Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Directing “Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy” Part 2

I blogged a little while ago about directing Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy with Yew Tree Youth Theatre and NT Connections were kind enough to ask me to blog again after we’d completed our home performances.  Hence this sequel…

We’re in our Connections break at the moment, the home performances are all done and dusted and it’s a couple of months until we have the highlight of our YTYT year and perform at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal.  This is the point in the project where I reflect on what we’ve done so far and the director’s report from the NT director (Jack) who visited Wakefield and with all this in mind think about what comes next.

The first things I have to reflect upon and indeed celebrate are the huge achievements of the actors.  The cast pushed themselves so hard, developing characters with more bravery, truth and integrity than they have ever achieved before.   They all stepped out of their comfort zone to such good effect and what’s lovely is it’s not just me who thought so…our show report praised the maturity and care put into the challenge of bringing the characters to life.  We talked a lot about ensuring we treated the issues with respect, that we played the characters and the story not the tragedy.  We discussed balance and what it was to live the lives of the character.  We experimented and redrafted and thought and debated and the result was something to be unequivocally proud of.   It’s so lovely as a director to see such well earned pride manifest itself in the smiles and words of young people who have put their heart and soul into something so very special.

The next thing I find myself contemplating is the response of the audience to the play.  I have to admit being nervous about it’s reception when we opened our doors to the friends and family of the cast.  Such a brutal, hard hitting story was bound to get a reaction; I was both curious and apprehensive about what that reaction might look like.   Apparently I didn’t need to worry at all; so many people came out of our production of “Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy,” praising it greatly.  They were hugely impressed by the way the cast carried off the darkness of the piece and the intensity of the story.  Intriguingly however a lot of them then added to their praise that they didn’t know how to feel about it.  After a few of these comments it occurred to me that it was because the playwright, Jonathan Harvey, has purposefully in his construction of the play made us think rather than feel.  In the way he offers the story (it runs chronologically backwards for those who haven’t seen or read it) we can’t get carried away with the fate of the characters.  We are forced instead to look at the decisions they make, why they make them and what should/could have happened instead.  When you’re dealing with a subject such as hate crime this is vital stuff…Jonathan is a clever, clever man…and of course Brecht needs to take a bit of a bow too.

Which then leaves me in the position of deciding what is next.  There is certainly work to do as we reprise the production.  Some of which I already knew, some of which was insightfully signposted by Jack’s feedback which was full of generous praise and ideas.  (Just as an aside here, I have to thank both him and Lucy at Connections for fixing what could have been a nightmare of a date mix up so smoothly.)  When we go back into rehearsals we’ll be thinking a little more about set and sound, we’ll be thinking about the relationship between actors and audience and we’ll be ensuring that all the performances are consistently where they need to be.  A nice set of challenges to inspire even greater storytelling, even greater achievements and consequently even greater pride!

If you want to find out more about Yew Tree Youth Theatre please visit or or our blog where a guest youth theatre member and I blog each week

Sarah Osborne

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Friday, 1 March 2013

Travelling into the Future by Adele Thomas

Adele Thomas

This is my first year as a Connections Director, and already I have traversed the whole country, from the beautiful countryside of Cirencester, through the snow to Stanley, battled North London traffic and had a trip to the seaside of Bexhill. I have been given tea and shelter from gale force winds from a lovely lady in Kemble, been kept awake all night by party fiends in Newcastle and I have stared out at the sun bouncing off the sea and onto the identical beach huts of Eastbourne. There's always been a lot of drama, and that's before I've even see the shows!

Each of the plays from this year's selection demands such different things from its young performers, and in turn, the choice of play says so much about the company itself! "We're all ALIENS!!!" bellows one performer when I ask them why their group chose Morna's playful examination of the traumas of growing up. It is so exciting to see so many young people, and so many teachers, leaders and directors engaging with new writing in such a wide ranging way, an experience that will no doubt have a powerful, if subtle, effect on how these young performers go forward as theatre makers of the future. When I was young, drama was my life, but while I knew you could possibly become an actor, I had no idea that ordinary, working class kids like me could actually ‘make theatre’: that we could also become writers, directors, producers, lighting designers, designers and on and on.

Engaging with living, contemporary texts does something different to our understanding of the world. It asks young people to look around at the narratives of our time, it demystifies the notion that great plays are written by dead white men. And it asks them to respond with complete freshness to the creative challenges presented: from hip hop battles, to staging a circus, to the quiet simplicity of speaking directly to the audience, there something extremely special about being the first group to embark on the adventure of unpicking a play for the first time!

I have been made to feel so welcome at some fantastic hidden spaces across the country, from the super cool Karamel Club, with its industrial studio space and amazing bar to conversing with the staff in Bexhill about their theatrical stories. Sadly, moving out of the cities, the effects of austerity are all too clear. In Stanley, the Starlight Theatre is packed with a huge audience of the cast's peers, the atmosphere is bouncing and the staff couldn't be more attentive. In a month’s time, this venue will not exist, the staff will be out of work and Stanley will have lost a vital communal space. It is a bittersweet picture of the future of the arts in Britain, and it is in the hands of the young performers that I am travelling to see now as teenagers, that the future of live theatre lives. Which makes it all the more vital that programmes like Connections exist and that the process of making theatre is as open to the theatre makers of tomorrow as possible.

Adele Thomas is a theatre director. She recently spent nearly two years working on The Passion, produced by National Theatre Wales and creatively lead by actor Michael Sheen. Adele was a recipient of the Regional Theatre Young Director's Scheme and won a Writers Guild of Great Britain Award for her work with writers.