Tag Archives: Process

Little Earthquake: Grimm Tales Retold – The Deleted Scenes

Image: Damien Hirst’s ‘Mother and Child (Divided)’

We’re about to open Grimm Tales Retold, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Philip, Little Earthquake’s Co-Director, has written the show which features very different versions of four famous fairytales. Below Philip has opened up the Drafts folder on his laptop to let you see what nearly made it into the show but was ultimately left out.

Grimm Tales Retold runs from Thursday 8th – Saturday 10th February 2018 in Birmingham. For more information and to book tickets online, click here.

The Brothers Grimm spent almost their entire working lives editing and re-editing their collection of fairytales, adding new stories, shifting the order around, incorporating new details, sometimes even having more than one version of the same story on the go. My process for writing Grimm Tales Retold hasn’t taken a lifetime, but what we’re presenting this week is the fifth draft of a piece which has steadily been taking shape over the last year.

As it stands, there are four stories in the show, not counting the link narrative featuring Jake and Will Grimm — we’ve got Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rumpelstiltskin. The Musicians of Bremen never even made it as far as me putting pen to paper (but the production programme note will give you a glimpse of what I had in mind.) Through the drafting process, Rapunzel and Snow White were cut from the show in their entirety — and both Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood now appear in Version 2.0 forms, which are virtually unrecognisable now from what I originally wrote.

If this was a DVD, we’d get to include some bonus material to give Little Earthquake aficionados a chance to see some of the things that ended up on the cutting room floor. And so we’ve decided to do the next best thing: we’re popping some of our deleted scenes onto the blog, to give just a little taster of what nearly was and what might have been.

There’s a real first draft feel to most of this stuff; some of it never got redeveloped any further than what’s there now. Snow White is the only one of the four that made it as far as Draft 2, and I did get the chance to rework that one quite a bit. It fell at the final hurdle when we needed to make some tough choices in relation to running time, budget and technical complexity. It would have been quite something to see, I’m sure…

So here they are: some of the baby steps that got us to the point we’re at now — a few hours away from opening night. They’ll be full of inconsistencies, gaps in their logic, bits that go on too long or not long enough, and there’ll be some glaring typos, too. They are rough around the edges but, I’d like to think, not without some value.

I hope you enjoy them.

Read ‘Grimm Tales Retold – Cinderella’ Deleted Scene
Read ‘Grimm Tales Retold – Little Red Riding Hood’ Deleted Scene
Read ‘Grimm Tales Retold – Rapunzel’ Deleted Scene
Read ‘Grimm Tales Retold – Snow White’ Deleted Scene

The post Grimm Tales Retold – The Deleted Scenes appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 4

We’re currently in rehearsals for Grimm Tales Retold, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Phil’s script alive and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. Find out what happened in the rehearsal room during week three below.

You can also read about what happened during week one of rehearsals here, week two here, week three here, and book tickets for the show online here.

Jordan Farrag
Monday 29th January, 9am – 1pm

Hi! Jordan here again…

Time felt like it was quickly speeding up as we moved into the penultimate week of the process. Bright and early on Monday morning the dream team (aka Team Gingerbread) were straight into George Cadbury Hall ready to go, fuelled by the breakfast of champions: copious amounts of coffee and what I like to call on-the-go toast (several slices of course).

Gareth doesn’t want us to fix blocking for the scene so that we can move around the stage instinctively. This decision really allowed our performances to have a lot more freedom and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next week because it could be different each night!

We started off the rehearsal with the usual ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’ to get the blood pumping and then went onto a couple of rounds of Tag to continue the wake-up cycle. This rehearsal was our last opportunity to refine our work on the Hansel and Gretel scene. We ensured that we all maintained our ‘wants’, remembering the work we did with ‘filters’ to help emphasise key moments and relationships. Gareth doesn’t want us to fix blocking for the scene so that we can move around the stage instinctively. This decision really allowed our performances to have a lot more freedom and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next week because it could be different each night!

I can’t wait to show audiences what we have created because I think the whole cast and team have been inspired by the project and are really looking forward to performing!

Bethany Hartland
Monday 29th January, 2pm – 6pm

Hi! It’s Beth…

Our final Monday afternoon before Production Week! When the session starts with “this will be the last time you will look at this scene in detail”, the rehearsal session ahead of us started to feel a bit daunting! But when we began going through the final scenes in the theatre space, Little Red Riding Hood and Rumpelstiltskin, I realised that as a cast we really were nearly at the point of a completed and ready show. We used the rehearsal to home in on our characters’ ‘wants’ at every moment and every line, making sure everything we did was done with a purpose and was as bold as it could be.

We have started to learn that if we courageously follow our ‘wants’ and listen to the offers that our scene partners give us, then, although the scene might not necessarily be exactly the same every single night, there will always be clarity and excitement in the telling of the story. In addition to this, we went over the logistical side of the scenes, so that we were not worried about those specific elements because if we are, it has a tendency to influence how boldly and clearly we pursue the ‘wants’ of our characters.

We have started to learn that if we courageously follow our ‘wants’ and listen to the offers that our scene partners give us, then, although the scene might not necessarily be exactly the same every single night, there will always be clarity and excitement in the telling of the story.

We have come such a long way in the past four weeks and everyone involved has put in so much work to make this production the best it can be. I hope everyone who comes to see it loves it as much as we have loved working on it and bringing it to life.

#QuakeGrimm

Scott Wilson
Tuesday 30th January, 9am – 1pm

Such a fantastic rehearsal today! Starting with a full cast discussion about vocal projection and the correct way to support our voices to avoid damaging them throughout the run of the show. We focused on engaging our diaphragm to support our voice by pushing hard against a wall while releasing an ‘Aah’ sound. This really helped me develop my understanding of my technique whilst performing and as I can be quite loud during the show, and life in general, looking at the correct way to project without straining has been really beneficial for me.

The rest of the rehearsal was dedicated to focusing on the scenes between the Grimm Brothers and personally this was one of my favourite rehearsals of the whole process. Having done a full run of the show a couple of times already has allowed me and George to discover the broad spectrum of approaches to our characters and the various routes our scenes could take. I really enjoy the fact that each time we play the scenes, it is never the same, and this whole process has really opened my eyes to the liveness of performance, and I really love being able to experiment and explore the play together with my scene partners.

I really enjoy the fact that each time we play the scenes, it is never the same, and this whole process has really opened my eyes to the liveness of performance, and I really love being able to experiment and explore the play together with my scene partners.

However, hearing the immortal words of Gareth to “Be Bold” really brought something great out of me and George and we both found ourselves responding to the offers we made to each other. This resulted in the scenes all becoming so much fun to be in, as an actor, as we were focusing on each other and building on what we offered one another. For me, that’s what acting is all about.

Everyone is really starting to come into their own and it has been amazing watching this already fantastic play become something truly magical and I cannot explain how glad I am that I’ve been able to be part of this amazing production.

#QuakeGrimm #TeamJake

William Melhuish
Wednesday 31st January, 9am – 1pm

‘The Calm before the Storm’

This week was the first week where the entirety of our rehearsals were based in George Cadbury Hall. Being in this space has certainly brought its challenges to us all as actors. Many of us have had little experience performing in a theatre such as this one with a large set such as ours. Therefore, it is safe to say that this week has been the hardest by far.

As the countdown for production day closes in, removing uncertainties about our characters’ desires become more of a priority.

Being in this larger space poses a huge challenge as an actor – VOICE!!! Time after time during rehearsals I have found my voice fall into a theatrical vacuum which has made my lines inaudible even for the first row. Therefore, by Wednesday’s full run-through, I knew that I had to prove myself in the space.

Alas, things went very differently! Being in this space has meant that facial and vocal expression needs to be heightened, and that’s exactly not what happened on Wednesday. It is frustrating as an actor when such a great script and its story cannot be told clearly because of our own faults on stage. Gareth’s development of us as actors almost goes to waste when we cannot reflect that to the audience because of volume issues and vague ‘wants’ on stage. All we need to do is trust ourselves as performers and make sure that we are offering each other and the audience a clear vision of character wants instead of playing the emotion. As the countdown for production day closes in, removing uncertainties about our characters’ desires become more of a priority.

Georgiana Poteiciuc
Thursday 1st February, 1pm – 5pm

It’s Thursday and we’re back in the rehearsal room after the run-through in the theatre on Wednesday. Today has been the most intense rehearsal since the beginning. It was all about pushing our limits and overcoming any obstacles that were keeping us from fully engaging with our characters’ ‘wants’. For this session we focused on Act One and the results were amazing. I felt more focused then ever and the connection between us felt a lot clearer. It was like we were really helping each other because our energies were combining together, pushing us to be bolder and bolder with each line. I feel a lot more confident after this rehearsal as my character’s actions seem natural and well defined now and the scene as a whole makes perfect sense. We all discovered parts of ourselves that we may have not known we had and it is amazing to actually feel that you are 100% involved, committed and really doing your best.

Today has been the most intense rehearsal since the beginning. It was all about pushing our limits and overcoming any obstacles that were keeping us from fully engaging with our characters’ ‘wants’.

This session showed us that if we find the courage to be bold enough, nothing will stand in the way of us giving our best performance.

Katie Webster
Thursday 1st February, 6pm – 10pm

Never again will I be able to hear the words ‘be bold’ and not think of today’s rehearsal. We continued this evening to work on running scenes without logistics or props but instead really focusing on the acting, our characters’ ‘wants’, and being BOLD.

We began with Little Red Riding Hood in this session. There is such a varying dynamic between my character, Melinda, and Louie, played by Will, so establishing a playful and BOLD relationship has sometimes been tricky. However, today, after quite a bit of stopping to really discuss what we wanted, something has clicked. It’s incredible how now the scene feels completely new, even in Week 4 – it feels like anything could happen and that’s amazing to work with as an actor. It’s really interesting how the concepts of wants, offers and being BOLD often lend themselves to the more comedic scenes, in my mind anyway. However (no spoilers, but this isn’t a funny scene), this dramatic and complex relationship between Melinda and Louie flourished when we had space to play. I’m really excited and just as hopeful that when it comes to performing in front of an audience, all the work we did today comes across.

It’s incredible how now the scene feels completely new, even in Week 4 – it feels like anything could happen and that’s amazing to work with as an actor.

Finally, we moved to the final scene. The joy Gareth has when calling us Twats in such a casual manner is something I know I’ll miss in the weeks after the show. Again, we were BOLD in our twattiness, and poor ol’ Valentina gets herself into a right pickle. This scene is incredibly fun. It’s an excellent example of how we, as actors and a company, can work together to make it fun and different every time. I feel we all have the tools and the confidence to go out on opening night and try something new to see what happens. It’s exciting. A tad scary, but mostly completely and utterly exciting.

I can’t believe we open soon. Please come and see this incredible show! You’ll definitely be missing out on some top-quality twattiness if you do.

#QuakeGrimm

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Little Earthquake: Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 3

We’re currently in rehearsals for Grimm Tales Retold, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Phil’s script alive and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. Find out what happened in the rehearsal room during week three below.

You can also read about what happened during week one of rehearsals here, week two of rehearsals here, and book tickets for the show online here.

Jordan Farrag
Monday 22nd January, 9am – 1pm

Hi! It’s Jordan…

And we are back to the third week of our rehearsals. I’m starting to feel nostalgic for the end of the show already and we haven’t even performed yet! I’m enjoying the process so much I don’t know how I’ll spend my time after the show finishes.

An early start today proved very useful as we began to shake off our weekend cobwebs with a quick game of ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’, followed by a frantic and chaotic cast attempting to chase one another in ‘Chaos Tag’. Subsequently, the cast were well and truly warmed up in their bodies but our minds could still do with a wake-up call. We began playing a game called ‘My Love / Your Love’ which seemed to distinguish who the future poet laureates are in the cast and who should probably steer clear of poetry altogether. I was definitely in the latter group.

I’m starting to feel nostalgic for the end of the show already and we haven’t even performed yet!

After warming up, we continued to develop some more fox and Office Twat sequences which we are thinking of including in the show. At first, I felt a little silly whilst trying to be creative and develop a fox twitch, but seeing everyone else around me giving 100% and not even thinking about their inhibitions massively spurred me on to do the same. And by the end of the session, we had all worked well together, laughed with each other and developed two sequences. I am so happy with the progress we are making in this show and I can’t wait for my friends and family to see what we have been up to.

Bethany Hartland
Monday 22nd January, 2pm – 6pm

Hi! It’s Beth, again…

Third week already! Where is the time going?!

Our Monday afternoon session consisted of working on the scene transitions for the whole performance. The process involved sorting out which props/furniture needed to be already set on the stage, which props needed to be brought on from the correct prop tables, and making sure that each prop had a designated cast member who was going to make sure everything was in the right place for the upcoming scene. Although it might not seem the most interesting of procedures, there’s a surprising amount of pressure to make sure that it’s all done in the limited transition time that is set. When you actually think about all the props used in each scene, they amount to quite a few (Gareth is going to mime them all next year, apparently!). The last thing you want to do is forget to move something for a certain scene and cause confusion for the cast members who are on stage for that moment. This pressure will undoubtedly mean that in the actual performances I will not be enthusiastically singing Little Mix’s Black Magic in the wings prior to my scene.

I had butterflies leaving the rehearsal, and although it was definitely because I felt a mixture of fear and excitement, I really cannot wait for it all to fall into place.

When you start going through these preparation elements for the play, it starts to sink in a bit more — that in just over two weeks, it will be our performances. This realisation meant I had butterflies leaving the rehearsal, and although it was definitely because I felt a mixture of fear and excitement, I really cannot wait for it all to fall into place. The final product I know is going to be amazing.

You’ll just have to wait and see! #QuakeGrimm

Georgiana Poteiciuc
Tuesday 23rd January, 9am – 1pm

I can’t believe that we are already in the third week of rehearsals. Time passes so fast when you enjoy your activities and today it passed even faster.

This Tuesday was different than all the other days, because it was the first rehearsal in George Cadbury Hall, on the very stage we are going to perform. Part of the set was already there and we were all amazed by it.

During the warm-up, Gareth asked us to get in our Friendship Circles (different group circles where we stand between different people in each circle) and we all had a surprise. Suddenly we were not able to form the circles properly anymore, it was like we had completely forgotten our places. Apparently, this happened because we changed the space. We were relying on our position in the rehearsal room to form the circles rather than the people around us, which was a mistake.

This Tuesday was different than all the other days, because it was the first rehearsal in George Cadbury Hall, on the very stage we are going to perform.

Once we finally succeeded, Gareth asked us to walk around the stage in order to familiarise ourselves with the space, the set and the props. Starting to touch everything around me made me establish some kind of connection with it and I remember thinking “This is our character’s home, therefore our new home for a while.” I believe that connecting with the objects on set is extremely important because they send me energy. They will help me if I let them instead of standing in my way as an obstacle.

The rest of the rehearsal focused on the Rumpelstiltskin scene. We were all given secret information and tasks (Gareth calls these ‘filters’) for our characters to see how this would influence the scene and the way we feel about other characters in it. I was supposed to hate Valentina and I discovered that by hating her, I was starting to hate everyone else for liking her. The change really worked for me and I believe it brings originality and purpose to my character, which is the most important thing. A character without purpose (or a want) simply doesn’t work. I am looking forward for what comes next because I am in love with this show.

Katie Webster
Wednesday 24th January, 2pm – 6pm

Today marks the halfway point!

As is standard for Production Module in the department, the Wednesday of Week 3 brings us to a stagger-through, an informal showing to the rest of the production team. This was also the first time we’d done a full run in George Cadbury Hall, and I think it is safe to say we felt a little nervous but mainly excited. We’re beginning to face the challenges of the space, mainly being how vast it is compared to the studio we’ve worked in before. I’m sure by the time you see the show (8th — 10th February, by the way…) you’ll be able to hear us loud and clear, but today the space’s acoustics got the better of us many times! I’m looking forward to working on this with Gareth, learning the correct way to support and project my voice in the space.

Overall, today’s run was very fun. A personal highlight was when Beth stood slightly too close to the door in one section and was nearly taken out by Jordan’s flamboyant entrance. We recovered and managed to push past the giggles, but that will certainly stay in my mind for many runs to come! I’m excited to build on what we’ve done so far and really explore our characters further now we’re accustomed to the space.

Who wants to know exactly what’s going to happen on stage every night!? That’s so boring… I’m loving the feeling of not knowing what could happen and not being able to anticipate each character’s reactions.

I can’t believe how far we’ve all come in two and a half weeks, not only through the production of the show itself, but how much I’ve learnt from Gareth, Phil, and the rest of the very talented cast. I’ve learnt a lot about acting, performing, experimentation and fun! Who wants to know exactly what’s going to happen on stage every night!? That’s so boring… I’m loving the feeling of not knowing what could happen and not being able to anticipate each character’s reactions. Variety is indeed the spice of my Grimm Tales Retold life.

George Bandy
Thursday 25th January, 1pm – 5pm

Grimm Tales Retold is a play that consists of a series of shorter stories, within the framework of one larger narrative, between the two Brothers Grimm, Jake and Will. Up until now, we had been looking primarily at the play in isolated scenes, with each rehearsal (for the most part) being focused upon either a specific short story, or upon a single one of the bridging scenes featuring the brothers. The narrative of the whole play, however, tells of a single night in the life of these brothers (albeit a pivotal night), with the events of their scenes actually occurring one after the other. To aid in the portrayal of this singular through-line, we today rehearsed every single scene featuring the two brothers together, and indeed ran them on from one another.

At the beginning of looking at each segment, Scott and I (playing Jake and Will respectively), were instructed to do speed-runs of our lines. This was nothing new to us, but following this were speed-runs at opposite ends of the theatre, and finally speed-runs, projecting our lines, whilst running around the theatre. By the end we were exhausted, but had realised that there was definitely far more pace and energy to be injected into every line, and whilst we wouldn’t be running on stage (or at least not constantly!), our lines would certainly benefit from the impetus that running would provide.

After speed-runs of the lines, we dived into each scene, with Gareth giving each of us secret information (such as: ‘In this scene, everything that Jake does annoys you’, or ‘Act this scene as if constantly worried that somebody is out to get you’). Not only did this hidden (from each other) agenda bring about new ideas and ways to perform each line, but it meant that we were constantly on guard for how the other actor would change their performance with their secret information, meaning that we were fully listening and engaged with the other person, as opposed to merely working on our own performance. We ran each scene multiple times to experiment with different ideas, both suggested by Gareth and some of our own, until we had settled on our final ‘filter’, as Gareth describes it, or combination thereof, to filter our ‘wants’ within the scene.

Not only did this hidden agenda bring about new ideas, it also meant that we were fully listening and engaged with the other person, as opposed to merely working on our own performance.

What was particularly useful, then, was running each scene into the next scene with the brothers, cutting out the story in the middle, so that we could experiment with maintaining the same filter from the end of one segment to the beginning of the next. This ultimately helped us to create more coherence between them, as opposed to each scene of the brothers being a sort of ‘story’ itself, and was massively useful in cementing the actual narrative progression of the play. It threw up new things, but also helped us to remember old things; Gareth picked out certain lines in the text, such as, “You’re such an oaf – Leave yourself alone!” [Will addressing Jake], to inspire the filter for Scott: “In these scene, be as gross and disgusting as possible”. It meant that we found more ways to perform each scene that made our lines feel a lot more logical and justified.

I found the rehearsal extremely useful, both in terms of securing my personal journey throughout the play, but additionally in working on the relationship with Scott, my partner for most of the play, and I can’t wait to see how that is polished to perfection in our final week of rehearsals!

#TeamWill

Lydia Sirovica
Thursday 25th January, 6pm -10pm

I think these rehearsals are slowly starting to catch up to me… we’re all knackered, but the work continues! In today’s session, we started by doing a speed run of Cinderella – and if I’m honest my brain really struggled to function that quickly. It was quite a tense exercise to take part in because your brain feels like it is working at ten thousand miles an hour trying to grasp for the lines accurately and come in at the right moments quick enough. I definitely think this will help me to know my lines inside out and I will be grabbing other cast members to give it a go outside of rehearsal time!

I am excited with where our performance is going now that we are able to rehearse in the theatre space whilst exploring the set and props – I can really see it piecing together day by day!

We then tried out different ‘filters’ for the scene, and for my character Georgia, I was given the filter of being terrified of Cassie and not wanting to do her any wrong. This is really fun to play around with and I tried to be as bold as possible in order to test whether any moments between our two characters could be carried through to the performance. In this case I have found some examples where I can do this. I also began to explore my relationship with Assista by using different filters, and from my discoveries today I think it’s safe to say Georgia will not be warming to her. After what felt like an average first stagger-through for me, I am excited with where our performance is going now that we are able to rehearse in the theatre space whilst exploring the set and props – I can really see it piecing together day by day!

Charlotte Biggs
Friday 26th January, 3pm – 7pm

As rehearsals for Week Three have drawn to a close, none of us can quite believe that we are already over halfway through this process! It’s honestly been such a fantastic journey full of excitement in every rehearsal, and I can already tell I am going to miss doing ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’ everyday!

For this rehearsal, Gareth got Georgiana, Jordan and myself to complete a speed run of all of our lines in Scene 2. This involved us saying our lines as quickly as possible, with the fastest pace possible. By doing this, it allowed us in rehearsals (when speaking at a normal pace) to not have the dreaded, ‘what’s my cue line?’ or ‘what’s my line now?’ at the forefront of our minds, so we could focus more on our ‘wants’ and the boldness of the scenes. After this speed run, Gareth then gave all of us individual ‘filters’ for the scene. This allowed us to explore the scene through new lenses and for us to be bolder with our ‘wants’. It definitely gave way for some extremely hilarious moments as well as brilliant new discoveries that we had never encountered before.

‘Filters’ allowed us to explore the scene through new lenses and for us to be bolder with our ‘wants’. It definitely gave way for some extremely hilarious moments as well as brilliant new discoveries that we had never encountered before.

After we had completed Scene 2, the full cast was in to run through the penultimate scene, where the same process of speed run and filters was used. Again, this made for some extremely funny discoveries that left us all in fits of laughter, as well as discovering new ways of being bold with our characters.

So, what night have you booked your tickets for? Grimm Tales Retold is a show you do not want to miss. I am so proud of the work that has already been created and rehearsals haven’t even finished yet. #QuakeGrimm

The post Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 3 appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 2

We’re currently in rehearsals for Grimm Tales Retold, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Phil’s script alive and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. Find out what happened in the rehearsal room during week two below.

You can also read about what happened during week one of rehearsals here, and book tickets for the show online here.

Bethany Hartland
Monday 15th January, 9am – 1pm

Hi, it’s Beth!

After the usual warm-up of Tag and Bananas Of The World, Unite!, a futile attempt at Quad (sorry, Gareth!) and unsuccessfully moving into our right positions for the A B C and D Friendship Circles (to be fair, a couple of the cast weren’t in rehearsal today) – we finally started our Monday the way all Mondays should start: by pretending to be foxes.

I don’t know about you but I admit my knowledge on the ol’ fox proved to be very little. However, our three years of Drama training at university meant that merely putting a bit of Little Mix on full blast resulted in many an inner fox rising to the surface. In pairs we created various fox sequences – the ‘Peeping Fox’ had to be one of my favourites, though the leg bounce and glide that accompanied it was surprisingly complex. After learning one another’s sequences and filming them for future use, we moved onto fox tics and I have to say I have the ‘itchy fox with a leg twinge’ down! Although it all sounds rather bizarre, the foxes will actually have a clever purpose, I promise.

I’m looking forward to doing more work with the Office Twats and their characters; I think they are going to be a really fun addition to the play.

We then moved onto developing a sequence involving the Office Twats from the final scene. Although it took FAR too long for seven people to work out that we needed to fill four beats each for the sequence to work, once we had all the folders successfully moving down the line, it looked pretty damn good. Having the remixed Muppet music playing alongside the gestures makes it feel incredibly slick and cool, and because of that I don’t even care that the tune was stuck in my head for the rest of the day. I’m looking forward to doing more work with the Office Twats and their characters; I think they are going to be a really fun addition to the play.

I can’t wait for people to see it all!

#QuakeGrimm

Scott Wilson
Monday 15th January, 2pm – 6pm

It’s logistics week!!! We worked through the Cinderella scene and the first couple of scenes with me and my loving brother Will. It’s great seeing the show take shape as we start to add props into the mix. A particular favourite prop of mine is the gingerbread house that I am not allowed to eat, but we’ll see how long that lasts once we get into show week! It’s also been great being able to rehearse with the stage dimensions marked up in the rehearsal room and getting to grips with the stage space we have.

We also looked at the moment of my onstage costume change – calm yourselves!! Let’s just say thank goodness there’s a sofa to hide behind!

I’m absolutely loving getting to develop my character further and finding all the different sides to him. It turns out he’s got an emotional side too, who knew?!

I’m absolutely loving getting to develop my character further and finding all the different sides to him. It turns out he’s got an emotional side too, who knew?! We’ve got a full improvised run of the show at the end of this week and I’m so excited to see the whole production come together. Everybody is working so hard and it really is paying off. This is definitely a show that you don’t want to miss!

#QuakeGrimm #TeamJake

Georgiana Poteiciuc
Tuesday 16th January, 9am-1pm

Every rehearsal brings a new idea, a new perspective, and a new detail.

This Tuesday we have been focusing on the Hansel and Gretel scene. We started, as usual, with a few physical and vocal exercises in order to prepare our bodies for performing. During the first few rehearsals I remember wondering why we were going to need to go through the same scene so many times. It is amazing, however, to see how a specific moment, even a few lines, can develop and grow in complexity and become well defined once explored in different ways. Every rehearsal brings a new idea, a new perspective, a new detail that would have never been discovered without practice. This was also the case with Hansel and Gretel. We had been focusing on what each character wants most at each moment, without worrying about movements, set and logistics. It was now time to think a little more about these elements.

With the scripts in our hands for the first time we explored how our wants affected the way we moved in the space. I particularly like the way Jake and Will fit in the scene at the beginning and interact with us without us actually seeing them. Overall it has been a really productive rehearsal which made me understand better both the characters and the scene and I am looking forward to what is yet to come.

Lydia Sirovica
Wednesday 17th January, 2pm – 6pm

We are well and truly on our way to an almost completed show. It’s really starting to come together now and it is such an exciting process!

In today’s rehearsal we took a first look at the final sections of the play where I play Valentina. I have to admit this is one of my favourite parts of the play. I was told today to ‘BE BOLD’ and really ‘think about what I want.’ I think I did both of these techniques quite well and it helped me discover that actually Valentina is a bit of a manipulative character in the end… which is very fun to play! I feel as though these last few scenes are the crescendo of the play, with all of us on stage as a full cast performing. The ‘Office Twats’ are the absolute highlight of my rehearsals at the moment and if I wasn’t playing Valentina, I would definitely have enjoyed being a Twat! Grimm Tales Retold is certainly now on its feet and really starting to take its shape.

I feel as though these last few scenes are the crescendo of the play, with all of us on stage as a full cast performing.

Thursday 18th January, 1pm – 5pm
William Melhuish

‘Fairy-tale rehearsal process?’

After last week, it was clear to see that morale was high going into Monday morning’s rehearsal. After working on wants and improvisation last week, there was a certain confidence in the shape of the play and our abilities as actors. This week was a bit more intense; scenes were explored logistically and it was clear to see that people had already started to work on their scripts. As a result, we were all keen to show the potential that we had as actors going into a professional environment. After last week, Gareth promised us a more hands-on dissection of each of the scenes and boy did he mean it!

After last week, Gareth promised us a more hands-on dissection of each of the scenes and boy did he mean it!

Thursday’s rehearsal was focused around my scene in particular (Little Red Riding Hood), and it gave me a chance to explore my relationships with the space and also the other characters. As we began to develop the scene, a certain chill of homicidal eloquence slowly appeared within my character. It was so enjoyable seeing my character change as we explored his ‘wants’ and his relationships to the individual characters. Gareth is so effective in the way that he discourages the old cliché acting techniques of the tongue-in-cheek Bond villain. Instead, he asked me to explore the character with a disturbing calmness which seems to give nothing away to the audience (which I can only say, drastically improves the scene).

Bring on next week!

George Bandy
Thursday 18th January, 6-10pm

Thursday evening’s rehearsal was daunting, as it carried with it the prospect of a full run of the show, without scripts, the next day. It was our last chance to approach not just any scene, but possibly the most logistically confusing and intense scene in the play. The Rumpelstiltskin scene, without giving too much away, brings with it a vast number of unique props for every single actor in the show, which are all moved about the stage, exchanged, brought on and off, and are generally a pain. Additionally, the scene requires very sensitive performances, touching on potentially troubling themes, and utilising everything from extremely intimate moments, to slapstick ones.

Approaching the scene having already explored it using the ‘wants’ process that Gareth, our director, uses, it became a lot easier to then cover the logistics of the scene without worrying about filling them in later. It meant that we were able to structure the scene around performance, rather than performance around the logistical aspects, which was enormously helpful for us as performers.

Working in this way meant that we were able to structure the scene around performance, rather than performance around the logistical aspects of the production.

Additionally, it meant that we were already very aware of the challenges of the scene, and had had time to process them in advance, rather than being surprised by them. Right from the beginning of this second ‘logistical’ look at the scene, Gareth ensured that each actor was keeping track of the number of props that they moved, used, exchanged, etc., which meant that we were able to be very efficient in working through the scene, rather than having to wait whilst one member of the stage management team logged each individual instance. Furthermore, it meant that every actor had a better understanding of the backstage preparations that they would have to undertake.

Finally, having already explored our ‘wants’ for the scene, we were far more comfortable when it came to working out the logistics. My character, especially, has a large emotional journey in this scene, and I found it very useful to cover the aspects in this order.

Unfortunately, due to the duration of the scene, we found ourselves left without enough time to fully complete the work on the evening, but this is something that time was left for before the run-through the following day, and meant we would be more careful of timescale in the future.

Charlotte Biggs
Friday 19th January, 2pm – 6pm

This production is full to the brim with laughs, tears and some very surprising moments. The process has really allowed me to push myself further as an actor.

Hi! It’s Charlotte again.

This blog post is about our final rehearsal of Week 2. I cannot believe how quickly the whole process is going! In this rehearsal, we did a full, improvised run through of Grimm Tales Retold, and it was fantastic! Considering we only started to work with the scripts two weeks ago, I cannot believe how far we have come.

This production is full to the brim with laughs, tears and some very surprising moments. I have never performed in a production like this before, and it’s been such a fantastic experience. The process has really allowed me to push myself further as an actor, especially with this run through, which was improvised without scripts. You really are going to be kicking yourself if you miss this show, so get your tickets now!

#QuakeGrimm #TeamSukie

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Little Earthquake: Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 1

We’re currently in rehearsals for Grimm Tales Retold, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Phil’s script alive and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. Find out what happened in the rehearsal room during week one below…

Scott Wilson
Monday 8th January, 9am – 1pm

Hi I’m Scott,

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room full of so much excitement and enthusiasm to get started on a production. It was such a great session to get used to working with each other and with Little Earthquake. The ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’ exercise was definitely the wake-up call I needed on the first day back after Christmas, and I can already feel my Christmas dinner dropping off me!

Gareth focused on making us comfortable in being as silly and creative as possible. His advice to act like a 4-year-old who doesn’t care what people think was something that I really took on board. So let’s hope everyone’s ready for 4-year-old me to come out!

We have already addressed a couple of issues with the script to work on but the list of positives was much longer, so come and see what you think!

#QuakeGrimm #TeamJake

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room full of so much excitement and enthusiasm to get started on a production.

Jordan Farrag
Monday 8th January, 2pm – 6pm

Rehearsals for Grimm Tales Retold started on the 8th of January. I think it is safe to say that both the cast and Little Earthquake shared a peculiar mix of excitement, nervousness and passion for the project. I was tasked with writing this short entry to cover our rehearsal on the afternoon of the first day of the process.

We started with an improvisation exercise that encouraged us to trust our instincts and accept the offers that we were giving to each other. Gareth stressed the importance of trusting our instincts and listening to one another, which created this sense of shared agency for our creative decisions, a sort of creative interdependency, which I think is reflective of what the piece is all about. We aim to work together to create something GREAT!

Strangely, running the whole play in the first afternoon made the task ahead feel far more manageable.

Then we were asked to run the whole play. Conveniently Gareth had just implemented this ‘working trust’ between all of us so he said, “be bold”, “trust your instincts” and “listen to each other’s offers”. We did exactly that and ran the play from start to finish. This allowed us to see what the play was really about, provided us with a deeper understanding of each character and encouraged us to start thinking about our characters’ ‘wants’.

Strangely, running the whole play in the first afternoon made the task ahead feel far more manageable and further excited the cast as we began realising the complexities of Phil’s writing. As we left the rehearsal at 6pm, our cast walked back down towards Selly Oak, all sharing stories of the day and laughing. I could not have asked for a better start, or a better bunch of people to embark on this journey with.

Charlotte Biggs
Tuesday 9th January, 9am – 1pm

Hi, I’m Charlotte! I’m a member of the cast in Grimm Tales Retold. This post is about our second rehearsal day and it’s already been so much fun! Today’s session consisted of a few warm-up activities to get us ready for the rehearsal. After this, we began to explore our characters ‘wants’ in the script. This was so useful in understanding our characters’ intentions for the scenes, even if it was something as simple as wanting to sit down on a chair.

We then began working on Act 1, Scene 1, and part of Scene 2. It was scary to think we’d only been working with each other for two days and we were already moving on to the first scene! But it was great to see the play up on its feet.

It was scary to think we’d only been working with each other for two days and we were already moving on to the first scene! But it was great to see the play up on its feet.

Gareth started the process of exploring ‘wants’ by having the actors lines ‘fed’ to them. After this was repeated a few times, the scene then had to be improvised without scripts, which was daunting to begin with, but the results were amazing! It enabled the actors to not be weighed down with a script, and allowed for some very authentic and raw moments to burst through. I’m so looking forward to the rest of the rehearsals and cannot wait for you all to see Grimm Tales Retold!

George Bandy
Wednesday 10th January, 2pm – 6pm

It was on Wednesday that we saw the set for the first time as a cast. For a production put together in only four weeks, a timeframe far shorter than most of us are used to, the idea of being on stage so soon was initially quite terrifying. Indeed, we were told that we would be entering the space ourselves in a mere fortnight, which with such an ambitious script provided some concerns.

We needn’t have worried, however, as upon entering the Production Meeting room, we were greeted by videos explaining the concepts, remarkable illustrations of costume plans for every single character in a multi-role-heavy play, and a miniaturised reproduction of the planned stage. The transformation from what I had imagined and worried about on the page was incredible; the design team have created a blend of urban and rural, placing the action of the play on the very divide of the two, melding the narrators’ room into forest land, office block and hospital in a variety of ways.

I admire the work that the design team has done so far, and am extremely excited to see it at full scale!

Here we were informed of how scene changes would take place, utilising a chorus referenced repeatedly in the script (with a twist, naturally), and I, certainly, truly began to understand how the show would fit together. As someone who is used to being on stage, but rarely behind it, I don’t envy the design team and backstage teams’ jobs, but certainly admire the work they have done so far, and am extremely excited to see it at full scale!

Katie Webster
Thursday 11th January, 1pm – 5pm

How are we already at Day 4?! Today began with another classic game of tag, which Gareth ensures is to help us focus on what we want most in the world (which to be fair it really does), but boy does it get sweaty in the rehearsal room! Definitely don’t have a heavy lunch before a Little Earthquake warm-up.

We kept working through the scenes today, section by section, really focusing on what our characters want most in that moment. We’ve reached the Cinderella scene, where I play Assista. Assista is basically Amazon’s Alexa but “100 times better”. We continued to work in the format of a read-through of the whole scene, then a run-through of a section of the scene with the lines being fed to us, then a run with Gareth stopping and starting us to really focus on our want, and finally we improvise the scene, purely working from our instincts.

This is a really useful process in working out exactly what our character wants, but also varying how we offer those wants to one another. However, as Assista, I was fairly limited in how I can speak, as she’s a machine! Or is she…?

I think it’s safe to say this scene ends in a way nobody would expect it to, and I can’t wait to hear the audience’s reaction.

I found it challenging to improvise as Assista specifically since a lot of her lines are relaying information about ordering emergency chicken, but even though I’m not physically in the scene, it’s interesting to discover what she really wants, and just how damn manipulative she is. It’s also a credit to my fellow performers that Assista truly came alive in the rehearsal room today, as the way everyone interacts with an inanimate tube is genius.

I think it’s safe to say this scene ends in a way nobody would expect it to, and I can’t wait to hear the audience’s reaction. If this scene doesn’t make you think twice about that electronic personal assistant you got for Christmas, you might want to be careful what you say…

Lydia Sirovica
Thursday 11th January, 6pm -10pm

I’m so, so excited to be a part of this production and this first week of rehearsals has been very interesting for me!

We warmed up at the start of the rehearsal with ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’ I love that we all do this together at the start of each rehearsal; I see it as a way to focus and become engaged as a group (it’s also really fun to let yourself go!) Following this we played a game in which we all stood in a circle and the aim was to walk towards someone in the circle, say a letter of the alphabet and touch them on the shoulder. In this time, however, the person who is being walked towards must say a Name, Object and Place beginning with that letter in order to stay in the circle. This really tested how quickly we could think on our feet… There were quite a few moments in which panic took over and my mind went blank. The purpose of the game was to explore how we react to an offer made by someone else, in the moment and using our initial instincts.

I’ve never used ‘wants’ and ‘feeding in’ before, and I think the key thing to note is how simple they are to apply, and for me it made a huge difference in the way I performed her.

After a series of warm-up games in this session, we continued to work through the script chronologically, which allowed us to experiment with our characterisation. In this session we worked on one of my scenes — Cinderella. When reading the script I struggled to characterise Georgia, however, using the ‘feeding in’ technique and putting this scene on its feet, I began to understand what she wanted. Using ‘wants’ I started to think about what my aim was as Georgia: for example, at one point I came up with ‘I want to calm Cassie down.’ I’ve never used this technique before and I think the key thing to note is how simple it is to apply, and for me it made a huge difference in the way I performed her. I also found myself starting to listen to what I was being offered by other characters in the scene, especially when we were told to improvise it. The session finished at 10pm so I’m not going to lie when I say I was very tired! Still, so far rehearsals are keeping me on my toes and it seems to be going very well!

Will Melhuish
Friday 12th January, 3pm – 7pm

As week one of rehearsals comes to a close there is a definite whiff (pun intended) of excitement amongst everyone involved in this production. We started the week off as you would expect every drama rehearsal to start – playing various games. However, looking back now, this seems less as a way of having fun, and more about developing an identification as a unified group who are willing to trust one another. This is, without doubt, one of the most stimulating, demanding, but also rewarding projects I have ever been involved in, and I’m sure that my co-performers agree with me on this. The level of energy going into the first week has certainly not subsided, and our abilities as actors have been pushed to the very limit.

By Friday morning, the commonplace proverb “BE BOLD” echoes in all of our ears as we approach the end of the script. Already, by having the
play acted out in front of us, we can see just how magical and disturbing it actually is. Echoes of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror seem to radiate out of the rehearsal space, as neither we nor the audience know what will come next.

By achieving this sense of playfulness, Gareth’s method of ‘feeding in’ the lines, and removing ourselves from the cold grip of the script has allowed us to really play with these characters and come to rehearsals with more and more creative ideas.

Every day we move further and further away from the boring old ‘happily ever after’.

By Friday afternoon, we were exploring the Little Red Riding Hood scene which has the effect of leading the audience down a course of sadomasochistic pleasure and discovery (something which you don’t experience every day). There were fantastic juxtapositions which were literally jumping out of this scene, particularly when Katie and I discovered a tender relationship develop between the Wolf and Melinda! All I can say is, every day we successfully move further and further away from the boring old ‘happily ever after’.

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Little Earthquake: Back To School

Back in September, Gareth spent five intensive weeks with the fourteen MA Acting students at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Leading their Storytelling Module, he helped the actors explore a range of ideas around play, ensemble, spontaneity and the best ways to serve an audience. The later stages of the module saw the actors test these skills through a devising process around the premise of The Family; a thrilling saga of relationships in crisis, riddled with dangerous secrets and devastating betrayals. As each day progressed, new layers of complexity and conflict were added to the story, leading to a VERY eventful gathering of the two family clans on the final day.

We invited three members of the ensemble, Carys Jones, Tom Bonam and Mary Garbé to write a blog post about their Storytelling experience. You can read their insights from the rehearsal room below…

Carys Jones

To begin my Master’s Degree with five weeks of Storytelling with Little Earthquake felt like the best way to start my year-long course. After being out of education for a little while, it catapulted me out of the ‘Teacher Carys’ brain I had adopted for the past three years and threw me straight back into thinking like an actor. I enjoyed feeling free, unfiltered, child-like and bold. Every morning I woke up early to think about the stories and relationships that we’d been creating during our improvisations.

Little Earthquake used Guiding Principles to help us through the process of understanding and developing our acting. They range from more practical approaches such as ‘Find The Fun’, to the more psychological ‘Clarity Of Want’. All of the Guiding Principles help shape an actor’s approach to improvisational work and text. They’re almost like a check list that you can follow and I’ll certainly be carrying them forward in my career.

These scenes could either be the most awkward and forced moments, or they could be the most freeing, exciting and surprising work the group produced.

Every session challenged me in some way. The early games and exercises were designed to lead up to bigger, more adventurous activities such as long-form improvisations. These were often the most challenging. There was no backstory, no given circumstances, no character, no relationship, nada. We had to find and explore all of these through the improvisation itself by listening to our scene partners, accepting and building on the offers they made. These scenes could either be the most awkward and forced moments, or they could be the most freeing, exciting and surprising work the group produced. Over time, we developed the skills to make our improvised scenes more sophisticated and daring.

During our final weeks with Little Earthquake we applied all we had explored to a devising process, and it is during this time that I have my fondest memories. We created an intricate network of relationships within the group through improvisation and other exercises. It was so surprising how Gareth and Phil had meticulously planned every little detail. I was involved in a love triangle, which unfortunately ended with me being left sad and alone (sob, sob). Onstage my character was going through absolute hell, but I was loving it as an actor. It was exciting to come in every day and not know how it would all end.

Every day during the module Gareth inspired me to be a better actor, collaborator and theatre maker. He supported us during our highs and lows, he praised us continually, built confidence and allowed the quieter members of the group to really shine. He was there to reassure, and to empathise when we needed it.

Also, Phil is pretty great too!


Mary Garbé

Throughout the module, the element I enjoyed exploring most was the idea of not focusing on what you expect to happen! From Day One this was very obvious and was something that kept the work constantly enjoyable. I think that the fun factor made it incredibly rewarding. Learning not to worry about looking stupid or feeling foolish meant I could really let myself go. I was finally allowed to explore parts of me that I felt had been slowly taken away throughout my education and career to date.

Throughout the module we learnt not to preconceive. As someone who overthinks everything I found this very difficult at first. I found myself slipping into preconceiving as a kind of protection mechanism when I felt unsure about something, but Gareth always knew when this was the case and would use different exercises to try and help me to overcome this. One exercise involved us pulling lots of imaginary items out of a cardboard box. The first time I did this I never thought I would be able to do it fluidly, or without embarrassed laughter! However, doing a whole five minutes of it a few weeks later was like nothing I had ever experienced – so liberating and fun! As a new ensemble it was also challenging to feel confident in being your true self – but each game that Gareth taught us helped to break down our barriers in a fun but comforting way.

I do not feel like the same actor now as I did at the start of the five weeks.

In terms of how I feel I’ve developed as an actor throughout the module, I do not feel like the same actor now as I did at the start of the five weeks. I was always so worried about looking silly and not doing things right the first time. Gareth encouraged me to play and find the fun, helping me to understand that my best lesson was my last mistake. I slowly began to trust my instincts as a performer and to push myself over the obstacles that held me back.

Devising was always a scary thought for me, not feeling that I would have anything to bring to the process. However, all of the tools we were given showed me that I can be a valuable member in any collaboration. I don’t think my acting was very authentic when we began – always thinking I had to ‘act’ to show I was working hard. But, using the guiding principles and thinking about collaborating with the audience, my old habits have melted away and I now feel that I can bring fun and engaging acting to any piece.

Every time we warmed up with ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’, or I thought about Gareth saying ”you could all be working in a bank right now”, I couldn’t stop grinning!

I have so many happy memories of the module, including warming up with a exercise called ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’ every day. Every time we did this, or I thought about Gareth saying ”you could all be working in a bank right now”, I couldn’t stop grinning – this is my life!

One of my top memories was nicknamed #worldpremier. During a scene with a partner, we were allowed one line of text per person and all you could do was respond to your partner’s offer using that text. My partner and I were given a new combination of “I love you” and “I’m sorry”. This was the first time everything clicked for me and an emotional by-product was generated. I accepted and built on the offers, trusted my scene partner, and what happened blew me away! I will always remember this as a turning point. Another was an improvised ‘Skype’ call during our devising work. Gareth knew I had struggled with the earlier telephone call exercise (in which we had to improvise a telephone conversation with an off-stage character without preconceiving) and I feel like this allowed me the second chance I needed to really understand it. The material we created and the way we were able to develop our characters through this call was so special to me.

As an actor I had always been told to lead with emotion – such as being able to feel sad or happy on cue. Gareth completely disagrees with this approach, and we spent a lot of time exploring this and discovering that emotion can only ever be a by-product of chasing what you want during each specific moment. This not only surprised me but has changed everything I ever thought about acting.

Little Earthquake is exactly the type of company I aspire to work with when I graduate. The process that they use to create theatre and develop actors is incredibly special because of the nurturing, encouraging and creative environment they promote. I feel very lucky to have been able to experience working with them.


Tom Bonam

The time that I spend working with Little Earthquake was one of the most enjoyable learning experiences I’ve ever had. I thought it was wonderful how Gareth was able to take a group of individuals who didn’t know one another, and start to turn us into a cohesive ensemble from Day One. Throughout the module we were constantly encouraged to push ourselves further, but this was always done in a supportive, safe and fun way.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of the work was the focus on simplicity, on breaking down the craft of acting and exploring each ‘bite size chunk’ fully. We were then able to combine all of these ‘chunks’ to build a solid foundation as an actor. The skills and tools I learnt were also completely flexible, meaning that I can apply them in any scenario (and have done so already!)

Another wonderful part of the work was the focus on fun. Before this module, I was guilty of not always finding the fun in performing – it’s very easy to get so wrapped up in the details of a role, and to forget that acting is amazing and ultimately, exciting! Gareth consistently brought the fun to each session, he knew exactly which exercises we needed to either find the fun, increase our energy or increase our focus.

I will never look at a game of ‘tag’ in the same way again.

I was astonished at how much I learnt through the simple games we played. This was because each game related directly to one of the Guiding Principles that we were exploring. Gareth took the time to ensure that we were always aware of why we were doing what we were doing. (I will never look at a game of ‘tag’ in the same way again – why did I never play this before without focusing on what I wanted most in the world at each specific moment?!)

For me, the most challenging aspect of this work was overcoming my tendency to preconceive. I believe this came down to not trusting myself or thinking that if I didn’t have a ‘plan’ before performing, it would be a failure. However, trusting in the exercises that we were learning and committing to them fully meant that I slowly began to trust myself more and more. But the most amazing thing is that I was not even really conscious of this development – the work simply drew it out of me in an organic way. This is true of all of the skills we explored in the module. It never felt like they were forced on us. Instead, the seeds were planted and were allowed to grow in their own way, which was always different for everyone. I also found that by the end of the module, I was no longer afraid to fail because there was always an opportunity to learn. As Gareth would say, “Your greatest lesson is your last mistake.”

I was no longer afraid to fail because there was always an opportunity to learn. As Gareth would say, “Your greatest lesson is your last mistake.”

My happiest memory of the module was working on the improvisation work. There was an exercise called “One Liners” in which two people were asked to improvise, but they could only say one line of text each – in my case it was “I’m sorry” and my partner could only say “I love you”. Although we had the lines to use, the context of the situation and the relationship between the characters would constantly shift and alter. This was a very special exercise to me, because it was when all of the skills we were learning through games came together and created a lovely moment on stage between me and my scene partner. We really had no idea where the scene would go which made it so fun to be a part of, and by focusing on my want and the offers made by my scene partner, emotion was generated as a by-product. I was really amazed by this.

The only negative I have about this work? That it had to end.

I feel that my time working with Little Earthquake has not only enriched my life as an actor, but also as an individual. I feel like I’m now more able to set my mind free of preconceived ideas and to not censor my creativity. I feel that I can be a valuable member to any collaboration as I have learnt to trust that “the well is never dry”! This is not something that I would have thought possible in five weeks (you see, don’t preconceive!)

The only negative I have about this work? That it had to end.

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Little Earthquake: Put Audiences On Top

To open The East Meets West Symposium 2017, Little Earthquake’s Co-Director Gareth Nicholls gave a speech aimed at provoking a shared goal among theatre makers within the Midlands. The full transcript of the provocation, including images used during the keynote, is below.

Has anybody seen the brilliant episode of South Park that features The Underpants Gnomes? They’re tiny creatures who go into people’s bedrooms at night and steal their pants. The South Park boys have to do a school project about economics and business, so they visit The Underpants Gnomes for advice. That’s when the Gnomes share their strategic master plan. It goes like this:

[Here, Gareth played a short clip of The Underpants Gnomes’ plan. You can find a version of this on Vimeo]

In the independent theatre sector, we can relate to The Underpants Gnomes more than we’d like to admit. We all have interesting work we want to make. This is Phase 1: Our Commodity. The Gnomes have underpants; we have theatre.

And like the Gnomes, we can all see where we want to end up. This is Phase 3: The Return On That Commodity. The Gnomes want profit. I imagine a more sustainable and resilient ecology is what we would all aim for.

It’s that middle bit we seem to struggle with. But without defining Phase 2, we’re a little bit screwed.

Back in 2010, Phil and I felt a little bit screwed. We were both struggling to find any joy from running Little Earthquake. We’d had some success. Those who saw our worked really enjoyed it, and Arts Council England had been very kind to us. But no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t book any tours, we were still living with our parents, and desperately running out of tactics to stall those inevitable conversations about getting proper jobs. So, after eight long years of trying to make a go of it, we did what felt most rational at the time: we ran away to the other side of the world.

And there, in Melbourne Australia, I met Nick Nickolas.

Nick is one of eight magicians who busk on the Southbank of the Yarra River. Every day, rain or shine, they take it in turns to perform their 45-minute acts. Nick’s act begins with him approaching one or two people who are passing by and performing a simple coin trick for them. Within 15 minutes, he has usually attracted crowds of 500 people or more.

At the end of each performance Nick shows his empty hat to the crowd and says: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve had as much fun as I have today, can I ask that you show your appreciation by throwing some money in the hat. You see, the government don’t pay us to be here… You do. If I’ve made you smile, pop in $5, if I’ve made you laugh, put in ten. If you have any constructive criticism you’d like to make, write it on the back of a $20 bill and leave it with me”.

Those magicians worked on this “pay what you think it’s worth” model for every single show. No-one was obliged to pay anything. Audience members could simple walk away if they wanted. And of course some did. But usually the magicians’ hats were overflowing with 5, 10, 20 and even $50 notes.

I spent far too much time during our year Down Under studying those magicians. They even invited me to attempt my own street show. I drew a crowd of seven people and made $16. Clearly I had a lot to learn from this group of artists. Without the support of a venue, a marketing team, or government subsidy, they had achieved our Phase 3: a sustainable and resilient ecology for themselves.

And they achieved it by clearly defining what their Phase 2 would be:

Put Audiences On Top. That’s what those magicians focused on day after day and show after show. They knew if they all shared the same goal of putting their audiences’ experience above all else, Phase 3 would look after itself.

Now, nobody can say being audience focused is a radical idea. We all know that without an audience of some kind, theatre ceases to exist. Putting stuff on for other people to watch, or facilitating events for people to participate in, is our reason for being. And yet, I wonder how many of us really think deeply and consistently enough about audiences during every single decision we make. We may use phrases like “audience focused”, or “engaging hard to reach audiences” in funding applications (although, in my book, that second one should never be used) — but are we doing enough to follow through on these vague promises? I don’t think we can be.

Every year Little Earthquake works with over 150 students at Birmingham Conservatoire and at the University of Birmingham. At the start of every module, we ask how many of the students have seen a piece of theatre within the last six months — excluding shows that their mates are in. Usually, only one or two students raise their hands. When we prod a bit further and ask why they haven’t been to see anything, the reason is always the same: most of the theatre they’re exposed to is boring.

We’ve all sat through dull, self-indulgent work that makes us want to gouge our own eyeballs out with the spoon from our interval ice cream.

We all make or help to make theatre — and yet we totally know where they’re coming from. It’s like being stuck on a motorway, complaining about how bad the traffic is when you are the traffic! I’m bored by a good 75% of the theatre I see. We’ve all regretted sitting in the middle of a row and being unable to make a subtle retreat to the bar 45 minutes in. We’ve all sat through dull, self-indulgent work — often autobiographical — that makes us want to gouge our own eyeballs out with the spoon from our interval ice cream.

Being told that most theatre is boring by students paying to do a theatre degree should be a warning we all listen to. We can believe that theatre is great and important and should be publicly funded, but deep down we also know most of it genuinely isn’t good enough. And if we think that, how can we expect audiences to think any different?

The magicians in Melbourne were always given very clear signals if they weren’t putting their audience’s experience first. People would leave. In my case, they left in droves. But actually, how utterly brilliant is that? It’s the most useful feedback any artist can get. Every theatre in the world should have a sign above the door: “If you’re bored, you have our permission to leave during the performance as loudly as you can”. Let’s find ways of empowering our audiences to hold us to account a bit more. Feedback forms don’t cut it: after the performance, the damage is already done. Bring back throwing rotten vegetables, and we’d soon up our game.

Speculating on why young people will spend a fortune on trainers and not on going to the theatre, Peter Brook came to the conclusion that theatre has let a lot of people down over the years, and trainers haven’t. If we are to build a more sustainable and resilient future for our sector, we have to stop disappointing our audiences. They need to feel confident that the odds are stacked in favour of them having a great night out.

If we are to build a more sustainable and resilient future for our sector, we have to stop disappointing our audiences. They need to feel confident that the odds are stacked in favour of them having a great night out.

I’m sure some of you are thinking this is all well and good, but deep down, you believe we have a responsibility to create work with higher aspirations than simply entertaining people. I agree. But those two aspirations aren’t mutually exclusive. Empower the people you put your work in front of if you want to. Represent them. Challenge them. Infuriate them. Expose their hypocrisies. Involve them. Debate with them. Make them run from the room wanting to change the world. Do all of these things, but above all, do not bore them. And the easiest way to avoid boring them is to put the audience at the centre of the whole experience. Our art is for them, and them alone. I hope I don’t offend anyone when I say this, but a lot of artists today spend too much time masturbating on stage. No audience should be expected to give up their time and money to just watch you pleasing yourself.

But artists aren’t the only ones who have this crucial responsibility towards audiences. Every single person who helps an artist to put their work in front of other people must assess each and every decision they make against one simple criterion: is this putting our audience on top?

I hope I don’t offend anyone when I say this, but a lot of artists today spend too much time masturbating on stage. No audience should be expected to give up their time and money to just watch you pleasing yourself.

Is your programing team really serving your audiences, or are they really just serving their own tastes? And are you protecting your programmer’s time so they can do their job properly? Let them leave their desk, see as much work as possible, and talk face-to-face with artists. And when they are at their desk, are you making sure they reply to every single artist who emails them? I know this is a full time job in itself (hence why their time needs protecting) — but artists need programmers to engage with them and give honest feedback so they can grow and make better work for audiences.

If you don’t think their work is suitable for your venue, tell them, kindly but honestly, why you think that’s the case. Ignoring emails from a key stakeholder (and artists are stakeholders, too) wouldn’t be tolerated in any other sector, so why is it the norm in ours? It does nothing to build community or trust between artists and venues — and ultimately does nothing to serve audiences.

Are we sure that putting this work on this stage is the best place for audiences to see it? Maybe the local park would be better. Or the school up the road. If you make work for an audience on their terms, or their turf as it were, they might be more willing to start a dialogue with you. Eventually, they might even be willing to pay you a visit on your turf. As one young person in Manchester said to the wonderful Ruth Ibegbuna: “I’m not hard to reach: you just get on the number 11 bus”.

Are we investing too much money in developing new “emerging” talent rather than investing in so-called “mid career” artists, who (if you haven’t noticed) are a dying breed? Or, if you want to look at it another way, should we be nurturing Best Practice a bit more rather then Next Practice?

Are we sure our marketing campaigns are reaching the people we want to reach? The New Vic in Stoke discovered that grandparents, rather than parents, are more likely to introduce young people to theatre. But research also shows that many older people prefer not to be out after dark. So shouldn’t we rethink our traditional 7:30 evening starts to serve this audience better? This kind of understanding could transform an entire theatre culture, let alone a single marketing campaign.

These questions are just the tip of a very big iceberg, but they serve to illustrate the point. Everyday, when we sit down at our desks, or enter our rehearsal rooms, we need to ask, consciously and consistently: if we do this, is it putting our audience on top?

Public subsidy is amazing, isn’t it? We could always use more, but it’s important to remember that we’ve actually got it pretty good — Grantium aside. This funding can be our greatest ally in serving audiences, but it can also be a safety net we rely on far too often. The magicians in Melbourne had no subsidy whatsoever. They couldn’t survive more than a few weeks if audiences walked away without paying. But the lack of any safety net for them ensured they continually focused on the impact they were having on their audiences.

I’m not saying for one moment that we should get rid of — or give back — our funding to shock us into serving audiences better. But it’s worth considering how our attitude towards audiences might change if we didn’t have that money to cushion us quite so much.

It’s worth considering how our attitude towards audiences might change if we didn’t have [public subsidy] to cushion us quite so much.

On average, each of the eight busking magicians would perform their 45-minute act twice a day. When they weren’t performing themselves, they would go out and stand discreetly amongst the crowds watching the other magicians. They did this so that after the show they could feedback to those performers about the dynamics of their audience: the moments when they were most engaged, when kids got restless and pestered their parents to move on, the quiet comments between friends that the performer would otherwise never hear. The magicians would spent a good 75% of their day helping each other in this way. It was hugely generous, but ultimately it came down to self-preservation. They understood that by helping another performer create a better experience for their audience, it would ultimately result in that audience being more likely to return to see another performer on a different day. If that first act was poor, then the chances of someone from that audience coming back would be very low. It now makes total sense why they only let me perform one show on their pitch.

This philosophy of sharing responsibility for the impact we have on audiences is simple, and in relation to the independent theatre sector, very refreshing. It’s important to realise that when an artist puts their own ego above the experience of the audience, they aren’t only failing that audience, they are also failing the rest of us as well. It only takes one bad experience to put a first-time theatregoer off for life. Whenever we present work, we need to start looking a little further than the room we’re performing in to judge its true impact.

It only takes one bad experience to put a first-time theatregoer off for life. Whenever we present work, we need to start looking a little further than the room we’re performing in to judge its true impact.

There is one last lesson I’d like to share with you from those magicians. One last trick they had up their sleeve.

The conjurers working on that pitch had been doing magic for anywhere between six months and two decades. There was an unspoken rule among them that, when it came to putting audiences on top, everyone was equal. It might surprise you given his chosen career path as a busker, but Nick Nicholas is one of the most respected magicians in the world, and I was amazed to see an eighteen-year-old newbie giving him feedback on his performance from an audience’s perspective. I was even more amazed to see Nick’s eagerness to put that feedback into action during his next show.

As a sector, we collectively permit a massive imbalance of power. Today, we have a room filled with artists, producers, programmers, artistic directors, funders, and many others. I’m willing to bet that most, if not all, of the artists in the room feel that they have the least amount of power here.

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, so it’s worth taking a moment to consider what your vision of a Scale of Power would look like. Incidentally, some of you might be surprised that I haven’t put funders on top. It feels to me that venues hold the greatest power, because without them being prepared to take or support our work, our prospects of being supported or funded anywhere else are zilch.

I’m an artist, so I’m biased: but this makes no sense to me whatsoever. Going back to our three-phase business model, if theatre is our commodity, and the artists are the ones who make that theatre, surely artists should feel the most empowered?

If artists want to redress the power balance with the gatekeepers in our sector, that must begin with holding them to account and keeping them honest.

But artists are really good at encouraging this power imbalance. It’s almost masochistic. We want to be liked and we want our work to be programmed. So rather than rock the boat in public, we cling to each other and rant in private. But ranting only brings short relief. Artists should be supporting one another to lobby for a more equal slice of the power pie. Let’s call out the programmers who blank us in the street because they think we’re going to pester them about putting our work on, or the Artistic Director who emails to cancel our meeting with them an hour before it is due to happen. Our time is precious too and we’ve probably given up paid work to honor that meeting. Let’s bang on the door of our flagship venues and tell them that a lot of the work on their stages is financially wasteful, lacks imagination — and is boring. Let’s share knowledge about the touring venue far away who wants to cancel your show because they have only sold six tickets while your costly box of print is still sitting in their marketing cupboard. If artists want to redress the power balance with the gatekeepers in our sector, that must begin with holding them to account and keeping them honest when they’re not on the same page as us and not putting audiences on top.

But it cuts both ways. Us artists need to suck it up and be willing to hear the truth when our work is self-indulgent, too long, too slow — or just plain boring. We need to be braver in inviting genuine criticism from those gatekeepers, from our industry colleagues, and most importantly, our audiences. And here’s a thing: other theatre makers do not constitute a real audience. If we don’t stop performing to audiences largely made up of our mates and our peers, we’re going to implode.

And here’s a thing: other theatre makers do not constitute a real audience. If we don’t stop performing to audiences largely made up of our mates and our peers, we’re going to implode.

Things will only get better when every single one of us is more committed to change than we are to the way things operate now. At the moment, we’re in danger of reaching an impasse before we’ve figured out a solution.

But with our shared goal in place, the power balance could look more like this.

And as a potential missing jigsaw piece in The Underpants Gnomes’ three-phase business model, putting audiences on top feels like a very good one.

And if we can all commit to that, maybe we can pull off the greatest magic trick of all, and bring about the more sustainable and resilient ecology we all so desperately need.

Thank you.

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Little Earthquake: The White Rabbit In The Room

At the 2017 National Rural Touring Forum conference, Phil gave a keynote speech entitled The White Rabbit In The Room (dressed in a big bunny outfit, of course). In the speech, he encouraged delegates to be more open about recognising the value of failure when it comes to learning from those projects for children and young people which just don’t work out the way their makers had hoped. The full transcript of the speech can be found below.

Hello everyone. My name is Phil. I’m one of the co-Directors of a theatre company called Little Earthquake. I’m also a member of the NRTF Board. And I hate the term “family-friendly”.

I hate it in the same way I hate terms like “weekday vegetarian”. If you’re going to do something, make a commitment to doing it properly. If you really want to help the little animals, start eating them on no days per week, rather than just the two.

And when you say you’re family-friendly, it’s probably children and young people whose engagement with your work you want to build most. So instead of just being friendly towards them — start showing them that they are absolutely essential to what you do now and what you want to do next — with their families and without their families — all the time.

Because while you may not be able to exist in the future without them, young people are perfectly capable of seeing a future for themselves without you in it.

Making something good happen with young people is a bit like Katrina and the Waves winning Eurovision. The triumph is intense but also brief. It feels like the world is watching! But their attention wanders, because someone else is always doing the next amazing thing that outshines yours. You comfort yourself with knowing you once did something amazing, too, but soon, the memory of it shrinks into the past until only a dedicated search on your website or maybe on Arts Professional proves it ever happened at all.

Little Earthquake’s Katrina and the Waves moment was our Young Producers project which started in 2014 and ended in 2015. Teaming up with Black Country Touring, Arts Connect (the West Midlands bridge organisation) and the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton, and with hefty investment from Arts Council England, we spent a year with 100 primary schoolchildren who essentially commissioned and co-produced a mid-scale family musical based on Kafka’s Metamorphosis. We’ve talked about it at NRTF Conferences before. There’s a detailed case study on the project by Kate Organ – and we have little cards with the web link on them, if you’d like to find out more.

But what felt so important and urgent at the time has now largely faded into the background. Instead of clinging onto that past glory, we need to keep doing more work with young people which is important and urgent. But the trouble is… Like many people here, I’ll bet… We get it wrong as often or maybe more than we get it right. I’m fairly sure what got me onto the NRTF Board was my supposed status as a “CYP expert” but some of our failures have been catastrophic.

In preparing for today, I came to a serious realisation. It’s important to recognise and share success when it happens — but it’s just as important to be open and vocal about the times when we mean well, try hard and still fall flat on our faces. Really listening to other people’s noble and sometimes epic failures has to be one of our best ways to stop wasting public funds and most of all, to stop wasting people’s (particularly young people’s) time, money and goodwill.

In 2014, we staged Bunny Games at the Library of Birmingham, a screening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with me and Gareth in these top-to-toe rabbit suits, village fete games with carrots as the prizes, and bingo with a pop-up ball machine. All the adults involved in the planning thought it was a MARVELLOUS idea. On the day, when one of the organiser’s children saw me like this and burst into tears, I feared we’d made a terrible tactical error.

Good weather and bad marketing meant we scraped 23 people into a 400 seat venue. The game of Bunny Bingo was an interminable nightmare I will never forget. It was such a sad experience that when Bob Hoskins passed away that weekend, it almost felt like we were somehow to blame. That same little girl saw me again recently, and three years on, I’m convinced she recognised me as the big white rabbit of evil.

The difference between Young Producers and Bunny Games seems clear to me. When there’s time and space for young people to be involved from an early practical stage, what we do together is a real collaboration with benefits for both sides. When young people are brought in after most or all of the decisions about them and their experience have been made, they simply become recipients of a thing which some adults have decided about on their behalf.

Speaking at the Family Arts Conference in March, Kate Organ talked about projects involving older people, which she has explored and written about in her former role as Arts Adviser to the Baring Foundation. “Participation is critical to making something that matters,” she said. “Without genuine consultation, it won’t work.”

I’m not saying it’s impossible for adults to come up with projects and schemes which will interest and excite and be a good experience for young people — but most of the time, they do just get what adults decide to give them.

It’s fine for us to be the ones who might come up with an initial idea — it’s part of our job as creative leaders — but I bet there’s always a moment when getting young people involved in shaping and developing those ideas with us, and keeping them involved, will help us to make something together that we could never hope to achieve on our own. They may not be experts in the process of making theatre — but they are experts in their own experience. And in our eyes, that should make them invaluable.

What has always encouraged and moved me about the rural network is the depth of the personal relationships, knowledge and discussion between audiences and promoters, between promoters and schemes, and, increasingly, between all of those people and artists as well.

It feels very realistic to me that a network which has already got thousands of adult-to-adult conversations at such a well-developed stage could easily turn more of its attention to having better conversations with young people, too.

HOWEVER… I often find myself overhearing or being reminded that if you ask any young person, the village hall is the last place they’d be seen dead in their free time.

People do have their own cultures and the arts don’t have a place in everyone’s lives. Young people are no different.

“We’ll never engage or attract all the young people but we must keep trying so that they can make that choice.” [TC Peppercorn, Education and Outreach Co-ordinator at Artrix, in Arts Professional, November 2013]

So if the conventional spaces are an issue, do things somewhere else. If the numbers of young people in a given place are an issue, do something with the young people you have got, or look for ways, times and places where you can do something with more of them. If the work you’re offering is an issue, offer something else.

I suspect a lot of us are scared of the Arts Council’s Goal 5 — scared that our young audience numbers aren’t high enough, or that we don’t have enough young audience members who are demonstrably engaging more, or that we don’t have enough young audience members who are living in the right postcodes.

At some recent fundraising training, Joanna Ridout gave a very profound piece of advice. Define your KPIs before your funders do. I’ve been really inspired by this idea: that we should use our expertise, experience and knowledge of the people we are working with to define what impact we’re looking to achieve, how we’ll measure it and what success will look like.

At the moment, we often let our fear get the better of our wisdom, and when it comes to Goal 5, in the rush to offer something which will help us hit the back of the net, many of us end up scoring an own goal.

Until we’re more prepared to say what isn’t working and why it isn’t working, and unless we’re prepared to ask for help in finding different approaches and solutions, we’ll all keep falling into the same old traps or, worse, for fear of failing, we’ll end up doing nothing at all.

Peter Brook once speculated on why young people will spend a fortune on trainers and not on theatre and he reached a simple conclusion. It’s “because the theatre has let a lot of people down over the years, and trainers haven’t.” Let’s make today the day when we start closing the gap in that race.

For the remainder of the session, you’ll split into two groups. You’ll spend half the time next door, being inspired by the wonderful work of The Bone Ensemble, with an extract from their brilliant show, Where’s My Igloo Gone?

And you’ll spend half the time in here inspiring yourselves and other delegates with the opportunity to hatch plans for brilliant work for children and young people which takes full advantage of what you know, what you have and what you can give.

I’d like to say a big thankyou to you all for listening — and I hope you enjoy the rest of the day!

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Little Earthquake: MilkQuake Collaboration – January Play Dates

Before the Christmas decorations had even come down at Quake HQ, we were getting stuck into work on something very special — a collaboration whose seed was planted a long time ago and which is now finally beginning to bloom.

It all began on 4th December 2011 (we checked the date to be sure) at a scratch event in a simple theatre space above a pub in Sheffield. One of the acts had pretty much stopped the show (and not in a great way) with some onstage body modification that had caused some audience members to faint. Whoever came on next had a tough act to follow. And that’s when Spiltmilk Dance came on stage and into our lives.

In a little sharing of Spiltmilk Say Dance, Sarah, Adele and Jenna reignited the now nervous audience with a whistle-stop tour of social dance, mashing up the twist, the Charleston and the dance crazes of our childhood with songs and music you’d never expect to hear those dances performed to. At the back of the tiny auditorium, we turned to each other and said, “We HAVE to work with them one day!”

Flash forward just over five years, and we’ve come a long way. We’ve seen and supported each other’s shows, been rural touring conference buddies, and always been ready with a quick social media click, like and share. Now, finally, we’ve got together in a rehearsal room to start making a show.

mac supported us by providing rehearsal space, and these first two days were an opportunity to start sharing our processes with one another. To do that, we led the first day and then Spiltmilk put us through our paces on Day Two. You can read what happened below.


DAY ONE
by Sarah and Adele from Spiltmilk

You know that first week of January when it’s cold and dark, and nobody wants to creep out of the Christmas wilderness? Well not to be smug or anything, but this year we didn’t have that. Because the first bit of work we got to delve into in 2017 was two days of playing, experimenting and exploring with Little Earthquake. A collaboration between the two companies has been on the cards for some time now, so it was a real treat to see it finally materialise.

We had two days in early January in the lovely studios at mac in Birmingham. Little Earthquake led the activities for the first day, and we at Spiltmilk led the second day. This was a great chance for us to learn more about each other’s process; to recognise the many similarities between our values and interests, identify what we can learn from each other, and dare we say it, even dream up some early ideas for what we could create together! Exciting times!

We were a little apprehensive heading to the studios the first day, mainly that we were going to be made to ‘act’. Although we speak on stage a lot, we are insistent that we are ourselves on stage, because seeing ourselves be a character would make us cringe and want to hide in a corner. But the sessions were planned brilliantly so we gradually felt more and more comfortable with stepping outside our comfort zone, so that we may have actually dabbled with characters towards the end of the day. Eek!

Over the two days we played a lot of games, and there was certainly an atmosphere of fun in the room. This playfulness is essential in our process, so we were thrilled to see it embraced by Little Earthquake too, because we believe that kind of setting is where we create our best work. One of the most memorable activities led by Little Earthquake involved us creating games based on a random given title. Players couldn’t speak, but instead had to make up the game by working together and building on ideas provided by each other. We played ‘Bushwhackers’ and ‘Contrary Fairy’, both utterly silly but surprisingly engaging games!

We also loved an activity where we had to improvise rhyming poems. Again, structured improvisation games are something we use a lot in our process although they usually look quite different as they are movement based, so we’re excited about new improvisation activities both companies could develop together to create fresh, interesting ideas in the future.

Watch this space!

DAY TWO
by Little Earthquake

They say you should never work with your heroes because you’re bound to find them disappointing in reality. But there’s an even more anxiety-inducing aspect to it… What if you disappoint them?

The second day of our collaboration was led by Sarah and Adele, and just as they’d felt nervous about the prospect of being required to “act”, we were now feeling just as daunted at the prospect of having to “dance”. Gareth’s days of drama school period dancing are way behind him, and as much as Phil likes throwing some shapes to disco music, neither of us exactly feel like especially comfortable or confident dancers.

What is so special about Spiltmilk’s approach is that it separates value and quality from formal ideas of professional technique and training. That’s not to say they aren’t very skilled performers with well-refined craft — they definitely are! But in their hands, dance becomes something which celebrates and expresses what makes individuals unique, and then goes on to show what happens when unique individuals come together. In their hands, everyone can become an expert on their own terms. Just as we (try to) do with words and pictures, they play around with movements, positions and sequences to tell stories which are rich in detail and which challenge, surprise and entertain their audiences.

You want to know about us doing the dancing, don’t you? You’ll be amused / delighted to know that we absolutely did do some. Quite a lot, in fact. From some super-simple warm-up poses and stretches as we moved around the room, we progressed at a rapid pace. Before lunch, we were at the point of creating improvised sequences for four dancers (and we are now comfortable referring to ourselves that way — within this safe space, at least!) based on our desert island films.

And after lunch, the Randle Studio was graced with a spectacular homage to George Michael. We watched the video for “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”  and each selected four specific movements to make into an eight-count sequence. And then, under Sarah’s choreographic guidance, we built these twenty-four separate movements into an extended sequence.

Needless to say, some of us were better at learning and remembering the sequences than others. But putting the blushes and annoyance-at-self for not nailing it to one side, it was both a brilliant way to see how a seemingly simple set of movements can be developed into a scene of real complexity — and an eye-opener into how much time and effort goes into making a relatively short dance sequence look so sharp. We’ve all come away with a new insight into the way our two seemingly different companies work, and have found that under the surface, there’s a lot that we do the same. The first phase of the experiment has shown us all — we think! — that there are lots of exciting possibilities to explore, and that we definitely want to keep exploring them. We’ll keep you posted with what happens next time the four of us get together!

 

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Little Earthquake: Orlando Rehearsal Diaries – Production Week

We’re currently in rehearsals for Orlando, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Virginia Woolf’s epic novel to the stage and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. For more details about Orlando, click here.

Monday 28th November (Morning Session)
Lydia Marshall

So the last week of Orlando is here! It’s hard to believe that five weeks ago we were all nervously walking into the rehearsal room for the first time. To say that the time has flown is an understatement, but the whole experience has been so amazing and I feel so lucky to have been part of such an amazing cast.

This morning was spent going thorough the list we had put together on Friday of any problems or questions that had come up during our week in the space, both logistical and any personal issues we wanted to address. These mainly revolved around the movement of the crates – who puts which one where, and whether there was enough room to move around them in costume etc. By going through the list and solving all these problems it meant that everyone was 100% confident in what was happening at every moment. I personally found this extremely helpful but also very reassuring that I did actually know all the timings and box movements. With the pressure of this evening’s first tech session looming over us I did not want to make any mistakes that might slow down proceedings. After spending a good couple of hours this morning going through the list, it was a confident and excited cast that left the rehearsal room ready to face the rest of the week.

I am beyond excited to show an audience what all our hard work over the last five weeks has been for, and to show off the rest of my cast mates who really have put their all into creating a piece of theatre that we are so proud of. I will be eternally grateful to Little Earthquake for all the laughter, fun and (in my case) tears the process has brought. As excited as I am to share what we’ve been working on, I am certainly going to be a soppy mess on the last night!

Monday 28th November (Technical Rehearsal Session 1)
Satya Baskaran Iyer

This is it! Today we’re officially in production week!

The week continued with the first of two technical rehearsal sessions, which are notorious for being long and meticulous. Nevertheless, they must be done in order to ensure that all the technical elements of our show are spot on. The evening began with introductions going around the cast, crew and first year students (who were observing), each saying our name and our role in the show. This was followed by the cast going back into the dressing rooms to prepare for the beginning of the tech session. Since we were going to be focusing on the first half of the show today, I spent the session watching from the audience. It was mesmerising to watch the final pieces of the show come together using the lighting and sound effects – it made all the hard work we had done so far become a whole lot more worthwhile!

We almost got to the interval during this tech session which bodes very well for the second session tomorrow! I cannot wait for everyone to see the culmination of the blood (yes, blood), sweat and tears everyone has put into this production – your enthusiasm will make it all the better!

Monday 28th November (Technical Rehearsal Session 2)
Holly Golightly

These past few weeks have gone by so quickly! It’s unbelievable to think that we’re finally here, on stage, doing our technical rehearsal. But no time to think about that! Time to concentrate…

Technical rehearsals are funny things… It was one of the hardest rehearsals we had to do! Focus was requisite. We had to be on point at all times, ready and waiting to do exactly what was required of us by the stage management, technical and design teams. However, the four hours rushed by! Saying I am proud of the cast and crew for everything they have put into this production would be an understatement. What a beautiful, intelligent and hilarious production it is.

Wednesday 30th November (Dress Rehearsal)
Fiona Larcombe

After so many weeks of everyone’s hard work, we finally got to see how it paid off in our one and only dress rehearsal. It seemed to whizz by after the stop and start of the technical runs, which I think took everyone a little by surprise.

As ever, pace and bold offers were at the forefront of everyone’s minds. It is these things on which the show either flies or sinks, and the dress run has been the best opportunity so far to practice being snappy with our cues and experimental with our offers. However, as this was our first time going through the whole play with full lighting, sound, costume changes, etc., I think we were all a little more reserved than normal whilst acquainting ourselves with the spectacle of the whole thing.

This being said, it was such great fun and was amazing to see how beautifully the set is transported from location to location through the lighting and sound (and the acting, of course, but we already know plenty about that). Now that we’ve practiced with all the different bits and bobs, I (and hopefully the other cast members!) am chomping at the bit to do it all over again with all the pace in the world and the boldest offers I can muster.

In all, the dress has just made me even more excited to get cracking on the real thing. It was such a joy to see it all come together like this and know that everyone on every team is working just as hard as each other to make a fabulous show. The final component to add is an audience, and I can’t wait to show them what we’ve all managed to achieve!

Thursday 1st December 2016 (Notes Session)
Madeline Walker

After last night’s dress rehearsal I felt a buzz, for me it was the best performance we’d done so far and I felt the rest of the cast agreed with me. We entered our notes session feeling rather optimistic. We were glad to hear that Gareth and Phil were very happy with our performance and admitted that if this had been opening night, they would have been more than satisfied. Gareth had some notes for us to help us perfect certain areas. It was really useful to look at details after performing it all the way through, it helped us to reign in on parts which needed more focus. He gave us overall feedback on the two things he believes integral to a performance, “Pace” (how quickly and efficiently we pick up cues) and “Offers” (our intentions and how we feed off each other). He said he was really impressed with the offers we were making but pace could still be improved. We agreed with his statements and are determined to really raise the standard even further for our opening night!

The last part of the session was reserved for going over a few scenes we felt needed a little more work. A couple of details were adjusted and we left the session feeling excited and enthusiastic for our opening night.

Thursday 1st December 2016 (Rehearsal Session)
Shristy Das Roy

It is opening day and there was a palpable sense of anticipation around the building! We had a notes session earlier in the day to go over the notes Gareth had from the dress rehearsal. Gareth’s main concerns overall, were the pace of the piece and the boldness of offers we made to one another during the dress and the volume of the actors at certain points of show. One thing I noticed during the dress rehearsal was that I had gone back to auto-pilot mode, forgetting a lot of what we had explored in rehearsals about playing off each other’s offers and responding in the moment. Lydia and I had to go over our ice-skating bit again because we looked miserable doing it last night. It’s really hard to enjoy the skating because I find myself constantly thinking about the next move but today’s session helped because we simplified the “infinity turn” section, which makes the sequence a lot simpler now!

I am so thankful to each and every single person working on this production for their relentless support and encouragement throughout the process. I’ve had the time of my life working with the best people and I can’t wait for all you lovely folks to see it!

Friday 2nd December 2016 (First Night Feedback Session)
Matthew Johnson

On our opening night we were absolutely blessed with a large, warm and welcoming audience. The nerves and adrenaline of the first show were sensational, and the next day we had an hour to discuss audience feedback and a couple of notes on the performance. This was such a lovely time to go round and talk about what individual audience members got from the show, which was so positive to hear. One audience member describing the play as “like a film” was very uplifting, really demonstrating that the pace was there, and that the stage could be transformed so rapidly from place to place.

The real task to take away from the first performance is remembering to keep the energy of the first night, and to build on that and maintain it for the rest of the run. The audience for the Friday, the matinee and the final night ALL deserve the energy and fun and wonder of the first night. We have every intention of delivering this and more.

Saturday 3rd December 2016 (Matinee Performance)
Karina Hunter

After the highs of the first couple of performances we knew that the Saturday Matinee would be a tough show with probably our smallest audience of all four shows. We all knew it would be a challenge and in the foyer before the performance we all said we need to up the energy and keep the storytelling new and exciting. But above all we knew that this audience deserved 110% from us just as any other audience would. We did everything we could to make it happen and open the show with pace and bold offers and from the audience responce and how much they laughed and interacted with us, we think we did it. We concluded from this performance that no matter if you have a sell out or 5 people you have to give them a great performance and rise to the challenge in which ever way you can. It was such a joy and so rewarding to see people come to the show and enjoy it as much as they did. After every show we were on top of the world, and just so immensely proud of what we had done and the team behind it all. So after this afternoon’s performance it was on to the the final performance of Orlando… safe to say we never wanted it to end.

Saturday 3rd December 2016 (Final Performance)
Annie O’Brien

‘It is time to make an end.’

Last night marked the final show of Orlando. The atmosphere was electric and the show itself last night ran smoothly. The audience was with us every step of the way.

Last night also marked the end of our five-week process together as Little Earthquake, cast and crew. This process has been longer for the production teams working out wonderful ways to stage this wild show, and even longer for Gareth and Phil who saw Sarah Ruhl’s version of Orlando in Sydney last year and thought it would go down a treat at UOB. How right they were!

‘How do you eat an elephant?’ Among the wealth of lessons I have learnt over the last five weeks, this question has chimed with me most – not just as a way of approaching a challenging production like Orlando, but as a perspective I can carry with me every day.

What a process, what a show and what great people to spend it with. Thank you to everyone who brought it to such vibrant life.

This isn’t a Sasha/Orlando goodbye, but an Orlando/Marmaduke see you soon.

‘That was it. The end.’

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