Luxembourg European Annual Theatre Summer School

Course : 2011

The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster.

Oscar Wilde (poet and playwright)

THEME : Making Sense of Nonsense

‘Nonsense’ is a subjective premise and often what first appears to be nonsensical can in time and with familiarity become ‘sensible’. If we follow the definitions: ‘NONSENSE’ = ABSURD, ABSURD = UNREASONABLE, UNREASONABLE = IRRATIONAL we can proceed to explore a host of different possibilities. In the 20th century, ‘Irrational’ theatre is recognized as being found in the theatre of Symbolism to Surrealism and from Dada to the Absurd. An icon of the Theatre of the Absurd is Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, once described as a play where nothing happens....twice! Chaos made cohesive and fun in exploring how chaos, nonsense and absurdity might be fulfilled theatrically!

Graeme Du Fresne : What's the Score (singing and acting)
This option covered an extremely varied range of work from Comic Opera through classic 1970’s pop music and some unusual modern ‘classical’ music.
Ways of interpreting the 'nonsense' of unconventional music scores – consisting of graphics, symbols, images and text but little or nothing in the way of musical notes – were explored using exercises and techniques appropriate to this ‘avant garde’ approach to music making.
The lyrical and musically seemingly random non sequiturs of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody as well as the rambling, disconnected ideas of this glorious, outrageous song were made sensible by the recreation some of the group’s famous harmonies.
The satire behind the ‘nonsense’ of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Sorcerer was investigated.
A specific meaning was attached to the ‘oohey’ language of backing vocals in pop and choral music (often consisting of aahs, oohs and do-be-doos rather than words) by examining the lyrics that surround them.

Aofie Smyth : Making sense of Shakespeare (acting)
To a modern audience, the language of Shakespeare at times sounds or seems nonsensical and archaic but the most important step to understanding Shakespeare is to remember that it was invented to be spoken and not studied.
This option looked at how true meaning can be revealed through analysing key scenes and monologues from different plays and by examining the form of the verse, the rhetorical devices and the images. Some Stanislavski-based techniques were applied (wants, needs, objectives and tactics, why’s and what’s) and it was learned that, though Shakespeare answers the ‘what?’, it’s the actor's job to answer ‘why?’.
The work was both physical and vocal to enable the communication of the physical life, action and atmosphere of the character.

Mike McCormack: An Absurd World (acting)
Following the devastation in Europe in the 1940s, the theatre unsurprisingly turned in the 1950s to expressions of the absurdity of life. Comic, strange, often bleak, sometimes hilarious, this wide variety of ‘absurdist’ material offers a rich melange of theatrical material from writers as varied as Ionesco, N.F. Simpson, Beckett and Pinter. More recently, the American playwright, Christopher Durang, has provided wildly comic absurdist pieces. This strange and exciting territory was explored in all its imaginative diversity.

Peta Lily: You're Talking Gibberish (acting)
In this option the door was opened to a glorious world of nonsense, neologisms, gibberish, gobbledygook and Grammelot!
Communicating with sound was explored to make individual ‘languages’, soundscapes and vocal inventions were created to explore tragic, shamanic and ritual atmospheres and stories – from the whispery mysterious and poetic through light and comic to the grotesque.
Texts included Peter Handke’s Kaspar, Dario Fo’s Mistero Buffo, the music and lyrics of Sigur Rós, the writing of John Lennon, riddles, comedian Stanley Unwin, techno babble, legalese, business-speak and the slang languages of Polari and Verlan.


Graeme Du Fresne and Aofie Smyth : The Epic Musical (singing and acting / directing)
This was a combined project with two tutors, allowing for an in-depth collaboration between directing on the one hand and singing/acting on the other.
Two musical theatre pieces deeply influenced by and indebted to Brecht’s ‘Epic Theatre’ work were explored : The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein (1937) and Urine Town (2001) composed by Mark Hollman with book and lyrics by Greg Kotis. Participants were either directors or singers – the singers and directors initially working with their tutors before the directing group was given the opportunity to work with the singer/actors under the close scrutiny and supervision of the tutors. The directors explored the politics of ‘Brechtian’ theatre and the singers were engaged in various ‘acting through song’ processes relevant to Brechtian musical theatre.

Mike McCormack: The method of Physical Actions (acting)
Towards the end of his long career, and never satisfied that his work was complete, Russian actor-director-teacher-theorist Konstantin Stanislavski was working on a new area of ‘The System’. This work was never completed, but the great Polish director and writer, Jerzy Grotowski picked up the baton and continued to experiment and develop the ideas. Is all expression psychologically generated or does the body itself express emotion? This option explored the possibilities and made some surprising discoveries!

Peta Lily: Comedy Toolbox (acting, devising, writing)
This option worked on building confidence to be with an audience and developing ease and audience rapport. It started with simple storytelling before moving on to comic storytelling, learning the skills of suspense and engagement, and understanding the mechanics of getting, maintaining and managing audience laughter as well as holding a pause before an audience.