The performance of ‘The Mysterious Case of the Missing Triangle’ took place on the morning of the 21st February 2017 at Culford Pre Prep school. Due to unforeseen circumstances we were sightly delayed in leaving to get to the school (due to the other group locking themselves out of their car) and therefore arrived slightly later than we would have hoped, consequently meaning we were slightly later starting our performance. This meant that we had to set up our performance space with the children already in the hall watching us get ready, which made us all feel quite rushed and under pressure and therefore were not as vigilant in making sure everything we needed was in the right places before starting as we didn’t want to keep the children waiting any longer as they would be likely to get restless and impatient.
Some of the cast members were not yet in costume as they were expecting the opportunity to get dressed and do their makeup on arrival, however due to the later start this was not doable and subsequently not everyone was able to perform in full costume and makeup. Luckily I had prepared myself in advance and had come to the performance venue already dressed in my costume – just in case something like this had happened. Obviously in retrospect if we were to perform our TIE show again we would ensure that all cast members arrive prepared to perform on arrival (fully costumed, full make up etc) as interestingly I believe this affected the quality of acting at the beginning of the run as everyone was still flustered and caught off guard. Another problem we encountered before even starting the performance was down to the fact Daytona arrived without a costume as she hadn’t checked that it had been packed with the others before leaving Conservatoire EAST. This tested our problem solving skills greatly as we were minutes before performing our show without a costume; thankfully I was able to think quickly and instructed her to simply wear her own big brown coat (which vaguely resembled the original coat her character wears) and told her to put her hair in lopsided bunches (as I felt it suggested the silly nature of her character). I personally felt quite proud of my fast thinking and how I managed to remain focused and positive rather than let the complications stress me out even more. In fact we received some really positive feedback from our director Erica after the performance saying that she actually thought it was an artistic choice to change Daytona’s costume last minute as she thought it suited the character more and by having the bunches instead of the hat it allowed the audience to see her facial expressions better as she didn’t have anything covering her eyes. Furthermore, the fact Josh didn’t have his moustache or full make up applied and Daytona had a completely different costume may have actually worked in our favour, as it made it look like the characters were in disguise on the ‘wanted’ posters. In hindsight I actually prefer this idea as it really does embrace the usual comedy aspect that so often appears in cartoons that feature baddies on ‘wanted’ posters, such as the character Ryder in Disney’s Tangled.
The actual performance started off slightly wobbly and unfocused due to all the complications and unexpected circumstances on arrival, however I feel that as we became more comfortable and had adjusted to the performance space and situation, the acting became less frantic and we found a more comfortable pace. I was slightly worried that the children might find Josh’s characterisation of The Evil Shape Collector too scary and loud and I recall subconsciously analysing the reactions of the children when Josh entered, however thankfully the children didn’t show any fear and instead really enjoyed Josh’s clumsy and brash character. Interestingly, Josh did appear to tone down his usual characterisation slightly on entrance – perhaps because he was subconsciously worried about getting a negative response from the children, as this is something we had been apprehensive about and flagged up during the rehearsal process. Although some may think of this as a negative (due to not holding the level of energy and intensity that had been present during rehearsal) however I think that this was a really professional thing to do as it showed Josh’s awareness of the audience he was performing to and also his confidence and versatility in adapting to suit the specific audience. Josh proved that he was able to engage with the children on lots of levels throughout the performance, for example by asking them questions regarding the properties of the shapes, but also ad-libbing in reaction to the children or action on stage. Although this showed Josh’s confidence on stage and his understanding on the style of theatre there were occasions where it seemed like he indulged in it a little to much and failed to read the signs of when it had gone too far, and he needed to reign them back in. Moreover, there were times where the questions he asked encouraged responses that ended up not working in our favour, for example by asking open ended questions or questions that excited the children too much and encouraged answers that would work against us as actors. For example, at one point Josh asked ‘who wants to be my best friend?’ to which the children got very excitable and responded by putting their hands up and calling out desperate to get picked, however this was obviously not something that Josh could carry through as it was midway through a scene. However, this is something that Josh acknowledged after the performance and noted that this was something he would have to be careful about when engaging with the audience in future performances, as it is important not to ask questions that you don’t want an answer to! I can understand that as an actor who is in that situation this is something you can often forget as you easily become so absorbed in the action and wanting to entertain the children as successfully as possible. One area that let Josh down was his ability to deliver the correct vocabulary and information when teaching the shape properties on some occasions, which is obviously one of the most important parts of the performance. I think because Josh learnt the information like a script rather than actually making sure he understood what he was teaching may have worked against him as it resulted in him being more likely to make mistakes if he messed up a line, however if he had taken the time to try and understand what he was teaching and learning it from that point of view, rather than just seeing the information as lines he had to memorise, he may have been more confident in rescuing himself and explaining it in his own way. This only happened on a minor scale during the performance (when describing the Sphere he didn’t use the correct terminology), but this had improved massively from the beginning of the rehearsal period, however if we were to perform this again this is something Josh could work on. Overall, Josh gave a superb performance on the day and particularly excelled when it came to interacting with the children and improvising moments to emphasis a joke or get a further reaction from the children. I also feel that the way in which he was able to adapt his characterisation at times to suit the younger audience and ensure we didn’t scare them showed how strong he was as an actor in our show.
Daytona came on leaps and bounds throughout the process and I think she improved even more when in front of the young audience as it allowed her to lose herself in the performance and not worry about what other people are thinking of her. She managed to embrace the silliness of the character and play off of the reactions of the children to enhance her characterisation even more. Although there were still moments were I felt she held back slightly in regards to how far she could have taken the character, I could tell how hard she had worked and could see a clear progression from the start of the process to the day of the performance. I was worried that Daytona’s scare of not having her costume may have thrown her, however she remained calm and composed and didn’t let it affect her performance which showed professionalism. Due to the lack of time to prep and set up before starting our performance the squares Daytona needed as a prop for one of the scenes were not there when she needed them and so she had to think on the spot yet again. Ultimately this should have been her responsibility to make sure she had put them somewhere where she could easily access them before starting, but this wasn’t done and so she had to go on stage without them. Luckily herself and Josh showed excellent initiative and team work to improvise a solution when on stage, and ended up counting and presenting the 6 squares by just reusing the same 2 squares and working out a system where Daytona would hold the square up and then drop it then pick up the next one and then repeat the process to give the illusion that there were in fact 6 squares on the floor. Although this was a mistake that Daytona could have avoided by being more organised, I feel that the manner in which she dealt with the situation was admirable. Another example of this adaptability and problem solving skills was shown when Josh and Daytona couldn’t find the sphere for the final scene and so had to think quickly to create a replacement, which they ended up creating by rolling up a pair of socks into a ball! In all honesty it is disappointing that the cast members were not organised enough to ensure they had everything they needed before starting, but nevertheless the way it was dealt with has to be viewed as a positive.
I was generally pleased with Leah’s performance on the day, as this was something we were all extremely hesitant about throughout the rehearsal process for a number of reasons. Leah naturally has very poor diction and has a tendency to slur her words considerably, meaning it is very difficult to decipher what she is saying. Most of Leah’s lines are essential to setting up the plot and explaining the key information, it was so important that she delivered her dialogue slowly and clearly so the children don’t miss out on vital parts of the plot. Although this was not perfect by the time of the performance it was clear that she had worked on this in her own time and improvements had been made. Nevertheless, there were several grammatical errors she made which I felt quite disappointing about as we had flagged the mistake to her on many occasions; the worst of which was when she used slang words such as ‘ain’t’ instead of ‘is not’, which not only does not suit the character of Granny at all, but also is giving the children a poor example of correct language. Regardless of this, Leah appeared confident in knowing her lines and didn’t make any mistakes when presenting the key mathematics information which was a relief. On another note, Leah’s characterisation when playing Granny and Mrs Dollysmith was very similar and wasn’t easy to distinguish between which she was playing at different points in the show. This caused some frustration amongst the rest of the cast, as we had dedicated a lot of time during the rehearsal process to help her find a voice for each of them and we had developed a stylised walk and accent for Mrs Dollysmith, however this didn’t appear in the performance and so there was no way to know that she was playing two separate characters, which could have been very confusing for the children in the audience.
Although Harry was solid and confident in his performance as a whole, I felt like he perhaps didn’t give as much to the characterisation as he would usually have done during the rehearsal process. This meant it was difficult to play off him and create the same bond between the characters as well as we had done in the past at time, resulting in the energy dropping slightly in some of the scenes between us (particularly in the opening scene). Admittedly this was probably simply down to Harry being ill on the day of the performance and thus unable to input as much energy as he would usually be able to. Nevertheless, Harry proved how dedicated he was to the project as a whole and how professional he was to turn up and invest as much as he could into the performance despite being extremely ill and in need of rest.
Personally I feel I gave the best performance I could have done, giving the circumstances and felt I took everything on board from rehearsals and feedback given to me throughout the process. One piece of feedback Erica gave me in the dress run was to go further with the enthusiasm and optimistic characterisation of Isabella, so that it would create a greater contrast to Sherlock when he begins to get tired and also create more impact when Isabella starts to give up later in the show. I feel I really took this on board and by the time of the performance I had managed to develop certain character traits that really worked for Isabella and made her appear slightly more caricatured and heightened like the other characters in the story. One example of this, is the way I put my hands on my hips when standing still (much like a superhero stance) and also introduced the cliche arm swing that is so often used in panto and cartoons when showing the enthusiasm of a character. I felt by introducing these actions I made the character much more cartoon like and more like stereotypical protagonist in the best sense of the word – meaning my character fit in with the heightened child like feel of the piece. One aspect of my performance that I was particularly happy and proud of was the way in which I interacted with the children and adapted the way I spoke to get on their level and way of thinking. I also made sure I physically got on their level, by crouching down and talking to them personally, as I felt it made the experience more personal and helped them connect to the characters better. I took everything on board that I had been told prior to the performance regarding how to successfully talk to child audiences, including the correct way to ask questions and how one should never dismiss an answer they give, but instead reword what they have said to help them find the correct answer, but always making sure its in a positive way and so they feel they have achieved it. I think I showed initiative and awareness particularly when Harry and I are supposed to walk round the back of the room after Mrs Dollysmith scene to give the illusion that we are on our journey to the castle, however as soon as we started going round the outside of the hall I realised that it was distracting lots of the children from what was taking place on stage, and so I made the executive decision to refrain from continuing to walk around the back of the children and instead I decided that it was best for us to stop moving as it was too distracting and made the choice to stop where we were at the side of the audience and drop out of character and become neutral by putting our heads down and not moving as it would show the children that we were no longer a focus point and that we were not part of the action. This was a skill that I had picked up when learning about Brechtian theatre and was also a technique that was used in our Production of Spring Awakening where the company was seated on stage throughout. This immediately worked and the children realised that they were not supposed to be watching us anymore, and that the action taking place on stage was far more interesting.
Performing to an actual audience of 5 year olds brought a whole range of new challenges to the company, meaning we had to adapt our performance to work around these. We always knew that it would be likely that elements of the script would have to be reworded or adapted slightly to work around the responses they might give us, however I don’t think any of us expected it to be as thoroughly as it ended up being. An example of this being in the scene where Sherlock and Isabella find the shapes on the floor and ask the audience if they saw what had happened and how the new shapes had gotten there. We had rehearsed this with the expectation that the children would tell us that the ESC came in and took the triangle and dropped the new shapes on the floor. However on asking one particular child, she ended up giving an extremely detailed answer that proceeded to preempt and explain the whole contents of the next few scenes and everything Harry and myself were about to talk about, meaning we had to improvise and rework the whole scene on the spot! I was quite proud of my fast thinking and my ability to adapt and embrace what had happened instead of letting it throw me of guard or risk seeming like I was ignoring or dismissing the girls answer. So instead of playing out the rest of the scene as scripted I engaged with the girl and reiterated what she had suggested by rewording what she had said and asking whether I had heard her right, and then asking Sherlock whether he thinks that might have happened too. This was one of the biggest challenges we encountered during the performance as it was something we could not have preempted or rehearsed for, therefore I was really proud of how myself and Harry handled it.
There were several technical errors which were probably not helped by the rushed start, however as a team we pulled our weight and worked together to ensure the scenes carried on regardless. One prime example of this was in the last scene where the radio broadcast wouldn’t play through the speakers as Josh couldn’t get onto my phone to press play as he had forgotten the password to get into it. I was on stage at this point and so I was unable to help redeem the problem by reminding him of the password however luckily Josh was able to improvise and recite a rough version the broadcast live. Harry, Leah and I were caught off guard when the broadcast didn’t come on when we said the cue line and were not sure what was happening to start with and so the stage was silent for a few seconds as we waited for it to come on, and I proceeded to improvise some extra dialogue to fill the silence while we waited for the situation to be solved (by saying lines such as ‘Granny shall we listen to the radio’ and ‘I wonder whats on the news’ etc) in the hope it might prompt a response from either Daytona or Josh backstage. Although it was shame this happened as it weakened the end of the performance and made it seem more amateur, there was nothing more we could do at the time to redeem this and the way we dealt with it showed good team work. In the future when using password protected devises such as personal mobile phones, we should ensure every member of the company knows the code or that the person in control of operating the device has the password written down somewhere that is easily accessible.
The response we got from our audience was really positive and I feel that we really hit the learning objectives and convey these to the children on a level they could understand as well as entertaining the teachers and adults in the room. On reflection, it would be interesting to see whether the response we received would be the same if we performed at a different school with a larger audience, and for this reason I would have loved to have had the opportunity to tour our production and compare the performances and the responses we got at each school.