We recently set a competition for young directors. If they successfully completed a phrase by the legendary theatre director Mike Alfreds they could win a unique opportunity to sit alongside him for four days as he trains a group of actors in his freedom enhancing principles.
The phrase was ‘The actors art is the art of action!’ and the winner was Melissa Ward, who very kindly wrote the following account of her experience with Mike:
Four days with Mike Alfreds
‘Be in the moment’
Super Objective, Objective, Counter-Objective, Through-Line, Actions, Beats, Points of Concentration, Floating, Flickering, Slashing, Pressing, Dabbing, Thrusting, Gliding, Wringing, Light, Strong, Direct, Sustained, Broken. These are just SOME of the things that I learnt on the four days with Mike Alfreds.
I’d heard about Mike a couple of years ago when Simon Trinder introduced me to his work and his style of directing. I have since been trying to shadow his work, so when I heard about the competition that ICAT had released I entered it and was lucky enough to win.
Upon meeting Mike my observations would fall under the following words – calm, collected, genuine and different – it goes without saying that he has talent! He is definitely a director that is on the side of the actor, someone who wishes to support, nourish and guide whilst also ‘freeing’ the actor so they are not locked into a set way of doing things.
The four days were based around the play ‘The Seagull’ by Anton Chekhov. Mike told me that he first directed this play back in the early 1960’s. His knowledge of this piece was thorough and evident in the way he presented it. He worked in-depth with the actors on their Chekhov scenes and characters which involved discussions around objectives, playing an action, looking at the text logically, beats, focusing on different points of concentration, the given circumstances and so on. The actors worked in pairs on each of these exercises over the course of the four days. Mike even led an exercise for the actors to explore being Russian which consisted of developing emotions and the culture. Throughout the four days we also explored Laban techniques, using our bodies to try different movements such as flickering or slashing which we could then associate with a particular person or character. This is used to help form characterisation.
I told Mike about my first encounter with a Chekhov play when I had watched ‘The Three Sisters’. I left at the interval. Say no more. After the four days with Mike I now have a completely different take on this Russian writer and it has now inspired me to watch a performance of the ‘The Seagull’. The scenes that Mike had produced with the actors had a clear balance of comedy and tragedy unlike so many of Chekhov’s plays which can be very heavy and difficult to follow at times. I left at the interval because I didn’t have a clue what was going on.
What’s interesting to me is I’ve always thought I had great knowledge of drama and its contents but watching Mike in action throws a whole new spin on it. It enabled me to recognise the different levels of training or work that people complete or deliver in the industry or the different ideas or ways of working to attain an end product. It’s clear that regardless of what profession you do, you will always be learning new tricks, trades and skills and working with people who have different elements of experience to offer. For this I am very grateful. I certainly won’t go away and use everything that Mike delivered or offered, this is years and years of experience and work that he has developed, but there is a great deal of things I will use in my next project which will hopefully make me a better director.
One clear thing that came out of my time at ICAT was the actors. Having acted myself I have always had respect for the amount of work that goes into a piece or project, however, now that I no longer act and have chosen to pursue the routes of teaching and directing I am able to objectively look at the level of work that actors do or are prepared to do in an industry which resembles a battle field. I have a new found respect for actors and the level they are prepared to work at which includes the level of vulnerability and daring choices they choose to make. I have a genuine respect for actors who refuse to give up and continue to leave themselves open to new training, growth and opportunities.
Having spent four days at ICAT I would recommend any actor taking up training within the school. Its vibe is professional as is the calibre of tutors and practitioners that work there and this is what I think makes it unique.
I want to end with a paragraph from Mike’s book ‘Different Every Night’ which includes some of the most accurate writing I’ve read. I also want to say my own thanks to him for allowing me to enter that bit of his world. His book entertains with super witty one liners but it is also deeply informing in such fine detail that it is a MUST read for actors and directors alike which will certainly improve your knowledge, skills and craft:
‘I like to think that in the ideal situation, directors and actors come together, not hierarchically with the director descending from above towards a group of eagerly uplifted faces waiting for instruction, but meeting on the same plane, the actors bringing their particular talents with them and the director theirs, ready to work together, understanding that they each have skills that complement the others and with which, together, they’ll be able to create a piece of theatre’