Czech Theatre company Divadlo Continuo are one of European Theatre Arts (ETA) BA (hons) longstanding international partners for Level 5 (second-year) European placements. As a working theatre company, they offer a training experience that complements the programme’s training, whilst also aligning with its ethos. During the placement around twelve students live and work communally with the company for two months at Plum Yard, their base in Malovice, Czech Republic.
Student artists train in individual and ensemble movement work, devising and creative production techniques, and develop their voice skills, learning from company members as well as visiting experts. This process culminates in a presentation of work developed by the students and informed by the creative journey of the previous weeks. There are also opportunities for site-specific performance in non-theatrical spaces. Through Divadlo Continuo’s practice performers are able to gain a deeper sense of confidence and theatrical presence.
Jasmin Norris is a collaborative performer with a particular interest in rhythm and movement. Through her training with Divadlo Continuo, she has expanded her interest in directing and forming her own approach and practice for ensemble-based work.
Lana Dean is an experimental theatre artist who finds particular joy in movement. She is interested in creating safe spaces for people of all sizes to move confidently. As a practitioner, Lana wants to bring kindness and humanity into the theatre industry.
How did you come to the decision to include this placement in your top choices, and did your previous experiences on European Theatre Arts influence that?
LANA I enjoyed movement on European Theatre Arts from day one. It’s something I’ve always loved but had rarely felt comfortable with. We were really lucky to have Continuo as an option as it’s a theatre company rather than an educational institution, which was one of my deciding factors. The company focus on training rather than teaching, and what mattered was our personal and performative development rather than a grade.
JASMIN The ETA Movement classes with Vanio Papadelli were something I always enjoyed a lot. Training your body is obviously great, but Vanio’s approach helped me on a deeper, genuine, authentic level of expressing myself. Experiencing that gave me the freedom to be present with however my body was feeling that day. I had heard that Continuo was similar. All they asked us for was presence. Even if the energy wasn’t one hundred percent, it was important to be present and involved, to be there and do your best. The movement aspect drew me to Continuo, but also training with a professional theatre company, in a communal setting, rather than a school. Their approach really aligns with my values, and I respect their work and expertise so much.
What did you find at Continuo that was not necessarily what you were looking for, but that you did need, and that maybe surprised you?
JASMIN I think as a culture in Britain we tend to idealise always giving one hundred percent all the time, which isn’t actually a realistic approach to any part of life. The artists at Continuo really encouraged us to practice our boundaries and work with them. Even when you feel great, one hundred percent, you still listen to yourself and what you need, and give what you decide you can afford – to avoid burnout, or physically unsafe situations, for example. I learnt a lot about different ways to grow from that, because pushing as hard as you can doesn’t always lead to the kind of interesting growth you’re looking for or takes your work in new directions. The growth can come in stepping back and reflecting. And when I say stepping back, I don’t mean stepping out. That was something they were very clear on. There were some days where people didn’t feel able to come in or had to leave a session early. But they encouraged us, before getting to that point, to slow down, observe if you need to, and then come back in, so you reflect on where your threshold is, and at what points to challenge yourself, or to step back.
LANA I wanted to be pushed and I definitely was. The regiment and the schedule were things I didn’t know I needed. Because of the hours and the intensity of the training my stamina increased, my strength increased, but so did my resilience. I had to learn how to pace myself and fuel myself properly. I needed that out of the training, and I got it.
How was it going on placement in a larger group? How did this influence how you worked?
JASMIN It was intense, there were little frustrations, but as an ensemble we learned how to communicate and live communally. This is actually a skill we gained: we came back much better communicators. We respected each other’s needs and had to consider the fact that there are bound to be tensions in such a communal environment but learnt to work together to ease those tensions.
LANA I won’t lie, eating, working, and living so closely with the same group of people for over two months isn’t easy. It just isn’t. Having said that, the way we figured it out and addressed issues helped immensely in creating a strong ensemble. We built a strong sense of trust between the group. Not only were we working together but we were preparing food and cleaning for each other, so you find yourself trusting and relying on one another a lot. When it came to work it meant that all the awkwardness that can happen around being close and vulnerable with each other whilst performing and working was non-existent.
What are you bringing back, how have you grown and how has your practice changed? How are you approaching your current Directing module, which is more text-centred, differently because of how you’ve developed?
LANA I think I’m a lot more secure in myself as a person not just a performer, so I have more time and energy to apply myself. I’m also more aware of acknowledging what’s in the rehearsal space. For directing this is allowing me to have an open mind and adapt to what I see in the room. Rather than anything I believe it should be, I’m working to explore what it could be. This is the way our training was: tailored to us and what was present in the space.
JASMIN I’m thinking of the structure of having a creation process at the end where you have almost total freedom. The final show isn’t a polished show, it’s a presentation of all the things we’ve learnt, put into a context where we were driving the narrative and the focus. It was a great experience, and you learn a lot. You are as an individual responsible for your own timekeeping, your own energy levels, and so on. Artistically, I learnt I prefer working towards a piece in this way, with a few critical boundaries, such as time frame and relation to a prompt and previous learning. We did object work, which I love. Working with objects in the future, I will always begin with what I learnt there: just being with the object, respecting it as much as any other performer on stage. It brings a whole level of integrity and respect to the work, which I think is evident in Continuo’s work.
As for the Directing module [the final module of the second year, completed after students return from placement], most of the exercises I’m doing are ones I did at Continuo, specifically focused on rhythm and musicality. I’m also inspired by how much they rely on play: we played a lot of games and committed to them. Even when the game becomes silly, it’s not an unprofessional silly. You’re serious about the playfulness. This is another thing I brought into my directing process – taking playfulness really seriously.
How is your experience now working with other students who have come back from different placements?
JASMIN It’s so nice to come back and share what you’ve learnt with others, and everyone bringing placement, and the exercises they’ve learnt, back to Bruford. It’s also a great way to build professional relationships with the other students.
LANA It’s really interesting to watch and observe the people from other placements, as you can almost see their training, and learning from the way they lead and direct. It’s a little bit like we are getting their training also. I know at Continuo one of the main principles was variation and repetition, so I’ve been taking that into exercises with the actors in my group, whereas another director, who went to Estonia, uses a lot of Michael Chekov and psychological realist techniques that we didn’t explore at Continuo.
How did you experience the encounter with a different theatrical culture, and how did you think Continuo aligned with European Theatre Arts? Have you built professional relationships with people you met there, from outside your year group?
JASMIN The theatrical culture is not necessarily Czech, but an international meeting place. I’ve been in touch with many people I met there and the visiting professionals with whom we built artistic working relationships. The culture at Plum Yard is very non-hierarchical, and the people who come to collaborate are sharers, who make it very easy for you to want to stay in touch and wish to collaborate in the future.
LANA Continuo was kind of outside any culture but its own. Pavel, the Artistic Director, explained it as its own culture. It thrives on kindness and humanity and that’s what I appreciated. We were also treated as not only performers but as people. Continuo, like the BA European Theatre Arts, is ensemble-based. They’re very aligned in this approach. And yes: I’m in touch with most of the company and we were all invited to apply for their summer project in the future.
What would you tell prospective students about ETA? Do you have any tips for choosing what placements to apply for? How do you think students can get the most out of this degree?
LANA Even if you think it’s a risk – go for it. The European placement is maybe one of the best experiences in my life as a performer, and as a person, and the degree as a whole has widened my horizons and broadened my understanding of theatre, performance, and creation massively. The content, the tutors and the experiences are worth it. As for placements, ask what other people’s experiences were and look at them critically. When we had our first briefing I wanted to go to every placement. But then I thought about what I needed rather than where I wanted to go. Also: don’t worry. Out of your choices the tutors will put you where you need to go. They make sure everyone’s placement will be beneficial, and all the placements are top quality training.
JASMIN European Theatre Arts offers such a wide variety. If you’re keen to explore where you want to go artistically, it will give you so much. You need to be open and receptive and curious. Find the enjoyment in it all. With work must come rest: finding that balance is so important to your success and growth. With choosing placements, follow your artistic interests and curiosity, and commit to those.
Final words? About your growth, about what makes the opportunity of going on placement so important, about its relationship to the rest of the course?
LANA I think the beauty of ETA is that they give you time to develop foundations and before you can feel too settled in them, they send you away to Europe. This means you have to just get on with it and become comfortable with instability. The opportunity to go away and work with a company is really valuable and unique. On what other course do you get to work and create and be given skills from a professional theatre company whilst also living in a commune with them and experiencing Czech countryside life?
Interview by Johanna Jacobi
Editor’s Note: This placement was supported by funding from the European Commission’s 2013-2020 Erasmus+ scheme, providing grants to support students’ costs whilst undertaking their European placement.
Rose Bruford College is a current recipient of funding from the UK Government’s Turing Scheme and continues to proactively engage with this scheme to support and extend student mobility now that the UK is no longer part of the Erasmus scheme.