Saturday, 1 August 2015

Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington! Part 1 – Why?

Last week's Best summer course cast of 'A Grimm Summer Night's Dream'
- who knows who may go on from here to a stage career?
As the co-founder of Best Theatre Arts I often get asked what advice I’d give to a parent with a child who seems keen on a career in the theatre.

The glib responses of “Don’t worry they’ll probably get over it!” or “Start saving!” don’t really cut the mustard any more. With the explosion in reality TV and the realisation of how important theatre skills are for life, more and more children are getting a taste of the stage; a taste which can turn into an addiction.

There are so many routes available to a career on stage that there’s no right or wrong answer – the right path will genuinely vary from child to child. So in a series of blogs, starting with this one, I’ll look at the various career paths open and discuss their relative merits and drawbacks.

But the first and most important question I’d ask the parent is “Why?”

A good reply would be “It’s all she’s ever talks about and all she’s ever wanted to do. She won’t contemplate any other career! She simply won’t be put off! She’s always doing something…”

What I DON’T want to hear is…

“He was in a school play and everyone said how good he was so we thought we’d see if he’s really got anything.” – a good reason to try a drama class but no basis for a career!

To be an actor requires total commitment, unwavering optimism, strength of character and a resilient determination to succeed. Stories of instant discoveries and fame might sell papers, but they are the extreme exception rather than the rule. Most actors work hard for years so that when an opportunity does come along, they have the skills and technique available to make the most of it. And even then it can take a few knockbacks before their career becomes at all robust.

The drive has to come from within. This is why so many child actors fall by the wayside – the drive has often come from aspirational parents.  And with early success, the lessons and training that need to be undergone are often bypassed so that when the child grows up, they simply don’t have the toolkit to compete any more.

So I’d expect the child in question to be doing everything he/she possibly can to gain experience. In our area or Hertfordshire, thankfully, they are spoiled for choice (DECLARATION OF INTEREST ALERT!!!) : well-resourced school plays, good amateur shows/pantomimes, quality weekly classes or holiday courses (e.g. Best Theatre Arts, Stagecoach, Act Now!), and the chance to take part in larger theatre productions with organisations like Rare, St Albans Operatic Society or the Gang Show.

As the young person turns teenager they’ll be trying to hone their talents through more focused training: GCSE/A level at school, good quality youth theatre companies run by trained professionals (e.g. TheBYTE, Company of Teens), attending more advanced weekend schools (e.g. Best School ofActing, Bodens, Italia Conti, Guildhall) or working with some of the more advanced local theatre groups (OVO, Breakaway) etc. etc.

They will be doing everything they can to improve, to learn the craft and to gain experience.
Recently a very talented young actor came back from watching Imelda Staunton in ‘Gypsy’ and said “Now I know how little effort I’ve put in so far – and I thought I was working hard. Watching her has shown me how much more I need to give in training and on stage.” This was a fascinating response to a stunning performance. I’ve had similar inspirational Damascene moments when watching Mark Rylance in ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Twelfth Night’ (well, anything he does really). Now matter how talented you are, it’s hard work!

So, in conclusion, if your child genuinely has the drive, the demonstrable commitment and the right work ethic, and you are prepared to support them in these endeavours, you have a base from which to move forward.

Next time I’ll discuss child actors and how that ephemeral industry works!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Final thoughts on the NT Connections journey

'It's all over - and what a fantastic experience it has been - personally and professionally. I still can't quite believe what has happened and it will take some time to process. From the moment the 'vision' for what this play could become to the moment the cast took the applause at the Dorfman there was excitement, challenge and achievement. Each and every one of the cast and crew grew - some to a quite astonishing level. 

So can we look back over the Connections experience with a degree of objectivity? Well, here goes...

The scheme itself is a fantastic concept and is entirely appropriate for the National Theatre as it reaches out to all geographical and cultural parts of the United Kingdom. In inviting 10 established writers to write specifically for young people it fills a yawning gap in the material available for young people.

The quality of the writing is variable IMHO- it seems that some authors take the task much more seriously. And in asking writers who may not be used to writing for young people to do just that, some are bound to be better at it than others! 

From a participant's point of view, the initial process is a total gamble. There is that bated breath time when the new plays are released (after you've paid your fees usually) when you earnestly hunt for the plays that match the size of your cast/availability of resources/ appropriateness. This has meant we've worked with some gems in the past, but also we've had to 'make do'.

We withdrew from the scheme some years ago when the original (quite relaxed) quality filters were lifted and literally hundreds more groups started taking part. This devalued the writer's weekend workshop and really made any prospect of progression (even to partner theatres) a bit of a lottery. When we found out the filters had been restored, we decide to take part again - and thank goodness we did.  

Unfortunately it looks like the NT has relaxed the policy again for 2016 and although we had already decided to take a break to get some perspective on this year, we would not have entered anyway without some reassurance over the workshops and partner theatres' status (which I now understand the NT could give). 

The process of mounting your home production is fine and relatively simple. There are a few little hurdles to get over, such as clearing your PR material and collateral, but nothing really to worry about. 

To be honest, I had a feeling right from the start that we had a very strong vision and talented cast and that our end product would be compelling - we were in with a chance.

The visit by the NT assessor we found invaluable and, although the play was in fairly good shape, his suggestions we entirely appropriate and welcome and started a process of improvement which I believe was the most exciting element of the whole project.

The trip to our partner theatre, the Royal & Derngate was very enjoyable and the cast had a brilliant time. The organisation by the theatre was superb. This alone made the project worthwhile. 

The show had moved up a couple of levels and when I was introduced to a mystery person visiting with our assessor at the end I was pretty sure we were, at the very least, on a shortlist.

The wait for a phone call from the National was awful but totally understandable. I was pleased that every company would be informed before the final list was posted, as previously the names simply appeared on the website and this was the first you knew you hadn't been successful. So when the phone call came, there was as much relief as joy. But then there was the embargo period (again understandable, again agony) before I could tell the cast and the world.

The moment I informed the cast will stay with me for the rest of my life.

So we were selected - and didn't the work REALLY start then? Forms, forms, forms. But you don't mind. It was taking the production to the level it needed to be for the Dorfman that was the biggest challenge, and the most wonderful part of the work. Our associate director was fantastic, blending I into he background when needed, pushing forward when needed. Some of the exercises he let us with will power any future shows, but his objective and practical insights made the performance increasingly polished, accurate and professional.

And then there was the huge team at the NT - always reassuring, always calm, totally professional and on our side, even when we hit a few production blips along the way. I cannot speak highly enough of all of them - without exception. Yes, you field emails from so many different people that sometimes you can lose track of who has what information, but there was always our associate director and the co-ordinators at the NT to make sense of it all and pull it all together.

So we came to the production itself. The tech was extraordinary - the resources were just immense and having people who knew how to make them work was fascinating. And how they encouraged and coached  my production team was extraordinary and inspiring.

When the days came, the NT made it seem effortless. I know from long experience just how hard it is to corral young people and point them all in the right direction at the same time. We were treated as professionals and colleagues by everyone and the task of getting the show onto the stage could not have been more relaxed and supportive. It left my young people totally at ease and able to deliver the performance all their hard work ( and that of the NT) deserved.

It was an experience they and I will never forget.

Were there any disappointments? For me, it was a shame that the social media networks set up to exchange ideas with other groups were almost totally unused. We went big on social media but felt a little bit out on a limb. There must be other ways to encourage more interaction. 

It was also a shame that the schedule at the NT meant we didn't get any time to talk to our playwright - we'd have loved to talk to her about what we'd done and what she thought of how her play had developed. 

But these were insignificant compared to the life experience offered to the cast.

We wish all the groups taking part in next year's programme the very best of luck. It's a great scheme with a goal that is unique, achievable and very, very special. 

In conclusion, the Connections programme is a crucial drip feed of adrenalin into the UK youth theatre world. It's not initially cheap, certainly, but you can defray those costs with a bit of clever marketing and good support from your home audience. 

Getting to the National (I think) requires a degree of luck, a uniqueness of vision and clarity of storytelling but you can't go into the programme with that as a (stated) goal for your cast. There is so much of the process totally outside your control. All you can do is to produce the best work you can. Far more important is taking part in a festival that unites the nation and delivers vital new energy to theatre for young people and the excitement of pioneering new works.

Thanks to Rob, Dan, Adele and everyone at the National Theatre for their hard work and unfailing support.

And thanks to my fantastic cast and crew. Lotta love for you, guys!


Thursday, 25 June 2015

The show must go on!

Well, it all happened yesterday!

We were invited by St Albans High School for Girls to run The Boy Preference in the new Jubilee Hall. We readily greed as it's a much bigger space than we've been used to and it was nice to take the show to a school where a number of the cast attend.

It's a lovely space but has its drawbacks - particularly as it looks as if the final spec was not done by a theatre person (e.g. no ground level DMX/TSR points). But the get-in went fine, the rig was easy and Rachael the theatre manager even managed to restore two of the stage lighting bars which decided to become unresponsive during the afternoon. So all was well.

We started the show at 7.30pm and about two cues in it was apparent that the lighting desk had become possessed by a demon. Rather than moving cue to cue it moved to the next while keeping the previous one going! So we were ending up with a string of cues all merged together. Jack in the lighting box worked some wonders to keep the thing going and the cast coped with some weird effects increasingly well.

In fact all was going fine until 2 minutes before the end, just as the climatic bulldozer scene was finishing, when suddenly the fire alarm went off. At first I thought Alex had done something (actually pretty cool) to the soundtrack (and something we will now try and recreate) ... but no!

So we have to call a halt and evacuate across the road to the tennis courts to see if order could be restored. After a few minutes it was apparent that there was a real issue with the system and that carrying on inside was not going to be an option.

And then the fire fighters arrived.

So in the true spirit of theatre we decided to rerun the last two scenes on the tennis courts with the audience sitting on the ground.

Of course we didn't have the bulldozer with all its noise and lights and smoke, nor did we have the joyous cacophony of the fireworks (although we tried our best vocally). But the cast were fantastic and the applause was thoroughly deserved.

These are the memories that will stick with the cast forever. This is what theatre is all about.

Bring on the Dorfman!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Little gems

So our formal rehearsal process for The Boy Preference is now over. It has been fantastic to have the time to properly rehearse key elements of the show - analysing and testing all the decisions we've made and, in a number of cases, making new decisions. The show is different in many respects (and much better) now than the show we put on in Monday. We've found all manner of little gems!

Our new set design from the NT
How is this achieved I hear you cry? How can you change something that has been so firmly set and something that (let's face it) was extremely successful? And why would you want to?

I suppose the 'right' answer is that you always look to play the truth of the situation, so if you change assumptions and decisions made in the construction of your character and plot 'back story', this will inevitably change what appears on stage. We've looked at how we arrived at some of our character decisions and, with the benefit of hindsight and a good deal of thought (given the luxury of time), have changed our minds. And once you change one aspect of a character, then all the other characters reactions to that character change to and you are back into a dynamic and 'edgy' situation which gives the piece its fizz.

We've also gone for even more precision in the chorus work and I think they are much more scary than they were originally. We've done this by taking a step by step (literally) approach to each of their scenes and with input from all of them, it's taken new forms.

As to why we'd want to make these changes - well, it needs to be fresh for the National Theatre and, indeed, for our cast. It cannot simply be repetition, it must be as if we're doing this for the first time. And we have some really fantastic opportunities - on Wednesday we move to a much bigger hall at the High School to run the show. Then we are back to The Maltings, but with a different set configuration, and then to the Dorfman. - so all new experiences which will give the cast some great challenges.

And the final reason as to 'why change?' - it had to! It was directed for a small, intimate space with a tight set and its moving to a much larger auditorium with a high ceiling and all kinds of different aspects. the show had to 'grow' and it has.

Finally, a word about our NT Associate Director, Dan Bird. His input has been immense - without ever treading on my team's toes. He's delivered some very telling messages, all of which have supported our work. His eye for detail has also been invaluable and some of his ideas for new bits of business or staging have been inspired. It's been a privilege to have him with us and I only hope he's enjoyed his time - and that we make him proud next week! I'm sure we will.

(Next week!!!!)

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

So near...

As I write there is only 1 seat left for our show at the National Theatre. I never thought I'd be in a position to say a show we've put on has sold out the National Theatre. Good grief!

Our NT Associate Director Dan came up to share Sunday with us - a full days rehearsal. It was a fantastic day. It was so refreshing to have a new eye on everything and I was thrilled to see new threads emerging and really significant steps forward being taken by our cast.

Here he is forcing our cast to beg on their knees for pearls of wisdom!

He's with us again next Sunday and it's so exciting to think where this play could get to by the time it reaches the Dorfman. Elinor Cook, the play's author, may also be coming. Not sure she'll approve of the sudden switch to Cumbrian dialect in scene 5. But I think it adds something...

Ouistajurnmarra! - that's "How are you, mate?" in Cumbrian, of course.

Further to my previous blog, I outlined my concerns about the set to Dan who has already relayed this to the Nash so I'm hopeful that this week will give me more cause for confidence. I'm sure what they produce will be spectacular but I do want to preserve that eerie, odd, grunginess and tactile decay that made our shows here so special. Funny that they can't do low fog due to the aircon, though! Guess they could switch it off and that would help us re-establish the 'heat' thing.

Have worked out a mad schedule to move cossies and props from here to the NT, back here, back to the NT and then back here again. What could possibly go wrong?

It's getting closer folks - 2nd July is but two short weeks away. And I still can't actually believe it's going to happen.

Oh, and our hoodies arrived today and I've cocked up the sizes. What an idiot! Luckily the right ones will be here in time. Thanks Hoodyworld!

Friday, 12 June 2015


So plans progress towards the Nash (yes it's the Nash now to us insiders) but things feel a bit weird. The Nash is rebuilding our set which in effect means redesigning from top to bottom. There is no doubt our little flats need upscaling but I don't want to lose the odd qualities that my terrible attempts and painting delivered - especially the strangeness and depth we got from the real sunflowers.  With time and budget against us they are looking for an image to print rather than paint and I'm not sure exactly how that's going to work.  Having been so close to the whole project it's hard to adjust to having some decisions taken out of my hands. But they clearly know what they are doing so I just need to put my control freakery to one side.

Our NT associate director Dan is joining us this weekend for our first 'let's make it bigger' rehearsal and it will be interesting to see how his experience of the space translates to changes we need to make.

Did a very rigorous interview with the St Albans Review today - some very intelligent questions and a reporter who clearly knows what she's doing!

More news next week.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

You're gonna need a bigger boat

As we watched the very excellent Light Shining in Buckinghamshire tonight I was struck by my first feelings of misgivings. The huge sound system rumbled and the stage was filled with blinding LEDS as the safety curtain split to reveal a massive table on a huge rake surrounded by beautifully costumed people. And all I could think was "this theatre could eat us up!"

I was reminded of the National's promise that they would embiggen (I love that word, from the Simpsons) our show so it was right for the space. And also our associate director Dan's notes that we have to raise the performance level a couple of notches. I know what he means. The Lytellton is much bigger than the Dorfman, but it's still on a different scale to what we are used to.

Work to do, people, work to do. And how are we going to get our set to have any impact on that stage?

But Jack and Alex will have a field day!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

"There are hundreds of them"

So yesterday was REALLY exciting as Annette, Jack and I travelled to the National Theatre for a production meeting. Here's Jack outside...

We were met by Rob who runs the Connections programme and Dan our Associate Director and escorted through a very strange series of tunnels under the building to the temporary theatre. There awaiting us was a throng of NT boffins "there are hundreds of them" (well about 30 anyway) representing lights, sound, production, costume and wigs, stage crew, health and safety, marketing, admin etc etc.

They had set up our show on video so that various elements of the staging could be discussed and in a blur of sensible and poignant questions we were welcomed into their fold with care, calmness and total confidence. They just exude the air of 'we know what we're doing, so there's nothing to worry about..."

We were pretty well prepared I think so we were able to move along at a fair old rate. They had 8 such meetings to do that day so we thought we should try and make life as easy as we could for them.

But it was fascinating to understand the levels of detail they explore and the amazing resources they have at their disposal. Surround sound???!!! That was way too cool. But smoke/haze/trucks/stage area - wow. It is another world but one into which we are just thrilled to have a glimpse.

Then contracts were signed, a tart was eaten and we were away...

And then, at THE most inconvenient time,(while we are on the train back stuck in tunnels etc) the embargo was lifted and we were able to tell people the good news. Which we are now doing. Like this.

So today is a blur of Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, and emails to press and the outside world to let them know the good news. And the word is spreading - tickets are going incredibly quickly!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

When the National Theatre calls...

In my last blog I referred to a potentially very positive development during our partner theatre day at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton  about which I didn’t want to say any more at the time.
After our Northampton show, our assessor Paul came to say hi with another person – Dan. Now I hadn’t got a clue who Dan was but I had the sort of feeling he might be important to us. This was confirmed when our host Erica mentioned a VIP in the audience and wished us luck. Dan had seemed very positive about our show although I confess in the immediate afterglow of the stunning performance (it genuinely thrilled and surprised me) my mind was really elsewhere. But on reflection I had the glimmer of a spark of a glow of hope that we might have put ourselves into contention for an invitation to the National.

And so it happened – on Tuesday last week my mobile rang with an unfamiliar number – it was Rob from the National Theatre Connections team. He asked how we’d found the partner theatre day and I told him how much we’d enjoyed it. He then asked if our show had gone OK – and would we like to perform it again?

It only took a couple of seconds for the dots to join and I kind of turned to mush. We are going to the National!  I don’t really remember anything else about the call except hearing the plea for me to keep this to myself for a few days until the schedule was fully confirmed and the other participants in the Connections programme could be briefed.

Of course I told my wife, Annette, immediately (and my sons, dad and siblings) but after that there was a kind of anti-climax – we couldn’t tell the world!

So between then and our release of the news we’ve been getting things ready – press releases, rehearsal plans, letters to schools etc. etc. so in a way the embargo was a blessing in disguise.
But I hated not being able to tell our wonderful cast. I knew there was no way I could get them all together to hear the news due to exams, D of E expeditions and so on, but most of them did manage to make it – here’s what happened…

They have been such a fabulous group throughout and you could not wish to meet a nicer group of young people.

Between now and the first week in July there will be lots to do to get ready for the transfer and the various stages will appear on this blog. But for the time being I am absolutely elated /proud /excited / nervous / bewildered. And I think back to an early rehearsal back in November when I sat down with the cast and I said to them then that I thought we had the concept of something very special and that if we worked hard as a team we could do something extraordinary. They did work hard, always as a team, and they have indeed been rewarded with something extraordinary.

So now it’s official and I can say it:-

Emily W, Luke F, Alex, Harriet, Alice, Megan, Christabel, Maddie, Emily B., Dominic, Niles Luke D, Harry, Sophie, Lucy, Gina, Betty, Nancy, Ruby, Sienna, Louis, Jack, and Lisa – our Best bunch of superstars - you are going to the National Theatre!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Our day out

On Sunday, 3rd May 2015, our youth theatre group TheBYTE travelled to the Royal & Derngate Theatre in Northampton for their performance of The Boy Preference as part of the NT Connections programme. This is what happened...

07:57: Annette & I arrive in the van at Sandringham School to find car park gates locked. If this is the only issue of the day we'd be happy! But it is raining hard!

08:20 The gates of the car park unlocked and a flood of vehicles pile in, closely followed by our coach (Best Banter Bus)

08:30: We set off for Northampton - the cast with Lisa in the Best Banter Bus and Net and I in the van.

09:20 : Arrive in the van at Northampton, closely followed by the coach. It is pouring with rain as we unload for one of the oddest 'get-in's' around - into the foyer, up some stairs, down two flights of stairs with a 180 degree turn.

10:30 : Cast go off for a puppetry workshop and have a total blast! They thoroughly enjoyed making their newspaper figures. Here's something we can follow up in a masterclass, we think. Meanwhile in the theatre, Jack, Christabel, Tegan, Alex, Annette and I (with the support of resident techie and top bloke Andrew) attempt to rig a show that originally took around a day and a half to prepare in just one hour. Amazingly we get pretty close - even though neither of the specified lighting board were available and Jack has to reprogramme all the cues on his laptop. Had our flats been 1cm taller, they would not have fitted in. And the blooming sunflowers won't stick to the them for some reason!

11:45 : We start our dress/tech run. Soon run into time difficulties and go cue to cue. Crucially, with time pressure immense, we forget to plot the very last lighting cue!

13:15 : We continue 'snagging' over lunch.

13:45 : Watch Bedford Free School's performance of Remote. It looks as though they had some last minute cast issues which left two people reading from scripts. They do a sterling job in the circumstances.

14:45 : Into costume for our show. There is a strange calm and determination in the cast after Lisa explains to them this will be last time they ever perform this show which has become so special for them.

15:15: Our show begins. There are two audible gasps from the audience on our two 'reveals' in the first scene. This bodes well!

15:20: The second scene takes off. Wow! What happened there?  I sit forward in my seat as I can see that they are really rocking. I get very excited...

15:25 - 16:10 ; ... and rightly so. The cast are delivering this show with new levels of focus and energy. Oh my days, what a talented bunch they truly are.

16:15: That last blasted lighting cue comes back to haunt us as the final reveal doesn't happen. But it really doesn't matter. Rapturous applause from the full house, including a really impressive number from St Albans who made the trip. Meet Paul, our NT assessor at the end and he seems to have liked the changes we put in - I am too emotional to hold a rational conversation. Backstage the cast are flying high. They know they've pulled off something special. There are quick hugs with parents before the next workshop.

16:30: Cast go off for an art workshop and are astonished when the workshop leader explains how she was inspired buy a trip to an Anselm Kiefer exhibition - the whole basis for our set and sunflower theme!!! Not sure she believed us when we told her. Very weird. In the meantime the 'get-out' is in full swing. This is where the stairs start to be a real pain! But within an hour, it is done and with the van safely packed, us 'support crew' have lovely 30 minutes sitting in the peaceful cafe chatting away about hilarious touring anecdotes, which is what you'll always get when you put thesp types together.

18:45: We watch the Castle Youth Theatre Company's production of Jamie Brittain's Drama, Baby. Our cast loved this show and thought some of the performances were very strong. I have to agree - it played better than it read for me. The CYTC cast did a very good, committed job and I liked the setting.

19:45: Pizza! Loads arrive and the cast fall on it like gannets. They have to eat quickly as the coach awaits outside.

20:25: Depart for home. Annette and I pass the coach on the M1 - much waving. Annette & I reflect that Best has brought together a truly lovely group of teenagers - talented, friendly, intelligent and totally devoted to each other.. sometimes we do things very right at Best. We give ourselves a virtual pat on the back.

21:15: Arrive back at Sandringham School and greet the returning bus which then goes on to Gina's to deliver the cast for a party - a lovely idea and we are so pleased they had the chance to let their collective hair down. As for Annette & I - home to a G & T and too tired to do anything.

02:30: Realise I'm still too buzzing mentally to sleep.

05:30: Start writing this.

06:57: Finish writing this.

There was one other possibly very significant and positive thing that happened during the day; perhaps the underlying reason I couldn't sleep. But let's leave that for another blog.

It was a challenging, exciting, exhausting and inspiring day, brilliantly hosted by Erica Martin and her lovely team at the Royal & Derngate. I certainly will never forget it and for the cast too the day (and their superb performance) will be a wonderful memory.

Monday, 9 March 2015

After the bulldozer

I can't believe we've done it. After all those hours rehearsing, painting, thinking, worrying... all those nights waking up and not getting back to sleep. It's all done. And done very well, I think. The best thing we've ever done at Best.
The arrival of the bulldozer
The feedback from the audiences was something very different to the usual. No platitudes, no gushing, but real enthusiasm, passion and amazement. The cast managed to get across just how committed they were to telling this story and blew the theatre apart. It was infectious.

For my part, I watched them perform without my usual nervous churning - I knew they'd deliver.

So what made all of this happen? Is it a model that can be replicated? There were so many elements it's hard to say...

  • As any actor will tell you "It's the text, darling, the text!" And here we had a story that seemed to grow the more you read it. No big speeches, no real polemics. Just a very good story and one that touched on themes and attitudes that are totally relevant today for the cast and audience alike. Elinor Cook writes with such a light touch it was a pleasure to find the detail. She gave us the room to create the world in which this story could exist. Without this story to inspire us, everything else below would have been entirely moot
  • We had a compelling vision - that this story could be a chilling and exciting adventure and that is what we set out to deliver. And from the feedback from audience and National Theatre assessor alike, we achieved it.
  • We had a loved shared icon - the sunflower to rally us and to bring all the elements together
  • We had a cast that are close as friends and totally supportive of each other (and of me). Real talent matched with application and focus. You can't ask for more than that.
  • Bringing in a lighting enthusiast at an early stage meant that he was able to get to know the play as well as the cast - his designs reflected that and the (small) investments we made in kit were crucial
  • Asking our student DJ to compose and mix/play live was a huge gamble but was a thrilling and unique approach. The first time he played over the rehearsals the mood of the piece suddenly leapt levels. And there it stayed.
  • Asking one of the group to co-direct was perhaps the most difficult decision to make, but in the end, the most rewarding. She was able to deliver notes in a way that was so much easier to receive and the cast accepted her insights with alacrity
  • Putting time ( a lot of time) into designing and painting the set lifted the mise en scene significantly
  • I think we achieved some real 'coups de theatre' - the use of the scrim to make the girls appear/disappear, the sudden appearance of Adelaide centre stage into a scene, the bulldozer - these were risky but (I think) they all worked, and worked well
The scrim
So bearing in mind all of the above - no, it's probably not replicable, because only one of those elements had to fail to significantly alter the outcome. Who knows whether we'll find a text again that will inspire us as much as this one did? That was the basis of all of this.

But the confidence to take more risks is there for next time, and we do have a group of actors that I would work with again in a shot. I miss them already (even if I am their 'Principal') but it's clear there progress with their usual coach, Lisa, has been remarkable and they are in very safe (if challenging) hands.

So now we await the notes from our assessor. He was very friendly with the cast who warmed to him immediately. It will be so good to get some objective notes too - I've been so close to this I can't see the wood for the sunflowers!

Next - a few weeks off before we go to Northampton. I can't wait.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Final stages

With under a week to go a strange calm has descended on the group. All of the technical bits seem to be in place, the show seems to hang together without any bits I'm really worried about - and we are still coming up with new ideas (including a very cool idea for the bulldozer).

It'll be interesting getting these rather large flats into the building but I think my measurements are right. It's the gauze that will be the main issue...

It covered our garage and is extremely hard to work with! Again, I hope my measuring was up to scratch when we come to hang it.

Next we have to 'get in' to the theatre which we'll do on Monday/Tuesday, with Jack and I doing as much as we can to cable up the lights and get things working before the cast turn up for their tech and dress from 4.30pm. 

Alex's soundscape is sounding fabulous and adding a very menacing and pervasive feeling of unease - I think that was a good idea. When it first ran through the rehearsal there was a palpable change in the energy of the room. 

Lisa's been pushing the cast to take more emotional risks with their parts now - taking things to the edge. 

I'm delighted we'll have at least a few in the house for the dress rehearsal with the National's assessor coming on our first night. And then I'll hand over the play to Christabel to run in true pro fashion.

In a week it will be all over (until Northampton in May) and I'll be so sad not to be working with this very talented and really lovely group of people. They clearly have such a bond of friendship it makes me very happy that we've put them together. I pray they have a wonderful experience in the show and that their memories are entirely positive of the show and the process. Mine certainly are.

Break a leg, everyone. I couldn't be prouder of you all!


Monday, 9 February 2015

Progress and paint

Since the last post, things have moved on. At last we've had all the required cast members in the same place at the same time and the show is beginning to take shape in a very promising fashion. I'm confident that we will have a really top class production and I'm thrilled with how well Emily, my year 11 co-Director, has taken to the task.

Emily directing in a directorial kind of director-y way
Now we need to make sure the tech matches it!

Jack on the lights has loads of fabulous ideas and I'm delighted to have him working with us. The costume is bugging me a little - it's definitely not my forte. We need to nail it down. The dresses for the A-team are fantastic as Sophie demonstrates...

Sophie / Alice 
 ...but the rest of the costumes need to be of similar quality.

It also became obvious to me that asking for help painting the flats was a logistical nightmare. Lisa offered the use of her as yet undecorated office area which has been a godsend so I've been up and down the A414 to Potters Bar a number of times.

I am no artist, but my (rather artistic) son talked me through how to create perspective and how to use tones to create effects. So I bought a load of paint and gave it a go....

First I had to strip the flats.

Old paper all over it - this was 30 mins into the task
Now clear!

A base of a nice Vanilla colour

The eventual landscape of dead sunflower stalks
My son said he was 'pleasantly surprised' by my efforts - this is high praise indeed.

Next I will use stencils cut by my son (clever chap) and spray paint on the decaying sunflower heads and leaves. Pics will follow once I've done that. Then I'll load them back in Lisa's van...
A tight squeeze
and they'll live in my garage until March.

The biggest problem was the sharkstooth gauze which we are using for a couple of visual effects. It is 4m x 3m and we had nowhere to hang it. Instead I had to stretch it on the floor and it was an absolute nightmare. If I never have to paint one of those again it will be too soon!

More reports to follow...