Rob’s Beneath the Surface London blog

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Well readers, that’s it – the event is now up and running. The hard work that has gone into the rehearsal period has paid off and we have now performed to our first audience! It’s great to get people in to watch what we’ve created and to see how they react to it. I don’t mind telling you there were some parts that they reacted to quite differently to what we had anticipated and the whole thing was a real eye opener for us all…but more on that later.

So let’s start at the beginning. Driving down with the producer, Bobby Tiwana. I met him in Wolverhampton and together we made our way down to London. Generally a good ride…apart from at the end when my perhaps questionable navigational skills sent us over Waterloo Bridge an extra time (the other way) than was necessary…oops. Never mind, we made it to Southbank Centre in one piece and met up with the rest of the team who had arrived and were ready to go.

There’s something electric in the room before a show. The nerves and the anticipation of the performers and the production team. We knew that we’d put the work in but we all just hoped that it’d pay off; that the odd line still escaping the performers would be cemented; and that we’d get a good crowd in who would be up for discussion and giving feedback.

So at 5pm the doors opened and in they came. A real mix of men, women, couples and people on their own, black, white, and Asian. I counted seventeen people, which for the first event was a great number. It was also a friendly audience, made up of several project acquaintances and supporters. Some of our interviewees from the research phase were in; as well as a few participants from Bobby and Carl’s Alchemy workshop from earlier this year. My friend from uni (if your memory needs refreshing then please refer to my very first blog) was in the audience too. A good audience to start on, not that it did much to dispel the tension from the performers who were about to present their work to a paying public and to the directors who had invested so much time and effort in the piece.

From the very first moment there were surprises. The audience reacting to one of the characters whom they did not realise was part of the show was something we’d talked about but not really come up with a plan for. In this instance, the friendliness of the audience threw Dharmesh and for a second I thought he might trip up. However, he carried on masterfully and it was interesting to see how the ripple of understanding spread throughout the room.

Similarly, reactions to the seating changes were interesting. While we had expected people to turn around to face bits of performance that were taking place behind them, the general attitude of this audience was that these moments were to be listened to and not watched. Therefore, parts of the direction may need to be reworked in order to take this into account or not. Of course, we will have to see what other audiences in other cities do as well.

I hope all this description isn’t too mind boggling, readers. There was so much going on that evening and much of it needs to be recorded. You might like to view it as me trying to capture the essence of the evening; the magic that was happening and the chemistry in the room. If bits of it don’t make sense then I implore you to come to one of the events and experience the content for yourself, then you too, will have a view on what most worked for you and what might be re-worked.

The discussions that followed the presentation of the rehearsed extracts were fascinating. I guess one thing that I will try and do too is to assess how each city and the people from it are different. I think that London, being so metropolitan and open attracts people who are not afraid to speak their minds and discuss, certainly in a venue like this. While there was maybe an initial shyness, people were quickly volunteering information on what the concepts of family and community mean to them and how they reacted to the piece and what might be done differently. I took heart that many of the LGB Asians who had come along we’re happy to share their experiences – it was truly amazing to hear what they had to say. One lady hadn’t spoken to her father in seven years and had built her own family from friends who supported her and her lifestyle in a way her family couldn’t right now. Similarly, one gentleman revealed to us that once he would create different personas for different communities and that it was both tiring and frustrating having to be so different depending on who he was with. Stories like these make the whole project seem worthwhile and made me realise that what we’re doing is creating a platform for these ideas and experiences to be shared with the world.

Perhaps one of the the most touching stories was told by a woman of African descent. She drew comparisons between her community and the south Asian community; how both are still very traditional communities and that this can often lead to prejudice. Yet she told the story about how with every generation there comes a greater level of tolerance and that the younger generations can be instrumental in dispelling the prejudices of older ones. She gave the example of her five year-old son who, when taken to a wedding some months back, asked what kind of wedding it was -“…two daddies?  Or two mummies?” And when told that is was a wedding between and man and a woman replied “HOW STRANGE!” Touching and lighthearted yet, apparently, this child’s indiscriminate tolerance had affected the views of his grandmother who herself has become much more accepting of different lifestyles. It was a story that made us all smile but also affected many of us and made us think.

So that will probably do for now, readers. London has provided us with an excellent start to the run and has already given us loads to think about. I can’t wait for the next workshop performance event on Wednesday at Smethwick Library. Now if you’ll excuse me – as you can imagine, there was much celebrating after the success of the first show and I was somewhat delicate the following day… To catch an event near you. Until the next time, stay fabulous.

Rob Beck

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