Frequently Asked Questions with Kerry Frampton

On 9 February 2021, we hosted an online session with Splendid’s Artistic Director Kerry Frampton. Over the years we have regularly received questions from students and teachers about the company’s origins and ethos, and so we took the opportunity for Kerry (with group chat contributions from Associate Director Mal Smith) to respond to these frequently asked questions, starting from the very beginning.

How to watch: we have edited Kerry’s responses into bite-sized chunks, and arranged them into the categories of Splendid History, and Splendid Style (although the conversation flowed widely between both categories). If you like a linear form, you can start with the introduction above, and at the end of each section you can click to watch the next. If you prefer a more episodic in approach, you can use the links below to jump to the question that interests you – scroll down for more detail on each question.

English subtitles are available, use the CC button to turn them on and off.

Credits: edited and compiled by Ben Hales, photos by Lewis Wileman, thanks to everyone who participated in the session. © Splendid Productions 2021

Want to learn more about Splendid? Watch these!

Kerry Frampton on the History of Splendid Productions

How did you start leading workshops?

Kerry discusses how her workshop-leading career began when she began working for English Touring Theatre in 2001 alongside Mal Smith.

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How did Splendid begin?

Kerry set up Splendid Productions in 2003 after attending the ‘Head for Business’ course for creative people, and began leading workshops. Running her own business allowed her to manage her work around being a parent.

 

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When did you start creating your own productions?

The story of how Splendid came to choose Brecht’s ‘The Resisitible Rise of Arturo Ui’ as their first production in 2004, four years earlier than planned.

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What were the biggest theatrical influences on the first production?

The working class origins of the company, the universal qualities of pantomime, the backgrounds of the early collaborators. Early aims for the production of Arturo Ui, and what we learned along the way (including the things we didn’t need – such as prop guns).

Kerry also discusses the influence of Splendid’s first director, clown and street theatre maker Mark Tillotson, adaptor Ben Hales and the first actor we hired, Lizzi Breckon.

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Were questions of social politics important from the beginning?

Splendid’s early work (Arturo Ui, Four Legs Good Two Legs Bad, Antigone, Good Woman of Szechuan) was more didactic than later productions, but a lot of our theatricality was in place from the outset.

Kerry speaks about how much we learned about working with audiences from the first shows , which influenced the subsequent work; not being afraid to pose more questions than providing answers.

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How much does your education work influence your performance style?

How the questions we ask students force us to be rigorous about answering them ourselves. How working practically can demystify and democratise tricky technique, and how creating theatre together is a radical act.

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How much theatrical theory did you already know when you started?

How running the company has encouraged Kerry to learn more theory to use practically – but how very little was planned from the beginning.

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Why did you call the company ‘Splendid’?

The unintended perils of giving yourself a name that is also a value judgement.

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Which theatre practitioners were influences on Splendid’s style?

Brecht’s structure, Brook’s simplicity of storytelling’ , Berkoff’s physicality, Artaud’s appeal to the guts’ , Commedia dell arte’s structured chaos, Boal’s social politics, Stanislavski’s search for truth, Splendid’s ‘Tickle & Slap’ and manipulating an audience.

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Kerry Frampton on Splendid's Style

What are your aims for the company?

A Splendid mission statement. Splendid’s work is:

  • Socially political, encouraging young people to engage
  • Making universal, relevant, anarchic and chaotic theatre
  • Theatre that is skillful and precise, and finds a balance between all elements
  • Getting an audience to think, feel and be entertained

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Why do Splendid use a cast of three?

How three is the magic number in terms of affordability, practicality, and the creative options it offers.

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How does Splendid reflect your own interest in social politics?

If you make your own work there’s no limit to the characters you can play. Splendid’s approach to gender and touring accessibility, equality of actors and audience, and demonstrating high quality work that young people can achieve themselves.

The broadening effect of collaborating with a wide range of other performers and practitioners.

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How do you choose the pieces you adapt?

The various factors involved in choosing pieces, from business considerations, to timely questions (and timeless ones), to stylistic challenges – but not Lysistrata, please.

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How much of your adaptation is prepared before rehearsals begin?

The work that goes on before the rehearsal process, how much of the piece is devised, the central questions or themes that underpin the adaptations, using the examples of Splendid’s Woyzeck, Antigone and Medea.

The principles of encouraging play, collaborating with lots of outside eyes, and how the pieces develop after the rehearsal period.

Followed by a gallery of Splendid’s creative teams for each production 2004-2020 (thanks everyone!)

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What are the principles for working in a Splendid style?

  • It must be socially political – work that reflects the real world happening right now.
  • It must be episodic in structure – to assist with shifts in style, tone, emotion and narrative.
  • It must be audience-centred & anti 4th-wall – the audience is an ever-present essential component.
  • It must be balanced – politically, stylistically and dialectically. Never too much of one thing.
  • It must be joy-filled – joy shared between actor and audience. Your audience feels what you feel.
  • It must be image-centred – everything on stage reads, so clarity of image is key. 
  • It must be shamelessly theatrical – theatrical techniques as storytelling tools:
    What are we showing? Why are we showing it? How do we show it? We use the things that work… and rules are there to be broken.
  • Splendid are creative adaptors, using existing sources as a framework.

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How do you use songs in your productions?

Splendid songs always have a purpose, whether that is smuggling in challenging content or helping to structure a piece.

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How do you create characters in rehearsal?

Splendid use lots of techniques to create characters. Here Kerry discusses given circumstances, archetypal characteristics, a character’s social attitude, animalisation, Laban Efforts, elements, physical centres and physical silhouettes.

The benefits of working top-to-toe and outside-in, and how we plot a physical journey for characters throughout a piece.

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Is there a difference between Stanislavski’s and Brecht’s techniques for creating characters?

Kerry describes how Splendid use Stanislavski’s techniques as basic building blocks for truthful characters, so that any exaggeration or political choices you make (for example in Brechtian work) come from a recognisable, human place. How both practitioners use similar techniques for different intentions; theatre for the heart, and theatre sieved by the brain.

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How did the audience work develop?

How the audience became increasingly significant in Splendid shows, with reference to The Trial, Everyman and The Odyssey.

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How did the chorus work develop?

Chorus is uniquely theatrical, requires precision, and doesn’t happen by accident. Kerry discusses the many ways Splendid use the technique, and the influence of Kneehigh’s ‘Tristan & Yseult’ on our chorus work.

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Splendid Mottos

‘Learn by do’ and ‘Death to Generalisation, All Hail the Detail’: Splendid’s prescription for active, rigorous, delightful theatre.

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