Joan Littlewood was all about change – she once famously said to director Philip Hedley, when he was interviewing to be her assistant in the early 1960s:
“I built my life on the rock of change”
And indeed she did.
Joan Littlewood always created change. She never settled into one process or way of working, her company had to always be open to her only constant – change. She would often introduce an ‘unexpected event’ during shows, in order to shake her actors out of any ‘state of comfortableness’ that might have crept into their performances. She hated complacency with a passion. It’s evident that she would continually challenge her actors, often doing things they weren’t expecting; such as, letting live chickens loose on stage during one performance of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Arms & the Man’.
Joan Littlewood’s production of Bernard Shaw’s ‘Arms & the Man’.
Maggie Bury Walker who played Catherine Petkoff in ‘Arms & the Man’ speaks of this in the documentary No Time for Memoirs.
No Time For Memoirs
Maggie, who went on to set up East 15 Acting School, with the assistance of some of her old her comrades from Theatre Workshop (including John Bury, Jean Newlove, Brian Murphy and Clive Barker) would – amongst other practices borrowed from her fourteen years in the company of Joan – have her “actors in training” understand the importance of the fluidity of the moment.
At East 15, actors would be asked to immerse themselves into the world of their characters – using the ‘givens of the text’ to further explore relationships and scenarios.
The Joan Littlewood tactic of asking actors “What happened before?” would be utilised, followed by the setting up of that scene for improvisation. East 15 actors were required to “live the role offstage” – Maggie understood only too well, from her work with Joan, that actors need to be ready for any eventuality.
She said “You need to know your character as well as you know yourself”, which is kind of impossible, but a nice quest! – Alex Giannini (East 15 Graduate)
A rehearsal on location for A Midsummer Nights Dream
The following quote was printed in an East 15 Acting School prospectus, from the 1970s:
We believe the greatest actors are nurtured in a group of give and take.If you do not give you will never receive.If you have no talent we cannot acquire it for you.We believe in discovering reality before harnessing it to theatricality.We must understand the truth of life and living, before we presume to act it.We base our training on the uniqueness of the individual and his or her ability to change, adapt, extend, perceive, accept and reject.
Also in that prospectus, was a quote from Moshe Feldenkrais, whose revolutionary approach to changing your movement in order to create new possibilities changed many lives:
The average person avoids any serious change and vegetates in some sort of static equilibrium. When a shock or crisis occurs it may be strong enough to make him or her lose balance – Dr Moshe Feldenkrais
CHANGE IS NECESSARY
“You have two words to describe Theatre Workshop”
To everything, turn, turn, turn…
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too – Terry Pratchett (A Hat Full of Sky)