Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Sarah Thorpe

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Sarah Thorpe is training in directing with Alan Dilworth at Soup Can Theatre in Toronto

(June 12, 2017) It’s been a whirlwind month a half for me as this mentorship started and evolved.
It began with Alan advising me to read The Director’s Craft by British director Katie Mitchell, particularly the chapter on how to break down acts and scenes of a script into smaller chunks and identify the core focus and event of each scene and act for the purposes of rehearsals and working with actors. We’ve been using Act 1, Scene 1 of Edward Bond’s Lear as the template for these script analysis exercises, and it’s far more detailed than any other prep work I’ve done on a script as a director. Mitchell’s exercises help you simplify the script and text—which is very helpful and necessary with a dense and complex script as Bond’s—but in a way that doesn’t let you be general and broad in your analysis. It takes time, and you have to give yourself that time and space to go through the piece and this process properly. It’s a wonderful insight into Alan’s process and how this level of detail is so necessary in creating the fully realized world of the play. Alan is very patient and supportive as a mentor. He’s always interested in my thoughts on the piece and the process we’re working on, and asks me questions to ensure that I’m formulating my own answers and ideas.

I’ve done a couple of takes on the first scene with Alan’s guidance and feedback (in addition to us discussing Mitchell’s methods) as well as begun to apply this process to the rest of the script, and what I’ve also discovered is a pace and breath to the piece overall that I never noticed in my earlier readings of it. Getting that specific allowed me to see Lear in a light I hadn’t seen it in before, giving me a much better sense of its structure and pacing, and how to approach these things when it comes time for blocking and working with the actors. 

Speaking of which, at the time of writing this report, I have begun workshopping scenes from Lear with the actors in Soup Can Theatre’s upcoming production. Doing these text analysis exercises, along with the detailed character analysis exercises described in Mitchell’s book, has started to give me a new and more solid foundation on working with actors and make discoveries about the characters and circumstances. I’m developing a new sense of confidence when it comes to working with actors on such a difficult text as Bond’s.

In my original vision for this mentorship, the ideas and topics I wanted to tackle were more broad and general. With the work we’ve done so far, I see how being more detailed, taking time, and leaving yourself enough time to get the work done yields a better foundation for the work and understanding of every aspect of the script, the characters, and the piece overall. I’ve also discovered that getting more specific has answered some of the questions I originally had about the best way to give Lear a physical life. I plan to use more of Mitchell’s methods in my own practice in the future. 

The plan for the remainder of our mentorship will be focusing on directing site-specific pieces, how the pieces we’re working on contribute to Toronto’s theatre ecology, and making a plan for how I can begin to make the move from directing in the independent community to more established companies. 

Related Reading:

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 2017.

Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

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