The Backpack Ensemble

The run-up to our performance -with the exception of the nine day campaign I ran for the SU Presidency- was one of the longest and most intensive periods of my life. For a month beforehand, we were in all day, every day rehearsing and refining the show. For the writing team, this meant not only writing the scenes we had yet to set in stone, but also rigorously editing and re-editing the scenes we already had. Scenes that went one way a week ago were rendered brand new the week later.

This intense period of writing and rehearsing is also when I wrote the scene I am most proud of; the ‘Log’ scene. When writing scenes I like to create a rhythm as it goes along, which the dialogue and narration follows. Often this rhythm is the inspiration for the scene in the first place. In this scene, the rhythm builds slowly to a tension point as ‘Charlie’ and ‘Bagman’ are crossing a river via a log, punctuated by a sharp and dramatic moment as Charlie’s phone rings, causing her to slip. Now originally, the music for this scene was to be done by piano, until the ensemble stuck upon the idea of using a vocal soundscape. This immediately added to the scene, not only reinforcing the ‘DIY’ nature of our show as some of us call it by using our own voices to create atmosphere for this scene written from the ground up with a requirement for atmosphere. Thanks to our musical director Jordan Shiel, this soundscape was molded perfectly to the rhythm of the scene.

Charlie and Bagman through the forest- Photo Credit Sean Ralphs

Charlie and Bagman cross a river on a log – Photo Credit Sean Ralphs

However I was not simply a writer for this performance. Still maintaining some duties from my time in marketing I went up Lincoln’s famous Steep Hill, to ask bookstores, florists, cafes and other independent businesses if they would be willing to take our leaflets to put in windows and hand out to their customers. Cafes in particular were an excellent place for leaflets, as people are more likely to sit down for an extended period of time and read things such as leaflets. The cafes themselves were also more likely -when I went around- to take leaflets, presumably because having extra reading material in their shops to keep customers sat and ordering drinks was appealing to them. One curious willing taker of leaflets was a ‘Whisky Shop’, with a stereotypical broad-mustached whisky seller at the counter. While my hopes of a rambling band of whisky drinking gentlemen stumbling cheerfully into the theatre for our performance were dashed, we were still able to sell a good enough number of seats that it didn’t make too much difference.

More than writing or marketing though, my primary role in “The Search for a Black-Browed Albatross” was as a performer. This is what occupied the majority of my time leading up to the performance, countless time spent rehearsing and refining the show. Sometimes scene-by-scene, eventually in full run-throughs. This intensive process bonded the group in ways I didn’t think possible as we tackled the problems and possibilities of the piece. Despite not playing a named character in any scene I was still a member of the ensemble, and – as we discovered later in the process when trying to run the show whilst missing only one person – no members of the ensemble were not vital to the performance. Very nature of the show was that we each played a part in the creation of a living, breathing performance assembled from our own experiences.

Test footage of projection with Gabriel Miles as 'Dad' and Laura Potente as 'Young Charlie' - Photo Credit Jennifer Broome

Test footage of projection with Gabriel Miles as ‘Dad’ and Laura Potente as ‘Young Charlie’ – Photo Credit Jennifer Broome

Performing on the projection was among the more interesting aspects of the show. On the projection I portrayed Charlie’s father when she was younger, and working out positioning so that I appeared larger and Laura -who played a younger version of Charlie- smaller. Not only for still images but for moving and choreographed scenes we had to maintain this aspect ratio between us, which added another layer to the seemingly two-dimensional projected scenes.

However the most challenging aspect of my performance was a scene in which I effectively had to stop acting, and play myself. In order to keep the ethos of honesty woven into our performance, we had elected to include a number of small monologues directly from us -the cast- to the audience. This started with a message from our director Simon Panayi about our choice for open house music, the music we started the show with. Next we had Jordan Shiel explaining his love of bird-watching which inspired the creation of our show, then Elliot Sergeant with the real-life inspiration for our ‘Bagman’ character. When we reached the tail-end of the ┬árehearsal process we realized we still lacked one of these honest monologues about the motivation for Charlie’s journey; the loss of her father.

For this, I was called upon to write something up. As the only one of our company to have lost a parent I was perfectly placed to punctuate this vital theme of our performance. At the time this seemed not to be such a big deal for me. I was simply stating the facts about my relationship with my late mother and how it had affected my life, but by the time we came to the show it seemed so much more meaningful. Having climbed up the steep hill of the rehearsal process and crested the heights of speaking so frankly out of character to an audience about such a personal topic, it certainly was not the kind of performance I was used to.

Regardless of how ‘used to’ it I was, the performance itself went brilliantly. Days later we had people who had been in the audience approaching us to offer their congratulations. It was perhaps one of the most successful performances of my time at university.

The question is; with our performance behind us, what comes next for our company? Are we going to do it all again? Perhaps we will. Regardless of what our next move will be, I will carry my memories of this; our first show in my backpack for a long time to come.

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