Our Curtain Raisers have been at it again, challenging themselves to plan, rehearse and perform an original piece in just one day. On 20 July 2019, we invited our senior Curtain Raisers, aged 14 -18 years old, to devise their own unique piece of theatre for family and friends. The group arrived at 9am, very early for some, to embark on a day of hard work and creativity. The idea of performing this unknown production was very daunting and a real challenge to convincingly portray the characters that they developed. The group were led by two experienced members, Sophie and Luke, who are soon to leave us for University. This would be a last hurrah for the pair who have contributed a lot to the club through their tutoring of younger members and their own memorable performances in Curtain Raiser productions.
The day started with an empty building and just a seedling of an idea. The group wanted to use the history and resources that the warehouse itself offered. The atmosphere within the building is enough to inspire any group of budding actors. The Warehouse Theatre has not always been the home of Weymouth Drama Club. It started off as a warehouse for John Groves and Sons Ltd who owned what we now know as Brewers Quay. The building was used as a store for their barrels and bottles and the club has found a treasure trove of antiques from this time.
So, the group had a concept but how were they going to develop this into a performance? Would it be a linear story? How would they use the whole of the building? And, how would they engage the audience? These are all questions that they had to answer before 10am, which was a tall order for a slightly sleepy group of teenagers.
The group quickly decided how they would use the building and were keen to focus on the connection with their home town of Weymouth. Focusing on a few key events in Weymouth’s history, the actors would develop small intimate scenes pushing the audience’s experience of theatre. Each scene would take place in a different area of the building. The audience would journey through the shipwreck of the Earl of Abergavenny which met its watery demise in Weymouth Bay in the club’s bar. The costume department would be transformed into a claustrophobic air raid shelter taking inspiration from the bombings of the surrounding town in World War Two. Lastly, the scenery workshop would become a disease-ridden street home to the first plague carriers. The next step now was to translate these ideas into reality.
Here is where our Backstagers come in, a group of Curtain Raisers aged 11-14 who meet monthly to learn technical and practical skills needed for every production. The Backstagers got to work converting the functional rooms into performance spaces. With set, costume, lighting and sound under control it was now down to the actors to shape the piece. They had many more decisions to make and with time ticking would it come together by 8pm?
Each actor would have to use their varying experience to create interesting and engaging scenes. For some this seemed a daunting task as they were faced with, the sometimes dreaded, prospect of improvisation. In weekly workshop our Curtain Raisers often experiment with improvisation and play around with what works and what doesn’t. The art of keeping a scene going is definitely something that does not always come naturally. Who knew filling 5 minutes could be such a struggle? It’s a long time when an expectant audience is hanging on to your every word. It was truly a case of loosing your inhibition and going with the flow, with family and friends staring at you in a confined space. Not everyone’s idea of fun!
The Earl of Abergavenny was brought to life, from its watery grave, by Emilie and Aimee who portrayed two ghostly sailors reliving their fates. They had worked on relaying the emotions and their characters realisations that they were drowning. It had been quite a challenge to capture something that they hadn’t experienced themselves. The audience would come across a wrecked cabin which was made even more claustrophobic by the looming sail that was hung across the room.
The audience would then, somehow seamlessly, make their way into World War Two. More specifically, an air raid shelter located in Chapelhay, Weymouth. Nathan and Amos worked on creating a tense atmosphere and a sense of impending tragedy. The Backstagers worked to establish this tension with authentic sound effects, taking us back to the Curtain Raisers October production of Goodnight Mr Tom. With the air raid siren whirring and the drone of aeroplanes ahead a Warden and a stranger to the area took comfort in the hand-built shelter.
Lastly, the audience would be plunged into the stinking streets of Weymouth where the plague had taken hold. Sophie and Willow would fill the stairway with spine-chilling singing. This group wanted to focus on the madness of the plague and the symptoms of hallucination that the illness created. The futility of death would be highlighted by Luke’s acknowledgment of the dead body, George, which would lie on the floor. The group took great delight in crafting George’s gruesome body, his boil covered feet stuck out of the hessian shroud.
By lunchtime, we had 3 individual scenes with costumes, sets, lighting and sound but how did they fit together? How was the audience going to travel around the space and make sense of the snippets of history they were presented with? First, the group needed sustenance to fuel their creativity and tackle this pending problem.
After lunch it was back down to business and someone had an idea. Why not bring in a tour guide character to the performance? They could lead the audience through the performance and create a tour of the building. This idea then evolved, and Weymouth’s Live History Museum was born. The tour guide would lead the audience around the “exhibits” which would then come to life to reveal a snapshot in time. So now that there was a link, how was the tour going to end? There was still one space that was empty. In true Play in a Day style, the team would have to create a new scene in the last few hours before the performance.
It was decided that this final exhibit would involve all the actors and would feature the legends of smuggling around Weymouth’s coastline. The group would use the skills they had learnt at a recent stage combat workshop to create a battle between the smugglers and the custom officers. This scene quickly came together as the building revealed some treasures of its own. A large fishing net and selected props instantly created the smugglers cove in the main hall.
With only a few hours to go the actors and technicians had to bring the piece together and create an immersive theatrical performance. At 8pm, the audience were expectantly waiting outside the building in the sun while the performers hastily prepared themselves in the heat. A group of 14-18 years old had been at the club from 9am that morning, they had devised, costumed, created scenery and rehearsed their piece with an ever-pressing deadline. After all their hard work during the day it was now time to find out if it had all paid off.
We would like to thank Luke and Sophie for all they have contributed to the Curtain Raisers. They have become true role models for our younger members. We wish them the best of luck for the future and hope to see them soon.