Keep Calm And Carry On (Performing)

Keep Calm And Carry On (Performing)

Can community theatre survive COVID-19?

e8a8b137-ebea-43b7-8665-5fe07ccf23bbSUP co-chairs Alison Wells and Stephen Fenerty reflect on the last few months

We hope this blog finds you and your loved ones safe and well.

We’ve been co-chairs of SUP Theatre Company for three years now, and we love the group for many reasons – but mainly because of the people we get to meet, work and socialise with. We come together through a shared love of theatre, the arts and performing, to make new friends and have fun.

Pre-coronavirus and like most people, SUP’s year was pretty well planned. We had a great mix in our programme that included festivals, outdoor theatre, regular plays, murder mystery events and socials – all of which went immediately on hold, like most of the rest of the country, in late March.Cast_StephenBW

Someone said to us, ”Well, I guess that’s it for you guys, for a few months at least?” Far from it.

The challenge for us and the SUP Committee was how to keep our society ‘going’ when we couldn’t actually get together physically and do what we came together to do in the first place: engage in theatre as a collaborative activity.

How do you run an amateur theatre group when there are no theatres and no audiences, when actors can’t be in the same physical space?

Of course, this is a massive challenge facing theatre groups and venues up and down the country, in so many cases magnified, and some – sadly including our own Nuffield Southampton Theatres – have already stumbled and fallen. We have performed at NST Campus for over fifty years. The future is uncertain and we can expect a lot more of that. But, as they say, the show must go on, in some form or another. We must try to stay positive.

So that is what we have done. Like many others, from the National Theatre to stand-up comedians, we’ve taken it online. In fact, we’ve been thrilled to see the SUP community thriving online.

These days, we hold our monthly committee meetings using Zoom. Of course we do.

But we also planned lockdown social events via Zoom, hosting two well-attended quizzes that also involved friends and family, as well as online play-readings, scripts provided. The second play reading was open to the wider public if they wanted to join us. Yes, reading a play online as a shared experience does take a little getting used to, but once you get that flow and pace, it works extremely well. And it’s fun. It brings us together. And together, we are stronger.

As part of our community remit, we also used our lockdown quizzes as opportunities to raise funds for charities including the Alzheimer’s Society and Rowans Hospice.

On Facebook, for our members’ only group, we’ve run ‘Lockdown Challenges’ for members to provide short video clips or images that are, for example, associated with a famous scenes or dialogue from plays and movies. It’s creative, it’s a distraction, it’s fun.

Back in March, we were disappointed when we had to cancel our rehearsals and public performances for our new wartime anthology ‘For The Fallen: Home Front’ that presented voices from the Southampton Blitz, D-day and VE Day.

Instead, our fantastic cast members of all ages performed the poems, letters, sketches, monologues, first-hand accounts and songs from the safety of their own homes, recording their brilliant efforts on video, some using virtual backdrops and other effects. We’re all learning.

Volume 2. Page 70, Picture 6. World War II. 8th May 1945. Whitehall, London, England. VE Day crowds are in high spirits after Prime Minister Winston Churchill+s speech.

Many of these clips were part of Royal Victoria Country Park’s live stream for its VE Day celebrations. We were even interviewed about our “virtual VE Day performances” on BBC Radio Solent. Take a look at the video playlist on Facebook, some clips are a little over a minute, none more than three minutes – https://www.facebook.com/watch/SUPTheatre/841452699676177/

We’re continuing to try and think of new ways to engage with our members and reach an audience. Members can dip in and out as they like, and we’re delighted to see them when they do join in.

Our next challenge will be online auditions and casting for our next production, which will take place in a theatre – we just can’t be 100% sure where and when right now – and we’re also thinking about other online performances we can put together as a group. As our technical prowess grows, so do our ideas.

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It does take a bit of work, time and planning but trying to keep the group together and active as best we can, while the country emerges from the Covid-19 crisis, is a priority for the two of us and for the rest of the Committee. SUP has been around for over 55 years and we’re still going strong! In fact, we even welcomed two new members this week: Jan and Greg, it’s great to have you on board.

Why not join us?

Making Tracks #5

Meet the cast – part 2

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SUP’s new production of family favourite THE RAILWAY CHILDREN pulls into NST Campus in Southampton, 22-25 January 2020. You can book here – and tickets start at just £10

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Anna Hussey (Mother)

AnnaAnna has been with SUP for one year, and has enjoyed being part of both Agatha Christie’s Then There Were None and appearing in SUP’s wartime anthology For The Fallen. She is very excited to step into the role of Mother in The Railway Children, especially as she gets to perform her biggest role to date on the Nuffield stage. Anna has spent many years backstage, so is very grateful for all the opportunities that SUP offers her on stage.

_MG_8576Sam Hussey (Mr Szezcpansky, Detective, Superintendent, Worker)

This is Sam’s first show with SUP, having stepped in to play the role of Mr Szezcpansky and some ensemble parts. He is by no means new to the local theatre scene, though, having tried his hand at everything from Shakespeare to musicals. He’s looking forward to his first time on the Nuffield stage, and has particularly enjoyed being able to try out a new accent!

Rameen Jamal (Maid, Mrs Perks)IMG_6315

A graduate from the London College of Music, specialising in Musical Theatre for Actors. Rameen has been performing from a very young age and has spent her entire academic career studying: Performing Arts, Musical Theatre, Acting and Dance. Rameen has a keen interest in the Shakespearean era, physical theatre and spoken voice. She makes her return to performing after an eight-year hiatus as a new member of the SUP in The Railway Children.

_MG_8573Deborah Knight (Cook, Worker, Crowd/Passenger)

Deborah has been dabbling in acting and puppetry since the last century, joining SUP in 2018. Her most memorable roles include the Mayor of the Munchkins and a chocolate egg-laying chicken, both with ACTS. She enjoys singing with local natural voice choirs and leading a meditation group – and last December, played Mrs Christmas at Furzey Gardens for SUP/Minstead Trust.

Maisie Lake (Peter)_MG_8579

This is Maisie’s first production with SUP. She has been performing since she was 10 and is currently applying to go to drama school. Some of her favourite roles include Anita in West Side Story and Hamlet in an all-female production of the play. Maisie is a keen singer and enjoys writing poetry.

_MG_8345-2Jamie Lawrie (Jim, Detective, Perks child, Crowd/Passenger)

Jamie joined SUP in 2019, and is keen to develop his acting skills. His first role with the company was in the hilariously slapstick The Man On The Floor segment of Neil Simon’s London Suite, performed at the Rose Theatre, Eastleigh in October 2019.

Jenni Watson (Mrs Viney, Crowd/Passenger) _MG_8569

Jenni’s love of acting was ignited when she was an extra in the film A Man For All Seasons whilst at drama school. Over the years she has performed for many local groups, her favourite roles include Vladimir (Waiting for Godot), Lady Booby (Joseph Andrews), Ellie Dunn (Heartbreak House), Lady Capulet (Romeo and Juliet), Paulina (Winters Tale), Red Queen (Alice), Nancy (Sitting Pretty), Caraboss (Sleeping Beauty), Mrs Pearce (Pygmalion), Angela in (Vicars) and Clara (Hay Fever). Jenni is looking forward to The Railway Children – it should be absolutely spiffing!


Photo 07-10-2018, 16 07 19About the director

Paul Green has been acting and directing in the Southampton area for more than 40 years. He joined SUP in 2018 to direct our acclaimed production of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, presented right here at NST Campus in January 2019. For SUP, he also co-wrote, directed and acted in the wartime anthology For The Fallen, which toured various venues and festivals in the summer of 2019. For RAODS, he directed Mary Shelley by Helen Edmondson at The Plaza Theatre in September. He is delighted to be directing The Railway Children as it allows him to use a variety of techniques, including his signature physical theatre style and imaginative stage effects. This production also gives him the opportunity to play with humorous material as, after all, theatre should be fun as well as creative.


THE RAILWAY CHILDREN at NST Campus, 22-25 January 2020 – matinee Sat 25th Jan

Book now: call 023 8067 1771 or click here

Tickets from just £10

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Making tracks #3

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The rail-related charities we’re proud to be supporting

SUP and its production of THE RAILWAY CHILDREN are pleased to be supporting two charities: The Railway Benefit Fund, and Railway Children.

We will be promoting and collecting for both charities at all performances of The Railway Children, NST Campus 22-25 January 2020, and will be donating all profits from programme sales. We hope you can support SUP in supporting these very worthy causes.

Railway Benefit Fund (RBF) – ‘helping railway families through tough times’

Based in Crewe, a railway town in Cheshire, the RBF is the only UK charity that is solely focused on supporting current and former railway employees and their families when they find themselves in times of need.

An independent organisation founded in 1858 and incorporated by Royal Charter in rbf-master-logo-for-website1949, the charity offers financial help, practical support and wide-ranging advice, all in strict confidence.

The RBF president is Pete Waterman OBE – record producer, songwriter, DJ, TV presenter and a keen railway enthusiast.

Earlier in 2019, the RBF launched an updated identity, including a new logo, colours and font: “In the past 160 years the charity has evolved and changed depending on the needs of the industry. But in the last few years we’ve changed quite a lot: we’ve listened to market research and industry stakeholders to ensure we are relevant to today’s modern railway people. We’ve launched new services of support as well as looking at new ways in which we can engage and work with the industry to better look after its main asset – the people!”

“First and foremost, we hugely appreciate our supporters. Without your help we wouldn’t be able to do the work we do to change railway peoples’ lives.”

You can learn more and donate at https://www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk

Railway Children – ‘fighting for street children’

Helping more than 300,000 street children over the last 22 years, Railway Children provides protection and support for children with nowhere else to go, and nobody to turn to.

RClogo“Every year thousands of children across the UK, India and East Africa run away or are forced to leave homes that have become unbearable through poverty, abuse, violence and neglect. Reaching a child as soon as possible is crucial to getting to children on the streets before an abuser can, and before they become entrenched in street life. We race to get to children before the streets get to them.”

Working at street, community and government level, Railway Children uses research to inform its work, influence policymakers and plan effectively, and works closely with partners on the ground.

The charity launched its third UK project in Leeds in summer 2019, looking out for children at risk on and around the rail network:

“Since we started this work in 2016 at Manchester Piccadilly, adding a base at London Euston in 2018, we have been able to help hundreds of young people and keep them safe from harm. Some have been running away from care or home or groomed by people planning to abuse them. Many have been exploited by criminal gangs into transporting drugs and money on the railways and others were just found at the station struggling with their own mental health issues. Wherever we’ve met them, we’ve been there and we’ve been able to make a difference.”

You can learn more and donate at https://www.railwaychildren.org.uk/


THE RAILWAY CHILDREN at NST Campus, 22-25 January 2020 – matinee Sat 25th Jan

Book now: call 023 8067 1771 or click here

Tickets from just £10


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