We had a chat with Maggie, former Theatre Director and founder of The Big House, about the power of drama as a tool to build confidence and how she approaches acting…
I demystify the whole process of acting. We don’t talk in a way that they may perhaps at a drama school, where they will be talking about all sorts of techniques, stanislavski etc. I have found alienates the youngsters we work with and makes them feel on the outside.
We do a lot of improvisation-based work and it’s really about being comfortable in your own skin.
So when we develop the play, we develop characters and qualities that are very close to the people who are playing those parts and that’s a very particular choice that’s been made, because it allows them to be themselves. Now that doesn’t mean to say it’s not acting. You’ve got an audience of 100 odd in watching you so of course it’s a performance.
It’s very natural, very real and very raw. It’s about absorbing the character into themselves.
So one of the very early games that I play with them is a game whereby I have to go out of the room and come back into the room and they’re either delivering a script or they’re just talking. And until I can’t tell which it is, that’s when the real acting begins. So it’s very natural and very real and very raw and it’s about absorbing the character into themselves and that’s really forging a very close bond between them and the material, the part they’re playing, influencing and shaping.
We work very closely at bonding the group that we work with on each three month course, so that here is a support system within that group.
Sharing their problems and also having the opportunity to use drama to express frustration, anger, whatever that emotion might be that they are feeling is a fantastic release and it’s a brilliant way to channel something that could be very negative into something positive that will then be applauded.
It’s very much up to them whether they want to impact on the play that is developed during the 3 month course.
It’s quite a fine line really because we don’t want to exploit anybody’s story in any way. They can share their story anonymously. They don’t have to share their story at all. So the process is that they workshop with myself and with the writer, Andy Day. And we get to know each of them very well, we find the common problems within the group and we ask them what they would like to foreground in terms of the themes we look at in the play.
A lot of people come to The Big House with preconceived ideas about what acting is.
So in the early weeks they put on a heavy cloak of a character if you like and I have to take that off. And as I said it’s all about demystifying the process, having the confidence to be and to realise that the best acting, as someone like Mihcael Caine says is just absorbing the character and being, by saying those lines and thinking those thoughts you are the character and you don’t have to put on a heavy cloak as it were.
Keeping it incredibly simple and close to their hearts is our key really.
We are not a drama school, we are not training people to go into the acting profession. What we are trying to do is free their spirits and to build their confidence. If you can build the confidence of a youngster to that extent, that they feel comfortable in their own shoes, it means that when they walk out of the door of The Big House and very confidently be themselves in front of an interview panel for example.
Having a play on at the end is a brilliant shop window for the youngsters and for the work.
So out of the production BABYLON that has just closed, a large number of people came from the community offering placements for our youngsters, which is extraordinary and we’re absolutely delighted
Giving a voice to rarely heard voices is empowering.
What is fantastic about that process is the two plays we’ve staged is the huge impact on the audiences, many of whom are quite ignorant about the problem the youngsters face. And being able to share that is empowering. To give them a voice, because they are rarely heard voices. They have been really moved around a lot during their childhood and had very little say in what’s happened to them.
We’d like to say congratulations to Maggie on just last week being listed in the Independent on Sunday’s top 100 happy people. See more about the great things she’s up to at The Big house.