At the University of Essex’s Lakeside Theatre, students are actively encouraged to bring their own theatrical projects to life. This is a brilliant opportunity for students to get creative, express themselves and create some great theatrical moments.
One of the main ways students can do this is by applying for a 2 night slot in the theatre’s studio space. Applications are open twice a year and there are spaces available for a limited amount of shows each term and on 9th and 10th February, me and a few of my friends from my course did just that, as we put together a production of Caryl Churchill’s play “A Number”.
The play explores a father’s desperate attempt to atone for treating his son badly in the past, by cloning him. However, this has causes a lot more problems than it solves. You can gather that it was quite an intense play, but we were able to pull it off and dedicate time to put it all together.
The show went really well and it was such a great experience to be a part of! It gave me the opportunity to put lots of skills that I have developed throughout my course into action and it also gave me an insight into what it’s like to work in the theatre industry, which wouldn’t have been possible without the Lakeside Theatre!
Cast and crew of “A Number”
L-R (Top) Finn (director), me (producer/technician), Jack (director)
(Bottom) Sam (actor playing Bernard), Tom (actor playing Salter)
If you think putting on a show would be up your street, then here is an insight into how it all happened…
Applying and planning
It all started when my friends Finn and Jack asked me to be a part of the project. Finn had studied the play at A level and was itching to do a production of it at the University. We then decided that Jack and Finn would direct the production and that I would produce it and do all of the technical/behind the scenes work.
To begin with, we had to put together a proposal and put it forward. This had to stand out from all of the other applications and provide an interesting idea. It had to include details like what the play is and what interpretation we would give the play, how much money we would need for the performing rights and any props etc. Mostly quite boring, yet important bits and bobs! However, it got accepted and now all we needed to do was make it all happen…
Once we had all our plans in place, we needed to get actors to actually be a part of the play. In the play, there are only 2 male characters, so we didn’t actually need to cast that many actors. In the end, we auditioned around 8 people for the play, but nevertheless, it was a very difficult decision to make.
After lots of talking and deliberation, we picked Tom and Sam to be our actors.
(L-R, Sam and Tom in rehearsals)
Once we had our actors, we had to got straight into rehearsals. As the show was being performed so early in the term, the directors only had three weeks to work with the actors to get the show right. Considering that we all had our course and other commitments to get on with as well as the show, it took a lot of dedication and hard work to make it work.
In rehearsals, the directors looked at bringing the text alive. This included investigating how the characters’ back story affects how that makes them feel and how that should best influence how they appear on stage.
Learning lines was another important part of the rehearsing. As the hour long show only has two actors, there were lots of lines that needed to be learnt. Remembering them took a lot of time and concentration, but Jack and Finn worked with the actors to make it as easy as possible.
Sam and Tom used several techniques to learn all of their lines. One technique consisted of finding different ways to connect all of the lines together in their heads. This meant that once they remembered one line, they were reminded of how it connected to the next line.
Whilst rehearsals were going on, it was my job to pull the show together, so that when rehearsals were finished, we had everything in place for the performances. I was in charge of all the behind the scenes stuff, like sorting out a rehearsal schedule, attending meetings with the theatre, finding props, sound effects, costume and set among lots of other stuff.
One of the biggest tasks with this production was creating the set. In our interpretation of the play, we set the piece in a living room but with a twist. The living room was on a raised platform and the edge of it was an underground train station platform. This was done through a ‘mind the gap’ sign on the floor and train tracks on the floor. Furthermore, these glowed in the dark during scene transitions.
A shot taken during the dress rehearsal
This was to allude to the fact that in the play, Salter’s wife took her own life by jumping off the platform onto the train track. This fact is fundamental to the play’s storyline, as this is what drives Salter to start cloning his son. By having this as a constant image throughout the play, the audience is constantly reminded of the origins of Salter’s pitiful downfall.
Operating the technical bits
During performances of the production, my job was far from over. I was also in charge of running all of the lights and sound during the show, from the control booth at the back of the auditorium. I was quite nervous to begin with, as although I had been trained to use all of the equipment during a technical theatre module on my course, I had never operated the technical aspects of an actual production before. However, in the end I really enjoyed doing it. I’m normally the one acting on stage, so to be on the other side of a performance was a strange but rewarding experience.
My view from the control booth
In the end, we all felt that the production went really well. Despite the time restraints we were put under, we managed to pull everything together and I think we all created something really special. Don’t just take my word for it as well, the production got very kindly, positively reviewed by “A younger theatre”.
I’m really glad that I got involved in the project and I’ve learned a lot from it, as have the rest of the cast and crew. I would definitely recommend anyone interested to take up the opportunity of putting on a show. It’s a brilliant experience and an opportunity that won’t necessarily be available at other theatres. I guess our campus is just that good! ; )