Life at Theatre Royal: A Novella

It has been flippin ages since I wrote one of these things! Work has been slightly more hectic than anticipated, and as I’ve got more settled I’ve started actually socialising! This has all been pretty great for me personally, but it has meant this lil thing has fallen by the wayside. From now on I’m going to be more realistic about how often I can write – I think monthly will be the new goal. I want this to stay something I enjoy, rather than something I stress about not having done.

As it’s been ages since I updated I’m once again in the position of having far too much to say. If I wrote about every aspect of work I’d enjoyed in the last month and a half I’d be writing a novel (probably more of a novella, but still, far more than anyone wants from a blog post). So here’s the cliff notes version of my work life.

Way back in April I got the chance to help out on a fantastic show called Brainstorm. It was performed in The Drum by TRP’s Young Company. Aged 12-16, I was amazed by how much professionalism was demonstrated by the performers. The show was also largely written by the cast, with their own stories woven into an existing frame of a script. I think it made for a really affecting piece of theatre that appealed to and reflected young people. It was incredibly personal for the cast, whilst still resonating with everyone who saw it. And, most importantly, the cast seemed to be genuinely enjoying the experience of acting, whether or not they’d had any engagement with theatre prior to being cast. It was a brilliant learning experience for me too. I got to see how rehearsals vary when young people are involved, I sat in on the whole of a tech rehearsal, I saw how get ins work, I assisted with a get out, I assisted with some stage management and was backstage for every show of the run. There were also some props related issues that only came to light in production week. It was so useful to see how these things are dealt with and how theatre problems are solved under time pressure. Despite my small involvement, I really felt like I’d contributed. I had a lot of fun and learned loads. It made me realise how much I love the more hands on elements of my job. It was great to work with such a skilled and friendly team. I’ll be acting as deputy stage manager for the next Young Company show and I couldn’t be more excited!

Following Brainstorm I was given the chance to shadow TRP’s sound technicians for the get in of This House. Initially it was super daunting, there’s nothing more awkward than standing watching everyone transport very heavy fly cases while you’re doing nowt (this wasn’t laziness, I’d been told I shouldn’t do any of the unpacking – too dangerous for a newbie). I also managed to get myself lost on a couple of occasions. I’d been sent on what should’ve been like 2 minute errands. Both times I took what I thought was a short cut and very much wasn’t (I really don’t know the Lyric that well, I’ve spent most of my time in the Drum). It was all a bit cringe tbh. But, despite my sometimes embarrassing lack of knowledge, it was still a really useful day. I learned a lot more about how the tech side of the theatre functions, I learned how complicated making a show sound good can actually be and by the end of the day I managed to get a cue light wired up! Which I’m sure is a very easy task, but I was still pleased. I also sort of dealt with my vertigo. A lot of tech work occurs at height, so I ended up just pushing through and dealing with it. I’m hoping to spend a little more time shadowing the tech team in future because it was fun (even when I made it awkward, classic me), plus I figure I should make the most of being surrounded by expertise while I’m here.

Along with all the opportunities at Theatre Royal, the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries scheme offers development and assistance outside of my job. Part of this is the mentor scheme. We’re encouraged to seek out a mentor who will offer us advice and help us with any areas we are particularly struggling with. Mine is Roxanne Peak-Payne, the producer at Clod Ensemble. Roxanne has primarily been assisting me with my ability to network as it’s a major part of a producer’s job, and something I have no experience with. So it made sense that our first meeting was at a networking event! A couple of hours before the event we met to discuss my progress, what I was interested in and what I hope to get out of the year. On the basis of that discussion, we decided how I should approach the event. It was organised by the New British Music Theatre network, which meant I got to interact with artists, theatre makers, musicians and producers from completely different backgrounds to what I’m used to. It really pushed my boundaries and I think helped me to develop a little more professional confidence.

Run-down of other cool stuff I’ve done: Following a meeting with Bonnie (Executive Director of The Wrong Crowd, TRP’s resident company) I was able to sit in on one of their R+D sessions. It was fascinating to see how a show develops, they came up with so many ideas even in the couple of hours I spent with them. I’ve continued with office based administration tasks and sorting through our script archives, I’ve submitted some of our plays to the British Library’s modern play scripts archive, I’ve chosen plays to see on the Jerwood cohort’s trip to Avignon and generally gotten more settled into my role. I went to a feminist performance night with some colleagues and experienced a little more of Plymouth’s cultural scene. I’ve also made some more plans for the rest of the year here – it’s now been confirmed that I’ll be offering production management assistance to our Playhouse project (primary schools perform plays written by major playwrights exclusively for that purpose and they get to perform in the Drum!), I will be production manager for this year’s LAB company summer show, and I’ll get to be deputy stage manager for a show! All very exciting and all hopefully things that will allow me to develop valuable skills. Not work related, but I also went to a comedy festival in Wales and had THE BEST time. It was just the most fun. A gorgeous town, fantastic shows, incredible weather, good company and only two incidents of drunkenly making a fool of myself (both did happen to be in front of a comedian I admire, trying not to relive that cringe too often).

My goals in my previous posts were to be more confident and efficient, and to do a better job of keeping this blog updated. The blog thing, clearly, hasn’t happened. I think from now on I’ll aim to write brief pieces on shows seen and a monthly work update. That way I’m still giving myself a nice track record of everything I’m achieving this year, but it doesn’t become a chore that I beat myself up over not completing. Fortnightly was a tad ambitious, particularly given that it would be on top of all the shows I’m seeing/writing about.

In terms of confidence and efficiency, I really can’t gauge it. They’re pretty broad and unquantifiable terms – kind of the opposite of what a goal should be. I’d like to think I’m more confident! I certainly feel it, which I reckon I can take as a win. I also definitely met one of my more specific efficiency goals – I no longer spend aaaages agonising over what to write in emails. I just send those bad boys right out these days. Well, I still take more care than most, but it’s a big improvement on how I used to be.

Goals for the next month: First off, I’m going to be a bit more specific this time! ‘Be more confident’ is a poorly thought out goal really, even if it is something I’m striving for. So, specific goals: on the advice of my mentor I’m aiming to reach out to a local creative, someone I don’t know yet, and ask to meet them for coffee. Hopefully non-creepily! This will help me with my networking skills but also (hopefully) mean I meet someone interesting and get to learn something new. I also plan to have finished sorting out the script archives in the office. It’s been a mammoth task but the end is in sight.

The issues of confidence and efficiency will remain ‘work in progress’ rather than individual goals – I feel like both of those are going to be lifelong developments for someone as awkward as me.

Man, I really thought this was going to be a quick update! Brevity will never be my bag.

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