With ‘Lobes’ going up on the 13th, 14th and 15th of March, so in just over a week. We had a quick chat to the organisation powerhouse that is BoxedIn’s executive producer Emily Hepher to discuss how she’s managed to bring this ambitious project together.
So you’ve worked as part of BoxedIn before on our production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, what do you enjoy most about being part of the team?
It’s such a great team to be a part of, and I love working together with such a lovely group of people. What I find the most inspiring is that every member of the BoxedIn team is dedicated to creating ambitious projects, and to pushing boundaries of what people think theatre is and can be. We have a small team of truly passionate people, and they have put their hearts and souls into making this show, and every show we produce, a reality.
You mentioned that we like to push the boundaries, how is this project different to ones you have worked on before?
As ‘Lobes’ is being performed in the medical school building, the space in which we’re working is definitely unique compared to other projects I’ve worked on. This also means that we’re trying to attract a more diverse audience, as performing in the medical building means we’re bringing theatre to a place where people would not normally experience it. This has been a challenge, but at the same time it’s also been very exciting!
So what would you say has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while working on ‘Lobes’?
Our biggest challenge was trying to find and secure a space that matched our vision. Because site-specific theatre is an integral part of BoxedIn’s ethos, we couldn’t just perform ‘Lobes’ in a normal theatre setting. We finally decided on the medical building, and we are so happy that we ended up getting exactly the environment we wanted.
On the flip side, what has been your favourite thing about working on ‘Lobes’?
My favourite thing about ‘Lobes’ has been bringing a fantastic piece of student writing to life, and seeing Henry’s work flourish. There are so many talented writers, directors, and actors in St Andrews, and so the team behind ‘Lobes’ is no exception. I can’t wait to see the finished product!
Why should people come and see this play?
Simply because ‘Lobes’ is such a unique and brilliant piece of theatre. This play tackles fascinating ideas about memory and reality, and I think the way it paints the relationship between our two characters is something really special.
Finally, if you could give us three words to describe ‘Lobes’ what would they be?
Lobes: lost in translation.
Thank you to Emily for taking the time out to answer our questions. We are very grateful for all her hardworking during this process, and are sure that it will all pay off in a very successful production! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to make sure you stay up-to-date with the rehearsal process, and head over to fixr to get your tickets now.
The National Theatre introduced live screenings of their productions in June 2009, an event which has prompted many a debate in the years that have followed. Our recent post about site specific theatre highlighted the importance of the location of a performance, and the controversy around live screenings centers on the fact that the performance is taken out of its context.
At BoxedIn we are also passionate about making theatre more accessible, and the live screenings certainly do that. Tickets for these performances are generally cheaper than most theatre tickets, as mentioned in our previous blog post, by moving the performance out of the traditional space of ‘the theatre’, people are less likely to be intimidated by the elitism which plagues the theatre when they go to see a screening in a cinema.
There are, however, negatives to the introduction of live screenings. One of the main concerns is less people will go to the actual theatres to see productions, and this is likely to affect smaller, local theatres rather than established theatres in big cities, consequently making live theatre less accessible. Another obvious negative of a live screening is that the audience member is not in the same room as the actor, the immediacy, intensity, and immersive nature of the emotions on stage is lost, as it’s something which cannot be transported through a camera lens. Thinking about the experience of an audience member in a theatre, live screenings may affect the quality of their viewing experience. As live screenings continue to blur the line between theatre and cinema, will theatre directors have to start to think about how the piece will look like on camera, rather than how an audience member will experience the show?
On Thursday, I went to see a live screening of the Young Vic’s production of ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ starring Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell, having already seen a performance in the Apollo Theatre earlier this year. Despite the mixed reviews this production has received, I loved it when I saw the show in July, and as a result was sceptical about whether I would find a live screening as enjoyable. The screening, however, did not disappoint. I was able to notice aspects of the performance which I had missed before, a particularly poignant moment being when Maggie (Sienna Miller) was looking at her own reflection. Through the zoom of the camera you were able to see all the emotions playing on her face. While the live screening style suited Miller’s performance, possibly due to her strong film background, it did not suit her on screen partner O’Connell. The first act the play almost seemed to be ‘the Maggie show’, the camera following Maggie as she had most of the dialogue. O’Connell brings such a powerful weight to the role, a weight that can only be described as energy, which is untranslatable, and non transportable, Brick’s silence cuts his camera time, and this cuts an integral part of the play. In the second act Brick’s power comes almost as a surprise to the audience. When watching a performance of the play in the Apollo this strength is not a surprise, it is palpable in the air from the very first second, juxtaposing Brick’s initial nakedness and setting up his enigmatic character. This is a problem with live screenings of theatre, you lose the immediacy of the action, and the intensity of emotions.
While we are excited about making theatre more accessible, we are also passionate about immersive and site-specific theatre, which relies on the importance of the audience’s surroundings. Lobes, our next production going up on the 13th, 14th, and 15th March, would lose an integral dimension if it could not be performed in the medical center, as this location adds another layer to the piece.
How we watch theatre is undoubtedly changing, as is every other aspect of our lives thanks to technological developments. This is not, however, necessarily a bad thing, as Lyn Gardner from The Guardian writes, ‘British theatre needs … both’ live theatre performances and live screenings. Screenings make theatre more accessible, but they should also in turn encourage people to get their bottoms in seat and attend live performances when possible.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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…
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 Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to make sure you stay up-to-date with the rehearsal process and when you can get your tickets!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
‘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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.”