Tuesday, 13 November 2012

David's 10 M's of Mega-success

You know, I’ve lost count of the number of people who haven’t asked me for my secrets of success in business. Well, I follow my own mantra which I like to call ‘The 10 M’s of Mega-success!’

1.       Mea culpa
Always say “It’s my fault.”  Don’t try and blame others for things that go wrong. And let’s face it even if the issue is nothing to do with you, there is probably something that you’ve done badly that has led to this. So accept blame for everything! You’ll be popular with colleagues and they are sure to involve you in every project.

2.       Misery
It is only through abject misery that we appreciate the good times. So make sure you are as miserable as you can be for as long as possible. Your successes (if they ever arrive) will be so much sweeter. 

3.       Must I?
Question everything you are doing. Constantly. And if anyone asks you to do anything, especially your boss at work, just say to your self, “Must I?” In fact, it’s even more effective to say it out loud. In this way you will develop a deep understanding of not only what is important to you, but also what is important to everyone else.

4.       Manage upwards
A natural follow-on from “Must I?”  Question every decision your management make, to their faces as well as behind their backs. They’ll quickly identify you as someone worth watching! 

5.       Manipulate
Use people around you to get what you want. Lie, cheat, subvert, anything to position yuourself ahead of your rivals.  The more you are able to force people to do things for you without their realising, the happier and more popular you will be. And the greater their surprise when, having achieved your goals, you then reveal exactly what you did to get there. This will earn you respect and sometime legendary status in the office. You’ll be the talking point at every desk.

6.       Moan
Don’t hold it in where it will just fester. If there’s something that you don’t like, say it. Every time. Expressing yourself like this is cathartic and gives your colleagues a real sense of the true you. What better way to make friends?

7.       Machiavelli
Don’t believe the press, the guy was a genius. Put succinctly (and despite what I said about blame above) if a colleague says or does anything that might even remotely be considered to be not in your best interests, crush them. Mercilessly. Totally. Respect through fear is a gift.

8.       Mediate
Get involved in each and every dispute around you. Make sure you strongly and publically take a side so that the issue can be quickly resolved. 

9.       Meditate
It’s not all hustle and bustle in business. Take time out to relax and shut out the cares of the day. The best time to do this is in a management or board meeting, during an appraisal, or even in front of an important customer. Plugging in your headphones will help to keep out unwelcome distractions. After a good 15 minutes downtime you’ll feel refreshed and ready for action.

10.   Move
Change your job as often as you can. It’s usually advisable to let your latest employer and all your colleagues know exactly what you think of them when you leave so as to avoid those annoying ‘buy back’ conversations, awkward leaving do’s and attempted superficial friendships.

Just follow these top tips and your future career is assured. In my next article I’ll focus on management style.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Minotaur Returns...

Back in 1979 I was a fresh-faced (well a bit spotty) 18 year old making the long car journey in my Mini from Cumbria to Norwich to begin my Drama degree course at UEA. I’d really fouled up my A levels so was very grateful to UEA for ‘seeing the potential’ behind the poor grades (wouldn’t happen today – warning note to all our students – study hard!)

We were to be the first intake ever at UEA on the Drama degree course so the whole thing was new to everyone and we’d been invited to arrive a couple of days early for a project.

On arrival we met our tutors, and were introduced to a brand new, purpose built studio space which was to be our home for the next three years. We were given the theme ‘The Minotaur’ and no other guidance and asked to produce something over the next two days.

Well, we did – it was a fantastic way to get to know everyone and we bonded very quickly and very closely as a group. The project also made sure we tested out the new facilities and got rid of any nerves. I honestly can’t remember exactly what we did with the theme, but we reckoned it was pretty good. But the experience was invaluable and we suggested to the faculty that from then on, every Drama intake should do the same project.

We formed our own theatre group, Minotaur Student Theatre Company, to put on self-funded shows as a result which worked very well – averaging a couple of productions a term and always making money.

And I heard yesterday that one of Best’s long-standing students, Michael Bird, was going up to UEA to begin his Drama degree course – and that he’d been asked to go up early to take part in a project – called ‘Minotaur’.

I was at once proud, thrilled for Michael and overcome with a wave of nostalgia – and fair amount of jealousy! It’s great to see our ex-students really take flight and Michael has so much to look forward to.

So on the subject of ex-students, we have a 15 year anniversary coming up soon and soon there will be news of a Best alumni project to track our ex-students down. No-one is safe...

Monday, 17 September 2012

It’s not about the money (money, money)! Fees in lieu...

The single issue that causes us more stress than anything else at Best is that of fees in lieu of notice. Read on for tales of mysterious line faults, courtroom drama and general stress...

Our notice requirements are clear and simple -  we ask people to give us half a term’s notice, given at half term, of a child’s intention to leave at the end of that term, or half a term’s fees are payable in lieu of notice. We make no secret of this – the terms appear on all our bills, on the initial registration form and in our terms and conditions of business.

Half a term’s notice is absolutely standard in any school like ours – indeed some classes want a full term. Notice enables us to put in place plans to make sure we fill whatever spaces we have left. If we get notice later than that it’s simply too late for us to do anything about it – with schools on holiday we can’t get our message out to the public. Of course we hate losing any of our wonderful students but we much prefer knowing at the earliest possible time that they are going and definitely at or before half term.

Now the vast majority of our parents have fully understood these requirements and have no problem in complying. Of those that are, for whatever reason, unable to give us the required notice most are fully understanding of the requirement for fees in lieu and often, because of their honesty and ‘upfrontness’ we are moved to soften the blow a little...

It is the tiny minority of others who either claim ignorance of the terms or deliberately ignore them, that cause us so much stress and upset.

Let us be absolutely clear - this is NOT a money thing. Fees in lieu do nothing for us, it’s a filled place that we want! But our terms have to have some teeth or our school would be impossible to run. How could we go into a new term not knowing how many children were going to turn up? And the chasing and securing of fees in lieu ends up costing us far more in time and stress than the actual £ amount would ever cover.  But it is only fair that we apply these terms with absolute consistency. If we let some parents off because they complain or simply ignore us it is manifestly unfair on the vast majority who have given proper notice or willingly settled fees in lieu.

So we are left in a bit of a no-win situation. We try and talk to people and again may even make an offer for an early settlement. At this stage again most people will realise that it’s a fair system and the issue will be resolved. But for others...some offer settlement cheques which are then bounced, some put the phone down on us, some pretend not to be there (yes, really!) and some just get cross and threaten us with all manner of potential PR horrors .  In one extreme case a few years ago all four of those things happened and in the worst moment of all a poor child was told by her mother (audibly to me over the phone) to tell me ‘Mum’s gone out!’

Where people decide to be silly about all this we are left with no other course than to see the terms through, even if that means going to court. Now, thankfully although we’ve issued proceedings three times (which I guess isn’t bad in 15 years) we’ve only had to go to court once and in that case the judge ruled in our favour in a matter of seconds. We didn’t even get the chance to shout “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!” The parents concerned had to cover the court costs and only avoided a CCJ by paying a cheque over in front of the judge. But it was a hollow victory for us - we hated every second of the process. It’s not what we are here to do.

So if anyone out there ever has any questions on our notice period – PLEASE DO ASK US!!! Obviously we don’t want tom lose your child, but we definitely don’t want to have to ask for fees in lieu. 

It's not about the money, we just want to make the world dance (act & sing)!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Ejukashun 4 all!

Today the GCSE results are out and with it the scandal of falling grades.  There’s been a huge debate around grade inflation and, in English, the lack of attention paid to spelling and grammar. I’m probably being an old fogey when I admit that seeing people use ‘loose’ when they mean ‘lose’, or incapable of using apostrophes properly really grinds my gears.

Top tip – don’t use apostrophes to indicate a plural, PLEASE, or I may be tempted to take drastic violent action.

Shadow Education Minister, Stephen Twigg was on TV this morning bemoaning the lack of opportunities for assessing spoken English, presentation skills, teamwork and the like. So whilst we aren’t even assessing basics like punctuation, are we to turn our grading machine onto soft skills too? He seems to misunderstand completely how confidence is built, how sociability is enhanced and how creative minds are gradually unleashed.

Here’s our response (start your predictability meter now) - the Government, realising that schools have neither the required skills, resources nor time to take on these kinds of classes,  must recognise the need for these softer skills and bring back some appropriate funding to allow more general access.  

The axing of the Extended Schools Schemes and drastic reduction in partnership funding has hit sports particularly hard, ironic in the light of the success of Team GB and the calls for more participation generally. It has hit organisations like Best too – we were working well with some local schools providing places for children who really needed the kind of support we could offer but otherwise couldn’t access it.
The kinds of skills we enhance don’t need assessing, the effects are completely individual and progress begins and ends at a different point for everyone. Yes, there are certificates available (like LAMDA’s excellent portfolio) but these are based around specific vocational techniques rather than overall confidence building, sociability and general outlook on the world – great for those that want that kind of validation but not suitable or necessary for everyone.

The biggest buzz we get is when a parent tells us the school have noticed a positive difference in a child after spending time with Best – and we are delighted to say this happens frequently. We just wish more children could get this kind of support.  And imagine if this building of confidence, openness and creativity was allowed to continue throughout the education cycle... the benefits to UK plc could be huge!

Anyway before I loose my temper with it's silliness, its time to stop writing blog's, and get on with something more betterer thats got less thing's to get grammatically wrongly. See me afterwards, Ed. 

Monday, 13 August 2012

Our revels now are ended...

"Our revels now are ended. These our actors, 
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and 
Are melted into air, into thin air; 
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, 
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, 
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 
Leave not a rack behind. 
The Tempest IV, i, 166-174

Suddenly my days are emptier. The Olympics, which have occupied so much working and sitting on the sofa time, are over. And our summer courses, which have their own wonderful, positive energy, are also over. Both have been huge successes and both share a number of common denominators – some quite surprising!

Getting on with each other
Me outside the Copper Box,
inevitable clipboard in hand
We’ve seen at the Olympics a kind of openness, willingness to co-operate, acceptance of other people’s quirks, teamwork and attitude from spectators and volunteers alike. All of this has created a warm, happy, secure and entirely memorable atmosphere. We’re lucky because that’s just the kind of atmosphere we always get at Best for our summer courses.

Hard work producing fantastic results
Our Olympic results have shown that there is no substitute for effort and that sometimes consequent results are spectacular. In our summer courses the children (and teachers) do work incredibly hard and we think the results speak for themselves in the shows. But there is also a fulfilment which means that at the end of each day our students, like athletes in training, feel they have achieved something – delivered a ‘Personal Best’.

Copper Box Team saying goodbye
as the Games end
Teamwork is crucial
In so many events, teamwork is absolutely crucial. Even individual athletes rely on a support team of trainers, physios, sponsors etc. Medals cannot be won without the contribution of (often less celebrated) colleagues (Chris Froome for example). Our summer courses are totally reliant on the group gelling to tell a story that they have all invented – they all contribute.

People are mostly quite nice!
A strange one, this, but as I wrote in my previous blog I think the Olympics have unearthed a hidden seam of warmth and openness in the erstwhile reserved British nation. We see the same thing happening at Best as children get to know each other over the week.

Planning is everything
The delivery of the games has been a logistical masterpiece. Our cynical expectations of transport nightmares, disorganised venues, queues and embarrassment have failed to materialise. Instead everything is so well organised that it appears effortless. There is (I can personally attest) a massive, multi-agency effort going on behind the scenes so that what the public sees is a calm, coordinated and confident delivery – Games with a smile. The atmosphere in the Park and at all the venues is testament to this triumph of organisation. And on a much smaller scale, but just as importantly, it’s like that at Best too. The children experience the result of huge amounts of planning and experience which starts as soon as the previous year is over (in fact planning for next year is already under way). We (Annette and I and the teachers) can seem relaxed and confident only because we know we’ve planned for virtually every eventuality, based on many years of experience so we too never stop smiling. Mind you, just getting my diary co-ordinated to be in the right place at the right time over the past few weeks has been a miracle of planning in itself!

In every aspect, from the electric opening ceremony to the wonderfully cheesy finale, the Games have shown Britain, and its people, at their Best. (sorry – couldn’t resist!)

So as the long Olympic/summer course-less weeks stretch ahead, I’ll take comfort from the words that precede the passage quoted above.

“Be cheerful, sir”
and never forgetting the line after...

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”

Go TeamGB!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012


gamesmaker, London, 2012
Purple is so my colour!
I DO ACT- this is the mantra of the Gamesmaker – the acronym standing for:-
  • Be Inspirational
  • Be Distinctive
  • Be Open
  • Be Alert
  • Be Consistent
  • Be Teamworky-ish (I think they had trouble finding a team related adjective that also began with a T)

When I put on my fetching uniform on Saturday I have to say I felt very proud and on arriving at the Park (after taking fully 29 minutes to travel through the 'transport chaos' from St Albans to Stratford) I felt immediately comfortable in smiling, offering help (how many photos have I offered to take?) and in assuming the role of a host.

I think we’ve got this whole Olympics thing about right:-
  • We (Team GB) aren’t winning anything yet and as I write things going from bad to worse. As a host it would be bad form. Perhaps we can allow ourselves an extra helping of something a little later. But we seem to have taken the more relaxed attitude so ‘those two impostors’ that did so well for us in the European Championships.
  • The Olympic Park is outstanding – fantastic buildings, loads of space, beautiful planting (shout out to the gardeners)
  • The transport system is (and was always going to) cope – 29 minutes to Stratford from St Albans for goodness sake
  • The opening ceremony showed all that is great about GB
  • The Gamesmaking volunteers are simply superb

On the final point I think the organisers have tapped into an all-too-often hidden stream of openness and welcome that exists, often buried, beneath layers of British reserve. Here is the humanity that enables our country to be genuinely and comfortably multi-cultural despite the odd glitch. Here is the warmth that is often to be found in the meeting of strangers who realise that their paths may never cross again and so have no fear in honesty. Here are the smiles and little acknowledgements that are so trapped behind our commuter masks.
I’m thoroughly enjoying my role as a Events Team Leader at the Copper Box, although I’ve never walked as much in an 11 hour period as I did last Saturday. Wow, my feet hurt despite the excellent Adidas trainers we are issued with. I’m looking forward to my next shift.

But what has this brought to Best? I guess it has reaffirmed that the approach Annette & I have always taken is the right one – you get more by smiling, trusting people and helpfulness. The welcome we try and give is the same as that at London 2012 – we are genuinely pleased to see you! And wherever there may be problems to solve, we start from a basis of warmth and trust and a commitment to reaching a solution which makes everyone happy. All sound a bit cheesy? Maybe. But it works for us and it works at the Olympics.

Now, let’s start a campaign to get the empty seats filled by Gamesmakers...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Best of British

I’ve just been to the dress rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony of London 2012 so whilst I fully intend to #savethesurprise I can tell you that it’s simply awesome. Only the British (and Danny Boyle) could have come up with something so witty, self-deprecating and ironic. There’s a refreshing absence of the portentous pomp and circumstance – so Britain at its very best.

It's thrilling, touching, silly, subtle at times and even, dare I say it, political! It was truly, truly awesome - do not miss it on Friday night!!!

We can do these things well despite our nation’s natural pessimistic tendencies. When first awarded, people pointed to the Opening ceremony as being something that we would be ashamed of, as if we could never hope to rival the ‘creativity’ of the Greeks or the mass organisation of the Chinese.  But we have chosen not to take them on in those terms and instead to create something at once entirely unique and yet instantly recognisable.
I’m sure this is a trait borne into the British. When we ask for storylines for our holiday courses at Best, for example, the children come up with some of the most extraordinary (yet unfailingly logical) threads. They find humour in the most odd places. And they make connections which seem at first illogical but which, as you consider things further, become clear and unambiguous. It’s a talent we are right to celebrate and Danny Boyle has done just that.

We’re in the middle of our summer courses now – The Tempest and Lion King are on stage on Friday and Olympic Flames and JuniorGlee come next week. The last week has Futurdrama and the Little Mermaid. Goodness knows what tales we will have told by 10 April! But I’m sure we’ll find the strangest things to laugh about and entertain our audiences thoroughly in the process.

P.S. I’ll be at the handball arena in my Olympic volunteering role in my natty poppy and purple outfit which is NOT a cause for laughter... it’s very fetching!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Best School of Acting - why? what?

Lisa Schulberg writes

I am an actress, presenter, director, teacher, and theatre company owner.  I love drama, imagination, creativity, communication, the world around us and the people in it and I am constantly inspired by those that I meet - and they are all the reasons for launching the Best School of Acting.  The easiest way to let you know what this new concept in theatre training is about is to explain where the idea has come from – a journey both personal and professional.  

I have had a love of performing since I was very young, which was properly ignited into an ambition when I was cast as Alice in the school production of Alice in Wonderland when I was 9 – from this moment on I believed this was what I wanted to do, I loved acting, singing and dancing and I also enjoyed school and studying.  

At 11 I went to a full time stage school then at 14 I returned to a standard school to complete my studies, then A levels, University and then Drama school for a postgraduate Professional Acting Course. I then worked in theatre, film and television during the next few years and whilst not touring or working I began teaching and directing and spent 8 years teaching Acting and voice for a top London stage school.  I learnt more about acting through my years as a teacher and director than all the years previously that I had spent being taught. In the last 14 years through workshops, teaching and directing youth theatres and having worked with over 50,000 young people aged 4-21.   Here is what I have discovered  –

First – a dream, a belief, a love of something, whether it is to grow into a career or not should be encouraged and supported  and most importantly, from an individual perspective, every person is different and their path may not be the same.

The ‘person’ is at the heart of their performance and the performer must be nurtured.  Confidence, imagination, team work, energy, belief – all wrapped up in a relaxed and natural persona make the most watchable and engaging actors.

Bad habits set in fast and many actors spend a great deal of time adjusting the negative ways they learnt  to perform when they were young – and yet many young people I have worked with grasp the skills and ideas that I didn’t learn until much later…there is so much time and energy that can be saved!

Essential vocal and physical skills let many young performers down, holding back their versatility and cutting down their options– the ideas, creativity and imagination are there but they need help in putting it into practice.  It is possible to make this disciplined part of performance fun and appropriate for young people and if learnt when young will become second nature.

There are so many different styles and approaches to acting and the more you learn the more you find what suits you and where you fit in – especially in a modern world where most of the acting we experience is through TV and film…it’s time to move on – embrace all the elements of drama and theatre from the past but to create the actors of the future.

The Need for a new way

There are schools that offer fun drama, a bit of everything, an exploration of performance in enjoyable and nurturing ways – I teach at them, I direct at them , and they are brilliant at what they do, especially at including everyone and making sure that everyone has a fantastic time.  But what happens when you are that little bit more serious, when you want to focus on acting, when you have talent and potential that needs nurturing – but you don’t want to give up everything else or head off to a London based or full time drama school?  When I looked – I couldn’t find the answer…and that’s when this new idea of training was formed.  Let’s create a new school, with a new format, that is going to help develop a new generation of performers.  The focus is on acting, however the school wants to support and develop talent and potential across the board for young people and there are further classes that we offer alongside these, recognising the need for these  disciplines for all round performers.

Many groups focus on performances – which are great fun, but rehearsals sometimes take so much time out from the  learning and development in a session  –  a bit like football teams that only play matches and don’t learn the skills, flair, or stamina that make them truly winning teams.  The Best School of Acting will share their work and deliver performances but the main focus of each class and term will be on the building of skills and talent that can be used in performances and life.

The course will be brilliant for those that love performing and acting, who want to get better at what they do, who study drama or don’t, who want to be actors or who just want to act!

Our faculty work as a team and every class and term is carefully put together and co-ordinated so that there is a clear structure in order that the students grow throughout every class, and that all elements of the course support each other.  From previous experience often teacher’s have individual targets for their sessions or a course structure for a term, but we feel that meetings and early planning with our staff will prevent students being pulled in different directions and the sessions not combining together. 

It is also important to note that this school is also not just about becoming an actor –it’s much more…I was  fascinated and inspired when a couple of years ago I worked with an educator who pointed out that in 10 years time there would be approximately 15 equally qualified people for every job – so it’s not just about qualifications –it’s about the person, the way someone puts themselves across, their ability to communicate well, be quick minded, a team player, a well rounded person – and essentially that is at the heart of the ethos at Best School of Acting.

We are creating a school which we would have wanted to go to – and it’s amazing the amount of professional performers who I have spoken to about it who have said – I wished there was something like that when I was younger…well now there is!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The show must go on!

Recently we've been putting together plans for a new venture (of which news very very shortly - watch this space!!! - in fact subscribe to this Blog or like our Facebook page to get the news first ) and in doing this I've really been enjoying working with people with similar work ethics. You kind of lose faith sometimes that there are people who will do what needs to be done, no matter what the hours or how tired you might be feeling. These kinds of people were certainly more common in my younger days, touring round schools in vans. You met with all kinds of obstacles and just got on with it. But they were good times, like...

  • Lying on a school floor having been up all night with gastric flu desperately trying to summon the energy to perform without throwing up again when a teacher observed "Just doing your relaxation are you? Nice life..."
  • Performing to a school in Birmingham where the teachers had been out for a hefty Christmas beverage at lunchtime and had forgotten we were turning up. they'd told the kids they were getting a movie. Instead three actors in stupid cossies turned up. Mayhem ensued
  • Speaking to a 10 year old child in Godmanchester after a performance of 'Animal Farm' who questioned whether Hegel would have needed a windmill had he written the original story. Turns out she was a traveller girl who constantly ran away to the library - her parents burned any book they found her with. I often wonder what happened to her
  • Chasing a kid across a Salford housing estate as he made off with our keyboard
  • Chasing a kid across a Kilburn estate as he made off with a microphone
  • Concussing myself on a low beam at a school in Wiltshire and the look of horror on the faces of the children as blood trickled from under my mask - I acted on without realising. And then a pyro set off the school fire alarm and I was saved
  • Dressing up as a polar bear, a pig (2 pigs in fact), an oak tree, a devil, a firefly, a recorder - great cossies

Happy days. Actually, they were. Three shows a day and no money but an absolute determination to do the very best job we could.  And we saw places in the UK we'd never have seen otherwise.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Children's theatre's struggle to survive...

The news that the NYT is in real financial difficulty was swiftly followed by the announcement of the closure of Hampstead Theatre’s education department – all entirely predictable yet sad outcomes of the huge cuts in funding to young people-orientated Arts. This is further exacerbated by cuts to important organisations like Trestle who have supported educational programmes strongly as part of their funding commitments.

Money talks. For organisations like Trestle there was a strong element of compunction about their community programmes – not that this was resisted at all. It just meant that Joe Taxpayer got some kind of value for the (admittedly tiny) proportion of government revenues dedicated to the Arts. But that’s gone and the life in the beautiful Trestle building is fighting to survive – it’s very sad to see.

But there is still some really good stuff going on there, particularly the youth theatre work of Tip of the Iceberg (TOTI). They receive no funding but as well as running Trestle’s (Taking Part) Youth Theatre programme they take important and impressive work into schools and community centres, delivering accessible messages around bullying, relationships, drug use, the internet, self esteem, emotional wellbeing and literacy,. In many ways it’s ‘Theatre-in-Education’ old school and rightly so! Their founder and leader (Creative Director) Lisa Schulberg has been working with us at Best recently on our holiday programmes and she brings an amazing level of creativity and imagination to her work. But most of all she brings an absolute passion (a much overused word but applicable in this case) for children’s and young people's drama to everything she does.

It is that kind of passion that will see the ‘children’s theatre’ sector through these difficult times. As funding dries up further there will need to be new ways to support those young people who are serious about drama and these will come from people like Lisa and, we are absolutely sure, from Best Theatre Arts.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Can Do???

All of Best is about ensuring a great ‘customer experience’ – in non-jargon terms it means making sure that children and parents enjoy everything we do. A lot of this is the content of classes but we pay huge attention to our customer service.
So this week I was amused/horrified/delighted in equal measures by two organisations. ADT and Virgin Media. Huge shout out to Virgin! Boo to ADT!
Firstly, Virgin. This is how to do it well…
I called because my broadband was running slowly – actually a bit hacked off because I had the feeling that it had been much slower than I was paying for for some time. The technician was fantastic – remotely looked through the programmes running, identified what may have been the issue and fixed it. But it was clear I needed more capacity so he put me through to Sales (and introduced me to the next point of contact and stayed with me to ensure connection was made. The lady in sales listened to what I was after and then said- “you’ve been with us for ages haven’t you? Hmm.. would you mind holding for 5 minutes, I may be able to do something here…”
3 minutes later she was back: “Good news. I’ll up your broadband speed by a factor of 600%, give you a new wireless router/modem hub free, replace an old TV box with a new TiVo and knock £20 off your monthly bill! We can be round tomorrow!” And when the engineer arrived he was charm personified. Not only did he do some extra drilling for us but he also tidied up all our cabling beautifully and even wore overshoes. All right, of course I’m delighted to save money and get better technology but they didn’t really need to do this. I’d probably have been none the wiser. But now they have no more loyal customer than me. Well done Virgin Media!!!
ADT turn up to fit two sensors and two boxes outside following a not-to-be-missed special offer of free equipment!. Not a huge job. Knock on the door. “Before I start I can’t take off your old alarm box – it’s too high.” He then sticks his lip out in a ‘what a shame’ kind of way. “Well, I can’t do what I can’t do, can I?” No solution, no alternative course of action – he clearly didn’t want to sort this out. And this after the installation people had been round to survey the job beforehand! I suggested curtly he went away and come back with a bigger ladder and I then start to ping out numerous acidic tweets about ADT and their inability to conquer the North Face of a regular two storey St Albans house.
Now I know it’s probably not ADT’s fault but the engineer was their representative and has done them no favours whatsoever with me and although I haven’t got a huge Twitter following you never know who’s reading these things. So not a great PR move. And now there’s this fantastic blog too (which I bet no-one reads)).
His boss came round today to do a full Health & Safety risk assessment… and again although I know that this is a requirement of most companies due to the overly litigious nature of the UK nowadays but they did have a chance to do this with the original site survey and set my expectations accordingly. They have now, I understand, found a bigger ladder and will be round soon to do the job.
ADT offered something free and ended up letting me down, Virgin started off in the doghouse and massively redeemed themselves, over-delivering and delighting me.
So a lesson for Best – don’t take your eye off the ball…

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Holiday courses? It's all in the prep...

Having just put on our public shows it’s now time for our spring holiday courses. “You’ve spilled the beans about putting on shows, what about holiday courses?” I hear you scream. You’re not screaming? Well I’ll tell you anyway...

It’s about organisation (see the common thread running through this). There are lists after lists to prepare – contact details, medical details, t-shirt sizes, name labels, song lyrics, certificates and so on – it’s amazing how much paper you can generate.

Planning for the week’s theme is usually quite relaxed, however. We GENUINELY leave the story up to the children as much as possible. We do have a good idea of the songs and dances we want to do but the story... to give you an example, this week on our theme ‘Yellow Brick Road’, the children have come up with a sweeping tale of misunderstood witches, communities lacking love, courage and knowledge and of their redemption. We facilitate the discussion, they come up with the story. Lisa was thrilled at lunch on the first day with what had been suggested.

But this week we only have 4 days to put it on – well 3 really as the show is on the 4th day!

As I write I await news of what costumes they want before diving into the chaos that is our garage wherein 90-odd ‘tuffcrates’ of costume lie waiting for me not to find them. And by Thursday it will all come together in the SandPit Theatre and every time parents are simply amazed at what the children come up with.

It’s a unique approach that takes some courage but we believe it provides a much richer experience and a real feeling of ownership for the children. And it’s not ‘Annie’ thank goodness...

Meanwhile the little ones in First Class have a similar number of lists but more preparation of costume and story prior to their arrival. Quite often we need specific costume items which have to be ordered in. And we need to prepare their craft projects – windmills, pictures and invitations this week!

Once we’re off and running the week flies by and by the end of it we are always tired but exhilarated – and so, most importantly, are the children.

And in the summer we do this three weeks running! Six sets of children, three entirely new shows (Best) and three classics (First Class). Another sign that we must indeed be mad!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

PHEW! Lights out, curtains fall, shows over

You feel it in your feet really. They really, really ache! Over the weekend we did eight shows – four full dress/technical and four shows of ‘Imagine’ to audience – with four different sets of children. We must be mad!

Well, we’re tired certainly, but the energy of the children keeps you going and seeing four sets of excited and fulfilled faces as they greet their parents in the foyer afterwards makes it all worthwhile. Check out the photos on our Facebook page.

But what really goes on literally ‘behind the scenes’...?

The real key is organisation. Unusually this show did not have huge costume and prop requirements which definitely made things easier. But before we arrive at the theatre we try and think of all contingencies and make sure we are ready for them.  

Parents who have seen our rehearsals and those who work with us backstage (our heroes!) often remark on just how calm and controlled we seem. To be honest, we are. We don’t see the point in getting stressed over performances. We want the children to enjoy themselves and shouting or pushing too hard just turns it into an ordeal. We believe ‘you get what you get’ and 99 times out of 100 the end result is much better than you ever thought/feared. The children are given every chance to learn lines and get things right in rehearsal so getting worked up on the day of a show doesn’t work for anyone. And let’s be honest, it’s not their fault if something isn’t working, it’s ours as Directors/teachers. So keeping a smile on our face and a relaxed attitude is absolutely vital to our whole approach.

Hopefully the audience sees a smooth transition from scene to scene with children moving on and off stage with professional efficiency. But backstage there are groups of children being shepherded from dressing room (classroom at the end of a long corridor that is), to wings, to stage and back again with ‘unhurried alacrity’. A pre-prepared and accurate call sheet really helps for this – we didn’t have one this time so we were flying by the seat of our pants.

“What’s next?” is the most common question from little ones. The wrong answer is ‘Surely you should know!” The actual answer was, this weekend, “We don’t know – we don’t have a script!” This made for some interesting last minute GET GREEN GROUP cries.

Despite the lack of call sheet or script, though, we got through everything with only a couple of bewildered little ones appearing mid way through a scene having been in the loo - or just daydreaming.

The shows themselves were very different for us with some quite thought-provoking and dark scenes – not our usual laugh-a-minute (or occasional guffaw if I’m lucky) kind of musical. But we think it was well worth the experiment. Telling a story is the essence of all drama and that’s precisely what the casts had to do – as a team.

And they did it very well indeed.

We’re proud of them. But then again, aren’t we always?

Now the challenge of what to do next year...

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Building Up to a Show...

Yes, it’s that time of year again – our annual public show. Actually, we don’t get many ‘public’ but we do invite our student’s’ teachers to come along which we think is a really nice thing for the children to do. We do get 10 or 12 coming and the children are thrilled to have them there.

So this year it’s ‘Imagine’. I’m delighted/scared to say that I know very little at all about what’s going to be put on stage. This year I haven’t written the show, sung the theme tune, written the theme tune etc so, although I know the story it’s based on, I’ve no idea how Louisa/Vicky and the teams are going to stage it.

What’s involved at our end? Well, this year’s show is very costume light thank goodness. I don’t think our garage can store much more – there are already 90-odd tough crates full of cossies! But we think it will look beautiful – lots of coloured scarves, lycra etc. There’s also virtually no set to prepare as the kids will be creating tableaux. All of which means it’s a little less stressful for everyone – students included. Less focus on the technical, more focus on the performance – which is really how it should be.

We also value enormously the contribution of The SandPit in getting our shows on the stage. In all our years of dealing with them and as managers have come and gone they’ve never been anything less than totally supportive, creative and positive. It is important for any budding producer/stage manager to understand how important it is to be courteous and understanding when going into a receiving venue – we absolutely believe in being on our best behaviour and hopefully seeing how we work with The SandPit will stand the children in good stead if ever they are in that position in future.

And running the shows themselves? Yes, it is immensely tiring getting 4 groups dress rehearsed and on in such a short space of time. The help we receive from parents is crucial but we believe they have great fun – which is probably why we get the same volunteers year after year (and not just because we have a secret stash of wine and chocolate back there). But for the children we want the whole experience to be memorable. If we are well organised and calm, this radiates confidence to cast and crew and results in a fabulous experience for everyone. It has been commented on many times how calm and in control Annette and I seem during show times – believe me, it’s only because we organise everything to death BEFORE we get there – and even then sometimes a serene exterior hides a turbulent, throbbing mass of bubbling stress!

 It’s all worth it to see how the children react and when the curtain falls the electric positive energy is wonderful to be part of. That’s what it’s all about!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

In Memory of Philip Madoc

Philip Madoc, our first Patron,  sadly died on 5th March 2012 following a short illness.

Philip was born on 5th July 1934 in Merthyr Tydfil. He was educated in Wales, followed by a spell in the University of Vienna where he trained as an interpreter before entering RADA (after realising he'd never achieve his real ambition of playing test cricket). His television appearances are countless - indeed it was said of Philip that he has made at least one guest appearance in every British programme ever made!

His most acclaimed TV performance was as in the title role in The Life And Times Of David Lloyd George (BBC, 1981), with a theme tune by Ennio Morricone that you'll still hear from many buskers on the Tube! 
Alongside many appearances in Doctor Who (mostly as baddies), perhaps his most famous guest role was in 1973 as a German Commander in Dad's Army's famous "Don't Tell Him Pike!"

His classically resonant, instantly identifiable bass voice has been heard widely as a narrator of high-class audio books, mostly for the Naxos label. One of these is a recording of Gibbon's Decline and Fall (abridged to a 18 hours) - a monumental performance alongside Arabian Nights and even 'The Old Testament.'

Philip MadocPhilip was a fiercely patriotic Welshman, and is an accomplished linguist speaking seven or eight languages. We were amazed when, a couple of years ago, he addressed our teacher Tove fluently in her native Swedish and then chatted for ages in a language he hadn't used for years!
We were thrilled that Philip bercame our Patron , a role he was very committed to. He visited out classes and spoke warmly and encouragingly to the children (although, let's face it, not many of them knew who he was - parents did though!)came to our shows over a number of years and was always warm, encouraging and fascinating. He once said the "a Patron is a bit like a bidet - no one knows what it does but it adds a bit of class!"
He became our Patron when we found out he lived next door to Julia, our then Drama teeacher, at a time when we were searching for someone suitable. He'd always been an idol of ours - for the voice and for Lloyd George and we thought he epitomised all that was good in acting - hard work and peer respect.
As both Annette and I loved his work,  we were so pleased that the man himself was everything you'd want him to be - warm, caring, fiercely intelligent, modest and very, very funny.
Our condolences go to his family - we have very fond memories of a wonderful Welshman and a proud Patron.
Gorwedd mewn hedd, Philip!

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Trying to buck the economic trends

There’s no hiding the fact that the theatre school market is under pressure in the current economic climate.
Parents naturally try to shield their children from the effects of lower income and so they will often continue to fund their child’s discretionary activities for perhaps longer than their own. But inevitably there comes a time when the child has to choose their favourite activity and our plan at Best was to be the last activity the child would want to stop. And to our credit I think we’ve achieved that in many cases.

We’ve done this by trying even harder to focus on proven and added value – this means things like extra shows (Robin Hood and Alice in Wonderland were much more ‘organised’ than our usual end of term showings), little treats (like using the theatre at Christmas - actually that's quite a big treat!) and a concentration on delivering an even more professional service (hence our recent survey).

But yesterday, the mighty  Stagecoach Theatre Arts announced a loss and cited falling numbers and the merger of schools in areas more affected by the economy. And there’s no getting away from it - we at Best are feeling it too.

Up until last term our numbers were relatively stable, despite many of our competitors seeing a reduction in numbers and indeed many similar businesses (dance schools for example) disappearing altogether. But the volume of enquiries has definitely dropped and we, like everyone in our market, are left wondering how next to respond.

We’ve already announced a special promotion in our Saturday afternoon school offering 50% fee reductions for a term to let new students try us out, giving us an excellent chance to prove our value.

But overall in our core businesses we have decided (as we’ve already told parents) to refocus on what made Best best to begin with –caring, inclusive and high quality training where every child has the opportunity to progress. In practice this means reverting to our traditional end-of-term showings rather than full-on shows, so that new techniques, ideas and approaches can be worked on with the children and given a short showcase rather than enveloping them in show. There will be more time to explore, coach and, perhaps most importantly, play!

But there are other things too we might be able to do. In any recession there is opportunity to move into new areas and to take market share – in fact economic theory suggests you take market share simply by surviving! Now we at Best aren’t interested in being biggest or else we’d have franchised long ago – but we definitely do want to be Best. And perhaps we now have a chance to augment our current service offerings in order to protect and enhance our core business.

To this end we are currently engaged in some intense internal and external discussions which hopefully should produce some tangible proposals in the next few weeks. So watch this space!

But in the meantime, please don’t forget to tell your friends about Best – there’s no better way for a child to spend their time than in theatre arts, and no better place to do this than Best!

And any ideas, as ever, gratefully received...

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Going backwards, standing still

There are huge numbers of books written by quasi-business gurus that adorn the shelves of airport bookstores on the subject of successful growth strategies. Cash cows, rising stars and limping dogs become the metaphors through which we are able to categorise our markets.

But one thing holds true throughout, if you stand still, you actually go backwards. You must always be asking ‘what’s next?’ and seeking ways to continue to develop and further differentiate in your market.
And so it is even at Best.  You’d think the world of theatre for children would be immune from all of this commercial savagery, but far from it, our market is fiercely competitive and increasingly more difficult to understand and (strangely enough) communicate effectively with.

In St Albans, at its peak, we had 13 other drama schools competing for students. We think we have 11 competitors at present in AL1,2,3,and 4). It’s considerably more if you include Harpenden and Radlett. In such a small city that is a real challenge. I’ll answer the inevitable question (well, skirt around it a bit probably) in a future blog. But each has its own identity and style which is why we always advise new students to have a look around, confident that the majority will choose us. But despite our reputation and our longevity ( approaching our 15th birthday) we are increasingly conscious of our need to move with the times and to augment our offerings to meet changing needs and attitudes.

The core of our offerings, First Class and Best, are tried and trusted and although we do change things from time to time (like having a panto in the theatre last term) it’s a formula that children seem to love and is well established and comfortable with us and with a number of others. We will always (we hope) have First Class and Best in their current forms.

But returning to the theme of this blog, we know we can’t stand still and that we need to introduce some new exciting and value-added services to keep Best at the forefront of theatre schools in St Albans.
Ha! That’s got you wondering, hasn’t it? Well you’ll need to wonder a little bit more as we are working out some of the fine details at the moment. But you can have a think around the following trends in society and education:-
  • Parents increasingly demand ‘proof of progress.’ We do public shows, end of term showings, annual reports, annual certificates and all kinds of other things but there may be more we could do
  • Parents and children want choice
  • Generalisation is being sidelined by specialists...
  • ...and yet, people like to have a single source for all related items/services
  • Young people are growing up much faster (again a theme for a future blog). They are more ‘self-aware’ and claim maturity earlier (whether or not based on actual maturity)
  • Our student age profile has altered radically since our launch 15 years ago

So what does all of this mean for Best? You'll have to watch this space! 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Accusations, lies and subterfuge!

We received an e-mail yesterday from another company offering musical classes for the very young (like ‘Bestbeans’) who were warning of a person pretending to be from the local authority asking to visit classes who then turned out to be a competitor basically ‘spying’. This hadn’t happened to us, but one of our teachers knew the individual ‘accused’ and was absolutely certain that the allegations were false. There followed a series of e-mails to and from where we tried to broker some kind of peace and things seem to have been resolved.
This unfortunate episode brought a number of issues to mind:-

Firstly, the accusations were broadcast not only by email, but also through NetMums. Potentially this could have destroyed the accused person’s business for absolutely no reason at all, and with no possibility of comment prior to publication. At worst it was libellous, at the very least ill-advised but the Internet makes it so easy to fall foul. In the old days you’d rant to a friend over the phone – nowadays you go straight to a forum and pour out your unfiltered angst. TripAdvisor has recently been in the centre of a similar debate – what is there to stop ill-founded or totally fabricated opinions receiving tacit legitimacy through established websites? (I do like TripAdvisor though...)

Secondly, isn’t it sad that a business based on developing the very youngest children and supporting parents is dragged into the realms of industrial espionage? Is it really that difficult to find out about how to structure such classes without allegedly resorting to underhand tactics? It doesn’t speak well of our business.
Thirdly, how frail is a business delivering service to the very young. Your reputation is everything and a single false allegation can do lasting and irreparable damage. It’s enough to give you sleepless nights.

Anyway, I’m off to don a false moustache and beard and to try to get in to one of Top Hat’s classes posing as a 7 year old. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The old agency question

"Why doesn't Best run an agency?"

Well, we do get asked this from time to time so it bears discussion.

When we started Best we wanted to create a group where all children were on a totally level playing field. From the outset we decided that forming an agency would create a two- tiered system and would be precisely what we DIDN'T want. There'd be those represented who were working, those represented who DIDN'T get the roles, those who weren't represented (er...three tiers...!) and wished they were and those who weren't represented and glad of it (four tiers - that's a lot of tiers). It just creates a divide.

We try and avoid anything which says to any child they are better (or worse) than another. Stagecoach, for example, select a couple of students from most schools to go on to their 'national' show. We don't have a problem with that, it's just not what we want at Best.

It has been strongly suggested by some parents that we reconsider the agency thing. Again it's just not our style, but we are investigating whether we might create an alliance with an agency we could at least pass our students on to if they genuinely wanted to try and find work.

What do we think about children working in the business? Well, it's not what we wanted for ours but when you have a child who clearly loves every second of it, and when you have a parent who supports them in the business through love rather than any desire for vicarious glory, then it seems to work fine.We do have students who work and that's fine and without exception they have all done a brilliant job - we just don't make too big a deal out of it.

Also many children are unaware of what kind of sacrifices and commitments need to be made - school, time, friends and so on.

So, finally, what do we think makes a child successful? That really is a tricky one. Next time you come to a Best show, look across the groups and you'll see one or two who are just 'on it' (as we thesps say). They are totally focused, concentrating and filling each moment on stage with energy. That's a huge part of it. Also it's important to be polite, to listen and to remember what you've been asked to do from one day to the next.  The mum of one of our working Best kids said to us =that she thought her daughter had been cast because wshe was precisley what Best was all about - being herself, being polite, listening and doing what she was asked with loads of energy. She wasn't 'pushy' or 'showbizzy' - just herself. That was a nice thing to hear (thanks D*****!)

But to be honest most often it's whether you look right (not nice, or big, or small, or round, or square, or blonde or brown haired, or tall, or short)... just 'right' for that role. There's nothing you can do about this but it is the main cause of rejection and is so hard for young ones to understand.

It's a hard enough business for experienced adults, let alone children!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The same children keep getting all the leading roles

‘Imagine’ will sort this one out...it’s a total ensemble piece so there are no ‘leads’ at all!

But seriously, this is one of the most tricky balances we try and achieve and is the part of our work we find most difficult.. 

When we cast, we go to the students who have shown that they are willing to put in the work during lessons – they learn lines, take direction, don’t forget things from one week to the next and generally could keep a show moving. We know that whatever happens with them we will get from the beginning to the end of the show.  

There are others who we try and encourage and will discuss taking on increasing amounts. And there are the frustrating ones who are more than capable but who let you down when you give them a chance.

The most difficult ones though are children who we know are doing as much as they can (or want to) but the parents want something more. For example, we were heavily criticised by one parent after Robin Hood who felt their child had not had enough lines. What in fact had happened was that we had allocated him/her with more but he/she would burst into tears every time they went on stage. We discussed this gently with him/her and it was clear he/she was much more comfortable with a single line but being part of the chorus. This is often not what a parent wants to hear but happens more than you'd think. Many children respond best to very gradual increases in responsibility in shows and some are just delighted to be part of the chorus without the stress of solo lines. We have to be sensitive to all of these things and naturally, have to put the child's interests first even if this sometimes disappoints parents.We genuinely do take pains to understand where each child is and to present them with opportunities appropriate to their stage. Of course we don’t always get this right but I’m sure no other group would pay as much care and attention to this element of its work.

Finally, one respondent said we should teach the kids to stand on their own two feet by refusing to prompt them during shows. Tough love indeed! But overall we’d rather the children weren’t under any more stress than a performance already brings on. 

We aren’t like a school – we can’t force children to learn lines and all we can do is encourage them (and encourage their parents to encourage them) to learn them in good time. If they haven’t learned their lines by show time then there’s not much we can do about it and for the sake of the rest of the cast we need to be able to move things along with a helpful prompt or two. But we will remember next time we are casting...

Show content is too old/ too complicated / too long / not enough for younger ones / too much for older ones / too much for younger ones etc etc

Well, that’s me really. 

I try to find a balance between a reasonable plot that will give the older groups something to work towards whilst leaving room for us to develop scenes for the younger children so that all are properly involved. I admit certainly ‘Robin Hood’ was wordy but I was thrilled with how some of the students rose to the challenge! The real difficulty is that different groups excel at different things. 

Again using Robin Hood as an example, the schools where the cast had learned their lines properly were fantastic. Where the lines hadn’t been learned it made the whole thing drag terribly and gave the impression that the little ones didn’t have much to do. They did, it just took an age to get them back on stage! But that is something we should have picked up earlier and addressed.

As regards giving little ones more to do, we already get messages saying they are getting too stressed due to line/song/dance learning and whilst they may only have a few lines each they are involved and we always make sure they have at least one scene on their own on stage that they drive. The idea is that as children move through the school they get increasing responsibility in the shows. If we did an hour’s show and Green group had to fill 20 minutes of that to fill rehearsed in only 10 weeks it would simply be too much for them. We need to have space to do other things with them too so they are not purely rehearsing all term. So we try and strike a balance to make sure they aren’t overly stressed.

To be fair on us/me we had a very large amount of good feedback on this subject. Many of you seem to really enjoy the scripts we send out and the stories we tell and the number who are critical are in a small minority. But  we DO take these criticisms on board - we’ll remain vigilant and try and make sure we’ve pitched things right each time.

Why don’t you do a well known show like ‘Oliver’, ‘Annie’ or ‘Wicked’? Is it too expensive?

The reason we don’t is that these shows simply don’t have enough parts for enough for every child to play a full role. This is why we have to create our own shows. Even doing this (and writing extra scenes specifically for the younger ones) we still had some comments that younger groups didn’t have enough to do!

Also when you perform a script like this you have little or no flexibility whatsoever with the lines/setting. You can’t add scenes or lines nor do things radically different to the stage directions given in the script. It just doesn’t suit us at all. The only way to get everyone involved is to pour everyone on stage for the group numbers and then drag’em off again. There are other local groups who do this...

Expense?  This isn’t really a consideration except that we would have to raise ticket prices by around 25/30% to cover licensing, script and score costs and we are conscious that we don’t want to hit people any harder in the pocket.

The children are spending too long rehearsing / It’s changed over the last few years / More technique please

We started Best with the idea of doing one public show a year and then occasionally inviting parents in to see the kind of things the students had been up to during the term. More and more we found the pressure was increasing for us to ‘prove value’ and that our end of term showings were being misinterpreted as quasi-full-on shows. This is not the case but we feel that we may have blurred the boundaries somewhat recently through staging Alice, then a panto with Robin Hood, and then going into our planned public show.

The pressure to deliver this perceived value (i.e. an end result) means that we have less time to teach technique and to let the children experiment and relax. We want to bring that back. 

So we intend to revert back to our original schedule with one full production a year (at Easter) and then for the other two terms taking the focus off rehearsal and line learning and back onto technique, progress and real teaching. To be honest it would be a massive relief to all of us and we think to the students as well. We just have to be better at communicating with you, the parents, exactly what it is the children are doing each term. In this way we can have much more fun and the children will progress much faster. 

And you’ll still get to see things at the end of term – just not ‘fully rehearsed shows’ so it will be much more representative of what the children have been up to.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

What an amazing month of theatre

In the last month we have seen some of the best / most interesting productions of their kinds we’ve ever seen.

'She Stoops to Conquer' I've already described (see previous blog).

One Man, Two Guvnors’ showed that broad, simple farce is still hard to beat. James Corden is simply superb (although his understudy is taking over around now of whom good things are said) and we were even more impressed when we found out how certain bits happened –which I won’t divulge here as it would spoil the experience.  My face hurt from laughing so much – the dining scene in particular was achingly hilarious.

‘Hamlet’ at the Young Vic had Michael Sheen in sparkling, eccentric and energetic form. It was set in a mental asylum so you were never quite sure how much of the plot was only in his mind or was actually happening. To be honest the Director had used a shoehorn to make the plot fit into his conceit and to be honest I really didn’t understand why, for example, Horatio was played by a small and seemingly timid woman. But it was a challenging experience and the ‘coup de theatre’ when Fortinbras rips off his helmet at the end to reveal that he is....yes, you guessed it, seems to have divided critics somewhat (see Cowgirl's blog - quite funny! and the Guardian's summary) .

I don’t know how many Hamlets I’ve seen – probably too many now – but overall i think David Tennant’s at the RSC has edged it if only for the fact that the supporting cast was fantastic (Patrick Stewart et al) and the whole thing had a focus on entertainment rather than / as well as emotional connection.

But best of all, and perhaps the greatest performance I have ever seen, was Mark Rylance’s quite breathtaking force-of-nature performance as Johnny Byron in Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’. By the interval I tweeted (@besttheatrearts)that we were in the presence of genius, but by the end it had been taken to a whole new level. I wish all our students at Best could have seen hwat it is like when someone ‘inhabits’ a role completely. Not for a second did his focus drop. Not for a second was he not ‘on it’. His physicality was awe-inspiring, every gesture and movement nuanced, accurate and relevant. The release he achieved to ascend to the heights he reached in the closing sequence was nothing short of miraculous and all you can do, especially as a supposedly trained actor like me, is to sit back and bask in awe in this unequalled display of acting craft at its very finest.  

And then go home and begin to understand why you yourself never quite made it...

The show’s run has ended now – I hope they captured it on film – but I will never forget that performance and it is carefully filed in my most important stack of unique life experiences entitled “I was there!”