In January 2020, in situ: offers a new eight-week course focussing on an aspect of theatre technique or on a specific play.
This term, that play is The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen and the course will allow participants to explore a variety of approaches to the work; they can also choose to continue this exploration to performance during the summer of 2020.
Here, course tutor and in situ: artistic director Richard Spaul explains more.
Richard, this course focuses on Ibsen’s play The Master Builder. You’re clearly passionate about Ibsen’s work.
Yes, I’m very passionate about his work. He was a bold experimenter both with subjects and with form.
He tackled difficult, often upsetting and controversial subjects with courage and imagination, dealing with family dysfunction, the oppression of women, mental illness, and many other challenging topics.
Ibsen also experimented with form. His early works are in verse and reflect the practices of the time. But after much soul-searching, he abandoned verse drama and committed himself to social realism, discovering a way of writing that was appropriate for exploring the lives of ordinary people – in so doing, he completely changed the course of modern drama.
In his amazing late works, of which The Master Builder is possibly the greatest, Ibsen fused a realistic form with the language of symbol, dream and fantasy to create a unique type of drama. He’s a remarkable artist in every respect.
What has made you focus this course on The Master Builder in particular?
I’ve chosen The Master Builder for very strong personal reasons – my parents, both actors, played Solness and Mrs Solness in a production of the late Sixties. I saw this production, it had a huge impact on me and I have wanted to work on the play ever since.
The plot concerns a successful, middle-aged man who has developed a morbid belief that he can bring things about simply by the exercise of his will. He believes that through this pursuit of his goals, he has ruined other people’s lives – in particular his wife’s – and as a result, he is wracked with guilt and he fears retribution. Then a young woman appears as if from nowhere, claiming to have been seduced by him when she was a teenager, though he can’t remember if that really happened. The two enter into a dangerous love affair which leads to a sensational and tragic conclusion.
As you can tell, the play explores dark matter – what we would now call unconscious drives and desires – the demonic forces in people that are both creative and destructive. It’s really exciting material to work on.
You are calling the course ‘The Master Builder Project’ to reflect the fact that participants will not be working only with the original text. But why do you feel it appropriate to move outside the play itself?
Like many other creative artists, I feel that creativity is unleashed by putting things together that may not have been put together before. I’ve used this approach often, have learned to have a great deal of faith in it, and have always found that it leads to new and interesting insights. Remarkable things can emerge from such an open-ended viewpoint.
So for instance, during the course we will be looking at the images of Ibsen’s contemporary, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, and creating a dialogue between these images and The Master Builder text.
The course will also explore actor reminiscence, an important aspect of acting theory that developed in response to the work of Ibsen, Chekhov and others. Again, the addition of extra material outside the core text can be extraordinarily productive.
The recent course which insitu: ran in the autumn of 2019 dealt more generally with Ibsen’s work. Does anyone thinking of joining the January course need to have done the previous one? Do they need to have previous theatre experience? Do participants need to be willing to perform in public?
We are welcoming all participants – who may be new to Ibsen, new to in situ:, new to acting altogether. Everyone is very welcome regardless of experience – in insitu: we pride ourselves on our ability to make people feel comfortable within a very few minutes.
However, I should say that participants will be going straight into demanding, artistic work and so anyone wishing to try a bit of acting without much commitment should look for one of the easier entry-points that many groups offer. But anyone who’s really ‘up for it’ will find the work exciting and stimulating and the group friendly, supportive and talented.
As to performing in public, no; this term is entirely to do with participants’ learning and enjoying. However anyone wishing to perform may then sign up for the summer term, which leads to public performance in July 2020.
What kind of activities will you be asking participants to undertake during the course? What will their experience be over the eight weeks?
The sessions are high energy, hands-on and fun, yet they also engage very seriously with the many artistic questions raised by The Master Builder.
Each class usually starts with games and/or a physical warm-up. These are exercises which harness the performers’ energy and drive, and help them learn to work together – with that energy but without getting in each other’s way!
We then usually move on to learn about a specific technique, approach or resource. So one session might focus on emotion and breath, another might explore issues of power and status, another might examine character types. There are infinite possibilities.
We then typically finish with some devised small-group work based on whatever we think we’ve learnt, then sharing those pieces with the rest of the class.
So every session is a real journey of discovery. We spend very little time sitting around doing nothing!
What To Expect
What do you want to say to participants about what you expect them to learn and how you expect them to develop by doing this course?
You’ll learn lots of new approaches to acting. You’ll learn a great deal about Ibsen, The Master Builder and the artistic possibilities of the play.
But even more importantly, you’ll work collaboratively with highly-motivated people and you’ll be creating new artwork in pretty much every session. Many people who work with us discover layers of creativity that they may not have thought they possessed. That’s the vital thing.
What will you yourself learn during this course, professionally and perhaps personally?
I don’t know exactly what I will learn but I know it will be something new and interesting.
I’ve been doing this work for many years and I’ve gained many things. But perhaps the main gain is meeting and working with new people and developing anew my artistic relationships with people I’ve already known, often for decades. Each new relationship – or approach, or project – opens new doors.
All this is added to the huge personal fascination I have with The Master Builder since I saw my parents do it. I felt its power and significance even then, and I will now be seeing what I bring out of it by doing it myself – 50 years later!!!!
The Master Builder Project Course
Dates: Monday January 20 – Monday March 16th, 2020, with half-term break Monday February 17th.
Times: 8pm – 10pm
Venue: St Andrews Hall, Church Street, Chesterton, Cambridge.