On the 22nd March, CSVPA students from our Drama courses took to the stage to explore contemporary playwright Laura Lomas’ play Chaos during a private performance.

The play, originally written for the National Theatre’s Connections Festival, explores the themes of love, violence, rules, disorder and the universe. The play has an existential theme, the characters are searching for meaning and connection, but coming up against the reality that life does not always provide the order and structure we think we need, but rather is messy and chaotic.

The project was part of the students’ assessment work and provided each of them with the opportunity to work on their skills in character development, physical theatre, devising scenes and approaching dialogue.

“The first stage of the rehearsal process was working on the text, extracting the motifs and themes, and discussing what ideas the text gave us and how it related to our own lives” explains Rachel Ellis, Head of Drama at CSVPA. “We continued the exploration of the themes in a very practical sense also, creating a physical language to represent the themes, and playing a lot in movement and improvisations to get a sense of what the themes not only made us think, but also feel.”

A play exploring such poignant themes brought challenges for our students, including the concept of structuring ‘chaos’ and bringing that feeling authentically to the stage and to the audience. By the end of the piece, the play dissolves into a frantic scene of disorder which, paradoxically, required the students to introduce structure and order into their characters’ movements and intentions to be staged effectively. To assist the students in being able to portray ‘chaos’ on the stage, Rachel introduced long improvisations into the rehearsal process where all the characters reemerged, existential discussions were held, and high-energy dance routines took place.

Some characters had no names and appeared once and then never again, whereas others were named and had connecting scenes, but not necessarily in a linear order. Because of this, the study of characterisation was a key focus during the rehearsal process. “Throughout the academic year we give the students tools to explore character; creating character biographies, backstories, and spending time examining the characters’ intentions based on the story and information analysed in the script” explained Rachel. “We also work on physical tools for realising characters, how the character walks, talks and behavioural gestures and actions. We look at animal studies and draw from practitioners who developed theories and practices that could be applied for physical character traits. All of these were part of the rehearsal process for Chaos.”

Reflecting on the performance, Rachel said “During this project I was delighted to observe how well the students developed as an ensemble, particularly their bravery in the improvisations. There was a particular rehearsal day where the Chaos scene improvisation task was such a joy to watch that I let it run for over 30 minutes, and it provoked a wonderful discussion session afterwards, where every person in the room shared their thoughts and experience with a great honesty and openness that it changed the rehearsals from then on, and fed a shared experience into the final performance.”

Chaos is just one of the performances our drama students studying the Extended Diploma in Performing and Production Arts and the Professional Foundation Diploma in Performance have taken part in this year. Each year, our actors have the opportunity to perform in private and public performances both within CSVPA and in theatres around Cambridge.