BLOG: Epsilon Summer Season -Chicken Shop opens to rave reviews!

My latest blog for Public reviews as part of a series following the Epsilon Summer Season at Park Theatre – this time on the challenges of a quick technical turnaround (and a special ticket deal!) Read the original here

Angela Bull & Jesse Rutherford Photo by Kim Hardy Photography

Last Sunday we said goodbye to the wonderful women and the simple but beautiful set of Crystal Springs and a mere couple of hours later, thanks to our brilliant design and production team the world for Chicken Shop was up!  Our new cast members, John Last, Millie Reeves and Jesse Rutherford settled themselves in alongside the continuing team Lucy Roslyn and Angela Bull in the Park dressing rooms and green room, whilst joining designer Florence Hazard set about finishes touches. Our production manager and new stage manager Chris Silvester is continuing the excellence set by Peter Lambert (SM Crystal Springs) and a whole new set of warm-up activities now occur each night for the company.  Our one and only preview was a blast and then to a packed house for Press night we opened. There was laughter, there were tears and there was even a call for a second bow! The reviews are still coming in some of which you can read here

There is something strange and beautiful in watching a set being dismantled in order to make way for a new one, especially if the second one is also your own.  Elements of the Crystal Springs set have been incorporated into the Chicken Shop design and some parts donated to other shows happening in the next months.  It is important to Epsilon that there is little waste and where possible we keep environmentally friendly, all set and costume is re-used or donated to other shows and theatres. Come check out Chicken Shop if you saw the first and guess where the old set is!

Rehearsing one show whilst performing and producing in another is exhausting and exhilarating. It isn’t so much about juggling, or even time management as much as it is about trusting in the company around you and keeping communications clear.  With two shows dealing with dark and difficult themes such as cyber-bullying and trafficking, a lot of time was also spent hugging; After a difficult scene, after a funny one, after a bad meeting, a stressful phone call- sometimes just because.  I completely shocked my Chicken Shop Company after we had managed, unbelievably, to fit in a technical run after only one day in the theatre.  The Park technical team, the TOAST team, the lovely office ladies- the whole building rang with the rumour of what we had achieved in such a short amount of time.  I was completely overwhelmed by the awesomeness of them all that I simply cried. For a few scary moments they all thought I hated the show, but I was simply blown away, yet again, by the brilliance of actors who amongst chaos and crazy draw you into a story and make you fall in love with them and it.

As the second half of our season adventure continues the blogs for The Pubic Reviews will keep coming; from our designer Florence Hazard, our Chicken Shop actors and from our Producer Angela Bull. As a special thank you to our Public Reviews readers for following this journey with us, we are offering a discount rate to see Chicken Shop.  Book Online using the code CHICKEN to get £15 tickets. 

 See more and buy tickets at: http://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/chicken-shop/about#sthash.BeDD7yNY.dpuf

WELCOME TO CRYSTAL SPRINGS

Week three of our guest blogs on Public Reviews sees writer of Crystal Springs Kathy Rucker share with us her inspiration behind the play which opens at The Park Theatre next month.

Play ideas come to me from all sorts of odd places: obituaries; photos of dead, forgotten family members; stolen conversations from hospital waiting rooms; the small, local stories in the back of the newspaper, usually next to the hearing aid ads. Crystal Springs was a little different. It began as a response to a challenge from an Artistic Director – write a play with six female characters about hate. Hate doesn’t come easily to me. Give me quirky, weird, demented or disturbing. I find hate difficult.

As I started contemplating where I would go with this play, my nine-yearold daughter launched a campaign for her own cell phone. A simple “no” would not appease her, so I had to articulate the reasons. She was too young. It was too expensive. She didn’t need the distraction. The truth was the thought of my daughter on the Internet made me very nervous. What if she innocently Googled “beaver” and suddenly saw some horrifying porn images? We’ve all read terrifying stories about kids being cyber-bullied on the Internet via their computers or mobile devices.

Visualizing someone mistreating my girl gave me the taste of hate I needed, and that became my starting point: mothers, their daughters and bullies.
Unfortunately, doing research was easy. It didn’t take long to accumulate a folder full of heartbreaking stories of kids being teased and humiliated online. There was one story that stopped me cold. A story about a mom who used the Internet, ostensibly, to protect her child. And then it spiraled into something horrible.

A few years ago we moved to a different town. My daughter started attending a new school. She was anxious about making friends. I was, too. Much to my surprise, I had all those feelings that I thought I left behind at St. Francis School for Girls in Sacramento. Silly, right? I’d get butterflies in my stomach when I would pass by groups of moms talking in the schoolyard. They all seemed to know each other already. Should I just go up to the group? Will they say hi? Eventually, after a couple of years of volunteer work, endless playdates, and lots of wine-fueled Mothers’ Nights Out, the anxiety went away.
With this memory, I began to imagine my fictional mom, new to a community with a vulnerable daughter who is being picked on. That’s a lot
to handle. And maybe the mom doesn’t have a sympathetic husband to calm her down when her insecurities color her world a deep crazy hue. Maybe one small thing leads to another. Welcome to Crystal Springs.

For details and to book fro Crystal Spings visit The Park Theatre website20140715-232320-84200023.jpg

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Casting…

I love and loathe the casting process. Searching for the right actor for your vision of a part can be overwhelming. For the Epsilon Summer Season at The Park Theatre, we made the decision to put a call out for actors through our personal contacts of producers, directors and casting director Nadine Rennie.

Crystal Springs has six female characters and Chicken Shop three with two male, so our aim had been to find three women who we could cross cast across the two productions. However this couldn’t be at the detriment of any of the parts, we didn’t want to find someone who was fantastic for one play and then shoe-horn them into the second. In the end only two have been cross cast for this very reason and it’s actually a joy to have a larger group of actors coming on board with Epsilon.

My top 5 tips for auditioning:

1. Don’t bring in hundreds of people. You will tire yourself and your team out, giving yourself far too many wonderful people to choose from and unfortunately also have some incredible wastes of time. Be selective from those who apply – take time to read CV’s, watch show reels, look at the work they have done before. Take recommendations.

2. If you have asked people to prepare scenes or speeches – see ALL of the work. You have asked someone to take time out of their day, travel at their own expense and come and meet with you and, on top of that, if you have asked them to prepare a good actor has probably spent a fair few hours getting themselves ready. Personally I think its common courtesy to see what work they have done. Equally it will also show you how they work by themselves and their own insights into the piece.

3. Work with them on the piece. Re-direct, question, and play. Even in a small amount of time you can establish a rapport with your actor, put them at ease, draw out great work and see if they respond to your ideas on the piece. If you have a particular way of working in rehearsal (for example I often use under-reading and intend to with both pieces) try it out with them in the room or at least check they know what it is. I’ve heard from directors and actors alike that once in the room they found a new technique or a way of working difficult to settle with, something that occasionally could have been avoided if it had been discussed at audition.

4. Try not to hold onto initial judgments. We all do it! Judge someone the moment they enter, think – ‘n’ah they’re not going to be right.’ Sometimes this instinct is uncannily correct BUT it can also be wrong and that person you haven’t bothered to spend time with or not given your full attention to could be the ‘wild card’ perfect person for your show.

5. Bring an actor you trust into the room with you especially someone already involved with the project. It’s one thing if someone can take direction but how do they respond to the actor playing opposite them?

The Team is…..

So it is with great excitement that we announce our cast for the Epsilon Summer Season (though with still one to find…)

For Crystal Springs by Kathy Rucker: Suzan Sylvester as Linda, Angela Bull as Rose, Rebecca Boey as Hayley, Tiana Khan as Jenna, Pearle Mackie as Mia and Lucy Roslyn as Claire.

For Chicken Shop by Anna Jordan; Angela Bull as Hilary, Mille Reeves as Katie, Jesse Rutherford as Hendrix and Lucy Roslyn as Luminita.

We are still casting the part of Leko for Chicken Shop late thirties, dark, controlling, large presence, intense, drunk or high a lot, unpredictable, explosive – Albanian

To find out more about the cast go to Epsilon’s Facebook Fan page or sign up for the Epsilon Newsletter

The Reading Challenge; Book One

lead-booksI have been having a clear out.  It seems that I am something of a hoarder, which came as a massive surprise to me though as it turns out not to my husband or others who know me.  It started when I dropped the iron on the living room carpet. A series of expletives followed as I flailed about and grabbed it but not before the trademark triangle was burned into the blue pile.

I tried many unsuccessful attempts at trying to fix it myself.  Google ‘iron burn in carpet’ and a whole load of advice on ways to fix, cover and mend appear one even using blocks of ice. NONE work. Unless it is in a corner of the room and you can cover it over with a piece of new furniture or some sort of potted plant or magazine stand , that burn is there to stay.  Thank fully as it turns out I have accidental damage on my contents insurance and this is a regular call they get! So how does this fit into the clear out?  Well a few calls with insurance company later to establish the validity of my claim (was it truthful or was a trying to pull a new carpet scam) they sent round a man to assess it person and to help me pick out a replacement. I have a lot of heavy furniture for a small flat which we were told would have to be cleared by us when the new carpet came.  Several thousand trips into spare room and bedroom with box upon box of stuff from shelves and cupboards and then seeing a virtually empty room which was ginormous in comparison to how it was before made me realise I have too much stuff. The stuff made the room feel cluttered and small, not the furniture (as I had always thought).

Clearing out the shelves made me realise just how many books I had, many that I knew I didn’t want to read again and many I had never read and in all honesty don’t even remember  how they came to be in my possession.  Probably from my University days or previous flatmates, but somehow there they are, never having been read and sitting on my shelf.

So this is how the reading challenge started.  Once I had delivered the old but loved but never to be read again members of my collection to a couple of wonderful charity shops, I placed all the unread, unknown entities in their own section. I have challenged myself to read all of them before buying any more books (work research not included).

Book Number One:  The Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman

This is definitely something I wouldn’t have bought myself to read. I didn’t see the series, I have no interests in bikes and assumed it would just be about men who love bikes so therefore not for me.  How wrong was I!

I haven’t been able to put it down. It has journeyed with me to meetings. It is now covered in crumbs from breakfast, lunch and dinner. It kept me wonderfully distracted when my husband was in hospital last week.

Yes it is about men who love bikes, but they really love these bikes and you cannot help but be caught up in their excitement for the machines and how they carry them across the world.  We follow Ewan and Charley as they travel from London to New York.  Charting the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia across the Pacific to Alaska then Canada and America, It reads like personal diary entries from each of them, it appears to be brutally honest with their personal reactions to the hazards they face on the road, with strangers and with themselves. The description of the beauty they saw and the people they meet is what any great travel book is about. And having only sat on the back of a small moped in Bali, I now really want to get on a bike.

 

 

Two Plays!

Chicken Shop and Crystal Springs

Chicken Shop and Crystal Springs

“That’s a lot of work!” is a phrase I’m hearing often at the moment. At least when ever I mention that I am directing two plays this summer, back to back, at Park Theatre for my theatre company Epsilon Productions. Crystal Springs by Kathy Rucker opens 5th August and Chicken Shop by Anna Jordan opens the 3rd September. Both are new writing pieces by fabulous female writers and so it seemed a simple choice, for me and company founder/producer Angela Bull to do them both in P90.

Then came the suggestion from Executive Editor and all round Guru John Roberts to blog about ‘all this work’ for The Public Reviews. So that’s what this is. Over the next 15 weeks I will be sharing with you the behind the scenes adventure of Epsilon’s Summer Season. The highs, the lows, the tears, the laughter and all the craziness in between.   You’ll hear from the designers working across the two plays and the actors who have been cast across both. Meet out incredible writers, Kathy Rucker and Anna Jordan and hear what inspires them. Get snapshots from within the room from my assistant, see our trailers and follow our performances.

A lot has already happened. This has been in planning for months. Some days are spent pulling hair, screaming at computers and sinking into baths of gin and tonics; and then there are bad days too. But is putting two plays on over nine weeks any more work than if we were just doing one? At the moment I keep thinking no; it all comes down to time management and delegation. We have a great team of actors, designers, stage management and associates on board to keep us on track as well as a great PR team and marketing team. I guess only time and ticket sales will tell (cue vat of gin please.)

Speaking of Ticket Sales…

Off-West End and Fringe shows have a similar trajectory of ticket sales. Opening week can go well with initial buzz and energy from cast and followers. Week two tends to be slow if not scarily empty, week three starts to pick up and then if word of mouth and reviews have done their trick week four can sell out. Many a drunken last night for producers and directors have heard the words uttered, “if only we had another week!” Well in a way Epsilon will. It is going to be interesting to see where we are at week five of our season which will be week one of Chicken Shop. Running two shows could definitely have its up sides in marketing (more detail on that in future posts).

Personally, directing two has its challenges, and I would love to hear from the many people who have done this before (all advice welcome). I will be in rehearsal at The Poor School for Crystal Springs when usually I would be casting Chicken Shop. Once Crystal Springs opens we go back into the rehearsal room at NYT with Chicken Shop, (note to self next two play season pick plays with different letters!)  When it was decided I would direct both I actually went into production manager mode and set about creating a timeline extraordinaire. Nothing makes me happier than lists. I sometimes create lists of things I have already done just so I can tick them off. Inside this order I can then revel in the chaos of creativity.

Working on two scripts has opened up my imagination. I’m constantly in dream mode for both pieces and occasionally flit between both in an afternoon or find myself needing to devote days to one and then the other. Both pieces deal with intense themes that need in depth research often leading to my husband coming home to find me in floods of tears. I have never doodled, scribbled and scrawled as much in my life.

It’s all coffee and ink stains from this point forward….

 

For more information on Epsilon Productions visit their website now

Tickets for Crystal Springs and Chicken Shop are now both on sale

END OF – a post about Ego and Fundraising.

ImageThis time last week I was recovering from a tremendous hangover following a brilliant night of fundraising for the domestic abuse charity in Brighton & Hove, RISE.  Tuesday 29th April saw a heady mixture of literary, acting and musical talent battle the London tube strike and M25 accidents to perform for free in front of almost 800 people at the Hove Centre. It was spectacular!

If you didn’t make it , you missed (and in no particular order); Tracey Ann Oberman, Zawe Ashton, Sarah Soemni, Ann Mitchell, Vanquish, Jackie Clune, Clifford Slapper, Julie Graham, Tracey Thorn, Jake Yapp, Claire Cathcart, Rose Collis, Suzanne Moore, Caitlin Moran and Alison Moyet bring the audience to tears, laughter and eventually their feet. Every performer rocked!

But behind the scenes was a whole host of volunteers from RISE and from friends of the organisers that rocked up at various points through out the day, rolled up their sleeves and said ‘okay – tell us what you need.’ They mucked in and helped to make sure that by doors opening at 7.20pm (delayed by last minute sound checks of performers battling 5 hours of traffic) we were set to go. A massive thank you to Matt Ryan for being sound engineer extra-ordinaire, Beach Entertainments for all the lighting and DJ equipment and help, and Mike Lees and Chloe-Meek Foster who ushered, primped and looked after us all.

And behind the whole event itself were some incredible women; Sam Harrington-Lowe, Julie Graham, Astrid Edwards, and the brainchild behind it all Julie Burchill. EVERYONE was there due to them. 

 So how was I involved?  I stage-managed the event.   I coordinated the performers in the run up to and on the day, helped to organize sound and lighting requirements and then ran the event from the performance angle that night. And it all happened because one night a friend of my husband’s said her mate was planning a ‘little charity do- most probably in a pub’ and they needed someone to help. ‘Jem will be up for that’-he said. And thank fully I was.

The point then of this blog then is what? Well aside from getting to put my name alongside those fabulous ones above, a couple of thoughts occurred from the experience.

 Firstly, Leave your Ego at the door.   Post event exhausted drink at 2am with Caraline Brown (who tirelessly promoted event) we were overwhelmed by just how smoothly the day had gone.  My theory? No egos were found anywhere.  Everyone knew why they were there and got on with it.  No debating how best to do things, or annoyance over someone else being in charge.  People had their roles and they stuck to them.  Sounds like this should be an obvious but unfortunately it isn’t always so.

Secondly, charity-work:  when you can do.  It isn’t always easy, especially as freelancers in the arts, often paid little or nothing, to then give up precious free time as well.  But whilst I know they can’t all be star-studded events, you feel brilliant afterwards and events like this one need people with certain skills to ensure they happen and they should keep happening.  Yes everyone involved could have just given a cheque instead of their time, but as well as money that day we raised awareness of a group that offers a lifeline to many in need. Hopefully from the publicity around the event many more will become aware of the incredible service RISE offers and benefit from it. 

Finally, a community of very mixed individuals came together, who at other times would never meet or perhaps even like each other; for one night we were all united under one roof in support of RISE.  End Of.

11 Hours.

11 hours. I’ve just counted it.  Thats all the time we had to prepare for our rehearsed reading of The Visitor by Peter Lantos at The Park.  And it was beautiful.  A truly moving and beautiful portrayal of Peter’s very personal play.  The cast and crew were an absolute joy to work with.  A Director’s Dream. 13 very talented and compassionate actors alongside the dedicated crew threw themselves completely into the short amount of time we had and bonded with each other so much that after the event one actor turned to me and said: “it just doesn’t feel right not to see you all tomorrow.” 

 I simply don’t have the right words to describe that occurred in the rehearsal room. On the Friday at the usual Epsilon space of the wonderful Shaftesbury Tavern where we began our discovery of the play.   Or on the Monday, in the very special Park 90 studio.  I was blown away by the incredible skill that actors have. To lift the characters off the page and make them exist so fully, especially in such a short amount of time.

 We had a full house at Park 90, a mixture of friends of Epsilon and from within theatre land and of the writer as well as fellow survivors. Whilst work still needs to be done on the play the response was overwhelmingly positive.  

 Massive thanks to Park for housing us, to my incredible Producer Angie who just makes everything happen, to my assistant director Charlotte who was without question my girl friday, to the incredibly talented designer Mike Lees for not just giving a flavour of the period as i had asked for but for costuming the whole company and to Anne Mayer who first put me in touch with Peter, to Celia who joined us a SM on Monday, and Nadine Rennie for finding an extraordinary team of actors for us. 

 To the actors – Finlay Robertson, Joanna McCullum, Ana-Maria Maskell, Claire Jared, Kathryn O’Reilly, Simon Hepworth, Jesse Rutherford, Patrick Bailey, Lula Suassuna, Mathew Schmolle, Ralph Ineson and John Last – thank you – it was an utter joy. 

 To Peter, the writer.  I hope it was everything you dreamed it would be.  

 Check out some fun photos on the event here

 

More about the play below:

THE VISITOR is a play about shattered dreams, suppressed desire, sibling rivalry and maternal conflict. Despite the utter destruction of their lives, it is also a play about redemption and survival.

The play unfolds against the historical backdrop of the invasion of Hungary by Germany in 1944, sealing the fate of Hungarian Jewry.

 Hungary 1938. While the family patriarch, Samuel, is dying in an upstairs bedroom, the Singer family gathers to celebrate the arrival of Adam, their first grandchild, under the stern guidance of the matriarch, Fanny. The family alongside their three daughters and only son have ignored all warning signs of the oncoming War in pursuit of their own individual lives. The sudden arrival of a shabby stranger who warns them of approaching danger derails the celebration and they are forced to confront what they have been hiding from. The next few years sees the demise of the Singer Family in status and safety with devastating consequences. The play paints a painfully realistic picture of what happened to many such people who had lived productive lives as close members of their communities and thought they were safe.

“Your Father believes – believed- that these terrible times would come to an end. In the meantime, we must hold our nerve. We are not the sort of people to run away.”

 

THE VISITOR marks Peter Lantos’s debut as a playwright.

His well-received autobiographical account of his early life PARALLEL LINES has just been reissued for the fourth time by Arcadia Books and he is also the author of a novel, CLOSED HORIZON.

 

“Something of genius with the readability of a classic”. Alan Sillitoe of PARALLEL LINES.

“A brilliant and terrifying novel about the fragility of freedom”. Helena Kennedy of CLOSED HORIZON.

 

Hungarian born, Peter was liberated from Bergen-Belsen at the age of 6. On moving to London in 1968 after studying medicine & specialising in clinical neuroscience Peter was appointed to a prestigious Chair at the Institute of Psychiatry/Maudsley Hospital in London. He was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2001.

 

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The Last Days

Directed by James Moll and Produced by June Beallor and Kenneth Lipper in 1998. The film tells the stories of five Hungarian Jews during the Shoah. It focuses on the horrors of life in the nazi concentration camps, but also stresses the optimism and desire to survive of the survivors.

What makes it unique is the insight into how the Hungarian Jews couldn’t believe it was happening, but also how they firmly believed it could never happen to them as Hungarians.

I was directed towards this film by Mike Lees (http://www.mikeleesdesigns.com/) as part of my ongoing research into the play ‘The Visitor’ by Peter Lantos. It is a difficult watch, but only because of the incredibly raw emotions that come flooding through the screen. It is a reminder that we cannot forget, especially when such horrors continue around the world still. As one of the survivors says ” The holocaust has to be taught as a chapter in man’s long history of inhumanity to man.”

#ResearchFind #2

The Joys of Research

There is something wonderful about the internet for researching projects.  When you hit upon a ‘golden’ selection of ‘key’ words that leads you to thousands of hits or, alternatively when some accidental ‘clicking’ takes you, not down some dark and horrible route, but instead by chance to something you had no idea you were even looking for.

‘The Visitor’ by Peter Lantos Image from his book ‘Parallel Lines’

I am currently researching what happened to the Jewish people in Hungary in the last months of World War 2.  This is for a wonderful new play by Peter Lantos called ‘The Visitor’.  My theatre company Epsilon Productions is presenting a rehearsed reading of it soon to an invited audience at The Park Theatre.  In the play one of the characters Anna, a young Jewish musician, an accomplished pianist is robbed of a potentially promising career, and she mentions playing Schubert and Brahms.  Whilst listening to some glorious renditions via youtube (see previous links) of Schuberts ‘Piano Sonata in A major’ and Brahms ‘Violin and Piano Sonata No.1’ I started to look for recordings of Hungarian music and anything linked to the Jewish tradition of music, including my own love for Klezmer, which is the musical tradition of Asknazi Jews of Eastern Europe. A few youtube clicks later and I happened upon this……

Dmitri Shostakovich was a soviet Russian composer and this piece of music (according to the youtube page) was  “written in 1944, just after his Symphony No. 8, with which it shares its overall structure; it is a lamentation for both Shostakovich’s close friend, musicologist Ivan Sollertinsky, and the victims of the Holocaust, the news of which horror did not reach the U.S.S.R. until the liberation of the camps began; and it is his first work to employ a “Jewish theme,” a musical tribute that used the scales and rhythms of Jewish folk music as Shostakovich knew it. ”

Listening to the full piece is an emotional roller-coaster of a journey. It is agonising in its beauty – even if i knew nothing about the musical traditions set within its score I can feel the pain and torment and suffering that a friend wanted to express for another.  It is a study of a different musical culture and yet so personal at the same time.  I hope you listen to it and to the other pieces I have mentioned that create the musical score or heart of Peter’s play, at least they do for me.

Equally if you’re interested in modern Klezmer, check out The Matzoh Boys – a great group who played at my wedding – well they could do the Klezmer version of Inspector Gadget!

#researchfind #1