The Krakow King’s Players are Krakow’s English-language theatre group, founded last year by veteran British thespian Don Allen. This week and next they continue their successful second run with the comedy It’s only a bed! and the drama Tram 23:11. Actors Sindhuja Sankaran and Syme van der Lelij share their experiences as part of one of Krakow’s most exciting multicultural projects.
My journey with Krakow King’s Players (KKP) began during the first production. I was deeply engaged in my hourly procrastination routine when I saw information on the Krakow Expats Facebook page about ‘English Theatre’. Needless to say, I was excited! Ever since I moved to Krakow from the UK in 2013 I had missed theatre; not for the lack of theatre in Krakow, but due to my inefficient Polish language acquisition process.
I wrote to KKP, spoke with Don (our director), and one of the earliest memories I have of this conversation was how excited Don got when I used the word ‘texted’ (ref: the word used for sending an SMS in the UK). I helped them with some backstage work while inconspicuously hinting that I missed acting and being on stage. A few months later, I received an email from Don about auditions for the new production and well…here I am.
The audition process was compelling especially because of the passage I had to work on. It was about a girl pining for her best friend who was getting married, and she was scared to lose him forever. Needless to say, I could NOT relate to this character one bit, but seems like I was convincing enough. We were then asked to come for the recall, where we met our future cast members. We had to act a scripted scene and then take part in improvisations. We had a whole range of characters at this point, a person with obsessive compulsive disorder, a sex addict, a very patient police officer, a panic stricken mother, a manic patient, and so on. It was unnerving, yet exciting. Presumably, all the current cast members were equally relieved when we got the email titled ‘’Krakow King’s Players” and the first line read ‘…..And we would be truly delighted if you would join us and work with us on our next production.’
Don was very particular about one aspect: being professional. He stressed this point during auditions and in subsequent emails we received. He was wholly aware that not all of us were professionals (including myself and Syme) but, despite that, he treated ALL OF US with the same level of professionalism. Don made that very clear from the beginning. He explained some theatre jargon (upstage, downstage etc.) once, and that was it! He also exercised his creative coaching skills by integrating the metaphor of a sports coach. He made it very clear that he did not want to teach a kid how to walk. Instead, he preferred sprinters he can coach to run their fastest. When on stage, he wanted us to be an idea water tank. He did not want to come up with every action or movement himself but instead wanted us to try out different concepts. As a nonprofessional actor, this mindset was a bit intimidating at first, but it quickly got everyone on the same page, which definitely helped in the development of the play.
Coming back to the sports analogy, we’d compare our one month journey from reading our scripts for the first time to our premiere show on 20th January 2016 to a 400m race! Imagine a race track and, on the gun shot, we took off from our starting blocks. However, 150m later we started to feel a bit tired; our strides were not as ‘efficient’ as they should have been. But then, as we took the 200m curve on the track, it dawned on us that we could certainly win this race with amazing timing, and so we did. We increased our strides and pacing and the last 50m was one of our best sprints! We owe this to our coach/director Don, our mother goose in disguise/writer Beth, and obviously to ourselves; we are a talented bunch, after all.
Beth Friend, as she is known to everyone who has watched the show, is the writer of the play Tram 23:11. The idea was first developed by Don and Beth brought it to life. I remember once bumping into Beth at Karma café and when I asked her about the play, she said, “Imagine The Breakfast Club (film) with dead people”. I asked her to confirm what I thought I heard: “dead people”. She said YES! And then she asked me about my mother tongue (which is Tamil, not Hindi…yes, we have a lot of languages in India) and in my head I started panicking a little bit, thinking that I’d have to play a ‘stereotypical Indian with terrible English accent’. Was I relieved when I saw the script, or should I say the 300+ (a hint of exaggeration) versions of the ‘locked script’ we received!
So in short, and without spoiling too much, Tram 23:11 is about what happens to people after death. To be more specific, what happens to you the minute after you die. Six characters find themselves on a tram, just after having passed away for various reasons. There is one nameless figure who guides them, but knows nothing more. As each of these characters reflects on their lives, the drama develops.
One of the typical questions both Don and Beth receive at the Q&A session after each performance is the character selection process. Were the characters written for the actors or were the actors chosen based on the characters developed? Usually it’s a bit of both. Syme, for instance, plays Sam in Tram 23:11, a very sweet boy who was unfortunately terminally ill. In reality, he sure is well mannered and sweet, and it comes across on stage when he plays Sam.
Kiril plays a boxer named Bruno. He is tall… a tall athletic man. And it seems like Bruno was written for him. In fact, there was a lovely moment during one of the rehearsals when we played a game called “Duck Duck Goose”. Syme was happily running around when Kiril (Bruno), accidentally hit Syme so hard that he actually had to go the hospital. Even Kiril’s hand hurt, as he was not wearing his boxing gloves yet. This incident was rather ironic considering Syme’s character spent a large part of his life in the hospital. Thankfully nothing was broken, but he did end up with a real prop: the hospital wristband he wears in the play is the property of Syme’s! Coincidence or dedication to our roles? You decide!
I play Nadine; a lonely, single woman in her 30s who loathes her job and is stuck in a rut. Strangely enough I seem to defend myself rather frequently during the Q&A sessions with statements like ‘I’m not sad and miserable’ or ‘I have friends…really’. I’m still in the process of concocting some new and witty defense statements!
There is another aspect that is very crucial to good performance, and that is our interpersonal relations. Don communicated to us over the first email about interacting with fellow actors. He said ‘... Plus work with a bunch of dedicated and professional people. And make some very good friends along the way.’ He was right on the money with that statement. It is absolutely amazing how all seven of us—Marta, Davor, Marzena, Paulina, Kiril, Syme, and I—got incredibly comfortable with each other over a span of two months. In the beginning, none of us knew each other, and when you’re rehearsing, it’s mostly professional. While we had these grand plans to meet and chat over a few beers together, it was not always possible as everyone had busy schedules.
One specific night made a difference though: the photo shoot in the tram. We travelled to a tram depot in Nowa Huta, changed into our costumes, and sat in a cold, cold tram for hours. At one point we even had to go outside. Can you imagine going out in the freezing cold in your pyjamas? This shared suffering was a great bonding experience, and now it’s strange to imagine we’ve only known each other for a short period of time.
Also, as our names suggest, we are a rather ‘international’ cast, and interestingly we incorporate that aspect in our play. We are representing Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, India and the Netherlands…all in ONE play! Being exposed to such a multicultural environment certainly helped us get to know each other with heightened interest about each other’s cultures. In retrospect though, most of the interest was food related. We shared some fine Polish and Dutch snacks, and one day after our matinee show we ate at an Indian restaurant and suddenly at that moment I became the most important person at the table.
We then took it a level further and created a Facebook chat group to coordinate timings and logistics related issues. Right now, at this very moment, as I scroll up to the messages, it reads ‘Loading older messages: 1750’. Most of the time, it’s just us repeating each other’s lines in different contexts. There is this thing about learning lines: when you repeat the lines so often in your head, you start to dream them. You hear the lines of others all the time around you in rehearsals, and they start to get stuck in your head.
The play is also filled with some great one liners. Whenever we’re together (virtually or in person), we casually incorporate lines into conservation. If people would overhear it, they’d think we were crazy. But sometimes it’s just more fun to say “I’m gonna rip out your spine, and beat your family to death with it” than simply “I disagree with you”. But we don’t just stop at that: we also tease each other, celebrate birthdays, and apparently insist on sending a lot of GIFs. There’s also a running joke that I’m secretly conducting a psychological experiment on them (I work as a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Psychology, UJ). Maybe I am… I guess they’ll never know.
Being part of KKP is so much more than just acting and making friends. There are so many more people involved with Krakow King’s Players than you’d think. Even for us: we mostly see our director and a few other people directly involved with our play. An example of what else happened is the charity Christmas party that was organised. They requested gifts for orphans as an entrance fee. You had to sign up in advance, and they’d give you a name, their age, and some gift ideas (they wanted mostly scarves, gloves and hats). We also wrote a special little note about the country we came from. This way we were bringing about awareness and appreciation for other cultures. Furthermore, the proceedings from the play would support a good cause. Certainly another reason to come!
Although I’ve only spoken about our play Tram 23:11, there is a comedy play prior to the drama called It’s only a bed!. The play takes place in a hotel room wherein a heartbroken young girl along with her very witty, sarcastic aunt visits Krakow. During their stay, they have the pleasure to acquaint themselves with the chambermaid/actress in the making, the customer care manager, a male model, and of course the heartbreaker himself. The play is funny, witty with several famous movie quotes beautifully inserted. We still have several shows on! So if I have remotely managed to convince you to watch us, please do come.
On the 6th of February 2016 things will certainly be very different, for one, I’m sure we’ll miss our friends, our mentors, other remarkable people who helped with the plays, and of course acting. I think I can speak for everyone who is part of KKP that we are thoroughly enjoying our voyage so far. We dread the day this run will be over and want this to continue for much longer. “Well… that’s the dream!”
Tickets available (29 PLN):
Info Krakow św. Jana 2
At the door (seats limited!)
Saturday 30 January (1:30pm & 7pm)
Friday 5 February (1:30pm & 7pm)
Saturday 6 February (1:30pm & 7pm)
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