War Veterans Take To The Stage

 Combat Veteran Players

A real-life Band of Brothers & Sisters

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Nicola De Maine

Nicola joined the CVP in early 2015 to play Olivia in the company’s production of Twelfth Night. She previously served as an officer in the Royal Navy from 2003 to 2011. As well as nurturing a rediscovered love of acting, she is busy writing her first novel.


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Why you should come and see the Combat Veteran Players production of Richard III

Posted on June 24, 2016 at 6:50 AM

Working up a sweat. Eating five pieces of fruit and veg a day. Avoiding too much stress.

These are all things that we are told are good for us but that, if we’re honest, can sometimes be tricky to achieve due to hectic lifestyles and busy working weeks. But for those of you who break out in a cold sweat at the mention of the word ‘gym’ and would rather eat their own toe fluff than a plate of curly kale, there is something far less menacing that is good for you. Going to the theatre.

A study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has found that going to the theatre promotes good health, including lower levels of anxiety and depression. So rather than being seen as a treat or a frivolity, you can consider a trip to the theatre as an integral part of remaining healthy. A separate study at the University of Arkansas has found that students benefit in more ways than one from attending live theatre performances. The researchers found that viewing performances live rather than watching them on television increases plot knowledge, vocabulary, tolerance and even the ability to read the emotions of others. It is thought that the intensity of watching actors effectively convey to the audience what their character is thinking and feeling can provide the audience with practice in reading emotion not normally found in everyday experience.

These are fantastic reasons to come and see the Combat Veteran Player’s production of Richard III. As well as supporting the theatre company and getting to see a version of the play that is nuanced in a way that only ex-service personnel can provide, you will be contributing towards your own health and wellbeing. That has got to be better than going for a five mile run in this current humidity.

So join us on the 26th June at the RSC’s Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon or on the 7th July at the Leicester Square Theatre in London’s West End. But please don’t come because you feel obliged to support veterans that have been overcoming trauma or because you ‘feel sorry for us’. Come because Richard III is a cracking Shakespeare play. Come because the actors promise to deliver a hard-hitting performance. Come because it will be good for you. Science says so.



 

 

Artist Arabella Dorman On Her Richard III Portrait

Posted on June 20, 2016 at 6:00 AM



Artist Arabella Dorman at work


We are thrilled to announce that internationally renowned conflict artist and portrait painter Arabella Dorman has chosen CVP actor, Shaun Johnson, as a subject for one of her works to be shown in a new exhibition, Hidden Scars, planned to coincide with the centenary of the end of World War I in 2018.


Now residing in London with her family, Arabella has in the past been commissioned as an official war artist and embedded with the British Army on several occasions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. She has also travelled extensively with her husband, filmmaker Dominic Elliot. In all she made four month-long trips to conflict zones, one to Iraq and three to Afghanistan.


She describes the time spent with the British armed forces, particularly in Afghanistan, as a privilege. Says Arabella, “A still image can tell a powerful story. The stories that emerge from war and conflict are very raw. It’s the human condition boiled down to its very essence, both in the good and in the bad.”


Her admiration for service personnel, what they do and the extraordinary conditions in which they do it, is evident. She talks of astonishing bravery, courage and camaraderie. She wanted to show first-hand the human face of conflict by capturing the quiet stories behind the headlines and this meant including the local population. It was important to counter the dominant narrative of “strong men with beards” by focusing on other aspects we rarely hear about, such as girls who love to dance or tender fathers.


“Afghanistan is a country that you leave a bit of yourself in and bring back a part of it with you,” Arabella says.


Another facet of conflict Arabella wishes to highlight is that, whilst the war might end, it doesn’t necessarily end for those who were in it. This is one of the reasons she has chosen to portray Shaun in character as Richard III. “The CVP is a wonderful example of how soldiers can, through the power of expression and through art, transition back to civilian life and maybe come to terms with some of the things they’ve seen and done.”


Though he is not a true portrait of the historical person he was based on, the protagonist of Shakespeare’s play is fascinating in that he is a great soldier who struggles to make the transition to peace-time and turns into a notorious villain. Like Richard III, Shaun has wrestled with his inner demons, but unlike Richard III, Shaun has, or is overcoming them. Arabella hopes to bring out that sense of struggle in the character, as well as Shaun’s own personal triumphs and ongoing conflicts, in her picture.


Hidden Scars will focus on the consequences of war, but not just on the immediate impacts: Arabella fully intends to throw the spotlight on the long-term repercussions too. We have no doubt that she will achieve her aim and we will be excited to see her portrait of Shaun exhibited alongside her other new work.


For more information on Arabella’s work, please visit her website: www.arabelladorman.com


(Note: This blog was adapted from an interview by Richard Hatch on BFBS Radio.)

MINEFIELD by Lola Arias at the Royal Court Theatre

Posted on June 11, 2016 at 12:40 AM

We're always happy to support work that touches on themes and experience similar to those that have shaped the lives of the members of the Combat Veterans Players. This month MINEFIELD by Lola Arias at the Royal Court Theatre has captured our imagination.



MINEFIELD

by Lola Arias

2 – 11 Jun

Royal Court Theatre

What is a veteran? Survivor? Hero? Mad Man?

Lou Armour was on the cover of every newspaper when the Argentines took him prisoner on 2 April 1982 and is now a special needs teacher. Rubén Otero survived the sinking of ARA General Belgrano and is now in a Beatles tribute band. We've all got a past, but they don’t all look like this.

In Lola Arias' MINEFIELD six Falklands/Malvinas war veterans who once faced each other across a battlefield now face each other across a stage. Together they share memories, films, songs and photos as they recall their collective war and embody the political figures that led them into it.

Soldier, veteran, human - these men have stories to share. And they also do a great rendition of Human League's Don't You Want Me.

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The CVP Perform on Shakespeare's Birthday for His Royal Highness Prince Charles

Posted on April 28, 2016 at 4:40 PM

Prince Charles, His Royal Highnessh the Prince of Wales visits Shakespeare's New Place, the playwright's adult home for 19 years where he watched a performance of an extract from 'Richard III' by the Combat Veterans Players on April 23, 2016 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.






 Andy McCabee and Shaun Johnson preparing to perform for HRH The Prince of Wales at the 400th anniversary celebrations.


Director Imogen Beech with Company members Androcles Sciculuna, Andy McCabe and Shaun Johnson in Stratford Upon Avon for the 400th anniversary celebrations. Just before they performed for His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales

 


Andy, Androcles and Shaun perform for HRH Prince Charles - Associated Press 2016

Living in the Present at Shakespeare's Globe

Posted on February 8, 2016 at 9:20 AM



Last month we had the privilege of attending a day long workshop at Shakespeare’s Globe, facilitated by the fantastic Jacqueline Defferary. Having never been to the Globe before, I was excited but also a little nervous. Should I have swotted up on Shakespeare’s 37 plays beforehand? Would I get laughed at for mixing up my comedies with my tragedies, confusing my Olivia with my Ophelia? To add to my anxiety, my train was delayed which meant that ten minutes after we were supposed to begin I was still running along the Southbank looking decidedly less athletic than the Lycra-clad joggers that glided passed me. However, I needn’t have worried. I arrived to a hot cup of coffee thanks to our producer Amanda and a very warm welcome from Jacqueline who immediately put everyone at their ease. She had even dressed for us ex-military lot by wearing a camouflage design waterproof (although she claimed this was pure coincidence…;).


We began the day with a tour of the theatre and even though the weather was icy cold, the open-air theatre space felt cosy and inviting. The Globe is a polygon with 20 sides and the audience sit on all sides of the theatre as well as standing in the yard, creating a sense of intimacy between actors and audience that you don’t usually get in a proscenium arch theatre. When we stood on the stage and practiced projecting our voices, I imagined being cocooned by a crowd of people on opening night. It felt comforting rather than claustrophobic (although I might change my mind when I’m back-stage shaking uncontrollably waiting to perform Richard III).


After the tour we moved to the rehearsal rooms and warmed-up by playing games that got us moving as well as listening to each other. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself and each other by reflecting on how you react to simple exercises. For example, we paired up and took it in turns to lead our partner around the room whilst our partner kept their eyes shut. Afterwards we explored whether people felt more comfortable as a leader or as a follower and discovered that for some people, neither role felt right. By increasing our self-awareness we become conscious of how far we need to stretch our own ‘truth’ in order to portray a character convincingly.


We then delved into Shakespeare’s Richard III, focusing on the relationship between Richard and Lady Anne. Using part of their duologue that takes place at Lady Anne’s late husband’s funeral, Jacqueline taught us various techniques that we can use to explore character. By analysing the intention behind every line and also working with physicality we were able to portray Richard and Anne in numerous different ways. Deliberately emphasising certain characteristics helped us to understand the complex nature of these two people.


We moved on to look at a section of Richard’s opening monologue and Jacqueline asked us to highlight all of the personal pronouns he uses. It quickly became obvious from the repetitive use of ‘I’ that Richard is a narcissist: in the main part he thinks, talks and cares about himself. We repeated the same exercise with a monologue of Lady Anne’s and the difference was astounding. It’s funny how again such a simple exercise can reveal so much.


Our session was undoubtedly useful for stimulating our thinking about Richard III before we leap into our rehearsal schedule. However, it isn’t Richard’s machinations that are still playing on my mind; it is the advice that Jacqueline offered us before we left. She reminded us that the most important thing with acting (or any art form) is to live in the present and enjoy creating art for art’s sake. If we take a particular role or perform with the aim of gaining something greater than the satisfaction of communicating ideas and emotion through our art, then we are courting disappointment. Like many people, I find it difficult to live in the present most of the time. I get caught up in resentment from the past and admit to being guilty of thinking ‘I’ll be happy when…’ It’s quite difficult to succumb to this sort of thinking when you‘re acting, which is probably why I enjoy it so much. It might also be why some people find acting therapeutic. Although you draw on your own past experiences when portraying a character, acting demands you are ‘present’ in order to listen to the other actors on stage, control your own body and deliver a compelling performance.



 

Left to Right - Androcles, Caroline, kneeling Niccy CVP blog author, Andy, Jacqueline Defferary Globe practitioner, Shaun, Max.

Shakespeare Workshops

Posted on November 25, 2015 at 6:40 AM




Do you remember learning about Shakespeare at school? I do, but for all the wrong reasons. Learning about Shakespeare at my school was about as scintillating as watching supermarket seasonal adverts being broadcast for the thousandth time. This was primarily because I didn’t understand the language Shakespeare used and I couldn’t visualise how the Bard’s fancy verse could possibly come to life on the stage.


I’m sure things are different today and I know that teaching styles have changed to be more interactive and inclusive of the different ways students learn. However, most thirteen years olds will still tell you that Shakespeare is ‘hard’ and ‘difficult to understand’ and most teachers will tell you that it is one of the trickier parts of the syllabus to encourage students to engage with.


This is why the company Shakespeare’s Soldiers was born. Actors from the CVP go into schools and run Shakespeare workshops with the aim of making Shakespeare more accessible and, hopefully, more exciting. We liaise with schools and develop tailored workshops to meet the needs of specific year groups and classes. These workshops generally involve a quick plot overview of the particular play being studied, followed by a performance of scenes by the actor’s before the students are invited to perform the scenes themselves.


Last week we were invited into the fantastic City Academy London to deliver eight workshops based on Macbeth. We were warmly welcomed by the teachers and students and we were given a wonderful studio space to work in. And, importantly, there was good coffee. Before we even started teaching we wanted to come back.


It was clear after our first day that the students at this school already had a sound understanding of the plot, which meant we could keep the synopsis brief and free up more time to concentrate on bringing the play to life through performance.


To lead into our performance we asked the students to choose their standout moments from Macbeth. Amusingly and without fail, the moment each class picked first was the final battle scene where Macduff chops off Macbeth’s head and puts it on a spike. I’d like to say that this was because it’s a fitting denouement to the play in terms of justice being served; however I think it had more to do with the visual image of a dismembered head! Other moments chosen were when Lady Macbeth sees blood on her hands, when Macbeth sees the floating dagger before killing Duncan, the witches’ prophesising and when Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost. Interestingly, what these all have in common is a hint of the supernatural and they are crucial to our understanding of the characters’ states of mind.


This led nicely in to our performance of the Banquo’s Ghost scene and we asked the students to help us by getting into character and acting as guests at the King’s banquet. This interactive element worked well and allowed the students to delve into the motivations of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth whilst getting a good idea of what it might have felt like to be a guest at that rather strange feast.


After we had performed, the students split into four groups and practised their own versions of the Banquo’s Ghost scene (albeit a shorter one, we sadly only had an hour to cram all of this in). We helped the groups with their recitals, coaching them in performance techniques and tips for staying in character. All of the groups then performed for each other which was fantastic to watch. It’s amazing what the students were able to produce in such a short space of time and it was lovely to see everyone contributing regardless of whether or not they considered themselves an ‘actor’.


Judging from the smiles and the laughter we think that everyone had a good time; I know we certainly did. There is nothing better than watching the students engage with a play and increase their awareness of the characters and themes whilst enjoying themselves at the same time.


For more information about Shakespeare's Soldiers please visit http://www.shakespearessoldiers.co.uk/

 

Downtime? Don't be silly...

Posted on September 29, 2015 at 3:45 AM

After a successful production of Twelfth Night at Leicester Square Theatre, this month sees some much-needed downtime for members of the CVP before we begin rehearsals for our next production, Richard III, in November.


Now I say ‘downtime’ but this is a bit misleading. Several of our actors have full-time jobs which they manage to squeeze in alongside theatre work, one is in the process of growing her own business, a few people are involved in other creative endeavours and the majority of us are also involved in delivering Shakespeare workshops within schools as part of the company ‘Shakespeare’s Soldiers.’


And then there is the audition prep. Within the CVP, roles are not just handed out to whoever shouts the loudest, nor is the protagonist of each play rotated between players for the sake of parity. A proper audition process takes place, and the players have been trained in this practice. Over the coming month, we will be reading through the script, breaking down the text and swotting up on the history surrounding Shakespeare’s version of the life of one of our most vilified kings. Each of us will then select our own audition piece (which would usually be a soliloquy from the play) and practice delivering this until it is up to our Artistic Director’s exacting standards. Because although this is a theatre company made up of injured ex-Service personnel, there are no allowances made when it comes to delivering a polished performance.


I haven’t decided which role I’m going to audition for yet. As an actor keen to develop further, Richard would be the obvious choice. He is a fascinating character to play because of the way he charms those around him - and indeed the audience - despite everyone being aware of his ruthless ambition, manipulative tactics and penchant for murder. Whoever plays Richard will need to delve into their own psyche as well as his in an attempt to uncover the motivation behind the Duke’s actions and whether or not we are all capable of similarly narcissistic behaviour given the right (or wrong) circumstances.


I am equally intrigued by the character of Lady Anne. She can be seen as ‘falling victim’ to Richard’s charming manipulation when she agrees to marry him despite knowing that he was responsible for the death of her husband and father-in-law. But is ‘falling victim’ the right way to describe Anne’s surrender to Richard? You could argue that she knows exactly what she is doing and that it is her drive for survival that motivates her to marry Richard since she would be afforded little protection in those times as a widower. Far from being a naïve, flighty, emotional wreck as she is sometimes portrayed, she could be seen as controlling her emotions for survival purposes. I’ll have to look into it some more, but this is one reason I love Shakespeare – there are endless ways you can read the characters he created.


I am looking forward to digging deeper into the script over the next few weeks and seeing where this takes me, and I’m sure the other players will be doing the same. I’ll also be considering what nuances a female Richard III could bring to the play and likewise a male Lady Anne. Cross-gender casting can reveal things about a character that have previously been overlooked, but it can also be a barrier to the suspension of disbelief if done for the wrong reasons or purely to generate controversy. I think this could be a separate blog post entirely…

 


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