Monday, July 28, 2008

Class Enemy

Earlier this month some members of Young Co. worked on an exciting project in Rutherglen. Claire writes below about her experiences:

“This is the first time I have been asked to write a blog specifically for TAG Young Co so it's of course a privilege. =]

Well this week four of us have been involved in a summer school based on the play Class Enemy at the Rutherglen Town Hall - Neje, Chris, Scott and myself. It's been absolutely brilliant. Class Enemy is a great play, as we discovered on Monday - day one - when read through a few extracts from it. The project was run by Alex Hetherington and Rebecca Green, and on Monday we were also working with actors Ewan and Eve who led us in some improvisation exercises directly related to Class Enemy. They played main characters Iron and Chick and gave us a real insight into the fascinating minds of these characters. At one point we did a whole group improvisation, which really put us out of our comfort zones. With Fin filming as well I think we were all conscious of the camera, and we all agreed that improv is quite scary in general. However by the end of the week we were all more than used to speaking directly to and in front of the camera, just one of the many skills and techniques we learned this week.

Monday was a great introduction to the project, and on Tuesday we were subjected to the controversy of the blatantly offensive aspects of Class Enemy, when we were asked to write insults on sheets of paper - the more disgusting and offensive the better. This was a game to get us inside the mind of Iron in particular, and it certainly helped to break the ice (if by this point there was any ice left to break !) - although at first it proved slightly more challenging than I personally thought when we were asked to direct it at someone we really, really hate. Now personally I make it a rule never to hate people and always to give them a second chance so as not to radiate negative energy, but hey - I had no problems when it came to kicking off proceedings, which I had to do. Apparently my insult was quite polite - in comparison to some, I suppose that may be a valid point!

Every morning we did warm up exercises with Rebecca, and I have to say, I have never before done a warm up so crazy and just really full on, but the great thing about that, along with everything else we did, was that it increased the trust and strengthened the relationship we had as a group. On the first day we were really thrown in at the deep end on the warm up front, having to keep eye contact with someone and count the seconds, together, to see how far you can get. We were all told to do this with someone we didn't already know which obviously made it that wee bit more difficult! So on Tuesday we did another few warm up exercises, also breathing and vocal exercises, and as well as the ultimately therapeutic offensive graffiti exercise, we were asked to write five things: a message to someone who meant a lot to us in our lives; a confession; a description of a prized possession; a joke; and a wish. At lunch time we were all given a pound and told to go to the 99p shop in Rutherglen and pick up the tackiest, most ridiculous item we could find, which was a laugh - my outrageous item was a pair of men's tartan "leisure shorts" which I actually think are quite stylish...

When we all came back, we were treated to a performance from musicians Owen and Michaela who had led us in making our own music that morning, and who - after performing for us one of their own songs - basically took the piss out of things that we had written that morning in a couple of new songs. Like Ewan and Eve, they were a talented duo. We then did a few focussing exercises, where we threw an imaginary tennis ball straight at the camera, and after that we were filmed reading what we had written that morning. The town hall's quite a trek from where I live but the good thing was that the traffic was always really quiet at half ten in the morning: each day started at eleven and finished at three. We were given our lunch every day as well which was cool, and some of the guys had a kick about while the rest of us avoided the pigeons at the monument where we were sat having our lunch.

On the Wednesday, the four of us and another guy, Matthew, from the group did a reading of a new play that Iain Ferguson - also from the group - had written, called Wild West, which was about knife crime and bigotry. It was filmed in a fascinatingly unconventional and experimental way, and the play was very powerful and drew parallels with Class Enemy. We also played a game where we were asked to line up in front of the camera and come forward, one by one, to randomly talk mince, more or less, to the camera before being cut short with a brutal "Time out" when we returned to the line and another name was called. We were told that time out meant time out, but I never quite got the hang of leaving without finishing the sentence I had started! A few times, two of us had to speak into the mic at the same time. It was a very interesting exercise. Also that day I got the opportunity to direct a short story that Chris had written called The Circus of the Smile, which was excellent as well - quite creepy.

Yesterday we did some more filming, where we had to line up again, and like before, speak into the mic when we were called, but this time I had to start a story off, and then we all had to keep it going. It was a scary experience but it got easier with practice. Another game we played that day was thirty second film descriptions, where we pretty much did what it says on the tin - except Alex would call us randomly, again in a line, and then tell us which film to describe. I recall giving a very, very bad review of the only Star Wars film I have ever seen, when I was around nine or ten years old - I couldn't even remember the name of it. Sorry, Star Wars fans! That afternoon, after a photographer from the Rutherglen Reformer came to take a few snaps of us, we played another game involving reading the message inside a fortune cookie into the mic, while we ate the fortune cookie. You probably had to be there, but take it from me, it was absolutely hilarious.

This week has been a challenge, but on some level I've found it a hell of a lot easier than anything I've ever done on stage, probably because it was more about being ourselves than characterisation - and also because, with speaking into the mic, less projection is required. I discovered this yesterday while playing a game called distraction with Chris, Scott and Iain. The mic, which we stood around, was positioned in front of two TV screens on which two films were played as we presented our improvisation, inspired by our various fortune cookie philosophies. The story we came up with was that Chris's character had got his girlfriend pregnant, and Iain was his disappointed dad, and Scott was the nervous brother. I had the role of Chris's furious mother who had to go off at him into the mic. The first time through, I really went for it, and nearly popped Fin's eardrum. Sorry mate.

Today was the last day. (Awww) We played our last ever mic game, which involved Alex giving us a piece of paper with a scenario on it, and when we were randomly selected, we had to describe whatever was on the piece of paper and also change our voice in some way. To add an extra wee twist, when Alex shouted "Class Enemy", those of us not speaking into the mic had to either shake, cry, or dance. And as with previous exercises, it occasionally involved two of us speaking at the same time.

We did this other really cool thing today as well, where Scott and I had to reprise our Class Enemy role play of Iron and Chick which we did after our 'fortune cookie' improv yesterday, with Chris playing the evil head teacher who came at the end and shot us. Same story again, but with a twist - it was filmed in the lift. Scott and I were sat on the floor of this lift, with Fin filming the whole time, and Chris waiting on the second floor for us to do our dialogue on the way down and the way back up, at which point he would open the door, shoot us, and then disappear. We did this through twice, but the first time it didn't quite work, coz the doors shut on Chris the first time he turned up and we weren't finished our opening bit yet. Going with our previous suggestion of letting Chris "walk past the classroom door", I just started sniggering, as Chick, and then Scott started laughing as well, and I was just about to move onto our next bit of dialogue when he turned to Fin and said "Sorry, are you still filming?"

We had to do our Class Enemy improv one last time in the final presentation to Alex, Rebecca, Fin, and Sally Hobson who set the project up. The dummy run was just a case of determining where we were and how easy it was to, say, share a mic, or for Chris to lead a few warm up exercises as he did at the beginning, whether we had enough space etc - pretty much a technical rehearsal. Scott and I took our places at this point, and we basically just passed the mic back and forth, like a tennis match, except taking it in turns to curse, just a word each, very Chick-and-Iron-esque! By the end of it I had run out of swearwords and was laughing so much I couldn't speak anyway. I don't know if I've ever laughed so much in my life than this week, especially this morning's warm up exercise which involved us all walking around the room, but with Scott stumbling about the place blindfolded. We've had some laughs and we've learnt a lot - overall, it's been a really great week and a new experience to learn techniques for acting in front of the camera.

The footage they decide to keep is going on a DVD which will be played on the opening night of Class Enemy, at Rutherglen Town Hall - 27th August. Hope to see you there!


Or catch it at the Edinburgh International Festival 2008
Class Enemy - East West Theatre Company
Wed 20 – Sat 23 August, 8pm, Royal Lyceum Theatre
Hub Tickets: 0131 473 2000
Read more at on the EIF blog.

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