News Article

15th Oct 2019

NT Connections – Directors’ Weekend at the National Theatre

By Lexie Ward, Young Actor Company Director

Part of my role directing the fantastic Young Actor company at Theatre by the Lake this year involves staging an NT Connections production. NT Connections is a wonderful nation-wide project run by the National Theatre, in which 10 playwrights are commissioned to write brand new pieces for Young Actors, and over 300 companies across the UK (and beyond!) then stage one of these shows in their home venue (be that a school, or community centre etc.), followed by taking it to a professional regional Partner Theatre as part of an Connections Festival. One group representing each play is then invited to the National Theatre in London in July to perform on the stage there. It’s a brilliant opportunity for the Young Actor company to get involved, take ownership of a brand new play, and be part of a project that inspires and promotes theatre all across the country.

In October the directors for all of these 300+ productions are invited down to the National Theatre to take part in a weekend of workshops around their chosen play. This year the TBTL Young Actors will be performing A Series of Public Apologies (in Response to an Unfortunate Incident in the School Lavatories). It’s a funny, punchy satire that feels very contemporary, and I am super excited to be working on it with our actors, who are a naturally very comic bunch. Having just returned from this year’s weekend here’s what I got up to:

Friday 11thOctober

After registering (and getting the eco-friendly Connections cotton bag), it was straight into my first workshop ‘Working with Large Groups on Stage’ with movement director, Imogen Knight. We started with a disco dance warm up which was a high energy start to the weekend. Working with a cast of 15-20 in the Studio Theatre at TBTL means I need to be extra aware of staging and sight lines for the audience, and Imogen’s workshop was really effective in showing us ways to make interesting visual imagery with simple movement.

Straight after that it was time for a session on ‘Transitions’ with Rachel Lincoln. She said "each scene should start and build. The transition is the energy of that build discharging.” In Public Apologies the transitions between each apology is a key feature I want to explore, showing what happens backstage between these public facing apologies. The discussions and exercises we did on using music, light, actors, design and text really helped spark a lot of ideas of how our transitions could enhance the show.

Saturday 12thOctober

Saturday was an all day workshop with the writer of Public Apologies John Donnelly and director Lyndsey Turner. This allowed all 43 directors in the room a fantastic insight into the play, and the various ways we could approach it. John said the inspiration for him in writing this show was the idea that in today’s world what we say is so closely scrutinised, and exploring why "we reward people for choosing the right combination of words over any action they may be taking.” Lyndsey suggested we look with our casts at recent Twitter scandals and the timeline of how quickly things can escalate. We took part in scene workshops ourselves, creating our own ‘character tarot cards’ and looking at Scene Sliders – where we start the scene completely together on brand, and by the end everything has slid into chaos. We finished the day with all 43 of us contributing to a Reading List of material we thought might be useful for the play – from The West Wing and Monty Python to Boris Johnson memes – the collaborative approach shared by all the directors meant we all went away with lots of ideas for our own shows.

Saturday finished with networking drinks at the Olivier Bar against the backdrop of the NT Costume Exhibition, which gave us chance to chat more, and catch up with directors and friends from across the country which was a great end to the day.


Sunday 13thOctober

After a delicious breakfast in the National Theatre staff canteen, we had our Partner Theatre Meetings. After travelling to York Theatre Royal last year, we’re a little closer to home this year….as we get to perform again at our home venue of Theatre by the Lake. Having Theatre by the Lake as a partner venue this year has seen more Cumbria-based groups join NT Connections which is brilliant, and the group who will travel from the furthest away is an Isle of Man company. 6 companies in total will be performing at the TBTL NT Connections Festival, and we’re really looking forward to hosting them all and the different plays they’ll be performing.  A Design Masterclass with the Artistic Director of the National Theatre Rufus Norris, and director Ned Bennett and designer Georgia Lowe in the Lyttleton Theatre urged us all to distil and focus on clear simple design concepts that allowed us to really think about what we needed to tell the clearest story for the audience.  A very quick trip to the NT Bookshop (thank you Connections 10% discount!) meant I came back with lots of goodies to read on the train back. Before the end of the weekend, we had a final practical workshop with international spoken word artist Deanna Rodger on Rhythm and Text, which gave us lots of tools of ways to get the most out of the text – I will certainly be trying the method of cutting up a speech into individual lines and having the cast reform it into a new speech to see what that throws up in terms of new meaning in our rehearsal room. This was a session full of discovery and enthusiasm, and was the perfect way to end what had been a jam-packed weekend! I am very excited to dive into rehearsal with our Young Company on this extraordinary play, and we hope to have a full house in the audience come March 2020!

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