Post written by: Erin Walcon
This is one of my favourite days of the year.
It begins nervously… for all of us. It’s a mammoth task. 12 secondary schools, 24 visiting physical theatre workshops, 6 professional lead artists, 18 university students, and one final showcase day, where it all comes together and we celebrate their work, this year with 82 performers taking part.
It’s hard to fully capture the complex magic of the day, so I thought I’d just send you a few ‘postcard’ moments from the ground.
It’s 9.34 AM. Secondary students have just started arriving in a steady trickle through the front door of the Exeter Northcott Theatre. They are nervous, but excited. They look very relieved when they see their friends already sitting at a table in the cafe, and they congregate in small, tight bunches, talking together in low voices: who is here? Who is missing? Do they need to re-work their piece? Did they remember to bring the music on the memory stick? They look up to see the lead artist who worked with them at their school, and you can see everyone’s shoulders relax.
It’s 10.43 AM. Welcome time. I stand up and say hi – I explain to everyone that this day is not about perfect finished pieces, but about celebrating the craft and aliveness of making original theatre – about taking risks and trying things. People try out saying hi to someone they haven’t met before. Sam, our wonderful technician from the Exeter Northcott gives a safety briefing. We gather to go down to Roborough Studios for rehearsals. The work of the day begins.
Postcard 3: Making and ReMaking
If you wander the hallway at about 11.17, you can hear working rehearsal rooms everywhere. Each studio has at least 3 schools represented in it, and they are packed with activity – working beats, honing lifts, trying out new characters, polishing timings. Students have never met each other before, but they co-occupy the same creative space with ease. Sometimes they warm up together. The Lead Artists move between their groups, helped and questioning. The university students mentor and support, providing metronome clicks or modelling new physical techniques. The rooms are full and the energy is electric.
Postcard 4: Lunch
We take a much-needed lunch break. This is always one of my favourite moments of the day – seeing the university campus be taken over by secondary-aged students. This year there was parkour off the wall of the chapel and pyramid building on Roborough’s lawn. The sun shone.
Postcard 5: Getting Serious Now
After lunch, you can feel a tone change. The day has moved from nervous first steps, through the manic enthusiasm of the morning, and into the serious focus of getting ready to perform. The shift comes when the first few groups head up to the Northcott to do their technical rehearsals. Those left down at Roborough buckle down, and the quality of attention is precise.
Postcard 6: Tech
Each group gets about 15 minutes to tech their piece on mainstage. It’s a big move, coming from the safety of the rehearsal room into the big theatre again. The pieces sometimes have to grow or shrink in order to work. The stage lighting transforms everything.
Postcard 7: Staying in It
Tech rehearsals can be hard. There are long windows of quiet while the technical team sort out music files. There might be several other groups watching you, waiting for their turn. There is always a lot of coming and going, with 82 performers, all needing to tech within the same 2 hour window. This year, I was so impressed with the focus and professionalism of the groups. They really did outstanding work during their technical rehearsals, and this was testament to their trust in their lead artists, but also a really special thing to watch.
Postcard 8: Flying
At 4pm, the auditorium fills up with parents, carers, family and friends who have come to watch. The performers fill the first 5 rows, and their loved ones pack in above and around. The lights dim. I can heard the gentle shuffle of performers moving quietly and quickly into position. My shoulders relax. (Traffic flow is the biggest stress of the day for me…) Exeter College walks on stage, their newspaper puppet ready. We have begun. This year, I set camera down for a second and just enjoyed the wonderful sight of the stage being full of secondary student performers. You could feel that something special is happening – see it reflected in the eyes of the performers taking their first steps onto a professional stage. Feeling and trusting in their own power and potential.
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