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.