Hamburg Players' Directing Workshop with Phil Clark (10-12 August 2018)

The Hamburg Players hosted their second directing workshop involving leading professionals from the UK in early August. This time it was Welsh director and painter Phil Clark who led a workshop attended by 16 theatre enthusiasts from the Hamburg Players, the Hamburg Improv scene and the University Players, Hamburg. We were all blown away by Phil’s creativity and his lateral thinking approach to theatre, which will continue to resonate with the attendees.

Below, Niels Hamdorf, a long-standing Hamburg Player, shares his impressions of the weekend:

Just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed Phil’s directing workshop last weekend. And I’m probably speaking on behalf of most participants when I say that we left the clubhouse on Sunday afternoon with a feeling of an extremely rich experience. Thanks for organising the workshop which, I think, is likely to increase the pool of members willing to have a go at directing…

Phil had a great way of making this a truly interactive workshop where most of the ideas were generated by the Ensemble rather than by himself. He is a great believer in elliciting from the ensemble the ideas that “are in the room”. “It’s all there” he would say and proved his point several times over while we worked on Harold Pinter’s play “Black and White”: By first having us go through a brain-storming session on what everyone thought was its central theme and then having us draw (yes, with pen and paper!) the “shape, line, colour and texture” of the play we arrived at an almost overwhelming number of interpretations.

During the entire workshop Phil kept emphasizing how important the subtexts of a play can be, the inner voices, the things that are not said, the pauses. He also made it clear how beneficial it can be to involve the people in charge of costumes, the stage designer and props right from the start so that they are part of the joint effort of bringing the play to life. We discussed the role of the director, too, and how he needs to reconcile the need to be in charge with a great openness to suggestions from the cast.

Phil insisted that you cannot make mistakes in approaching a play. He regards the process starting with the choice of the play, the casting, the first read-throughs and then the actual rehearsals as a learning curve where inevitably certain alleys will be pursued and then given up again thus eventually guiding the ensemble to “the truth of the play”. But he also offered a wealth of brick-and-mortar stuff such as warm-ups (always to be specifically chosen for each rehearsal), diction and projection exercises and sprinkled this liberally with examples from his ample directing experience.

The workshop was very intense in the best sense of the word and kept its pace over the full course of the approximately 14 hours in total. In addition to the things mentioned above, this is what we managed to get through: We read a short excerpt from a modern play with strong language (I forget who the author is) in dozens of different ways, enacted a scene from Under Milkwood in two different versions plus the final chorus from Shakespeare’s Henry V in small groups of four or five people. All of this by way of preparing for Harold Pinter’s “Black and White” which we ended up staging (with props and all!) in four groups of three people each, one being the director and the other two the actors. You bet they came out very different, but they were all equally believable and received great praise from the "audience" and Phil.

Phil is a great facilitator and was very likeable in the way he conducted the workshop. I can only recommend you join in next time he honours us with his presence in Hamburg…