Interview with Chris Tan, 2020 winner of the Bell Shakespeare Shorts Festival
19 Jul 2021
In a normal year, The Players tour with Bell Shakespeare for a period of 9 months. Our current troupe of performers is now in their second year on tour after 2020 was disrupted and restrictions reduced their initial time on the road.
We spoke to Eleni Cassimatis from Team Hamnet about her accrued expertise in touring.
1. What is something that is a must when packing for a Players tour? And is there something you wish you remembered to pack?
I always make sure I have a good book, a deck of cards, and a candle! With lots of long legs of travel it’s great to be able to dive into a book. I love to play cards, and candles are great to make whatever room you’re in feel like a home away from home! On our most recent trip away, two of us forgot to bring the hard copies of our drivers’ licences which caused some trouble at the car hire company upon our arrival in Tasmania. The great thing is that after every stint away we come back home for one or two weeks to do shows in Sydney/NSW, so if you forget something one trip, you add it to the list and make sure it’s the first thing you pack for the next trip away. Needless to say, our packing lists are very thorough at this point!
2. What is the best way to pass the time on the long drives?
All of the music! Most of the time the driver chooses the song or podcast to begin with and then the person in the front seat gets to play DJ. Luckily, we all like each other’s taste so we haven’t had any problems yet!
3. How do you stay “match fit” or rather “Shakespeare fit” whilst not performing?
We were incredibly fortunate during rehearsals to work with Jess Chambers as our Voice Coach and Nigel Poulton as our Movement Director. These two talented professionals gave us a range of activities to keep our bodies and voices sharp when not performing.
We are also generally quite active and do a range of swimming, gymming and climbing in our down time. Textually though, we like to watch and read as much as we can, even do some self-tapes here and there to stay on our game. We’ve also been very lucky being able to do Zoom warm-ups with the A Midsummer Night’s Dream Cast.
4. How on earth do you warm up to perform Shakespeare in a school hall before 9am?
We try to allow ourselves about an hour for set up and warm up when we get to the first school of the day. We each have different specific warmups we like to do pre-show, all of which include a physical warm up – this is sometimes in the space, or sometimes in our own time prior to arriving at the school, lots of breathing exercises, waking up the facial muscles and jaw, working on resonance, articulation, and speaking some of the text out loud.
Each space we are in is unique, and the acoustics can differ greatly. We have performed in school halls, theatres, community centres, gyms, theatres and classrooms, so to make sure we are being heard, we sometimes like to send someone to the back of the space and speak some of our quieter lines to make sure they are landing on the back row.
As well as this, we always have a fight call – which is where we run all of our fight sequences/falls/anything physically demanding before the show, to check in with each other and keep everything tight
Some days we encounter different obstacles, anything from not being able to get into a space before the start time due to another class being in there, to Sydney traffic, to exams. On these days, our warmups need to become more streamlined and efficient, so we are doing exactly what we need to in the quickest way possible to prepare physically, vocally and mentally. This can sometimes mean we are starting voice warmups in the car on the way to the school, warming up while setting the banner or props, warming up outside the room while another class takes place, we have done fight calls in the wings to hide from the first students coming in, all of which adds an extra level of excitement to the show and to the job we get to do.
5. Do you have a tour routine / or any pre-performance rituals?
After setting up the boxes and banner and checking in with our contact teacher for the day I always give myself an extra moment alone behind the banner to ground and still myself. Sometimes this is a balancing yoga pose, other times a handstand against the wall, or simply a minute lying on the floor. Then I go out, talk to the students and silently choose someone in the audience to dedicate the show to.
6. What has performing for thousands of students across Australia taught you?
Oh, where to start! Performing these plays to students all over the country has taught us so much.
They say students are the most honest audiences, and it’s true! A lot of the time you’re meeting an audience that hold preconceptions about Shakespeare being boring, and we are here to show them why that’s not true! It is our job to not only entertain but to inspire a love of this language, so we have learnt to be so malleable in adapting our performances in order to best connect with each individual group we meet.
Shakespeare’s characters and texts are so contemporary and so timeless that they still teach so much what it means to be human; to make big choices, to contemplate things, to fall in love and go through heart break and all of those things. Learning through watching the students experience these texts for what is maybe the first time is an experience like no other.
7. What has being in The Players taught you? How has it impacted you as an artist?
SOOOO MUCH!!! As artists, we are working our craft every single day. Working our voices, our storytelling abilities, working physically, making connections, discovering these characters, being ready and able to perform and stay in the moment no matter what distractions or interruptions you encounter.
Performing the same three shows hundreds of times to audiences from K-12 across the country for a year has been a huge challenge, and a delight! Every audience is different, every space is different and every day is a new adventure. Sometimes things go ‘wrong’, but these moments are always blessings in disguise and we have learnt to adapt! Sometimes it’s challenging to keep the shows fresh and inspired week after week, especially if we’ve had a bad night’s sleep before, or the traffic has been awful getting there, but this has helped us all to become more disciplined and spontaneous artists.
The Players tour to schools nationally making Shakespeare’s work exciting and accessible. This program is only made possible through generosity of our supporters. If you would like to help us give life changing opportunities to regional students, please consider donating to our Sharing Shakespeare giving program. A donation of $100 gives one student the opportunity to participate in a John Bell Scholarship audition masterclass and a donation of $12,500 covers the cost of one scholarship.
Learn more about Bell Shakespeare’s education offerings here.
You can follow The Players tour on Instagram.