A second iteration of the project took place in February 2017 and culminated in a field trip to Tampere in March, where both groups of students (from Coventry and Tampere universities) performed together live at the Telakka Theatre.
The work continued to examine Shakespeare’s texts as students already had some experience in dealing with Shakespearean language and the complexities of blank verse. The text chosen for this second stage was King Lear and we explored both a large ‘public’ scene and more intimate sections from the text in order to examine how this pedagogy enables rehearsal work in these differing circumstances. This second version refined both the technology and the teaching developed during the initial instalment of the project: Coriolanus Online. Work continued on developing both spaces to give the illusion of one single, unified rehearsal room. Placement of cameras and projection techniques was central to improving the performer experience, but we wanted to keep the equipment used both affordable and user-friendly so that it can be accessible to a wide variety of user groups.
A variety of online tools were used to support work in the main rehearsal spaces with a Facebook group created to assist with timings, schedules, sharing research and visual materials, and the web conferencing/presentation tool, Adobe Connect is utilised to provide a series of contextual lectures delivered by experts in both institutions as well as individualised rehearsal rooms for each student group. Complementing the work in the main space, Adobe became the place where the actors repurposed these online tools for social interaction.
As well as refinements to the space, the students were once again encouraged to experiment with both the limitations and advantages of working within a telepresence enabled rehearsal room with workshop activities including yoga, Asahi, group singing and choral activities. Rather than ignoring the camera, the students began to play with concepts of size, scale and proximity, using the unique features of working with a camera to explore a blend between film and traditional stage acting. As the team were aware that the telepresence rehearsals would eventually lead to a live performance in Finland, rehearsals were not used to ‘block’ the action but rather the screen was used to explore both scenes and characterisation in a more ‘metaphorical’ sense. Starting the rehearsals ‘online’ also appeared to intensify and accelerate the more traditional ’live’ rehearsals and the increase in the actor’s focus in the telepresence space spilled over into the live rehearsals in Tampere.
“The first time that we did it yesterday, when we were doing the warm-up, it was very odd seeing the people in Finland look at individual people from the screen. So, when someone from the left-hand side of me was talking, you could see them all looking to their right. It looked like they were all looking exactly at the person on the other side. So being in the room and thinking that… it’s a second out but sometimes it’s really perfect and precise… to know that they’re over a thousand miles away and we’ve got the technology to do this now is awesome.”
Elliot Sheppard: Coventry Theatre Student
“With Adobe Connect, we didn’t just rehearse the scenes and run lines. With theatre, you need to have some connection, to get to know the people you’re acting with. You’ve got to get used to them, to get used to their mannerisms, their rhythms, because you’ve got to do a performance together – you’ve got to be able to connect in some way with that other person. Having Adobe Connect works as a place where we can just talk to each other – about how the rehearsal went, what we’ve all learned from today. We had a conversation with our Finnish counterpart the other day and he just started playing the saxophone for us. It was incredible – we didn’t know he could play the sax until then. We’d been doing some script work and we just were talking to each other about our lives and what we like to do and he just started to play the sax for us. It made the experience more personal for me. I love this project. Genuinely. I love how unique it is. We’re a class of students who came to university to learn about theatre but we never expected to have this experience.”
Amy Middleton: Coventry Theatre Student
“I think the project has become a lot more refined since Coriolanus. I think now we felt that we could just focus on the scenes. I think a huge difference is not just working through the screen but now actually having an end goal to it. Performing live in Finland, like we are now, is something to build towards in the rehearsal sessions. Especially mine and Santeri’s scene – it was very difficult one to try and stage through the technology. This gave us something to build upon from the online rehearsal sessions.”
Steve Arnold: Coventry University Student
Top image: Lear and Cordelia in Prison circa 1779 William Blake 1757-1827 Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940