Press Room
BADA Newsletter November 2016


British American Drama Academy Newsletter

November 2016


Faculty Focus: London Theatre Program

Exciting things are afoot in London this fall! We check in with three of our long-time LTP faculty members to discuss their work and training American students. Interviews by Christopher Cook.

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We’re in a large upstairs room in a community centre a brisk five-minute walk from BADA. Stage fighting needs a space as large as this to flex its muscles and Philip D’Orléans is working with a group of students who are perfecting their thrown punches and their kicks to the head. “Initially I was a stage manager and a lighting designer back in the eighties” Philip tells me. “Then I started directing …and I came back from Japan to train as a Theatre Director.” And while training as a director he was introduced to fight work “and I thought, ‘Oh I rather like this,’ so I started doing it - private classes and courses - just for fun.” The fist and the foot of it is that Philip changed careers and trained with the British Academy of Stage and Screen training “first as a teacher and then as a fight director.”

So what do American students at BADA bring to Philip’s classes? “Most of them have …  worked with a fight director or they’ve done a class here or a class there.  It’s rare to find somebody who’s what we would call a ‘fight rat ....  They’re very enthusiastic, [with a] great work ethic, so I have a great deal of fun.”

The students are having fun too. Back in the class and working in pairs they have developed a short scenario, an encounter that begins with loud words, moves to shouting and suddenly explodes into violence. “I simply suggest a variety of scenes they might look at and they went away and came back with their own choices.  They tend to find choices that match their character, I’ve found over the years, which is always interesting.” The students then act out their scenarios through a sequence of choreographed movements. “We do a generic fight,” Philp tells me “as we don’t really have the time to create completely individual fights. Then we slightly customise them for the scene and for the characters.”

I am struck by how often Philip uses the word ‘choreography to describe what he does with his students. And the parallels between dance and stage fighting become clearer as you watch the work. Like choreography stage fighting is an evolutionary process. “A good fight director never goes in with the fight worked out because you have no idea what raw material you’re going to have and you may have some sense of set and costume but inevitably you get into that first rehearsal and you get alternative information, new information, things will have changed or moved on.” Philip D’Orléans warms to his theme. “I try to … introduce them to the tools that enable them to break a fight or a choreography down and work on small sections and then bolt it all back together, weave it all back in to make a seamless whole.”

In class you watch those ‘seamless wholes’ unfolding. Two women scrapping over a stolen boyfriend. Guys ready for a rumble the moment they meet. Human beings at their nastiest and most vicious. 

Classes always begin with a warm-up. Then “I explain my ground rules which are very clear, a lot of them are safety focused, some of them are pedagogically focused.” It’s always safety first, knowing how not to get hurt in Philip D’Orléans stage fighting classes. “Then we start with something very simple, we look at balance, and we look at pushing somebody.  We look at how balance is effected in a push and then we build on that into pulling somebody and then we go into strangling.” Strangling? But all pretend and part of professional technique.

“The way I present technique is always principle first.  I want them to understand what keeps them safe and then I group techniques by principle so we have a family of techniques all linked to being out of distance [and] being in distance but moving the target somewhere safe it’s a family of techniques” And it’s an accretive process with students building on the history that they have already laid down in earlier classes. “You show them how that information can be used in a variety of different ways and then your next set of techniques builds on those varieties of different ways so you’re always trying to keep a solid foundation of knowledge under them.”

In class Philip talks about ‘the demon and the angel’. I ask him what he means. “It’s letting the demon out on the face so that the aggression becomes apparent to the audience but [at the same time] you’ve got to have angel hands and angel feet [which have to be] doing the pure, clean technique.  If you let the aggression of the character into your hand, then you lose all that clean technique which is what’s going to keep your partner safe.  You see it more often with weapons where it’s swords and knives.”

Swords and knives are reserved for the BADA students who stay in London for a second semester for Advanced studies. So when year-long students or those who come for a single semester are done what do they take home? “ I hope they go away with a strong focus on safety … [And I also hope that they have] a sense of stage combat not being a standalone skill set but one tool, one integrated tool in the actor’s tool kit.”
Upstairs the students are repacking their toolkits. The fighting is done for today. But talking to the class as they wrap up for the journey home you get a sense that Philip D’Orléans really has taken them somewhere they’ve never been before.

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Marcelle Davies has taught movement at BADA for twenty years, beginning on the Midsummer in Oxford Program and then teaching on the London Theatre Program and the Midsummer Conservatory Program.

“I didn’t really train in movement. I didn’t go to Drama School so had no idea until I applied to be an assistant  movement teacher at The Poor School 27 years ago. Barbara Caister trained me on the job. She had been assistant to Litz Pisk at Central School of Speech and Drama.

“When I walk into a first class at BADA at the start of a semester I am looking for originality in the students. That’s the main thing.  Whatever you give a student, they will always come up with something you haven’t thought of, so, if you watch them, they will tell you where to go next by what they’re doing.  They bring things they don’t even know they’re got actually, they bring their emotional history, they bring all sorts of training, some of which needs to be undone a little bit and some of which really helps them.  They bring their brains and their bodies and they are all different from each other.”

“I think it’s for them to surprise themselves and to find something that they haven’t perhaps thought of, but they can come to it through movement in a different  way than just thinking about it.  Just by moving, moving and thought, thinking and the physical are so connected and so I start with the physical and see how that changes the way they think.” 

“Sometimes they have rather too much sense of their physical selves so that they’re posing, they’re too aware of what they look like in space. What you want them to be is less aware at first so they can find something they have never done before.  On the other hand some of them really haven’t got an awareness of their physicality at all, and so they don’t even know they have been standing in a particular way or they can’t respond to something that you suggest  because their body has just never made that connection before. What I really like is when someone comes to me and says ‘oh I’m not able to do this movement thing’ and then they find they love it and  their bodies just naturally respond to it, through their imagination”.

“In class I start with very simple exercises, rolling down through the spine, physical exercise based things and then I introduce ideas.  Like all movement teachers , I use the four elements, earth, fire, air and water. I use poetry and text too.  Text in the sense of character text,recently leading to duets between characters from different Shakespeare plays and working together they surprise each other and it can change how they understand the character.

“I know that they can discover character through their bodies. People who have moved a lot or danced know that you can so they embrace it and it’s almost a relief for them to come at it that way because that’s how they learn.  That’s why they dance or move more, because that is how they express themselves and being able to express yourself through dance or movement for example is a huge part of learning. But it actually works both ways, I think they can find an interest in text through  movement and vice versa.”

“The American students who come to BADA certainly bring a positive energy and I notice that from the minute they arrive.  Their work ethic is different too, so they are very aware that they have to achieve something.  There aren’t that many lazy American students, I find they come to class ready to work.  They want to get their grades and they want to get on.”

“I only have them for a short time, one or two terms but I want to start something.  I want to start a ball rolling so that they go away feeling more physically confident, more physically connected. Some of them think they’d like to work more in this vein, in a physical way. So they might go away deciding to pursue that or thinking ‘I want to correct my posture because it’s connected to my breathing, it’s connected to how I say a line,’ It’s my hope that it comes together with them realising something for the first time “

“I hope that what they do in movement ties up with their other work here at BADA, but it’s difficult to know exactly. All the work sometimes comes together in performance , when you watch them perform. You see something happen in their body and you know that they’re not just working from their heads anymore.”

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Mick Barnfather has been teaching Physical Theatre at BADA and at a number of other institutions for over twenty years. He’s also a practitioner and early is his career worked with Theatre Complicite, the UK’s premiere movement based theatre company. 

What is special about working at BADA?
MB: “I think there are many things. It’s a cliché, but everyone who works here is incredibly nice. Also BADA has a very intimate feel to it, it’s very much a family feeling, I think. As for the students I find them very inspiring to teach. They are very up for the work and they’re very very motivated.”

“I’ve taught at other American colleges as well, and I find they’re great as well, but I think one of the things I find at BADA is that because the students come from different colleges from all over the United States they don’t have a kind of history in their relationships together, so, everyone really is starting it fresh.”

What kind of particular skills do they present to you when they arrive in your first class?
“I think a whole range of abilities and skills. I like to feel that everyone is starting off at a base level. So I tend to take a little bit of a different approach to what most American students have had before.”

“First I introduce them to my theatre ‘language’ which is very much about playing  - the dynamics of play, presence on stage, what makes someone watchable or not watchable.  It’s about the pleasure of the performer in the space and looking for them to link up with who they really are so we see their humanity, their generosity so that they achieve those very open, playing relationships. I’m really looking at theatre as an ensemble.”

“The subjects I tend to teach are a lot of the Jacques LeCoq stuff. So Seven Levels of Tension is one of the things that I spend a fair bit of time doing. I tend to do different things with different groups (I can’t do everything with every group).”

“I suppose a lot of my stuff is very much based on comedy, but I look at half-mask work. I might look at a play with a particular group; sometimes I do some clown as well. It just depends on how much time I’ve got.”

What exactly is the Mask work?
“I like using the half-mask in particular, which is the old Commedia mask. I don’t actually teach Commedia, and what I like is for the students to find the character of the mask. This tends to be different for every student, because everyone looks at it in a very very different way. And that makes it much appealing to the imagination if you like.” 

“Now, in my view, what is demanded from a half-mask, is first physicality. You need the physicality that brings the mask alive. Your face is the mask but what the body does is something as well. You can’t just be a neutral body in a half mask.  It also demands character voice as well. So one is also looking at the mask to see what that character voice is. 

“I guess what I like about the half-mask is that it asks people to really let go, to be big, to find an intensity, to find a good voice, a good physicality, and imagination and huge fun to be playing them.” 

What do American students bring to your classes?  
“ It varies from student to student. But what they might lack in skill they certainly make up with their enthusiasm.  What I like very much is they throw themselves in. What is good as a whole in the eight weeks that I teach on the London program is that you see progress all the time. Little by little they start to find their bodies and I’m not really looking so much at a technique as for an awareness of what your physicality does. And, of course that’s very different for everyone. “

Is the chief excitement for you that moment when you suddenly see they have changed?
“Oh, absolutely! And I think it’s always the surprise as well. You’re constantly judging people by how they look, judging a book by its cover. So you make assumptions, that someone’s not going to be good or you think “Three weeks have gone and this person doesn’t seem to be doing anything and then suddenly ‘Oof! Breakthrough’ I find it constantly surprising and constantly exhilarating just to see that change. And also to see how wrong you are about people.”

What do you hope that students will take away from your classes with them?
“ I hope that people will be more courageous. I talk about risk-taking and how you don’t really discover anything unless you risk. If you play safe, you just end up with what you already know.  I always hope that people are more courageous, more brave, and take more risks. More risks to discover more and more their potential talent.”


Interview with Kim James Bey (MIO '01)

Kim James Bey is a busy woman. Not only is she the Chair of the Department of Theatre Arts at Howard University and Professor of Acting and Voice, she just finished appearing in The Little Foxes at the Arena Stage in Washington DC. 

Like many actors, Kim is a professional multi-tasker. She received her BFA from Howard University and her MFA from Rutgers. As a certfied Fitzmaurice teacher, she has worked as a vocal and dialect coach. She also finds time to give back to the communtiy by helping young people apply to college and improve their interviewing skills. She’s worked with the National Defense Attorney’s Association and the Alexandria Sexual and Domestic Violence Advocacy Program to present an instructional drama for attorneys and judges on the impact of domestic violence within the legal system.

At the end of a full day, Kim had a few minutes to discuss her work, her students, BADA, Shakespeare and Howard University.

How do you balance it all?

My department has been very accommodating while I am in the show. As we dive into tech for The Little Foxes, I’ve been able to divvy out a few responsibilities. And I get a lot of support from the students -- I think they may be more thrilled about the show than I am! 

Tell us a little about the Howard University BFA program and BADA?

Some of Kim's students from Howard during MIO 2015: Bria Wade, Stanley Andrew Jackson III, Danielle King, Tyleah Hawkins, Jazmine Robinson, Martece Caudle, Kamau Mitchell, and Neko Ramos.

Howard University, a Historically Black College/University, had one of the first BFA drama programs in the country. The University has a long legacy of successful theater artists, and there is an active alumni base that demands a high standard from our department. I joined the Howard faculty in 2000, and BADA was already an integral part of our program; the relationship between BADA and Howard dates back to the early 1990s. In 2001, I had the opportunity to attend BADA as a student. I still keep in contact with a number of people from my group, and we continue to support each other after all these years. 

How did your BADA experience inform your teaching?

Prior to 2001, the BFA students were required to take a Shakespeare English class as part of their curriculum. They were reading the plays but not performing or applying their dramatic skills. Even in 2000, there were not many opportunities for black actors and Shakespeare. There was still a lot of stigma associated with actors of color performing Shakespeare. Equally, black student actors were trying to find the relevance and joy in performing Shakespeare. After my experience at BADA, I had the confidence to create our first Shakespeare acting curriculum.

What do your students come home with after a summer at BADA?

The students who attend the Shakespeare program develop an appetite for the language. BADA teaches them to truly experience Shakespeare, and helps to demystify the so-called rules. They realize it isn’t as heavy or doesn’t need to be put on a pedestal. They enjoy it! Furthermore they come back feeling a sense of connection with classical drama. They take on Shakespeare, and ask themsleves how do I fit myself in this world? Can I not only understand this language, but can I put it in my mouth.  How do I make it mine -- give it my culture, my passion, my point of view? John Barton was a tremendous advocate of the black experience infused into the intention of Shakespeare.

Do you see changes in your students, and if so in what areas?

When the students return from Oxford, there is a transformation that I believe can only occur if they are out of the country. At BADA they get a chance to be themselves, freely delving into this world of theater, literature, history. They don’t feel outside of the culture — they get a sense of belonging. 

One of the most practical changes I see in students is how they react to an assignment I might give asking them to be off-book in a few days or even the next day. After dealing with the intensity of the BADA program, they handle my demands with a new found confidence and most importantly, they don’t freak out! They understand what they have to do to absorb the material in a short amount of time. Before BADA, they might have looked at me as if I was out of my mind. Afterwards, they know how to tackle the quick turnaround. And that’s a skill that will serve them their entire career.

This is all part of the maturity I see in students when they return from their time at BADA. They come home with a confidence that imbues all aspects of their lives.

Anything else you would like to add? I know you have had along day!

BADA has been incredibly gracious over the years, and we are beholden to the wonderful people who run the organization. What they have done for our students makes me extremely thankful. They embrace our students and go out of their way to help them attend no matter what. At HBCUs, we don’t have a lot of private funding, but no student of ours has been turned away from BADA because of lack of funding. The students, of course, work hard to make it happen, but BADA has often gone out of its way to help, and be flexible offering many solutions to the students’ financial situations. For that, I am very humbled. 

What is your favorite Shakespeare play right now? And why?
A Winter’s Tale performing Hermoine: because the director believed I could do it.


Honoring Ian Wooldridge

At the end of Open Day for our 2016 Midsummer in Oxford Program, AFBADA Board President Lydia Carlston (MIO '01) and Board member Stephen Driscoll (MIO '12) presented Ian Wooldridge with an award to honor his tenure as BADA's Dean and Director. The award reads:

The American Friends of BADA 
Honors Ian Wooldridge for his invaluable contribution to the advancement of theatre education between Great Britain and the United States
from 1996 to 2016


Upcoming Events

 

Alums in Los Angeles - Save the Date:

January 12th, 2017

to see alum Phillipa Soo (MCP '07) star atthe Ahmanson Theatre.

Stay tuned: invitation coming soon!

 

 

Alums in New York City - join us:

December 1st, 2016

to see alum Tracie Thoms (MIO '96) in Lincoln
Center's revival of Falsettos at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre.

Watch your email -- more info coming soon!


New Staff Appointments

BADA is pleased to announce the appointment of Eunice Roberts and Christopher Cook as Joint Deans with effect from 1st September 2016. Eunice and Christopher succeed former Dean and Director Ian Wooldridge.

Eunice and Christopher’s responsibilities will cover the academic side – students and faculty. Both of these individuals are extremely well known to BADA, are highly respected in their fields and will command respect. They understand how BADA works and will provide leadership in these important areas. Tim Denham will serve as the Interim Managing Director and will work closely with the Acting Joint Deans. He will focus on all areas other than Students and Faculty.

Seth Dranginis has become Marketing and Development Manager; stepping up from his existing role.


Recent Events

On October 24th, 2016, a small group of BADA alumni, friends, and supporters joined the American Friends of BADA at The Shakespeare in New York City for a special fundraising event featuring alum Brandon Victor Dixon (MIO '98) who is currently starring as Aaron Burr in Hamilton. Brandon spoke passionately about his time at MIO and how important the experience was to his professional development. The evening also raised funds for scholarships to support students on upcoming BADA programs.

 

Brandon Victor Dixon and AFBADA President Lydia Carlston (MIO '01), who hosted the evening. AFBADA Board member Miriam A. Hyman (MIO '10), who led the conversation with Brandon.

Other News

Alums at Work: Jennifer Steil's (LTP '89) newest novel, The Ambassador's Wife, was recently released in paperback. The New York Review of Books said "Cultural binaries fuel this well-plotted, gripping novel." Kim Bey (MIO '01) appeared in The Little Foxes" at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. Dale Dickey (MIO '86) appeared in Robert O'Hara's Barbeque at the Geffen Playhouse. Brandon Victor Dixon (MIO '98) joined the cast of Broadway's Hamilton, taking over the role of Aaron Burr. CVictoria Fields (MCP '10) was named the first-ever Logan Fellow of Chicago's Hypocrites Theatre. Mamie Gummer (MIO '04) starred in the Amazon original series The Collection. Erick Patterson's (LTP '98) new play, One of the Nice Ones had it's world premiere at the Echo Theatre Company in Los Angeles. Justin Theroux (BCP '91) was one of the stars of the film The Girl on the Train. Nicolas Wright (MIO '01) appeared in and was one of the writers of the film Independence Day: Resurgence.

Faculty at Work: Master class instructor and Honorary AFBADA Board member Brian Cox directed the world premiere of the English language version of Joshua Sobel's Sinners (The English Teacher). Joe Mydell appeared in the Almedia Theatre's production of Richard III in London. Peter Francis James appeared in Bull on CBS. Eunice Roberts has been appearing as Mrs. Boyle in The Mousetrap in London. Leo Wringer starred in Father Comes Home from the Wars at the Royal Court in London.