There are theatre weeks which pass by in a blur, last weeks development week at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough was one of those- compacted and immersive- periods when time not actively used focusing on the world of I Love You Baby became a hazy speedy carousel of Travelodge baths, Costa coffee toast and jam breakfasts, Weatherspoons dinners (with pint of real ale and groaning condiment cage included) and countless walks up and down Westborough towards the beauty that is the Old Odeon building.
There were vast moody gold streaked skies over the harbour and views of choppy seas with seal-like surfers floating on top.
There was no ice cream but there were many chips, there were actors and people and Qlab cues and seagulls outside the window and there was a play in the middle of it all, birthing at pace.
Monday meant 2 development workshops, focusing on the crossover audience appeal touched on previously in this blog, constructed with the aim of finding exercises and activities, which would work for a wide range of people and which, crucially, don’t rely on language or cognitive ability to engage with.
Once I’ve assimilated the learning’s and outcomes from the workshops, I’ll shape a package which can be delivered to partner venues to enable outreach departments, in tandem with Dark Horse, to deliver to groups and individuals who may want to come and see the eventual production- and also enjoy exploring the world of the play.
In the morning a large group of people of all ages with learning disabilities came to a workshop where, after I led an extended warm-up using the silent approach , alongside cast member Lucy Campbell, everyone performed the I Love You Baby dance and song. We were joined by the Dark Horse ensemble, all strong facilitators, and the theatre was busy and abuzz with activity, sound, excitement, engagement and curiosity.
By now working in the round itself- the fantastic performance space at the heart of the Stephen Joseph Theatre- everyone was then introduced to a mock up of the computer generated character of BABY via an ipad and began to explore the central themes of the work, around change, transition and family relationships.
Rounding off the workshop with a re-cap of all we’d learned and developed the feedback was positive and interest and a strong desire to see the play itself had been engendered.
It was clear that this was a group of people who would be very keen to come into the theatre space to see the work, where previously they may not have known about it, and that counts as a huge success- and learning- moving forwards in terms of framing content which appeals to broad audiences.
In the afternoon a further workshop engaged directors (The wonderful Chris Monks, Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, was there and led from the front with the dancing) practitioners and other interested people and once again the round was filled with activity and engagement.
Concerned not to deliver two different workshops to two different constituencies I framed the same content and delivery in the afternoon, using the silent approach and exercises and adding an extra exercise which integrated the whole room around the topic of food.
The character of CLARENCE is a brilliant cook and every workshop participant was able to share their culinary experience in an improvisational setting.
Day 2 was our first (and last) rehearsal day for act 1 prior to the scratch performance and Faye Billing (SADIE), Jo Gerard (SAMANTHA) and Aaron Cobham (TYLER) joined Lucy Campbell (GRACE) and Dark Horse actors Toby Meredith and Rebekah Hill.
It was great to rehearse in the round, a space I have a long association with, my first outing there was with my play LOVE ME SLENDER in the Odeon theatre’s first season immediately after Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ayckbourn opened BY JEEVES and further plays of mine POOR MRS. PEPYS, HYPOTHERMIA and SING SOMETHING SIMPLE have all played the Stephen Joseph.
There’s a resonance about the space for me though I try not to listen to the ghosts of previous characters.
Forty five minutes of new play in a day is a tall order but the scratch cast were magnificent, coming off the book and having clearly done a lot of research and character work.
Thankfully we were able to rehearse the song and then have everyone come into SAMANTHA’S flat in character, play off each other, use rehearsal props, be in the space, work the text, deliver complex movement sequences and have it all done and dusted and run once by dinner time.
The following day a responsive and intrigued audience watched the scratch performance and gave very valuable verbal and written feedback about the play and the concept.
The writer was gratified to receive a 100 per cent positive response and benefited enormously from seeing the play on it’s feet.
The director however is aware of the need to make a cut and adaptation and for a new sequence of dialogue to clarify plot and themes- but she’ll choose her moment to drop this bombshell.
All in all it was a terrifically developmental and positive experience at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Watch this for a further insight into an extraordinary week in a thrilling process…