Theatre Anonymous and the magic of the true one off

October 11, 2015  •  Leave a Comment


I haven't blogged for ages...sorry 'bout that, it's mainly down to a perfect storm of a lack of imagination and shortage of a workable subject matter.

However, this has been rectified (and then some) by my involvement with the 14/48 Leicester/Theatre Anonymous production of John Godber's Up 'n' Under. A quick bit of background on the workings of Theatre Anonymous: basically all the actors for a selected play rehearse individually with a director, only coming together on the night of the performance with their identities revealed as their characters enter the fray. For this production of Godber's Rugby Legue themed play the 7 actors were all veterans of the 14/48 festival; the director Shawn Belyea had flown over from Seattle to steer this ill advised project.

My original intention was to pop along to a few rehearsals and take some photos that didn't give away the cast but could be used to market the event. Having signed up for this there was a further call for rehearsal assistants; at this point I may not have read the details as fully as I'd thought, as I missed the bit that said it was preferable if the assistants had acting experience... So I merrily (well I don't really do anything "merrily" but you get the idea) rolled up for the first evening rehearsal assistant session. Upon arrival, following some high security procedures to ensure that secrecy was maintained, I was ushered into a meeting room with two actors and Shawn. It soon became apparent that I would be required to read in for some of the absent characters, thankfully there wasn't sufficient time to dwell on the fact that this filled me with abject terror, and my urge to promptly leg it was stifled by a desire to not look like a complete pillock in front of people I have the utmost respect for (although I'm fairly sure I proceeded to do just that...)

Across the rehearsal sessions that followed I actually started to quite enjoy the whole process (although I shan't be looking to move onto acting any time soon). It forced me to face several significant challenges, these included: speaking in public (in a shoddy Northern accent, with actual real actors), entering a sports hall containing sports paraphernalia without a note from my mum, and reading the lines for 5 out of the 6 characters on stage (I'm pretty sure I developed a borderline multiple personality disorder). The people I was working with were without fail absolutely splendid throughout, and everybody was determined that the performance would be a fantastic portrayal of the play; taking full advantage of the merits of the unorthodox way in which it was put together.

RehearsalsRehearsals14/48:UK presents...
Theatre Anonymous with Up 'n' Under

And so it came down to the performance on the 5th October, there were palpable nerves in the bar beforehand with the cast completely unknown to the audience and each other. I'm fairly sure at this point the gravity of the task they had undertaken really started to register, hell I was nervous and I'd only got to sit and watch the thing!! As we filed into the auditorium and everyone took their seats, furtive glances were cast around to try and read the faces of those present for signs that they were about to undertake such a high risk theatrical production...and then they were off. As each actor rose to take their part the audience responded with the fevered cheers that you would expect from sports crowd at a Saturday afternoon rugby match. The seamless way in which the cast delivered such a naturalistic performance was remarkable, the interplay between the characters was fantastic throughout. From start to end the pace was maintained, with any slip ups seamlessly worked into the dialogue, taking the audience along for the ride; the cheer that went up when the Wheatsheaf team scored their first try was like nothing I've experienced in a theatre before! The cast took their bows to a rapturous ovation from the crowd, and I nipped up on stage to grab a couple of "team photos" before they all headed off to celebrate a remarkably triumphant show.

The whole experience left me wondering what it was that made the spectacle so amazing, yes the performances were excellent and the direction spot on, but you would expect that from most theatrical performances. Also my personal involvement definitely made it a bit more special, but it just seemed to resonate that bit more with the audience as a whole. I think, for me, the real magic of this piece; and the Theatre Anonymous concept as a a whole, is that it creates a true one-off experience. This play can only be performed in this form once, as once the actors know each other that part of the chemistry is lost. So all that tension, energy and effort can all be channelled into something that there are no second chances with, every beat must be made to count, and this isn't just a matter of theatrical accuracy, but ensuring that real heart, soul and passion are put into this one single outing. For the audience too, there's no chance to catch this again if you missed something, and everybody present knew that we were the only people that would ever see this particular incarnation of this play.

In a cultural landscape that increasingly panders to a short attention span, and everything is saved on "catch-up" and recorded to be revisited at a later date, I think it's hugely important that these genuine one-off experiences are available as it encourages everyone involved to give their full attention to what's happening and really value the experience.

Thanks for reading this rambling assemblage of half thought out ideas, hopefully it doesn't come across as too pretentious, but I think art and culture are pretty important, and generally I think about stuff too much!

NB. Yes, I'm a photographer, I document stuff so that it can be revisited later...I guess this is a bit double standards of me, but never mind eh :)



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