The Dell, RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon!

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ELART top left - directly under RSC logo!

ELART top left – directly under RSC logo!

It’s been a very exciting weekend, with yesterday – our day in The Dell –  amazingly exceeding expectations (and my expectations had been high!). The weather was incredibly kind, and the audiences for both shows were large and appreciative.

There were many highlights and simply watching the cast perform with skill and energy, clearly charming and engaging the crowd, was a fantastic experience – one of my very best theatre experiences ever. I could hardly believe where we were – performing Shakespeare in Stratford under the auspices of the RSC. Wow!

Neither show ran without a hitch (when do they ever?!); indeed, a handful of lines were dropped (no prompting, just very quick recoveries); one witch’s speech was inadvertently cut; and the chorus boy actor’s balloon boobs blew away in the second show (don’t ask!). But none of these things affected the way the shows came across and the lovely, helpful and friendly RSC team told us audience feedback was great. Several audience members went out of their way to tell us themselves – a couple as we were sunning ourselves in the beer garden with our post-show pints!  A number of them also asked about our crowdfunding (link – just in case anyone hasn’t seen it: http://www.sponsume.com/project/elart-productions) and clearly would like to support our future work. It felt great to make new friends!

Another highlight, though, was the support of old friends – ELART regulars: my mum and cousin travelled to see the show as did some family members of  some of the actors, and I had a lovely surprise when a school friend of mine suddenly appeared in The Dell before the second show; I had had no idea she intended to be there!

Additionally, I (and I’m sure my cast) learned an enormous amount from the experience. I’m not particularly experienced with outdoor theatre, and certainly getting into a brand new outdoor space less than 2 hours before a show is a challenge to say the least. It was a real privilege to learn  in such a wonderful setting.

Finally for now, thank you so much to any of my cast who read this: I’ve loved working with you and look forward to doing so again. I hope all the other companies performing in Stratford this summer have as good a time as we did, and I will certainly be applying to The Dell again in the future…

Whew!

elaru xx

 

 

All the World’s A Stage (again!)

Hello again.

It’s been a busy few weeks! As well as casting “Iphigenia” for the Rose Company a week last Monday (a very exciting prospect for late June, early July and beyond), ELART Productions is also slowly, but surely getting ready to perform at The Dell in Stratford on Saturday June 8th and we are all really looking forward to the experience. It’s getting scarily close now! (I’m desperately trying to stop myself looking at long-range weather forecasts; one of my grandmothers is addicted to weather news, so I’m even trying not to listen to her too closely when the subject of the weather comes up in conversation!)

It’s been great fun re-visiting the show. We performed it – not quite in this form or with quite this company – a couple of years ago and it was well-received by audiences, so it’s lovely to have a reason to play with it again. As I mentioned last post, the thinking behind it at the very start, was to devise an accessible and entertaining show that would appeal to young and old, while trying to see what it must have been like in Shakespeare’s day when women weren’t allowed on the professional stage. The comedy scenes have usually worked quite easily (well, as easily as anything ever does in a rehearsal room…), and, indeed, in the few rehearsals we’ve had to date, that has again been the case: Pyramus and Thisbe is a real romp; the 3 witches (not always played for laughs, I realise) are hilariously manic; even Cleopatra’s temper tantrum is humorously – and deliberately – OTT.

The scenes that most interest me as a director this time round, though, are some of the more serious ones. For example:
Will Portia convince as she manipulates the courtroom (admittedly dressed as a male-lawyer)?
Will the audience be on Juliet’s side as Lord Capulet rages at her for refusing to marry Paris?

Only time will tell – but (as our rehearsal photos below hopefully show) we are working hard to make these scenes as compelling, interesting and real as we can, so that our audience can experience a fully varied and entertaining ride through some of the famous Shakespearian scenes.
We hope we succeed!

Shylock., Portia and The Duke

Shylock., Portia and The Duke

Clarence trying to persuade the 2 Murderers

Clarence trying to persuade the 2 Murderers

The Mechanicals

The Mechanicals

Capulet and Juliet

Capulet and Juliet

More soon…
elaru xx

The Rose Company

Just a quick blog post to introduce a new venture: The Rose Company, a newly-formed all-female theatre company, of which I am a founder member – one of four.

We already have a project – Iphigenia by Lady Jane Lumley, not only the first known dramatic work by a woman in English, but also the first known translation of the Greek into English. What a great play for a group of female creatives to begin with! I’ve read and re-read it several times so far and am delighted with the immediacy of the story-telling and how “modern” it somehow feels; many lines cut through time, making a strikingly powerful impact. I can’t wait to hear how they sound when performed.

We also have a date and a venue – the Minghella Theatre at Reading University on July 9th, as part of an academic conference. (I’m a little scared about how knowledgeable our audience will be, but we can only do our best!)

Now the real advert bit: although I will detail some Rose Company activity and progress in this blog, most of the information can be found at http://therosecompany.posthaven.com/ and we can be followed on twitter at @therosecompany.

As usual, at the start of a project, I’m itching to get going! (And there is also going to be some very exciting ELART Productions news soon too – I’m just waiting for some final details. Watch this space…)

elaru xx

My Theatre Matters – So Does Yours!

Earlier today I signed up to the #mytheatrematters campaign: http://www.mytheatrematters.com/

Why? Because I believe my theatre matters. And yours. And I believe our country would be immeasurably poorer (in every sense) without them.

My local theatre, as well as the city of Lancaster, serves a wide-spread rural community in a network of small towns and villages. It has a high quality and varied programme of live productions – classics, new writing, pantomime, live music, stand-up comedy, children’s shows, touring shows; it screens a wide range of films; it hosts and produces exhibitions and talks; it houses a cafe and bar; it supports new and emerging artists; it has a thriving youth theatre. Its audiences are good and demographically diverse and it aims to encourage this still further through schemes such as a Young People’s Pass. It undoubtedly adds to the local community’s life.

It should never have to justify its existence or fight for its survival. Nor should any of the great producing theatres in this country.

For a wider discussion of the role of theatre and culture in our society, please read my previous blog “My Case For Culture”, which was inspired by The Guardian’s Case For Culture: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/interactive/2012/dec/07/case-for-culture-100-voices?fb=nativeby

I hope that you – like me – will support our theatres. They need us – and we need them!

elaru xx

My Case For Culture

The Guardian’s 100 Voices Case for Culture was published online yesterday. Here’s the link, in case you haven’t already seen it: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/interactive/2012/dec/07/case-for-culture-100-voices?fb=native

Reading through the hundred quotes, looking at almost a hundred faces all putting forward essentially the same message, was an exciting and humbling experience; I was very proud to be one of them and my mind has been buzzing ever since – buzzing with the question: why do I feel so strongly about this and why am I compelled to make a case for culture?

In the current economic climate, I know that some people may feel the country faces bigger problems than a shrinking of arts provision, that culture is a luxury we can ill-afford, but, while admitting that there are a range of major problems facing us, and acknowledging that some tough choices do need to be made, I still feel that a case must be made for culture; it is not a luxury but a necessity for a healthy and forward-thinking society.

I was brought up in a small village in the north of England. My mother was a single parent and we lived with my grandmother in her house. I don’t mention this to win sympathy votes – my childhood, while, perhaps, not ideal, was far from deprived; I mention it to refute the idea that culture is  merely for the rich, the elite. Money was not plentiful in my upbringing, but the arts were. In my village there was a thriving choir, which I joined at the age of 9, and a fantastic drama group. Both organizations were (and still are) full of talented, committed people and I found myself singing a wide range of music – ancient and modern – on a weekly basis, and performing in plays by  Ibsen, Shakespeare, Miller etc several times a year. Through these activities I grew in confidence, creativity, discipline; I learned to work as part of a team and made a range of life-long friendships with people of all ages and backgrounds. Eye-opening and mind-broadening trips to theatre, cinema and concerts were also a regular part of my teenage life. Mum took me to all the events my school offered, whether or not I was in them, and we often attended theatre in the nearby city and, occasionally, but memorably, took trips to Manchester and even London. I know mum made sacrifices for these trips, but they couldn’t have been more important to me.

So my childhood – and later life path – was moulded and shaped by culture and I believe my life is hugely richer for it. I also believe that everyone’s experience can be enriched by exposure to the arts in any form. To give just one example: as a freelance theatre practitioner, I spent two years working part time in a Young Offenders’ prison, teaching literacy and running some drama workshops. It would be untrue to say the workshops were always wholly successful – anyone who has worked in this kind of environment will know how challenging the individuals can be – but when they did work, they were fantastic: the drama activities and devising processes we used unlocked emotions and experiences that the Young Offenders rarely talked about or explored and I watched them visibly grow in confidence, relate more effectively to each other, value themselves a little more and gradually begin to trust one another – something this group of individuals often find very hard to do. I truly believe there are very few activities – if any – other than arts ones, which would have allowed this to happen.

I could go on and on and on… and may do in a later post – perhaps in a more useful and systematic way than this personal rant. But for now, I want to finish with some of my favourite quotes from The Guardian’s interactive wall:

I value culture and the arts because…

“Without them, we are less. Less human. Less empathic. Less inspired. Less inventive. Less resourceful. Less fulfilled. Less creative. Less visionary. Less future-proof. Less socially aware. Less globally aware. Less economically viable. Without them we are less of a society.” Anita Holford, Freelance writer and comms practitioner Writing Services

“…This is all the more important at times of hardship and austerity – what one banker earns in a year would be enough to sustain hundreds of arts projects and livelihoods for artists.” Dorothy Ker, Lecturer, University of Sheffield

“The arts are essential to the formation of any culture; they are what define a culture. They are not negotiable, they are irreplaceable.” Jeremy Holloway, Director
Transient Theatre Ltd

“How dare we make drastic decisions that affect young people and kids who will never be able to undo the damage being done? Cuts might need to be made but they shouldn’t be rushed or dramatic. Implementing fees will only discourage those who can’t afford to go, adding fuel to the fire that culture is for the elite.” Mar Dixon, Audience development consultant

“Cutting art funds is going backwards as a civilised society.” Nicholas Smyrnios, Visual artist and designer

I hope you agree!

elaru xx

A Review – Part 2

Today is a significant day. It is the first day in over twelve months that I haven’t had a production to think about – and don’t know exactly what my next project will be. It feels nice to relax -fun and rewarding as theatre is, it is also highly challenging and stressful – and a short break will give me chance to decide exactly what I want to do next. The emphasis is on short, though – I have lots of ideas and several applications in and imminent, so will be itching to get going on new projects and productions very soon.

So, it’s a good time to review. The easiest way is through pictures of the main productions which have happened in 2012. It means missing out the various workshops – one of which was mentioned in A Review- Part 1; the reading of a verbatim text devised by a local writer, which happened at The Dukes with a range of theatre professionals – a gathering which focussed on a new actor-centred approach to new writing which is being piloted in various places; the fun I had leading the audience around a castle for a local theatre company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing; the Litfest Mystery Launch – it was such a hectic time (detailed in earlier blog posts) that I didn’t have time to arrange – or take – photographs; and the recording of All The World’s A Stage for an Australian online festival  (though a link to part of that recording can be found at www.vimeo.com/channels/elartproductions ). Despite the omissions, though, I hope it gives a real flavour of what 2012 has been about.

Things started properly early in March, when The Dukes flatteringly asked me to revive All The World’s A Stage as part of a city-wide Shakespeare Festival. A couple of the original actors were unavailable, so we took the opportunity to adapt and revise, culminating in The Play’s The Thing! which was performed at The Ashton Memorial.

The acoustics in the building were very strange, but some wonderful effects were achieved by using the stairs. With playing and hard rehearsal, we finally cracked the overall acoustic too.

As an all-male cast, one of the real challenges of The Play’s The Thing was producing serious scenes involving female characters. This scene – Lord Capulet berating Juliet – worked beautifully.

The whole cast made me laugh in Pyramus and Thisbe. This is a tiny moment when Pyramus and Thisbe whisper through Wall’s chink.

The amazing venue of The Play’s The Thing from the outside.

The Play’s The Thing! was swiftly followed by The Vigil, a community production in a lovely village church. The Vigil by Ladislas Fodor re-tells the Christian Easter story as a courtroom drama, with the gardener on trial for snatching the body of Jesus. The production was moving and hugely enjoyable and it played to extremely receptive audiences. For various reasons, I found myself acting and directing, something I greatly prefer to avoid, but in this case it seemed to work out satisfactorily.

Rehearsing The Vigil by Ladislas Fodor in a lovely village church was a joy. It was amazing how well the church suited the courtroom set and the pulpit was a fantastic dock.

Using some of the church features suited the message of The Vigil very well.

Next came The Crucible (detailed heavily earlier in this blog). I loved this production so much, that I’m going to indulge myself with a number of photos – tirelessly taken at rehearsals by a friend and member of the cast.

An early rehearsal – April 2012- for June’s The Crucible.

Working with such a talented and committed cast between April and June 2012 was a real highlight of the year. Explosive moments, such as the one pictured in rehearsal here between Proctor and Abigail made the production very special.

Rehearsing Act 1 in a different rehearsal room. May 2012.

Working hard in the priory cafeteria!

Some of the fabulous girls – and the equally fabulous Proctor!

Placing Danforth in the pulpit worked well, allowing him to dominate proceedings in Act 3.

Pre-dress rehearsal (minus long socks for the men!)

The whole priory in use as the court springs to life in Act 3.

There were challenges in using the priory space, but also some wonderful bonuses, such as this fantastic shaft of light illuminating Abigail as she is confronted by Hale.

The whole cast and crew – a fantastic group of people!

A quieter summer followed, and then in autumn things got going again. The next production with photographs had the largest cast of the year – two casts, in fact! It was a youth production of the opera Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten and alongside a core of teenagers, who played the lead roles, were two teams of over 30 primary age children, who played the animals at alternate performances. A good, if hectic, time was had by all!

The whole show was medieval in design and these wooden waves (handled by stage crew) worked beautifully in the storm sequence.

At the end, as well as a wooden rainbow, sun and moon, the children moved into colour groups according to the colour T-shirt they were wearing, and became the rainbow themselves.

And finally, we come to last night’s Theatre Uncut show, which seemed to be a great success. The audience was certainly appreciative, and the seven shows fitted together very well, with only minimal scene shifting needed. This allowed the evening to flow and really gather momentum in a satisfactory way.

Ama and Lou in prison.

A disagreement.

An intimate moment of persuasion – one of my favourite parts.

And there it is. 2012. A huge thank you to anyone who has been involved in any way at all – and to all who have supported the shows. All ideas for future projects gratefully recieved; all considered.

2013 – Bring it on!

elaru xx

A Review – Part 1

A review – something that strikes fear into the heart of any director (well, probably). I have had some great reviews for my productions over the years –  and one or two terrible ones – but I can honestly say, despite respecting critics and their opinions, that by far the most important reviews of my work for me are the informal ones from audience members, cast and crew – and the reviews I give myself constantly through the process and in retrospect, when the dust has settled; I aim to be my own biggest critic and , hopefully, achieve that as often as I can…

Anyway, this is my review of 2012, part 1. Why review now? Well, it struck me this morning that tonight is (probably) my final show of 2012. It’s a 9 minute two-hander for Theatre Uncut – very simply directed to fit in with six other plays on one bill and I’ll be spending most of the afternoon at DT3 at The Dukes working out the technicalities and how to swap from one play to another etc. It should be fun!

It also struck me that I’ve done a lot of shows this year – in a large number of venues: two spaces in the Dukes Theatre, two churches, the Ashton Memorial and others… – and it would be good to reflect on them.

A Review Part 1, then, will be a series of photos to give a flavour of the year, and Part 2 (hopefully tomorrow) will include more detailed reflection and some more pics. Hope you enjoy them….

 

 

 The Play’s the Thing! Actors rehearsing in the Ashton Memorial. March 2012.

Rehearsals for The Vigil in Warton Church – including me acting (not a pretty sight!). March 2012.

A one-day young people’s drama workshop for a Morecambe sea wildlife organization – complete with full size replica basking shark. Huge fun! April 2012.

Dress Rehearsal for The Crucible – showing the great use we were able to make of the fabulous Priory space. June 2012.

This was the presentation of the Litfest Mystery Launch theme 48 hours before the event. How self-conscious was I having this photo taken…! October 2012.

Dress Rehearsal of large youth production in Lancaster Priory – exhausting, but fun! October 2012.

Rehearsals earlier this week for show tonight! November 2012.

Whew! A few workshops etc missing, but the above represent 2012’s main events. It’s been a really busy, fun year. Thanks to all who have been involved in any way at all.

Off to the theatre for tech now….

elaru xx

The Secret Library

What a strange experience this has been! On Monday at 6pm I met Andy the Litfest Artistic Director and a photographer from the local paper for the hand-over of the Mystery Launch theme. (I dread to think what the photo will look like – I had rushed to the meeting from the railway station and found myself posing by a headless statue just outside the priory…)

The theme was “The Secret Library”, which (after a quick Google to check I wasn’t missing anything specific) proved to be nice and broad. Between the hand-over and mid-afternoon Tuesday, a huge number of emails, phone calls, texts and tweets were exchanged between potential performers and me  and gradually a structure began to emerge – in my head at least – for the show. An hour’s meeting/rehearsal followed, where performance material was given out and where I talked way too much in an attempt to explain what I hoped would happen. My group of performers  left, slightly bewildered, I think, but still wonderfully willing!

And then there was Wednesday.

Wednesday included an interview on local radio (which I did in a complete blur), a manic shopping trip to spend the £33 budget on appropriate items, and a three and a half hour rehearsal in the theatre, complete with lighting technician and stage manager. Good will abounded and I think – hope – everyone had fun. Somehow, we walked through and then ran a complete hour’s show – with singers joining for the final hour of rehearsal to add some finishing touches. There were still sections we couldn’t fully rehearse – namely the two brief “interactive” segments  -where we hoped members of the audience would come onto the stage to return books given to them as they entered the theatre – and the finale – on which most of the budget had been spent and  which was something we could only really run once fully. So, at 5.30pm, a nervous, but focussed, cast took a brief break before the show began.

At 6.00 an good-sized and expectant audience sat  in The Round theatre space and  we began. The audience were very supportive and seemed to like what they saw: 12 performers (plus 6 singers) were on stage throughout, reading books as if in a library,while 3 librarians patrolled the stage and audience, and the show itself comprised a series of different stories and poems, including romances, adventures and ghost stories, told, and read by different cast members and linked by appropriate songs. Because I had confidence in the high quality of my performers, I was able to relax and enjoy much of what happened – especially as I could sense (I think!) that the audience was on our side.

As the finale drew near, though, I began to get nervous – really for the first time that day (not because I’m over-confident, but because I’d been too busy to worry!). The finale, you see, as I mentioned earlier, was where I’d spent the majority of the budget and I suddenly started to worry that I’d been too flippant – or surreal – and that it would fall flat. The finale was to be a “firework display” – every good opening event needs one! – and so I had bought loads of shiny tinsel, confetti and balloons and hidden them in the balcony of The Round for the the three librarians to pop (balloons) and shower over the audience (shiny things) while the singing group sang a piece of classical music and the cast shared chocolates with the audience. It worked in my head, but everyone I’d mentioned it to over the 48 hours – including the cast and singers – had nodded at me sympathetically and looked away.

Thankfully, however, the audience got into the spirit and really seemed to get – and enjoy – it (maybe it was the chocolates!), so I breathed a huge sigh of relief and enjoyed it too.

Phew!

Reader, we did it! Perfectly? Of course not! But energetically and to the best of our ability given all the constraints.

An enormous thanks to any performers – and crew – who are reading this – I was really proud of you all.

Here’s to the next challenge…

elaru xx

A Mystery…

As I’m just about to start my next set of projects, I thought I’d resume blogging. Autumn is here and as well as wind and rain (so not much different from summer, then), it has brought with it a range of new challenges, including Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde (complete with cast of thousands – well nearly), some political theatre (for Theatre Uncut – very early stages with that) and a Mystery Launch Opening for Lancaster Litfest.

The Mystery Launch is the one that is mainly occupying my thoughts at the moment as it is the first event of all. It takes place at 6pm on October 17th at The Dukes Theatre (in The Round); it will involve quite a large number of performers (not certain how many as yet); it will involve music, story-telling, comedy and drama; it will last an hour; it will cost £33 exactly (that’s the budget, which reflects the number of years the Litfest has been running); it will be free entry for audience members, though they must book in advance; and, er… that’s all I know.

That’s all I know, and the event is in two and a half weeks.

This is because another name for the Mystery Launch Event is the Flax Challenge (Flax Publishers), and the challenge is that I only find out the theme for the event 48 hours before it is performed!

With this in mind, I’ve contacted performers to secure their good-will, time and talents, and I’ve been reading around Flax publications for potentially useful material, as well as thinking about how to feature the £33 budget. But that’s about all I can do.

In some ways this makes it one of the most relaxing run-ups to an event I’ve ever known – normally with this amount of time to go, life is chaotic to say the least – but in other ways, stress-levels are high…

…though probably nothing compared with the levels they’ll be on the 15th of October…!

Wish me luck!

elaru xx