Here at Hecate, we always like to try something new and it’s always fun to bring people into the theatre who wouldn’t otherwise have attended. I have friends who were dragged virtually kicking and screaming to watch the first performance of Metamorphoses back in March 2011, who have since been to see every Bristol reincarnation of the play and are now asking me what my next performance is? THIS, clearly, is the reaction that we want!
At the start of the year, Hecate elected to produce its first ever radio play and to do so Live on Stage. The reasons for this were twofold: firstly, our Artistic Director Hannah-Marie Chidwick is a self confessed fan of the radio style of the 1930s and 40s and secondly, with the aim of making theatre more inclusive for those with disabilities; in this instance, for those who are visually impaired.
Happily, today many shows offer signed performances so that those with a loss of hearing can still enjoy the full theatrical experience of attending the theatre, without feeling that they are missing out on any of the action. THIS feeling is something that we at Hecate Theatre Co wish to replicate with The Graveyard Slot.
Written by Matthew Watt and now in its second incarnation, The Graveyard Slot is a spooky radio play performed live that does exactly what it says on the tin. Stood in front of two microphones, our cast of 6 actors and 1 musician bring to life the story of Janet de Bastion’s family manor using music, sound effects and a whole heap of silly voices. Although the nature of a radio play means it could be comfortably performed in a studio or village hall type space with no adverse affect, the company deliberately chose theatrical venues to keep the sense of occasion. Going to the theatre should always have the feel of something special about it and in the case of a live radio play, all audience members, regardless of whether they have 20/20 vision or none at all, can enjoy that sense of occasion equally. Now don’t get me wrong, the cast of The Graveyard Slot are beautiful to look upon, but not being able to see them won’t take anything away from the performance.
Toward that end, we invite one and all to come and join us at The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol from the 8th to 13th October, or at The Rondo Theatre, Bath for October 31st and Hallowe’en. Whatever your age, height, hair colour or glasses prescription, Hecate Theatre would love to include you in The Graveyard Slot audience. Just remember to bring your ears and a smile and prepare to be entertained by the stunning special effects that only old shoes, a money jar, maracas, a velvet sash, a tambourine, a wind chime and 6 vocally gymnastic actors can provide.
Are you heading to the fringe next year? If so then read on to enjoy our account of a typical Edinburgh Fringe performers day and see if you’re ready…
In my last blog, the lead up to the Fringe was covered, press releases had been sent off and you re-join us now with rehearsals completed and the preview performed to a sell-out audience. Costumes and (minimalist) set are packed and ready to go, our Edinburgh journey is about to begin!
Upon arrival in Edinburgh we were immediately faced with an accommodation mix up by our letting agent that would be worthy of its own dedicated blog. However, as I don’t wish to weary your eyes, suffice to say that we were unable to get into our flat by fair or foul means and that none of the relevant parties were answering their phones. Whilst we contemplated potential homelessness (on 4 hours sleep and 12 hours of travel) we also had to conduct our 90 minute technical rehearsal. This undertaking would normally require a full day, yet by Edinburgh standards our 90 minute technical slot was almost excessive!
The following day was our opening performance and the beginning of the madness in earnest. A typical day for an Edinburgh performer (at least one performing a tea time show) looks something like this:
11 a.m. Basic company warm up and/or notes, usually in the living room of the shared accommodation as very few venues have studios for such activities (one company with an 8.10pm slot were regularly to be seen warming up in the bar, surrounded by their waiting audience)
12 p.m. Commence flyering. Flyering is usually run in 2 hr+ shifts that overlap. Activities such a singing, friezes and the enactment of short scenes are common place. As is the handing out of giveaways (our freebie of choice was jelly snakes) and bellowing about special offers “2-4-1 when you quote GO TO BED at our Box Office!” Flyering in the rain is also highly likely and all of this is expected of EVERY member of the cast and crew.
3.30 p.m. Upon finishing flyering the cast and crew are required to relax for half an hour prior to starting the run; sitting down in the courtyard with our banner prominently displayed around the cast as they relax… In reality most of this time was spent on Twitter spreading the good news about our show, tweeting about special offers and generally making as much noise about our run as possible. As Assistant Producer I became the bane of my cast’s social media life by requiring they all join Twitter and tweet like crazy about the show; praise be to those lovely people for taking me at my word and doing such a grand job!
3.50 p.m. Head into the toilet to get changed. Try to timetable changes so as not to meet the hundreds of audience members flooding out from other shows: getting stuck in a queue for the bathroom is not an adequate excuse for missing ‘curtain up’!
4.00 p.m. Flyer the courtyard in advance of the show. Try not to hassle the patrons whilst still encouraging them to take a chance on our show and spend their hard earned cash on 45 minutes of drama by a company they have yet to hear of… Simple, eh?
4.10 p.m. Gain access to our venue. Set props and scenery. Liaise with venue technical staff to ensure the correct gels are in place and lights are focused correctly.
4.15 p.m. Main cast vocal and physical warm up
4.20 p.m. Doors Open
4.25 p.m. Showtime!
5.10 p.m. The show finishes. Cast leave the stage and immediately begin stripping down the set and tidying props away to their respective homes.
5.15 p.m. Leave the space ready for the next show.
Some shows expect their casts to return to the mile at this point to continue flyering, but with our timeslot we found little benefit from this and after the show the cast are free to enjoy their evening as they wish. Technically the production team are too, although once more the reality is very different. Emails are sent, tickets are booked for critics, reviews are discovered and rejoiced over, and morning visits to Fringe Central are planned to run riot with the printer, stapler and guillotine to affix those all-important stars to our flyers!
A word to the wise: take your own stapler and scissors to the fringe. After one wasted morning of queuing for the guillotine/staplers at Fringe Central, I hunted down the one stationary shop in Edinburgh that still had staples in stock and set up a production line back at our accommodation. Cue serial TV watching, tea drinking and stapling sessions.
This is perhaps a succinct version of what is required by an actor at the Edinburgh Fringe, but until an actor has experienced it for themselves it can’t be fully appreciated.
Essential items for your suitcase for an Edinburgh Fringe run are:
Layers! It may be August but don’t expect sun!
That said… sun cream. If you forget that on a three hour flyering shift and you are lucky enough to experience sunshine you will turn an interesting shade of lobster.
A rain coat
Equally an umbrella
Sturdy (waterproof) flyering shoes
Vitamin C tablets. This is most important. Illness spreads quickly through a shared house, especially when energy reserves are low. Keep yourself healthy and bright.
A smart phone, tablet or computer to keep abreast of online happenings and spread the word!
There are other items but those are (in this blogger’s opinion) the most pressing. So if you’re heading to the festival next year, be prepared, but above all, enjoy! It’s an experience like no other.
In between flyering and performing and tweeting and emailing and watching other shows and networking and chasing up that interview – I decided to try and write a blog. I sat there for fully half an hour, struggling to think of a topic. Eventually I gave up and wandered upstairs to the kitchen in our upside down house, generally musing on how much fun Edinburgh was and how unlike anything else in the world it was….*cue head slap*
There it was, staring me in the face (literally). The idea for this blog.
Edinburgh is a theatrical event like no other. For those not familiar with normal theatrical conventions allow me to elucidate:
A performer or their agent will see a job and apply for it, if selected they will audition and if successful they will be offered the job. Thus far the theatres of the Edinburgh Fringe and the rest of the world are in tandem. In a ‘normal’ theatrical production, the performer will then await the delivery of their script, learn it prior to rehearsals, rehearse for a week or several, have a costume fitting, a press call perhaps, maybe a sitzprobe*, a technical rehearsal, a dress rehearsal and then opening night. After that, is the actors job is solely to arrive punctually at the theatre and deliver a stunning performance night after night. Not so at the fringe. Anyone who operated on that principle would likely find themselves playing to an empty house. Whilst in Edinburgh the actors are not only performers, they are publicists, promoters and producers. Not to mention technicians and front of house staff.
To give an example of the fringe, I shall outline Hecate’s lead up to the fringe.
Back in Spring, as some of you may be aware, I rose to the exulted (or should that be) exhausted heights of Assistant Producer. However, while The Producer and I may have taken the lion’s share of the work, that is not to say that the other members of the cast were allowed to sit idly by. Oh no. The list of media contacts was split up between the cast and our press release started zipping out all across the country. There was a brief lull for the cast (although the production office was frantic) before rehearsals commenced. From then on though, there would be no lazy journey for the cast of Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid….
To be continued…..
*In musical productions the sitzprobe is the first time the singers hear and rehearse with the band or orchestra.
I have not blogged for a number of weeks. Our twitter followers will have seen my prolific tweets through the company account, but otherwise I have appeared to be rather quiet… not so!
In my last blog, I wrote with (justified) trepidation of my new position within the company and since then I have not sat down to my computer without spending several hours embedded in the world of Hecate Theatre, Ovid and his twisted Metamorphoses. (Resulting in increased respect for our producer, Hannah-Marie Chidwick, and all producers everywhere!) Served imminently, the fruits of this labour include:
An exciting Bristol preview in a unique location
A viral to give audiences a taste of the show
… and of course the Edinburgh run itself.
(Not to mention some very exciting company clothing…)
Now we’re into rehearsals and so it’s time to exchange one hat for another. It’s an interesting experience, after having been locked away with your computer/tablet/smart phone/ink quill and sealing wax for several months, to suddenly be surrounded by the cast and the very production you have been promoting all this time. Suddenly it’s there in front of you, living, breathing and happening before your eyes. For the duration of time that I’m in that rehearsal room, authority and responsibility are relinquished and I immerse myself in the character of Jane once more!
As rehearsals reach their climax and our media department goes into overdrive, my head is constantly covered; Jane’s bedecks my bonce in the daytime and the Assistant Producer’s cap nestles on my noggin in the evening.
Which makes me look remarkably silly really, wearing a hat indoors…..
An actor’s life for me! Erm…
I’ve been promoted. Sort of. In any case I’m going to have a lot more work to do! Our illustrious company founder and artistic director has taken leave of her senses and elevated me to the dizzy heights of assistant producer on Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid.
After parading around my house feel all requisite and significant for half an hour, the reality of my new position began to dawn on me. No longer is my sole responsibility learning my lines and turning up on time. Some of the delicate threads that are woven together to produce the high calibre of work presented by Hecate are now in my hands. Oh Lord.
Not that I’m scared you understand, a little daunted perhaps, incredibly excited for sure but nonetheless I have now crossed that scary line from actor to production team. I’ve even been trusted with the company passwords. (You can ask me what they are but I’m not telling)After only one day of sitting in my new seat, I suddenly appreciate all the work the Producer has previously carried out alone. Example:
The Edinburgh Fringe website has comprehensive documents covering all that you need to know about taking your show to your fringe. Great! These documents are each about 17 pages long. Oh… gosh. That’s … thorough. There’s a least 6 of them to read and digest in great detail. Oh. My.
So as I prepare to kill a few trees and print these guides off (don’t worry I’m an avid recycler) I can’t help being torn between being grateful I never had to do any of this before and excited that I now have the opportunity to help promote the company I’m so proud of…
Oh come on. We all know that I’m loving this. Bring on the work. Bring on the late nights and the energy drinks and the stress.
After all, as a wise blogger once implied… what’s life without a challenge?
I went for an audition a few days ago for a company that regularly performs the works of the Bard to great critical acclaim. The audition was relatively straight forward. Chat to the director, then perform one Shakespeare, one contemporary and then work one of the speeches with the director. All this I have done before. Bear with me; I am getting to my point… In the space of five short minutes under the instruction of this particular director, I was forced to re-evaluate my whole approach to the text, with the upshot being a performance I never could have achieved on my own. I left the room hoping very much to work with this director again, but thinking – whatever the outcome – that I had learned something important in that little room. Thanking him for the experience I left the room excited and with a real bounce to my step… On the bus journey home it dawned on me: challenge. That is what has been missing from my working life.
I have harped on about Metamorphoses in many of my blogs, because that play was special for many reasons. It has taken me until now to identify that one of the reasons that the play was so exciting, was because the work was inherently challenging. The subject matter was both delicate and brutal, the quality of performance from the other cast members continually forced me to ‘up my game’ and the director had a clear insight into the text and what she expected. It was rarely easy but it was always frustrating, fascinating and fantastic by turns.
The dictionary definition of challenge in this context is as follows:
Challenge: (noun) a test of one’s abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating undertaking.
The key word here is stimulating. As an actor, it’s very easy to become complacent about your craft, to settle into comfortable parts, to stay within your comfort zone. Years ago as a student, I never understood why I would wish to step out of that safe zone; after all I knew what I was doing there… not so now.
Being safe is DULL. But being challenged? Well, as I demonstrated earlier, that can cause you to produce work you never thought was in your capabilities… And that is why I love Hecate. Like the goddess the company derives its name from, nothing is ever serene or predictable; the pieces are always challenging and unique and because of this, always rewarding.
So! Now that I’ve realised I need a challenge, I just have to find one!
All offers and suggestions are welcome…
Just a little thought this one….
For those that don’t know, the Triple Threat refers to performers who can sing, act and dance, making them more versatile performers, capable of tackling all different types of roles. However, those Triple Threat performers are being over taken by an emerging breed….
The Quadruple Threat: actors who sing, act, dance and play an instrument to a Grade 8 standard or higher. Or, as I prefer to think of these thoroughly accomplished people, Super Humans.
In an industry hard hit by the recession where funding is rapidly disappearing, producers are finding that casting actors who play instruments not only creates an exciting piece of theatre (which in turn draws greater audiences), but also allows money saving on orchestra costs. In the last 12 – 18 months I have seen countless jobs that I am unable to apply for because I gave up flute at the age of 14 and piano at the age of 17. (Should have listened to my father and persevered!)
I can’t help but be impressed by those performers who have mastered all these four disciplines and through my jealous haze I have a lot of respect for them. The concern is, are casting directors and producers asking too much of performers? Well, judging by the success of several of these shows (in particular the John Doyle directed 2004 production of Sweeney Todd, which could be credited with sparking off this trend) and the high calibre of the performers involved…. Well, it looks like the answer could be no. Clearly the performers are out there and now being a Triple Threat is simply not enough if you are to compete with your all singing, all dancing, Stanislavsky trained, cello playing neighbour.
So, should performing arts institutions be encouraging students to dust off their musical instruments and practise their way back to performance level? Or does it fall to the individual to enhance their skill base?
Personally I know what I think – and I’d love to debate this more, but I’ve got 10 years of practising to catch up on!
For more madness from Nicola’s world, visit www.nicolafoxfield.co.uk
Every industry has its own jargon, terms specially developed with meanings specific to the nature of the operation. Theatre land is no exception. In fact, it’s a world dominated by what to an outsider may seem the most unusual terms. A turkey for example is great at Christmas but is not something an actor would want to go near! Equally, the Gods are something most people pray to but to a performer, reaching the Gods requires nothing more than good projection (or a well-placed speaker!).
Additionally each company creates its own identity and community by adopting and tailoring the jargon to fit their operation. I remember starting work for a children’s theatre company and being baffled when, in rehearsals, a fellow cast member asked me if I could spin the flats. “Erm, yes of course I can. So… what are the flats? And how does one spin them?”
Naturally I learned very quickly and these terms are now such a natural part of my vocabulary it seems odd to think that I once didn’t understand their meaning! Flats incidentally are stand-alone piece of scenery mounted on a base on castors (known as spinning bases), which when manipulated rather like the sail on a windsurfer, can be spun around to reveal a different scene.
At Hecate Theatre we are no different in this regard. Like all other companies we have a read through, commence blocking, remember our props, receive notes, speed run, perform a cue to cue run as part of our technical rehearsal and dress before the house opens (glossary provided below). However, during the rehearsals for the recent run of Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid we acquired our own set of Hecate specific jargon, a few examples of which follow:
The rather long title of the show became shortened to Metz for simplicity’s sake,
We always finished our vocal warm up with a basking shark,
And in addition to the technical cue to cue run, we introduced a sheet to sheet run.
Of all the jargon I have picked up and absorbed into my grammar since I first trod the boards over 20 years ago (that makes me feel old, so I feel the need to point out that I first blinked under the bright lights in the same year I started primary school) this particular saying has to be my favourite. Those lucky enough to get a ticket to Metz will know that the costumes, scenery and illusions were created almost entirely through the use of four white sheets, which had to be in the right place at the right point in the play to keep the action running smoothly. Therefore once the sheet choreography had been established a sheet to sheet run was required to ensure the right linen was picked up from the right place. After all taking the incorrect sheet could have meant the absence of a baby, the loss of Ianthe’s wedding dress or worse… denying the audience to chance to see simulated sheet snake sex live on stage.
Which, quite frankly, is not something you see every day.
The Gods: The highest seats in the theatre, usually at the very back
Turkey: An awful show
Read Through: Exactly as it sounds, when the cast first meet and sit down to read the script aloud.
Blocking: The act of working out entrances and exits; who stands where and what movement happens during a scene.
Props: Short for properties, implies objects that are used in the show; for example, Matron’s candle.
Notes: Feedback given by the director. Suggestions of how to improve for next time
Speed Run: Doing the show very fast. An excellent way of making sure all performers know their lines! Usually just lines but not always.
Technical Rehearsal: When lights, sound and scene changes are integrated. Often done in the format of a cue to cue run.
Cue to cue run: When the actors perform only those lines which are the cue for a technical requirement. For example a line preceding a lighting change.
Dress: Short for dress rehearsal. The final rehearsal in full costume and makeup.
Opening the house: Often referred to as opening the doors. When the audience are allowed into the auditorium.
The curtain has fallen! Well, if we had a curtain it would have fallen. Perhaps in our sheet-orientated world, a better analogy would be the sheethas been unpinned, the pillow cases packed and the nightdresses neatly tucked away. No more will Hecate weave such words of glamour… well, at least not until the next show!
Not that it was all plain sailing: illness robbed us of our director for the final rehearsal and opening performance, which – for such a tight-knit group – left us feeling rather bereft. Additionally, on opening night, I lay wrapped in sheets still damp from the washing machine, because the floor had not been cleaned prior to our sheet-to-sheet run (more on that another time) and the pristine linen had proved just how many people wipe their feet before entering the venue… well, that was an experience. To see all five actors on their hands and knees, armed with blue roll and cleaning spray, with two hours until the house opened… who says that being an actor isn’t glamorous?
Still, what an amazing run it has been. Dr Theatre not only provided the lift needed to bring Jane to life but also generated a legal three day high of epic proportions. Working with an excellent cast and crew, disturbing and delighting audiences by turn and receiving excellent reviews… that’s what being an actor is all about, isn’t it?
So, as we stand in the corridor, having closed the door on Metamorphoses, which of the many doors in front of us will we open next? And what will be behind it? I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t wait to find out.
I write this as I whizz across the West Country at 100miles per hour, returning to Bristol for the opening night of Metz! With the opening ‘Invocation’ by Sara Garrard filling the echoing spaces inside my head (it’s been a long week and all non-essential functions appear to have shut down!) and the Metamorphoses script cradled in my lap, it’s time to turn to Dr Theatre to lift my energy reserves!
Old, stereotypical and clichéd as that saying may be, there’s a lot of truth in it. As someone who regularly works two jobs (sales representative or some such by day, treading the boards by night) to keep boredom at bay by exercising my mind and body; I find there is nothing else that can lift your energy levels like a dose of performing… Especially if it is a piece you are a passionate about and a cast you enjoy working with.
Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid is blessed with both of those virtues. The emotional trip taken by Jane in Metz is made real by the interaction with the other members of the cast and – for that too short hour, as tales are woven and illusions made and shattered – all Nicola Foxfield’s cares and woes are blown away as Jane’s youthful enthusiasm and vitality occupy those empty spaces I mentioned earlier.
So tonight when – oh Lord! We open tonight! – I slip into Jane’s shoes (not literally, Jane doesn’t wear shoes to bed) and wrap myself in the blanket that is the talent of the cast, I know that all the weariness and sleep deprivation of the last few days won’t matter a jot.
So to see Dr Theatre in action come and watch the cast of Hecate Theatre’s Metamorphoses tonight Wed 14th or Thursday 15th or Friday 16th at the Lansdown at 8pm. (Tickets will be available on the door) Since the play deals with the key theme of Transformation, surely nothing could be more method than watching an exhausted human being transform into an animated and spirited girl on the cusp of womanhood…
That said if, as you enter the space, you hear snoring from underneath the blankets you know that Dr Theatre took the night off.