Luxembourg European Annual Theatre Summer School

2013 Theme Projects

All the best performers bring to their role something more, something different than what the author put on paper. That's what makes theatre live. That's why it persists.

Stephen Sondheim
(composer and librettist)


At Clairefontaine this year, we will be opening the Stock character cupboard, taking out these ‘original’ characters to give them a good spring (summer) clean!

Stock characters were popularised in Ancient Greek and Italian theatre. Greek theatre introduced the penny pincher, the boor, the flatterer, the coward, the slanderer and so on whilst in Italian theatre the Romans created the young lover boy, the harsh wife, the tricky servant amongst many others. There are also the Commedia Dell’arte stock characters from Italian theatre whilst Medieval English drama characters included the damsel in distress, the handsome young knight, the wild man of the woods and the by Elizabethan times we had the braggart soldier, the heroine disguised as a handsome man, the gullible country bumpkin and many more including the Shakespearian fool. In Restoration comedy we invariably have the fop and the rake, whilst British pantomimes have a host of recognizable ‘stocks’. Charles Dickens developed many of his characters from theatre ‘stocks’. Modern examples include characters from Western films and television soap operas. ‘Oliver’ the musical provides us with Lionel Bart’s interpretation of Dickens’ stock characters whilst Pantomime characters have their ‘traditional songs’. For example, the principal boy/girl love duets, or the hero’s ‘I can do it’ type number, often supported by a chorus of like minded supporters. A recent musical by Stiles & Drew is called ‘Soho Cinders’, based on the Cinderella story and those stock characters are also evident in Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Into The Woods’. 

Graeme du Fresne (singing and acting): THERE'S PLENTY OF SONGS IN STOCK
In this option we will be taking a look at stock characters from musicals and pantomime. ‘Panto’ stock character types also often have stock types of songs or at least songs which fulfil a particular function common and relevant to their  character. Two such examples might be: 1) ‘The love duet’ between Principal boy and girl, or : 2) The ‘I can do it’ song usually at the end of Act One where the eponymous hero summons up sufficient courage for the fight ahead ably supported by a chorus of like minded villagers. In recent Pantomimes I have produced (with Janice Dunn) we have attempted to redefine the type of song that can be chosen in these situations, helping to explore creatively the boundaries of musical choice whilst at the same time preserving the essential need for relevance to character and plot. The fairy tale archetypes found in Panto also find their way in to musical theatre in the shape of Sondheim’s 'Into The Woods', Vivian Ellis’s 'Mr Cinders' and Styles and Drewe’s 'Soho Cinders'. Charles Dickens’ characters are often of a stock nature and there are many musical theatre pieces adapted from his books including of course Lionel Bart’s 'Oliver'.

The course will explore character in song processes drawn from acting techniques relevant to the material identified above. Even in Pantomime we’ll be basing our work on finding truthful acting through song choices in a manner relevant to the particular song and situation. Taking care of comedy will be at the centre of our work.

Janice Dunn (acting): HEROES, VILLAINS, DAMSELS and DAMES
This course will investigate the process of how to develop a stock character that does what is required for the play, but can also register truthfully. We will examine where style and content collide, and experiment with the extremes. Whilst acknowledging
context we will take a modern perspective on solving what has been an age old theatrical conundrum - how to move the audience. We will explore these issues using forms such as medieval morality plays, pantomime, Shakespeare, and some modern texts. It will be a fun course, but potentially challenging in the terms of "comfort zone".

Keith Myers (acting): LAUGHING STOCK
We will look at creating and playing stock characters in British high comedy and farce. Larger than life? Characters or clichés? This course will attempt to determine an approach in which the actor can remain faithful to the highly stylised form of farce and high comedy whilst adding depth and complexity to the characterisation that reaches beyond the cliché. 
We will use three classic British comedies to explore our theme of ‘stock characters’: A 19th century Comedy of Manners, a 1950s Whitehall Farce and a modern comedy classic from a living playwright. We will examine the style of performance and presentation needed to bring these seemingly two dimensional and stereotypical comedy characters to hilarious three dimensional life.
We will discuss the three plays within the social and political context of their period as well as the manners, fashions, habits and attitudes of the time. Each student will take a specific character and using various methods and games will flesh them out into credible and rounded entities. The group will then work on key scenes from the plays exploring the acting style, comedy business, quality of energy, pace and size of performance demanded to bring them to performance pitch.

This will be a module suited to all experience levels from beginners to ‘old hands’ and I believe very strongly that having a lot of fun is vital to creating comedy!!

On this course we will look at the notion of stock characters – who and what they are, the origins of stock characters, and how they manifest in Shakespeare and Restoration plays. We will look at texts in a very physical way, emphasising our ability to develop character though playing rather than relying on an intellectual approach; though there will be an element of analysis, it will not be the main focus. We will seek to discover these ‘archetypes’ through a series of exercises, based largely on improvisations borne out of physical and vocal gestures with techniques such as ‘plastique’  that take us into seeking truth within these types, creating your character’s physicality and how you can physically connect to text.  Some of the texts used will be characters very much inside the scene, and we will also explore direct address to the audience. Techniques to develop group skills as well as the individual actor’s approach to texts will be used, building ideas around character and dialogue. We will also incorporate some classic approaches to text such as discovering the character’s needs or wants, intentions, objectives and tactics.