Monday, 31 July 2017

Notes on a dream show

I recently had the good fortune to be part of a fantastic outdoor production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium with Ovo. It was a big cast involving quite a number of children (many from Best) and a lot of music. This meant the usual rehearsal process for such a venture was extended almost threefold - to cope with music rehearsals (for mostly non-musical types) and to rehearse in the kids.

Big cast number before the interval
Mine was a strange position to be in. With so many Best students in the cast I was conscious of being on my best behaviour throughout - not chatting during rehearsal, watching while not actively involved, taking notes and delivering on them. That wasn't too much of strain as I've always been quite good at the discipline side of theatre, but nevertheless I was being watched...

And this was my first time actually on stage acting in about 21 years!

What was pleasing was how well behaved the children were. Yes of course they got a bit hyper from time to time but overall they were cheerful, co-operative and focused. And of course I was especially proud of the standards achieved by our Best cohort, including one simply outstanding performance in a role in which she was never really offstage. At age 14 in an adult cast (and sometimes in terrible weather) that was some achievement from Tanya S!

Another nice surprise was the strength and attitude of the whole team - cast, creatives, management and crew. I'm trying to remember a cross word in the whole process and I just can't (not even from my Hippolyta, Jill, when I got the swordfight wrong. Again.). Even when the skies opened the smiles stayed resolutely glued to faces. It was a wonderfully happy, challenging and exciting experience which made me so pleased I decided to take that big step back onto the boards.

Jill politely points out where I went wrong.
The whole thing reminded me of why we spend so much time at Best and in the theatre world in general 'playing'. It builds friendship, trust, openness, honesty and a sense of belonging.

It also reminded me that there genuinely are 'no small parts, only small actors'. There were some brilliant cameos - a drunken Moonshine, crazy Lion and a mad Cobweb spring immediately to mind - and my role was but fleeting. But I don't think any of us for one second felt that we weren't an absolutely integral part of the whole machine.

But mostly it brought back to me why I fell in love with the stage in the first place. There is simply nothing like being on stage - it's terrifying, exhilarating, you are totally reliant on others and they are totally reliant on you.

Bring on The Crucible...

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Turkeys and Gems

We try to see as much theatre as we can as it's obviously important for us to stay in touch with what's happening in the 'real' world. In our travels we come across gems and turkeys and you get to wondering how turkeys reach the table? Especially at venues like the National Theatre.

Two recent examples were 'Salome' and 'Common'.

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The set of 'Common'
Of Salome my Facebook comments were: 
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Salome pre-set
It was a bit like being whacked around the head by a religious tome whilst being declaimed at by a ranting radical poet. 20 mins in I was battling for survival and by the end the cast looked like they'd been thumped too. The most low energy curtain call you will ever see!

While of 'Common' I said:
Clearly It was double-common in olden-past to mouth-speak in double- tongue so that every-all thing- bit you say-quote-mouth is at least-rarest twice-doubled. But it was so/thus annoying-overstylised that people-folk turned to murder-killing rather-instead of having-must to listen-hear this anymore.A play that would suit a small fringe in the round show rather than the huge expanse of the Olivier stage where it got somewhat lost.And it was pretty one-paced again like Salome- a lot of overly dense poetic prose being fired at you in a bucolic accent.I liked the speaking crow though.A lot of people- folk Left- abandoned at the interval-break. Can kind of see why. Naaaaah. Again......
And to be fair the critics were even less kind on both shows. So how does so much money get thrown at these productions and is this right?
Both shows were new commissions and both from established playwrights - Yael Farber (Les Blancs) and DC Moore (Town, War in Afghanistan) and it's great to see new works being encouraged onto the big stages. But surely at some stage of the creative process there needs to be a level of quality control? The problems with 'Salome' in terms of style and pacing were so obvious one wonders what Rufus Norris does for his day job. And I understand 'Common' went through scything cuts during previews but even these failed to help the play make sense (or be any less annoying linguistically). Salome in particular was very big on tech. It looked fantastic - 'all fur coat and no knickers' as the saying goes. But at least they were both NEW!
As for Gems, in amongst the triumphant revivals (e.g. 'Angels in America'), classics (Andrew Scott's Hamlet) and more modern re-takes (Life of Galileo) that we've seen recently there needs to be room for new things to be tried and to fail or else theatre descends into entropy with endless sure-fire, seat-filling old favourites. And it is interesting that three of the biggest 'transfers' of recent years, 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime', 'War Horse' and of course 'Harry Potter' were popular books before theatrical development. so maybe a little more safe.
The next 'classics' are still unwritten, so with the caveat that sometimes it's better to try out these things on a smaller scale before ploughing huge sums into shows, we cannot go forward without the ability to fail. And in some cases, fail spectacularly.

So we salute you, National Theatre, and especially the Travelex sponsorship which means we don't have to shell out to much for seats to watch failures!

Monday, 5 June 2017

Just about right!

It's rare to say any production is 'without blemish', but that's what the Adjudicator said of our recent production of 'Just' at the Welwyn Youth Drama Festival before awarding it first prize and the Adjudicator's Prize for our chorus work. A tremendous achievement for the group, but tinged with sadness as it will be the last production at Best for most of the cast. But on further reflection there is a warm glow of satisfaction as we see them fly the Best nest.

In their time with Best, each has faced and overcome their own challenges. Each has their own individual blend of ability, hard work and commitment. And bearing in mind we have NEVER auditioned for this group, all they have achieved is down to their talent, attitude and receptiveness to input. They have each taken their own very different route to where they are now.

Some joined us in First Class as 4/5 year olds and developed through Best, Best School of Acting and TheBYTE. Others joined us later, already committed to theatre, and brought with them new energies and artistic dynamics. They come from very different family backgrounds and school experiences. But they have forged unbreakable social bonds which we hope/trust/know will last them for many, many years into their adult lives. Yes, they've enjoyed huge success with Just and at the National Theatre in 2015, but they were merely points of validation.

So as they head off to university, RADA and LAMDA they have a foundation of absolute trust, genuine respect, huge confidence, close friendship and (yes) love upon which to base their futures.

We'll miss them, but wow! what a time they've given us...

Hard on their heels comes the next super-talented bunch and we are excited to think what they might achieve too. 'The Birds' at the Roman Amphitheatre of Verulamium is their next big challenge. Come and support them - tickets available here!

And now we're recruiting the next team of young people from years 7,8 and 9 who will blaze their own exciting trail over the next few years.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Musings on a train

brief moment of calm on a train to take a deep breath in the middle of what is the busiest period we have ever had at Best - 9 full public shows and 3 private showings in the space of 4 weeks. Add on the dress rehearsals and techs for each show and the costuming, marketing and administration and you'll start to get an idea of what we've taken on. 

If we total the casts in each performance we get 364 young theses treading the boards at 6 different venues.

The house is totally chaotic, my to-do list is ludicrous and yet...

...this is what we do! 

We (Annette, Lisa and I) often discuss the realities of working in the theatre world - 99% of it is  plain hard work! Loading vans, lugging stage weights, packing costume, screwing bits of wood together, painting wobbly bits of set, sorting out non-functioning tech, sourcing bizarre props from unlikely sources, organizing casts etc. at Best most of the cast and the parents are totally removed from all of this and perhaps it's only when they get to TheBYTE that they begin to appreciate some of these aspects.  And for people like us it becomes what they love about the theatre. Getting shows on no matter what the odds. Doing the jobs that need doing. Putting in the hours. All without complaint and with a smile. All for one and one for all! 

We insist that our students show absolute aspect to any member of theatre staff they meet, whatever their role. This is why we were so thrilled with the way TheBYTE conducted themselves at The National Theatre in 2015- exemplary. And hopefully they will exercise the same courtesy whatever exalted heights they reach in their careers. 

It is this kind of grounding that makes a true professional - not someone seeking shortcuts through reality TV or the diva histrionics so beloved by gossip columns. A true professional understands just what it takes to get a show on and even if they are called to the stage from dressing room #1 or to the set from a luxurious Winnebago that grounding in reality will earn the respect and cooperation of any crew. Never forget how much hard work of so many people has given you the platform for your success!

Anyway, enough musing. This Sunday we're at the Hertford Theatre with our wonderful Hertford school for Dreamcatcher. The glitterball is arriving on a motorbike, the rest of the tuffcrates and costume rails will be piled into Lisa's van and five months hard work by the cast will have but one day to blossom. Then it all gets packed away and we move on to the next one...