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.
Interview with Culture Bridge ahead of Imagine If….Digital Conference Series starting 15th November.
It’s very nearly time for this year’s Culture Bridge Imagine If Conference – we are so looking forward to it and attending – there is always so much learning and we firmly believe that when arts professionals and educators, come together, some very exciting collaborations, skill sharing and synergy can happen. Our Artistic Director and CEO delivered a keynote address at last year's conference and you can still watch that HERE.
Ahead of this year’s Imagine If Conference across 15 November – 19 November and our opening interactive workshop, Learning environments that support grit and build bounce, we thought we’d sit down with Ellen Johnson from Culture Bridge North East and find out about this year’s conference. Read on to find out about this year’s Imagine If theme, what to expect, the passion and purpose behind it and why, if you work in the arts and/or education with young people, that you need to book your free tickets!
Let’s dive straight in with an introduction….
My name is Ellen Johnson (they/them) and I’m Culture Bridge North East Project Officer and Lead Coordinator for this year’s Imagine If…Digital Conference Series.
What is Imagine If, when is it and who is it for?
Imagine If… is our annual flagship conference for the North East cultural and education sectors to come together and explore a common theme. Before the pandemic, it would be a day-long event with workshops, keynotes and free time to network with new people. When social restrictions began, we knew we needed to re-think the way we do Imagine If so we temporarily re-branded and created the Imagine If…Digital Conference Series, moving it all online. It’s been a huge success and we’ve managed to reach a lot more people from different regions (and countries!) than we usually do.
The ambition is to return to a real-life Imagine If when the time is right but we’ve learnt so much about the benefits of digital delivery, we may look to having a hybrid conference in the future! This year’s conference takes place 15-19 November.
Can you tell me about this year’s theme and why creative bravery is so important to culture and education sectors right now?
This year, we’ll be challenging our delegates to explore the theme ‘Imagine if…creativity gave us the freedom to learn without inhibition and to accept mistakes as part of our life-long discovery’. Our aim is to provide challenging workshop content that will showcase how we can take creative risks without the fear of failing and help children and young people sustain their early creative bravery in life. It will be an opportunity to re-programme our minds to see mistakes and failures as normal markers along the road of self-discovery.
We were inspired by a quote from Arts Council England's 2020 - 2030 strategy, Let's Create, “Learn, take risks, fail where necessary, and finally flourish”. As we come out of era of pandemic isolation and social restrictions, children and young people are faced with the enormous task of the ‘academic catch-up’. Normalising the mistakes we make whilst learning, growing and creating is now more important than ever in supporting pupils and students with life’s pressures and the emotional toll that ‘returning to the world’ after Covid-19 will have on their self-esteem and confidence. Our ambition with our 2021 theme is to provide teachers and cultural organisations with the creative tools to help their young people discover and learn in the face of ‘mistake-anxiety’.
Culture Bridge does brilliant work – bringing together education and cultural sectors – why do you think it’s important that they connect and work together?
Our vision is that everyone growing up in our region and beyond should have a childhood rich with arts and culture.Taking part in excellent cultural education enables children to make meaning, discover connections with others, find and develop their unique talents, and build the confidence, resilience and transferable skills that set them up for life. This isn’t possible without the education and cultural sectors working together with a shared vision and purpose.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve done in the last 12months and what did you learn?
The bravest thing I’ve done in the last 12 months is come out as non-binary. There was a great deal of anxiety and fear in doing so; thinking of how the closest people in my life would react and whether this would be the end of our relationship. Through this, I learnt that I have chosen these people to be in my life for a reason. They have all been so supportive and have worked to better understand LGBTQIA+ experiences.
Biggest mistake in the last 12months and what did you learn?
My biggest mistake has been doubting myself and my abilities. When working from home, alone and during a pandemic, often times your work becomes insular which can exacerbate your inner-critic. You don’t have your colleagues around you to level you out and to reassure you. I worked through this and learnt that when I doubt myself, it’s about my own insecurity and not about my skills. I also learnt that when I feel like this, the best thing to do is reach out to the team for a catch up or even just a quick SOS for positivity!
What can folx expect from this year’s programme and why should they come along to the conference?
This year, we have a fantastic programme of workshops and delegates can expect to be challenged by our thought-provoking content! Our speakers from Mortal Fools, TIN Arts, Cragside Primary School, Into Film, Hotspur Primary School, Newcastle University, Musinc and LEGO Foundation will be exploring creative bravery and risk-taking in the face of failure whilst re-imagining what failure and mistakes actually mean and why they affect us so much. Attendees canexpect to be inspired!
Mortal Fools CEO Kiz Crosbie is delivering the conference opener with “Learning Environments That Support Grit and Bounce” – why did you select our session for the opener?
We’re excited to open Imagine If with Mortal Fools and their workshop. The session has lots of opportunities to participate which is a great ice-breaker for a conference series. The content explores the concept of failing and social context around the building blocks that cultivate creative environments for risk taking, innovation and the celebrating of mistakes. We felt this offered the delegates a foundation of knowledge and a fantastic spring-board into the rest of the week’s conversations.
What do you hope attendees take away from the conference?
Is the conference accessible?
We’ve been working hard to ensure that everyone feels welcomed and supported at our Imagine If conference. One of the perks of having a conference online is it opens up our programme to a wider network of people but there is still work to be done to ensure that digital spaces are open and accessible to all. We have a digital stage manager who is fabulous and will be on hand to assist anyone in the conference space.
We never presume anyone’s access needs and we’ve been in touch with people directly to ask them what they need to make their Imagine If experience a success. If anyone wishes to attend but wants to discuss accessibility further, our virtual door is always opens and they can contact me directly by email via: email@example.com
Sum the Imagine If Conference in three words?
Discovering, challenging, connecting.
How do folx book? Do you have to book individual sessions? Is it free?
All of our workshops are free to attend. We appreciate how busy our teachers and cultural venues are so we’ve separated out our conference week into individual workshop bookings so people can dip in and out of Imagine If when it suits them! You can book on to any and all workshops, you’re interested in via the Eventbrite links found on our webpage: https://culturebridgenortheast.org.uk/imagine-if-2021