What is LSW - A London Shakespeare Workout?

One of the outstanding aspects of living in New York City over the past twelve years has been an institution calledThe Shakespeare Workout, which is run on a regular basis by a marvellous individual, Eloise Watt, and her encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bard’s canon.  Actors may come and go as they please, attending whenever they can. Indeed, why shouldn’t one have a place to regularly workout on one’s body of Shakespeare, (A GYM FOR THE BARD so go speak), much as one goes to a gym to workout on one’s own physical body. Surely, both offer as much succour to the soul!  LSW is, without question, an effective tool to arm an actor's confidence and awareness for the week to come. 

Where is LSW & When?

London’s Shakespeare Workout, a gym for our ‘Bardish’ souls, takes place on a regular basis between 1330 and 1700 (1.30 pm - 5.00 pm) during many weeks of each calendar year within the spacious confines of The Art Room, 152 Arlington Road, Camden Town, London, NW1, (map here) which is conveniently located only one minute away from the Camden Town Tube Station.  On-street parking is free in many spaces of a Sunday.  When you come out of the tube on Camden High Street, take the first right onto Parkway and Arlington Road is, conveniently, the first left.  The Art Room, which during the week houses art classes for children between the ages of five an fifteen, being the inspiration of LSW Member, the West End veteran Nellie Shepard, is immediately opposite a church called, appropriately, ‘Our Lady of Hal’ which, itself, is next to an estate agent who works out of a Double Decker.  The creative atmosphere of the Art Room -- where the works on the walls change each week -- inspires a wonderful, ever changing atmosphere where play in encouraged.  Colourful indeed.  "Is there are cost?", I hear you ask.  Certainly there are no fees or dues or LSW and, for once the London Shakespeare Workout is even cheaper than its American progentior. Suggested donation guidelines recommend 2 for Professional actors/waged and 1 for professional acting students as opposed to the $15 in New York.  Monies collected are used to offset the LSW costs, (rent, copying, etc.).  The Ham and High has said: "For an afternoon's stimulation and entertainment, LSW must rank as London's prime bargin. "

Any Clues as to What Transpires at LSW?

Well, every week sees certain basic elements and they fall out like this:-

Physical and Vocal Warm Up (15 min) This is usually a merry combination of physical and vocal delight employing at various times such elements as LSW’s own variation of an ancient Thai three tonal oral exercise, the communal clap, and many other intriguing and ice-breaking exercises. You never know what’s going to happen, but then that's generally true at LSW.  The warm-ups are frequently punctuated with laughter and, when her television commitments allow, are lead by the glorious Robyn Moore;

(12 - 20 minutes)
During this segment LSW participants get that rare opportunity in the Workout, i.e., to sit.   With the Co-ordinator in the centre acting as a purveyor of witty repose, each member selects a line of the Bard’s text, which has immediately thereto been distributed.  Within a two minute time frame, each participant selects one iambic line from that text which 'speaks to them' and, through their own inspiration, writes at least four to six lines of original iambic pentameter.  The results are frequently breathtaking.  Some people have been known to write over twenty lines in the same space of time. The more barbed a la the Bard the better. Still, it is all in good fun as each member reads their contributions out - (one would say ‘clean’ but that is sometimes in suggestive question), - whilst still serving a practical purpose. This element also serves as something of an acting exercise with various members being asked to approach their witslings in different lights, or in a mass session to have people respond in kind with their WitSling upon hearing another which they feel bears specific reference, (ironic or otherwise,) to their own.   Again, no two sessions are alike.  They are as different as the individuals who collectively make them up.

Clumps (Approx. 25 minutes) Interactive Shakespeare. Standing in a circle anything, and indeed everything does happen. One actor may start a speech and end up sharing it in a trio, quartet or sextet.  Another may desire ‘Battle Noises’ or ‘Quiet Keening’ to augment their segment of the bard. It is a communal sharing of energies.  All one has to do is ask for it.  All participate. Any passive activity on the rim is entirely active. This is a chance to own your Shakespeare; to refresh the old and celebrate the new; to roll it about in your mouth; to interact with other performers; to be able to scale walls of confidence and find yourself caught up in the immediacy of a Shakespearean whirlwind.   Rejoinders of, say, one to three lines are always greatly valued.  Each week is different from the next. Occasionally the Clumps sessions are underscored by a variety of instruments.  Clumps provides a chance to find the physical taste of the language in your mouth and be wholly free to swirl it about.  Simply, Clumps is a weekly celebration.

Moreover, there is usually a
We have been deeply honoured with a huge list of leaders from the theatrical field encompassing everyone from Janet Suzman to Ken Campbell; from Dame Dorothy Tutin and Philip Voss to Matthew Francis, Ian Talbot, Greg Hicks and Sam West; from Gemma Jones to Academy Award Winner Richard Dreyfuss. LSW has been privileged indeed.

Any Other Info on LSW, the Gym for the Bard?

Well, the above represents the so-called standard features in an on-going project which harbours differences.  LSW has embodied a vast amount in its brief two and a half year history thus far.  In the truest sense,  it’s a bit like going to a professional party – never formal in anything but its stimulating intrigues -- and one that is continually rife with fun and good Will !):-

Work Not For Commentary. Within a supportive environment, people present work (monologues or scenes) to the group for everyone’s combined enjoyment, although this is usually enveloped in the Clumps segment.

Work For Commentary. Having distributed copies of the pieces to be presented (monologues, scene, song, etc.) the Workshop member(s) present their work for a special guest and it is discussed amongst all of those present.  Frequently, the pieces have are tried from several different perspectives. Here it is important to identify what one’s goal in presenting the material is (e.g., audition, working on some specific aspect of technique, for your own enjoyment, to revitalise something you feel may have fallen stale or perhaps for some specific experiment.) Anything goes --- In New York, certain artists have enacted a monologue and then represented it as an original dance work.  In overseeing the LSW Work for commentary, we have been deeply privileged to have with us, sharing their enormous expertise, the likes of Dame Dorothy Tutin, Faith Brook and with returning visits from the justly lauded Janet Suzman, the extraordinary Lynn Farleigh, the hugely respected Diana Fairfax and the Olivier Award Winning Sheila Reid, among many.  We have been blessed indeed.

Speech Labs. Wherein a single speech is taken by an LSW Guest Leader and worked on utilising the entire membership.  Among the guests spearheading this undertaking have been extraordinary performer/director Matthew Francis, the Olivier Award winning Josette Bushnell-Mingo, the magnificently imaginative Malcolm Sinclair, the hugely immaginative Artistic Director of A&BC, Greg Thompson and the RSC/National Theatre Veteran and one of the most extraordinary British actors of all time, Greg Hicks.

Verse Labs. Wherein the skills necessary for a suitable suit of Shakespearean armour, namely an actute ability with verse are practised, practised, practised.  Chief amongst the LSW Guest exemplars in this regard are the extraordinary Sam West, and the longstanding RSC veterans Bill Homewood and John Normington.

Interactive Shakespeare. In testament to the LSW Prison Project, indeed in a valuable exercise inspired by the skill of the inmates of HMP Woodhill, one actor speaks a speech of Shakespeare and another actor responds line for line, utilising the language they have just heard.  There is no rehearsal.  This is truly from the gut and on the ear.  The results have been astounding.

Radio/Audio Labs. Wherein the skills necessary to achieve optimum audio performance have been approached from a practical perspective.  LSW has been honoured to have in this regard as guests the celebrated John Tydeman, former head of BBC Radio Drama; the award winning producer Alec Reid and the producer of Riverrun Productions who has directed all of Shakespeare's plays for the new Arkangel recordings, Clive Brill.  Who could possibly ask for anything more?

Weekly Themes:- Every week should be different from the previous. Some various ideas employed in the past have included:

Gender Bender Sundays
:- (where men do the women and women do the men, so to speak).  LSW has had three thrilling sessions in this regard with both the RSC/Domar/Almeida Veteran, David Tennant and the Artistic Director of the Soho Group, Luke Dixon;

Sonnet Sundays; Sundays where sonnets are king.  LSW has enjoyed a wonderful variety in this regard under the skillful eyes of such key practitioners as Suzanne Bertish, Sheila Steafel and Fenella Fielding;

Workshops on Shakespearean Improvisation; LSW has been treated, again in this regard, to a wonderful variety speerheaded by such as the wonderful directors Astrid Hilne, Nick Cohen, the wonderfully exciting Sarah Davey and the justly celebrated Ken Campbell;

Dialect Sundays:- Where LSW members are encouraged to perform speeches in varying dialects, under the skillful eye of the internationally noted dialect coach, Terry Besson. 

Vocal Sundays:- Where LSW members work through the Bard and on their cords under the watchful ears of such master magicians as Mel Churcher and Robert Palmer.

Music Sundays; where people bring in instruments/taped music/sound effects to accompany their work.  In a new tradition LSW is now underscoring certain weeks of Clumps - Nicol Dennington has thus far stood out in this regard for her beautifully pliant playing of the Irish harp.  In the Shakeathons we have been honoured with the glorious musical underpinings of the celebrated contemporary composer, Paul Ayres;

Song Sundays, where the concentration is focused on Shakespearean songs,

Scene Sundays, where the focus is on duologues as so brilliantly overseen by the exceptional Janet Suzman or on larger scenes as has been illustrated by many including Glen Walford, the esteemed John McEnry, the breathtaking Philip Voss and Colin George. 

Fun for Allswhere plays are cast six weeks in advance, people learn their roles, and come in and present it on a free form basis at the Battersea Arts Centre and other locations.  So far LSW has presented a highly successful performance of Antony & Cleopatra featuring Robyn Moore and Max Bonamy and an entirely gender reversed Twelfth Night wherein the women played the men AS women and the men, the women AS men.  This delightful undertaking featured, again among many, Eva Fontaine, Sarah Rice, Chris Robson and Steven McMurray.  The latter was also featured in the Westminster Arts LEAP Festival and as a highlight of the Pride Arts Festival in a multitude of performances. 

Shakeathon Sunday:- For the Workout closest to 23rd April, there is always a Shakeathon – Wall to Wall Shakespeare.  The concept for this exciting undertaking was born and lovingly developed by the magnificent performer and veteran of both the RSC and Peter Brook's Company in Paris, Robert Langdon-Lloyd.  Created under the title 'Shakespeare Dreaming', it is as if Shakespeare has fallen asleep and the Shakeathon becomes the embodiment of the Bard's dream.  The inaugural LSW Shakeathon (26/4/98) lasted four hours and embodied 147 professional performers, the second in 1999 topped 200 and gaining both in length and popularity.

In short, the possibilities are limitless.
Professional Networking – The numbers each Sunday can range from twenty to eighty professional performers.  Before and after talk is rife and it is wonderful to behold fellow performers so generously helping one another.  Age makes no difference; backgrounds are largely unkown.  The work on the floor is king and all are equal.  LSW is always a wonderful opportunity for professional networking within a supportive atmosphere. It is always challenging. Many people have attained active employment through LSW, without ever actively auditioning, although that certainly is not a focus of the dream which is LSW.  Moreover, after the Workout you can always find a healthy coterie of LSW members in the Rat & Parrot on the corner in a celebration of both their craft and the jubilant communiion in which all have immediately participated in theretofore.

As one excellent actress and LSW member, Neve Taylor, has put it: "LSW is that rare and very exciting undertaking which can serve as a lifeline during those periods when one is not actively strutting and fretting one's hour upon the professional stage.  It frequently serves as a positive reminder of why one's chosen to go into this profession.  The good LSW does is inexhaustive."

Still, the Best Way of course to learn about LSW is to come and see for yourself!  We promise one thing of which you can rest assured: A rousing LSW welcome.

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