The Backpack Ensemble

As the devising process continued and we began moving into rehearsals, my role within the company began to shift. Marketing became more the sole domain of Elliot Sergeant and James Ashfield; our producer. I was still involved in leafleting and fundraising, but more and more I found myself a part of the creative process.

We had our storyboard – as was laid out in the previous blog – but at this point we still had to devise and write up the body of the script. While we had toyed with the idea of having all of us contribute to the writing process, with Samantha Miles as Head of Writing, this was not how things developed.

One of our first tangible pieces of work produced as a company was our trailer; a mockumentary-style video which played with shadow puppetry as a method of presenting things on stage we otherwise could not.

While garnering feedback from people who’d seen the trailer, one of the notes I heard most frequently -aside from people approving of our use of shadow puppetry- was that people liked my impression of David Attenborough which we used for the video. Based on this I went away and in my own time wrote a small scene including the voice. The idea was for ‘Charlie’, now our main character to encounter a disembodied voice of Attenborough narrating her experience in the forest. In keeping with our company ethos of honesty, she would then discover that it was me, stood in a corner voicing this impression and invite me to stop it.

While this scene did not make it into the final product, it did prove to the ensemble that I could be relied upon to write scenes for the play. As the process continued it developed into a routine where Samantha would write the majority of scenes as Head Writer, and then I would write one or two alongside Jennifer Broome, our Dramaturg.

However my role in marketing was not quite done, even as I transitioned from marketing to writing. One fundraising idea we had was to hold a “Camping Food Sale”, similar to the traditional student cake sale with cake replaced with campsite foods such as ‘S’mores’ and bacon sandwiches. Not only would this raise some money for the company, it would also be a memorable appearance on campus for our company that would make passers by that little bit more likely to remember us and what we were doing. As Marketing Assistant I took the lead on organizing this event and unfortunately, it was not to be.

As I discovered, organizing an event such as this on campus is not an easy matter. The first thing I did was to contact the LPAC, who hold the rights to small grass space just across from the LPAC building. This space was in a prime position on campus for food sale, as demonstrated by the Student’s Union using it to set up their ‘Bouncy Castle and Free Ice Cream’ station during their ‘De-stress Week’.

However, after two weeks of back and forth between the LPAC, myself, and the university Events team who I was told to contact by the LPAC; I was told we could not hold this event. Not because it was not allowed, but due to bureaucracy of forms and miscommunication. This frustrated me considerably, but I did not allow it to deter myself or the company from marketing the show.

http://lincolnsu.com/news/article/de-stress-17

The End..?

May 29, 2017 | BLOG, SAMANTHA  |  Leave a Comment

Diary: 28th May 2017

In preparation for our viva voce for The Search for a Black-Browed Albatross, the company have arranged a final meeting in which we will discuss how well we thought the show was received and any further comments we wish to share that may aid each other’s reflective process. After the overwhelming response we received from many audience members after our debut show, questions have been raised from inside and outside of the company regarding our future together. This is a topic that will most likely be on the agenda for our meeting before the viva voce although we have been touching upon the subject ever since our performance. With many of our company members continuing to live in Lincoln, I personally feel that it would be a shame not to develop The Backpack Ensemble into something more than a one-time university project.

If The Backpack Ensemble were to continue, I would certainly wish to maintain my role as head writer. The writing process has been a collaborative one, although the company found that a single voice is needed to collate every individual’s idea into one piece of work. I have thoroughly enjoyed being that voice. Seeing the characters you have created being brought to life by performers is a fantastic feeling, one that I would not wish to give up just yet. As well as writing, I would like to continue as a performer for the company. As an ensemble cast, we all have a story to tell and each story is told by all of us. While I may have acted as a character in The Search for a Black-Browed Albatross, it would be great to try my hand at narration as a story-teller in future productions.

Overall, Theatre Company has been more than just a third year module. It has created a promising and hopeful ensemble of creative-types. With each one of us taking interest in various different theatrical aspects, The Backpack Ensemble still has a very promising future beyond education.

Diary: 26th May 2017

After finally performing The Search for a Black-Browed Albatross to an audience of 116 people, the overwhelming feeling of pride coupled with relief began to sink in as soon as we took our bows. Four months of creativity, imagination and fun had come to an end; a bitter-sweet feeling. Once we had completed our get-out, which we made very easy for ourselves considering our minimal set and backpacks, I set about asking lecturers and our peers what they thought of our performance. The response we gained was overwhelming with most people giving positive feedback. Some key points I picked out from audience members included:

  • A clear narrative.
  • Well-structured story arc.
  • Informal and friendly relationship between audience and performers.
  • Inventive use of minimal props/set.
  • Use of live music to create a more intimate atmosphere.
  • Overall tone of the show was warm and wholesome.
  • Use of audience participation to create the storm.

Out of these points, the one I most relate to is the well-structured story arc. As the head writer, it is a great feeling knowing that audience members left the theatre understanding a clear story. From the beginning of the process, any ideas I put forward to the group revolving around the actual content of the piece were very story-based. I strived to create a show that told the audience a story from beginning to end so that they could leave the theatre feeling genuine emotion for the characters involved and thankful for having been on their journey with them.

As well as gathering positive feedback from audience members, it is arguably more important to gather the negative feedback. By recording any aspects of the show that the audience disliked, it contributes towards the improvement of the show if we were to take The Search for a Black-Browed Albatross any further. Comments I received from audience members regarding their critical feedback included:

  • Volume of the performers; much too quiet without microphones.
  • Projection sheet being distorted at times as not pulled tight enough.

Considering these two comments are technical and regarding presentation, the content of the show was received very well from audience members. The only note I received regarding the writing of the show was that the conclusion of the story was perhaps a little too sweet and touched on children’s theatre at times. Although I think this comes down to personal preference, the risk of creating children’s theatre rather than a family show was ever present throughout the process. While I am by no means devaluing children’s theatre, I wanted to create something that spoke to adults as well as younger audiences. Overall, I am incredibly proud of the final product we all designed as an ensemble and feel we achieved this through a mixture of intimate story-telling, creative direction and imaginative design.

 

Diary: 1st March 2017

After settling on a name for our debut show, writing is now underway for The Search for a Black-Browed Albatross. As a company, we have sat down together and listed off everything that we believe should be included in the story. A clear beginning, middle, and end has already started to form and we are currently discussing characters.

The protagonist of the story, Charlie, is the girl who will be searching for a Black-Browed Albatross (who’d have guessed?) and although I don’t want to give too much away just yet, creation of her character has benefited greatly from our own experiences in life. Charlie is an amalgamation of each one of us; her personality traits, hobbies, and life experiences have been created by the company because we have genuine familiarity with these things. While the creation of Charlie is going very well however, she is not the only character to be worked out.

Throughout the course of the show, numerous other characters will appear. One such character that we are still in the midst of fully creating is a someone we have temporarily dubbed ‘Bag Man’. He stemmed from one of our company members’ memories from his home town. This character will contribute to the story progression by helping Charlie to find the bird. While his purpose within the story has been agreed, it is important as the head writer to develop his character beyond the world of the play. He is not just a man who helps our protagonist. He is a man who shares the world of the play with her. Whilst writing this character, it is crucial to remember:

“Every character in a play should have an action, which means that a play will have as many actions as it has characters. Many of them may be small, momentary, unremarkable in comparison to that of the main character. But they will be a necessary part of the general movement of the play. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of the greatest playwrights is that even the character who is onstage only for a few moments wants something.” (Spencer, 43, 2002).

Although he is not fully worked out yet, the character of ‘Bag Man’ will have his own life. He will have his own journey to embark on beyond Charlie’s story, not just a progressive tool for the show.

Even the character of Charlie’s father will have his own personal drives although he has, in the present world of the play, passed away. As flashbacks of her father appear, the actor playing him must know exactly what Charlie’s father wanted at that time. One very large factor we have not yet discussed regarding Charlie’s father is whether he even knew he was going to pass away and if so, how long for?

As the head writer, I am attempting to weave deeper meaning into the characters through dialogue although it is still up to us as performers to ask less obvious questions surrounding our characters so that we may do our story justice.

Works Cited:

Spencer, S. (2002) The Playwright’s Guidebook. New York: Faber and Faber.

Diary: 15th February 2017

This last week has felt like a positive turning point for our company. Although we entered this process feeling a little overwhelmed at the creative freedom we had, I now feel as though we have rooted ourselves firmly in the ground and can begin to grow and flourish. After many deliberations, we have discovered our company name: The Backpack Ensemble.

Our theatre company name is derived from simplicity, journey and togetherness. First; backpacks. Our company has always agreed from the beginning that we wish to have minimal props and set. In its simplest form, our name represents our minimalist style as everything we perform with will fit into our backpacks! This works as a guideline that we have set out for ourselves; if it doesn’t fit in a camping rucksack then it doesn’t go in the show! Tour-ability has been a very important factor in our company discussions and if everything we perform with fits into backpacks, that is clearly a massive bonus if we wanted to take our show further. As well as the literal meaning, the backpacks also represent adventure and journeys. While our company strives to tell honest theatre by using our own experiences and knowledge, we have all agreed that we wish to portray at least one character in our show. We want to take the audience on a journey with the characters and share our own personal journeys with them too. We want to instil the excitement of adventure and discovery into our audiences and what better way to display adventure than a backpack? With a bag on your back and the drive to explore, the possibilities are endless. We want to display that in our theatre and as the head writer I am beyond excited to start writing a story that will hopefully bring audiences on a journey worth taking. Bella Merlin even compares an actors script to a “map of the journey on which your whole creative life is about to embark” (Merlin, 57, 2014) which represents our company perfectly. Once we have our story to tell, that will become our adventure for the next few months.

We are an ensemble. A group of individuals who each have a story to tell and their own unique way of telling it. We don’t hide our differences; we embrace them.

Works Cited:

Merlin, B. (2014) The Complete Stanislavsky Toolkit. London: Nick Hern Books.

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