I was having breakfast with my younger son Ezra this morning, and one of our many Christmas/Chanukah visitors must have left an old Sunday supplement on the breakfast table, which I started reading.
I don’t usually like these supplements, but there was an article in this one about the actor Timothy Spall, who is playing the artist Turner in Mike Leigh’s new film, Mr. Turner.
There were two things particularly that struck me in the article that relate to solo autobiographical theatre (at least as I think about it).
First, three years before they started shooting the film, even before Leigh had the money to make the film, he told Spall, “I would like you to start to learn to paint now”.
And he did. For two and a half years, Timothy Spall learned to paint. He also read biographies about Turner, and some other books around the edges of Turner’s life and times. He learned to be and become the character, everything; Turner’s relationship with his mother and father, his upbringing, his experiences with women, how he communicated with his contemporaries at the Royal Academy…
This is what I call the research part of the triple loop of solo:
researching our own life and considering how we will portray and perform it;
rehearsing—developing our characters and discovering what it is they want to say, which may well be different from what we want or expected them to say;
reflecting on our research and our rehearsals and our writing, letting wach impact the other—and uncovering the meanings of events, times, circumstances that are open to reframing, that from a character’s point of view, may have different, alternative interpretations that may be more empowering, more liberating, more relevant to our own life today.
These new illuminations, unconcealings, discoveries and possibilities often happen through serendipity, chance, fluke … they arrive at the oddest of moments, you can’t find them, it’s more like they find you.
There were moments when I was rehearsing with my director Mark Drummond that this happened. It felt like a kind of “Grace”—not something we manufactured or even intended, but something that occurred in the gaps, those moments when somehow we were both completely “in the moment” and something unpredictable would just show up.
I have come to believe that it is at least in part as a result of immersion. That is what Timothy Spall did. He immersed himself in the life of another human being and discovered the “undiscoverable” … and that’s why people say he’s in line for an Oscar.
That kind of immersion is a total commitment to your show. The explorer W. H. Murray wrote:
“There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.”
When we commit, when we immerse ourselves in the life of our characters, providence moves too. The audience recognises it, and they are moved by it. They understand the possibility for themselves. And so our performance becomes a gift, an act of service and a contribution to others.
I said there were two things. The other thing that struck me was something Spall’s colleague Lesley Manville wrote about his experience with leukaemia. She says, “that can’t help but feed into making him the man he is now. It’s no wonder he can get into those dark places as an actor.”
We may not have been ill like Spall, but we have all had profound moments, turning points, crucibles we have overcome and found our way through.
Part of the transformational journey, in the solo group and in the winter school, is shining a light on these crucibles, rediscovering the knowings, strengths, resources, skills and talents we each have, and re-authoring the story (of the past) so it no longer has the same grip on you.
In solo you literally become the author of the story, not a character in a story someone else has written about you and (often) imposed on you. This liberation shines through when you perform.
We will start the solo group again on Thursday January 8th – we meet each Thursday night (for ten sessions) at 7.00 for coffee and a 7.30 start. Thanks to the generosity of Simon and Jane from Heart and Soul Funerals, I can confirm that we will continue at Riverstone just outside Buckfastleigh.
And in February (Friday 20 – Sunday 22 February 2015) we will hold our second Winter School—this year with Peta Lily—when the focus will focus on developing the characters we have been working on.
For anyone who wants this could easily be a step to performing at the festival in July. (9 – 12 July 2015).
There are a few places left in the solo group and some for the Winter School. Please let me know as soon as you can that you would like a place in one/either/both of these.
Have a great, creative, healthy and happy New Year.
From all of us at Nearly Real Theatre.