On the 27th February 2017, we received our commission brief for our Final Major Project. When we were first given the proposal, we were told that theme of our show was to be ‘Saints and Sinners’. Initially, I was extremely excited about the theme as I felt that the two elements were greatly contrasted which would make for an interesting piece that would commandeer the audience’s attention when watching the show. To begin with, myself and the company wanted to explore the idea of setting the performance in a cafe theatre style. The reason behind this was that many of the company members, including myself, partook in the show ‘The little things you do together’ when they first joined Conservatoire East, and found that it was a fantastic way to engage and involve the audience as we would be performing so close to them. However as stated on the commission brief, the show had to be performed “End on” theatre. Immediately, we all began exploring ways in which we could adapt the ideas we had for the cafe theatre (such as audience participation) and perform them ‘end on’ instead. As so much work had gone into finalising what the style of the show would be at such an early stage, it seemed promising that the next thirteen weeks of the process would be just as organised, moreover the unity between the company at this stage was impeccable as everyone pulled together to create the foundations of our show at a rapid pace.
Also stated in the commission brief, the show needed to be performed in ‘revue’ style. Meaning that the disciplines of Singing, dancing and acting all had to be used in the piece, in order to give everyone ample opportunity to show off the skills they have acquired during their time at Conservatoire East. At first I was a little unsure of how we would link the pieces together in the show this way, after having watched the year 1’s commission ‘Art and life’ where there were often awkward silent gaps between pieces that confused the audience and disrupted the flow of the performance on the whole. However, in order to show off everyone in the company’s skills, this was the only appropriate style to enable this, therefore we had to bare in mind what we had learned from watching the year 1′ commission and create transitions between the pieces to ensure that the performance ran as fluidly as possible. Overall I was happy with the foundations set for the show as I felt that this was an easy way to show off the skills I have learned in each of the disciplines. Having started the course on the Musical Theatre pathway and then switching to Acting, I learnt a range of skills in each of the disciplines that could be entwined in the piece and really wanted to sing in the performance since overcoming my fear, and felt that it would be a great opportunity to stretch myself and test my fears to the maximum level.
When choosing my 3 ideas, I initially linked the theme of ‘Saints and Sinners’ with religion. I started to research the christian religious views around what they believe a saint and a sinner actually is and began to compare those with that of the Buddhist and Catholic views. From this, I came across the ideas of the seven heavenly virtues and the seven deadly sins, I then collaborated the idea of the sins and virtues with inspiration I took from a sketch in the year 1’s commission called ‘Inside out’ where ‘feelings’ were personified. I then merged the two together to come up with the idea of the sins and virtues as personified people. When choosing my next ideas, I looked at things I enjoy and took a lot of inspiration from other performances I had watched over the past year to come up with a Midsommer Murders sketch and a Shaun of the Dead dance piece where innocent people become bad, however it is against their own will. I felt that these pieces would stretch my ability and confidence and enable me to show off the skills I had learned over the past 2 years. Primarily, I wanted to act in the overall performance as that is my pathway, however, I also wanted to perform in a dance and singing piece too.
After researching our ideas, we were then given the opportunity to present them to the rest of the year group. One of the ideas presented was a structural idea for the performance where the entire piece would be set in a nightclub that is a representation of purgatory. This idea ended up setting the foundations for the rest of the show and we needed to ensure that the rest of the pieces would fit into the structure. I was very pleased with this idea being chosen as the structure as I felt it gave us the best opportunity to show what defines somebody as a saint or a sinner. We were then told that the piece was to be based on the personified seven heavenly virtues and the seven deadly sins partnered up to their opposites. As this was originally one of my ideas, I was enthralled that it would be used in the overall performance, especially as this was the idea I had researched into the most and really worked on. The following week brought us the pieces that were to be included in the performance. Unfortunately, my ideas for the Shaun of the dead and Midsomer Murder’s sketches were not made into the final cut as they did not particularly fit well into the nightclub structure, and as explained by Lynn, they were too over used to be put into the show. However, I was prepared to be professional and ‘kill my darlings’ as I knew much more suitable ideas were proposed in the ideas presentations that would suit the show perfectly. However, in future I have learned to equal the amount of time I spend on my ideas to ensure I have 3 strong ideas and not just 1. The first draft structure of the piece showed us that the performance was to be set in a nightclub representing purgatory and the nightclub was to be owned by ‘Saint Jimmy’ – taken as inspiration for the song ‘Saint Jimmy by Green Day’ (An idea proposed by Jack in the ideas presentations)
The individual pieces that made the final cut were then announced to us the following week. One of the main issues that we encountered after the presentation of ideas was that most of the ideas revolved around sinners and there were not many ideas that contained saints in them. To overcome this problem, a few extra ideas that were not proposed by us were added into the show to give an even balance and show what the theme of the performance was more accurately. Once we were given the pieces to work with we were all allocated sections to perform each, I was put into the Melodrama, Talking To Terrorists, Bring on the Men and Finale scenes. Initially, I was not entirely happy with my placement in the Melodrama as it was originally going to be about the story of ‘St Edmund’ and I was to be playing the wolf. I felt that this was not going to give me ample opportunity to show off my skills and felt that I was very much performing in a T.I.E company again, however, upon reflection, I realise that a part is as only as big as you make it and began to warm to the idea of being in the Melodrama after all. On the contrary, I was extremely excited to be working on the ‘Talking to Terrorists’ piece with James as I felt that the piece would give me the opportunity to stretch my acting skills on an emotional front and was my main piece that I would be in. I was prepared to do the piece justice and to portray a moving scene to the audience. I was also happy to be put in the ‘Bring on the Men’ number as I felt that it wouldn’t necessarily show off my dance ability, but help me to come out of my comfort zone and challenge me to act raunchy – which is something I have never done before, and would probably feel a little embarrassed to do in all honesty. However, I was ready to rise to the challenge. To begin with I was quite unhappy with the amount of pieces I was placed in however it quickly became apparent that this was plenty enough of a workload for myself and I would have a chance to perform acting, song and dance pieces which was what I originally wanted to do. Personally, I feel that it took far too long for us to be given the final structure of the show which set us back quite a bit. It also meant that we did not have enough time to rehearse anything to show for the Work In Progress session, therefore we could not get any feedback at an early stage. I know that this frustrated many people, myself included as we knew we had a tight schedule what with losing valuable rehearsal time for bank holiday’s, holidays and the show week for Bonnie and Clyde. However, I feel that everybody dealt with this in a calm manner and started work on their pieces straight away, although it was important to remember that we needed to take our time in creating the show in order to ensure that it made sense. It was essential to be conscious of our time frame but to not rush the process otherwise the outcome would not be at the highest standard it could possible be at.
When given the piece ‘Talking to Terrorists’ I instantly began researching my character Caroline. I felt that it was necessary to have a little background character research to work with before diving straight into learning and line running the scene, that way I would have a good understanding of what my character is like and how I was to portray her. After researching my character I read the play itself and researched into IRA bombings, I felt that this helped me gain an even greater understanding of the piece and what it was about. The next stage of rehearsing for ‘Talking to Terrorists’ was cutting the script. James and I began looking at the dialogue and cutting the script shorter, remembering that any changes we made still needed to make sense. However in doing this, we encountered many problems. To begin with, I decided that cutting the script would be inappropriate as the play is verbatim theatre and cutting the dialogue would not do the piece justice, it also felt a little disrespectful to do so too. Another problem we faced was that although I had plenty to perform, James had very little to say. We raised this issue with Lynn and she helped us to extend the script to ensure both James and I had an equal opportunity to show our skills. I was a little worried at first as I thought that by extending the script, I would have even more to say and it would not balance the amount of dialogue said between James and I, however, Lynn decided to cut one of my lines and merge James’ lines together in order to give him more to say without adding to my work load, which seemed to work tremendously.
Communication wise, I felt that there was not much communication at all. James and I created a group chat with our assigned technician for our piece, Richard. Where we would organise meetings and discuss ideas about costume and lighting. We sent Richard our final copy of the script early on as I felt that it was important for the tech team to have the correct cues early on as they were also working towards 3 other shows and did not want the piece to be overlooked. As for discussing costume, very little communication occurred about this subject, Richard, James and I held a meeting to discuss the possible costume ideas however nothing was put into motion. James and myself ended up discussing what would be suitable and appropriate to wear on stage with Lynn, whom suggested that James wore a Harrington jacket and kept his costume casual, where as I would need to wear smart clothing given the nature of my character. Another way of communicating was through a chat that James and I had ourselves where we arrange times and places to meet to rehearse the piece together, another great help that I found was James’ support worker Ted. Ted was often extremely helpful in easing the rehearsal process as he would often photocopy and print off scripts and source any resources that we needed in order to save time.
On the other hand, ‘Bring on the Men’ was a completely different rehearsal process. As the piece involved several of the company members, it was often difficult to find a rehearsal period where everyone was available due to the performers being on different pathways and involved in other pieces towards the show. The main difficulty we had was finding a time that suited Beth, Sian and Emma as they were the waitress’ and were all involved in a lot of other scenes. It was decided that Lou and I would not be dancing in the piece, however we would be singing and interacting with the audience and POSH boys on the stage, the other girls involved would then be dancing. A huge problem that we faced was the fact that the dancers had choreographed the dance to the original track, however the waitress’ and Lou took it upon themselves to buy another track that had a completely different time signature to the one before and not tell the dancers about the decision they had made until two weeks prior to the show. Eventually, via a Facebook group chat that we had for the piece the waitress’ posted the new track for everyone to listen to, which came as quite a surprise to the other company members. Upon listening to the track, it became apparent that the two scores were completely different to each other and the dancers would need to re-choreograph the entire piece in order for it to fit to the new music timings. Understandably, this caused a lot of frustration amongst the dancers and the waitress and the group chat we had quickly turned sour. I found there to be a lot of immature and rude comments exchanged and the group divided into two separate sides, the dancers and the waitress’. This hindered the process greatly as there was more time spent arguing than adapting to the decision made. I found the behaviour between the group to be completely unacceptable. Upon reflection, I feel that I did not do everything that I could to ease the situation, however I was in a position where I felt the new track sounded more appropriate but the dancers should have been told earlier, therefore I was very much middle grounded. I did talk to the dancers and we discussed why everyone was so frustrated and eventually, the dancers began to adapt to the new track and re-choreograph the piece. I just feel that this could have been done without all of the drama beforehand as the piece was still under rehearsed two days before the show was due to open. Another issue that arose was the vocals for the piece. Personally, I was extremely worried about the vocals as not only were the timings of the new track difficult, but the main vocalist of the piece was not a strong singer and often struggled with pitching and timings. This often frustrated the other company members of the piece as they would sing in for said person when they made a mistake in order for the dancers to keep in time with the track. Several times I took it upon myself to help this person with the vocals for her section and eventually it was evident to see she had been working hard to perfect the piece within the way she performed with confidence and minimal timing issues. However, it was decided that all of the waitress’ would sing all of the verses to ensure that the vocals were pitched well and sounded much stronger. Moreover, it was decided that Lou and I would not be involved in the number which I feel benefited piece well, however I do feel that the piece could have benefited further if there were less dancers on the stage as at times it often looked a little messy and rushed. Personally, I feel that the costumes for this number suited the nature of the piece well, I believe that they were thought out well as they were black and red and these exact colours were mentioned in the lyrics of the song which linked everything together nicely. It was not difficult to source the costumes as they were previously used for another performance, and were stored in the dance cupboard. On the whole, communication amongst the group could have been improved and saved much more valuable rehearsal time, which in turn would have stopped the process from being so rushed and panicked. Our assigned production arts student for this piece was Lucy, however very little communication happened between the group and Lucy until show week which meant that the production side of the number was organised by the dancers which also added to the unnecessary pressure of getting everything finalised and perfected in time.
The rehearsal process for the melodrama got off to an extremely rocky start. There was a lot of confusion to begin with as the piece was originally supposed to be based on the story of St Edmund, however the company discussed the idea that this would not fit into the performance well and decided to change the melodrama into a spoof between the love triangle involving Lou, Harry and Beth’s characters. James, Leah and myself were originally the actors in the piece and Emma was the narrator. Initially Josh decided to take on the role of writing the first draft for the piece, however after several weeks of waiting for a script in order for the rehearsal process to begin, Josh said that he wasn’t able to write one. This was extremely frustrating therefore, I took responsibility for writing the first draft to ensure we had something to work with. I then posted what I had written in the group chat for the piece but was not confident in what I had written as I had never written a script before, this was then edited by Beth to ensure that it made sense and involved everybody equally. Once the script was finalised, we began rehearsing for the piece. As we had to wait so late for a script to be written, we had very little time to rehearse the melodrama, therefore we felt that it was appropriate to call Erica in to direct and block the piece with us to ensure minimal distractions occurred and to speed up the process. We worked a little on drunk acting and decided that in order to change the way we looked and to ease the audience’s confusion, we needed to use a dressing up box with several items that each of the characters we were spoofing had. I felt that this was a good idea and a simple yet effective way to ensure that the piece made sense to the audience. Personally, I feel that there was an extreme lack of communication between the group members which resulted in a stressful process to finish the piece and to perform it at a high standard. I also felt that it was put aside by many of the company as they saw it as an unimportant piece and prioritised other pieces over it.
Sadly, I was unable to perform in the final performance as I was unable to attend some rehearsals due to a personal matter that I was not able to help. The final decision to have me cut from the show upset me a lot as I was looking forward to performing. I also could not comprehend why they would cut someone from a show who knew what they were doing and replace them with someone who had to learn everything from scratch a week prior to the show. From this decision, there was a lot of speculation about why I was cut from the show and it caused a lot of my peers to resent me due to the strain that was caused by the whole group having to adapt to my absence. Many of my peers overlooked the work I had done towards the final performance and felt that I had made no effort due to ‘lack of drive to learn’ and ‘poor commitment’ – which was NOT the case. It upset me that my peers saw me this way and I felt extremely embarrassed. Upon reflection, I have learnt that I cannot let other people’s opinions affect me or let resentment towards me hold me back from what I am supposed to do. I am extremely grateful to the other company members who filled my place, Lou (for Talking to Terrorists) and Sophia (for the Melodrama) I feel that they adapted fantastically well, especially Lou who learned my entire script in a week and then due to the unfortunate events of the Manchester attacks and the piece being pulled from the show, had to learn a completely different piece in 24 hours and have it finalised and show ready. For that I cannot commend Lou enough.
Personally, as whole, I found that communication lacked at times. Despite there being group chats and a Facebook page made for everyone to contact each other, a few people often did not contribute towards discussions or propose any ideas that they had. A prime example of this would be when the company we discussing Logo designs on the Facebook page and at various points, the tutors had to tag people to ensure that they got involved and even then, they sometimes did not. If we were to do the project again, I would suggest that their be more ‘formal’ meetings and discussions so that everyone has the opportunity to voice their opinions.
An important part of this process was leaning to get along with everyone, I found that getting frustrated at people often causes more conflict, (Something which happened during our T.I.E project) I personally find it hard to find the balance between not getting a response from someone and getting frustrated. However I am now capable of dealing with situations alike and have found methods and ways of which the process can move forward with minimum conflict.
On a different note, I feel that many members of the company struggled with the layout of the last few weeks of the project. As many cast members were also performing in Bonnie and Clyde, it proved to be a strain on everybody to perfect the show and have ample time to do it in, due to being taken out to rehearse for a different show. I myself feel that the show were far to close together and with myself being taken out of the performance and half of the cast unavailable to rehearse, it made everything feel a little rushed and made the aims we had set extremely hard to meet in the time frame we had. I feel that it was unnecessary stress that the company did not need and did not enable everyone to focus on the project fully as they should have allowed to have been.