One of the things I did during that strange limbo period between Christmas and New Year was to have a good look at Stage on Screen’s Special Edition Teacher Pack for Doctor Faustus and, by golly, was I impressed.
Last autumn Elizabeth Freestone directed an acclaimed production of Doctor Faustus at Greenwich Theatre in October last year - and a parallel revival of School for Scandal. Greenwich Theatre, which is now specialising in work for young people, and the newly formed company, Stage on Screen, are trying to take filmed versions of staged classics to students of English Literature, theatre studies, film studies, media studies and related courses.
The performance DVD of Dr Faustus - available via retail outlets such as Amazon or direct from Stage on Screen - is a vibrant and very watchable account of the play with Gareth Kennerley in the title role and Tim Treloar as Mephistopholes.
The Special Edition Teacher Pack (available only from Stage on Screen via its website) offers fascinating education and training add-ons. For instance, for both plays, there is a DVD containing interviews with the director, members of the technical and design teams and actors.
Take the insightful interview with Wayne Dowdeswell, lighting director, for instance. He explains - a useful reminder for students - that he starts by reading the play and looking for clues, or lighting references in the text to inform his decisions. He also studies the design model which led him, in the case of Doctor Faustus, to shine lights through bookcases and up from the floor. He talks his viewers through how he prepares a rig plan and delivers it to the lighting crew too.
And it’s always a useful learning experience to hear how actors approach plays and roles. These Greenwich plays had only five weeks of rehearsal for both shows and some students may be surprised to hear that. Limited as time was, the whole of the first week was spent in discussion and pooling of ideas.
Also in this very worthwhile teaching pack is a DVD showing the mastershots of the play so that the student can see staging, blocking, shapes, concepts and staging via a single camera placed well back. Then there’s an Interactive CD-ROM which includes unedited versions of Act 2 scene 1 shot from six different camera angles. The idea is that the student can then mix and match to create his or her own edited version.
I think Stage on Screen is breaking new ground and deserves to succeed. Stage on Screen and Greenwich Theatre are currently casting for Volpone and The Duchess of Malfi, which will run for a short season at Greenwich in March and April. DVDs of the performances and teacher packs will follow later in the year. I, for one, am looking forward to them.