Well phew, fancy seeing you here! Yes, its us again, your friendly experimental theatre company, Baz, back with another blog. Or review. Or blog review type thing. Although there’s no criticism in it - so just explaining a really blummin’ good afternoon. ⅓ of us here at Baz were invited to a showcase held and run by Extant theatre company, whose brilliant work and ethic you should check out here: http://extant.org.uk In truth, an event such as this could be firmly filed under the heading of ‘Accessability’ or ‘disabled theatre company networking event’ but it was so much more than that. Or rather adjacently, just a damn good showcase that attacked the form of so many beige showings and came out, rather embarrassingly quickly, on top.
So if you don’t mind, we’ll talk about the theology not the biology of the Pathways event held by Extant at the old drill hall at RADA. As you’ll be aware, many actors that are in stage schools, drama schools, and drama courses up and down the UK have a showing of work: it’s as regular as bread and butter: filling but not that full of nutrients. Lord knows everyone at BAZ HQ recalls a school play, or a speech at assembly, an end-of-course showing or rather memorably in one case, playing Snoopy onstage. (Yeah, that one. No, we won’t tell you who) Usually, they are quite pedestrian, if useful: the closest thing a performance can come to admin, that serves a noble purpose but has no lifeblood in it.
Well, enter Extant. The Pathways event took the idea of a showing and put it on its head. This was not only appreciated by an audience of professionals from the National Theatre, Theatre 503, the RSC and the Globe, but it was also clever: now a few days on, we here at BAZ remember vividly what we saw - an impossible feat for a form that is so used and relegated to being performed in some way to serve a purpose. That kind of thing will stick in someone’s head, and that someone may remember you come casting time. But that’s not only why they did it. It was also clearly because they wanted to perform, and well. The way a showcase (and we’ve seen many between us) usually works is much of a muchness, but here, in this afternoon, we took a closer, far more interested note of the varied content and wide, confident ability of the actors and their choices - Sebastian from Twelth Night and a speech from Capaldi’s Doctor of Doctor Who in one set list? Yes please. We will take that.
The diversity and strength of the monologue choices and the display of talent was already high, so how to raise it? Well by being warm, and hilarious. You know how you could be at the bank and someone asking about your day makes the air shift and the conversation instantly warm up a few degrees? This cast expertly showed their personalities, wit and prowess with introducing each other, explaining astutely, humorously and yet also in detail for any visually impaired, partially or completely blind audience members - the description of an actor’s wide frame being put as also: ‘but his mother prefers to call him barrel-chested’ was a particular highlight. The monologues had transitions, the cast had props, the set was interrupted with welcome little sketches or dry observations that changed the air of the usual transactional nature of a showing to a warm hallway of portraits the actors stopped us in front of in an original, charming monologue.
There was also prestige present as the actors listed off an impressive list of thank yous that showed the real signal (and sorry, we’ll only mention it once we swear) of accessible theatre’s progress on punching down walls in the space of only a few years - the classes, opportunities and tools this cast were armed with should be available to all that are usually kept away from it, and it was another warming sign of good things to come to modern British theatre. These actors were bold, confident and able - and hilarious as the final skit saw the cast huddled in the front of the stage narrating in Attenborough voices:
Alex: Remember, the actor can’t see who this is.
Anthony: The director approaches and greets the actor, forgetting to say their name.
Dougie: The director can see the table so put the plate of sandwiches down,
Danielle: And extends their hand for a hand shake - the VI actor doesn’t notice.
Anthony: The director feels slightly awkward and pulls her hand back.
Chloe: And it’s only now that the actor notices the hand. They too now feel awkward but try and shake it off.
A chef’s kiss of perfection. Mwah.
They captured the awkwardness and the humour of the situation well, and gently explained to us the best way to approach: always say your name and what you do, and if you meet again, repeat your name. The kind of thing you could do with and for anyone, but it took the so often used option of being embarrassed and reserved as an excuse not to connect off the table without being the least bit accusatory in the process.
The whole thing was effortless, impressive, warm, and wholesome. Why can’t all showcases be like this? We’re so incredibly glad to be invited by Extant, and wish wholeheartedly that funding and resources for these projects can be poured extravagantly into projects like this and its like. At the end of the day, this was actors, acting. Well. As one actor Anthony said, “I am an actor. I just happen to be visually imparied.” For the actors, the team at Extant: Hannah. Maria and Jo and Julie - you should all be incredibly proud, of not only breaking new ground with a project like Pathways, and making truly accessible theatre the norm: but also for a bloody good showcase - one too good to be ignored by the theatre gatekeepers for sure. Bravo!
See you soon!