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Guest blog: Sustainability on stage

Posted on 30 October 2013 by A Younger Theatre

Anna Dunne 3

Studying at The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) for a BA in Theatre and Performance Design has encouraged me to think even more about the benefits of acting sustainably when putting on a production, both in order to keep the costs down and more importantly to help curb the wastage of unwanted clothes.

With the recent government arts cuts, the arts industries, and specifically those working in the performing arts, have to think up new strategies to be more budget-savvy. These cuts not only affect the actors, dancers and singers who appear at the forefront of a production, but also have a knock-on effect on all the people working behind the scenes to keep the cogs turning.

Whilst studying at LIPA, one module which was particularly instrumental in teaching me the benefit of operating sustainably was one on design construction/deconstruction. The module was split into two halves: the construction side taught students how to source period dress from modern-day cheaper materials without compromising appearance, and the deconstruction side of the module taught students how modern-day garments are constructed and how they can be taken apart and altered for refitting. In these turbulent time,s the ability to give a new lease of life to some old worn out jeans or a jacket is a valuable skill. With a bit of practice, clothes we feel are worthy of a place only on the rubbish dump can be transformed into beautiful, bespoke, couture pieces.

For me, the dual challenge of sourcing sustainably and keeping costs down actually gets my creative juices flowing even more. It has taught me to look at old garments in a totally new light and often the final results are even more rewarding. With an emphasis on the historical, the module at LIPA showed that periods of recession in Britain actually act as a launch pad for great creativity across the nation. Designers who flourished during the hard times of the 70s and 80s, such as Vivienne Westwood, still have a strong influence on theatre and performance design today. Prolific designers, such as Westwood and the late Alexander McQueen, have helped to inspire costume designers and in turn have contributed to the success of British theatre, which is revered the world over.

We were taught to look beyond our initial research of a particular period and to draw on other creative references to create costumes that boast a stamp of our own individuality. After all, theatre is an expressive art form to be embraced and not repeatedly replicated. With these transferable skills, I and a fellow student from LIPA were able to put this recycling technique, known as up-cycling, into practice, when we designed and created the costumes for a musical entitled 1,000 Suns. The set was sourced entirely from rescued items and the costumes were donated to us following a call out for clothing via a social media campaign. In the end, we received 14 bags of clothing which were renewed to make a total of 24 costumes.

Our commitment to sustainability paid off as the performance was shortlisted by The Edinburgh Festival Sustainable Practice Committee as being one of the top 20 most ecologically friendly productions at the festival. This recognition has helped to spur us on even further to create more sustainable productions in the future. After the success of the Edinburgh leg of the production, I am now busily working with the cast of 1,000 Suns on our next production, which is due to take be staged in Liverpool in 2014.

Anna Dunn is a Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts graduate. She is now in the process of setting up her own business in digital printing fabrics and is currently working  at The Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. This summer Anna and a fellow LIPA student produced the costumes and set made entirely from recycled material for a play which debuted at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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Molière, the Mersey and The Misanthrope…

Posted on 12 February 2013 by Eleanor Turney

From uncertain beginnings to a third round of Molière via Liverpool’s tenure as the European Capital of Culture, Roger McGough and Gemma Bodinetz tell Eleanor Turney why they are drawn to the French playwright’s work and to working together.

Gemma Bodinetz, Artistic Director of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, is pretty unequivocal about why her relationship with poet Roger McGough has been such a success: “I love him!” There is clearly more to a partnership that has spanned three productions and six years than affection, but it seems like a good place to start. “Working with Roger is just a delight”, continues Bodinetz. “We started with Tartuffe [in 2008 and revived in 2011] and it was just such a joy. We found so much fun in Molière, and the audience repsonse was great, so we then did The Hyperchondriac [in 2009]. After that, well, we missed each other, I think and thought, well, if world wants another ‘McGoughiere’ as we call them then we should do another one! My heart sinks thinking that this might be last one; Roger and Molière have very special thing.”

It didn’t always seem as though McGough and Molière were going to be friends, though. McGough, highly-regarded poet, presenter of BBC Radio 4′s Poetry Please and current President of the Poetry Society, came to prominence in 1967 when he was published in an anthology called The Mersey Sound along with the other “Liverpool Poets”, Adrian Henri and Brian Pattern. So, the verse-writing was not new to him. Nor, in fact, was the French; McGough studied French at university – although he freely admits to “not getting on with Molière” then. “I was very wary because I’d done French at university and read some Molière, and it didn’t really appeal at that age – I didn’t think it was very funny.”

When Liverpool won its bid to be European Capital of Culture, Bodinetz was looking for a play that “could be presented in Liverpool that was both of Liverpool and European, too”. She settled on Tartuffe, but wanted a new version: “I thought, if I went to another city as Capiral of Culture I wouldn’t want something parochial or something ubiquitous, I’d want something European that had a flavour of the city we were in. I’ve always loved Molière, and I found myself reading his couplets and thinking, I know someone who could do that…” She approached McGough, who she knew slightly from his poetry readings at the Everyman, “…and he was very nervous about it, he basically said ‘no’! He said ‘I’m not a playwright’, and I said you don’t have to be a playwright, the characters and the story are there, I want your wit and humour. I ended up hopping on train down to London where I knocked on his door and talked him into it.” McGough remembers the initial approach: “I didn’t think it was going to be a project with legs, but in the end I said I’d have a go because it’s nice to asked… Once I started giving voice to the characters it just took off – I got involved in the characters and felt for them.”

Tartuffe toured with English Touring Theatre and was extremely popular. “Tartuffe was a surprising hit, surpising to me, anyway, so we decided to do another one”, says McGough. Having then done The Hyperchondriac the followin year, Bodinetz explains how they came to choose The Misanthrope for their latest venture: “Roger and I talked about doing another Molière. We were keen on Don Juan, but it’s very mad and it’s not in verse, and Roger really enjoys the verse work – Molière writes in rhyming couplets and Roger is a master of that! He pointed me towards The Misanthrope and I got really excited; it has depth and darkness as well as all the silliness and rhyme.”

As opening night draws closer, McGough and Bodinetz are both hard at work in the rehearsal room. McGough describes the process, and working with Bodinetz, as “a joy”. The script – which he sees “as a poem on the page” – does get tweaked during rehearsals, which is why McGough is on hand: “in my mind it’s one thing and the way actors say it is another, but I’ve got in my mind what it should be like and they usually do it! I’m Liverpudlian and so rhyming ‘romance’ and ‘chance’ is the most natural to me, but not all the actors speak like me, they say ‘chaarnce’!” Bodinetz is full of praise for McGough, too: “He trusts me in the rehearsal room, I’ve always felt that generosity.” Ultimately, they both clearly have a huge affection for Molière and for each other, which comes across in spades during our chats. As Bodinetz says of McGough: “I love him! He’s got a beautiful spirit and is a very funny man!”, and you can’t really ask for more than that.

The Misanthrope, adapted/written by McGough and directed by Bodinetz, is at the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse from 15 February – 9 March, and then touring until 1 June, taking in Oxford, Cornwall, Exeter, Bright, Southampton, York and Bath. For more information and tickets see either the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse website or English Touring Theatre’s website.

Image 1: Gemma Bodinetz in rehearsals

Image 2: Roger McGough in rehearsals

Image 3: Rehearsals for The Misanthrope

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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Spotlight On: Liverpool’s Young Everyman Playhouse

Posted on 20 July 2012 by Abigail Lewis

When the young people involved abbreviate the Young Everyman Playhouse to YEP and pronounce it “yep”, it sounds like an affirmation. Yep, I am young and ambitious and theatre is what I want to be involved in. Yep, I balance this with school/college/university and I am proud of everything I have achieved.

The Young Everyman Playhouse is the youth theatre programme at Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse theatres, open to anyone aged 11 to 25. At a time when many young people are clamouring for more involvement in theatre, YEP is pretty spectacular in its scope. Far from providing an opportunity for kids to act on weekends, the programme is organised into strands that encompass every aspect of running a theatre. Young Actors act, Young Writers write, Young Technicians work with lighting and sound and Young Communicators focus on the promotion, advertising and marketing of shows.

“A bit of everything is needed to involve more young people in theatre,” said YEP Director Matt Rutter. “We need to have cheap tickets and shows that are relevant to young people. Theatre that is made by young people has an appeal for young audiences, and that’s what we need because they are the future theatregoers, performers and directors. In the next ten to 15 years it will be them who take over from us. YEP is great because it gives them confidence, a skills base, and allows them to progress to where they want to go.” His aims are high, and he truly believes the programme can have an effect on theatres as a whole. “We’re hoping to embed these young people within theatres. At the moment, we’re still in the beginning phases so the programme is led by me artistically, but next year we will be transferring the artistic leadership over to them, with the new Young Programmers strand. We’re aiming for a holistic, all-encompassing feel. We want them to have a voice at every level of the theatres.”

17-year-old Hannah McGowan certainly feels her role as Young Communicator has given her a strong voice. The Young Communicators organised the launch of YEP, designing the logo and all the prints. The programme mirrors the way theatres advertise and promote their own shows, and after working with YEP their work feeds into the wider programme and they become involved in marketing for the main house shows.

“It was something I wouldn’t usually go for,” said McGowan. “I study drama at college, I act. But it was in a theatre and I figured you should know more about what goes on in the theatre than just what you want to do. Then when I started, I fell in love with it straight away. It was something different, I didn’t need any experience, and you learn so much from it.” She sees these lessons as valuable life skills that she can transfer into other areas. “There are things I didn’t know about theatre until I started, which I can now take into college coursework. It sets me apart, and it’s easy to balance YEP and college. It’s going to open loads of different doors for everybody who’s involved.” She also appreciates the cheaper tickets that are offered to her. “We’re really lucky to have the £5 ticket deals. I can afford that, compared to going somewhere else. Theatre is inaccessible to me outside of the Everyman and Playhouse, it’s too tricky with money. Here it’s plain and simple.”

Young Actor Nick Crosbie, 19, has found YEP a valuable step towards becoming an actor and the perfect way to spend his gap year. “I auditioned at drama schools last year and didn’t get a place because of lack of experience. So I took a gap year this year and came to YEP, where every week we do new stuff, we dedicate a whole week to shows, and I can gain that experience I need. I’m looking forward to auditioning for drama school again next year and seeing what improvements I’ve made.” He elaborated on his experience with YEP. “We have three seasons. In the first season we do workshops, which vary – we could be doing improvisation for one night, stage combat for another. The second term is show term. We did Intimate, which was an experimental piece of theatre about young people dealing with war. We’ve all been to the theatre and sat down and seen a show, but this play was different. The audience walked around and took part in it. We also did You Are Being Watched, which was like a comedy spoof on James Bond, similar to Austin Powers. We performed that in the middle of the shopping centre, in front of four hundred people! In the third season we come up with ideas and we perform whatever we want to do. It could be stage combat, monologues, comedy sketches, anything. I’m so much more confident with my acting now.”

Perhaps what characterises these young practitioners above all is how strongly they feel about the way in which YEP has enhanced their career prospects. 20-year-old Jamie Thompson is a Young Technician, working through an eight-month programme in which they run the technical side of all the YEP performances. They also work quite closely with the Playhouse technicians, getting hands on experience assisting with various performances that come into the Playhouse.

“I entered the programme with no experience; we all learnt from a basic level. It was a lighting course originally but as it went on, other people wanted to learn about sound, so it expanded through the students in the group. I sort of fell into it through people that I knew and other places that I’d volunteered at. I met people from Playhouse and they explained what it was. I was really interested in the opportunity, it sounded like a gateway to contacts and experience that I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else. I was right – through this, I’ve gained some great contacts and I’ve started getting work through them. I’ve been working with different independent theatre companies, radio stations, and venues. It’s made a huge difference in terms of my future career prospects. I’d finished college and I had no sense of direction. This has put me into so many different things I can work on. It’s expanded my knowledge tenfold without a great deal of pressure, since the environment is very relaxed and supportive.”

Thompson’s clear pride in what he has achieved and the emotive way he discusses the Young Everyman Playhouse conveys just how much potential the programme has. “It gives you a great feeling when everything comes together and you can see the finished product, the shows and events that we’ve worked on. Being a part of that gives you a feeling that is indescribable. It makes you so proud. I’ve been able to work with some absolutely brilliant people. I feel such a high sense of achievement.” YEP truly is an affirmation of this achievement.

Find out more about Liverpool Young Everyman Playhouse scheme by visiting their website.

Image credit: Brian Roberts

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In the Pit: A musician’s preparation for opening night

Posted on 14 October 2011 by George Francis

Since my last blog detailing my role as Music Director for the variety show Scousers on the Rampage, we’ve had a great and very productive week in preparation for the opening night. With the big day getting closer every day, the workload just keeps getting heavier.

Last week we had rehearsals with some of the big names from the show. I worked with Margi Clarke, who is mostly known for her roles in Coronation Street, Benidorm and most recently Waterloo Road, and is going to be performing in the biggest number of the show. I can’t give too much away, but it’s going to be a very funny performance! Also at the rehearsals was Ozzie Yue. He’s a blues musician and actor from Liverpool and went to school with the great Paul McCartney, but you may know him from Tomb Raider, Come Fly with Me and White Van Man. His blues number is coming along nicely and is sure to take the roof off on the opening night.

With all this going on, the band have been rehearsing every moment we can get, in one extreme setting or another. As well as practising in our drummer’s garage with his angry neighbours complaining about the noise, we have been lucky enough to work in the brand new state-of-the-art studios in Liverpool, Mersey City Music. As promised I have a couple of video clips from these locations to give you an insight into how the show’s coming together:

Rehearsing in the drummer’s garage – You Can’t Stop the Beat

In the musical theatre world there is a little gag about this song: “You can’t stop to breathe”. It’s a killer for the musicians as well as the singers. With only four of us in the band, it’s been proving very difficult to arrange, so we use a click track (a pre-recorded instrument/vocal with the sax/trumpet parts at the beginning), and so that you could hear this properly we played the click track out loud. This helps us out as it thickens the sound up a lot and as it is the opening of the show, it’s a good idea to start with a bang. If you stick with the video to the end you will hear several hiccups happen – and then our drummer goes a little crazy at the end… This was because we’d only played the song twice, and it’s proving a difficult one to master!

Lauren McQueen – Make You Feel My Love

At Mersey City Music one of the singers from the show, Lauren McQueen, came along to rehearse her number with the band. We don’t have a clip of that particular rehearsal – it’s being kept under wraps until she inevitably blows the crowd away with the performance, but I have a clip of myself and Lauren playing the song a while back to give you a bit of a taster of what’s to come.

Still to look forward to with Scousers on the Rampage is the production week, where all the most important things happen to bring the show together. I am most looking forward to the sitzprobe, where most of the cast come together with the band for the first time to sing through the numbers, which is happening just four days before the show. The scariest thing is that not everyone will be together until the day of the show, so we will have to wait until then to see if all our hard work has paid off.

Scousers on the Rampage will be playing at St Helen’s Theatre Royal, Liverpool, on 30 October 2011. For tickets visit the website.

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