Practice makes Perfect!

To see our Rehearsal Video Diaries, visit the Our Work page of the blog.

Monday 5th September 2016
With a bonus performance of Base Layer on Saturday, this was the first rehearsal day after the summer holidays. During the day, Lucy and I popped in to Beaumont to pick up the rostra for the set and then met the cast and crew at the Abbey Theatre at 6pm.

Tina, the Theatre Manager at the Abbey, was there to welcome us and sort us out in the space. I had a small discussion with Paul who was helping us out with the technical side of things, and then promptly passed over that conversation to Alex and Joe on the lighting team. The boys then worked very hard with Paul all evening sorting us out with lighting angles etc – in fact they were “the most productive we have been… ever!” according to Joe. So we really appreciate the team we have got there.

As soon as the actors had all arrived, we set to work adjusting the performance for the new configuration. It was lovely to see everyone again and pick up where we left off. There were several giggling fits as we tried to remember how everything had fitted together before. I was very impressed with how everyone had remembered their lines, but fitting that in with the chair duets at the beginning of the piece proved a little challenging! It was a great first rehearsal and we pretty much covered half the piece in the three hours that we had in the space.

Friday 5

Original rehearsals for the opening sequence

Tuesday 6th September 2016
24 hours later, we were back in the studio rehearsing again. Having made it to the half way point (ish) the day before, we spent the rehearsal going over the second half of the performance. Some of the movement sequences took some time to adjust to the new space – having the audience in an L configuration is very different from the spaces we have performed in so far and it makes sight lines a little trickier. Lots of things happen on the diagonal now, and we’ve had to be careful to make sure we still use the whole space.

When we reached the end of the piece, we then went through our ‘chair choreography’. When not on stage the actors sit on chairs within the audience to create a stronger connection between them, so for 8 actors we have 8 spare chairs in the audience. We had to work our way through each person’s journey on stage and work out which chair they needed to be sat in at which point. This actually proved easier than when we were doing the same thing for the Beaumont performance in July because most people have the same chair for the whole production. Now, we have just one more rehearsal which will mostly be focused on the technical side of things before show day on Saturday.

pathways

Plotting walkways for the new space

Our performance day (10th September 2016) is also World Suicide Prevention Day, so we hope that you will be able to help us raise awareness by attending the performance – given that our work is centred around youth mental health difficulties. Tickets are available on the Abbey Theatre’s website and all the money raised will be donated to Young Minds. we hope to see you there.

 

Stars Can’t Shine Without Darkness

I am a very different person to the girl I was this time last year. In just under a month I will be heading off for my first year of university, and I am 100% sure that I am more prepared than I was 12 months ago. This year, having taken a step out of the education system for a while, I feel like I’ve grown up so much!

Until last September, my entire world was focused around school and the work I was doing there. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been if I had wanted an easier ride, but at the time it felt like all I needed was within that environment. When I left, it felt like everything had fallen apart – I didn’t have a centre anymore. Having struggled with the anticipation of this for over a year, when it actually happened my mental health suffered in a brand new way. But this lead me to something very important; a life lesson that I needed to learn.

It came from a youtube video that I saw in late September. Hazel Hayes is a vlogger and short film maker on the internet, and for the last 18 months she has been documenting her life in a series called Time Of The Month. Each month she films short sections of her life and edits them together beautifully into a half an hour episode, letting her audience know what she is up to and allowing hersef to reflect on the month that has just passed. At the end of these episodes, Hazel sets out themes and emotions that have been prominent through living the month and editing the footage and this section always, always makes me cry! I find myself relating to her story and her life so intensely every time, all the while trying to remind myself that I don’t personally know this woman (however cool I think she is!)

This is by far my favourite series on youtube at the moment and I look forward to seeing it every single month. One of the most impressive things is how authentic and honest Hazel is in sharing her life with hundreds of thousands of people. Sadly, in July 2015 Hazel experienced the end of a relationship and (luckily for me) she decided to share this experience with the world. The episode entitled August 2015 (the second after this change in her life) was published on 7th October 2015 with absolute perfect timing. I couldn’t articulate what I was feeling about leaving school and how much life had changed even though I thought I wasn’t ready for it. But then I saw this and Hazel said the words that I couldn’t find; she was describing what I was experiencing, so that I started to understand my own emotions. Everything that I want to say is in the video below, so instead of typing out word for word what Hazel says, I thought you could just watch the section at the end of this video.

Grief. That’s what it was. I was grieving. But it wasn’t for a person or a physical thing, I was grieving the life I used to know. That girl who went to school and sat in those classrooms and performed on that stage was gone and it didn’t feel like there was anything else to go to. I didn’t know what I wanted because I just missed it. I needed to give myself time to grieve that life before I could enjoy this new one.

Hands down this was the most important thing I realised this year, because then I could start make it better. I’d always thought (perhaps quite naively) that grief was only about losing someone, I’d never thought about it in any other context so I couldn’t articulate it. But once I understood those feelings, I could start to move passed it. My mental health began to improve and I started to get on with life in the real world.

It now feels like this was the lesson that sent me on the journey to adulthood. This is all sounding very cheesy, but genuinely crying at the seven minutes at the end of this video was the first step on that ladder. So, if you ever happen to read this Hazel: Thank you so much for sharing what you felt because I’m sure that I am not the only person who was helped by your words.

This video also gave me a big leap towards the piece that became Base Layer (our devised piece of theatre aiming to reduce the stereotypes surrounding youth mental illness that we performed in July) because I thought that if I had been helped by someone sharing their thoughts and feelings, perhaps my journey could help someone else. There is a recording of our performance of Base Layer here or you can buy tickets for the final performance on 10/09 here

Grief is a natural human emotion that occurs way more often than we let ourselves think. It’s OK to feel loss and sadness when something changes in your world (no matter how small you might think it is) and the best thing you can do is to acknowledge that and let yourself grieve. Something will eventually make you so happy you could burst again, but that wouldn’t be the same if you hadn’t had the sadness. It’s a very hard thing to remind yourself when the chips are down, but Stars can’t shine without darkness.

Stars can't shine

Post Show Blues

Although Base Layer is not completely over (details in our recent post ‘Base Layer 2.0‘) the main bulk of the project we have been working towards is over. We spent a very intense three weeks with our cast and crew creating and performing the piece and then all of a sudden it was done. Hence the onset of ‘Post Show Blues’

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It is definitely not a feeling unique to the world of performing – I’m sure that the time after running a marathon (for example) would have very similar vibes! One thing that seems very clear to me is that the blues are not only unique to each individual person, but also to each project. There are many different styles and forms of the blues; it could probably be scientifically investigated!!

The crying mess
In the days following a final performance, anything relating to the show environment will make you burst into tears. I’ll give you an example from my experience:
The end of January 2015. We had just finished a run of Beauty and the Beast at school – my last school musical so it was a pretty emotional time! The last performance was on a Saturday evening, the next day I was sitting at my desk in my room trying to organise my life. I was writing lists of work etc that needed to be done, and I thought ‘I’ll be able to do those questions tomorrow afternoon because I’ll come home straight from school’ And then the flood gates opened. With the show on I hadn’t come home straight from school all term so just the idea that I wouldn’t have a rehearsal to get to and therefore could do my maths homework set me off all over again! In fact I have the tweet to prove it:

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Feeling like nothing good will ever happen again
This is in fact a common trait of most forms of Post Show Blues. Feeling like that project was so good that nothing will ever be as good ever again; no show in the future will ever live up to what you were part of. In fact nothing at all will make you as happy or as fulfilled as that project. When you go from such a heightened sense of enjoyment, to what feels like nothing it can be quite a drop. Of course there is always something just around the corner for you to throw yourself in to, but that can be hard to see and focus on when all you want to do is skip back a couple of days and do it all again.

Quoting the show in everyday life
Everything that anyone says is a quote. Even if its not quite the same, you can totally make it the same! Even if the people around you don’t know the quotes, you still make them because we can’t let the performance die! With Base Layer, we have had a lot of ‘What are your favourite sweeties?’ (Actor: Emily Webster) whenever anyone asks what your favourite of something is, or just speaks about children generally, and also ‘A blue bee!’ ‘That’s quite funny!’ (Actors: Tom Holmes and Mae Lankshear) whenever an insect flies by. 

Suddenly having time to think about all the other things in life
During a run, however long that is, I have zero headspace for anything else. Even vital things like eating and sleeping often take second place to thinking about the piece I am involved in. But then when that is taken away, suddenly there is a whole lot more space for the things you didn’t want to think about before. This is a massive one for me. Post show blues almost always brings on some sort of panic about the next big change coming up in my life, or how many things I haven’t been sorting out during the run. All of a sudden I have way more time to mither and worry and overthink which is never good for my well-being!

Loneliness
I have spoken before about how close you become with people when you put on a show together. Whether you knew each other before or not, the rehearsal and performance process will always bring you closer because you spend so much time with these people and expose so much of yourself emotionally. At the end of the run, you probably aren’t going to see them as much as you have been. All your routines will change and you won’t have rehearsals to keep you together (at least for a while). That can feel pretty lonely and scary when you have become so close and is maybe one of the biggest causes of the blues.

Capture

So what should you do about it? Well, for me at least it’s a little bit like ‘Going on a bear hunt’ – You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it. One of the worst things I ever did was try and persuade myself that I was ok about a run being over. I tried to put on a happy mask (for myself as well as everyone else) and told myself I wasn’t allowed to wallow in my sorrows. But that just made it worse and it meant that I suffered for longer and couldn’t move on to the next thing as easily.

I feel very hypocritical as I type this because I am so bad at remembering this when I’m not feeling great: It has to be ok to be sad sometimes. Everyone is always telling me that I can’t be happy all the time; that the best times only feel so good because others weren’t quite up there, so Post Show Blues is really just showing you how much you enjoyed that time and that it meant a lot to you – even if you didn’t realise it a the time.

Therefore, my top tip for post show blues is to embrace it and make sure that you don’t forget how fantastic it was. I like to create scrapbook pages and photo collections as keepsakes of a particular project. This isn’t for everyone but it allows me to fondly remember all the good moments and grieve (yes I do use that word) a little now that it is over. This was a scrapbook page that I created after a show I was in earlier on this year.

Lucy decided to pour her creativity into cake form the day after Theatre of Minds, so we had celebratory cupcakes that day.

Post Show Blues will be different every time, but they are never bad enough to stop me going back to the theatre for more. Who knows where the next project will be, but I’m sure that when that one is done I’ll think it was the best thing yet.

If you missed out on seeing Base Layer in July, make sure you keep an eye on the blog for details of our next performance (10/09/16) or check out the recording of the performance on Saturday 16th July here.

Thursday 21st July

Show Day Number 2!!

Once again, we spent the morning organising ourselves and sorting out the final details for performance. Then, we met the cast and crew at Beaumont at 12:50 (the start of lunchtime there) – it was going to be a very busy day! Having already performed once we had spent the last couple of days altering the blocking for the new space – we changed the audience configuration from end on at Trestle to traverse (on two sides) so that as many people could see the performance as possible.

Over lunchtime, we set up the audience seating and positioned the props; changed into costume and switched on the lights. We had been invited to perform the piece for a third time, during the afternoon at school. It was treated as an open dress rehearsal, with an audience of year 12 and year 10 drama students as well as some staff who couldn’t make it to the evening performance, but myself and the assistant directors were still making notes to give to the actors afterwards. It was fantastic to be able to show the piece to some more people – especially those at the age group which the piece is about.

Due to the new audience configuration, we also had to switch around the cast positions. When not on stage, the actors would now be sitting among the audience so it was very helpful to have a rehearsal with genuine audience members in those seats next to them. The performance went very well and we were so grateful to Beaumont for letting us add an extra one in – the project is about spreading awareness so the more people who see the piece the better!

After the first show we had to get many, many fans into the room to try and cool it down for the next audience. We went outside and went through some final notes on the bench dedicated to Mrs Rowlands just outside our drama studio. I didn’t have very much to say, so soon afterwards we reset the stage for the evening performance and took some food outside for a break. A two show day is a lot of work, but we managed to have a good hour to relax with each other!

At about 5:45pm we went over to the hall to warm up. Most things were focused on concentration and ensemble work to bring the company together for the final time. We had our last game of concentration, adding in as many levels to the game as we could for the last time.

Then it was time to set up Front of House and for the audience to start arriving. Just like last time, I got very nervous at this point but I had some fantastic people on the team with me to stop me getting stressed about anything at all! Thankyou very much to Louisa Brigulio, Elizabeth Barber and Cerys Falvey (as well as my mum and Miss Shepherd) for helping me out!

Finally we reached 7:30pm and it was showtime for the last time. I was so proud watching the cast perform their best yet – they’ve all worked so hard and gave this final audience a stunning performance. Thank you so much to everyone who came to see the performance on Thursday evening – you were a fantastic audience and gave the actors so much to play off. It was such a special performance, and I am so grateful to everyone who helped to create that!

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Theatre of Minds has been an amazing year of experiences for us both. We haven’t yet calculated how much money we have raised as a donation to Young Minds, but we have already been blown away by the responses we have had to the piece. This has been a very therapeutic process for me, and I’ve never been more proud to be part of a production. Thankyou all!

Rehearsal Video Diary 2

Preparing for the show:

With our first performance just around the corner Frankie, one of our directors, has been reflecting on the process and the impact that we hope this production will have.

There are just a few tickets left for the first show on Saturday at the Trestle Arts Base, so book yours now so that you don’t miss out! Tickets available under the Base Layer tab of the blog.

Rehearsals: Mid-way report

Today was the ninth day of rehearsals in a row for Base Layer – the cast and crew are all working so hard to get this on its feet! This time last week, we had only just started and gotten just one movement sequence under our belts.

Most of our rehearsals have taken place in the drama studios at Beaumont School. We have been arriving at between 9am and 11am each day and working through until 5 or 6 in the evening. These are quite long days so we had to learn to take substantial breaks and go outside for a while or we would lose our energy and creativity. There has been blood, sweat and tears (all quite literally!) and spending every day with each other has really helped us to bond as a company – something that I think will really come across in the performance next week.

The rehearsal schedule has been pretty complicated – and I tend to update it every couple of days – because not everyone is available all the time (some people still have to go to school everyday!) but we have managed to make it work for us things have pretty much gone to plan. On Monday through to Thursday, we were setting out the whole piece and working on each section in turn. The audience layout is going to be slightly different for the two performances due to the differences in the performance space, so we decided to block everything for the Beaumont show and then change everything for the Trestle show afterwards.

At 3pm on Friday we started our first full run of Base Layer. Joe from the lighting team and the stage manager Hannah were both there to see what we had been working on and to get an idea of their roles in the whole production. I was fully expecting there to be moments that fell apart, because we hadn’t had time to look at many sections more than once, but the cast were so on it! Of course there is still a lot of work to be done, but for a first run through I was so impressed with what we had, and so excited by the way it all fitted together. It was also a nice moment for the cast to see what we had created when they weren’t in the rehearsal room.

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It was so exciting to see everything coming into place after just one week of rehearsals – I am really enjoying working with this cast and crew (none of whom I have worked with in this context before). Having Katie and Francesca to help out with directing has been a bit of a lifesaver! They have lead rehearsals so that we could do things simultaneously and get through more stuff; written the script for one of the scenes; and given me more energy when they come to things fresh. Everyone on the project brings something unique to the rehearsal room. It is a lovely environment that we are working in, and although we will all be shattered by the end, it will totally be worth it.

Tickets are selling very steadily now for the remaining performance on Saturday 16th July at Trestle Arts Base, so make sure that you book now to come and see the culmination of hours of hard work from all involved. All the money from ticket sales will be donated to Young Minds – the UKs leading youth mental health organisation – so come and help us support a very important cause. Book your tickets here!

First Rehearsals

After almost a year of planning, we have finally started rehearsals for Base Layer. It has felt a bit strange to finally have things on their feet, but I am so excited to carry on working with this cast and crew for the next few weeks.

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Saturday 2nd July was our very first rehearsal. We decided that it would be best to treat these initial gatherings as workshops rather than official structured rehearsals so that we could bond as a company and create material in a more relaxed setting. The rehearsal began with energetic games like ‘Keepy-uppy’ (technical term) and ‘The sun shines on…’ but we also worked on our ensemble skills with concentration games – hopefully by the time we perform we will be so used to being around each other that we will be much more successful at these!

The main bulk of time on Saturday was spent creating chair duets (inspired by Frantic Assembly) in pairs and trios, to give us some material to bounce off when we begin blocking scenes next week. We tried these out with lots of different tracks from various points in the piece and talked a lot about speed changes to create interest. It was a very successful rehearsal – although we forgot to break very much so we were all pretty brain-dead by the end: lesson for next week!

Sunday’s rehearsal began in a very similar way. The combination of actors was slightly different, so after warming up we dove back into chair duet mode and looked at entrances and exits to these short scenes. In order to move forward, we looked at how we could use these chair duets to portray a more specific type of character and ended up developing a basic idea for the opening movement sequence. It was all very exciting and hopefully the work we have done there will speed up the process of rehearsals later on.

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During the second part of Sunday’s rehearsal we began making something concrete for one scene in the piece. This particular scene comes quite late on in the story, but at this stage we are just looking at getting the choreography down – character journey’s will come later. The sequence looked at physicalising the rational and irrational parts of someone’s mind and it was fantastic to see our vision coming to life. We worked very quickly and came away with our first movement sequence blocked – very comforting given the quick turn around on this project. I am so excited to carry on rehearsing next week – I can’t believe we get to do this all day every day!!!

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As we go through the rehearsal process, we will be documenting our progress as often as we can (without giving away spoilers!) so make sure you are following us on twitter @theatreofminds as that you have liked our facebook page to stay completely up to date.

Tickets are selling very well, so make sure you get yours now before they sell out! Visit the Base Layer page on the blog and follow the link there to book.

 

Finding the words

Base Layer is going to be a devised production, so that we can tell our own story and raise awareness in our own way. However, due to the exam commitments of our cast and crew, we only have two weeks to rehearse the piece. Therefore, Base Layer is going to be made up of extracts from pre-existing plays so that we have a script to work from and to speed up the content creation.

To find the extracts which are most useful to us, we have to read lots of play scripts – some of which prove to be useful but others aren’t so relevant. I have found reading scripts a very different experience to reading a book written in prose. Looking at a script on the page, you get through the text a lot more quickly than you would in performance. You can speak the lines in your head a lot quicker than if you were on stage, and pauses aren’t as relevant at this stage.

One thing that I have noticed is that I have become more comfortable reading in this format the more I do it. I have become less aware of the character names at the side of the page, more accepting of the style and more involved in the story. With experience and practice, I have been able to visualise the play in my head more easily. I can imagine what I would do with the play: the people I would have on stage, the movement they would perform and the design in the space around them. It has become fairly obvious which plays we should be using, because I have connected with those ones and been able to visualise a production more easily.

Although I have only been looking for extracts, reading all of these scripts has made me excited for other projects in the future where I could use the entirety of one of these scripts. The creative side of this project is the reason we started doing it in the first place – we had to get through all of the organisational things to get to this point, but now that we are here things are beginning to flow more easily.

Base Layer rehearsals begin at the beginning of July, and by that point we will have a plan for the entire piece which extracts from all over the place. Our first performance is in just over 6 weeks so buy your tickets and come and help us support Young Minds, the UKs leading mental health charity. Tickets available here.