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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Student Tryout

On Friday I did wend my merry way to the University of Essex to perform The Summoning of Everyman for some first years.  This is the second time I've done this and was a great way for me to tryout the show before the tour starts in earnest.  Here is a video of my time there...


"Really interesting and clever take on this play, that I first had hated!" *

[*All quotes are feedback from the students after the performances.]
I performed the show twice and generally talked about the play between times, so it was a full on few hours.  It was useful in two ways.
1. I remembered how to work the show, because it's all about contact with the audience and that's really hard to rehearse in advance.
2. I could test out some of my newer ideas about staging.  Some of which worked, some didn't.

"Intense and insightful, a true reckoning."

A student audience isn't the same as a regular audience - they are there to learn, as part of their course, as the play is one they are studying.  They are not necessarily there to enjoy themselves and therefore my job as performer is harder.  I had to draw them into the play - when the absurdity of what I am trying to do is at its most apparent.  Here we are, in a relatively clinical performance space, with few props / lighting or setting to create mood.  I then start pretending to be, not just one person, but many - using different voices and actions.  It is less about the suspension of disbelief, more the suspension of the absurd.

"Really creative production that makes difficult language incredibly accessible."

Sometimes the show worked well, the connection with some of the audience was clear and strong - sometimes I felt a fool, as others looked away, or were generally not connecting at all.  By the second performance I was tired and made a few simple mistakes that were not coverable.  You expect to go wrong occasionally, but it's easy enough to save.  But I moved someone into the wrong place and started talking to the wrong person.  It is not a mistake I will make again.  But that's why we do tryouts.

"I loved the audience participation!"

There is another dynamic in play - these are drama students, so unlike the regular audience they will all (by and large) want to perform more than watch.  It is usually the opposite for civilians.  So there isn't the same focus born of fear, there isn't the same anticipation and worry about what happens next.  Also, those who weren't chosen to be actively involved seemed less attentive - perhaps disappointed not to be one of those getting up and about.  Again, I suspect with a regular audience this is not the case.  This also changed the dynamic of the room - because inattention is contagious.

"I understand it better."

I was testing out a new lighting arrangement - which palpably didn't work in that space.  That's going to change between now and the tour.  I also had a brainwave at the beginning of the piece that I might put in.  What did work very well was the enforced silence for the audience before the show began.  As people entered they were asked not to speak and follow certain tasks.  It was commented that I was like a priest with his congregation - which is has positive and negative sides.
I didn't use any music to open the show - though I plan there to be something for when I start the show on tour.  The event lives and dies on the atmosphere and the commitment of the audience.  What I do with them and the text then becomes greater than the sum of their parts.

"Perhaps a little more physicality would make it more visual."

I'm caught in a double bind regarding physicality with this show.  If I do too much then I'm spinning on a sixpence, jumping from one attitude to another like a nervous tick.  I didn't get the balance right for these performances, and that's where I'm focusing work over the next few days.  Not bigger, but clearer.  And I need to clearly plot my eye contact, I got a bit lazy in some places.

All in all, it was a good first stab at the show - on Thursday I'm doing a home performance of the play - and I'm looking forward to seeing what new things happen then.  Full details will follow.  But for now - here are all the Good and Bad Deeds I collected on Friday from the students.  Mostly they are generic things - I didn't make it clear that I wanted something specific from their lives - but some are telling.

Bad Deeds:  A preponderance of lying and cheating, plus laziness and a clear confession to the consumption of illegal substances confirms these are students.

Hurting others / Hurting or hunting (not quite clear)
Adultery / Committing Adultery
Cheating x3
Lying x3
Murder / Killing
Rape
Sexism
Stealing x2 / Theft
Vandalism
Drinking in excess
Laughing at others / Making others feel bad
Quarreling without purpose
Ignorance to those around you
I have consumed illegal substances (a student? really?)
Lazyiness (sic)
Frord (sic - presumably Fraud.  Bless.)

Good Deeds:  Always less amusing and more worthy, by the nature of things.  A lot of focus is on outward demonstrations - caring for people, giving money, as well as support.  A few are more internal, largely about combating selfishness - which is reassuring when so much of our culture is about self.

Caring for - someone who is unwell / others
Being kind to others
Being polite
Helping X2
Love thy neighbour / loving the people around you
Charity / Sharing what you have / Helping others in need / Helping others / Helping someone out financially / To help those less fortunate than yourself
Give money to a homeless man / Helping the homeless / Giving money to the homeless
Being there for someone
Thy to help others and focus less on your "self needs" / I have put others before myself  / Selflessness
Being honest
Listening
Embracing a persons imperfections
Making someone / making other people / making people - smile : ) / Cheering up a friend
Helping a person with the stairs

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