Martin Challis
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august 2006

Scenestation: Anatomy Of A Creative Project

This month I am very pleased to be releasing a project called Scenestation I have been working on this project for approximately two years with some very talented colleagues. The project serves  part of my Creative Industries Coursework Doctorate.

Introducing the Concept:

Scenestation is an acting-scene delivery platform designed for actors and teachers of acting at all levels. Scenes delivered through Scenestation are primarily written for two actors and can be used in acting workshops, classes and also developed for performance. Scenestation is accessed through the World Wide Web at www.scenestation.com, and as such is promoted to a global niche market of: actors, student actors, teachers, coaches and drama schools.

Context and Purpose:

Acting scenes are used as a principal medium for actor training in private studios and universities all over the world. Scenes written for actors and scenes taken from extant works are primarily made available through print media. While some websites exist for the purpose of providing advice and/or access to scenes for actors, Scenestation is the first website on the World Wide Web specifically offering purpose written scenes for actor training.

Actor, trainers, drama teachers and film teachers are constantly in need of pedagogically sound material. Material that provides:

    equal sized parts for both actors
    a clear beginning, middle and end
    a transaction and journey for both actors
    scenes with varying degrees of difficulty and complexity
    subtext
    clear and specific needs for actors to play
    minimal exposition
    scenes that are proportionate in size and weight (i.e., pithy and not too long)
    recognisable characters
    parts in which students could realistically be cast

Scenestation provides a selection of scenes based on genre, gender mix and age group. Scenes can be searched for using any combination of these criteria. The site enables an actor or teacher to search for a scene that meets specific needs for specific actors. Scenes are discussed in synopsis and note form while the first page of each scene is available for the user to read before being purchased. Scenes are currently sold at a nominal price of $2.00US. Site licences are also available.

The idea for Scenestation grew out of the need as an acting teacher to continue sourcing quality material for students that fulfilled the criteria mentioned above. No such resource or website existed so one was created.

In the early stages of a progressive marketing campaign Scenestation.com is already proving successful in concept and practice. Page hits and visit durations continue to grow as do sales. While it is still too early to determine, these trends indicate the likelihood that Scenestation will be successful as well as creatively satisfying for its progenitors.

Need Stimulates Imagination.

The idea for Scenestation started with the need as an acting teacher for a facility that would assist in the search for specific material for actor's scene classes: material that served pedagogical and artistic purposes.

Well-written scripted material is essential for actor development. This comes in the form of plays for theatre and in scenes written usually for film. Most, if not all acting schools make use of full-length theatre productions. A student learns to appreciate a character's journey throughout the life of the play. Full-length theatre productions provide a substantial part of a student actor's journey as they learn to unlock meaning, build context and develop a relationship with text. Shorter scenes also assist the student in developing these attributes. However most scenes typically used in acting classes are taken out of context, their original purpose being to serve the story from which they are drawn, not stand alone as finished work. This is often not an issue as scenes can be adapted and manipulated to serve the teacher's purpose. But they usually take hours of searching and it takes an acting teacher several years to build a repertoire and reserve of scenes that will serve different student's needs at different times of their learning.

In considering the need I imagined what it might be like to have an available resource at my disposal as an acting teacher where I could access work that had been specifically written for actors attending scenes class. I imagined that I could access a database through the internet, type in the general modes I needed such as gender mix, genre and age range and search for specific scenes that I knew would give equal parts to two actors.

More than that, I wanted not only to offer equity in terms of the role each actor played but also I imagined that each character would have clear and specific needs and obstacles, and that there would be strong undertows of subtext and emotional depth for the actors to mine. I imagined that I would have both comedic and dramatic scenes at my disposal; that the scenes would have a sound structure and clear turning points, and that exposition would be kept to a minimum.

But most of all I imagined that it would be wonderful to think of a specific student and be able to offer them a scene that would speak to the next area they needed to address in their journey as an actor. The ability to be that specific would only add to the quality of teaching and the learning. This prospect excited me.

One example that illustrates this ability is as follows: I shall refer to this student as Luke. Luke was a strong young man in his late twenty's who had come into acting with a number of let's say, blokey habits strangely though he would shy away from direct confrontation in his exploration and improvisation work in class. He would bite down instead of allowing strong open vowel sounds to come forth. We discussed this tendency at length and when it came time to give him scripted material he agreed that a strong confrontation scene would challenge the habit of avoiding and judging direct confrontation. I found a suitable scene searching on Scenestation (I had the first beta version up and running by this time) and he agreed it was appropriate. Working with him in the rehearsal process was extremely rewarding as time went on his performance grew and more of more of the old resistances fell away. Being able to provide material that addressed a specific acting problem was sound pedagogy and rewarding from a teacher and student's perspective. As an endnote, his acting partner was also very well served by the role she had to play as a woman finding her strength and standing up to a dominating husband for the first time in their marriage. The scene I am referring to is Leopard's Spots: (www.scenestation.com/site/scenestation_scene_015.php). This script is powerful as a piece of writing and as a pedagogical tool.

Finding a Writer:

After imagining what Scenestation might look like I then had to find a writer or writers that would appreciate the type of material I needed. I did not have to look very far. As it happened I was having a conversation with my acting agent and manager, husband and wife and business partners Tony Auckland and Jenni Kubler, when I shared the idea. Not much time passed before Jenni delivered the first few scenes it was an exciting moment. Having written for television in a previous incarnation Jenni had taken the brief and understood exactly how important it was that characters be clearly defined, that the context be open for interpretation and scenes have clear 'given circumstances' but not over-written. I found she dealt with exposition very well and could see that wherever exposition (explanation of circumstances) had been written into dialogue, the teacher/director could use it or cut it depending on the skill of the student actors. Jenni and Tony had both been teachers and directors and intuitively understood how the scenes needed to play out. As the scenes were delivered I set to writing each synopsis and a set of notes or discussion that the actor and/or teacher could take on board if they wished.

Proof in the Pudding:

Like any idea that emerges and grows into a creative project, only time will tell if it develops mass appeal. My sincere hope is that my colleagues in various corners of the globe benefit from using the site. I know that I have found the service very useful and hope that others will feel the same way.

Quality, Accessibility and Security:

My intention in developing Scenestation was always built around three key points.

  1. Quality meant: good writing and helpful notes about the scenes themselves.
  2. Accessibility meant: material that was specific and easy to find.
  3. Security meant: funds transactions were secure and personal information protected with integrity.

Coda:

I can say that there were many times when it all seemed too difficult and too huge and time consuming a project to complete, but now that we have finished stage one it is extremely satisfying.  If Scenestation is useful to you I hope you will make good use of it . As it stands in its early stages I feel very satisfied at having had an idea and seen it manifest.

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About This Article

©2006 Martin Challis
©2006 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Martin Challis is an actor and director in Australia. He recently commenced a coursework Doctorate in Creative Industries developing projects such as The Raw Theatre and Training Company. He's also the director of the Studio For Actors and Ensemble Works.
For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives.

 

 

 

Scene4 Magazine-International Magazine of Performing Arts and Media

august 2006

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