Introducing Fourth Monkey's new BA (Hons) Course Leader
Fourth Monkey are delighted to announce the appointment of a new Course Leader on the recently-accredited BA (Hons) Acting Accelerated Degree training programme!
Director, Producer and Writer Alexandra Spencer-Jones joins our dynamic teaching team as we kick off the new 2020/21 academic year and begin to mark ten years since we were founded in 2010, so what better way to celebrate her appointment than by learning a little more about her training and background, plus her creative work outside the Monkey House…
Please introduce yourself – tell us a little about your own training and background, and how you will be working with Fourth Monkey!
Hi! I’m Alexandra Spencer-Jones, or ASJ as I prefer to be known. By craft, I’m a Theatre Director, Writer and Producer. I was a professional actor before I became a Director and Artistic Director and I actually took a University route for my BA, studying English at Cambridge before honing my vocational training at a few different institutions. I still feel like I’m training! Really and truly the majority of my training took place in the creation of my own work, assessing the mistakes I’ve made and consistently reevaluating process and what I believe ‘Theatre’ is.
I’m the Head of the BA (Hons) Acting Accelerated Degree, and am thrilled to be with Fourth Monkey, with whom I’ve always felt an affinity.
What appealed to you about working with Fourth Monkey and what are you excited about as you join the teaching team for the new academic year?
Fourth Monkey thrives in just the niche I enjoy – wild, untamed adaptation with a physical edge and unharnessed play. The new BA is an amazing creative course, the new year group is a strong and diverse ensemble, and I’m excited to reinvigorate classics and break the rules with them.
As an actor training company, Fourth Monkey embraces individuality within the ensemble. That’s very rare and powerful when you’re making theatre. It means that as a director you’re not dealing with actors, you’re dealing with theatre makers and that is altogether different. When the opportunity to oversee their journey arose, I couldn’t resist.
Do you have any particular interests when creating theatre, such as the type of work or texts you gravitate towards? If so, how will you bring this into your work at Fourth Monkey?
I have enjoyed directing a very wide and eclectic selection of work spanning from Opera to Film. My true heart, however, is Shakespearean and Classical. I also do a lot of work with actor-musicians. These have been central to my practice and passion since I was a young actor. At Fourth Monkey I’ll be drenching myself in their classical work and integrating actor-musicianship at every turn.
You recently directed our graduating Class of 2020 in their Contemporary Season project, which was delivered via livestream. How did directing a piece for a digital audience differ from directing for an in-person audience and how do you and the students approach this project?
Creating this piece and moving all our original practice online was truly one of the most unique experiences of my life. We completely restructured our standard ideas of doing things and gave everybody in the year the opportunity of a principal character study. This meant that everybody in the year had a powerful and inventive individual process as well as contributing to the vision and execution of the project as a whole. A typical rehearsal day would concentrate on one scene with the whole group either acting or in observation. I would direct the scene and set challenges to the cast who then took their briefs away and adapted and created their own takes on the scene.
The final product (the fully-edited film of the students’ interpretation of A Matter of Life & Death) is approximately a twenty-fifth of the footage we made as a group. The span and vision of the ensemble was incredible and I’ve emerged from the process completely inspired by them. The new Monkey is also, as it turns out, a very artistic director of photography as well as an editor, director and actor.
Of course we missed being together in the rehearsal room but we were gifted a completely unique opportunity in these adverse circumstances – the product of which is so thrilling, that we have no choice but to look forward with it in our minds.
Outside of working at Fourth Monkey, you are Artistic Director of Action to the Word – could you tell us a bit about the organisation and its objectives?
I made Action To The Word in 2009 with a really similar ethos to that of Fourth Monkey. Primarily it was set up to reimagine classical text (hence its Hamlet-esque name) but over the last decade it has spread its creative wings exponentially delving into musical theatre, movement, film and contemporary new writing.
The company is a world touring entity now in its own right having held Trans-Atlantic residencies, toured Australia and Asia and played long seasons in London’s West End. Another huge priority of the company is its active outreach. It has always been important to me to bring Shakespeare to people that would otherwise run a mile from it.
Fourth Monkey and Action To The Word’s productions of A Clockwork Orange are brothers and sisters of each other and were dancing around at the same time at their conceptions. The work of Action To The Word has seen many Monkeys through its ranks and will see many more to come.
Action to the Word have an educational programme – could you tell us a little about this, as well as how this might help and inspire you in your new role at Fourth Monkey?
I created the Brush Up Your Shakespeare scheme as part of Action To The Word’s outreach programme taking work and workshops into schools all over the world. Each year Action To The Word now run up to a hundred Shakespearean outreach programmes UK and USA wide.
It massively informs my role at Fourth Monkey, as there is nothing that I enjoy more than actors learning things for the first time and honing their phenomenal craft. You see a lot of that in these workshops.
As an Artistic Director and a Director, you have taken projects and productions to a variety of festivals. Do you have any advice for anyone hoping to do the same once it is possible again?
The big piece of advice I would give anybody thinking about taking pieces of work to festivals is to make sure that you ask loads of questions of people who have taken the same journey as you in advance. It’s vitally important that you are confident in the business model of creating theatre as well as the creative as realistically you can’t have one without the other unless you’re planning to exploit people. The truth of the matter is a lot of festival audiences aren’t spectacular for those who are just starting out and it takes quite a presence to guarantee an audience. To achieve that presence requires a content and fulfilled company so make sure everybody is fully on board, your numbers add up and that you have a solid structure on which the production is marketed. Don’t expect that press will come to you – producing festival work is a full time administrative role.
As we kick off the new academic year, do you have any advice for anyone who is starting their actor training with Fourth Monkey this year?
Fitness. Take care of your body and your brain. Give yourself time every day that centres you and brings you back to base. You have to get back to base. The work is hard and you’ll need great stamina. Eat your greens, sleep, drink water and give yourself pause.
Likewise, do you have any advice to share with students who are graduating this year?
You’re emerging into a different world than you started your training. Don’t be scared of that. Use it to your advantage. Fourth Monkey has taught you to think and create freely – you’ll need to do that now as you have the ability to frontispiece the new concept of making. Be bold and play.