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Blog: No strings attached – hibernating

Posted on 09 December 2013 by Lauren Prentice

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Christmas is always a funny time of year for theatre. Not only does every theatre in every town suddenly host a pantomime starring yet another C-list celebrity but the rest of the theatre scene tends to calm down a little as people huddle inside their coats  and opt to spend their evenings snuggled up on the sofa rather than venturing out in the wind and the cold.

I’ve become a little guilty of the winter snuggle, choosing to hibernate on more evenings than, one and have had to thoroughly force myself to go out and watch some theatre. However, through my hibernation I have managed to put in a lot of time researching for the cyber bullying piece (still unnamed).

The things I have found have been shocking. Not just the cyber bullying angle, where teenagers and indeed adults (and sadly, children) are showing unbelievable cruelty to one another, but even more terrifying is the danger that is posed to people online, frequently without them even realising.

The most valuable piece of research I have done so far actually involved me leaving the house. I attended a talk aimed at parents by a fantastic speaker called Jonathan MacDonald. The talk was to educate parents on the dangers of the internet for their children (but I suspect, like me, they learnt how it could also be dangerous for themselves). Jonathan talked through all of the various elements of the internet and how they could pose harm. Actually hearing someone speak so passionately about their findings was incredibly inspiring, and the notes I took during the talk will no doubt be referred back to time and time again.

What did shock me was how little some of the parents knew about the dangers their children face, it made me wonder whether we ought to flip this play around entirely and aim it at the parents as opposed to the children – in some cases with children growing up in such a digital society the children could probably teach their parents (and me!) a thing or two.

At present we have hit a slight brick wall with Christmas approaching, for a number of reasons we’re struggling to move on from where we are now. The research is imperative to the success of the piece and with technology changing almost daily often it’s hard to catch up. We’re planning to fully get stuck in with making the piece in January; not only will we have more time as a company to focus on it, but it gives us the Christmas break to do in-depth research. Furthermore, with fewer of the actors we want to cast performing in pantomime in the new year, we will have a far bigger pool of actors to choose from when we begin to cast the piece.

Photo by Flickr user Dano under a Creative Commons Licence.

Lauren Prentice

Lauren Prentice

Lauren Prentice trained at East 15 Acting School on its Acting and Community Theatre Course. After graduating from East 15 in 2011, Lauren set up her theatre company Sense Theatre. When Lauren isn't working she enjoys going to the theatre, seeing friends, gymnastics and sleeping.

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Review: Antarctica, Bristol Old Vic

Posted on 05 December 2013 by Eleanor Turney

ANTARCTICA-15

What can be said about Little Bulb’s Christmas show for little people, except that it’s completely adorable and you should go and see it? It expertly treads the line between sweet and saccharine, providing many moments of pure, unadulterated theatrical joy – for both children and nominal grown-ups.

We are a band of brave explorers, leaving brave Bristol on our brave ship, to bravely go adventuring with the very brave Sir Peregrine Falcon, our brave guide. He’s so brave he has his very own song about how jolly brave he is. It’s whimsical and charming, and all just rather lovely. Sir Peregrine, played by Alex Scott, is bearded and booming, but never less than gentle with the excitable children in the front rows. He’s off to Antarctica, sustained only by fish-brain and sea slime sandwiches (cue much ewwww-ing from the delighted audience), in search of the fabled owlarbear – a fabulous, shy creature with the head and wings of an owl, and the body of a bear, which just wants to show off its dancing skills. As I said, adorable.

Sir Peregrine is aided and abetted on his journey by all manner of creatures, all played with immense energy and humour by Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway. We meet some rather mean-spirited prancing snowflakes, a pair of ice-skating penguins, some argumentative seals, two thieving seagulls (who perform a hilarious bird-ballet of little grace and much giggling), some rather wonderful glowing jellyfish and, of course, the owlarbear.

The story is simple (a quest with a happy ending), but what Little Bulb does so well is to immerse its audience, young and old, in the world of the story. All of the animal characters are captivating and convincing, and the length is nicely judged to keep even the smallest enthralled. In fact, several very tiny toddlers were so involved that there was more than one stage-invader, especially when an lovely under-sea scene engulfed the stage in bubbles. I may even have popped one myself.

These three are not afraid to be a bit silly in order to provide entertainment, but it’s so well-judged that it never slips over into humiliation. Likewise, all of the audience participation is handled well, even the tiny heckler: when Sir Peregrine boomed, “Did you like the owlarbear?” the entire audience shouted back “yeeeeeeees”, except one little girl who stood up, folded her arms and said, very firmly, “No I didn’t.” (She was won over in the end – he checked.)

It’s hard to see how anyone could not be won over by this show. It’s gentle, funny and absolutely alive with theatrical magic. Go, with or without a small child.

Antarctica is at Bristol Old Vic until 4 January. For more information and tickets visit Bristol Old Vic’s website

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney is the Managing Editor of A Younger Theatre, as well as a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She has written for The Guardian, The Stage, The FT and Ideas Tap, and worked for the Poetry Society and the British Council.

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Blog: No Strings Attached – learning from mistakes

Posted on 13 November 2013 by Lauren Prentice

In the first of a new blog series, Lauren Prentice tells us about being awarded a No Strings Attached grant by Farnham Maltings

Farnham Maltings

Farnham Maltings

Two years ago I had graduated from East 15 Acting School and, fresh out of the door, I had high hopes of changing the world through theatre. I saw an application for The Farnham Maltings’s No Strings Attached fund and, tempted by the fact that there were no lengthy forms to fill in, I was convinced that I would get the funding simply by turning up. This wasn’t the case and when I received the phone call to say that my application had been unsuccessful I pondered, and realised that actually I hadn’t put in nearly enough work for the pitch and vowed to put in more effort to these kinds of things in the future.

I went on and pursued other avenues, starting up Sense Theatre, which, with extra effort and plenty of (occasionally back-breaking) hard work, I grew from just myself running four classes in a week to employing 20 staff and running clubs in over 30 primary schools each week. Not satisfied with working 20 hours a day, I started a second business, Sense Parties, running children’s birthday party entertainment – employing professional actors to entertain children and their friends on their birthdays.

In the summer I saw a post on the Farnham Maltings’s Facebook page advertising the No Strings Attached scheme again, and saw an opportunity to redeem myself for my previous under prepard-ness and quickly emailed to apply. Next I had to decide what I wanted to do – the brief was very open (great but not so easy for someone who is decidedly indecisive). My first thought was to put on a verbatim piece purely because it’s my favourite form of theatre, but I had no subject matter to do it on and also no real audience to show it to. Everything I know and have focused my energy into for the past two years has been to do with schools; it seemed wise to stick with what I know and produce something theatre-in-education (TIE) based.

Now I am the first person to say how awful TIE can be. I have seen some dreadful TIE, I have been in some ghastly theatre-in-education shows; in fact the defining moment in my fledgling acting career was waiting in a school hall, when a six-year-old boy walked in and said “oh no, not another show about bullying”. It was another show about bullying. If it hadn’t been so funny then it would have been devastating.

I went back to the newspapers, I trawled The Guardian like any good young liberal and one subject matter kept cropping up. Technology. Not just technology as in Apple’s latest device but the impact of technology on young people, in particular cyberbullying (yes I know – bullying…). I delved into the cyberbullying topic and what I found was pretty shocking: young pre-teens are naively sending pictures of their private parts and being blackmailed to doing all sorts of things in order for these photos to be kept private. I had my subject matter.

Next came the form: verbatim wouldn’t work; people don’t know enough about cyber bullying to talk about it and without having people to talk to verbatim fails to work. Forum Theatre kept calling to me, a Boal technique whereby the play is performed twice; the first time with disastrous consequences and the second time involving the audience. The audience have to get up and solve the oppression in the piece by taking on the role of the oppressed actor, perfect for an educational piece.

So there I had it, a well-formulated, planned piece. Next came the act of selling it to the panel. This time, instead of being nervous and wondering whether I would have enough to speak about in my 10 minute pitch, as I had been two years ago, I was actually remarkably prepared and more concerned that I wouldn’t have enough time for all of the points I wanted to make. I left the pitch feeling like I’d done a good job and waited until the evening to find out if I’d been successful.

The call came at around half past six and – hoorah! – this time my hard work had paid off and they granted me £500 to use towards research and development of the piece. This is great news, as not only does it give me a leg up to get this next project going for Sense Theatre, it is also really handy that the money has been pigeonholed just for research, as with this kind of piece, the research and psychological understanding of the characters will be what makes this a fantastic piece of theatre and not just a piece of awful TIE.

Photo by Flickr user tawalker under a Creative Commons licence.

Lauren Prentice

Lauren Prentice

Lauren Prentice trained at East 15 Acting School on its Acting and Community Theatre Course. After graduating from East 15 in 2011, Lauren set up her theatre company Sense Theatre. When Lauren isn't working she enjoys going to the theatre, seeing friends, gymnastics and sleeping.

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Spotlight on: Little Bulb Theatre

Posted on 09 September 2013 by Ellen Carr

Squally Showers

Ellen Carr catches up with Alex Scott, Artistic Director of Little Bulb Theatre

Perhaps it’s the fact that its previous work has taken the form of a knitwear-clad folk band (The Marvellous and Unlikely Fete of Upper Little Downing) or maybe it’s the story of the lightbulb tree I am told when I speak to Alex Scott (Artistic Director of Little Bulb Theatre), but I can’t help seeing this company as a gently anarchic bunch of farmers. Theatrical farmers, planting their idea bulbs, letting them flourish into sturdy idea trees and changing the way we see and make theatre in the process. All without totally realising they’re doing it: “An image in our first show, a scene where one of the kids is talking about planting a bulb and she plants a light bulb and the idea is that it would grow into a light tree… An image of creativity, from the small to the big.”

Little Bulb formed in 2008 working on Crocosmia, initially a project made as part of a University module which went on to win huge plaudits at Edinburgh Fringe that year. The company’s work is some of the most diverse I’ve come across, varying in everything from style to size. It’s been to Edinburgh Fringe as a band in search of its identity (Gooseparty, 2011), is produced by Farnham Maltings and was recently commissioned by Battersea Arts Centre to create Orpheus – a 1930s retelling of the classic myth. Now its show Squally Showerspremiered at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe – is part of the Limited Editions Festival at the National Theatre Shed. Scott is, understandably, hugely appreciative of all the support the company has earned.

The company works very closely as an ensemble and is, in Scott’s words, “a bit like a family”. All original members are still there, and they’ve just recently started adding more actors and working with other collaborators which is “really exciting” for them. It isn’t easy to get the exact blend of people to make a great company straight away, it’s often a bit of trial and error, like the right ration of custard to pie, but Little Bulb seems to have found it. Listening to Scott talk about the process of working it becomes clear how it seems to happen so easily for them.

Little Bulb loves to play, theatre is a way for it to experiment and try out new things; it hasn’t, like many companies do, found its niche and stuck with it. “A collection of ideas goes into forming a show. One of those could be an ambition to learn a new skill, or do something we haven’t done, or to do with the scale.” A show being made on the basis that none of the company members can do one of the main skills it entails may seem a bit ridiculous, but actually it’s revitalising. It reminds you of how liberating theatre can be, and how many possibilities it offers us. It’s also probably why all company members have stuck around – this working process is fun! Squally Showers is “a very surreal take on life in a 1980s office” marketed as “exploring dance theatre and whirlwind that was the 1980s”. Why was the show made? Because Little Bulb wanted to explore “physicality, gesture and poetic movement”. Its previous work saw live music played on stage, with Squally Showers they wanted to see what they could do when they freed their bodies by putting the instruments down.

Squally Showers Little Bulb

It’s probably either remarkably stupid or remarkably brave to keep making work based on the premise of what you can’t do, and my feeling is it’s the latter. If anything, the British theatre industry needs shaking up in this way, stopping it from being confined in clearly defined boxes.

Little Bulb is extremely rigorous when it rehearses, and takes its time developing ideas (normally around two years before rehearsals start). Scott says that as an audience member he wants to “see a company or an individual really need to be there [the performer needs to] be aware why you are standing in front of the audience, and to be as rigorous as possible with that on a technical level”. Little Bulb works hard on the choreography of material and having as much of the “world” of the project in the rehearsal room from the start, if there’s any technology they “try to have it early on so it’s an organic part of the world”.

I ask Scott about the world of Squally Showers, particularly the setting of the 1980s and the show’s political comment on our own society. The company liked the idea of setting the show in the 80s “because it was such a politically turbulent time in people’s lives” and it is interested in “going to the recent past to discuss and explore the present”. However, it isn’t interested in “making theatre where there’s an obvious agenda… We’re more interested in making work where politics is a concern and part of someone’s real life as a character. If there is an agenda it’s that we’re really interested in everyone being involved in a communal experience.”

That’s the thing with Little Bulb, it all comes down to the audience. No matter what identity the company takes on or where the work is performed, “every show starts as an idea and it becomes a larger thing for an audience”. The company wants to make meaningful worlds for the audience, through which they can perhaps see their own world in new ways. Not that there’s ever any strong agenda to that effect of course, merely that their stage becomes a “space where different ways of looking are possible”, which sounds like a good definition of a stage to me.

Speaking with Scott I get the impression that the Little Bulb team are like the kids in the class who put their heads down and get on with it, astounding everybody with the work they’ve created then going back to work on the next thing. It is, as Scott says it should be, all about the work. In theatre company terms it is young, practically still in theatre company school, and maybe this is why it’s playing around with its theatrical identity so much. Scott tells me how the company sees Squally Showers as the third in a trilogy of works about growing up (along with Crocosmia and Operation Greenfield), with this being about the “chaos” of entering the world of work. Does this mean that after this show Little Bulb will ‘grow up’? Settle down into its theatrical niche and cease to play with its identity? I sincerely hope not, because with its “let’s just have a go approach to making theatre” it feels as if Little Bulb could do absolutely anything it puts its mind to, and isn’t that the magic of theatre?

Little Bulb is performing as part of the Limited Editions Season at the National Theatre’s The Shed between 12 and 14 September. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website.

Ellen Carr

Ellen Carr

Ellen is Artistic Director of Witness Theatre, a company she established after graduating from the University of Sussex in 2011. Ellen writes, directs and produces for Witness Theatre and spends the rest of her time doing more writing. She is currently writing her own blog witnesstoexperience daily, contributes regular features to One Stop Arts and can also be found writing the occasional screenplay.

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