I think I approached the whole project with enthusiasm and put a lot of effort into helping develop the show by contributing ideas throughout the process and offering my skills to help others as well as focusing on my own performance. While we came across some challenges and difficulties as a company along the way, I feel like we collectively solved these in a mature and professional manner and didn’t allow this to jeopardise the show.
At the beginning of the process a lot of us were initially concerned about the theme ‘saints and Sinners’ and worried that it might limit us and our options when brainstorming potential ideas. I was also lead to believe that we were restricted to a showcase style performance where separate pieces would be linked by a common theme but nothing more, as we were advised not to create a show from scratch or a duke box musical as it had caused a lot of complications when it was tried the year before. This disappointed me a great deal as I felt like we were capable of so much more than a simple review style show, like the year ones had done for their commission, and preferred the idea of the challenge and ambition required to pull off creating a show with a through narrative. It wasn’t just me who felt this way, and after coming out of a project where we independently devised and performed our own Theatre In Education shows from scratch, a review style show felt like a step backwards. Moreover, due to the vastness of the theme, the ideas that were put forward by the group were extremely varied in style and form and I wasn’t exactly sure how we would ideas as contrasting as Harry’s ‘Knights Templar’ Idea with Tom’s ‘Merrily’ ideas. On another note, I felt like everyone had interpreted the theme in such different ways, and while in respects this showed creativity and open minded thinking, lots of the ideas proposed seemed to be shoehorned into fitting the theme with the vaguest most tenuous link (an example of this being Chloe’s ‘Beauty and the Beast, Be our Guest’ medley idea.
I was generally pleased with the decisions that were made regarding the pieces that were picked to feature in the show and the decision for the show to be fit around the ‘Saints and Sinners’ club idea as I felt it gave us a backdrop that offered plausible diversity for all these pieces to take place. I was also really happy that several of my ideas had been successful, especially ‘Rebel’ as I felt it was so perfect for the show and offered great opportunity to show actor musician skills; however unfortunately this is not something we were in a position to include to the scale we first anticipated – having to settle for just having the Piano and Guitar accompanying us. I was initially worried about how we would link in the less naturalistic scenes such as my Queen Katherine Monologue and Hannah’s St Joan Monologue as the lanaguage used were so archaic and may seem out of place alongside the rest of the content. This is one of the reasons I put forward the idea of it being a Cabaret club rather than a night club, and I’m so pleased the rest of the company were onboard with the concept, as I felt it would give us a more freedom in how we presented the pieces and to feature some of the less naturalistic ones in a non diegetic way, as performances in the club. It also gave us the opportunity of incorporating the immersive preamble and explore staging ideas such as the small table at the front if the racked seating to help the audience feel part of the club scene.
On receiving the first draft of the running order (which listed the proposed ideas that had made it into the show) it became apparent to me that there were several ideas that were completely new and hadn’t actually been proposed by any of the students during the presentations. We were later informed that it came to the tutors attention that there was not a balance between saint pieces and sinner pieces proposed in the presentations; as naturally there are far more songs and scenes about Sinners available as it makes more exciting drama. Therefore, Lynn and Erica brainstormed and seeked help from their friends and acquaintances to see if they had any more ideas of performances pieces that explore saintly charcaters. I think some members of the company were a little resentful and opposed to this at first, as they felt like their ideas were just being discarded and replaced with the tutors own ideas; however when the reasons for this were explained I think it made it easier for them to see the bigger picture and get on board.
One thing I did find difficult was creating the charcater of Rose, so that her narrative and backstory fitted into all the pieces she featured in, while still making sense and corresponding with the narratives and backstories created for the other charcaters she interacts with during the show. The hardest part to get my head around was how I could logically get round the idea of being the same character who performs the Shakespearean monologue ‘Queen Katherine’ (where a woman is talking to her husband) and ‘Come to a party’ (where a girl is being asked out on a date for a bet). In my head it made no sense that my charcater was married, yet she was still being asked out on a date and accepting this offer. In addition to this it seemed strange that Harry’s charcater (Roses husband) would be flaunting the girl he is having an affair with in public and in front of Rose. Lynn suggested that these could be two separate charcaters however I was adamant of making it work as one through narrative and keeping the same charcater throughout. In the end I met with Harry and Lou (as their charcaters backstories would also be affected) and later had a meeting with Tom, so that we could discuss possibilities and ways of making this work. It was through these regular discussions we managed to create a storylines that worked for us all – coming to the conclusion that Ed and Rose’s marriage would be pretty much over, however not yet finalised as they haven’t had a divorce, and this is the reason Rose later accepts to go on a date with George. Another challenge was rationalising why Rose would accept to go on a date with another posh boy when she spends the entire show complaining about them, which we later decided was her way of getting back at Ed for being unfaithful to her. I feel that having discussions such as these helped us create more well rounded and realistic charcaters rather than just fabricated ideas.
I personally feel the script writing was left relatively until the last minute, which caused unnecessary stress around learning lines and also didn’t give us actors enough time to develop our characters in the link scenes to the same extent as in our set pieces. When we started the project I told myself I would try and take more of a back seat when it came to writing the script and devising the storyline, as I feared that people might view me as dictating the project or taking control or ownership over it. Especially after the TIE show where I put massive amounts of efforts in coming up with the concept and characters and writing the script pretty much independently despite welcoming contributions and collaborative writing; only for the company to later complain about not having the opportunity to contribute. Therefore I made an effort to sit back and give other people an opportunity to volunteer for the position (despite knowing that script writing and devising is a skill of mine); however, as we got further into the process and no progress was being made I decided to step in and offer to help Jack and Sophia (and later Emma) with building the script – starting with me checking drafts of what they had written and editing and rewording lines to make better sense or sit the characters better, and then going on to offer helping out by writing extracts of dialogue and link scenes to piece between the acts. As time went on, I began to take a more prominent role in devising and writing the script, as I noticed that lots of the characters backstories didn’t make sense in connection with other characters in the show and explained that we would have to adapt these in order for the narrative to make sense, and consequently parts of the scenes they had written would need to be edited or rewritten. From this point onwards I seemed to become the driving force behind the script writing team and took it upon myself to correspond with the actors who’s characters storylines or scenes needed to be changed slightly to fit in with the rest of the show and worked with them to come to a decision, by proposing alternative ideas and solutions, then writing the scenes myself and eventually running whatever I had written by them to make sure they were happy with what I had devised. Although to start with I was quite uncertain about taking on such a prominent leadership role again, I knew that on this occasion I needed to rise to the occasion for the best interest of the company, if we were to make any progress and successfully achieve what we had set out to do. In the end I somehow ended up coordinating the entire script, collecting the extracts of scenes and songs each person performed in and inserting these into the framework, and if there wasn’t yet a short scene devised to link the pieces I would message those involved and collect information on their characters and their situation and write the scene myself – before adding this to the script too!
A similar example of me taking on a role that wasn’t otherwise my responsibility was the writing and devising of the melodrama.Initially I was only supposed to be involved in the melodrama group discussion so that I could provide information on my character Rose (as James would be impersonating Rose as part of the sketch) however no one in the actual piece was actually making any effort to start writing the script or contributing any ideas towards it. I checked up on their progress regularly and asked how they were planning on going about devising it – whether it would be a group collaborative process or whether someone was willing to take on the responsibility – however everyone in the group seemed very reluctant to do so. Daytona asked if I would help her write it, which I was willing to do, however Lou commented on this saying that it would be better if someone in the sketch took on the role, as I was already taking on a lot of work. For this reason, I stepped back and willingly encouraged Daytona and Leah to try and write the script themselves and offered to proof read it and add suggestions if needed. When it came to me collecting up the individual pieces that feature in the show to add to the script, it became clear to me that the melodrama was incomplete and didn’t actually make any sense in regards to the actual story line of the characters as they had confused several of the plot lines up, therefore as the deadline was fast approaching, and because I already had the job of writing the link scenes that lead up to and come after the sketch, I made the executive decision to rewrite the melodrama with the help of Emma Croft (who was also involved in the scene). Of course we ran this by the people involved in the melodrama, and they seemed both relieved and happy to no longer have this responsibility. In hindsight (although I hate to say it) I expected something like this to happen as the group of people involved weren’t exactly the most proactive or independent learners, and while it was slightly frustrating (especially as it was so last minute) it did mean that I could ensure the end product was of a good quality and included all the elements of the melodrama we had first proposed.
An area I feel the whole company demonstrated their professionalism and maturity was the way in which we dealt with all the changes that had to made at the last minute; factors such as these could have thrown us or encouraged conflict and tension between the company, however no one showed this, and instead everyone raised their game and did all the could to rectify the situation. The first major last minute problem we were faced with was the fact a member of the company had to be pulled from the show last minute, for various circumstances, which although was in the best interest of the entire company, it still meant that the roles she was playing had to be recast and learnt at a very rapid speed by someone. Thankfully Sophia and Lou, who had been reading in the parts already in rehearsals, felt they would be able and willing to take on the roles as the already knew the blocking and vaguely knew the lines already. Nevertheless, the next complication we had to deal with as a company was slightly more stressful as it occurred on the day of our tech run, leaving us barely anytime to come up with a solution. Unfortunately, the previous night there had been a terrorist attack in Manchester where many young children were killed or seriously injured. After holding a meeting the morning after the attack, we decided it would be inconsiderate and extremely inappropriate to perform the ‘talking to terrorists’ scene in our show, as not only was it simply too close to Manchester attack to perform a piece involving terrorism, but because the lead character talks about how he feels no remorse or guilt for what he had done, which is risky enough to perform without these awful circumstances. We also feared that it might look like we had included the piece because of the attack, rather than it just being an unfortunate coincidence – therefore we came to the conclusion that it would be best to remove the piece completely. I thought this decision would cause a lot more stress and panic amongst the company than it did, however everyone remained calm, showing their compassion and humanity, and prioritised this over how it might affect our final show – which is something I feel extremely proud of. I felt for Lou, as she had already been put under pressure to learn ‘talking to terrorist’ in time, as this was the piece she was stepping in as Daytona for, and now had to learn something completely new! Nevertheless, Scott’s suggestion of using Ronan Atkinson’s ‘Welcome to Hell’ comedy sketch was absolutely perfect and although it was performed as one of the Cabaret acts, it captured the whole concept of the club being a form of purgatory in a subtle way, as well as showing off Lou and James’ comedy skills.
One of the things I found the most difficult about the whole process was having to work alongside people of mixed ability and experience, as the pace of rehearsals were a lot slower than I am used to and not all members of the cast were able to perform what was directed to the level I had envisioned. As a perfectionist I find it extremely difficult when things don’t live up to my expectations and I find myself getting easily frustrated and worked up as a result of this. I know this is something I have to learn to overcome as any negativity could affect the relationship and energy amongst the company and result in affecting the end result. I can already see an improvement in the way I deal with situations like this, as in the past I would have let this frustration and annoyance overwhelm me and dictate the effort and enthusiasm I put into the project, however I feel that I have been able to show more maturity and compassion during this project than in the past. There is no denying that I felt frustrated and got upset at times, however I let myself feel the emotion and acknowledge the reasons for it and then take a deep breath and remind myself of the circumstances and how this is an assessed piece where everyone needs the opportunity to show what they can do. Therefore I made the conscious effort to reevaluate my priorities and instead of focusing on the negatives I decided to use my experience to support the other performers in reaching their potential. The best example I can give of this was the manner in which I coped working on the number ‘Bring on the Men’; as mentioned in my rehearsal logs and reflections, I found it really difficult singing alongside Emma (who wasn’t the most experienced singer and struggled with pitching a lot) and I initially felt that I was being held back and wasn’t able to show my ability as a singer. Although I felt I was patient and considerate most of the time, when the change was made on the day of the first performance to cut out solo verses and instead sing in unison throughout, I let this frustration and annoyance overwhelm me and I ended up being reduced to tears. This wasn’t because I wanted a reaction or wanted the director to change her mind – as I could clearly see her reasoning behind her decision – however I couldn’t help expressing my upset when thinking about how it might affect my own performance. Nevertheless, I quickly pulled myself together and reminded myself that acting is all about teamwork and supporting each other, and in order for us to produce a good performance all round I needed to help the other actors involved reach their best potential too, and if that meant singing with Emma and not getting to sing solo, I would do all I could to support her for the best interest of the show!
Although at the time I was still slightly disappointed, looking back on it in retrospect I’m really pleased it happened as it pushed me in challenging my perfectionism and my need for everything to be perfect, as well as teaching me the necessity and importance of working as a company and making compromises in order to help others reach their own potential.
I was slightly concerned that the whole concept of the club being a metaphor for purgatory not being obvious to the audience, and while I assured myself that this wasn’t necessarily essential as we wanted it to be portrayed in a subtle way, nevertheless from the audience feedback it seems that the audience were well on board with the concept, which I think was definitely credit to the St Jimmy speeches which allowed Jack to directly connect to the audience.