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accessable theatre

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Extant Pathways: A Showcase of A Showcase

Full house at RADA. Our favourite kind of house.

Full house at RADA. Our favourite kind of house.

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!

Love,

Baz x


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The World is Kafka Now - Our Week of R&D on The Trial

"Your call is very important to us." Is it? Is it really?

"Your call is very important to us." Is it? Is it really?

*Waves* Hello you loverly Baz people, how are you? Were not sure about you but we feel as if we’ve been underground and emerged, blinking into the light in a sort of weird reverse hibernation...sorry we’ve just realised that brown bear analogy is a bit weird, but stick with us -we are still powered up Pac Man style (analogies coming thick and fast, duck out of the way!) after a fantastic week interrogating the ultimate tale of interrogation in our version of Franz Kafka’s ever relevant novel, The Trial.

How did it all come about, you ask? (oh yes, the audience participation is real) well, a year ago we staged an interpreted performance of our dreamplay at The Vaults - yes, that was a year ago! - and utilising a fantastic set of skills Katie, our interpreter, displayed, got cogs in our minds working. Sarah, our director and co-AD was electrified by the presence of the language, Katie’s interaction with our actors and the audience and how it seemed to be a play in itself. Our triad of ADs, Sarah, Catherine and Emma meet up regularly at one of our fave Baz places, Persephone Books in Lambs Conduit Street, The Southbank Centre or the little Cafe above Heals (top tip, Secret London fans!) and discussed our next project. It just so happened Catherine was reading The Trial - and that was it -  through a meeting of Sarah’s desire to work with BSL and Kafka’s seminal classic, Baz’s official fourth project was founded.

There followed a year long process of funding, venue, auditions and discussion - which eventually led to a week’s worth of R&D in the beautiful Wilton’s Music Hall, thanks to AD Holly Kendrick’s generosity. Here, with our fantastic actors Will, Cat, Mark, Jean and Catherine, the fab Sophie Wooley sitting in as consultant and a stream of fantastic interpreters all ready and willing to take chances, risks and faith in each other from the get go Between them, as writer and script editor respectively Sarah and Emma produced an avant-garde, typically Baz-like script - and then we promptly told our actors to sort of ignore it. Well not really, but from day one, almost the first morning we were improvising loosely from the script, hitting the ground running - something that was hard not to do with such a trusting and bold company in the room.

 

But first: coffee and opinions. Two of our favourite things. Also: eclairs and world peace but that’s by-the-by - as part of our preparations for the future production it seemed like a great time to offer a focus group, inviting D/deaf theatre goers, practitioners and actors to join us at Wiltons to share their experiences. Everybody came so willing to share what had worked and what didn’t, how theatre and culture generally has a long way to go to fully integrate  D/deaf culture, what had worked and what didn’t, the specific requirements needed across the board- and helped us loads moving forward to produce a truly bilingual piece of important, and entertaining theatre. We were so grateful they were so open, specific and frank about needs and ways of presenting theatre to everyone regardless - and it set us up to think up a battle plan for the rest of the week - right up to the showing at the end of it.

The rehearsal process began in earnest, and we were immediately sure that this is the production we’ve been missing - in terms of our personal theatregoing experiences, and as a company making truly expressive and experimental theatre. It was a learning curve, and we were lucky enough to be educated along the way - for example,one of our fabulous actresses Jean was brilliantly informative on the intricacies of the language of BSL and the iterations thereof, and both she and Will, another actor in our company shared very important personal stories of growing up, the workplace, and clashing with bureaucracy. Of course, we all had a story of miscommunication, or injustices, as a company and creative team, going about our daily lives. Throughout the week it became increasingly clear Kafka has Nostradamus-like abilities to predict a future of dealing with employers, schools, hospitals and councils - all trapped in the barbed mire of Corporate Speak - where Jean cited an actual incident  a medical registrar was reticent to even write the word ‘deaf’ to describe the visiting patient.  However, we found our feet in our traditional ideas of status, identity and portraying truths more stark than ever before - often asking our actors to put themselves in difficult, sometimes uncomfortable situations to better show the current and certainly historical ineptitude society and authority has treated what it deems a ‘problem’.

A big topic at the group was the use of interpreters and/or captions - both equally helpful as they were problematic. We decided, in the spirit of experiment, to integrate our fab interpreters Katie and Jo in some scenes, taking them out of others, even asking our hearing members of the audience to close their eyes briefly so the D/deaf audience knew that the scene would be played with all actors ‘voices off’ - so there was no sound whatsoever. On top of this, our epic producer extraordinaire Liz utilised her words per minute to transcribe the action on her laptop, to be read over her shoulder - so we made full use and tried out different techniques for providing information. Afterwards, we held an impromptu feedback session - and we are so grateful to those who came to stay and explain that their laughter was not only by being entertained but also in recognition, what was clear, what wasn’t - once again showing how versatile and fantastic our audience was in coming with us on our risks and entering into our experiment with an open mind.

Ahhh. We’re feeling all loved out now - and so keen to show you all what we’ve been up to!

Until next time friends, with videos and pics galore, we like to keep the Bazlings informed!

 

With Love,

Baz x

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