For the second Tuesday of the term, we set off to Stratford-upon-Avon for a special cultural event: a workshop, joining a rehearsal, then a lecture on ‘Magic and Science’, and finally, the evening show, in the recent RSC production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It is difficult to encapsulate such a rich and varied day in one single view, and here below are some of the comments made by my colleagues.

Nelsen Durkee (Y1) felt that “the whole experience represented LANS as a degree structure. From acting theory to the integration of technology with performance the actual performance was riveting”. And the lecture, squeezed between was “a great supplementary session to contextualize the experiences we were having as well.” Others joined Nelsen in appreciating the whole structure of the day. Jess Dawson (Y2) also referred to the dinner we all had, together, which “was really useful for getting to know other LANS students.” And “watching the play was a great culmination of everything we have learnt throughout the day.”.

Promotional poster

Some of my colleagues were focusing on one particular aspect of the day. One commented, with what appears to be a good deal of understanding and previous knowledge on the actual details of the rehearsal that we watched, finding it “fascinating to be privy to the inner workings of a professional stage dress rehearsal for the first time, and no more so than at the RSC nonpareil. Informed by the Meisner technique, the actors employed a five-stage approach to some scenes from The Tempest: preparation, objective, stakes, as if, entitlement. To explain briefly, before a scene, the actor would have a tête-à-tête with the director in which they recalled their character’s point of view, identified their objective in relation to other characters (e.g. gain the affections of Miranda), considered the stakes (e.g. Prospero’s possible presence), related the character’s situation to a personal experience (the ‘as if’), and remembered to believe in their character’s entitlement to their goal. This insight into the acting method helped us as the audience to empathise with the characters more and to keep in mind that all acting is relational. This specific dress rehearsal was for the RSC’s First Encounters with Shakespeare production of The Tempest that is going to tour schools. What was remarkable was the minimal set, in contrast to the high-tech production (with live motion capture!) that we watched later on in the main theatre. Personally, I found I engaged more with the actors’ physical presence when there was almost no set — it set my imagination gears into motion and created the intimacy needed to generate the spark between Miranda and Ferdinand.”

Others, like myself, having only for the first time such an opportunity to attend a professional theatre rehearsal look at it in more simple terms, while being equally impressed. The whole session was an excitement right from the start. We were hosted in the ‘Other Place’ Theatre, and I found Aileen, the director of this production, as the most theatrical spirit-minded and passionate person I had ever seen. Even their rehearsal was inspirational to look at– I admired the fact that the actors and actresses made acting seem so intuitive while I would find it against my nature to express myself like that – too shy! The evening production was also great, I particularly liked the way Ariel expressed his otherworldly qualities using some ballet-like feet movements.”

Certainly, the new RSC production of The Tempest was the focus of the evening. And this particular production has been made famous and the centre of much attention through the extraordinary innovative use of motion capture, and live digital avatars on stage ( Not surprising, the implementation of such approaches generated a lot of discussion amongst ourselves, and reflections from some of my colleagues. Lizzie Slattery (Y2) thought that “for the most part the technology was integrated very well into the production as a whole and gave it the magical quality which is so important for the Tempest. … On the whole though, an amazing production!”

Stage set

Others, while enjoying the potential of the technology, found it frustrating not being able to enjoy it from the seats that were made available for some of us in the theatre hall. Cassidy Locke (Y2) wishes she could “have got more out of the motion capture technology. I felt like I didn’t experience it because I was sat to the side of the stage and so couldn’t see it very well – sometimes from an angle and sometimes not at all. I thought that this was a shame from the production, as they must have been aware that this would pose a problem. This didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the play and the acting, but I had been excited about seeing what the motion capture technology would bring to the performance and I left feeling like I still didn’t know.” And in respect the to relationship between the actor and his live display on various screens and surfaces, a mix that could be distracting or deterring from the watching of either, Cassidy really fell for the play of the real actor: “I thought the cast in general was great though in particular the actor who played Ariel. His movement around the stage was mesmerising. I’m so glad they decided to have the actor Ariel on stage as well as the images of him from the motion capture technology.”

Another friend, Chloe Gooding (Y1) engaged in a more detailed analysis of the production. She clearly did not find the use of technology that inspiring, and almost detracting from the stage performance of the actor playing Ariel. Chloe furthermore, looked at the production almost like a theatre critic and focused of various performances: “The performance of Simon Russel Beale was truly amazing and the use of projection and lighting during the masque scene was breath-taking. In the Show, the only let-down was the use of the live motion capture and the slightly odd performance of Miranda (Jenny Rainsford). The use of motion capture– a new device used for the first time during a live performance was obviously troublesome. Firstly, the effectiveness of the projections relied heavily upon the position in which the audience member was seated. For instance, someone in a central position probably had a far better experience than me who was at the far left hand side. Furthermore, many of Mark Quartley’s fantastic facial expressions and physicality were lost thanks to the restrictive nature of this developing technology, leaving behind only vocal expression and slightly jolty animated creatures. Rainsford’s performance was also perplexing. While I understood the interpretation of Miranda as a strange, isolated girl who has little experience of real society other than what was passed onto her from Prospero, her performance went one step further than that. Her vocal expression was jarring and I felt she lacked the raw genuine emotion one would expect to see during her interactions with Ferdinand. It was like he fascinated her, rather than his appearance overwhelmed her with strange new emotions – this being a widely accepted element of her character and one too integral to leave out, as they did, almost entirely.”

And during discussing about the play, I was surprised to find out that some of my colleagues had a much closer encounter with the play earlier in their life! Abi Pilkington (Y1) has been studying ‘The Tempest’ at A level and also performed in it. She was “extremely excited to see what the Royal Shakespeare Company made of it … and the RSC certainly didn’t disappoint. For me, the most exciting aspect of the trip was having a personal insight into the rehearsal process from both the director and the actors’ point of view, it really made me remember and appreciate why I love theatre so much. It also gave an insight into the infinite ways in which a play can be interpreted and conveyed, especially when contrasting the two versions they were putting on, one with INTEL’s insane technology, and the other with no technology at all. I wish I’d had this kind of insight into Shakespeare’s work when I was doing my exam on ‘The Tempest’!”

All in all, what a day to spend in Stratford. And I we’ll be excused that, while in Stratford, we did not have a chance to go for visiting the touristic sites. Or go shopping! For LANS, Culture trumps many things.

Contributed by Jennifer (Qian) Zhang, Y1, LANS