UNIVERSITY of Huddersfield lecturer John Britton continually travels the world to teach, research and direct ensemble theatre. Now he has produced a book that is the most comprehensive treatment yet of a highly varied subject.
Titled Encountering Ensemble, the book – in addition to substantial contributions by John Britton himself – has chapters and shorter contributions, or "snapshots", by more than 30 authors. And it concludes with the thoughts of the Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, famous actor Sir Patrick Stewart, who reveals "Where I'll Be On Armageddon".
"It is a beautiful little contribution," says John Britton. "Sir Patrick says that when he started off he was in a school play and discovered the importance of a group. Then he writes about repertory theatre and films like The X Men and he finally says that if the planet is about to blow up and there is going to be Armageddon, he will be in the green room with the actors because that's what it's all about – just being there with your colleagues. Something magical happens between the artists when they are working together."
John Britton, who has been a Senior Lecturer in Performance at the University of Huddersfield since 2004, has directed and performed in dance, physical theatre, opera, youth theatre and radio, and written for the stage and radio. He is Artistic Director of DUENDE, an international performance group dedicated to ensemble-based, interdisciplinary new work.
The new book that he has compiled, edited and co-authored is aimed at students, teachers, researchers and practitioners who wish to develop a deeper understanding of the history, conceptual foundations and practicalities of ensemble theatre. But John Britton explains that the project originated because he was not entirely sure how to define the term.
"My work for 25 years has been concerned with ensemble in one way or another. And one of the key things I have encountered is that I didn't know what it was! Everybody kept using the word 'ensemble', but nobody really seemed to have a clue what it meant, so I began to try and work out for myself."
As part of his quest he organised a symposium at the University of Huddersfield, entitled Encountering Ensemble.
"The response was really strong and there was a very passionate series of conversations. Lots of people want to work in ensemble, but there were no books on it. So it just seemed right that I should write one."
Although John Britton has contributed a third of the text himself, Encountering Ensemble welcomes the thoughts of 36 other contributors who explore a wide variety of themes. But which definition of "ensemble" does he now favour?
"Some people say that ensemble is about how long you work together or your shared political beliefs, but my idea is that ensemble is something that people actually do. It's not a noun as in 'we are an ensemble', but a verb as in is 'we do ensemble'.
"It is something that performers make together each time they work together – the way that they listen to each other, look to each other, react to each other."
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