All posts by Sarah-Jane

Site Visits: East/South East

Final two site visits this week. On Tuesday we headed off to Norwich for a look around The Garage. We didn’t make the Dartford toll this time and so ended up paying a whacking £2.00 to head East for the day  – but it was completely worth it! the sun was shining, The Venue is ace and the on site coffee was very nice (I even got to hug the poorly sick “Scooby” who gave us a tour of the space and the rest of the venue!). Another huge plus point to this venue is that we have SOLD OUT!!!! That’s right people – Handheld Arts, a new(ish) company on their first tour have a sold out show – and whats more, Scooby informed us that the show had actually sold out even before the posters went up! He actually apologised for there only being a few posters up saying that as we had sold out they needed to highlight other shows more. I am more than happy about this situation – particularly as the two Paper Tom posters that I spotted at The Garage were two more than I spotted at some of the other venues that we have visited and where we are far from sold out!

Going in for a hug with Scooby

The following day we paid a visit to The Gulbenkian Theatre, which is part of the University of Kent in Canterbury. This is one of the larger venues that we are performing in. We were shown around the space by Jake (the most dapper technical manager I have ever encountered!) before snatching a bit of time with Jess from the marketing department to see what we can do to get a few more bums on seats.

Squinting towards the future

Time for me to make a contribution to the blog. I’ve decided to come out to the National Theatre café to write this entry and I shall explain why…

As I mentioned before, I’m not a natural writer – so I’ve decided to put myself ‘in role’ to try and get this bad boy written. I’ve come to the National Theatre café with the idea of assuming the identity of one of those arty/theatre-ry people that can often be seen here who, without hesitation/procrastination, sit tip-tapping away on their MacBooks with only a latte for company looking all intellectual, creative, and cool. I’ve got to be honest, I’m not really carrying it off not least because… 1) I don’t have a Mac (don’t like them and can’t use them) 2) I’m all squinty as my glasses broke the other day and I don’t have the money and/or time to get new ones sorted out just yet – so It’s squint or wear my prescription sunglasses inside the NT café… BUT… I’m about 180 words further along in writing this blog entry than I have been for the last eight weeks so I think it’s had the desired effect – although the fear of coming out with the one remaining working computer is also a driving factor of coming home with this blog ready to upload.

We’ve suffered a few challenges over at Handheld Arts recently – technical and otherwise. Alex managed to bring this netbook back from the dead after it threw a wobbler but the other 3 laptops and one PC that we have in the house are all in various states of decay which is not ideal when we are swamped by lots of admin based tasks at present and will shortly need to update the visual media for the show.

We also had the news that Ilana has decided not to join us for the Autumn tour, which comes as part of her wider decision to give up the whole theatre thing as, with turning 30, her imminent nuptials and the mooring to be paid on the boat that she owns – theatre just hasn’t provided her with the right ratio of effort to financial reward. Maybe in another company this declaration would have caused what I think is called a ‘shit-storm’, but the fact is I think we completely understood where she was coming from. I often used to think about how great it would be to finally be at the stage as a company/theatre maker where I would be off rehearsing and then touring our work – and part of those thoughts about touring included the idea that if I was touring our work then it would mean I was making my living out of doing Handheld Arts – ‘living the dream’ – if you like. Well, touring the show and receiving funding from the Arts Council England to do the show this year is a dream come true – the reality is that the wages I receive from this tour won’t reflect the hours and money that have gone into getting Paper Tom to this point. Sometimes, having to choose between having the central heating fixed and sorting out the plumbing for the sink so that I’m no longer in a position where I’m cleaning my teeth via the bath tap this December whilst wearing a minimum of three layers, and paying for your accommodation in Edinburgh (and needing to choose the later because you’ve already paid the venue and the fringe registration fee) takes it’s psychological toll on you and how you feel about wanting to make theatre as a career.

I was originally going to do a blog about the five and a half hour long chat Alex and I had with Ilana after hearing about her decision to not do the show. I’d thoughts of calling it “Breaking up is hard to do” and talk about the totally clichéd break-up moment that came at the end of that long chat where we all laughed together, got frustrated about the challenge of it all together, got depressed together and then just generally felt a little bit lost about all this theatre/life lark before we concluded with Ilana giving Alex and I an invitation to her wedding and me a box of chocolates (for my birthday) before I handed over a bag of her things that I had found at my house. It contained items from various visits and shows that she’d come over to make – a tupperware box, a tea cup and saucer, a pair of jeans, a top, some tracksuit bottoms, a pair of pyjamas – a toothbrush and some CDs and the cliché would have been complete. Having had a bit more time to think about it all though (and procrastinate – it is writing after all!), it seems that whilst breaking up is hard to do, it can prove even harder to stay together and keep going.

With this in mind I’m wondering how Alex and I will be feeling at the end of this process. We’re already beginning to feel quite overwhelmed at the moment and often find ourselves wondering whether Handheld Arts are at the beginning of something great or the end of it – I imagine only time and tour will tell us that. I think I’m managing to stay positive about it all though (it might not look that way from the face I’m pulling at the moment – it’s getting dark outside now which has intensified my squinting and left no room for the sunglasses option to see to get this finished) as I know what an achievement it is and how pleased we are to have made it this far with the labour of love show that is Paper Tom. To be taking it to the venues that we are, is something I was only able to imagine a year ago.

There is certainly an opportunity to feel positive about the challenge of taking on a bigger role in the performance by doubling up my part of Lucy with the character of Rachel (formerly played by Ilana). I’m usually very much an ‘ensemble’ style performer within shows – and I’m really happy with that. I l like to be a part of shows in performance but for me the real challenge, thrill and joy of performance is in its creation. I’ve always felt fortunate to be involved as a performer (and often musician) in shows that I was in – but not so in it that I wasn’t able sample a little of what the audience were getting from watching it (or maybe I’m just greedy and want to have my cake and eat it).

We met with our actors the other day to measure for costumes and to have a read through of the script to see how it worked with me playing both female characters, and it was fine. I didn’t really feel too weird if I’m honest – but I think that’s because it hasn’t really sunk in that I’ll be doing all female ‘acting’ bits now. It just felt like I was reading in, keeping Ilana’s seat warm. I imagine at the moment that it will only sink in at the start of the first show when I turn to do the special warm up ritual that Ilana and I had developed between ourselves for just us girls (it consisted of a rhythmic slapping/clapping rhyme, a chest bump and then a quick sniff of a vicks inhaler) and she won’t be there.

And we’re off…

Yesterday was a day of firsts…

1) First day of rehearsal
2) First time working with a new ‘Tom’/’Dave’ (and punter no: 3!)
3) First time using the rehearsal space we have hired for this period

And I’m pretty sure from how things went yesterday, that it was the first of many ‘day of firsts’ to come.

First days are always a little odd – and I can be a bit of a ‘piglet’ about change and new things. The task of making a show happen how you imagine it should can sometimes feel rather overwhelming, and whilst this has still pretty much been the case – I have for the first time felt that I could also be excited about making this show happen again (ooh… another first!). I’m not sure that’s something I’m allowed to admit to really, as surely the very least you can expect from a theatre-maker is for them to be excited by the prospect of putting their work on it’s feet – but in all honesty, as the time gets closer to a show, the piglet in me starts to think about all the things that could go wrong and to the varying degrees this could happen. This time though, things feel different. Something has opened me up to considering all the things that could go right – that things could maybe even be better than they have ever been with ‘Paper Tom’!

This new found optimism about the rehearsal process has already been rewarded. Yesterday we managed to cover one more scene than we thought we would get through and reworked the waltz scene, which has come on leaps and bounds (literally!). I’m not saying that it was without its challenges – working with a new person is brilliant for making you reconsider your work as they come to it with a fresh perspective. However, some of the points they raise can be hard to hear and even understand at times. All the previous ‘Toms’, and all of Handheld Arts have trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama – and I wonder how much of that shared experience of being a Central Alumni (‘Centralites’ I believe is a term that is used!) effects the way in which we operate in a rehearsal room together; if somehow there is a language or particular philosophy that becomes part of the psyche of someone trained at CSSD and provides some sort of ‘short cut’ or default way of doing things that we have come to expect/accept as how things happen.

The new ‘Tom’ is from Drama Centre – and he is great!… and he totally brings something to the process we’ve never had before and we like it! It’s what we wanted (we even said as much in our Arts Council Application!), an opportunity to exchange skills and gain new experience. Someone to come and shed a different light on how we do things and how we might do things – a cultural exchange if you will. It seems to me we’re all a bit like a group of very polite tourists at the moment, doing our best to show willing and speak the local language, experiencing the occasional awkward pause while we scrabble about in our phrase books to find the best way to communicate any confusions that are happening and to find a way of resolving them together.

The map of the show for our Pulse10 R&D performance (Leywick Street: May 2010)

The other new thing is our rehearsal space. This is the first time we have worked on something since Theatre Venture ceased after 30 years, leaving a huge hole in the artistic landscape of East London, and us without “The magic of Leywick Street”. Leywick Street was Theatre Venture’s rehearsal space, former office and storage space. It was three storeys of rough and ready rooms, complete with cobwebs, peeling paint and the most random collection of set, props, costumes and technical equipment that had all made themselves at home in this former cookery of a Victorian school in East London. It would probably not be many companies first choice of rehearsal space but I loved it. We loved it. I’m not adverse to beautiful empty spaces with white walls and sprung floors – but I do find them a little intimidating (piglet again!). I imagine that if they could speak they’d be saying “I’m watching you – This better be good!” and I end up adopting the same attitude I have when walking around the glass department of John Lewis, whereas Leywick street would have probably have said something along the lines of “you take your time – I’m just going for a little snooze , wake me up if you need me.” But wouldn’t you know it… my optimism was again rewarded again and our new space (the rehearsal room at The Brockley Jack Theatre) has a touch of the Leywicks about it – with remnants of previous shows, marks on the floor and someone else’s set getting ready to be moved out on the side of the room. It gives me confidence. It shows me that this space is tried and tested, a trophy cabinet of evidence that says “We all did it – and so will you!”. I like it!

More “Leywick Magic” for our second R&D phase, featuring ‘the Board of possibilities’ and our boxes looking very Neapolitan (Leywick Street: November 2010)

And now to the end of my first ever blog entry (yet another first!). I’m not a natural writer – possibly due to being dyslexic, possibly due to my fairly short attention span, where having to write down my thoughts is a bit like going over old ground – Once I’ve had my thought I’ve moved on and the thought that goes into writing stuff down takes up time that could be spent having new thoughts. I’m not sure if any of what I’ve written or will write will be of any interest to anyone – or if anyone outside of Handheld is even going to look at this. It’s hard to imagine what people would want to know about what we do and how we do it.

Today I’m off to get the costumes with our 2 actors. It’s Steve’s Birthday today and as the costume place is in Southend-on-Sea I said I’d buy him an Ice Cream if he was good. I wonder how the car journey will be – Line runs maybe? Odd not to have another member of Handheld out with me!