Learning Something New

Over the last few days, we’ve been in Douglas. It boasts a population of over a thousand, making it far off from the smallest place we’ve visited, but don’t be fooled by the statistics. For its beautiful location, this place is a bit of a ghost town.

Where IS everyone?!

We pulled up in Douglas and had to double check the sat-nav at first. When we arrived, there was not a single person visible either on the streets or in their houses. And it was quiet. I set about trying to find an optimal performance location, and as I roamed around the town, it was still fairly sparse. Somewhat understandably, this was a little disheartening – it’s a little boring performing without an audience.

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Ghost town.

I had scoped out a specific performance location before, so went to check up on it – on my way, I veered off route a little, and ended up at the St. Bride’s Community Centre. And then our time in Douglas really kicked off.

For such a seemingly quiet town, this place has a HELL of a lot of spirit. When I entered the centre, I was immediately presented to Liz, the business development officer, who was not only very excited that we were there, but was very happy to help. She gave us a whole list of local places to get in touch with, and found us the perfect performance spot.

We set off posting flyers and putting up posters, while I popped in to the Universal Connections – another community centre in the town, and another place that we were welcomed with absolutely open arms. This was all going pretty well so far!

Calm before the storm.

The only real requisite for where we sleep is that there have to be toilets available through the night. And unfortunately, that meant it wasn’t possible for us to stay overnight in Douglas – small town, no public toilets. Or rather, there were public toilets, but they’d been closed down a few years ago. Not enough business.

We would be staying overnight in the near-by service station. That actually sounds much worse than it was – Cairn Lodge Services was one of those really nice service stations where they have like free showers and a ‘Farm Shop’. If you’re in Lanarkshire, take the detour. It’s very worth it.

We began cooking, with spirits a little bit dampened from the quietness of the town.

And then they got damper.

It started spitting. Not to worry, we’ve dealt with bad weather before. We could power through.

We set up the table and got ready to start eating dinner, and then the heavens completely opened. With no warning, it started pouring and pouring, and there wasn’t much we could do but sit there, eat our soggy dinner, and get soaked. We strung our gazebo up to some trees, and it made an acceptable shelter.

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A little sad, a little damp.

We couldn’t go inside, and everyone was feeling shit, and to be honest, it was all a little bit shit. The guys took our plates in to the service station to wash them up, and were summarily kicked out – fortunately, with a bucket of water to wash up in.

I’ll be honest, spirits haven’t yet been this low, and there wasn’t much that could be done. Except try to band together and pull through.

I’ve never met a more resilient group of people in my life.

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Laugh so you don’t cry…

There was a small – I don’t know what you’d call it, maybe a portcullis or something? A weird looking gate, just outside the service station, that provided some shelter. I went in to the service station and bought 6 beers, and despite the rain, and the potential lack of audience, despite the long journey behind us, and the week and a half ahead. Despite all of that, we somehow managed to laugh. At us, 6 students, sitting in a service station in some weird gateway, drinking and taking shelter from the rain.

What a ridiculous idea this was.

Oh THERE they are…

So it turns out that we didn’t need to be worried about there not being people at the show – we had a really supportive response from businesses and community groups in Douglas on social media, which helped to spread the word about us. We decided not to flyer in Douglas, and instead spent the day in the community centre, getting some work done and getting prepped for the fringe (WE ONLY HAVE 2 TICKETS TO THE OPENING NIGHT OF A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM LEFT WHOOP WHOOP GET YOUR TICKETS HERE. And if you really wanna show your love, grab your To The Ocean tickets too!).

After a very productive day, we went over to our performance site. And had to put in an incredibly difficult performance.

So we’d pitched our tent near a play park – when we were about to start, there were a lot of kids in the tent. Which is fine, we’ve performed for a lot of kids before. There were also a fair few families there. As the show began, the kids began to get more and more lively – running about, shouting, running across the stage and all that. Towards the end, it impossible to be heard over the racket – the kids were running about and screaming and causing a distraction. During the songs, they were dancing, and trying to sing. A few of the adults were doing the same.

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But at LEAST there was a play park…

We powered through, of course, but it was really, really hard. It’s always difficult to stand up and do a show, and it’s even harder when you feel like no-one is listening, or that no-one cares.

Initially, the rest of the team was pretty sad about it, and of course that made me angry. I don’t really mind making a twat of myself, but to see the heads of such strong people drop so drastically – it’s upsetting and it’s angering.

But the more we spoke about it, the more we began to take a bit of a different approach. When you think about it, the reaction that these kids had is kind of interesting – bearing in mind the size of Douglas, we agreed that most of these kids had probably never seen a show like this before. And so the reaction that they had – having fun, making a racket, and joining in – that was their instinctive reaction to seeing a piece of theatre.

And of course, underpinning all that was the central idea of this project – accessibility. The show may have been hard, but we’d just performed to the audience with the largest proportion of people who’d never been to the theatre that we’d ever had. That definitely counts for something. We could have told those kids to go away if they came to the show again, but instead, we approached the next day with a slightly different tack.

Setting things straight

  1. Arrive at the performance location. Pitch the tent, but leave the sides rolled down. That means that people won’t be able to run in and out of the tent, and gets rid of too much distraction. Not only is the running in and out disheartening for us, it’s also quite dangerous. If someone trips over the guy-ropes, they can injure themselves, and cause serious damage to the tent.
  2. When the kids arrive, keep an eye out for what they’re doing. If they’re back to the same thing as yesterday (running around the tent and jumping over the guy ropes), pull them aside and let them know (kindly) that that’s dangerous. They’re still welcome to come to the show, they just need to be a little bit careful.
  3. Warm up as usual, with a sense of excitement. You’re about to have an enraptured audience at the show.
  4. 5 minutes before the show time, round up the kids that are going to be coming to see the show. Let them know that you’re really excited to have them at the show tonight. Let them know that you found it a little bit difficult to perform with all the noise and the running around – let them know that they’re welcome to come and watch, if they try not to be too distracting.
  5. DEFINITELY ASK THE KIDS TO LEAVE THEIR JUICE OUTSIDE. Cos like. You know. I don’t want to be cleaning up juice for half an hour after the play.
  6. Just before the show starts, stand up, and let the entire audience know how excited you are about the show. Ask them to please keep noise to a minimum while the show is going on – and if they leave, they won’t be able to come back in.
  7. Leave a sentinel outside, just incase.

We performed to an audience of 30, of which 24 were children. There were some teething issues for the first five minutes, but by the time the show was under-way, they were completely enraptured. It was amazing to watch. Now that we’d actually taken the time to engage with these kids – we’d spoken to them like people and asked them to help us out when watching the show – they’d really enjoyed what we were doing. The looks on their faces throughout the show were only augmented by the kind words they had to say after the show.

It had been a tough couple of days, but with hard work and a caring attitude, we’d managed to turn it around. On an unrelated note, a separate family came to see the show this night. They had a young girl who seemed to be really enjoying herself. I went up to them after the show just to let them know that I didn’t mean to cause any offence with my announcement at the beginning. They said not to worry, and they they had a really lovely time.

The little girl ran out, looked at her parents, and looked at me. She touched her chin.

I looked a little confused.

“Oh, she’s signing,” said the mum. “She’s saying ‘thank you’.”

For some reason, that really touched me.

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We didn’t take a lot of photos in Douglas but HERE IS ONE OF US WALKING!

We’ve been learning so much on this whole project, and I’ll never forget Douglas for this really important reminder. I’ve always felt that it’s essential to approach other people (and life in general) with kindness. Douglas reminded me just how important that is – how a kind approach can often provide an easy solution to any issue that you’re confronted with.

We’re off on the road again, moving to our second last location, Balloch. It’s a really stunning town, and we’re hoping to perform for Rowan’s parents. Keep an eye peeled for Grace’s blog in a few days time!

 

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