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.

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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.