BoxedIn’s Artistic Director discusses ‘Lobes’

With BoxedIn presenting ‘Lobes’ on the 13th, 14th and 15th March, we caught up with director, Oli Savage to chat about the production, his experience directing it so far and to find out why we should make sure to get our hands on tickets when they go sale on Wednesday, 21st February at 3pm.

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What did you love most about the script that made you want to direct ‘Lobes’?

I think that ‘Lobes’ is genuinely a really clever and beautiful piece of work. But more than that, it’s totally unique. The way that is discusses and deals with mental health through the lens of memory, and the juxtaposition it creates between our different understanding of the way that mental health is something that quite frankly I’ve never seen before at any level, and it’s something that I think is important to talk about.

I had that gut reaction when I read the script for the first time – Henry and I were on tour last summer with WOOD, and we were on a slow train down to North Devon when we asked if I’d read the script. I read it and I remember thinking…just ‘wow, this needs to be put on.’

Of course, Henry Roberts (the writer) is immeasurably talented, and his passion for the script and connection to it also made it easy to get excited.

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What’s been your favourite part about working on this production?

 I have to admit it’s quite hard to choose. I think overall though, it’s been an absolute pleasure working on a two-hander – I’ve never worked with such a small cast before, and the opportunity to do so has been both very challenging and very rewarding. Usually, in a bigger cast you can kind of hide behind the actors if you need to, or at least rely on their talent and support to pull the whole show through particularly tough sections. When there are two actors, there’s nothing to hide behind, and you need to get through the whole thing just the three of you.

And as I say, that’s both really challenging and really rewarding. It’s helped by the fact that Bailey and Anouska are two of the most intelligent and talented actors I’ve ever worked with – between them, they have really managed to keep driving everything forward.

Have you encountered any logistical challenges in directing ‘Lobes’, and how have you overcome these?

 Oh absolutely. I don’t know who had the idea of trying to put the show on in the medical building but that’s definitely been a big challenge.

It’s always logistically challenging to book alternative spaces – especially in St Andrews where space is limited as it is, people often have concerns about using their spaces for anything other than their intended purpose. But Henry Rae (the technician of the multi-purpose lab in the medical building) has been an absolute god send. He is so positive and helpful, and he has been enthused about this project from the word go.

I guess the way we overcame these was primarily with perseverance and research. We tried about seven or eight different spaces before we finally managed to book the multi-purpose lab, and it was getting very disheartening. But it did pay off in the end, and we’ve ended up with an absolutely perfect space!

 

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Why should people come and see ‘Lobes’?

 I think there are a few reasons, but mainly it all boils down to one idea – ‘Lobes’ is different. The way the script works, the themes it addresses, the way it addresses them, everything down to the very space that it’s being performed in. I’ve actually spoken to a few of the student papers this week about exactly how it’s going to be different, so keep your eyes peeled for those publications!

What kind of environment do you try to create in the rehearsal room?

 For me, the rehearsal room should be two things – a positive space, and a collaborative space. I work really hard when I’m planning rehearsals to find ways of making this happen.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything everyone says has to be positive – if something is bad, we can talk about it being bad, and there’s always space for improvement and banter and that. But I think it’s super important that everyone feels that they’re improving on the script as it goes.

And similarly, I think it’s really important to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction – fundamentally, a show is a group endeavor, and it makes it so much easier if everyone shares some ownership of that.

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What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given as a director?

 There’s this book called Notes on Directing by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich, which I think is fantastic. And in it there’s this tip that’s changed how I work in a big way – it says “Assume that everyone is in a permanent state of catatonic terror.” I think that’s great advice, and it’s something that I try to remember in all aspects of my work.

 

Thanks goes to Oli for sitting down and discussing ‘Lobes’ – we can’t wait to show you what we’ve working on when the play goes up at the multi-purpose lab in the School of Medicine next month.

Tickets will be available from 3pm next Wednesday, 21st February. Make sure to follow our social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to be among the first to snap up those tickets and to watch the show come together, rehearsal by rehearsal.

 

 

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Site-Specific Theatre

So, here at BoxedIn we’ve spoken a lot about how we love ourselves some site-specific theatre. But what does that actually mean? Well, one definition of site-specific theatre is a type of performance which uses the properties of a landscape and their meanings to emphasise particular images, stories and events that reveal the complex relationship between ourselves and our physical environment. Which admittedly is a bit of a long, and slightly complicated definition, however, it is not a complicated technique. Site-specific theatre is simply the utilisation of an environment which is not a traditional theatre building to help convey the story and emotions of a play.   

 

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Site-specific theatre moves away from a traditional theatre

Site-specific theatre’s ability to move away from the space of a traditional theatre is a unique quality of this practice which can help to tackle the elitism so often associated with the arts. Our Creative Director Oli Savage is particularly excited by how ‘site-specific theatre can get out in to the communities, engaging with new audiences by bringing performances in to spaces that they know and feel comfortable with.’ This aspect of the practice not only allows the audience easier access to a range of emotions which the play may evoke because they are in a comfortable environment, but it also removes the fear of going to the theatre. Often the elitist nature of a traditional theatre puts people in an uncomfortable state as they feel they ‘do not belong’. This is a fundamental problem, as how are people supposed to emotionally engage with a dramatic piece if their emotions are hindered by an innate sense of discomfort which their surroundings create? As site-specific theatre breaks these social and emotional boundaries down, it allows for a more complete experience and appreciation of theatre.    

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Oli Savage our Artistic Director is very passionate about site-specific theatre.

 It is not just us at BoxedIn who are excited by the potential of site-specific theatre. Barrie Rutter, Northern Broadsides’ director, has commented that he is very proud to have been one of the pioneers of the practice, and many more people of note in the Arts world are bringing site-specific theatre into their work. This week, BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) have selected their new Artistic Director, David Binder. Mr Binder’s credentials include producing the Dutch New Island Festival on New York’s Governors Island, which is 10 days of site-specific performance, music, theater and dance from the Netherlands, showcasing how site-specific performances can bring together a range of art forms. It is exciting to have people of influence in the arts recognise the importance of site-specific performance, as it suggests that in the future we can expect to look forward to a more inclusive and emotive theatre scene.    
 

This is ultimately one of the foundations of BoxedIn’s ethos, producing an inclusive theatre community, free from bias and elitism. We want to create a safe, creative environment where everyone feels welcome. And site-specific theatre is a perfect vehicle for this because, as Oli’s said, ‘when an audience steps in to a space, whether they know it or not they’re thinking about what that space means – it’s feelings, and it’s emotions. And that’s always going add to their connection to the piece as a whole.’ When an audience member is not worried about being out of place, or fitting in with everyone around them, they allow themselves the opportunity to truly focus on what the play means to them through their connection to the piece as a whole: the words, the actions, and the setting.

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We hope that we have managed to achieve this in our past productions, such as WOOD (summer 2017), and we are looking forward to expand on our success and continue to promote site-specific theatre in our upcoming productions. The first of which is Henry Robert’s ‘Lobes’, which we will present on 13th, 14th, and 15th March.
For more information about our upcoming productions, or to see what we’ve done in the past, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Interview with Henry Roberts

On the 13th, 14th, and 15th March, BoxedIn is proud to present ‘Lobes’, a play written by Henry Roberts. So as rehearsals have started again, what with the start of a new semester, we sat down with Henry to discuss the play, his experience with theatre, and what he thinks is unique about this art form.

So, let’s start with the basics I guess, what’s ‘Lobes’ about?

The short answer to that is: it’s about a relationship. If I were to expand on that I’d say it’s about mental health, specifically how we deal with it ourselves and how it shapes our interactions- or lack thereof- with other people. The even longer answer would be that it explores the way mental health is represented in art, and whether it can or indeed should be. Lobes also explores memory and imagination, and how these things which are so internal and often invented by us end up shaping so much of our actions and feelings. I tried to fit a lot into a reasonably short piece!   

 

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There’s evidently many overlapping themes in the piece, what actually inspired you to write ‘Lobes’?  

I’ve always wanted to write a play. I had written a couple of screenplays in high school, but I figured a theatrical piece had a greater chance of going beyond my laptop, especially in St Andrews which has such a vibrant theatre scene. But, of course, I wanted to write about something important to me, hence the attention to mental health. The cliché that you put all your effort and ideas and energy into your first piece was certainly true here. What started life as a short comedic scene about mind-reading evolved into this quite serious piece. So my love of creative writing prompted me to write a play, but it was my dissatisfaction with the way we as a society and as individuals (myself definitely included) actually talk about mental health that inspired me to write this play.    

And how did you go about writing this play?

So when I started ingeniously in the middle of term-time, writing happened whenever I had a spare minute! Once it got to the summer holiday, however, I was able to dedicate more time to the text, craft the scenes and structure it into something at least reasonably presentable.

As you said the subject matter is incredibly important to you, how do you feel about someone else directing what you’d written?

It’s tempting to say that it’s incredibly frustrating and nerve-wracking but truthfully I’m okay with it. Naturally, I have my preferences and my own ideas, but having worked with Oli before I know the piece is in safe and capable hands. Even from our initial discussion after I had asked him to read the first draft as a friend, he was bringing ideas and concepts that never would have occured to me. He’s better at managing people and executing plans than myself. Having someone else take over the piece keeps it from going stale and being only about my ideas. If that meant giving him complete control over the script then that would be problematic, but having someone else direct is probably the best way to do it. It makes for more interesting art. The piece means the world to me, but it’ll be interesting to see what other people can bring to it and how they interpret it. Plus, if there was something vital I wanted included in the final piece I would have put it in the text!    

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Bailey Fear preparing for his performance in ‘Lobes’

In what ways can theatre explore ideas surrounding mental health in ways other art forms cannot?     

Well, what is the main difference between theatre generally and other forms of art? Theatre is about the present, the here and now. Films and literature represent distance, both in terms of time and space. Theatre is immediate. You’re forced to be in a confined space with actors, actually see the emotions on their faces as they occur, and even if they’ve performed a play one hundred times, you’re still seeing this unique performance being delivered for the first and only time. Hence why neurologists have said you feel greater empathy for characters onstage than for those on screen; they’re more ‘real’ to us. Theatre isn’t just about forcing us to empathise with characters (and certainly Lobes makes this clear), but when dealing with a topic as personal and sensitive as mental health it’s impossible not to do so somewhat. Seeing ‘real people’ in front of us discussing and suffering from mental health problems will hopefully create a more visceral audience reaction. You’re forced to feel before you think, which isn’t always the case with a film or a book.

And what do you want people to take away after watching the play?   

Obviously, I want them to have a good time, and I think they will. The play has no inherent ‘message’. Plays shouldn’t be didactic, and when they are they’re usually quite boring. But it raises a lot of issues, so if it gets people talking about some of them then I think that’s a good thing. Mental health obviously concerns all of us, but the play is about young people, which is probably more relevant to a largely student audience. Honestly, if people come out of the show talking about themselves and their experience of relationships and mental health then that would make the play worthwhile. (There are some lighter moments in the play I should add!)

So last year you went on tour with BoxedIn, what did you gain from the experience?  

Wood was so much fun. Other than making great friends and seeing some awesome places, it got me thinking about how we can bring theatre to new spaces, and to people who normally would avoid it. Partly that’s to do with putting on plays which are relevant to people’s lives, but it’s also about bringing theatre to smaller places without ‘real’ theatres, and putting them in places where people can come and go. Basically, I learnt that it’s important to take away the fear, pressure, and elitism which is so often associated with the theatre. I certainly learnt a lot and thought about what theatre could do and what it was for.

But also, to be perfectly honest, the tour was good for me emotionally. It sounds so clichéd, but I gained a lot of confidence. And spending eight weeks with friends, performing every night and seeing new places made me realise that this wasn’t a bad way to pass the time…  

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Henry with the BoxedIn team who went on tour last summer with ‘WOOD’

Now I’m sure it’s not all going to end at ‘Lobes’ – do you have plans to write anymore plays?

Ah, indeed. I’ve finished a draft of a new play about ecoterrorism, which explores power and political manipulation, as well as our relationship with nature. Lobes is very naturalistic in terms of its narrative, so I want to do some more weird stuff, and I’ve got a few ideas for future projects. They’re all based on contemporary issues, but I think it’s more interesting (and, at the end of the day, more fun) to explore them in less obvious and more innovative ways.   

Thank you to Henry for taking the time out to answer our questions. We are incredibly excited about having the chance to put on such a beautiful play. Don’t forget to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram to make sure you stay up-to-date with the rehearsal process and when you can get your tickets!

Society and mental health

Approximately 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem this year
1 in 6 people struggle with a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, in any given week.   

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Mental health problems are very common, but why then is there still such a stigma surrounding these illnesses? Because that’s what they are, they’re diseases, like cancer or heart disease. As a society we’d rarely think twice about explaining to someone why we had to have an operation, or a physical check-up, but as soon as it’s the mind which is unwell we feel like we have to justify our illness. There’s something about the fact that a mental illness is invisible, unquantifiable, and in its own way unique to each person which, in general, makes us uncomfortable. It’s not a broken bone, you can’t see the damage in an x-ray. The ability to heal depends so much on the ability to express how you’re feeling, and when it is possible you feel like your illness isn’t ‘important’ enough this can be a very difficult thing to do.    

A contributing factor to the stigma surrounding mental health problems is quite simply that mental health care providers are not viewed on an equal level to physical health care providers. They still don’t receive the same amount of funding as hospitals, five years after ministers pledged to create “parity of esteem” between NHS mental and physical health services. Chief executive of the charity ‘Mind’ Paul Farmer has said, ‘Mental health has been under-resourced for too long, with dire consequences for people with mental health problems.’ A fact which is increasingly alarming if we look at recent news showing children as young as three self-harming. If they don’t have the support which they need at this extremely important point in their developmental process, it will be very difficult for them to get better on their own. As Farmer said, without the right support people with mental health problems ‘’are likely to become more unwell and need more intensive … support further down the line.” Because these illnesses are not awarded the same funding as physical illnesses, a suggestion is created that they are not in fact as important, serious, or life-altering as a physical illness which is simply not true. I think this is an integral contributor to the sentiment that you almost have to justify you are ill if you have a mental health problem, because they’re not widely viewed of as an equal to a physical illness.    

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On Tuesday the Duchess of Cambridge gave a speech about Children’s mental health, and what can be done in schools to help children with mental health problems. The work that she has done alongside Princes William and Harry with their ‘Heads Together’ campaign is an extremely important step in making people more aware of mental health, and encouraging all of us to forget about the stigma surrounding the issue. And this is something that the arts can also do, not by glamourising or dramatising mental illnesses, but by presenting a realistic depiction of how these conditions affect the everyday lives of ordinary people, and by suggesting alternatives to how mental illness is viewed in our society. In fact, the arts has a unique advantage in that it is a subjective medium through which to explore ideas, meaning people connect to what is being presented to them. This means those who feel isolated by their mental health problems are no longer alone, and helps those not affected to understand something that is very difficult to explain. It is only by opening up this channel of communication that we can render the invisible world of mental health visible, and consequently start to build a society in which mental health is given the space and the platform it deserves.  

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Mental health is important, and the way it’s viewed in our society needs to change. As with many things, I think that has to start with a conversation – a conversation which may have already begun. And I think that theatre is one way to keep that conversation moving in the right direction.

How to balance theatre and uni

So with a couple of weeks until the next semester begins, we’re all starting to think how we can make this one better than the last. How we’re going to excel at our demanding degrees, whilst simultaneously ensuring we can still create, participate in, and enjoy some quality theatre. (No more writing essays in the dressing room for me!) This is something, however, that is easier said than done. But fear not, because at BoxedIn we’ve got you covered. Here’s our 5 step method to balancing theatre and uni work.     

  1.  Planners

    So with the new year just behind us, it’s the perfect time for those of you of the organised persuasion to buy yourself a new planner. If I didn’t have my planner I’d feel like I’d lost a limb, it has a monthly overview,and a weekly timetable that allows me to allocate every hour of my day. This may sound a bit over the top, but it’s seriously brilliant. I’ve never felt more organised in my life, and it’s allowed me to feel on top of everything, even when I’ve had three sets of rehearsals in one day. Alternatively, if you’re a technologically minded you could schedule your week on the planner’s on your phone or laptop. In this day and age there’s really no excuse not to have a planner!  

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  2. Know your deadlines

    Now we all love theatre, but we’re in St Andrews for university, and it’s important we remember this. Without uni there’d be no theatre. Knowing when your deadlines are will help you keep on top of your work. You can plan your study around rehearsals, and if you know when your uni deadlines are, you can ensure they won’t clash with theatre deadlines by getting the work done early.  

  3. Prioritise

    The key to getting work done early is learning to prioritise. We’ve all seen those pie charts or graphs on Facebook of people trying to do uni work, get 8 hours of sleep, have a social life, and fit in extracurriculars, and failing extraordinarily. Well, the picture is not as bleak as Facebook would suggest, the key to getting everything you want done is prioritising. Ask yourself, what’s my priority for today? Or even, what’s my priority for this hour? If you work out what your priorities are you will be more productive because you have a target to work towards.     checklist-2077024_1920 (2)

  4. Learn how to say no

    Along with prioritising what you need to get done, prioritise yourself and say no to things if you think you’ve got too much on, or simply don’t want to do them. In case you missed the popular sensation that is Sarah Knight’s ‘The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k’, there is a new trend towards prioritising yourself and shedding unwanted obligations so that you can redirect your time, energy, and enthusiasm towards things you really want to do. Consequently with less on your plate, and by doing things you enjoy, you will feel less stressed and like you have the right balance between uni and theatre.

  5. Enjoy it

    Ultimately we all dedicate this extra time and energy to theatre because we love it! So when you’re in rehearsals be present and enjoy them, when you’re learning lines concentrate and use them as an opportunity to learn more about your character, and when you’re on stage inhabit your character, don’t worry about your upcoming deadlines. Use theatre as the break we all need and deserve, it will help you de-stress and in turn make you feel like you’ve got the balance just right.   

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    We said we had you covered, and there you go. Armed with these tips you can start this semester confident that you will be able to balance uni work and all the amazing theatre you want to get involved with.  

Interview with BoxedIn’s Artistic Director Oli Savage

With some exciting projects planned for 2018, I sat down with BoxedIn’s artistic director Oli Savage, to discuss his role within BoxedIn, what is currently interesting him in the world of theatre, and what he has envisioned in 2018 for BoxedIn.

So you’re ‘Artistic Director’ of BoxedIn, which sounds cool, but for those who don’t know, can you tell us what that actually means?

Absolutely. So officially it does what it says on the tin – I’m in charge of deciding the overall artistic direction of BoxedIn Theatre. That means picking the shows we’re going to perform and how we’re going to do them, as well as looking at where we want to put them on. It also means that when we get down to do the shows I’m the one directing them and keeping an eye on the overall vision.

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Practically though, it doesn’t work quite like that. Obviously at BoxedIn I’m always surrounded by a great team of incredibly passionate and creative people, meaning everyone is always having crazy ideas and working hard. So really, I see my job more as providing a space for these people to do what they do, while making sure we’re all pulling in the same direction.

So, you have a strong team, which must make working together easier, but it can’t have been without challenges. To date, what’s been the most rewarding part of working with BoxedIn Theatre?  

That is a really tough question! If I were to pick a moment, I would say getting across the finish line with WOOD. The last two weeks…you know, in Manchester, the last few weeks were really tough for everyone both physically and emotionally. We were hit with a bout of tonsillitis, and had to sit down a few days before the end and say, you know, “are we actually going to be able to make it to the end?” But of course we pulled together, and we did make it. So that was incredibly rewarding because it showed how strong we were as a team.    

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Everything was not as peaceful as this Manchester skyline

I think overall though, the most rewarding part of working with BoxedIn has got to be the people we get to work with. There are some incredibly talented people in St Andrews specifically, and giving them the platform to work on some awesome stuff is also really special.

You mentioned ‘WOOD’, the show BoxedIn took on tour last summer, what would you say you learnt from that experience?

Oh wow – a lot of things. I learnt to give more time and to plan ahead more. I learnt the importance of fairly distributing the workload, and trusting the people you work with to get the job done. And I think – I know this is quite cheesy but I think if you asked everyone what they learnt the most from our tour of WOOD last summer, the most fundamental thing is that hard work, passion, and determination can make anything possible. Even going on tour with 9 students for 2 months!   

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Everyone looking very pleased with themselves after another successful show on tour

Still looking back at last year, I’m sure you’ll agree there was lots of amazing theatre was created in 2017, what was your favourite piece of theatre you saw?   

I saw lots of great stuff in 2017, and I have a couple of favourites actually. The Barber Shop Chronicles, which was on at the National (and still is I think) was a brilliant show. So full of life and energy – we went to see that as a group while on tour, and we all left having had a brilliant time.

Drastically different, Séance, which I saw with a good mate at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was awesome. It used 3D sound to simulate being a part of a séance, with a horrible and very real twist at the end. I think they’re going to be back at the fringe this year, so give them a look if you get the chance (after you’ve seen our shows, of course).

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Edinburgh Fringe – for some great shows this summer!

And continuing to look at the theatre scene, what current theatre trends inspire you?

For me personally, I’m really interested in site-specific theatre at the moment. I think that theatre has a lot of issues with accessibility and it’s seen as a kind of elitist profession or art form. I really believe site-specific theatre has the chance to break that down, democratising theatre and encouraging live performance to go and actively seek out new audiences to engage, rather than expecting audiences to come to it. Site-specific theatre refutes the snobbery that hangs around big theatres, and instead harnesses the power of the new connotations brought to a piece performed in a new or non-traditional space.

I think that in terms of the theory behind site-specific theatre, we’ve still got quite a long way to go before we fully understand the implications of what we’re doing, and the techniques that can help to make this style of theatre as important and connective as it can be. But what we’re doing right now is a good start, and I’m excited to see where it goes next!

Looking ahead to 2018, what are your goals for BoxedIn this year?

I think the main goal for BoxedIn this year was to go international – and by all accounts, if we stay on track for the ‘Back of the Van’ tour, we’ll be achieving that when we spend a month touring around Ireland. Which is INCREDIBLY exciting.

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But other than that, our goals are pretty standard. We’d love to get a 5 star review for the shows that we’re working on, and I’d also like for us to make enough money to start thinking about what we’re going to be doing in 2019.

And of course, it would be nice to finish the tour with everyone alive and the van still in one piece…

Yes, this year’s tour! What inspired you to take a group of actors around  in the back of a van for two and a half months? Are you scared at all?

Actually, this tour was directly inspired by me going to see ‘The Handlebards‘ a couple of summers ago. I was up in Stratford-Upon-Avon and they were doing a free performance in a green area just behind the RSC. They’re a really amazing company – they cycle the length of the UK and all the stuff they need for their shows they carry on their bikes. So I thought, “that seems like a lot of fun, I want to do something like that,” but of course I’m disastrously unfit so cycling was out of the question. I mulled it over for a bit and then…Back of the Van was born!

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Our intrepid travellers from last year

Scared would be an understatement. I mean, let’s not beat around the bush, this is going to be a big challenge. It’s a long time, we’re going to be living in close proximity, and we’re all going to be tired and working very hard. But also, I think it’s going to be a really fun time. You know, we’re getting the chance to do what we love on quite a big scale with a group of friends, and that’s what I’m focusing on because I think all those positives will definitely outweigh the negatives.

You are also Artistic Director of our sister company ‘Blackbox Devising Company’, what are the main differences between directing a devised piece such as ‘To the Ocean’, as opposed to a written piece such as ‘Lobes’?   

So the main difference is the process and what you need to achieve. When directing a devised piece, you’re basically starting from scratch, with maybe an idea that’s about it. You get together and start coming up with ideas, then from that you play around and come up with a script. From there, it’s about working on the script and tightening all the bits you’ve come up with, basically making it performance ready. The great thing about that is the actors you’re working with usually know the characters and the piece pretty intricately at this stage, so polishing it up is quite easy.

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When working with a script like Lobes, it’s an entirely different ball game. We start with the script, and there’s a lot of script work to go in to that. First, we make a big timeline detailing the events in and around the play. Then the actors have their own work to do – both our actors for Lobes have been given 100 questions to answer and selection of other tasks to complete – timelines, online courses, that kind of thing. That’s to really get under the hood of the script, the characters, and to really understand what it’s about. Then, through the rehearsal we’re constantly putting what we’ve learnt into the piece as we build up to making it performance-ready!

Finally, in the spirit of the New Year, could you pick three words to sum up what you hope 2018 will be for you?  

Three words for 2018. Okay, they’d probably be: exciting, challenging and promising.

So these are all the exciting things we’ve got coming up for this year – don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to make sure you stay up-to-date with how everything is getting on!

Dramatic New Year’s Resolutions

So in case you missed it, it’s New Year, and for many that means creating lists of ‘resolutions’. These are normally lifestyle changes to make this year infinitely better than the last. People sign up to costly gym memberships, fork out a fortune for online language classes, or buy themselves an expensive late Christmas present, such as an top-of-the-range camera or a pair of ice skates, which gets used once and then sits under the stairs gathering dust. These grand life plans decided on the 1st January are forgotten, as real life starts to take over and old habits rear their ugly heads again.

Now, evidently, I am not really a believer in New Year’s Resolutions as such. I do, however, recognise that the feeling of inclusivity New Year’s can bring is just the motivation many people need to change their lives for the better. What with everyone starting their healthier lifestyles, learning new things, or going on adventures, it is easy to be swept up in the excitement. The problem is this communal energy does not last all year. People set resolutions that are not sustainable, and this is why only 8% of people actually stick to their New Year’s Resolutions.

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Here’s my New Year’s Resolutions list

‘But what does any of this have to do with theatre?’ I hear you cry. Well I posit you this, rather than making dramatic, unsustainable New Year’s Resolutions, the art of drama can be a tool to help you stick to the goals you have set yourself for the year to come. Trust us on this one – Here are some examples of how some of the most commonly broken New Year’s Resolutions can be adhered to if you make them about theatre.   

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Reasons to get yourself into one of these seats

Learn a new skill  

Many people start the year wishing to learn something new. While this is a very admirable, resolution, it can also be expensive as the cost of lessons and equipment adds up, while the obligation to continue with classes can make learning a chore rather than a pleasure. Drama, is the perfect new hobby. It need not be an expensive: get involved with your school, university, or local drama club. You can usually sign up for free, and then you have the opportunity to learn new skills that can help with public speaking, social engagement, and you have the chance to sharpen your intuition towards the emotions of others. In addition, an actor’s tool is their body, so no extra equipment is necessary. All you have to do is go and have fun with a group of like-minded people. See, we told you this could work.   

Read More

‘This year I want to be more well-read’. It’s a goal to make you seem more cultured at those elusive dinner parties you haven’t had yet, but definitely will at some point. So you go out, buy a copy of War and Peace, and remain on page 20 for the rest of the year when the book falls under your bed and gets forgotten about. Now, if you struggle to keep up the regular reading necessary to make it through a novel, then the theatre is a perfect alternative. You sit for two hours and are led through the live-action story by the actors on stage. The immediacy of the piece make it much more memorable than if you were sat quietly, trying to get through Pride and Prejudice on your own. No extra effort necessary when you go to see a play, and you expand your cultural knowledge every time. So maybe now it’s time to organise that dinner party.   

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A full bookshelf is the mark of a person of culture, doesn’t mean they’ve read them

Travel     

Everyone wants to travel and experience new things, right? Unfortunately, due to a lack of holiday time, the great amount of planning needed, and costs, this can be a very difficult resolution to keep. The theatre is a great way to travel without even having to leave the country. You can go to Austria in ‘The Sound of Music’, New Orleans in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, or even Ancient Egypt in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. Now theatre gets a bad rep for being expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are often cheap tickets available on Ebay or with companies like Tkts, and smaller theatres offer tickets at reasonable prices for incredible shows. So it’s cheap and it’s basically the same as going on holiday, is what we’re saying.        

Travel pic for blog
Tick those places off your bucket list

Be less stressed   

In our technological age, less stress seems to be at the top of everyone’s wish list. The theatre is not only a relaxing activity for an audience member, who gets two hours to forget about their daily worries and let their imaginations run with the characters on stage. Drama is also a relaxing activity for actors. Although an actor will undoubtedly be nervous before they go on stage, theatre is a way to communicate, to express emotions, and makes you part of a community that allows you to feel supported. Both as an observer and a practitioner of the arts there is an opportunity to shed the stress of our modern world.    

See – didn’t think we’d do it did you – but it just goes to show, everyone can benefit from a little bit more theatre in their life. Especially with these New Year’s resolutions flying around.   

 

   

A Brief Word on Theatre and Community

In 1987, actor Mark Rylance had a decision to make. Whether to join Steven Spielberg and play a role in the film Empire of the Sun, or follow Mike Alfreds and take part in his new season at the National Theatre. He weighed the pros and cons of both; he couldn’t decide. They both seemed so appealing. Finally, he turned to the I-Ching, the ancient Chinese philosophical oracle. With regard to the theatre, it gave the answer “community.” And that’s what did it for Rylance. Having never felt a spirit of community on a film set, he turned down Spielberg’s offer and trod the boards once more.

I have never been a part of a film production, but I have been lucky enough to be part of a theatre group many times. However, this was my first time on tour, out of a school or university setting. There were no classes, parties, lunches or other such activities to otherwise occupy our time and space. It was largely a communal experience. It meant the hardships were harder, but the highs were higher. Joy multiplies.

After so many weeks of these blog posts, I shan’t bore with the details of our final days. We were all tired. Emily and I got tonsillitis. Oli had to fill in for me for a few performances. Ellie Burke visited. We all made it back for the final performance and the most wonderful of cast parties in our flat organised by the commander-in-chief Oliver. We drunkenly said our goodbyes on the balcony overlooking a busy and ambivalent Oxford Road, before spilling out onto Manchester’s streets for one final evening of regrettable dancing and merriment in some of the, shall we say, inferior establishments this great country has to offer.

We had experienced that great feelings of community. Even after eight weeks of sharing cramped single rooms, sleeping on floors, enduring bigots and ignoramuses, restricted transport, illness and harsh weather, we were still laughing on the other side. If you can laugh in Barnstaple, you can laugh anywhere. To those who helped us on this journey, for donating or seeing the show or telling your friends, we thank you with a gratitude as strong and endurable as humans can muster. We hope you enjoyed the show.

Alexander Pope said that the theatre was to “wake the soul by tender strokes of art, to raise the genius, and to mend the heart.”

It applies to those both on and off the stage.

Northern Souls

And so we left Barnstaple, another leg of the tour behind us and a heavy day of travel ahead. It was raining when we made the walk to Barnstaple train station, where we would catch a train to Exeter, a coach to London, before a final coach to Manchester. A trying trip, but all within the realm of possibility. We all had our bags, we all had our tickets…

Now, before I continue, let me paint a scene for you. It was a cold evening in March, and we were all in Oli’s flat, planning our travel routes and buying our tickets accordingly. Some influential genius thought it would be good idea to start drinking, and this novel idea soon caught on with the rest of us. The hours past, trains were imagined, spirits sank as we realised how many cross-country coaches would be necessary, drinks were consumed… By the end it was past midnight and we were all that head-heavy kind of drunk that comes after mixing alcohol and strategic thinking. But we all bought all of the necessary tickets. All of them. Only an idiot would have not done so.

Anyway. Back to Barnstaple…

We reached the train station and got aboard with no problems. (Why would there be? We all had the necessary tickets.) Once in Exeter we again made the tedious walk from train to bus station with all our gear. Having arrived a few minutes early, we sat down in the waiting area and prepared our tickets. I sat, relieved to get the weight of my rucksack’s straps off my shoulders, and checked my tickets folder on my phone. I saw the train ticket I had just used, my bus ticket from London to Manchester, my bus ticket from London to Manchester, my-

Oh.

There must be some mistake.

Where?

Oh.

As it turned out in a twist of fate I still to this day claim was not my fault- but was probably the result of a high alcohol intake- I had bought two tickets from London to Manchester, but no ticket to get to London. Or, at least, not according to my phone.

The coach was leaving in six minutes.

I ran to the ticket office. It is surely a problem universally-acknowledged that whenever you are in a queue and in a rush then the universe or some divine being decides to put humanity’s slowest and most easily confused in front of you. Tapping my foot impatiently, I waited behind two elderly women and a man who seemed to be having trouble grasping the concept of ticket buying. He wasn’t finishing any time soon. The old ladies were taking their sweet time as well. “Yes, we’ll pay separately.”

As always happens, both counters became free at exactly the same time.

Thankfully, I was able to buy a ticket for the same coach. With only a minute to spare, I joined the rest of the cast and crew on the coach who, with a sigh and laugh, welcomed both myself and another disaster avoided.

I had had to pay extra, of course, but that coach journey felt so satisfying to be on.

police pride
Police with Pride

After several tedious hours we reached London. We had no time to stay, of course, but as we arrived in the city we drove next to the Thames and could see the cityscape we had all been immersed in only a few weeks earlier, and it dawned on us that tour really was nearing its end.

Another coach, and late in the evening we finally reached Manchester. Finally. Back Up North. Most of the team had never been to Manchester- firmly London-bumpkins- and I personally was extremely excited to be back in what I consider to be my home city.

We walked to our flat, in a great location on Oxford Road, and got an early night.

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In a good mood…

The next day was our first performance. Originally meant to be in Sackville Gardens, we were moved by the Fringe to the close by Vimto Park. (For those not from the area and interested, it’s the park with the large sculpture of a Vimto bottle in the middle of the green. That’s probably why they called it that.)

Considering we had done no advertising that first day (the flyers were late to arrive), we had a surprisingly good turnout. The few posters we had posted along Canal Street must have worked.

The next day we moved down the park, away from the trees and their desired aesthetic but also away from the road which had caused a lot of noise during the show. The train line on the bridge overlooking us was and still is an issue, but train strikes aside, not much could be done about that.

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From the cathedral 

As most of us had never been to Manchester, the gang took the time to explore the many exciting things the city has to offer. Gabriele visited Manchester’s Gallery– a free and brilliant way to spend an afternoon, and something that definitely deserves a return visit. Zoe went vintage shopping around the Northern Quarter, easily the coolest place in town. (This was also a great place to deposit flyers. Definitely our target audience.) Emily, Georgia and I visited Manchester Cathedral and read about its centuries’ old history, how it lived through war and depression, and the role it plays today.

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Inside the holy walls

On another day, Emily and Zoe went to the gallery and did a ‘mindfulness’ exercise. A therapeutic art exercise to stay calmer, happier and more creative.  Em said she thought she was only there for fifteen minutes. It turned out they were there for an hour.

On July 4th, we weren’t just celebrating the United States breaking away from our union. It was also Emily’s birthday. The captivating Jen Grace made an appearance and beguiled us with stories. After a lot of drinking in the flat- and wearing Hen Party masks I was under very specific instruction from Em to buy- we headed to Kiki, a club on Canal street. It had the distinctive smell of vomit to it, which put us in mind of Brighton and the early days of the tour. Ah, the relationship between smell and involuntary memory. We all had our very own Proustian experience in the middle of a throbbing dancefloor.

em birthday
Did we mention it was her birthday?

It was quite the messy night. We staggered home, takeaway pizzas and chips in hand, and were grateful to fall into deep sleeps.

On another night, Oli, Sarah, Dan, Annabel and I visited Albert’s Schloss. It was the night my mother came to the performance, and after she kindly took me out for dinner I hurried along to join them. A lively place for a Wednesday, this bohemian piano bar takes requests and the live band plays whilst the drunken listeners dance on the floor and on the tables.

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Ignoring strangers’ booties…

Of course, we didn’t have to go out to have a good time. Many of the best nights were spent in the flat. One such night saw us drag blankets, lamps and wine glasses out onto the balcony, where we sat and talked all evening until the bottles ran dry and the sky grew dark. On another night, we watched Mean Girls. If any film is to unite a group of millennials, this is surely it. To our amazement, we learnt that Gab had not seen it. Naturally, he fell in love with it. It was so fetch. (Mean Girls reference, or MGR for short.)

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Partners in Crime

A few days into the Manchester run, I started to feel a little ill. I was extremely tired and my tonsils were severely swollen. I carried on performing, although not to the best of my abilities it must be said. Oli- sorry, Doctor Savage, as he keeps referring to himself- assured me that it wasn’t anything much and would go away in a few days. It didn’t. Eventually, after a restless night of no sleep and agonising pain, I walked to the hospital a mile down Oxford Road. Diagnosed with tonsillitis, I returned back to the flat before everyone had woken up, packed my bags and- with Oli’s consent- went home.

I wasn’t sure how the show would run in my absence…

oli manchester
Our Commander-in-Chief

On the Road to Barnstaple

If you recall where we left you last time, we were all saddened to be leaving Ludlow, but such was our love of the town and our time there that it was impossible for us to be too down-heartened. We had just finished a successful leg of the tour, and were looking forward to continue in such a blazing fashion. Today was the day we travelled to Barnstaple. The air was hot, and we had heavy bags and equipment on our bags and in our hands. But what did that matter, so long as everything stuck to plan…

 

Now, we all know the UK is rather small. Unlike our American cousins, it is hypothetically possible for somebody to travel from one end of the country to the other in a single day. With a complex link of train trains, motorways and walking paths, Great Britain finds one of its greatest assets in the cosiness between its many towns, villages and counties.

 

This can be both an asset and a hindrance. As we found out that morning. Tired and exhausted (and, lest we forget, sweaty; the kind of sweat one acquires from a tandem assault from carrying heavy bags through oppressive heat), we threw our bags down on the platform, only to discover that our train was delayed, possibly cancelled. We had a very precise circuit-like schedule for the day. If we did not reach Birmingham by a certain point, we would miss our coach. It looked as though that was the fate of the day.

train station group pic
Facial expressions say it all

The reason for this delay-then-cancelation was due to stolen cable lines, appropriated for their valuable copper. This wouldn’t have been quite so bitter a reason if the copper lines stolen hadn’t been in Reading. Reading. Miles away, on the other side of the country, wreaking havoc from coast to coast. (The smallness of this isle is a boon and burden.)

 

We managed to board another train and made our connection to Birmingham, though not without some difficulty. What with so many trains being cancelled, the train we needed to board was quite literally full when we arrived on the platform (each of us with lumbering rucksacks, tents and props). The conductor took a look at us and assured us that we weren’t getting on. We assured him that we needed to get on in order to make our coach on time. He looked at us, looked at the train- seats and isles filled like a compact sardines can- and looked back at us again. He smirked. “Try your best.”

em gab coach
They had to pass the time somehow…

We got on. Spread across all the carriages, standing awkwardly with our bags between legs, this heaving, sweaty and irritable train reluctantly marched on. With each stop, two or three people got off whilst fifteen surprised and anxious passengers seemed to get on. And in doing so, all of us had to adjust in whatever space we could, whilst still trying to preserve the inch of wall one was luckily able to rest their head upon, or that exact position where the draft from an open window met one’s tired red face. Eventually, there was not a foot of space left to be occupied. Entire isles were taken up, and for anybody to get off at any station was in itself a herculean challenge, given the number of people in any given carriage.

henry coach
I was having a pleasant time. 

In this hot-house of annoyed and tired people, I was reminded and comforted by a line Bill Bryson wrote when he coincidentally was on a hellish journey to Barnstaple. “Someday, this will be twenty years ago.”

An on coach
Making the most of it

(Don’t worry, the group of boys on their way to a lads’ holiday- with beers in hands and their horrendous music blasting for the whole train to hear, whilst not offering any of their seats to the many older people in the carriage- seemed to be having a great time.)

 

Once off the train, we had to walk from Birmingham train station to bus station. To be honest, we were all glad of the chance to move our limbs once more, even with heavy equipment on our backs. We were like fatigued Hobbits. In Birmingham City Centre.

 

Tired and bored, we got on a coach and made our way to Barnstaple in a manner so uneventful and tedious it can only otherwise be described as ‘a coach trip that happened.’

bags
For all our egos

Once off the coach, it was another short train ride to Barnstaple. We arrived in rain, more tired and weary as ever, and trudged our way to our new home.  Our host- Nicola- kindly greeted us on the way and walked us to her marvellously large and elegant home. Nicola works for Barnstaple Fringe, carrying out an array of duties, but surely her biggest challenge was having to put up with nine flamboyant actors in her loft for six days.

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A mixture of moods

Unlike our last digs, where we had had a whole building to ourselves, in Barnstaple we had a whole room to ourselves. A loft, more accurately. Directly above the owners of said room. Now it speaks volumes of the nature and size of the house when I say that the loft was of such a size as to accurately comfortably fit all nine of us in. We all managed to find a place to lie down without overlapping limbs. And so we knew that we were lucky. However, nine twenty year olds in a single room in a stranger’s house is always going to create what can kindly be called friction.

But, in all and total honesty, we were fine. It was a cramped environment, and an odd one (reminiscent of childhood sleepover, only with more intrusive snoring), but we managed to get out of there without any arguments. Which speaks volumes.

(Also, the house had cats. Three cats. Three really cute, adorable cats. So that helped.)

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Best friends

Barnstaple Fringe is known as the Friendly Fringe. It’s easy to see why. On our first day, we went to a local café where several of the acts were presenting their shows, and we got to meet them afterwards and it was true; everyone was just so welcoming and happy for us to be there. This extended to everyone working in the Fringe, performing or not. Barnstaple isn’t a huge place, so an annual festival like this is so important, and proof of the good they can do for small towns.

 

Just some of the names performing were Witch by Circle of Spears, a three-person show based on historical accounts of accusations of witchcraft; Nature Knows Best by TicTac Theatre, about the relationship between humans and the natural world, and Square by The Monday Collective, a show asking the question: what sort of a shape is a square, really? Theatre tackling society’s most thorny issues.

 

Wood was performing atop a castle mound. A small, wooded hill whereupon one had to follow a winding series of steps to reach its flat, grassy top. We remarked how it would be perfect for a Midsummer Night’s Dream performance. Or indeed, a semi-immersive show about camping. It truly was a most magnificent spot.

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Better company than the cast 

However, it took us a little longer than expected to actually perform there. Heavy rain and wind forced us indoors on our opening night, but we were offered a space in the indoor market, bustling with commercial activity just a few hours earlier, now empty. It was a grand and long space, with Union flags hanging from the ceiling on both sides every foot for as long as the entire market. In such a space, our lines and shouts echoed with a chilling omnipresence. It certainly wasn’t the play’s intended space, but I think it worked.

 

The rest of the nights we performed atop the castle mound. On our final performance, the weather was actually sunny- after several days of ambivalent clouds and light rain.

group on castle mound
A Midsummer’s Performance

But it wasn’t all work. One night, we made a makeshift sofa in the loft and watched Hot Fuzz, a film that a few of the cast had never seen and, after Brexit and Trump White House, actually seemed ominously relevant and foretelling. (If that seems hyperbolic, it’s because it is. But still, watch the film again. It’s a different film now.)

 

Another night we patronised Barnstaple’s only club Fever & Boutique, which Oli lovingly referred to as “Fever Booty”, usually in a caressing whisper. I don’t want to say that Barnstaple is small, but I recognised a few of the people in there.

 

Barnstaple is not the most exciting town, but it is probably the friendliest we’ve been to. Its people, not just from the Fringe, were happy we were there. They were engaging and interested, and took the time to discuss the show with us when we flyered on the street. We left, thinking that the castle mound was probably the most apt location we’ve performed in thus far, and how much small towns, much like the one I and several other cast members come from, benefit from amateur theatre.

 

(Even those with the line “I want you inside me” in them.)