Back into the community, putting the Shake in Shakespeare.

After working on Just Add Water’s production of Bobby at the Lowry, I have spent the last month working with Physical Folk on a community production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Tom Barry and I co founded Physical Folk while backpacking in New Zealand. Whilst volunteering at Napier Prison, a historical tourist destination, we were asked to develop packages and workshops for schools to engage with. We worked on some short historical films about some of the characters that would have spent time in the prison. We had a lot of fun organising fright night parties for teenagers and workshops for children from 4 to 12. Baking prison food, taking down fingerprints and asking them to spot the ghosts. We started to think about theatre and workshops as a tool for engaging communities.

We have spent the last year developing work in Cheshire, working out what an audience that the professional theatre circuit rarely hits wants to see. We dabbled in both creating pieces for the community to watch and workshops and performances for the community to take part in. We’ve found wonderful support from loyal and enthusiastic members of the local community and now we arrive at a 70s inspired ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a cast of 15 diverse actors from the community in and around Northwich. The cast age range is 15-69 and they are as different from each other in character and experiences as Mickey Mouse and Germaine Greer. They have worked hard, taken risks and met challenges head on. They have put in hours of rehearsals, met up independently to learn lines, supported each other, created a safe place for everyone to step outside of their comforts zones and created something that they should all be incredibly proud of.

My role in this production has been the producer, and as someone had to step away from the experience, acting in it too. It’s an unusual place to be in and my roles flit from objectivity to total immersion and its been a fun but tough challenge. I have enjoyed seeing the growth in confidence of the cast as well as seeing the flexibility and quick thinking of the crew.

The Production team has worked hard to create a play that really allows the performers to be showcased. Helen Ashbrook Billinge has constantly been sketching and adapting the stage to compromise on what we could beg, borrow and practically steal and kept watch of the actors use of space to create a delightful set. Natalie Fern has turned costumes around quickly, creating a very wide array of costumes some made by her own hand and others from the local Oxfam in Northwich. Ashley Turner has written beautiful music to fit right in with the 70s folks vibe, performed with many other tracks from the 70s by John and Ailsa Booth throughout the play. Tom Barry has worked hard and created a piece that is both understandable and accessible to both the cast and the audience alike.

Whoever said community was dead should come and see it alive and at work in this play. What a community it is! This community will have you laughing till you cry and stamping your feet as they take you on an incredible journey through Love. In this small theatre – Davenham Players’ Theatre, you will be swept away into an incredibly funny reality that a whole community of people have created. Winston Churchill said ‘ Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ The company of A Midsummer Night’s Dream have proved this in every decision that they have made both independently and collectively.

A Midsummer Night's Dream -Physical Folk
Physical Folk’s ‘ A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is on at Davenham Players’ Theatre, Davenham, Northwich, Cheshire from 22nd May – 25th May 2013 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £8/7 and are available via http://www.danarts.org or 0161 784442.

Directing – Just Add Water Theatre – Bobby

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I have been directing Just Add Water’s production of Bobby for the last month and this is what I have learned…

Last year’s Just Add Water performance of ‘Bobby’ at Buxton Fringe seems along way away. We knew we would be performing in a low ceiling, cramped space and that it would create an intensity in the story for the actors and the audience in which there is no escape. People sang praises after the show for the intimacy of the the performances.

 I watched a show in the Lowry studio, where we will be performing Bobby this Thursday, and had a wave of nerves. The space seemed vast and the audience further away than I remembered from watching shows previously. While the space is clearly a studio, it didn’t feel that it had the intimacy that we had had in previous venues performing the show.

After a few sleepless nights about how we were going to make the piece ‘bigger’, I had an awakening. We could do so much more. The actors could take up more space, there could be dynamism in the aesthetic of the movement sequences, our 6 ft 7 actor would be able to stand up straight and stretch his arms up in the air, and our designer, Helen Ashbrook Billinge would be able to do more to facilitate the story. The size of the space instantly became a gift, enabling us as a company to push ourselves further.

This last month not only has Bobby gone up a few gears, but so has the way we have been working in the rehearsal room. I have been training the actors every morning to build up their physical strength and stamina and to create this sense of Ensemble. I think we have really pushed ourselves and each other to be truly collaborative, forgoing our egos, building our humility so we can tell Bobby’s story as a true collective. As a result, the actors Ben Moores, Tom Barry, Niven Ganner and Jennifer Campbell fly through emotions, landing on each state solidly and with a great depth of honesty. They pounce between emotional states, hungry to tell you this story. The language flies between them like a game of tennis, but the ball never drops. They move as one, all individuals creating a great mechanism of human truth.

Bobby will be performed at the Studio space in the Lowry, Salford on Thursday 11th April, 2013 at 8pm.Image