Carole’s Chat

Carole – Off to Orkney

Carole – Off to Orkney

Hopefully you will all know that SCDA is a national organisation and that includes my services.  This resulted in my first ever trip to Orkney.  I had met some SCDA members at a Divisional workshop in Aberdeen last year and we had bumped into each other again at the Scottish final and the SCDA anniversary celebrations this year.  Each time we had chatted about the possibility of me coming up to deliver a workshop and the wheels were set in motion.

After settling on a a weekend at the end of September, our plans were for clubs to perform scenes from a play that could be performed as a ‘work in progress’ and I would workshop elements to explore alternative ways of performance and/or how to take the performance forward to the next level.  This was all to be done with the clear understanding that I was not adjudicating the performances just looking for opportunities to provide some new ideas and, where appropriate, some performance technique.

As the weekend grew closer it because apparent that this approach was not going to be suitable for a number of reasons so we reverted to 2 standalone workshops.  I was asked to deliver something similar to the Aberdeen workshop for one workshop and the other was left to me.  I didn’t want to repeat a workshop so I designed something new based on the central theme of ensemble working.  As I knew that the age range could be from 11 to 111 workshop 1 focussed on some general drama techniques leading to a short devised performances in smaller groups which produced some interesting, and sometimes hilarious results.  The play that had originally been under consideration had elements of choral speaking so I decided to design the 2nd workshop around this with some voice and text work followed again by small groups working to on choral speaking – this also linked the 2 workshops as both required a  high level of collaboration as well as technique.

After a relatively smooth journey my host for the trip, Margaret Sutherland, met me at the airport and the game was afoot!  After dropping my bag Margaret took on the role of tourist guide and we headed off to the first of Orkney’s many interesting attractions.  The light rain didn’t deter us, nor the long queue for the very tasty fish and chips cooked fresh in the portakabin by the water.  I don’t want you to think that my workshops visits are all about the downtime so I will just say that Margaret filled up every spare moment with interesting and informative sights and I cannot thank her enough.  If she had any time spare I know that she would make an excellent tour guide but as we all know, people involved in drama are often the mainstay of many voluntary endeavours and I think she is probably busier now than when she worked full time!

The workshops took place on Saturday and Sunday in the Kirkwall Theatre.  Both days there were around 25 participants – not everyone could come for the two days but it was lovely to see that some people who came on the Saturday weren’t sure if they could make the Sunday but most of them juggled things around as they had such a good time on the Saturday.  I can’t take all the credit for that as I have to say that I think one of the main reasons was the openness, generosity and warmth of everyone who turned up.  I have spoken in earlier blogs about the challenges of working across a large age range in terms of trying to meet the needs of everyone and I am honest about that from the start but it was lovely for me to observe everyone supporting and learning from each other.

Only the participants themselves can tell you what they learned individually from the workshops but every day is a school day for me so here is what I took away from the experience

  •  – people are more than the sum of their parts.  What do I mean by this?  Not only it is a privilege for me to see people working so well together to produce really interesting and entertaining work in the workshop, but as a District I gained a real insight into how they communicate and schedule their productions taking into account potential shared audiences.  They also share resources really effectively (thanks for the guided tour of the props and costume stores as well as workshop and rehearsal spaces in Kirkwall)
  • – geography and timing are important considerations.  As some performers can be affiliated to more than one club, a lot of people do have to travel quite a lot.  I am so grateful that people were willing to come quite a long way for the workshops and to give up their weekend to attend.  I also found out that within a farming community it’s not just a question of considering which day to schedule but also trying to avoid the busy times in the farming calendar – I had been pre-warned that the harvest may be affected by the weather which may have a knock on effect on attendance.  Add tourism and local community events into the mix and you start to see that this is quite a balancing act
  • – age is merely a number.  In the feedback session I asked the group to consider the impact of the mixed age group.  I may include more physical tasks within a youth session and perhaps have gone a bit more deeply into some exercises with an adult group – I asked the question ‘if I were to come back would you change this structure?’  The overwhelming answer was no.  This workshop provided an opportunity not only for different clubs to create something and learn together but that they all enjoyed learning from each other across age.  One of the youngest participants mentioned that he couldn’t think of any other time they would be able to do this.  The most likely opportunity would be a panto rehearsal but with the emphasis on getting the performance ready there would never be the time to exchange ideas and experiment in the same way.  I suppose this all comes back to trying to establish what people want to get out of the workshop in the first place and with such a strong emphasis on community I don’t think I was completely surprised by these comments.

Every time I visit a new club or district I hope that this is the beginning of a relationship and we have already begun considering ‘what next’ so I think this won’t be my last visit to Orkney.

See you down the road.









Carole – Caithness Cogitations

Carole – Caithness Cogitations

After waking up to the news about Brexit on Friday 24 June, I made my way to Central Station in Glasgow to start my journey up to Caithness for a weekend of workshops in a bit of a daze.  I was joined on the train at Stirling by Heather McLean from Caithness District who had been visiting friends and attending the SCDA Youth Final the previous Saturday.  It was lovely being able to to pass the time together talking about everything under the sun including the momentous vote.  On arrival at Inverness we were told that the train up to Thurso had been cancelled – it was looking very unlikely that I would make it in time to deliver the 2 workshops scheduled for Friday evening.  However, after a 50 minute delay we were moving again.

On discovering the train wasn’t actually going to Thurso and after trying all the different media at our disposal we arranged to be collected from an alternative station.  Needless to say the first group had started by the time I arrived but I summoned up all of my energy and ran into the rehearsal room removing my coat on the way.  I had been asked to focus on the musical Zombie Prom – a pastiche of musicals like Grease and Hairspray and with such a short amount of time I chose to work on energy levels and creating our own version of a hand jive.  Thanks to Alan Gerrard and his wife for sending up some food for me to eat as the second workshop started and someone else did a warm up!  I was in such a rush that I didn’t manage to get any photos but hopefully some are going to wing their way down to me and I can post a couple at a later date.

Saturday arrived and I headed over to Wick – thanks for the lift Heather.  The life of a drama advisor is never predictable and last time I was in Wick the afternoon session with young people was completely oversubscribed and we were bursting at the seams.  This time it was the opposite as my visit clashed with someone’s birthday party and preparations for the Gala.  Good things come in small packages however and with a lot of re-jigging of the plan I spent a great afternoon with 3 lovely, talented and enthusiastic participants who didn’t mind at all that I had to shelve a lot of the activities that require a large group.  I’ve pasted in a couple of photos later on and hopefully you can see that we still managed to have a good time!

Saturday evening was a read-through of the upcoming production of Blithe Spirit.  It wasn’t quite what I had planned but as nothing had gone the way I expected so far during this trip I put the plan to one side.  My job is to deliver what a club wants and needs and the group made the decision on what would be most useful.  At the end of the evening I talked through the research I had put together with a particular focus on status and the manners of the middle and upper classes in the 1930s.  I was particularly proud of my research into ‘how to make a martini’ (the ratios and even the ingredients have changed significantly over the years) with more time we could have tried it out whilst holding a conversation tackling that age old chestnut – how to make the business look natural while you are acting in a scene.  There was a lovely post on the Wick Players Facebook page before I went to bed back in Thurso which left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling – tired but happy.

Sunday and into the final stretch.  Thurso Players afternoon session – improvisation and devising – my speciality.  I have to confess here and now that I become so over-excited that the few photos I did take were far too blurry for me to publish here which is a real shame as the group were so open and experimental even though they all professed to be terrified of improvisation which enabled us all to just play.  I think that I managed to de-bunk some myths and by looking at ways to use improvisation within the rehearsal process as well as a tool to devise new work there was something for everyone.

We upheld the tradition of chinese food before heading into the evening and the director workshop.  I had been asked to ‘go back to basics’ in directing so we looked at director preparation.  There were mostly new people but I wanted to make sure that there was also something for returners so we did some character analysis using a couple of short scenes.  I think that everyone found that the most useful part – taking the theory and putting it into practice.  There’s a photo of us working included here – the messiness of the table is an indication of the creative process and most importantly there was plenty of time within the workshop to answer specific questions.

So in summary Caithness still remains one of the highlights of my year.  A long trip but always worth it.

A special mention goes to Audrey who looked after me in fine style – even helping me to stay on track with my diet by getting all the foods in that I could eat.  We talked long into the nights about theatre and plays and she took me for a couple of nice walks to clear my head in between workshops.  Her hospitality was second to none and she made it as easy as possible for me to just focus on the workshops.

See you down the road.

20160625_16104520160625_161101 20160626_211939


Carole – Blairgowrie – A Home from Home!

Carole – Blairgowrie – A Home from Home!

Arrived in Blairgowrie late afternoon on Saturday to stay with Ruth and Graham.  It would be easy to focus on the workshops first but one of the things I love about visiting clubs around the country is the opportunity to stay with club members and this was no exception.  With fabulous views and a warm welcome, I settled into the a lovely meal provided by Ruth (thanks for helping me stick to my diet) and an evening talking all things theatre.  So many subjects came up in conversation that Graham started to make notes and I’ve since sent through lots of bits and pieces that I hope will be useful, particularly when we got onto the subject of trying to find ways to broaden the horizons of the young club members through theatre visits!  I always reflect on the fact that my role is not just about workshops and I love to hear about the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to challenges for clubs so that I can try to help.

Sunday morning arrived and, fortified by a fabulous breakfast, we headed down to the cub premises, The Kirk.  Graham and Ruth had talked me through the plans that the club have for major renovations and it was great to put the plans into context by being inside the building.  In particular the upstairs area was completely fabulous, a huge treasure trove of props and costumes.  I imagine that the people who take care of costumes could go straight to the relevant rail if asked to find any costume.  I did wonder if there were any gems there that the club could consider selling to add to the renovation fund but I think that there are some things that are more valuable than money!

Gradually the young people turned up for the morning workshop – 9 in total which we think wasn’t too bad for a sunny Sunday morning!  We had so much fun and I loved the way the group worked together despite the span of ages.  A couple of newbies came along as well so the club will be hoping they become members in time for the next production.  I am always surprised by  what happens in any workshop and it was great to hear from the young people during the feedback session talking so clearly about what they enjoyed but also what they had learned.

A short lunch break and the adults were up – a nice size group of 10.  Lots of laughter followed with some of the warm-up games and exercises and then we tried to put things into practice working in pairs using a very short script.  Just like school classes, I agreed to using the outdoors as a working space so that people could enjoy the sunshine.  The space around the building is an old graveyard with fabulous views but everyone kept their mind on the task, very impressive.

We all enjoyed watching each performance, thanks to a lot of good comedy timing there was some moments of absolutely hilarity – I think we will all remember the characters inspired by Gogglebox!

The sharing at the end was lovely, especially hearing how some people had been nervous and apprehensive before the workshop but were completely relaxed having enjoyed an afternoon of play and fun and learning some new things about themselves, other members of the club and drama in general along the way.

Here are some photos to whet your appetite – we’ve already started discussing “what next?” so I don’t think it will be too long before I will be travelling back up the A9 to my new friends in Blairgowrie.

May 2016

2016-05-08 12.39.34

2016-05-08 16.05.46 2016-05-08 12.43.50

2016-05-08 16.09.49-1


It was great to see lots of familiar faces attending the festival.  I think that the audience numbers were good every night and the theatre was a great venue from that perspective.  I’ve not heard any bad stories about behind the scenes so hopefully all of the clubs had a good experience.

Unfortunately I could’t be there on the Thursday due to my poorly cat and I wish that I had seen all of the productions.  I was there on Friday and Saturday however and I concur with the Adjudicator who expressed how pleased he was to see some comedy in the festival.

Can we be honest – I wonder if we all do the same thing as people involved in performance.  I find myself scrutinising what I am watching and continuously asking myself questions like “Why did they do that” and sometimes “I wouldn’t have thought of doing it like that” (which can be positive or negative from my own personal perspective).  I also think about the difficulty of seeing through the play to appreciate what each club did with the material they had.  When I am out and about delivering workshops I talk to clubs about the choices they make and pose the question “How do you pick plays for a festival.  Do you try to go for something that you think will work well or that you’ve seen in a festival yourself or do you go for something that you really want to do, even if it feels risky”.  There is no right answer to this I think it just depends on each club and you can’t ignore the reality of the challenges that go alongside the get in and the time restrictions that go hand in hand with a festival.

I had seen the winning play in Aberdeen and I knew that it was going to be hard to beat, but it was quite risky – very little in the way of set or lighting effects.  As someone who has a short attention span they could so easily have lost me as there is a lot of talking but the dynamic direction and the strength of performance from both of the actors, neither upstaging the other, was a joy to watch.

I am sure if I had read the play I would never have picked it – 2 people talking – where’s the drama?  BUT it just goes to show why plays are to be performed and experienced, they are not just to be read in the same way that you would a book.

I wish the team lots of luck in the British final – they are very worthy winners and I am sure will represent Scotland very well.  Good luck to everyone involved!!



Published: April 28, 2016 

On Friday 1 April I went to the Citizens Theatre to watch the A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Play for the Nation.  The production was part of the RSC Open Stages project that has been running for a few years now.

The RSC first worked with 23 clubs in Scotland, many of the SCDA members, in partnership with the National Theatre of Scotland and the focus was on a range of skills development.  It was a lot of fun and those of us that took part all got so much out of it.

In the 2nd stage the RSC worked with 8 clubs in Scotland – although they had space for up to 12 but the uptake was quite low despite lots of marketing by me and other voluntary organisations  – there were a couple of SCDA members again who took part.  The focus was very much on developing Directors and the partner was Dundee Rep.

The recent production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream included a small group of amateur theatre actors who played the mechanicals with Bottom being played by one of our members, Martin Turner, taking on the role of Bottom.  Needless to say it was a fantastic production and I took away lots of things to consider for future workshops – all of the amateur players were amazing (as well as supporting Martin one of my friends was also involved in the role of Snout).  The professionals weren’t bad either!

I really enjoyed the build up through social media, there was such a sense of occasion with small rehearsal snippets and interviews as well as quizzes and cast interviews.  Although the RSC obviously have a department of people looking after publicity it struck me that this is something that is inexpensive and can really have an impact on your audience, assuming that they are using social media!  Some clubs already do this very well I just wonder if it is all too easy to underestimate the impact of this kind of story building before the curtain goes up?

Related to this subject of amateur/theatre collaborations, I was interested to read a blog by Andy McGregor – if you are a member of Largs players you will definitely know him.  Andy is an actor, educator, director, like many people working in the profession, and is asking questions about the future of theatre particularly when it comes to mounting new work and taking risks.  He is talking about real collaborations with amateurs and his own perspective on what form that collaboration might take.

I do know that some clubs already work with professionals in many ways from skills development either from workshops with me or other tutors to employing professional directors.  However the cost can be prohibitive and maybe some of Andy’s ideas, particularly if linked to box office income, might be attractive.  This would obviously depend on a whole host of factors relating to size of venue and production but might be worth thinking about.

I would really love to hear what you think about Andy’s blog  – maybe we could get a discussion going here on the SCDA website!!



Published: April 28, 2016 

Returned from a lovely trip to Aberdeen where I delivered a Divisional workshop on the Saturday afternoon and stayed for the last evening of the festival,  As the clubs who won and were placed 3rd both performed on the Saturday night you can imagine the standard was very high.

BUT, I want to talk about the workshop!  For a long time now I have been suggesting that it might be interesting to schedule workshop to coincide with a festival but people have been concerned that no-one would come along.  Well the 21 people who came to the workshop obviously didn’t feel that way.  It was so great to have people working creatively together from Orkney, Carnoustie and Aberdeen.  Ages ranged from early teens to more mature – I think that possibly 60 years separated the oldest and the youngest but you would never have known it to see them all giggling and working together so effectively.  We were looking at ways to create collectively rather than select a single director and everyone contributed enthusiastically and with an openness that was so lovely to observe.

Here’s a couple of pictures to whet your appetite – and remember members can book a workshop via the website, there’s even a calendar so that you can check my availability.

See you down the road and thanks again to the Northern Division who, closely followed by Highlands, book the most workshops each year.



Northern Division


Published: April 1, 2016 

Carole – Stornoway – Day 2

Waking up this morning to the lure of fresh eggs from the garden in the Hothersall  household. After a lovely trip to Harris yesterday and a bowl of warming soup looking over the wild and windy landscape, 6 of the Stornoway Thespians fearlessly turned up at the venue last...


   Carole’s Place

Here is my first draft blog on the developing website.

Published: January 16, 2016