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Sam Rumbelow On ... R&D in Theatre

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Director Sam Rumbelow has worked in the arts for 25 years, spending the last ten working as a teacher and coach, establishing himself as one of the most prominent method acting practitioners in the UK. His work this year includes a collaboration with Britain's Turner Prize winning artist Gillian Wearing on her debut feature film, Self Made which was shown at the London Film Festival.

He also works with The Actors Ensemble who are back in London this month as part of the Camden Fringe Hangover season at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre. Trading Faces opened on 21 October (previews from 19 October) where it continues until 6 November 2010.

Any good industry needs investment. Product always needs development. R&D (research and development) is the cornerstone of leading brands such as Sony, Apple, Volkswagen. I mention this because as a director and teacher who works within “the industry” I wonder why we use this word but don’t really look at the models of creativity that successful industries use.

The Actors Ensemble is not a commercial endeavour. Its focus is on a different kind of profit; specifically creative - the means to bring a play to life and in doing so affect, inform and inspire an audience. These results are not as tangible as the industrial standard of manufacture but there is, as in all things in life, a methodology, which unlocks the creative potential of the endeavour, and by exception there are approaches that do not.

For the actor their craft, and the development of it, is central to a creative process that brings life to the actor and the play. I would also suggest that both writer and director require a proper methodology of their own to unlock what is very much the stuff of dreams. The word "art" can be a sheet that covers a multitude of sins. So the term “the arts” can be used to disguise even greater sins. The biggest sin is to bore an audience. To not at least entertain, engage and stimulate the soul is a creative failure.

Too much theatre relies on the word to do the work but it is proven that text only makes up 7% of communication. The voice is next, with tonality being 38% and the body coming in with a whopping 55%. So why do I see so many plays where they sit or stand still too much, where blocking, the movement of the actors and their skill at moving is so retarded? Why are so many voices throttled by tension and habit? Even with these restrictions and afflictions a living truth on stage creatively channelled can take me out of my head and into my body.

This is where the central problem lies. The actor is mostly stuck in the head using the totality of their conscious capacity, which makes up only 10-15% of brain activity, rendering the remaining 85-90%, the unconscious, largely redundant. The conscious brain pushes, pleads with and screams at the soul to do something close to the thoughts, impulses and emotions of the character. This leaves the audience having to do the same to take some kind of theatrical journey.

Theatre is not maths or a lecture. It is food, great food where the intellect engages afterwards and the analysis happens as contemplation and discussion. The text is vital to the drama and our involvement requires context, understanding and logic, but to care we must be involved with the living moment. When was the last time you went to the theatre and didn’t look at your watch or wander off in your mind to your real dramas, rather than empathise and be transported with the drama happening in front of you?

There are means and ways an actor can facilitate this; methodologies, techniques and crafts, where talent plays a very minor role. The work must be put in over many years - you research, you train, you develop - evolving your instrument to be able to meet the creative challenges set before you. Drama school is not enough, just as music school is not enough for a musician or a classical singer. This requirement for regular internal and external development extends to actor, writer and director in order to encourage true creativity and realise great theatre.

To encourage and entice a bigger and more regular audience into our industry while justifying the state and private support of the arts in this time of substantial cuts and fear of investment, we have to dump these amateur notions of talent and luck and respect the truth that all things in life that are profitable (commercial or creative) are reflective of the work put into them.

Consequently the broader audience might be inspired to come to the theatre more regularly and view it as something central to the joy, celebration and contemplation of living a better life.

{Trading Faces:: opened at the Lion and Unicorn on 21 October (previews from 19 October) where it continues 6 November 2010.


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