun and help me with presentation skills for work. In truth, it provided me with a great outlet to temporarily escape a demanding and stressful job, taught me many essential life skills, introduced me to some fantastic friends and of course, I ended up getting totally hooked on acting.

I’ve since done the other beginner courses, Actor’s Lab, the American Accent Masterclass, the Ensemble Showcase, as well as an improvisation course which can come in pretty handy when something ‘unplanned’ happens on stage!

How did the courses you completed at Darlo leading up to the Ensemble prepare you for the experience of doing a full play?

The beginner courses give you all the foundations for doing a full play – starting with the all-important monologue, getting down some scenes, working through transitions on stage and of course acting techniques, warm-ups and understanding your character.

Actors Lab takes it all to another level. It gives you the tools to really develop a character and produce something believable for the stage. These are critical tools you continue to develop well after the course is completed. I can’t recommend Actors Lab enough and I know every student in my class would say the same.

I hope Glen is reading this, because that plug must be worth a drink or two, right?!

We have received great feedback about the recent production you were involved in, what do you think it was it about the production of Myth that made it so successful?

It was the perfect recipe of a very hard-working, talented and dedicated cast that bonded well and looked out for each other, a masterpiece of a script by Stephen Sewell and one incredibly focused and committed director in Glen. He’s a bloody genius, you know.

We did quite a number of extra rehearsal sessions whenever we could – during our days off, before and after the scheduled rehearsals and to help out new cast members when required. That shows how dedicated everyone was to the show’s success.

A lot of us also worked hard to promote the show which meant we got some big, receptive and generous audiences. Nothing gives the cast a boost like playing to a full house and it creates a better audience experience too.

How would you describe the process of working on the ensemble show? What did you most enjoy?

We spent a good amount of time initially analysing the script, to understand the writer, literary and historical references which provided the context for the plot, the subtext and the various characters’ needs. This all took place before we launched into running the scenes.

When you’re working with a great script and a terrific bunch of people that whole process is really interesting and a lot of fun. I genuinely looked forward to every meeting, rehearsal and script run and never missed any. I even went uber-nerd and got into reading Kafka and a bunch of other stuff referred to in the play to develop an even better appreciation of the text and of my character.  

It was really rewarding to see it all come together as we did the tech and dress rehearsals and seeing Glen’s brilliant vision for the show come to life. Since we wrapped, there has been one really big ensemble-shaped hole in my life.

It’s difficult to pick any one aspect because I loved it all, but I think I most enjoyed performing the shows then getting feedback from the audiences. I mean, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? We converted a number of non-theatre goers and sceptics over the course of the four shows, so we must have done something right!

Tell us a bit about how you found the role of Talbot as an actor?

Talbot is the classic tragic hero, a courageous character who clings to his principles and beliefs at the expense of everything else in his life. Like so many historical figures who, as Margurite says in the play, “stood and burnt for the truth” he demands your admiration and respect. It was only natural to connect and empathise with him as an actor. It also helped having a passion for the political and philosophical subject matter that preoccupied Talbot, so it didn’t need to be faked.

Talbot is a huge role to learn, act and rehearse with the cast, so it was split between Andy Singh and myself. I took so much from developing the character with Glen and Andy and interpreting the brilliant Myth script. I also got a lot out of seeing how Andy approached Talbot in act two to adapt my own approach for act one. It was a unique process and a fabulous experience.

What advice would you give to anyone considering auditioning for the ensemble?

Glen is partial to a red wine ;-)

Seriously though, I would suggest following the recommended Darlo path and doing Actor’s Lab first, because you will come out of it a much better actor to be at your best for the Ensemble.

The Ensemble is a big commitment, so ensure you (and your loved ones) are ready and available to give it your all. If you are ready to commit to it, it will give back a thousand times what you put in.

What advice would you give to someone considering doing any of the Darlo courses?

Do it… because the alternative is a lifetime of regret. I personally wish I had started on this path a lot sooner.

Go to every class. That’s actually what you pay the fees for, right?

The more work you put in early on to get off-script will pay big dividends, as you can spend more time finessing your performance. Not knowing your lines also puts extra pressure on your scene partners and the whole cast, so put in the work out of respect for them too!

Everyone gets busy, so make sure you prioritise and allocate time to learning your lines as often as you can. Use the line learning apps. They really do work and they give you more opportunities to learn lines while you are doing things around the house, exercising or while on the road.

Lastly, during the Ensemble I reflected on my days as a guitar student when I once had to be reminded not to stop “playing” guitar, because it’s the playfulness that helps you learn new tricks and provides most of the enjoyment. The same is true of acting. Don’t forget to unleash your inner child, laugh, have fun and don’t take the “play” out of the play!    

 

Rule #1 – “The customer is always right”.

Rule # 2: “If the customer is wrong see rule #1”.

This is the ethos of customer service drilled into all of us who have served, waited, answered, assisted or in any way interacted with a customer. And for good reason – looking after a customer is the first rule of business.

Let’s jump to another rule of business. “Our people are our most valuable asset”.

Ipso facto, we have an interest in protecting and developing that asset. Just from a simple business construct we have in this a potential dichotomy. How do we give outstanding customer service if our customer service asset is compromised?

We all know that people have a bad day and at times this is taken out on customer service and front line professionals. There is really no escaping this as YOU, the representative of the company are, at that point in time – THE COMPANY, expected to roll with the punches of the dissatisfied customer.

Our trainers have worked with a range of companies and we have seen over those years a very real “culture of apathy and disconnection” amongst front line staff. A typical response to negative comments or attacks is often to withdraw – or at worse to develop defensiveness, where every customer is a potential enemy of the state! Negativity breeds negativity – and defensiveness creates conflict.

In our experience there is a training approach that serves these two distinct, but potentially conflicting interests. The raw material of customer service is the professional responsible for that service. Assuming that we address our product and service range, methods, logistics and our business infrastructure, then what is left is the person behind the counter.

Confidence in self provides a base of resilience. A shock absorber to the road bumps of dealing with the public. This confidence is not an intellectual idea, but instead an embodied skill - a process of claiming self and authenticity, and the ability to find ones footing even in difficult interactions.

Two rules of business of which in their approach need not be mutually exclusive.

Darlo Drama has run their signature Beginners Acting Course in Sydney since 1992. Our trainers have developed training programs for businesses and organisations in the public and private sectors.

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william shakespeare 194895 1 402

There is very good reason as to why, after hundreds of years actors and audiences alike remain drawn to the work of “The Bard”.

Contemporary text draws parallels to our modern day frames of reference of behavior, thoughts and actions. We recognize characters from how they interact with each other through a modern paradigm. Why then do acting schools all over the English speaking world still use the works of Shakespeare as part of their stable of training the contemporary actor?

The short answer is the way the text interacts with the voice, body and heart. The rhythms and cadence of heightened language provides an holistic mechanism for the actor to truly connect to text in an embodied way.  Naturalistic frames of reference don’t cut it with the muscularity of Shakespeare’s verse and prose. These instead demand the actor’s complete instrument to realise the depth of this language – to bring to performance the imagery, colour and emotion, which sits purely within the text.

Actors in training spend hours working their voices to develop a clear and tension free conduit between actor, text and audience. Bringing life to the theatre through heightened text is one of the most effective ways to develop a robust and vital connection between actor and their body and voice. Every word and every thought is borne from the body. There is no allowance in the work of Shakespeare for the language to sit as a benign thought in sub-text, but rather it must, thought by thought – sound by sound – be originated and energized through the actor’s active body.

Regardless of your desire to perform the works of Shakespeare, every actor should embrace the lessons this text has to offer. A truly crafted and energised theatrical performance will always have its mettle tested in the heightened text.

Sometimes the old ways are still the best ways. When the actor IS a body, a voice and a heart – “such as we are made of, such we be”

 

There has been some discussion in recent times on individual learning styles and how we can engage more flexible teaching methods in education. Many training practices aim to include a range of learning resources and approaches to help build a student’s capacity to learn and develop, but for the most part we are still quite enthralled to more traditional linear education practices. Our school systems are set up to support academic rather than practical outcomes, and in many ways this system ignores the great benefit in experiential and kinaesthetic learning.

Consider this premise: “if we are uncomfortable, we are learning”. This need not mean uncomfortable to the point of paralysis, but a small level of anxiousness or hesitation provides a solid base from which to step gently into discomfort – and begin the learning process. This fundamental principle forms the basis of the approach to education used to train actors, but ironically, this training is actually of significant, if not greater benefit to those of us living and working in today’s modern western society.

Just about every job requires us to communicate with others. This may be a single desk mate, to hundreds of customers or large teams in a corporation. Communication requires confidence in our ability to express an opinion, feel grounded in our own skin and step into ourselves with ease and conviction. Confidence is not about being gregarious or extroverted, but instead building security in who we are as an individual and being a part of a community of others.

We can talk about confidence until the cows come home, but this is a lesson to be learned in the body – not the head. An acting class run in a supportive environment with like-minded people provides the perfect environment for these lessons to be learned and more importantly, retained.

Stepping gently out of our comfort zone brings us closer to who we are and how we can more authentically be ourselves at home and at work.

Darlo Drama has been running their signature Beginners Acting classes in Sydney since 1992.

public speaking

An AK47 against the temple is a pretty frightening possibility.. almost as much as standing at a lectern, palms sweating and a mind bereft of the first word of a presentation. An expectant audience waits in deafening silence.

 

I would probably collapse in a blubbering heap in the first scenario, but when it comes to public speaking there are two key truths that apply. Firstly, standing in front of a group of people and delivering a speech is something we are not wired to do as adults. The second involves the notion of confidence. Confidence is a skill, not a gift. Each of us, regardless of temperament or personality can LEARN confidence. An acknowledgement of these two elements allows us to safely and boldly lean into the discomfort of speaking in public. 

 

Stage fright and nerves might seem to be something that resides in the mind. Thoughts of doubt, your inner critic and audience expectation can fill our awareness, stripping us of the ability to just release and trust our capacity to communicate with others. The mind may be the source of this restriction, but the body provides the solution. In years of working with actors, this concept forms the base of the development of process and the craft of performing. The body holds the key to learning confidence.

 

We all grew up around story telling. As three year olds we were infinitely able to embody a story without fear or doubt. In the big bad adult world it is easy to escape this skill that each of us were born with, but knowing that this ability was intrinsic to who we were, means it is simply a case of re-learning an old skill. When we accept this approach is when the bubbling energy of fear becomes a source of inspiration and engagement.

 

The adult then returns to where it all began - and sees the place for the first time with grown up eyes.