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.

living4

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?

Dirk Gently’s Casebook – File #12

Lead on, MacDuff: Paul Jones has this week’s SUP blog

IMG_4533

Paul Jones (centre) in rehearsals, flanked by Dirk and Professor Chronotis

Ever since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by the idea of acting on a stage but never plucked up the courage to act myself, due to being dyslexic. I would, however, always overdress for costumed parties – my personal favourite is my Adam Ant costume – or be up singing Karaoke.

It wasn’t until 2014 when the acting bug finally sank its teeth into me.

After a drunken night at Rockaoke (live band but you’re the singer – I sang “Tribute” by Tenacious D), I finally decided that the feeling of being up onstage is as exciting as it is terrifying. So naturally, I rushed out – once the hangover cleared – and found the nearest theatre group to me.

adam

“Not Paul Jones” – but his favourite dressing up character

I started at the sound desk at the Chameleon Theatre Company of Chandler’s Ford, pressing the all-important buttons during a pantomime version of “The Wizard of Oz”.

Shortly after that show, I was swiftly dragged away, thrown onto the stage, put under lights, given a script and took my place in the cast for “Fawlty Towers”.

Next, I was given the part of Johnathan Harker, in a chilling retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula which was a huge challenge for me, being onstage for the first 15 pages!

My approach to acting is very much a head on approach… But, even after preforming in a few plays and being nominated for a few awards in festival plays, I still get nervous about the first step onto the stage.

IMG_7044

Paul (far right) joins the SUP murder mystery team in 2017

I’ve recently found  joy in the chaotic world of unscripted shows: Murder Mysteries. I was never thrilled with the idea of murder mysteries (it’s normally the butler, after all) but I was given the opportunity to perform in one by SUP and I grasped it firmly – and it surprised me how much fun they actually are!

As a bit of a nerd, I was super excited to hear that SUP was auditioning for Dirk Gently by Douglas Adams.

I originally wanted to go for the title role of Dirk  himself but after the read through and auditions I’m glad that Paul Cresser was given the role – especially after I had seen the amount Dirk that has to say!

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 13.20.56

Paul wrestles with his part – and Phil de Grouchy’s – during a tense rehearsal

In this telling of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency I am playing the role of Richard MacDuff.

The character has been a bit of a challenge for me, mainly talking about Schrodinger’s Cat and computer jargon – but I hope I can play the part well and keep everyone entertained!

 

 

 

Editor’s Note: Paul has recently been cast in a leading role in SUP’s new one-act play BULLY BEEF AND WHIZZBANGS, to be performed at this year’s Totton Drama Festival and beyond…
P.S. We know “Lead on, MacDuff” is a misquote of Shakespeare

Dirk Gently’s Casebook – File #11

Tempus Fugit: meet Reg

Our guest blogger and SUP veteran Philip de Grouchy plays the enigmatic Professor Chronotis in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

img_4519.jpg

Mad Professor? Phil as ‘Reg’ Chronotis

Despite knowing little about Galaxy Guiding and Star Trekking – I am more of the ‘Dick Barton’ generation (not that I listened to him much either, I preferred reading ‘Biggles’), I am greatly enjoying my role in ‘Dirk Gently’ as Professor ‘Reg’ Chronotis.

Apart from indulging in his hobbies – which include somewhat ham-fisted conjuring tricks, smoking, leeches (?), and time travelling by abacus, Reg has managed to live for at least 200 years undetected in his Cambridge college rooms, since being appointed to his Chair by mad King George III.

img_4525.jpg Much fun has been had at rehearsals trying to video the above-mentioned conjuring tricks, involving clay pots and disappearing silver salt cellars, so that when projected on screen, the projections will show marvellous close-ups and, hopefully, distract the audience’s attention from the actually execution of the tricks on stage… IMG_4533

Reg is a delightfully shambling, forgetful character, who is nevertheless able, by intense concentration on his abacus and mathematical calculations, to transport himself and others four billion years into the past: prehistoric Earth. And, thanks to Dirk Gently’s extraordinary feats of deduction, ultimately saves… spoilers!

IMG_4524

Taken with a pinch of salt?

I am personally pleased to be appearing on the Nuffield (NST Campus) stage this year, it being the 50th anniversary of my first treading those venerable boards.

Quite apart from my contribution to this show, we have a highly talented company portraying many dramatic activities in the various scenes in which I don’t take part, including hypnotism, ghostly possession and murder – to mention only a few!

Herding Cats – Directors Blog – Auditions

Herding Cats – Directors Blog – Auditions

Well, in true X Factor / Strictly style, we’re on a ‘journey’ and I guess it starts in earnest right here, although, of course, in reality, it started months ago! But more of that in blogs to come.

So, why ‘herding cats’ as a name for this blog?

Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve been part of the RSC Open Stages project and at a workshop in Stratford (get me, la-di-dah) someone described directing Shakespeare much like ‘herding cats.’  I think what they were implying was that it’s tough directing large casts and keeping everyone following the same artistic vision.  Either that or he was attempting a very experimental production!  Anyway, for want of a better name, that’s the reason why.

Next week, after the AGM, which I’m assured you’ll all be attending (!) we’ll have a read through of the play, which will give me a chance to hear if the editing of the sacred script has worked and to meet you all, most for the first time.

Then, the following week, THE AUDITIONS!!!  Gulp!.  For those attending, bring along a piece of Shakespeare .  It doesn’t have to be from The Dream.  Find something you’re fairly comfortable with.  And if you can learn it that would be great.  Auditions are notoriously nerve wracking and even more so if you’re not that experienced doing Shakespeare but fret ye not.  I’m not expecting the next Gielgud or Dame Judi.  We’ll have a bit of fun.  Infact, that’s what I’m aiming to do with the whole production.  Have fun, make it as accessible to EVERYONE as possible (actors and audience) and to produce a fabulous show.  And let’s not forget …. IT IS A COMEDY!

All the details you’ll need are here on the website but if you have any questions please get in contact with me on chrishawley8@gmail.com

I’m really looking forward to meeting you all and super excited that I’ve been asked to direct this production.  It’s going to be AWESOME!!!!

Chris

PS  I’m also looking for musicians as well as technical bods who might be able to help out with some pretty ambitious audio visual stuff.  Also, anyone interested in helping with costumes and makeup?