At the weekend, our creative producer and NT Connections director, Helen, went to London to explore this year’s NT Connections play and get some ideas going ready for auditions and rehearsals, which kick off in November…
It was Friday afternoon and I’d had a VERY busy week, my job managing Juice Festival really kicks off this time of year so I was ready to put my director’s hat on and dig into this year’s NT Connections play ‘It Snows’ with a trip to National Theatre (please note, I don’t actually have a director’s hat, but I did don my director’s neon pink top to raise my spirits and blind everyone in the room)
After a food filled train journey with the marvellous Kiz Crosbie (our temporary stand in for our other NT Connections project up in SE Northumberland!), and a Friday night kip, we headed to National Theatre to get started.
It was a big group of people, and everyone else picked the play “because it’s physical” – but my thoughts were ‘aren’t all plays physical in some way?!’ – I picked it because I could relate to the characters, and I remembered the story after I had read it, and I thought it would be a good challenge for me and performers from TVYT.
We did some useful activities – I particularly liked ‘if this scene was a food/drink/animal what would it be?’ It helped me think creatively about the piece and get away from my literal thinking! One of the scenes was a glass of fizzy prosecco and a meerkat. I found if you really trusted these kinds of exercises they worked – they helped us get into the world of the play, imagine we were there and get ideas going – but some of the group struggled – it showed me that you need to trust stuff and give it a go – this is something I’m going to be looking for in the auditions for the piece – actors who will try new ways of doing things and having trust and enthusiasm for that.
‘It Snows’ is about two characters, a boy and a girl, and the other people in their lives, their challenges and desires, and takes place at Winter time when everything gets covered in snow and the mood uplifts and things change. It is written by Bryony Lavery in collaboration with one of my all-time favourite theatre companies Frantic Assembly – Frantic tell stories through text and scripts combined with physical theatre – their shows are incredible – I was literally gobsmacked watching their Shakespeare’s Othello set in a Yorkshire snooker bar and sobbed my eyes out during their play ‘Love Song’ (and continued to sob for about half an hour afterwards!) so I’m excited to be working on one of their pieces. Our director for the day was Damian Cruden – Artistic Director of York Theatre Royal. He started the day telling us that at the heart of his theatre was work with the community and young people – music to my ears – this is what I care about.
Damian shared my views on characterisation, and alleviated my fear of the play stereotyping character groups too much by insisting that every single performer in the play should have an individual character, with an individual story, and individual thoughts, feelings, needs (those who were in Hospital Food will know this is VERY important to me). So another thought for auditions, the piece isn’t traditional in structure but everyone in it needs to put their all in, create an individual character (even if they don’t ever speak), take responsibility and be immersed in the play all the way through. I need performers who are willing to really embed their character in the piece – and be willing to put in 100% to create their own story within it and get that across to our audiences.
It was a full on morning, it was difficult, and we had to do some stuff which was a bit scary and a bit embarrassing – this put me in the shoes of my cast and made me remember that I should always be willing to do what I ask my cast to do!
Who knows who else might have gone past if I’d stayed there a little longer… The afternoon session took place in a MASSIVE DANCE STUDIO – WHICH I LOVED.
We worked with a practitioner from Frantic Assembly, which was a treat, and I got a load of games and exercises from her that I’ll be trying out with my group (I might have to insist on sweat absorption clothing for the cast, and I need to get fit over Christmas, which will be really easy with all of the cheeseboards and chocolates on offer).
I had to act as an ‘awkward and silent’ Dad, we played out groups of ‘Girls’ and ‘Boys’ and ‘Mums’, that are found in the play – but I constantly reminded myself of the individual characters, an ensemble is a group of INDIVIDUALS – there will be no ‘ten people playing one person’ in my play!
I won’t lie, there were some cringey moments of ‘adults being young people doing physical theatre’ (I am willing to act some of these out on request), but I got some good ideas to take away. This is going to be my big challenge – a play that isn’t ‘conventional’ or ‘traditional’ in style – I want to combine my own techniques and ideas working with characters, relationships, stories, with a less traditional structure – using physical theatre, poetic writing, visual storytelling. My main aim is to use new ideas and ways of doing things to tell the story better. This is my last thought for auditions and casting – I need performers who are willing to try new ways of telling stories, and keep trying and creating til we find something that works (and definitely ISN’T cringey!), especially creating something with physical theatre techniques, games and exercises. I also have some interesting ideas to give to our technical designer about projection, but that’s for another day.
End of day – I was knackered, we arrived at Kings Cross – I purchased and then ate two meals (I was HUNGRY) and upgraded to first class as a treat for me and Kiz. And now I have a lot of work to do to get this play ready, plan auditions, plan rehearsals, and make sure everyone involved has a MINT time making this play amazing.
Auditions for Tyne Valley Youth Theatre’s NT Connections production of ‘It Snows’ directed by Helen Ferguson are on Saturday 21st November, in Riding Mill 12-6pm.
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