Propeller blog
Propeller blog
Propeller blog
Propeller blog



Production photos of Snookered by Robert Workman.


Production photos of Blood by Robert Workman.

Performance time

Wednesday morning – trying to squeeze in a quick blog before going off for photo shoot for next production The House of Bilquis Bibi.  This is how we like it – one production following the next!  It exhausts you but also keeps one buoyant!  Talking about exhaustion – we are spun out – opened four shows over the last two days.  Yes, they are work in progress, but many people are saying they are much more like “finished” productions.  I hate the word finished because it is never finished, but no script in hand approach here – the actors have magnificently risen to the challenge – learnt a huge amount of lines in just two weeks – and are playing effortlessly – really with such ease and sensitivity.  Directors, designers, technical team have so completely pulled this off – if you see all four plays it is so interesting to see how subtle changes on the set suddenly turn the whole world from a snooker hall to a beauty salon – it’s clever!  And the writers – they have worked and worked and been there through the process – checking in with their dramaturgs when necessary – nervous at the first performance, but very aware how it is this moment when you meet the audience that stays etched in the memory.  It sharpens us!

Lotus Beauty rehearsals

Photographs by Robert Workman.

Tick tock: the race against the clock

Over in Pimlico, the race against the clock for propeller has really begun.  When I visited yesterday, every corner of St Gabriel’s Halls had been claimed by props, directors, designers and writers.  Even on their lunch break, the cast of Lotus Beauty were deep in discussion of the differences and disagreements between generations of Asian women, and found Satinder’s script incredibly true to life.

I love being inside a rehearsal room so couldn’t resist visiting Dominic’s rehearsal for Blood.  With Em there for the day, there was a great atmosphere in the room.  Although there was a flick-knife on the table, it wasn’t a weapon, or for making drastic cuts to the script – just a stage-safe prop for the hair cut scene.  Disappointing for the blog, but reassuring for the show, I suppose.  Dominic was doing some very detailed work on a scene between Caneze and Sully (played beautifully by Rajneet and Kashif) and encountering the age-old director’s dilemma: when to explore, and how to make decisions before you’re sure.  As I said: a race against the clock…

Back in the office today, there’s been a constant stream of strange deliveries: bright pink salon tunics (cue Julia to design team: “do you really want hot pink?!”), a cyclorama for Eva’s projections and a floorcloth, currently being painted by Fahmida and Sue on the first floor.  Fingers crossed the office floor survives unscathed, that it dries in time, and that they survive the fumes…!

Ten days to go

Just back from a meeting with the fabulous (predominantly female) production team: Cate DiGirolamo (Production Manager), Emily Thompson (DSM), Prema Mehta (Lighting Designer), Kristine, Sue, Fahmida and Eva (Designers), Poonam, Suba, Dominic and Amman (Directors) and Julia (Producer).  Twelve brains puzzled over the production schedule: how to tech and dress four shows in two days, how to deliver a sound design on a shoestring, and where and how to paint a 5m x 5m floor cloth.  This seemed to be a challenge too many for some – no great surprise at the end of a long week’s rehearsals, I suppose.

I seized the opportunity to slip into one of Suba’s rehearsals for Zindabad.  Kristine was also there to observe and mentor Suba as director.  The presence of an audience at this early stage clearly made everyone nervous, but what a cast!  After only a week, they seemed incredibly comfortable with Avaes’ script, and were playing really well together.  Hopefully well-deserved praise from Kristine (and a lot of laughs from me) will have given them the confidence boost they need.

Can’t wait to see what happens next!

First week of rehearsals

Everyone arrived excited but nervous as hell on Monday morning – the anticipation and nerves on first day of rehearsals is always quite a cocktail!

But what a joy to see so many artists gathered together at St Gabriel’s Church Hall to work on these four excellent plays. Meet and greet and then the company got on with it – reading plays, making cuts, sharing actors, sorting schedules for the week. I left them to it for Monday and Tuesday and went back on Wednesday to see how they were getting on and to mentor directors through the process. I love rehearsal rooms and once I am in a rehearsal room, I sort of never want to leave so I always hang around at the end of the day, tidying up, looking at the model box and then looking at the model box again – chatting to stage management – anything to keep me in the room!

Directors had worked fast – so there was a lot to look at and this was a great moment – a mock-up of the set was up and it was the first time the directors were really coming to terms with working in that very particular physical space. I am trying to impress upon the directors how essential it is to get the aesthetic of the space absolutely right – how to move actors through the space with a pleasing choreography is so important for me and I always feel if you can crack how the space works at its best early on, the play will virtually move itself – and this is what we saw on Wednesday. For each play, as soon as we have the physical space as though it were the only possible way it could arrange itself, then things really start to happen. Moves, spatial dynamics start to suggest themselves and these things feed the texture of the play. And this process happens naturally – when a space is working well – this process can be completely unforced.

Once the space was established, a little work with the actors – again reminding directors that if the actor is happy and open at every moment in the rehearsal room you can move simply and lightly through the rehearsal.  If the actor is open they give you so much of what you need and once again things can take their own shape. But it is so important that you “see” – you see when things are working and you see when things are not – this is the gift of the director – not to be able to see the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is a curse. Yesterday I saw something extraordinary.

Training week

Kristine Landon-Smith

I absolutely love these training weeks where actors, directors, designers and writers come together and really investigate the collaborative process around making a piece of work. The first morning is always the same – everyone is always terrified – and I always begin with pointing out how completely normal this is and how important it is to acknowledge how normal it is! I have found over the years that actors are often too scared to admit how scared they are and therefore try at every moment to appear not scared and confident in what they are doing. This means that they will come first to a place where they are not open, vulnerable, fearless, and therefore they will not really be ready to work – everything will be “pretend”.  It is completely unproductive to start work “covering up”. So one of the most important things for me as a director and teacher is to lay the conversations on the table – conversation around what we are making, what we are seeing, is always as important as being on the rehearsal room floor.

I worked closely with actors and directors with designers observing – moving from games to improvisations to text – using the actors’ and directors’ individual spirits and their cultural contexts to tease out the best I could from them moment by moment. I often find, after even very gentle enquiry, that directors and actors are unsure of the purpose of “the game” in the rehearsal room – the game is to encourage and look at the open spirit of play – and then to pull through that open spirit of play to improvisation and then to text. It is my feeling that this is the job of the director – to help the actor find their own unique spirit of play and then make sure it remains with them moment by moment through the rehearsal process. This is subtle and rigorous work which requires directors to really look, see, and then analyse what they are seeing and problem-solve.  It is hard work and often very unfamiliar territory.  This deep investigation of how to work with the actor often shows that in this country we ignore the actor as a really creative theatre-maker, and rather than ask them to be vessels through which an author’s text flows. My feeling is we need the open, fearless, confident actor first in order for them to be sensitive enough to let the real rhythms of the text come through.

We saw some phenomenal improvisations and some phenomenal pieces of text work from the actors and we saw the directors courageously working in unfamiliar waters with great success. Designers too were very close to the rehearsal room process which really impacted on their early thoughts – see the designers’ blogs for their response.

Week one complete – three more to go!

A thoroughly “good” morning

This morning 13 actors, 4 directors and 2 designers arrived at Graeae’s brand new Bradbury Studios to take part in a unique week-long workshop, which will train them in Kristine’s distinctive actor-led process.  Bringing together artists from all disciplines and very different backgrounds, it was no surprise that everyone was incredibly nervous!

Kristine wasted no time in demystifying the programme and setting everyone to work and – more importantly – play.  Before long, actors, directors and designers were running around playing tag (badly) and musical chairs (brilliantly).  What was amazing to me was to hear Kristine use this vocabulary of “good” and “bad”, which is usually so stigmatised in rehearsal rooms.  Although no one likes to be told that what they are doing is “bad”, we all had to agree that the difference between forced and genuine play was plain to see, and it quickly established a clarity, trust and starting point from which everyone could act less, be themselves and learn to “play better”.

The next step was to apply the same principles in bringing improvisation.  There were some amazingly uninhibited and “true” performances as actors slowly shed affected voices and physical tics, which other training methods teach as a means towards “creating a character”, to simply bring themselves to the text.   By the time I left at lunch, we had seen genuinely “open” improvisations by Muzz and Yasmeen, a tremendous tango solo by Ruby, and an excellent Hamlet with by Peter where there was zero distinction to be made between the Shakespearean character and the British Asian performer.

All fear had vanished (and, tellingly, so had the croissants), the group had come closer together, played together, observed each other at work, and found a common, no-frills language with which to describe it.  Not bad for a morning’s work!