The first few weeks of 2017 have been delightfully filled for me with Before a Fall the lastest production by Quartz – Theatre in the Quarter’s company for 12-20 year olds. They were fantastic, we did 3 brilliant shows at St Mary’s Creative Space and had lovely audience attendance and feedback throughout.
I would like to begin with a word of thanks, to all of you who came to see the show, parents who tirelessly brought the young people to rehearsals, the bar, front of house, stage management and all staff involved at St Mary’s Creative space, Matt Baker and all at Theatre in the Quarter for giving us this opportunity, this incredible group of young people, the wonderful Elaine, The Ginger Prince, Joe who it’s been a pleasure to work with again, and of course Julie without who none of this would ever happen – mainly because then we’d have to learn where they keep the tea bags.
Myself and the musical director Joe Mann had huge ambitions for this piece and wanted to challenge these young people in many different ways. Firstly to tell the extremely complicated stories of Icarus and Theseus & The Minotaur and the many interwoven links of Queen (in our production) Minos and family of Crete, King Aegeus and family of Athens and Poseidon, Hermes and the 12 Gods of Olympus. They told the story with great clarity and many of the audience commented on how much they had learnt!
The cast was required to sing in 2, 3 and 4 part harmonies throughout the varied songs in the piece. Their voices were accompanied by piano, electric guitar, bass and drum kit as well as a number of acoustic instruments played by the young people with great skill. Clarinet, flutes, violin, guitars, ukulele, trumpet to name a few.
Two members of the cast flew above the heads of the ensemble, supported by the young people themselves. The Minotaur was performed using a huge mask designed by artist Russell Kirk and further movement work was included in the dance sections of the piece. Not to mention creating a Labyrinth, two wars, the appearance of a magnificent cow out of the sea, Mount Olympus and other varied locations and stories.
Act one culminated in the moment when, during flight, Icarus flies too close to the sun and falls to her death and my ambition for how to tell this story was to go from a stage full of action to an empty stage with just some feathers falling. Now this meant that in the space of a blackout, that I wasn’t willing for it to be longer than 10 seconds, we had to go from a a stage full of 35 actors with costumes, props and instruments, including an actor being carried by 6 others, to an empty stage except for some descending feathers, and all of this obviously had to happen in the dark.
When I first suggested this there were a few raised eye brows, particularly from the stage management team who are ultimately responsible for the safety of the performers and audience alike. However, having seen the way these young people had been working up to this point and with a knowledge that we had the time to work this through with rigour they were willing to try. The maturity and professionalism with which these young people approached this moment meant that each night we were well capable of getting the actor down safely, all 35 cast members clear of the stage in the pitch black and all in less than half the time I was originally willing to accept. And, yes of course, I got my feathers.
For me this was just one example of the excellent attitude with which these young people have approached this project – they of course have areas to develop, as all actors do at any stage in their training. This cast is no different except that to their credit many of the young people are inquiring what these areas are and how they can improve. It is a combination of these open and inquiring minds, professional attitudes and inherent, nurtured and developed talent that make this group so inspiring to work with and able to achieve such complex theatre productions.
I am immensely proud of this ensemble of young actors and of the show we created. It more than lived up to my expectations and achieved all the many varied ambitions I had for this piece. Joe and I are already excitedly planning the next project and how we can take the learning experiences we’ve had this term to push these young people further and teach them more new skills so that the next show they create can be even more ambitious!