Author: Pilar

When The Going Gets Tough

I practice every day. If I don’t practice for one day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. If I don’t practice for three days, the audience knows it.” Vladimir Horowitz, pianist.

I’m currently writing “Hi, I’m Here for a Recording, the ordinary life of a voiceover artist,” so I’m reading a bit about writing (it’s my favourite form of guilt-free procrastination). I came across the quote above in the book How to be a Writer: Building Your Creative Skills Through Practice and Play by Barbara Baig. I like the book because it reminds us that writing is a process, where you need to do a lot of work before you complete your finished product; and it reminds us that being a writer is a discipline, pretty much like acting and devising.

When you first start to create theatre, it’s difficult. You might not be great at improvising, you might be used to feeding off a script to create a character, you might not enjoy creating material when you don’t know whether it’s going to be used in the final piece or not.

Devising theatre (and indeed creating any kind of theatre) is a process. You try things out; you ditch them. You play games, you take part in exercises, you explore characters and scenes not knowing where they’re going to take you. Unless you do this over and over again, you will never learn, you will never grow as a performer and person and you will never master the craft.

Acting, like all types of art, needs both talent and craft. On my first day at drama school one of my tutors told us, “You need to work hard at perfecting your technique. Talent will come and go, but your technique will keep you working.” He was so right. Technique, rehearsal and practice will make you Good. Then when you are inspired, when you have good days (or even good long periods), you will be Excellent. But talent without technique doesn’t last.

So, when you’re bored of repeating that scene again and again and again, remember Horowitz words above and learn from every single moment as you practice your craft.


Obtaining Audience Feedback for Your Piece

The most important question to answer when you present your work in front of an audience is:

How was it for you?

Very often you will know what bits worked and which didn’t. You will be able to tell instantly how a scene went, whether the audience were with you or if they were restless; whether that comedy moment you worked on for ages made anyone laugh. You will know from their silences whether they were moved or just confused.

It’s important that you obtain feedback from your audience in some shape or form but what’s even more important is that you and your fellow performers reflect on your own experience and their comments and decide what action to take further. Don’t just present your show, get feedback and then carry on. Let the feedback sink in, decide what you will take and what you will ditch (yes, of course it’s ok to ignore some feedback) and then decide on how you will let it shape your piece.

You can use questionnaires to get audience feedback, but the most effective way of gauging what an audience has to say is by organising a discussion straight after they see your piece (a post-show discussion), or soon after. Don’t forget though to seek the opinion of those people who didn’t say anything during the group discussion, as they might well have very interesting things to say but didn’t really feel like talking in front of everyone else.


It’s important to gain feedback from others once you’ve got most of your piece down, let’s call it “work in progress”. As a group, you are creating something that you will become very familiar with. During rehearsals you will discuss the plot, characters, themes and therefore understand the piece regardless of what the piece turns out to be. You want to make sure that the audience takes something away from it without having all the information that you have used during rehearsals.

Before you begin…

Before you submit yourself to the interesting experience that is having people telling you what they think about your work (I use the word “interesting” because it describes a wide range of reactions: some people love having others telling them what they thought about their piece; others feel exposed; others just don’t care), you need to know what you want feedback on.

  • What sections are you least sure of?
  • What do you want your audience to feel/think?
  • Do you want them to understand every single element of your story? How important is narrative?
  • Do you want them to feel empathy for all/some of the characters?
  • Do you want to hear their different interpretations?

Once audiences start telling you what they think about your piece, the discussion can go on forever, so it’s important to get the answers to the questions you might have as soon as possible. A good idea is to have one of you chair the discussion. You can start with “We’ve been thinking about the kind of things we’re struggling with and we’d be especially interested in knowing what you think of x, y and z; although we really value anything else you have to say we might not have thought of.”

Using Feedback

Try and understand where people are coming from when they give you their opinion. Are they trying to tell you about the piece they would have created or do they really understand how to help you create your own piece? Remember that, in the end, you are the ones who need to be completely happy with what you create. Having said that, give full consideration to all comments as you might learn something from them just by reflecting on them.

Once audiences get going, they will provide you with contradictory comments (one person might say they really liked that the story was clear whereas others will say they would have liked a little bit of mystery to make them think harder. And if your discussion goes well, you will hear one people say, “I wasn’t sure about the last scene” followed by someone else saying “Oh, that was my favourite bit!”), so be prepared for this.

Listen to what makes sense to you as well as to those comments that take you completely by surprise. Above all, listen for common themes or recurring comments. If many people are agreeing on the fact that your character’s reaction came out of nowhere, there’s probably something that needs to be added early on in the piece. Or if nobody seems to be moved by the last scene, when you think it’s the most poignant bit in the piece, then you’ll need to address this.

Although I’m not a great fan of questionnaires, they do give a voice to every single member of the audience. They also allow you to look at what people have to say whenever you feel ready, and not just straight after the performance, when you’re likely to be tired or buzzing and not quite taking everything in. So do give some thought about whether you want to create some questionnaires for your audience. A good question to ask is always: “How would you describe this piece to a friend?”

Which reminds me: take notes (questionnaire – writing – taking notes…). Don’t rely on memory to remember all the feedback given. There will be things that slip your mind. Get a pen and paper out and scribble down what people are saying. If you’re getting feedback from your classmates or people you know, even initial who says what, in case you need clarification later. If someone says something of special interest, approach them later about it to get further thoughts.

I think that’s it from me. Obtaining audience feedback during the creation of your piece is essential. It will accelerate your devising process. In addition to evaluating what you already have, there is nothing like performing in front of an audience to make you work extra hard.


Your Handy Companion to Devising and Physical Theatre is now a Recommended Book

I am extremely happy to say that this book has been included in the Reading List of the OCR Level 3 Cambridge Technical Certificate/Diploma Performing Arts, Devising Plays Unit.

I was hoping that the book would be useful for those studying Theatre at a young age and to be included in the list makes me think I’ve done something right.

To support those of you taking or delivering this unit, I will be adding material to this blog to support the syllabus, including how to obtain and use audience feedback, structuring the drama and developing voice and physicality. For next year, I will release a new edition of Your Handy Companion to Devising and Physical Theatre covering more of the OCR and other exams.

Here is the link to the Devising Plays Unit for the OCR Level 3 Cambridge Technical Certificate/Diploma Performing Arts.

If you’re studying this unit and need some help, do get in touch via Twitter or by leaving a comment on this post. (All comments remain unpublished until I approve them.)


Using Theatre to Transform Lives

I am delighted to welcome Montserrat Gili, someone who became a very good friend of mine through working together on quite a few performance and educational projects. Montse has always tackled those difficult projects I could never be part of myself and so, it is without hesitation that I am giving her this space to tell you about her latest venture.

By the age of 8 most children in the UK have been to see at least one if not more, Christmas shows with their schools or their family. Have you seen how their faces light up? How they engage with the hero or heroine of the story? How they sing along? How they clap, laugh, shout…? Numerous studies show us how the arts have a positive impact on children’s development so I am not going to bore you with the importance of that because you probably already know it…

I am a theatre practitioner and I have been leading workshops for many years in many different settings, including working with NEET young people (at risk of exclusion), young people with autism, etc so I KNOW how participating in the arts can help a young person… To improve their confidence, their empathy, their relationship with themselves and others, their leadership skills, etc, etc.

What I do want to talk to you about is a project that is different because as well as all the above, it can also help young children who live in the streets to find other options and eventually leave the streets.

This project will take place in Zambia, where there is a charity called Barefeet which works with children at risk of becoming disengaged from their communities. Barefeet helps children who are living on the streets or at risk of becoming street children to transform their lives.

Those former street children are now professional performers at Barefeet and are a shining example of how arts can change your life.

The Christmas show is a recurring event that brings a bit of magic to the Christmas of street children in Lusaka. Not only do we give them a spectacular show and a present from Santa, we also bring them into contact with different orphanages and former street children. Those former street children are now professional performers at Barefeet and are a shining example of how arts can change your life.

dsc00736I will be going to Zambia at the beginning of November to direct a Christmas theatre show for street kids. For most of them it will be their first experience with live theatre, but they will also have the opportunity to take part in workshops with the performers, they will receive a little gift, food and they will be put in touch with organisations that can give them options to leave the streets.

So as I said, a worthy project, but of course, we are still raising funds to help this happen.

Please help us in any way you can, even if you can’t give at the moment, please help us by passing this along to your network of friends, family or colleagues. The more distribution the better, especially since we don’t have that much time to raise the funds.

Thank you so much in advance!

Montserrat Gili


Playing With the Classics

If you’re tackling a classical text, don’t worry too much about sticking to the original structure, unless your aim is to present the play to an audience in its original form.

Play with the text, divide it between people, see what that does to the piece. Maybe it doesn’t work: why? Ask yourself why: why is the that piece of text so attached to the character, what does it tell us about her/him?

Sometimes it might work, showing two separate sides of the character very clearly, and this might be an interesting choice to place in front of an audience.

You also have the less specific bits of texts like Chorus pieces or Prologues.

The prologue in García Lorca’s The Butterfly’s Evil Spell can easily be split between actors to introduce to the audience the concept of Ensemble. As I’m working on this translation at the moment, here it is, the prologue to this beautiful play, split up for a couple of you to try out. Play with it: do you prefer to just stand and say the lines? Can you pick up where the other left off easily? Does each person (here represented by just a number) have a different character? What does the text tell you? And what happens if it’s just spoken by one person? Does it work better? Is it just different? Have a play, enjoy!

Prologue to The Butterfly’s Evil Spell by Federico García Lorca

(Note that the original is spoken just by one person.)

1: Ladies and Gentlemen:

 2: The comedy you’re about to watch is both humble and disturbing.

 3: A broken comedy about he who, trying to scratch the moon, ended up scratching his own heart.

 1: Love, just as it travels with its mockeries and its failures down Man’s life, travels in this occasion to a hidden prairie populated with insects where life had been peaceful for a long time.

 4: The insects were happy,

 2: Their only worries were drinking dewdrops in peace and educating their children in the holy terrors of their gods.

 4: They loved each other out of habit.

 1: Love passed on from parent to child like an old and exquisite jewel that was received by the first insect from the hands of God.

 3: With the same peace and confidence that the pollen of a flower gives itself to the wind, they enjoyed love under the humid, fresh grass.

 2: But one day…. one of the insects tried to fly beyond love. He fell in love with a form that was way beyond his life… maybe he’d read, with some difficulty, the verses of a book left behind by one of the few poets who walk round the countryside, and was poisoned by “I love you, impossible woman.”

 1: That’s why I beg you all not to leave behind in the prairies your poetry books, because you too might be the cause of sorrow in other insects.

 3: The poetry which asks why the stars travel through space is hurtful to unopened souls.

 2: It seems useless to tell you that the poor little bug died.

 4: Death sometimes dresses up as love.

 1: Many are the times that the skeleton with the scythe we see portrayed in the prayer books takes the shape of a woman to fool us as she opens the door of her shadow.

 4: Cupid sleeps many times in the deep crevices of Death’s skull.

 1: Many are the old stories where a flower, a kiss or a look play the horrible part of the sword.

 3: An old sprite from the woods, who escaped from one of the great Shakespeare’s books; this sprite, who walks around the prairies holding his withered wings with a crutch, told the poet this story during an autumn night, when the flocks had left and now the poet repeats it to you, enveloped in his very own melancholy.

 1: But before we start, we want to ask you the same question the sprite asked the poet that Autumn night, when the flocks had left.

 4: Why are you repulsed by some clean and shiny insects who move graciously in the grass?

 1: And why are you people, full of sins and incurable vices, disgusted by the worms who calmly walk across the prairie sunbathing in the lukewarm morning?

 4: Why do you look down on Nature’s most negligible creatures?

 1: While you insist on not loving deeply the stone and the worm, you will not enter the kingdom of God.

 2: The old sprite also said to the poet: “The animal and plant kingdom will soon take over. Man forgets his creator, while the animals and  plants live very close to his light. Poet, tell Mankind that love grows just as intensely in all planes of life, that the rhythm of the leaf rocked by the wind is the same as that of the distant star and that the words spoken by the fountain in the shade are spoken in the same way by the sea. Tell Mankind to be humble: everyone’s equal  in Nature’s eyes.

 4: And that’s all the old sprite said.

 1: And now, listen to our comedy.

 3: Maybe you’ll smile when you hear these insects talking like young men, like adolescents.

 1: And if you learn a deep lesson from this story, go down to the forest, to thank that sprite on crutches – go down to the forest on an Autumn night, when the flocks have left.

Street Inspiration

I can’t help it. Even if I no longer create theatre, I’m still drawn to theatrical figures, especially when they are created with a hint of surrealism. Here are some photos of street art I came across while in Holland. I’m not sure how much these images will be of help to you, but I thought they were worth sharing.

Maybe they’ll prompt you to ask some questions to create characters or even some kind of plot?


(With thanks to kevinkoekoek for the photos.)

A lady (look at her handbag) hiding her face?
A lady (look at her handbag) hiding her face?
A lady with trousers - not sure why I find this strange...
A lady with trousers – not sure why I find this strange…
A lady with her shoes by her side. Why?
A lady with her shoes by her side. Why?


Who hides under the mask?


And why is this mask by their side?
And why is this mask by their side?









Medieval vs Contemporary
Medieval vs Contemporary
Did he just land here from the future?
Did he just land here from the future?

Questions on Teaching Physical Theatre?

I don’t teach the subject myself anymore, so I’m a little thin on inspiration. If you have any questions, or need specific advice on teaching or studying physical theatre, let me know by commenting on the Visitors Page. Hopefully I can help you and come up with some content for a new post! All posts are moderated before they are published, so if you want your post to remain private, just let me know.

Being a Butterfly

Federico-G-Lorca1I’m in the very early stages of researching for my book on teaching Lorca. (Any thoughts on this are always welcome, by the way.) I’m just having a look at a version of The Butterfly’s Evil Spell which we performed as a Script in Hand Performance back in… I can’t really remember, the script is dated 2000, so around then.

The play is a real challenge to perform, mainly because the Butterfly in the title is a real butterfly, not just a symbol. The characters of the play are cockroaches. How do you play a cockroach? How do you stage a play where the characters are insects, without it becoming pretty much like a cartoon?

In the end, the challenge is the same as with any play: as actors, you look at the characters and make decisions based on what they say, what they do and what you decide they think. The movement needs a little bit more consideration, but hints of “insectness” is what we’re looking for. A commonality for all cockroaches, for example, and then individuality for each character.

mariposaAs directors, we’ll look at the play and decide what it needs. Considering that the whole play has a fairy tale quality to it and that the piece is really reflecting human nature; and given how contemporary audiences are willing to suspend disbelief when watching this kind of theatre, it wouldn’t make much sense to try to make everyone look like the insect they’re playing (although that’s precisely what Lorca tried to do during the performance of this play, as you can observe in this image). So we’ll need to decide how much do we want the audience to work their imagination and how we’re going to help them to immerse themselves in our very special world.

If you don’t know the play and like Lorca, do have a read. I will release my own translation in a couple of weeks but meanwhile, here are a few lines, from the first act.

You are discreet when you speak
Of the cause of your pain.
And where is your love? Far away?

He is so close
The wind brings me his breath.

A young lad from this town! You hide it well!
And does he love you?

He detests me.

That’s strange, you are rich!
In my time….

The princess he awaits for will never come.

What’s he like?

I’m enchanted by his small body
and his dreamy poet eyes.
He has a yellow spot on his right leg,
As yellow are the tips of his divine antennae.

That’s my son.

SILVIA (madly)
I love him!!!!!!

MRS COCKROACH (aside, as in a dream)
She’s wealthy.
The stupidity of my strange creature.
I’ll make him love her by force.

(If you’re a Lorca fan, have a look at my (much neglected) blog

Instant Composition

As the cold weather makes me lazy, I am very happy to leave you once again with guest blogger María Ferrara. (If you missed her previous post on Action Theatre, do have a look.) In this post, she continues to talk about the magic of sharing your improvisation in real time with the audience.

What is Instant Composition?

In an instant composition piece, the performer is creating the material, composing it and showing it simultaneously. Thus, the performer is working from the void in real time to create something new in every performance.

The origins of instant composition date from the 1960’s, the dawning of the postmodern dance movement, which questioned traditional aesthetic values and the share of roles that makes the dancer a mere executor of the choreographer’s creation. This followed on the path opened up in the 50’s by conceptual art, installations or performances. These movements challenged many accepted views such as the boundary between art and everyday life, between different art forms and even between performer and spectator. The pieces tended to be open ended, engaging the audience to complete what they were witnessing with their own perception or understanding. In performing arts, this multidisciplinary approach erased the distinctions between dancer, musician, actor or singer and the word “performer” emerged to refer to the person that performs the action which is witnessed and shared by the audience.

The preparation for this type of performance includes training awareness of what takes place within and outside of oneself in order to keep an ongoing interaction with the here and now, developing creativity, imagination and intuition and, finally, finding fluidity in decision making, both in order to follow impulses and to inhibit them.

The final aim is not to let oneself get carried away, but rather to compose a moment in a space, giving a collective sense to the elements present. In this context, the word sense does not refer to objective meaning, but to subjective understanding: how the patterns, pictures, rhythms, planes, sequences, counterpoints, intensities, images etc. develop and interact sequentially.

Instant composition invites the spectator to accompany the performer into an experience in which neither of them knows what will happen.

Currently, digital media allows for audiovisual content to be saved and reproduced ad infinitum with great ease. It is precisely in this era in which the eternal seems to be within reach for everybody that the ephemeral, the immediate and the transient acquire a renewed value as the epitome of life itself. Instant composition invites the spectator to accompany the performer into an experience in which neither of them knows what will happen, to walk out of the known territory of habits, preconceptions and expectations. One’s own perceptions, in real time, become the final element that makes sense of what has been witnessed.

María Ferrara is helping to promote the 2ND INTERNATIONAL ACTION THEATRE AND PHYSICAL IMPROVISATION FESTIVAL in Berlin this May. For more information on the festival, you can contact her on kontakt[at]
To find out more about what Action Theatre is, check out her last post: Action Theatre: The Improvisation of Presence.

Using Music in Your Piece

Music can trigger off a whole range of emotions much faster than the spoken word. If you want to move your audience, look for a piece of music that will help you do this. Don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind, especially if you choose a song or piece because YOU already have an emotional connection with it. Look for music you don’t usually listen to: film scores of films you haven’t watched, bands and genres you don’t usually play.

Work with opposites, they’re quite interesting. If you have a sad scene, why not play it against an incredibly cheerful song? If you have created a physical comedy sequence, try it out to a slow ballad. You get the picture.

Juxtaposing speed of movement and rhythm is also fun: try slow motion sequences against upbeat music.

Finally, when including music in your piece, don’t forget to try the most powerful sound of all: silence.