Welcome to Unscene Suffolk’s new project blog!
No sooner has the dust settled on our 2018 production than we’re back in the swing, and this time we thought it would be a great idea to give you an inside view on what actually happens in our Thursday afternoon drama workshops. As Unscene Suffolk’s Workshop Assistant I get to watch all aspects of the production evolve, from initial ideas to the final show, so I thought I’d share my perspective from the first few workshops of the project.
After a couple of weeks off to recover, and a lovely session of reflection and feedback, ideas for the next production are already flowing. With the last show very much based in the world of theatre and a ‘play within a play’ (very meta!) (see our Greatest Show pics), Jenni, Unscene Suffolk’s director, suggested a more pastoral theme for the next production.
Throwing out some key words, such as nature, animals and enchantment provoked an enthusiastic response and lots of reminiscences about stories remembered from childhood. These ranged from The Enchanted Wood and the Faraway Tree, The Insect Play and Wind in the Willows, to The Minpins, Captain Beaky and James and the Giant Peach. Some of these were known to everyone but some were new to others, including myself. There was some discussion about whether an existing work could be adapted, so the group set Jenni a research task to find out more about them, even Captain Beaky, which if I remember right was a pop song!
The group also explored the possibilities for incorporating mythical or magical beasts or those that are now extinct; a great idea for traditional ‘moral’ storytelling. Bats were thrown into the mix (not literally) and this led on to talk about echo-location – something which some of the group participated in previously.
Jenni talked about where the group might perform the show, and the idea of taking the work out to an audience for as many people to see as possible. The group had some fantastic ideas: community halls and groups, schools, country fairs, festivals, Latitude even got mentioned. So many possibilities to consider, even while the show is still being devised, not to mention considerations around staging, accessibility and how to create a visually engaging set design. Venues have to be booked way in advance so the challenge is often to find the right space which will accommodate our set, even before we know what it’s going to look like.
The group then focused on storytelling and creating animal characters; participating in some games that promoted animal characterisation (and lots of laughs!). They then had a go at being a character but telling their story in the third person, which is actually a lot harder than you think! They then tried to feed this in to the semi-improvised sharing of some of Kipling’s ‘Just So’ stories, which they had been workshopping. It was really interesting to see how one group had used simple sound effects and movements to portray certain animals so distinctly.
The following week the members of Unscene Suffolk welcomed a new participant to the group; offering great insights about the workshops and some reassurance that even though many of them were daunted at first, they all enjoyed performing on stage and being part of a great bunch. Myself and the helpers reassured that there are always tea and biscuits on hand! We then shared a short comedy script which one member of the group had written: a comedy dialogue between three sheep. Thus the idea of farm animals entered the frame and got a positive response – another option to consider.
Something Jenni wanted to explore was the potential staging of the piece with a central focal point and multi-purpose ropes, or strands. So, I dutifully raided the garage for my children’s swing ball set (you know, one of those things with a base and a post and a ball attached so you can bat it around to each other). A set of ropes were attached to the top of the post and the group explored the movement, interaction and accessibility which the ropes allowed them. Through improvisation the post and ropes became a maypole, a flagpole, or tree with branches or jungle vines. Using sound effects and movement the branches shook, the wind blew and torrents of water flowed down from the tree. Working in pairs, the group imagined a spider’s web, a washing line, a kite or sailboat. The ropes became an emergency cord, a measuring device, a snake and even hair extensions! One person became a puppeteer using the ropes as his strings.
The swing ball survived (just), but we all agreed that if we go ahead with the idea, a pole will need to be safely and securely weighted to the ground! Tons of great ideas came out of the exercise and got everyone, especially Jenni, thinking. It also helped us to consider the challenges the group faces in terms of accessibility and freedom of movement around a performance space, something the group is always trying to develop and improve with each production.
We’re on a break now until January, but I know that everyone’s minds will be whirring away on ideas and possibilities over Christmas. I can’t wait to come back in the New Year to find out where the project is headed next and how it will develop. I will keep you posted!