Drama Project Blog

11th and 12th June were much anticipated days for the Unscene Suffolk Drama group.   Not only did we get to meet up in person for the first time in over a year, but we also spent the two days recording our script of The Mystery of Syleham Manor.  A script we’ve had in our possession since January 2020!

We were made to feel very welcome at our recording space at The Hold, which is part of the University of Suffolk and Suffolk Archives, where we had a dedicated space to use for the two days.  Outside the recording studio was a breakout room where seats were arranged at a distance and in certain ‘bubbles’ so that we limited the amount of movement and contact made within the room.  Whilst a necessary precaution in order to keep everyone safe and of course comply with government guidelines, it wasn’t easy to ‘keep the noise down’ when recording when you haven’t seen one another in 15 months and the seats were at a distance across the room!  I would like to say that after some early hushes the cast cottoned on quickly and saved the catch ups for breaks and lunch. 

Image shows small group of participants seated in the breakout area

The most tricky task was the recording itself.  Only 6 people were allowed in the studio at one time.  One had to be the sound engineer Amy and the other our director Caroline, so that left just four available spaces for the cast.  Some scenes involved 7 characters.  So the way round this was to record 4 of the characters lines in one scene, whilst Amy or Caroline read in for those characters who were not in the room.  Once this was done we had to do a swap to the remaining characters.  So the mics, tables and chairs would be disinfected, the windows opened for an airing and then the remaining cast members for that scene would then come in, take their seats and the scene would be recorded again.  It may seem complicated and it was, but it was the only way we could keep everyone safe and record the play under the current circumstances.  It’s safe to say we were all very much out of our comfort zones.  Even if some had stepped up to the mic before, none of us were experienced in recording in this way.  After some initial uncertainty from the cast, they all quickly got into the swing of it and recording went smoothly.  This is mainly due to the dedication of those who learned their lines and also all the character work they were encouraged to do in zoom rehearsals by director Caroline. Having this background knowledge and confidence in their characters, meant the cast could overcome the unknown and deliver stellar performances.  

Image shows cast members seated at tables in the recording studio, with microphones in front of them and clear screens between each table

Although they were both long days we owe credit to Amy, our sound engineer, who devised the recording schedule.  This not only meant that we got to record mainly in chronological order, which is always handy for telling a story, but it also meant we were able to finish at a reasonable time on Saturday and everyone was then able to head off to enjoy the last of the days sunshine – and a gin and tonic for most I would imagine!

Amy’s job is not done yet, as now the editing process begins.  The group are excited to hear the final result and share it with you. More details to follow.

Image shows the cast and guide dogs standing outside the entrance to The Hold and smiling

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Drama Project Blog

Rehearsals for Unscene Suffolk’s latest project, The Mystery of Syleham Manor began in January 2020.  We were meeting up in person and having a blast getting to grips with our new set of characters.  All of that stopped in March 2020 when the UK went into lockdown.   Rehearsals for the project ceased, but we were determined that would not to stop us meeting up as a group, so Unscene Suffolk went virtual.  With weekly workshops through the power of Zoom, participants were able to socialise, play drama games and develop improvisation and memory skills.  Plus it was a lot of fun!   

As the lockdown continued, hope for performing The Mystery of Syleham Manor on stage began to fade.  Following months of uncertainty as to when the restrictions on theatres would be lifted, Drama Leader Caroline came up with a solution – The Mystery of Syleham Manor would become an audio play.  The Zoom sessions in 2020 had been a success and the group were ready and willing for a new challenge.  So in January 2021 rehearsals resumed, but this time virtually. 

Our rehearsals consist of energy games, professional vocal warm ups, character development and of course read throughs of each scene so that we are word perfect for when we come to record.  Using Zooms break out rooms has been a great help in order to maximise our time and the ability to get through as many scenes as possible in one session.  All being well, and with lockdown easing as it is, we are on track to record The Mystery of Syleham Manor IN PERSON in June!  There is a lot to organise to make sure it is safe and secure for all who attend, but we have an amazing venue on board and of course the staff and volunteers at Unscene Suffolk are doing all they can to ensure the safety of everyone involved.  Exciting times ahead and we look forward to sharing more of this with you soon.

Image shows spooky looking mansion covered in a thick mist. The mansion sits behind black iron gates.

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Bid Writer and Fund Raising Lead Sought

We are looking for someone to take the lead in seeking funding for our next project. Could it be you? If you have a track record in seeking out, applying for and successfully gaining funds in the arts world we want to hear from you. You can find out more here.

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Founder Member’s Fundraiser for Unscene Suffolk

One of our fabulous founder members, Clare Burman, has taken on the challenge of travelling the USA’s iconic Route 66, virtually; to raise much needed funds for Unscene Suffolk.

Clare will be indoor cycling and walking with her guide dog Saffron to rack up the 2280.3 miles from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles California, and has until July 4th to complete the distance.

Clare explains here why she decided to raise funds for Unscene Suffolk:

During the last year I’m not sure how I would have coped without Unscene Suffolk.

I, like several members of the Unscene group, live alone (many of them have also been shielding) and having weekly online singing and drama sessions, run by Unscene Suffolk, have helped so much to combat the isolation.

Unscene recognised how much more lockdown and social distancing was going to affect the visually-impaired community that they worked quickly to move our regular sessions online and teach us all how to connect in the virtual world. Having that support and maintaining an element of pre-COVID routine was the thing that got me through the first lockdown and has kept me going ever since. We are like a family – always there for one another.

I know that it’s going to be much more challenging to get funding for our drama and singing sessions now, as so many charities and organisations are bidding for such a limited pot, and the usual fundraising events have not been able to take place.

I honestly don’t know what I would do without Unscene Suffolk, so if I can contribute in a small way to keep sessions going by completing this challenge, that would make it all worthwhile – I am after all a bona fide couch potato, so this is going to hurt!”

If you’d like to donate to Clare’s fundraiser and support Unscene Suffolk’s vital work you can do it here. Thank you!

Good luck Clare and thank you so much! You are amazing!

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Unscene Suffolk’s Unheard Christmas Tales

Unscene Suffolk’s first virtual lockdown project was Unheard Christmas Tales, created jointly (for the first time) by our drama and singing groups. We present a compilation of sketches and songs that take the listener behind the scenes at Christmas!

Spoken sketches were created and recorded at our Zoom drama sessions, then edited by Clare Burman and Paul Nugent. Songs were rehearsed during our Zoom singing sessions, but as recording singing together is not possible online, members made individual recordings that were then mixed together by Emma Bishton. The whole track was then mixed together (complete with sound effects!) by Clare Burman.

Grab a cuppa and some cake, sit back and enjoy! You can listen to the audio recording here.

This version of Unheard Christmas Tales does not include the singers’ performance of A Winter’s Tale, for copyright reasons.

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Rotary Club of Ipswich Donation

Rotary_logo_wordmark_logotypeWe are delighted to announce that we have received an incredibly generous donation from the Rotary Club of Ipswich.

We were pleased to attend a Rotary meeting in January and tell the club about our work, and when all of our activities were put on hold due to the Covid-19 lockdown the Club contacted us to ask how they might be able to help. We told them about the online sessions we were hoping to run to replace the weekly workshops, and how we wanted to support our visually impaired members through the increased isolation they are experiencing in the current situation.

The Rotary Club responded by offering to fund a series of online singing sessions run for us by Emma Bishton. These have already begun and are providing an opportunity for the group to stay in touch and interact with others at this difficult time, and of course enjoy some singing!

We want to say a huge thank you to the Rotary Club of Ipswich for supporting us, and for making these remote workshops possible.

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Remote Drama Workshops

Things at Unscene Suffolk have changed a lot over the past few months. Like so many other theatre companies our drama workshops and rehearsals are suspended, and our production of ‘The Mystery of Syleham Manor’ has been postponed.

Never ones to give up easily, we have rallied our tech skills and taken our drama workshops online where, after a few weeks, our confidence is growing. What started as a few games and improvisations has grown to an abundance of ideas and ever more ambitious undertakings. Last week we attempted a courtroom drama and, with only a little preparation, the group sustained a brilliant improvisation for near enough the whole session! One of our fantastically talented participants created a short audio clip which you can listen to here.

The current situation has even further increased the isolation already experienced by people with visual impairment and we are pleased that these online sessions are able to provide structure and a sense of normality for our members.

We would like to continue to offer these remote workshops, so if you would like to support us and are able to donate, you can do so at our Virgin Money Giving Page. Your help is greatly appreciated.

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Drama Project Blog

Welcome to the final instalment of the drama project blog.

After all the months of hard work, collaboration and experimentation, Unscene Suffolk’s latest production, The Tree Dreams, was finally performed at the New Wolsey Studio. On its mini-tour of Ipswich the show was also shared at Castle Hill Community Centre and the Avenue Theatre.

The last few workshops were spent going over individual sections of the play, rehearsing the movement in sync with the audio description, and finalising costumes and props. The week before the performance we rehearsed for some full days, running the show through completely, incorporating sound and Nathan’s audio description with the help of our technical stage manager Yasmin.

Then, just two days before the performance one of the actors was taken ill, and Jenni had to find a replacement very quickly! Luckily, she was able to persuade Julian Harries, a local, professional actor to step in and, with some clever disguising of his script, Julian did a great job as our ‘real-world’ George.

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Ellen and George sit with a scrabble board on their knee. The villagers gather behind them

Show day was a very long, hot but ultimately exhilarating time in the New Wolsey Studio. A dress rehearsal and two performances meant that by the evening both cast and crew were shattered (myself included!), but it was all worth it. The feedback we received from the audience was fantastic. They enjoyed the story but especially loved the use of dynamic audio description which had been built-in, suggesting that it really enhanced the narrative and storytelling. The response was equally positive from visually impaired and sighted audience members. We captured the following responses from people as they left.

“The show, because of the audio description, became a lot more accessible. Brilliant acting, brilliantly performed this year. A really good story. And it was solid from the point of view of having the audio description over the top of everything else, able to pick up the actions a lot easier. For someone who’s visually impaired it was a brilliant, brilliant show.”

“Really enjoyed the sound effects – added an extra level – even for a sighted person.”

Members of the group too had the chance to feed back about the experience at the evaluation session which was held the week after the performances, not only about the final show but the development process as well, which is after all a huge part of what Unscene Suffolk’s workshops are about.

Many people felt that the group had created something fun yet poignant; a slightly off-the-wall story with a ‘real world’ and a ‘dream world’, lots of sheep, a monkey, a skunk, talking trees and all sorts of nursery rhyme characters. But, it also had a positive message about mental health, about looking after yourself, and about the need to talk to people and to share your worries with them. An issue which is more relevant today than perhaps it’s ever been.

The group reflected that the process of creating this show had at times been challenging. With such a flowing narrative, lots of movement and many different characters, some felt it had been harder to grasp in the early stages, but all agreed that in the final rehearsals, when the movement, audio description and dialogue all came together, there had been a ‘lightbulb’ moment and they had loved performing such a creative and collaborative show. An overriding response was the feeling of team work, as the group had to work together both physically and mentally. A huge amount of concentration was needed to create such a fluid piece of theatre, but it also allowed for more freedom of movement. This was something that director, Jenni had been keen to create, and which one actor felt had been a highlight. She explained:

“The thing I liked best is that it was so physical. As well as all the words to say, I’ve never been able to pretend to paint, or dance, and generally mess about and move on stage. It gave me a lovely sort of liberated feeling, and a new dimension. None of our plays have been that physical. I don’t know if it was the same for others but I thought so.”

Many others also suggested that the sound and audio description had given them more confidence with movement:

“I definitely liked the physical side of it, especially the dancing bit, because Nathan’s audio description really kind of opened that up to me. I’ve never been able to do it before.”

“I think it enabled us to co-ordinate those movements, because if you’ve got no vision you cannot know if you’re doing something at exactly the same time as everybody else.”

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Tree-Dwellers holding bright coloured branches spin around in a sweeping arc on a black stage

There were, as always, various issues which cropped up. Having proper theatre lighting at the New Wolsey Studio turned out to be a real benefit to those members of the group who have some vision, but in the community venues this was not available. The change in aesthetics at each venue also meant we had to adjust markings for visibility: in some places contrasting floors and furniture again assisted those with more sight, but in the studio the black floor and dark chairs made it impossible, and so these had to be marked up with fluorescent tape.

The aim to share Unscene Suffolk’s work with people who wouldn’t usually get to see it was definitely achieved. Many of the audience members at Castle Hill Community centre had never seen one of our shows, and it was especially rewarding to share our work with members of Red Rose Chain’s Avenue Community Theatre (ACT), a group for actors with a mix of disabilities, learning difficulties and other issues. We had a great chat with them after the performance and are looking forward to seeing some of their work in the future.

All in all the show was a great success, and despite issues like a last minute cast change, everyone pulled together to make it happen. (I’m happy to report by the way that group member Mark is back on his feet now and feeling much better). It’s been so interesting to watch the production develop from initial ideas to final show, and even better to be a part of it.

Unscene Suffolk is on its Summer break now, but we’ll be back in October to start the process all over again. If you fancy joining us on our next adventure you can find more information on our workshops here, or keep up with us on Facebook or Twitter.

Caroline Roberts
Workshop Assistant

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Quiz Night Fundraiser & Autumn Raffle

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Quiz Night in aid of Unscene Suffolk
Friday 4th October 2019 @ 8pm
Claydon and Barham Community Centre, Church Lane, Claydon, IP6 0EG
£5 per person, teams of up to 6 people
Book as a team or we can team you up on the night for smaller groups and individuals.
To reserve your place please email quiz@unscenesuffolk.co.uk or call Marianna on 07799 784895

All proceeds from this event will be put towards our work providing accessible workshops and performance opportunities for visually impaired people.

Can’t make it but still want to help us with fundraising?

We are selling raffle tickets for our Prize Draw which will take place at the Quiz Night. CASH prizes of up to £100 are available. If you would like to purchase some tickets, or sell some on our behalf, please contact Marianna using the details above.

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Radio 4 In Touch

Unscene Suffolk featured on Radio 4’s In Touch programme on 16 July 2019

Reporter Toby Davey visited our rehearsals for The Tree of Dreams and interviewed cast members Wayne Witney and Audio Describer Nathan Geering to gain an insight into the unique form of description that was used as part of this production. The report also includes audience feedback from visually impaired people who came to the show.

Feature starts at 11 mins 25s into the programme which can be found at the link below.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0006sp2

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