Devising Theatre and Making a Film During a Constantly Changing Pandemic Landscape: Ensemble Young Company Member Izzy Shares Their Experience…..
Social media is once again flooded with theatre companies, venues and organisations cancelling or postponing shows, projects, happenings and events. It’s so sad! At Mortal Fools we’ve had our fair share of cancelled performances, indefinitely postponed tours, and projects that have been reworked a million times in response to the ever-changing environment - with a Plan A, B, C, D and E to cover any and all eventualities.
A huge amount of work goes into making theatre happen, but folks outside of the cultural sector may not understand the amount of effort it takes to cancel, postpone, unpick and support people through that process. For the creative folks behind cancelled creative work, it carries a lot of emotion and a huge amount of energy to pivot. In the blink of an eye, everything has changed and it’s jarring. A member of our team recently compared the feeling to writing an essay for school, and working so hard on it, only to accidentally delete it just before you hand it in, and having to start again.
To humanise some of this, we thought we’d invite Izzy, one of our Ensemble Young Company Members, to write a blog post on their personal experience devising a performance against the backdrop of uncertainty. Izzy has experienced many project pivots, adaptions and cancellations as COVID restrictions have evolved over the last two years. Like with all our young people, their bounce back and creative resilience has been amazing in the midst of navigating the wider COVID landscape.
So, Izzy is going to take us behind the scenes of My People and what it is like devising performance during a pandemic with Mortal Fools…… Over to you, Izzy!
(The following words are Ensemble Young Company Member Izzy’s with small edits from Team Mortal Fools)
Given The Circumstances
The way we devised My People was incredibly different to anything Ensemble Young Company had done before. COVID has made things very difficult and very different for many people. However, as Ensemble, we were determined to not let it stop us. Therefore, this meant working in ways we weren’t so used to, so that we could still work together during this time.
Since we couldn’t meet in person due to the government restrictions at that time, we had to use Zoom to meet, instead of our normal in-person sessions. At first, this was a challenge for everyone, but we soon adapted and were able to use it to our advantage; putting ideas together using recordings and gathering ideas in breakout-rooms.
Introduction to My People
My People was going to be a theatre show to tour. Then a theatre show that would be filmed but devised in person. Then devised instead on Zoom. Then we had our filming weekend cancelled, then postponed and finally, we filmed it in November together! It has been a journey!
All Change Again!
Coming back to working in person when we were allowed was a bit of a shock to the system for everyone; a good one, however. It was great to get everyone back together and use the limited time we had to refine ideas and really pull together My People. It brought a massive sense of relief to see people in person and not behind a screen; it was just really good to see everyone again.
Because of the restrictions, we were unable to make a piece of theatre to tour across multiple venues - that’s what we’d normally do! Therefore, we decided to perform it once at Northern Stage in Newcastle and film it. This way, we could get different shots and close ups, which would mean we could maintain social distancing throughout the performance without it appearing messy or difficult to see and hear. A large part of our performance is the digital aspect, which relies heavily on phones and technology as a means of communication. Much can be done in terms of that because of the way we are performing it. Things such as voiceovers and green screens can be added to enhance the performance, as well as the opportunity to redo shots. It has been very interesting to explore a new means of theatre that is more complex than the traditional ‘perform it once on stage’ scenario.
Sad News :(
There was a lot of uncertainty leading up to the point of filming at Northern Stage as to what would happen, as COVID cases in the area were rising. Unfortunately, it turned out that a member of the cast tested positive, meaning that everyone had to self-isolate during the week that would have been filming week. Therefore, we had to cancel the performance we planned to film. This was obviously very disappointing news for everyone.
Good News :)
We thought it would be a shame for all our hard work to go to waste, and believed My People had the potential for adaption. And adapt we did! We relooked at our stories, worked really hard and My People evolved into a film short that will be released in Spring 2022 for everyone to see. This project definitely has a close place in our hearts, so despite the upsetting news of the original cancellation, we are hopeful that people will like what we’ve made and excited for the future and where it will take us.
My Experience of Making and Devising My People in a COVID Landscape
I think that it was very important for Mortal Fools Youth Theatre and Ensemble Young Company to keep working and creating things during the time of COVID. The Mortal Fools’ practitioners have been great at supporting the wellbeing of us young people, and it was a positive experience.
Thank you Izzy for taking the time to share your insights and experience with us - of pivoting, adapting, devising, evolving, making, growing, performing, and (of course!) playing Spooner during a pandemic!
Ahead of the launch of My People this Spring 2022, please subscribe to our YouTube Channel and/or sign up to our mailing list to be kept up to date with all things Mortal Fools.
If you’re curious about our Ensemble Young Company, right now is a great time to find out more! Mortal Fools’ Ensemble Young Company offers young people from Northumberland the experience of making theatre in a way that is as close to a professional process as possible. We are currently open to new members and the next project runs from January – April and is open to anybody aged 14 - 19 (School Years 10+). You don't need theatre experience to get involved - just enthusiasm and commitment! You can find out more on our website.