2016 – The Year of Dreams

2016 is a big year for our family.

Firstly, my darling sister is getting married at the end of January. I know that people get married all of the time – I mean, I’m married, so I did it once –  but this is different because this is MY SISTER. My  baby sister, who despite having her own baby and house and dog, is still my baby sister. And she’s going to get married, and become someone’s* Mrs.

(*OK, so that someone is Garethy, and I’ve known him for nearly ten years, but she’s MY sister.)

Anyway, so that’s happening. And that’s ridiculously big, and I can’t wait and I’m definitely, definitely going to cry. I’m crying a bit now, already.

And then, of course, there’s #Dream2016

I’m sorry about the hashtag in the middle of the blog. I know that’s not really cricket, but you see there’s this woman called Mar, who is like a social media guru, working on this project, and she’s embedded it into me that I must hashtag #Dream2016 at all times. I even do it in texts to my own husband.

#Dream2016, for those who are not regular readers, is a project run by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Yes, the real one.

They are touring Shakespeare’s magnificent play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to commemorate 400 years since the big man died. And, because it’s apparently not hard enough to produce a Shakespeare play on a global level, they have decided to mix a cast of professionals and amateurs. Oh, and tour it.

The pros will play the royals and the fairies, and the amateurs will play “the rude mechanicals.” So in each region of the UK, a different amateur company will play the parts of Bottom and the Mechanicals with the 18-strong professional cast. In summer, we all get to go to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford, and perform there too.

ba-rsc-0054.jpg

Lots of people auditioned, and my theatre company (The Lovelace Theatre Group) were successful. So I’m Bottom. Which is a statement that makes my 6 year old crack up into tears of hysteria every time I say it.

And this week, the start of January 2016, we started proper rehearsals for Dream.

We got the script, we’ve met the pros, and we have a call sheet of rehearsals that is fuller-time than my full-time job, and we are off on this journey of magic, discovery, theatre and wishes-come-true.

Because, even though it was a year ago that we first auditioned, and even though we have known that we were cast since last June, each and every day I still have to pinch myself because I still cannot readily believe it.

This is huge. Playing the part of Bottom for the RSC is a ridiculously big concept. It’s so big, that I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s not even a dream come true, because the very notion of playing this part for the RSC would never have entered my head as a dream – because even dreams have to have some grounding in reality. And this #Dream2016 project is so far beyond any possible hope that I could ever have had, that the words to describe it have not yet been invented. If only there was a playwright or a bard or someone who could help me out here…

So, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. (When I say “a lot” I do mean all the time. I barely can even put together a plate of spaghetti without breaking into a verse of the Ousel Cock) and when I’m flitting between Incredulity and Hysteria, I occasionally pass through Reasoned Assessment, and I realise that actually I AM going to have to put some hours in, and do some research, and rehearse, and practice and get ready for this extraordinary experience the best way I can, to be in the best shape I can be for the performances. I owe it to the RSC, to Lovelace, to everyone who invested in me ever, to my family, and to me. I cannot waste this challenge and chance.

So I’ve been thinking. What, here, is my inspiration? What has shaped me and moulded me to become who I am on the stage?

My love of theatre, like most am drammers, began when I was very young. Progressing from school plays to being a part of a local semi-pro theatre company, and moving onto a bit of TV extra work. When I did my A Levels, one of them was Theatre Studies, and I did really rather well, so I decided to go ahead and do it as a degree. My degree was a bit strange as due to weird financial issues I did two years in Nottingham and a final year in Norwich at the UEA, and my degree ended up being a mixture of Performing Arts, Theatre Studies and English Literature.

I worked at a local theatre company for a little while in the Box Office, and then, as I always say when I look back here, life got in the way. My career path took a weird turn, and for a few years I owned a catering company, and then worked in security and finally as an Information/Intelligence Officer for the police.

Which seems a bit weird even to me. But as I reflect, I believe that this was a good thing for my drama/performance journey, because I missed it terribly. I felt so stifled, creatively. I felt that my talents and passion were underused and stagnant, and that I needed to do something – anything – to provide myself with a creative outlet. So whilst I was doing these very strange security/crime management roles, I founded a theatre company of my own. We were called the Felley Players, and we were nomads with no money, no venue, no resources, no crew and no backing. But we made theatre – and we made it against all the odds. We created a merry band of likeminded individuals (my mother and sister being founder members with me) and we put on some extraordinary productions. We wrote, we managed, we produced, we tech-opped, we marketed, we sold, we directed, we choreographed… there was not a role that we didn’t take on – I even got my working at heights PASMA Scaffold certificate so I could install a lighting rig in the rafters of a local church. We sold out almost every show we ever produced, and we made a lot of money that we kept ploughing back in to ourselves, and over 12 years we grew to being fairly prestigious locally, with an ever-changing, but supremely talented bunch of performers. It was proper local theatre: hands-on, grass roots, loading hand-painted props into the backs of borrowed transit vans, earthy, magnificent, tear-inducing, back-breaking, glorious theatre. And it absolutely taught me everything I know and love about this world.

Because my love of theatre is all-encompassing. I really love directing – that’s where my heart is. And my style is exuberant, off-the-wall, chaotic, bouncy energy, which gets the job done. But I’m also fairly well-versed in the technical field – I’m a seasoned sound and lighting rigger/operator, and I’ve also done many a stint backstage. I like being SM, as I like knowing what’s going on, but I’m also pretty happy painting backdrops, or making eyeballs out of polystyrene foam balls, or superglueing mini rolls to MDF-Framed houses.

It really is the “smell of the grease paint” and the “roar of the crowd” because there is nothing like that backstage world for drama (with a capital AND a lower-case “D”) for a buzz, for adrenaline and for that feeling as you are just about to open the curtains and unleash your work onto an actual crowd of people who have chosen to be there.

TR Stage

The Theatre Royal Stage, Nottingham.

Whilst I was doing the weird day job and the Felley Players, I was also a member of Lovelace Theatre, and got the experience there of working with a group who had a stage and a bar and a box office and a wardrobe department, and who put on high-quality, slick and visually stunning pieces of drama to the local community. Lovelace have always been held in high regard locally, because of their commitment to excellence and their fabulous management of producing great, great shows. The two amateur experiences I had were completely different, but both have contributed immeasurably to my experience and love of the arts.

In 2007 I got the job of my dreams, working in a secondary school as the Creative Arts Manager. Essentially my role is to plan, oversee and run the extra-curricular arts programme (which means all school shows, concerts, exhibitions, performances), to mentor the Year 10, 11, 12 and 13 Drama students with all of their exam performances, and to teach drama to local Primary School students who will one day join my school. I also got to teach the GCSE Music Tech class last year, and managed an external Art Gallery in our local town, which the school owned. I have gone from having no creative arts elements in my life, to having a profusion of them. And I couldn’t be happier!

So this is what has shaped me, and what has influence me and what has led me to this point. This overwhelming love of the theatre, that I had to install in my life in whatever form I could, and which has set me up for a lifetime of continuing with it.

And now, I turn once more to acting. After having been a producer, SM, director and writer for a number of years, being given the huge honour of playing Bottom in AMND is genuinely the part I have always wanted to play. I was Hermia when I did Dream at school when I was 16, but I had a hankering for the comedy part even back then. So I look around for inspiration, and I know that I will do my bit in terms of researching what a weaver did (weave, presumably), and what the commonalities where between 16th century weaving and 20th century post-war weaving. I will study the role of women in the 1940s, and I will gleefully enjoy the text  that Mr S has bequeathed. I will look at famous Bottoms throughout history (steady) and try to envisage Bottom as a woman – as a strong and powerful and steadfast, energetic, gleeful slightly bossy over the top woman.

But mostly, I am recapturing the joy of what I have always felt. I am imagining the smell of the greasepaint, and the buzz of backstage. I can already hear the rustle of sweet wrappers in the audience, and see the the children dressed in fairy wings. I can hear the music, and I can feel the electricity. So if I can get my feisty female Bottom, the hard-handed handy woman with HER sense of glee at performing, to play that through MY sense of utter joy at performing, then I might start to get something going on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Dreaming?

So, here’s the thing: I am a 42 year old woman living in the middle of the country. I am the Mother of one small child, and the wife of one short-ish man. I work full time in a secondary school, live in a three-bedroomed semi in a former mining area, have a couple of parents, a sister, a dog and I like the cinema, reading, and showing off.

Honestly? You couldn’t get more pedestrian than me!

And I am going to be playing one of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles in one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, in Stratford Upon Avon, with the RSC. The actual Royal Shakespeare Company. And with a professional cast, directing team, design team, crew…you know – with the pros.

Am I dreaming?

I will be! I’ll be Midsummer Night’s Dreaming.

I’ve been writing a blog on behalf of the Lovelace Theatre Group, documenting our exciting journey in the #Dream2016 project, and if you would like to have a read of that, you can find it here:

Lovelace Theatre #Dream2016 Journey

This blog, however, is on my personal page, because it’s less about the reporting and more about the feeling. There are 6 of us from Lovelace Theatre, cast in the East Midlands leg of the Midsummer Night’s Dream tour, and we have been cast as a team, in 6 different roles. All from different walks of life, and all with a part to play; both within the project and in real life.

Group

We were told that we had been given the parts back in early June – so I’ve known for more than four months that in May next year, I will be performing the part of Nick Bottom in the RSC’s touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, on the stage at the Nottingham Theatre Royal, and then again in July at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. I’ve known for four months, but each and every day I still catch my breath as I remember all over again. Because this IS a dream come true. This is something that goes beyond dreaming. A year ago I would NEVER have even considered that there would be a remote possibility of me… remember me? The 42 year old Mum?… me actually performing in an RSC production. And as such a major part.

I even got to be on an RSC video trailer!

That’s me – at 42 seconds

Cam Recording Vid

I try not to bore my friends on Facebook. I mean, they’re all thrilled for me, of course. But even the people who love me the most can only take so much of “tickets are on sale now if you want to come and watch me” status updates.

I try not to bore people in real life. I mean, my husband couldn’t be any prouder, but he’s doing a bloody good job of not glazing over when I ask him AGAIN if he thinks I can handle it and mention AGAIN how excited I am.

I try not to overdo it to myself – but quite honestly, it takes up a lot of my thinking time.

I have a full time job, which is incredibly varied and keeps me very busy, and I’m finding the balancing of that with the balancing of my Dream2016 journey is very challenging. When I’m at work, then I’m at work; I work with teenagers, some of whom really need me to be 100% focused on them. And I am. I spend my days planning, leading, teaching, creating, listening and advising, and I’m very glad that I have such a widespread job which pushes me every day, because it means that I have to keep my work and my life separate. But this also means that when I do leave work and when I’m at home, I switch onto filling my thoughts with the Dream journey. And I’m finding that I never actually switch off from anything any more – not least because I also live with a rather rambunctious 6 year old, who categorically won’t really let me focus on anything other than him. And rightly so.

Pair this with the dog walking (and current constant vet visits for the slightly poorly pooch) and the fact that I do, in fact, also possess a rather patient husband – who also works full time – and between us we have to manage the school runs, trips, parents evening, housework etc. –  and it’s easy to see how it really is just a short push to tip me from the edge of “a bit hectic” into full on “AaaaaghOhMyBloodyGoshI’mCollapsingUnderTheWeightOfItAll” territory.

And the truth is, it hasn’t properly started yet.

Since the start of September, we’ve had two sessions with the RSC on a Google Hangout, where we digitally connected with other groups. Each of these hangouts has produced a task of work and we’ve been meeting a couple of times a week to get those tasks done. We also had the very great fortune to have our RSC director, Kim, come to visit us for a 5 hour acting workshop last week. Kim will be coming again, as will a vocal practitioner and a movement coach.

We have only just started rehearsals for task two, and we have another task to come plus rehearsals. Plus a bonus task.

I also have a song to learn, and will be hooking up with the only other woman on the team who is playing Bottom – Lisa from Canterbury – so that we can support one another through this masculine-dominated role.

This is all going to happen in the next 8 weeks or so.

And in January (when my beautiful sister gets married) and February, we actually start our rehearsals – a couple of evenings a week of set RSC-led time, plus our own rehearsal time, plus I will be heading to London each weekend to do the “Bottom” rehearsals.

I absolutely 100% can’t wait to get started on these rehearsals – the whole experience is utterly magnificent and I cannot believe how fortunate I am to be participating in this rehearsal process.

But when I think about the fact that I am also directing the school play, am coordinating and running rehearsals for a Creative Arts Festival with 5 other schools, am organising the Christmas Carol Concert and am still doing my day job, I realise the magnitude of what I have taken on.

But this is the whole point you see – that people from anywhere and everywhere can bloody well do this – whatever else we have going on in our lives; however tough it becomes in terms of managing things – we can do this. There are going to be people involved in this who have all kinds of crap to deal with – but we will do it. Because we are so incredibly lucky to be given this, we will take it with both hands and embrace it. Even on the busiest days. Because the reward is limitless. And because we owe it to amateur theatre makers everywhere.

I do tend to thrive on action, funnily enough, because you might not think that to look at me! I work well to deadlines, and I enjoy a bit of pressure; I get some good work done when pressed. And I think that the fact that I have inherited a major work ethic from my major workaholic mother, has trained me over the last few years, to get to a place where I can actually juggle all of these balls, and not drop too many of them.

Which is a good thing. Right?

Those of you who have read my blogs before, know that I am fairly opinionated. I guess most people are. But I verbalise my opinions often. I think this is where I need to temper myself over the next few months, as this project is all about the team work. And I am fortunate that I really do love my “band of brothers” whom I am going through this experience with.

We can strop with each other (I had a brief meltdown last week related to an ill dog and the fact that I am going to have to frikken DANCE) and everyone just rallied round me. Others have gone, and will go, through similar things, but we have already found that we are genuinely becoming a real “Family” in the truest sense of the word through this project.

Bec and Jen

I am, in equal measure, excited and terrified. Excited that I get to have these amazing training workshops; excited that I get to play and create fantastic, silly and funny pieces of drama in rehearsals; excited that I get real training from the RSC – not just on Dream, but already on other Shakespeare plays too; excited that The Theatre Royal will be putting up a massive poster WITH MY ACTUAL FACE on it, and promoting us in all of their upcoming literature; excited to work with real actors and directors who earn their living doing this; excited to take a breath and perform. TEN TIMES.

But I am also terrified; terrified that they have made a terrible mistake in casting me and that I’ll mess it up; terrified that I’m going to let my team down; terrified that my family have spent a fortune on tickets, and I won’t do that justice; terrified that I have taken on something that is utterly beyond me; terrified that I’ll love it so so so so much, that I will want it to become my life.

Because that’s the crux of it; I’ve always been into amateur theatre – I’ve always done theatre in my spare time, right from being around 10 years old. I even busted out a Theatre Studies degree. And I direct plays, I write plays, I’m in plays…I impart my wisdom (?) to the next generation, and I help GSCE and A Level Drama students to get through their exams. Theatre is a massive part of my life, and to be given this experience, absolutely validates every second I have pumped into it over the years. If this is the absolute pinnacle of everything I ever do related to theatre, then it is a billion times more amazing than I ever dreamed.

And, you see, I am at a stage in my life where I’m happy with what I’m doing and with the career I am fortunate to have. But what if this IS the door I’ve been waiting for to open? And I don’t  mean in terms of providing an opportunity of a job – I mean in terms of the passion of this project igniting that spark inside me that has been burning on gas mark 3 or 4 for years. What if this experience tells me to take the bull by the horns, and the donkey by the ears, and change paths?

Isn’t that the scariest thing of all?

Photo credits: Jen White

Stage Door