Rada was a lot of hard work interspersed with a good deal of pressure releasers. Talk about the right doses of work and play—RADA sure had that figured out. It balanced work and play judiciously in the curriculum. Thus Ilan Reichel's crucial and rigorous Alexander Technique exercises in the pleasant outdoor romps in the small park adjacent to Regent's Park as well as watching performances of Shakespeare's plays in the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park itself were all designed to ease our tough training sessions, psychologically, rather than physically.
RADA also encouraged its participants to watch the play in season in Regent Park on a day of their choice. In the event, most of us did go to watch, although not all would do so on the same day (actually late afternoon turning to twilight to evening). Our RADA ID card not only facilitated our entry even after all the gangway tickets had been sold, but, enabled us to buy tickets at reduced prices.
RADA itself had its trainees attend a couple of plays in the early days of the program. These occasions enabled all the one hundred-plus thespians-in-training of the different groups to get to know each other. Within the first few days of the start of the session, the whole group was taken to watch an afternoon performance of a play whose name escapes me now (but it could have been Howard Korder's The Lights, Korder being an American playwright in whose Search and Destroy I had played a small role when in the United States).
Although I'm not completely sure if the play we watched was The Lights, I do remember the discussion that followed at the end of the play. The RADA contingent was asked to stay back for it and the play's director asked us if the cast members were English or American. Almost all of us answered “American,” so well did the actors talk in that country's accent, but the director revealed that only half of them were; the rest, amazingly, were English. Right there we were given a lesson in the craft of acting!
Another play we were taken to watch I remember much better, for it was William Shakespeare's As You Like It. The performance took place in Stratford-upon-Avon and the performers were from RSC. Stratford-upon-Avon, inclusive of the river Avon, bore the look of a fairytale place, but it had a deluge of tourists. The American accent dominated here, and one did not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the nationality of the majority of the tourists. The production inside the massive theatre bore the hallmark of great skills and painstaking efforts and Olivia Hamilton delivering a standout performance then. At the end of it we became engaged in long and animated conversations about the play, the performances, the production quality, the RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare, his house, and the beautiful summer day we had been blessed with.
Watching the two plays, courtesy RADA, played no mean part in breaking the shackles of any inhibition we might have had about taking lessons in all aspects of the acting craft. We also got to watch more Shakespeare plays performed at the Open Air Theatre of the enchanting Regent's Park. I went there twice, the first time after our training was completed. On that occasion I sat on a long bench in Gangway 3, in the company of the American actress Heather Ryon, who had stayed back in London for an extended period before going back to Los Angeles for good. We watched The Tempest in that open arena on a windy bitterly-cold autumn night, an experience not exactly pleasant in spite of some good performances. Heather, though, was great company.
At RADA, I watched as well A Midsummer Night's Dream in the company of fellow- thespians-in-training from a grassy knoll in fairly close proximity to the stage. We were lounging on the knoll since by the time we had come in groups to buy tickets they had all sold out. But our RADA ID cards enabled us to get in, and, that too, at reduced price, although we had to accept the offer of the grassy knoll! The performance was, for the most part, rather humdrum, given some life by only one of the villainous-looking characters rushing out, as part of his routine, to act out his bit from among us, leering and winking at us as he returned back to the stage. We later found out that he knew we were from RADA (not really a surprise, given the grapevine of the acting community), and, hence, he had directed that part of his performance towards us.
My friend Bret was there too, but I found that out only after we had exited at the end of the play. He was with a bearded, longish-haired guy and a woman. She and Bret had facial resemblance, and we soon found out why. She was Bret's first cousin and was visiting London with her newly-married husband, and the two had come to watch as part of their honeymoon. They ran into Bret who had no idea that his cousin had gotten married! Imagine getting the news the way he did. His cousin also had no idea that Bret was in London, and was also in the Open Air Theatre. Right in front of us Bret embraced the groom and welcomed him into the family. The he took them out for some drinking and revelry at a nearby pub. Talk about six degrees of separation! Such is life! And it sure was fun that sublime evening in Regent's Park.
Shahid Alam is a thespian and Professor, Media and Communication Department, IUB.