With just two more performances of ‘100’ to go, and the pilot of our project AsCend physical theatre thus drawing to what looks like a successful close I wanted to talk about the process, thoughts, and of the reaction so far.
At the beginning of our opening night we were all walking the usual first night tightrope with a genuine mix of pumped up adrenalin coursing our bodies. As the producer with only 20 something on the night booked in a 60 seater there were worries; would the decisions allowing added extras to the budget to give production value prove a problem,or certain cautious restraints keeping us ready for future work already in development pay dividends or merely restrict those production values? For our superb duo of physical and character directors – respectively Jacqueline Avery and Peter John Cooper, would the timescale allowed up to this point of a mere 10 – albeit intensive – days prove enough for the quality striven for? Would the encouraged brave character and innovative physical choices, or pared back style minus smoke and mirrors – excite and inspire the audience? For Jacqueline Avery and I, who have passionately developed AsCend with its springboard for newly graduated actors – would our approach integrating experience and inexperience: the fresh, quick, uncluttered talent integrated with the proven wise, more measured and resourceful performers pay off? For Jacqueline who has led the artistic side of ‘100’ as well as been a co-director and ensemble performer – would the vision she had worked on so hard come into its own? For the ensemble performers, gathered through a series of carefully designed workshops and interviews by the company for AsCend, now bursting with first night nerves, anticipation and respect for each other – would tonight be the beginning of something special, successful and satisfying?
As the queue outside Dorchester Arts Centre grew, and more chairs were added until not one more could; as the by now raring to go AsCend ensemble were told the ‘curtain’ was to be held to accommodate the last minute rush; as the disappointed people were sent away with apologies as the house was full – there was a palpable frisson of relief and excitement. When the premiere of AsCend’s ‘100’ drew to a close, and the applause died away; and as we heard during the post-show Q&A our audience had ‘loved’, ‘enjoyed’, been ‘gripped’, ‘touched’ and ‘inspired’ by it – we knew the project AsCend and ‘100’ had huge potential. One member of the audience that night sent an email. ‘Marks out of 100 for 100 – 100!’. The Artistic Director of Dorchester Arts Centre said: “…it was a pleasure. A tremendous evening. Thought provoking, original; everything I would have wanted it to be, and hope the company feel that way too!’
AsCend has toured eight of the ten venues booked for this pilot. At The Royal Manor School on Portland – getting up at 7.00 a.m. to travel. Then leading a workshop at 9.00 am and performing at 11 a.m. is not a tired, touring theatre company’s idea of heaven. But afterwards when the kids show their appreciation we are all smiles. New audiences are vital. This work important. The Mowlem Theatre in the quiet, quirky, Dorset seaside town of Swanage is one of our venues. Here a small and senior audience enjoyed ‘100’,and we realise this age group, just as the Portland school children, were seeing physical theatre for the first time. Those who stay for the Q & A post-performance talk of the ‘100’ as ‘excellent’, ‘full of striking images’, and ‘inspiring’. We talk about what their chosen memory for Eternity might be. In the bar afterwards one couple in their late 70’s talk about how – having read the flyer, and booked their tickets some weeks before – they had been so looking forward to seeing the play and exploring the theme of just one valued memory to take them into Eternity. That afternoon – prior to the evening performance – they spent a wonderful three hours together, sharing their joint memories and choosing one memory together. That is validation enough for the AsCend physical theatre project and 100 – we can be proud as a team for this outcome alone although there are many more to tell another day!
It has been a bonding, sometimes happy, at others difficult but always worth while time. That’s the nature of touring theatre. 75% of the work is behind the performance. The development of the piece of theatre; the booking of venues; the casting, the text, the vision, the fund-raising and grant application; the networking and the audience building; the rehearsal and the design, the making and the marketing. The blood, sweat, tears and laughter. In the end all this hard work produces the magic that is theatre.
So if you haven’t yet seen ‘100’ you still have two opportunities at:
The Layard Theatre, Canford School, Canford Magna, nr Wimborne, Dorset – Wednesday 13th November 7.30 pm Tickets Tel- 01202 847525;
and the FINAL performance at:
Weymouth Pavilion, The Esplanade, Weymouth, Dorset
– Thursday 21 November 7.30 pm. Tickets Tel – 01305 783225.
See you there we can only create magic with an audience.
Jane McKell, Artistic Director