Mindful Listening

Podcasts have been a new thing for me in 2017, not exactly a new years resolution, but something that just came into my life in January this year. It’s a very mindful thing for me – more so than I realised it would be. You have to concentrate on it more than listening to music or watching Netflix or you lose track of what they are on about. Walking up to uni in the morning, running at the gym, or washing up after dinner, listening to a podcast stops me mithering so much about everything and makes me feel a bit more present.

I started off listening to The West Wing Weekly: a podcast rewatch of the Aaron Sorkin series The West Wing where the hosts discuss one episode a week with various guests involved in the creation of the show. The West Wing is one of my favourite series ever and if you haven’t seen it you really need to, so when I heard about the podcast I had to get into listening to it. It’s fantastic to hear from people involved about how they made the programme, from directors and actors to cameramen and expert advisors, as well as the politics of the show in today’s climate. So after awhile (once I had caught up and had to wait a whole week for my next episode) I branched out and found myself a nice little collection of subscriptions. Along the same lines as The West Wing Weekly, The Gilmore Guys and Best of Friends have joined the ranks, walking through other excellent television series Gilmore Girls and Friends. But I have also found a couple of lovely theatre related podcasts, which was really the reason for writing this post.

Theater People

(Yes, Daddy, I know theatre is spelt wrong there but as the podcast is american I thought I would honour that!) Each episode of the Theater People podcast features an interview with someone working in the theatre community in New York, with interviewer Patrick Hinds. The conversation will usually begin with whatever project is current for the artist and then jump back to the beginning of their career. Patrick has interviewed Lin Manuel-Miranda, Laura Osnes, LaChanze, Laura Benanti, Elaine Paige etc etc etc. I love hearing about everyone’s different pathway to the theatre and the roles they are taking on now, and Patrick’s interviewing style makes it all feel very relaxed like you really hear what these people think. Sometimes the interviews are conducted in dressing rooms in theatres on Broadway and we might hear snippets of sound checks coming over the monitor or people’s food orders arriving at stage door – it makes it all seem very real. Definitely worth a listen for those who love a bit of music theatre – I’ve discovered several new favourite soundtracks through this podcast recently!

Broadway Backstory

Patrick Hinds is back again in this podcast merging several interviews together to tell the story of how a new Broadway musical ‘goes from just an idea to reality’. Series one of Broadway Backstory has now finished but you can always go back and binge listen to it and wait excitedly with me for series 2. Episodes have included the stories of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’, ‘In the Heights’ and ‘The Secret Garden’ (all some of my faves). The collection has been chosen brilliantly so that each tells a different journey from people with different backgrounds, most ending up at the Tony Awards. Even if you haven’t seen or heard the musical before, it’s more about the people who were involved and how they felt through their journey. Another cracker to delve into.

Royal Court Playwright’s Podcast

 

In each episode of the Royal Court Playwright’s podcast, Simon Stephens (playwright behind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime) has a conversation with another successful British playwright who has at some point featured at the Royal Court. I am not a playwright, nor am I ever likely to be, but these conversations are about more than just the writing process – which is of course interesting in itself. Again, these are stories of journeys from humble beginnings, but also about managing workload when you are creative and work for yourself; about handing off your creation to let someone else put their stamp on it; and beyond the personal, it’s often a commentary about the state of British theatre. I am not yet caught up on all the episodes, but so far I have listened to interviews with David Hare (who apparently now hates Verbatim theatre!), Dennis Kelly and Rachel De-Lahay, all of whom I have seen/read works by and very much enjoyed. Another fantastic insight into the world of creativity.

So those are my current podcast favourites bringing me a little bit of mindfulness each day. I really would recommend giving it a try – you can give yourself an hour of focused thought whilst getting on with other things in your busy life.

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!

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.

A Quick Update…

Three things that you might be interested to know:

  1. Our fundraising campaign has been going better than we ever could have expected. After a month of our crowdfunding page being live, we have raised 50% of the funds we are aiming for. This is incredible and we are so grateful to everyone who has donated so far! The support we have received has blown us away, so thankyou for making this project possible. Please make sure that you carry on sharing the link (www.gofund.me/theatreofminds) and spreading the word so that we can reach our goal and put on the best production possible!
  2. If you would like to be involved in the project, as a performer, crew member or as part of the marketing team, make sure that you have filled in our form so that we have all of your details recorded. We would like to have our company finalised (as much as possible) by the end of February, and definitely by easter, so if you would like to be involved (especially as a performer) you haven’t got long to put your name down. We would love to have as many people involved as possible as this is a project for our local community, so check out the dates and then get in touch. Any questions, email us on theatreofminds239@gmail.com
  3. The creative process is beginning to become a priority as well. We are taking inspiration from around us and collating a long list of material which we could use to create our piece. If you have any suggestions of media/research we should look at (whether it is a play around the theme of mental illness, a piece of music that we could use for a physical theatre sequence, or an article from the media with particular relevance) we would love to hear from you. If you would like to get in touch. Send us an email on theatreofinds239@gmail.com or tweet us @theatreofminds

Please get involved and spread the word if you can. Thankyou for your continued support: this would not be possible without you.

What is it like to be a bat?

People Places Things

‘People, Places and Things’ playing at Dorfman Theatre until 04.11.15

On Thursday 17th September 2015, I attended a workshop at the National Theatre as part of the youth programme there. The workshop was three hours in a group of just fourteen with the staff (assistant) director of the play People, Places and Things (Holly Race Roughan) which is currently playing at the national. The session was really informative and thought-provoking, especially for someone working as both a performer and director.

Initial discussions centred around whether we can ever truely know what it is like to be another person. As theatre makers, we usually want our audience to go away with a new or developed understanding of a person or situation. But are our audience really understanding what it is like to be the character on stage or are they just recognising emotions that they have experienced themselves; can the audience understand what it is like to be a bat or are they restricted by the fact that they are human and can only conceive human emotions?

The creative team on People, Places and Things wanted to create a piece entirely from one person’s point of view. They wanted the images on stage to show the main character’s (Emma’s) experience of the events instead of the events from an outsider’s perspective. Essentially, they wanted the audience to spend two hours experiencing Emma’s life, and our workshop was about how they overcame the problems that they faced.

One of the exercises that we did involved just seven lines of text from the play:
A – Look at me, I know you don’t I.
B – I’ve just got one of those faces
A – What’s your…?
B – Is that one of the questions?
A – It is.
B – Is it important?
A – Is it a secret?
First we had to create a short scene putting the lines in a different context so that we had a basis to work from. One director was assigned to each pair and we had to make the scene appear again, only this time showing B’s experience of the scene – making the audience feel like they were B. A lot of the things that the groups came up with were very immersive and sensory because we were without the mediums of light or sound which have such an emotional effect on the audience. Placing A at centre stage and B behind the audience helped them to see what B was seeing. In this performance, B also spoke in a monotone to make it feel like it was in the audience’s head. This exercise helped me to understand the difference between recounting events on stage and helping the audience experience them.

My favourite exercise in the workshop was when we split the group in half and performed a scene from the play. The only context that you need is that it was a group therapy session. Director, Holly said that this was the hardest scene in the play to get right (they spent four solid days out of a six week rehearsal period working on this section alone) because they wanted to show Emma’s experience of the group therapy session. During the workshop, we got to try our hand at creating a scene from Emma’s point of view. Later, seeing the scene on stage within the performance, I was surprised to see how many elements we had also included in our interpetation. Fast movements and changing levels surrounded Emma to show how frantic and busy the session was, but Emma herself was still and speaking in a monotone to show her disengagement with the activity.

In term of Theatre of Minds, the workshop helped me to think about what I want the audience to see on stage and who I want them to empathise with. Although our play is not going to be from one person’s point of view because we want to show the vastness of the issue of mental health in young people, there will be sections when we want the audience to connect with a particular character and touch the surface of their experiences. I hope that we can use some of the ideas and processes that I learnt about to help people suffering feel less alone, and people who are outsiders to a situation to understand some of the emotions that people go through.

Thankyou to the National Theatre for my experience at the workshop. You can find out what else is going on in the youth programme by looking on the website. People, Places and Things written by Duncan Macmillan is playing in the Dorfman Theatre at the National until Wednesday 4th Novemeber.

The Plan: Update

There have been many developments over the course of the summer holidays – our brains have been whirring with ideas. Plans for Theatre of Minds are slowly getting up and running.

With the help of the local community, we will be putting on two performances in July 2016. This will be a devised piece of theatre which we will create over a two week rehearsal period with our cast and crew. The basis of the production will be extracts from several different plays, alongside physical theatre movement sequences performed to music. Some dialogue will be spoken live, but we will also record lines and passages during the rehearsal period to be played back over the performance on stage. Among many other options that this gives us, we hope that this will help to put the audience in someone else’s shoes.

The message of our project is simple. We want to use theatre to show the many different attitudes towards mental health issues in young people; to show that anyone can be affected. The emotional well-being of young people today is an issue that affects us all, directly or indirectly through the people around us. This project is about spreading awareness to help people suffering in silence, as well as raising money for the charity Young Minds.

Following us on twitter and keeping an eye on this blog will help you to keep up to date with our developments here at Theatre of Minds.

A Very Busy Day

Last Thursday, Beth and I had quite a busy Theatre Of Minds day! In the morning, we had a meeting at the Trestle Arts Base to discuss using their theatre space for one of our performances next summer. It was great because Trestle logothey were so enthusiastic about our idea and they were really keen to be involved. We met with Emily and Emma and they gave us plenty of things to be thinking about over the summer so we came away very excited, with our brains whirring.
Then, we dashed home and went to the station to catch a train to the Southbank in London. We were going to the National Theatre Bookshop to hunt for plays.

We spent the whole afternoon therBookse reading the blurb on the back of so many plays. In the end we had to stop because our brains hurt too much! It was a very successful trip as we were able to get lots of ideas for plays we should read and we also bought two plays called Monkey Bar by Chris Goode and Free Fall by Vinay Patel.
If you have any idea for plays we should look at, please contact us via twitter at @TheatreOfMinds or by email at theatreofminds239@gmail.com. We are very open to any suggestions.

It was a very exhausting day but very useful.

Watch this space for information about important dates and opportunities to get involved.

Just a Quick Update…

Now that school has finished, we have more time to think about Theatre Of Minds. The first step in the process is to find a venue and we have already sent out several emails to possible places. Next, we need to actually have a script to start planning the production. As you will already know if you have read our blog post that outlines The Plan, you will know that we want to use extracts from multiple plays in order to focus on more issues that surBookround mental health. This week, in order to find script extracts, Beth and I are going to go to the National Theatre shop in London on the Southbank. There we hope to find a variety of plays that we can read over the summer.

If you know of any extracts from plays that would be suitable, please do not hesitate to contact us via twitter on @TheatreOfMinds or you can email us at theatreofminds239@gmail.com.
We can’t wait to hear from you!

How did this all start?

I love creating theatre, especially physical theatre or movement based pieces, because there is so much you can do and your audience can interpret it however they like. Even if they don’t completely understand what is going on, the fact that you can convey so many thoughts and feelings via movements amazes me.
Whenever I come up with an idea, I get very excited, especially if it is any good because this crazy idea that you thought about in your head is now actually working.
I felt like this when this whole idea of putting on a play started because I never thought it would actually work.
It all began when I was walking through the Maltings car park in St Albans and I thoughtUntitled design (5) how cool it would be to put a play in a car park. I couldn’t stop thinking about: how you could do amazing movement sequences; the amount of physical theatre you could include; all about the meaning behind the different levels in the car park; the fact that there are only specific spaces you can park in. All of these things were whizzing round my head and every time I thought about it, I got more and more excited. However, in reality, this was not going to be feasible as you can’t really hire a car park and even if you did, it would be very hard to light it and you would need a very impressive sound system. So, my sister and I realised that although we probably couldn’t put on a play in a car park, there is nothing stopping us performing in an inside space, as we can include just as much movement and physical theatre. The more we have thought about it, the more excited we have become as this is something that neither of us ever thought we would be able to do.

We are going to be looking for a stage crew, a lighting team, front of house, as well as performers. So watch this space.

It is all very exciting and we are so happy that we can share it YOU!!

The Plan..

As my sister and I both really enjoy creating theatre, we decided that next summer (when Beth has just finished her first year at university and I have just finished my year 11) we are going to put on a play. It will be based around the issues that young people with mental health problems face and how it affects them and their families. Our initial thoughts are that we will use extracts from multiple plays so that we can focus on more issues and our audience can gain wider understanding of the issue of mental well-being.
Through the play, we hope to raise some money for Young Minds which is a charity that aims to improve the emotional well-being and mental health of children and young people.