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.
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.”
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.