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In Rehearsals - A Splinter of Ice - Blog 1

Posted: 2021-03-10 12:00:00

It is almost exactly a year since the theatres closed and the country went into our first lockdown. When those theatres closed I had to close two productions and with hundreds of thousands of pounds lost and two companies of actors and stage managers made redundant over night. At that point it was more than likely that we might never produce another play. 

Yet here we are after months spent at home finally getting back into a rehearsal room to start work on Ben Brown’s latest play A Splinter of Ice. Throughout the year I wondered what rehearsing again would be like, would we remember all the small rituals and routines that are the glue that hold a rehearsal period together- yet of course once we got back in the room it’s been like a riding a bike, albeit a bike with very strange wheels…

The impact of those 12 months are all around us, from the temperature gun that greets us on arrival to the way the entire room has been marked up to ensure social distancing, to the masks that we all wear and of course to the fact that the shows co-director Alan Strachan will not be joining us in person.

Due to various reasons Alan can’t be with us in the room, but due to the new wonders of technology (and some zoom lessons from his home in Dundee) he is joining us everyday via a zoom link up and fish eyed lens which allows him to see and hear everything that goes on in the room.

And so, last week, after years of planning and months of stopping and starting the cast assembled in the room with the stage managers and myself whilst the creatives and Alan joined via zoom to listen to the first days read through. If anyone was to look at the set up just 12 months ago nobody would have quite believed it- it would be deemed stranger than fiction. Yet it works. Not without difficulty and not without a degree of trial and error and a huge amount of work behind the scenes to ensure everyone is able to work safely. It is a sign of how quickly we have all had to adapt to what at first seemed like an impossible situation.

Producing a play is always a risky business, producing a new play is even more precarious, producing a tour of a new play in a lockdown…is a challenge. Yet the difference and where all our digital work through the past months has made such a tangible impact in how we can use our new website (Original Online) and our skills learnt in filming to launch the play as an online production before we open it in front of an audience. It was never our intention to work this way around, yet the third lockdown meant that we had to make yet another plan after the previous 7 plans had all been rewritten… and they say that necessity is the mother of invention.

When we surveyed our online audience recently it become clear that many have access issues that have traditionally prevented them from watching productions in theatres. To state the obvious many of our new audience live abroad spread around over 50 countries and unable to get to Cheltenham or to Cambridge say to see us live. Some of our audience have underlying health issues meaning getting into a theatre in a busy town centre is just impractical and for others the economics of a night out at a theatre simply don’t add up or indeed the simple logistics of getting out to a theatre after a day of work for a 7:30pm start time is simply not always tenable.

In short we have, less by design and more out of necessity created a platform that offers people access to theatre where previously they couldn’t access it. We certainly are not the first to do this and we won’t be the last, but this marks a huge shift in the way we can produce work. As we now look at integrating all we have learnt from lockdown with all we have learnt through 15 years of producing touring theatre it is time now to put the best bits from the online experience into the joy of live performance. My sense is that audiences, myself included, cannot wait to get back into a theatre to experience the incomparable buzz of watching a play performed live surrounded by a full audience. We are certainly not planning on ceasing our work as a touring theatre company.

The online experience is not here to replace the live experience, but it is here to support it and complement it, to open our doors more widely and to help innovate the way our shows are financed. 

So back to rehearsals and we face the familiar mid rehearsal scramble when the play often seems elusive, when the lines don’t quite come as easily as we wish they would and when it all seems a bit insurmountable. Yet as I look across the room my stage managers in their masks and the actors valiantly ploughing on with Alan watching on diligently from his living room in Dundee I can only wonder at the resilience and adaptability of our industry, of this group of people and of our audiences who have all in their own way collaborated to make this happen. A world premiere, a new play and lets hope, a new beginning.